I almost posted on Tuesday about the state of our house.
The weather has been very very hot recently. Dry. Scorchingly dry. The smell of forest fires in the air, the haze of far-away fires hanging over the lake. Inside the house, the lights have mostly stayed off to keep the heat down and it has been hard to see the accumulating dirt and mess. I had been working myself silly on the UPPCC. The kids had been working themselves silly destroying the deck. (Pry-bars are physics, right?) Where meal-prep had occurred it had been slap-dash, and clean-up had only been partial.
In the evenings, when it cooled down, do you think we wanted to spend our last hours of exhaustion tidying? No. We were off to the lake for a dip, or throwing our weary bodies on the floor in front of a Harry Potter DVD, or playing music, or sitting under the turbo-ceiling-fan reading. So the house was a hot dark mess. We didn't care. We were mostly either outside or asleep.
And then the phone rang Tuesday evening. Chuck's sister B. had tried calling a few times earlier, but of course we'd been outside working. She and her husband, who normally live in Ontario, were in the middle of a road trip west. They were two hours north of us. Would we welcome a quick visit?
Well, of course! The kids have only met B. a handful of times, and she'd only visited us one here, and we've all only met G. once. All the way from Ontario? How could we resist? So I enthusiastically invited them to spend a day or two.
I hung up the phone. We had two hours. Normally, intensive cleaning and tidying drives me bonkers because it all falls to me. But the need was so acute and so time-limited that everyone pitched in, full-on. No one slunk their way through one assigned job and faded into the background. Every child showed initiative. Chuck came in from the shop and set to work. I'd wipe down the kitchen counters and turn around to discover that yet another room had miraculously tidied and vacuumed itself. What would have taken me 8 hours took the bunch of us about an hour and a half. By the time B. & G. arrived, I was making bread in my sparkling clean & tidy kitchen. My family had outdone itself!
But it didn't stop there. My children somehow transmogrified themselves into the poster children for unschooling that are their angelic alter-egos. Both B. and G. are high school teachers, and I'm always a little sensitive to impressions around the countless members of Chuck's family who are current or former teachers. It was as if my kids were performing from the script of my dreams. They talked, they smiled, they answered questions. They were polite and well-mannered. They kept it real by exercising their copious powers of creative play and their dry senses of humour. They played card games, they played weird hilarious games quizzing each other on chemical elements, they played chess, they bantered back and forth. They played together, with obvious caring and affection for each other.
They got up early in the morning. They were bright and full of energy. They helped themselves to healthy breakfasts. They went outside and biked and swung and twirled and tumbled. They tended the chickens. They talked about books they enjoyed. By request they each played some music for our guests. Fiona did a lovely job of "Musette", beaming all the while at Erin. Noah threw his heart into the "Nina" by Pergolesi. Sophie's Vivaldi fingers flew. Erin played "The Cat and the Mouse" by Aaron Copeland on piano, a brilliant, funny piece that showcases all her technical ability and sense of humour. The kids applauded for each other with enthusiasm. They played some more logic games. They set to work on the deck-wrecking. They were eager, pleasant, well-behaved, interesting and polite.
I write this all down not to brag, but because sometimes I need to be reminded that my children are these wonderful people. They are not just slovenly layabouts who do nothing but consume bandwidth and breakfast cereal. They may act like slovenly layabouts much of the time, but inside them are these wonderful, capable, helpful, compassionate, erudite young people. Later this week, or next month or next year, when I am despairing over their lack of empathy or gumption or moral fibre, I can read this and remind myself that they can behave just beautifully.
Then again, as I write this I realize that perhaps it wasn't entirely that they were behaving differently. Maybe it was also that I was looking at them through the eyes of our visitors and seeing them in a different light.