“And off we go!”
There’s a collective intake of breath as the mattress tilts forward, a moment of excited trepidation as time seems frozen. Then, with a rapid bump bump bump, it careens down the stairs.
The children land in a heap against the front door, whooping and clamboring over each other to be the first back up the stairs.
“Someone’s going to get hurt,” I tell them, knowing my words will fall on ears deafened by the thrill of the game.
“I get to be in the middle this time!” cries a voice in reply. I say nothing, knowing my kids won’t listen to sage wisdom. They are, all five, doers, not listeners. Empirical learners.
Thu-bump, thu-bump, thu-bump. They are at the bottom again, but this time wails erupt from beneath the little pile of bodies.
“What did I tell you?” I say gently, scooping up the injured party and trying to ignore the way she casually wipes her snot across the shoulder of my favorite hoodie.
“I stubbed my toe on the railing,” she whimpers. My cold heart softens a bit as I press her tear-filled, boogery face against me once more.
“You’ll be alright,” I tell her bracingly before putting her down. “Maybe we should be all done with the sled game.”
“Outside!” cries another, and they scramble for the door without a second glance at the mattress or the pile of blankets left forgotten at the base of the stairs. Hope for a little quiet time rears its head, peering cautiously out of the depths of my soul.
“Yes!” I agree. “Outside sounds great!”
“You, too, mommy,” my youngest informs me with a grave face. The hope dips back down again, out of sight.
“How about five minutes?” I reply, knowing full well that I’ll try for ten, and they’ll be hounding me after three.
“Only five,” concedes another. “Let’s go!”
They forgo shoes, whether out of a desire for the feel of the grass between their toes or simply out of laziness, I’m never quite sure. They’re out the door, and I sink back onto the couch to savor my children from afar, watching them through the handprint covered window as I sip my afternoon coffee.
It might be a record. It’s only been thirty seconds.
“You promised me five minutes,” I remind her gently.
“But there’s something weird,” she insists.
“I’ll see it when I come out.”
“It’s really weird. It’s a ‘mergency!”
Sighing in defeat, but not willing to abandon my warm mug of happiness, I slip on my shoes, feeling the backs fold uncomfortably beneath my heels as I shuffle to the door.
The wind outside takes me by surprise, but it is the beanstalk that sends a chill up my spine. Its girth was hidden from view from the comfort of the living room, but out here it is impossible to miss. Thirty feet high already and a good three feet around, I can see it growing even now. The thick trunk stretches, the tendrils reaching out and up and all around.
“Inside,” I bark, watching one of the trailing green growths stretch tentatively towards my middle child.
“It’s so cool!” she exclaims, oblivious to the danger.
“Inside. Now,” I repeat firmly. My tone brings them all to attention, and five pairs of little bare feet pitter patter in my direction, streaming in the door behind me. I watch the beanstalk for another moment before I follow them in, closing the door behind me and leaning heavily against it.
“Who was it?” I demand, trying to keep my voice cool and collected while my insides writhe uncomfortably. None of them make eye contact. They look around, focusing on a crumpled paper towel by the trashcan, or the dishes stacked by the sink, or the dog. Anywhere but at me.
“Who was it?” I repeat, once again forced to employee my most serious mama voice. When no admission of guilt is made, I feel myself frowning. “Someone didn’t finish their five bean soup last night,” I tell them, raising a finger and waggling it back and forth. “But everyone brought me empty bowls, and everyone had a cookie. Which of you lied?”
A mama always knows. The oldest, always so cunning, bites her lip as a flicker of guilt flashes across her face.
“It was me,” she admits, muttering at the floor.
“And did you toss your leftovers outside, even though you told me you were finished?”
She nods, silent.
Straightening up, I look around as I ponder my next move. “No cookies tonight for anyone,” I tell the group, who meet the statement with a groan of displeasure. “When mama tells you to finish your dinner, you finish your dinner. Mama knows what’s best for you, and she will always take care of you. Okay? No more sneaky business.”
“Yes, ma’am,” come five forlorn replies.
I nod approvingly. “How about a movie?” I say now, and the little faces brighten with excitement. I shoo them off to the living room, noting the way four of them need new pants. The little cuffs were above the ankle now. How had I missed that? I blame the fact that I hadn’t had much coffee today.
I instruct them to watch whatever they want. This treat, I know, is enough to keep them occupied for quite some time. The television has a way of shutting down their brains that gives mama a chance to tackle some work. Once they’re settled, I gulp down the rest of my drink and wash my mug, adding it to the pile of clean dishes on the drying rack. Then I head out to the shed, slapping away a curious tendril as I pass.
Emerging with an armload of tools, I approach the stalk with caution. The axe is useless. Before I can swing a second time, my cut seems to have disappeared. The chainsaw, then. I pull the cord, listening to the satisfying sound as it starts, inhaling the scent of gasoline. It bites into the stalk with vigor, and as I continue to press into it, I feel the blade rising, ever so slightly, upward.
“Not today,” I mutter knowingly to the stalk, pressing all the harder in response. By the time I’ve cut out a wedge large enough to feel it teetering I’m up on tip toes. It’s stubborn, though, as magic beanstalks tend to be. I return to the shed, this time arming myself with the ladder. I rev the chainsaw again as I reach the top, shaking my leg free of more green creepers trying to get a hold on me. I finish my cut as the sun begins to sink past the horizon. The stalk shudders and groans, and an enormous silence surrounds me as I watch it fall before it crashes into the ground. That’s going to leave a dent, I think. That’s kids for you. Always making more work for mama.
The back door opens, letting a sliver of light spill out into the yard. “Mom?” comes a hesitant voice through the darkness. “Can we watch another one?”
“Just one more,” I reply. The door closes again quickly, before I have time to change my mind. The lack of worry in the little voice makes me smile as I survey my work with satisfaction. They know. They know their mama will take care of them.
The severed stalk now sports several new growths, some already as thick as my thumb. Sighing, I comb my fingers through my hair. I try to remember where I put the gas can.
It’s going to be a long night.