A 1900s postcard from Zazzle
The girls had their showers and bath last night before bed. Anna and Babette take showers these days. Charlie still takes baths.
We are scheduled to eat a late lunch with Neil's mother then sit for a family portrait in front of the Christmas tree.
I reminded Anna, my thirteen-year-old going on 20, of our departure time as she disappeared into her room. We had agreed that she would wear her new blue dress. Her first dry-clean-only dress. Nothing would do, but she have that exact one. And she did look lovely in it. She's a rather fastidious child so it seemed an acceptable choice.
"Babette, have you decided what you're wearing?"
"The white one with blue stars," she shouts over her shoulder as she plunks down on the couch next to her dad.
At eleven, Babette is the athlete/artist in the family. She couldn't care less what she wears as long as it's not "too girlie." I'm never quite sure just what "too girlie" is. Pink is fine. Flounces around the hem are fine. Ruffles at the neckline are not fine. "Too girlie." White with stars is perfectly fine for the portrait, but she is not a careful child. Not with her art supplies or eating. I don't know why Neil's mother planned a portrait sitting for AFTER lunch. I'm tempted to take a spare outfit for her. Babette, not Neil's mother.
Charlie (Charlotte MacKenzie) the baby of the family loves clothes. That child can change clothes more times in a day than the Crawleys on Downton Abbey. I decided to wait until the last minute to dress her.
"Mom," Anna calls. "I can't find my blue tights."
I poke my head into her room, the cat and Charlie close on my heels. "When did you wear them last?" I ask.
"Then, they're probably in the dirty clothes. Did you look?"
"Can you wash them?" She asks.
Might as well, throw in Neil's dark colored dress shirts. My dad was a welder, so he never wore dress shirts unless it was to a wedding or a funeral. Somehow, it always seemed kind of fun to wash Neil's "work" shirts. Almost like I was a kid playing house. Fancy house. But they had to be taken out of the dryer as soon as it finished or they'd wrinkle, and neither he nor I like to iron.
"Babette, do you need anything washed before school tomorrow?"
She races past me down the hall and into her room. The cat and Charlie flatten themselves against the wall.
All calm and in control she steps into the hall and hands me her soccer uniform. "Thanks, Mom. I almost forgot."
Thank goodness her team colors are blue and grey. They'll wash just fine with her sister's tights and Neil's shirts. But they're another have-to-take-them-out-of-the-dryer-quick.
Not a problem. I've got time.
Neil passed the laundry room on his way to our bathroom. "Gonna take my shower now."
"Okay," I say rummaging through the dirty clothes to find Anna's tights.
I hear the shower start and thank goodness for the new water heater. We haven't run out of hot water since we got it.
"Gloria, Hon, I forgot to get a towel."
"Just a minute," I say interrupting my search for the tights. "Charlie, don't let the cat get in the dryer."
I get Neil a towel, find the tights, and start the washer. Charlie and the cat have disappeared and I can't hear them over the washer and Neil's singing. He always sings in the shower. Opera, usually. He actually sounds pretty good when he limits himself to the baritone parts. Not so much when he does all the roles. But he enjoys it.
The dishwasher is finished so I put the dishes away. That's when I heard the most mournful yowl. Having survived two girls as toddlers, I knew I'd better see what Charlie had done to the cat. It wasn't in the dryer. I checked.
I knew they weren't in Charlie's bedroom because the door was wide open. My next guess was the hall bathroom.
"Charlie, have you got the cat in there with you?"
There was much scrabbling going on and things falling on the other side of the door.
"Charlotte, why is the door locked? Open the door."
Nothing. The hall bathroom had gone silent. Neil burst into his falsetto soprano part.
"Charlotte MacKenzie Smith. Open this door. NOW!"
Charlie opened the door and a wet cat streaked past me, sliding as he made the turn to tear down the hall. The four-year-old stood there, shoulders hunched, eyes huge in terror, her mouth puckered in an O.
"He's wet! He's all over my stuff!" Anna screeched from her bedroom.
Charlie was soaked. Toiletries lay scattered across the flooded bathroom floor. The picture of the young man tap dancing in New Orleans hung askew and the wall clock was practically upside down.
Babette peeked out of her door, took one look at me, then ducked out of sight.
"Babette, you come back here. Bring me a towel and take one to Anna."
"Yes, ma'am," she said sidling carefully past me.
Tears began trickling down Charlie's face. She didn't move. She didn't even blink. She waited for retribution of biblical proportions.
The shower in my bathroom stopped and Neil called, "Did you get deodorant for me? I can't find it."
"The cat walked on my library book," Anna wailed. "He's ruining it!"
Babette offered me two towels.
"No. Take one to Anna and tell her to dry the cat. Then you come back here and dry your sister."
"But ...." she started to object. After another look at me, she thought better of it.
"Thank you," Neil said as I removed the new can of deodorant from the top shelf in the medicine cabinet, less than an arm's length from him, and handed it to him.
"You're welcome," I said.
"Are the girls about ready to go?" he asked.
I didn't answer. How could he not hear the four-year-old down the hall, sobbing? Her big sister making soothing sounds.
I got the mop bucket out of the garage and sopped up the water on the bathroom floor, straightened the picture and the clock, and dried the toiletries before replacing them on the shelf. At least the cat hadn't knocked the shelf down or ripped the shower curtain in his wild careening around the room.
It wasn't until after I'd put the laundry into the dryer that I calmed down enough to wonder whether or not my youngest had been maimed by the near-drowned cat. But there hadn't been blood in the water on the floor, so I figured she must be fine or at least fine enough.
"How do I look?" Neil asked smoothing his tie. He was freshly showered, deodorized, shaved, and dressed in a white shirt and his navy pinstriped suit pants.
"You're barefoot," I said.
"Couldn't find any blue socks," he said.
"Wear black," I said.
It wasn't until then that he actually looked at me.
"Is something wrong?"
"No. Nothing is wrong. Now."
"Okay," he said cautiously. "I think I'll go clean out the car,"
Anna and Babette got themselves dressed and ready to go. Anna without her blue tights. I'll run the laundry again when we get home. Charlotte MacKenzie is dressed and I put a change of clothes in her Elsa backpack. If Babette spills food on her dress, we'll just turn it around back-to-front for the photo.
We're out of hot water and I've still got to shower. I have no idea where the cat's got to.
My husband sits on the couch reading the paper. His three beautiful daughters perched all lady-like around him watching "Meet the Press" or some such on TV as though they're interested. He checks his watch, waiting all too obviously patiently. He doesn't dare ask how much longer I'll be.