Telling: Altars & Artifacts

Gus and Jake

In early December Gus stumbled onto our stash of Christmas presents on the third floor. "Those are presents for other people," we explained. "You have to wait for Santa to bring your presents." He wasn't sure he believed us. He made pilgrimages to the landing. He left offerings there. Pennies. Other toys. Once, while I was feeding Jake, Gus came back from the landing with a pen in his hand. "What have you been doing?" I asked with dread in my heart. "Gus draw XYZ toys," he answered. I later discovered his writing on a board which he'd left in front of the door. His first letter to Santa.

This year for Christmas Gus wanted: trucks, cars, guys, cars. (Guys being, you know, army men, firemen, cowboys and indians; guys.) On Christmas eve he went to our neighbor's house and saw their tree stacked high with presents. We had one box under ours (due to certain people's lack of self-restraint—a family trait). He was, I think, a little worried. That night our neighbor dressed as Santa and came over with a present for Gus. What with the beard and the bells and the HO HO HO; Gus was speechless, mouth and eyes wide. As soon as Santa left, Gus tore into his present. A pair of patns and a sweater. "Trucks," he said, clos to tears. "Cars, guys," peering into the folds of the clothes. "Santa," he cried, and it nearly broke my heart. Watt took him by the hand and said, "I know, son. It's a bummer. I've had to live with it all my life. But now," and he laughed a low, conspiratorial laugh, "Now I'm in charge."

In the end Santa came through.

Gus fell in love with two things this year: talking and toys. A little something for everyone. Nothing moves Daddy like lining up army men, or building block towers (and knocking them down). Nothing moves Mama like hearing Gus sing: "Baa baa sheep ha ya wolves." For me, listening to Gus is an endless delight. He speaks of "jellyfish sandwiches", the swings in the park he calls "up down" and to "draw XYZ" means to write. Five has come to mean the number of anything over one. Five means a bunch. So when there are a bunch of people gus says: "Fivebody." Whe Watt, trying to teach him to answer with respect, asked "Can you say, 'Yes, sir.'?" Gus answerd: "Yeah, sure."

Gus knows his colors, and numbers through eleven, and some random letters of the alphabet. He likes hammers and cars and loud collisions. He likes fighting Daddy, God help us. He likes to color, sometimes even on paper. He likse to "make dinosaur bones" (tearing his coloring books into strips). He likes his trike almost as much as the neighbor kid's, and can pedal it backwards and forwards. He can catch a ball and dribble it too but he likes it bes when you bounce it off his head.

He likes to bounce things off Jake's head too, but we try to discourage that. This morning I was feeding Jake, and Gus climbed up the back of the chair I was sitting in so that he was perched over my shoulders, looking down on the baby. Jake looked up at him and smiled his wide mouth smile. "Jake happy," Gus laughed. "Baby Jake happy." Which is mostly what baby Jake is. He doesn't cry in the bath, he doesn't cry when his diaper's changed. He actually laughs when I pull a shirt over his head. He's a big, cooing, happy boy. With a birth weight of 10 pounds 10 oz, and a length of 24.5 inches; as soon as he was born, it was hard to imagine how he'd fit inside. He'd been folded up so tight it took two weeks for his eyelashes to unfurl. Maybe his ornerynous is just taking a while to unfold. Or maybe he's just (praise God) a sweet-tempered child.

It's a funny thing, having more than one child. It's not as private, more unwieldy. But I think we will learn to balance this strange, new geometry. We have a little litany, Gus and I that we say before bed sometimes because sometimes it needs saying: "Mama loves Gus. Daddy loves Gus. Mama loves Daddy. Daddy loves Mama." And Gus sometimes joins in or adds on: "Daddy yuv horse," or "Mama yuv tiger." One night, a couple of weeks again, I began, "Mama loves Gus..." And Gus jumped in: "Mama yuv Jake. Daddy yuv Jake. Gus yuv Jake."

So there you have it.