Just as I got home, my mom called to tell me our sink was leaking again. She wanted me to ask our neighbor, who is also our plumber, if he could come over and fix it. I crossed the street to find him with his head poked inside the back of his truck while his kids, Hank and Oliver, ran around the yard.
“Hey, Matt… so, our sink is leaking. Could you come over and fix it?”
“Again?! Goddammit! They’ve been breaking throughout the valley!” he yelled, not at me specifically, as he pulled his head out of the back of the truck.
“Oh. Bummer. Like, the piece itself?” I asked.
“Yeah. The damn manufacturer used cheap shit and they’re breaking after 6 months!” By his tone, it was clear now was a bad time.
“Oh dear,” I said, unsure of what the right response was. “Well…whenever you have the time, we’d appreciate it if you could swing by.”
“I’ll be over in a minute. I just have to find my damn wrench…”
“In the meantime, you should go into the crawlspace and turn off the water!” he called out from halfway back inside the truck.
“Will do!” I said.
As I walked back to my house, Oliver followed after me. He wanted to find my cat, Sheba, who hated him and who’d scratched him earlier in the year. He wasn’t phased by that, and in fact talked about it like a badge of honor. “Where Sheba?” he asked as he toddled in the door.
“I don’t know…probably upstairs,” I said, hoping he’d pick up on the hesitancy in my voice and it would convince him not to find her.
“Sheba ‘cratch me,” he said.
“Yes, I remember,” I reminded him.
“Sheba don’t like wittle kids,” he said.
“No…not really,” I sighed. It was a problem. She’d scratched several kids in the ‘hood.
“Where Sheba?” he asked, as if the previous conversation hadn’t happened.
At that moment, Sheba came around the corner, meowing. They saw each other; his eyes lit up while hers narrowed. She meowed at him and immediately turned back around the same corner. But he was already toddling after her.
The corner she rounded turned into the kitchen, which turned into the dining room, which turned into the living room, so he followed her in a big circle. As he wobbled back into view, I stopped him and said the kitty wanted to be left alone and not to follow her up the stairs, which was where I thought she was headed.
At that moment, Hank walked in.
“Hi,” he said sadly.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I’m sick,” he said morosely.
I knew this, as his mother had told me he’d stayed home from school the day before with a mild fever.
“Where Sheba?” Oliver asked again.
Sheba had not, in fact, gone all the way up the stairs, only partway, and was staring at Oliver from between the stair rails. He really wanted to pet her; she really did not want to be petted by him, but also was unwilling to just go find a quiet, out-of-the-way place to hang out until Oliver left. She was taunting him. He started to make his way towards the stairs when I stopped him again.
“Oliver, we’re not going to pet Sheba right now. You guys watch TV in the living room while I go into the crawlspace to turn off the water.” As I turned to the pantry, Hank turned as if to guide Oliver into the living room.
As I cleared items out of the pantry so I could access the crawlspace hatch, I heard the boys in the other room playing around. But playing sounds quickly turned to alarming screaming sounds, and as I rounded the corner into the living room, I saw Hank pulling Oliver around by the back of the shirt. “Hank! Stop it!” I yelled in my developing Mom voice.
He ignored me completely, swung Oliver around in a full circle, and flung him to the floor. Hard. As I yelled “Hank!”, Oliver started crying. I rushed to Oliver to make sure he was ok just as Matt flew through the door. He was pissed.
“HANK! I SAW THAT THROUGH THE WINDOW! THAT IS IT! GO TO YOUR ROOM RIGHT NOW!” Hank walked out the door, head hung low, tears forming in his eyes. The roughhousing had gotten out of hand again, and while the benefit of his larger size had won him the battle, it had lost him the war. Matt followed behind Hank as he crossed the street, went into his house, and presumably headed to his room. I scooped Oliver up into my arms to carry him home. Matt was yelling at Hank when I arrived with Oliver.
As I walked into their house, Oliver balanced on one hip, I saw that the kitchen was a disaster—they were in the middle of a kitchen remodel and cabinets, appliances, tables, and platter-ware were strewn everywhere. Plastic covered most surfaces, but it was unclear where—or how—they would be cooking dinner. Seeing this, I offered to take Oliver back to my house, feed and entertain him while Matt finished with Hank.
Back at the house, I sat Oliver in front of the television and found the Cartoon Network, which was conveniently playing SpongeBob Squarepants. Oliver was pleased. And like many children his age, he wanted his favorite drink.
“Can I have milky?”
“Milk? Sure.” Technically, we didn’t have milk. We had almond milk. But I was sure he wouldn’t know, so I grabbed the almond milk and pulled a glass out of the cabinet. Before I was about to pour it, I had a vision of the milk spilling out of the lidless glass and onto the couch, floor, or coffee table. So instead, I opted for a cup that would better suit his motor skills. About a month earlier, we’d hosted my two nieces, so I was pretty sure we had a sippy cup somewhere. Sure enough, I found a Santa-shaped sippy cup and, ignoring that it wasn’t even remotely seasonally appropriate, filled up the Santa sippy cup with almond milk, threw some pretzels into a bowl, and presented both to Oliver, who was bobbing his head and kicking his legs out from the edge of the couch in time with the theme song.
Once that was settled, I opened up the crawlspace, lowered myself to the ground, crawled past the spider webs, and turned off the water to the house. Once back up on the first floor, I turned on the kitchen sink to drain the water from the lines just as Matt walked in.
“Is it the one in the hallway or your mom’s sink?” he asked without any polite buffer or inquisition as to how his child, Oliver, was doing.
“It’s the one in the hallway.”
“K.” And he trudged upstairs to the bathroom, pants weighted down by his workbelt.
I sat down on the couch with Oliver, happy to lose myself in the antics of a sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea. Oliver was happily eating his pretzels and drinking his milk from the Santa sippy cup.
A few minutes later, I heard the doorhandle turn, got up, and was just about to open the door when Hank meekly poked his head inside. “Hi Hank,” I greeted him.
“Hi,” he said, still sounding pretty sad. He walked over to the couch and apologized to Oliver, who was happy to forgive and forget, which I think he’d already done.
Matt came downstairs when he heard Hank. “Hank! Did you apologize to your brother?”
“Yes,” he mumbled.
“Yes. I said I was sorry.”
“Dada, Hank said he sowwy,” Oliver chimed in.
“Ok, good. You both behave while I fix the sink.”
Hank turned to me, clearly still upset. The tears I’d seen earlier were still there, and something in that moment—the apology, being snapped at after the apology, or just being sick—brought them all up again. I walked over to him and gave him a hug. I wasn’t sure what else to do or say, so a hug seemed appropriate. He buried his face in my stomach as I patted the top of his head and told him he’s not a bad kid, he just needs to be nicer and gentler with his little brother. When he pulled away my shirt was wet with tears, but Hank seemed slightly better.
We sat on the couch to watch more sponge adventures.
Within moments, my insistence that they share the bowl of pretzels was proving futile, so I just poured pretzels into another bowl so each could have their own. Why they couldn’t both eat out of the same bowl was beyond me until I reflected on what it was like to be a kid and have little agency over your life, your decisions, your possessions. Plus, siblings have to share so many things–space, belongings, experiences, parental attention–that sometimes sharing pretzels isn’t easy. So two bowls for two boys it was.
Oliver was still sipping on the Santa sippy cup when Matt came downstairs, finished with the repair. I thanked him for fixing the sink and he thanked me for watching the boys.
“Of course!” I insisted. “It was the least I could do while you fixed the sink.”
He left with the two of them, who were now very hungry despite the pretzels, to return home to a kitchen that looked like a construction zone.
I grabbed a beer, some cookies, and flopped onto the couch, where I promptly changed the channel.
Milk would go great with the cookies, I thought. And I had milk in front of me, still in the Santa sippy cup.
Not wanting to suck through the same straw a three-year-old had been using, I instead opted to unscrew the top and dunk the cookies into what remained of the almond milk. I then ate 4 ginger snap cookies dunked in milk while happily reflecting on the fact that I was sitting in a quiet house, watching what I wanted, with no kids needing/wanting/whining about anything.
As I was cleaning up, I grabbed the arms of the Santa sippy, which were actually just resting on top of the actual cup part. The lid’s threading gripped the cup just long enough for me to be able to lift it off the coffee table, but then it all came loose and the quarter-full cup of almond milk fell to the floor, spilling everywhere.
I had somehow managed to spill milk out of a drinking vessel specifically designed to not spill.
I cleaned up the mess and toweled off the wet spots as best I could. Then I flopped back on couch, tired.
Mom came home later than usual, and was bustling about, telling me about her day, when she walked over a wet spot.
“What spilled?” she asked.
“Milk,” I said.
“No,” I said, my face telling more than my words.
“Yes. Out of a sippy cup, no less.”
“You spilled milk on the floor out of a sippy cup?!” she asked, about to burst out laughing.
“Yes,” I said morosely.