Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Sweet Cacophony

I'm not very chatty with my family--our phone calls usually last no longer than five minutes, enough to determine that school is going okay, I'm eating well, and don't need money. But then they pass on the phone to the kids. And that is when the cell phone bill takes a hit.

I usually catch only two at a time, but on Saturday evenings there is the equivalent of Vietnamesse Shabbas at the Lettre Household. Without me, that means my five siblings, three spouses, two grandparents, and yes, a partridge in a pear tree. Not to mention nine kids ranging from 16 years to 6 months. The oldest one could beat me up, the littlest one I haven't seen since the week after he was born.

Because of work and other personal travel obligations (maid of honor business, conferences) I haven't been home since Christmas. And I usually see them every three months. But it's been a while, and they're excited to see me next weekend. I'm putting in some good time, two weeks. Enough to take my aging mom on her daily walks (think 10 times around the block), enough to do a lot of sitting on babies. I don't see friends during this time--this is family time.

And so while I try to be good and call each batch of kids every week or two, it was sweetly disorienting and overwhelming to hear so many voices at once. Natalie can now say "Nat-ah-lee," whereas previously she called herself "Nana." Noelle can babble incomprehensibly. It took me a good twenty minutes to get off the phone, even though most of it was "I love you" and "Are you being a good boy/girl" and the last five minutes "I love you! Bye! I love you! Bye!"

I've spent far too much of my life taking care of my siblings' children to seriously consider the prospect myself at present, which is the same ambivalent attitude I have towards marriage (there is the matter of wanting tenure and "geographic flexibility"...). And having worked a year in college in a day care center and another year after law school as an Unpaid Nanny and every weekend for the last 16 years as an American Au Pair, I know how much work it takes to care for a child. I take the job as seriously as any parent, and don't kid around when I call them "my kids." Even if I'm not sure any little Belles will be running around any time within the next decade, I'm sure that I have at least nine kids waiting to see me now, so excited that they run into walls whenever they see me (seriously, which means the next step is to hug them for an hour and ice down the bump).

The sweet cacophony of voices reminds me that I am loved. It is a lovely sound, a sound that would make the ovaries sing. In a few days my cheeks will be smeared with wet kisses and tons of germs, and little hands will be curled around my fingers. But for now, I'm just pleased to hear lots of "I love you's!" and "bah bah blpphht!"

And, alas, it is back to work on a lovely Saturday. But by next Saturday I'll be baking brownies for my babies.