"Are you going to spank me, Mommy?" he asked nonchalantly.
"No, Jack," I said wearily. "I'm not going to spank you, because neither that nor anything else seems to produce results."
"Okay," he said. "Are you going to make me help wash out the underwear?"
"Yes. Young man, you had stand in one spot and not move so that it doesn't go down your leg."
"It won't," he said. "See? I'm moving around now, and the poop isn't going anywhere! Am I going to take a bath?"
After the bath we all shut ourselves in the bedroom and I started to clean up, again. The bedroom is often a disaster. Five children, three beds, one room -- you do the math. It's not even as if we're short on space. We have the largest house of anyone I know, and it contains five perfectly good bedrooms: the master bedroom, the front room, the back room, the princess bedroom, and the attic bedroom. Yet three of them sit empty, collecting dust and the detritus of secret clubs, and all the small people and their toys wedge into the back bedroom. While Jack perused Calvin and Hobbes from the comfort of his flannel-sheeted bed and Diana wandered and sang and talked at me, I sat down to sort the Legos from the Duplos and put each in their own bin. The Legos and their larger brethren were scattered all over the room, pushed into corners, under the crib, sifted through several random buckets of toys. The process has a charmingly progressive feel: as I took each bucket and separated out not only the Legos and Duplos, but the train tracks, the building blocks, the castle blocks, the army men, the letter puzzles, the cars, the socks, and the miscellaneous, a pretty sense of order began to pervade the bedroom. I like to engage in these futile little tasks now and then -- picking up Legos, potty training -- to remind me that all is vanity. Today you attempt hygiene, tomorrow to dust it shall return. Even as I worked, Diana was busily pulling blocks from the bin and setting up a tower, because it's always more fun to play with the toys when Mommy too is playing put things in boxes.
Diana does not answer to her name anymore, and if you tell her that her name is Diana, she will contradict you: "I'm Dudley Do-Right." (What she actually says is, "I'n Dudley Do-Wite", but we'll pay her the courtesy of big-girl orthography.) Tonight Dudley Do-Right wore a bandolier of Daddy's old belt over her fleecy footy sleeper, and a big cowboy hat over her new Ramona haircut, and Jack's six-shooter. I pity the mustache-twirling bandit who tries to pull one over on her. Dudley has assigned various people to be her sidekicks: Julia is Nell, Jack is Horse, and Isabel, in a very suitable bit of casting, is Snidely Whiplash. That leaves Eleanor, who is often writing some story or other, as the Narrator. Me? I'm Inspector Fenwick, who is "all for putting Stokey in the pokey".
Darwin is Red Wood, the logging magnate.
Even Dudley Do-Right has to get some rest, which involves nestling in the crib with a comforter, Grandma's ducky quilt, two pacifiers, and a big Curious George anthology. Jack was already asleep, worn out with his and Calvin's villainy, so Diana and I said prayers by ourselves. She stood in the crib and snuggled against me and babbled something that sounded like it could have been the Hail Mary, if you listened closely enough.
"God bless Diana," I whispered as I made the sign of the cross on her forehead under her Ramona bangs, "keep her safe, give her sweet dreams, and make her pure and holy."
And she reached up, just like she sees her big sisters do every night, and blessed me back.