The twins are potty trained. Have been for a while, but I didn't want to tell you that. It was my plan to milk it for a long time, making the occasional cryptic comment like, "The girls graduated college today, their robes barely showing the bulge of their pull-ups," but then I wouldn't be able to post about Victoria's Festive Toilet. And that would be sad. I don't want anyone to be sad.
Victoria's Festive Toilet isn't the beginning of our story. It's the middle, wedged between a seizure and a trip to the emergency room. Be patient.
The day started at 6 AM.
Kathryn's seizures have gotten longer. It takes her longer to recover. She often slurs her words.
Kathryn came in and sat in my bed, taking the spot where Sharon usually sleeps. Sharon wasn't there. She was in Florida for business, although it's still unclear to me exactly what business. The woman edits dictionaries, for crying out loud. Had there been some discovery, some outbreak of new English words she needed to investigate? My wife's world is a mystery to me. I looked at Kathryn. The left side of her face was slack, drooping lower than the right. This happens sometimes. The effect is not unlike those before and after shots advertising tacky plastic surgeons. It is not easy to look at.
Kathryn slurred more words. Only half of her mouth seemed to be speaking. I told her I didn't understand. She repeated the words with effort and it still sounded like nothing. I shook my head and apologized. I felt like the world's worst dad.
"Yong," she said, emphasizing the word with frustration.
"Long?" I tried. She nodded. "It was a long one?"
She folded into my arms the way sleepy children do and I laid her down on the empty pillow. I lay next to her and listened to her breathe. We stayed there until the twins awoke. I know Kathryn never slept because she never moved.
And that was how the day began.
One thing Sharon did before she left for her "conference," besides pack a bathing suit and some sunscreen, was enroll the girls in a week of day camp. It was an extravagant gesture on her part--three kids mean three tuitions--but she said if I didn't let her do it, she wouldn't come back from her trip. "I don't want to be the one to discover your body," she explained. The camp was only in the mornings, just enough time for me to unload the dishwasher and load it back again, but on this day, it was even shorter than that. Mid-morning, the director of the camp called me. Victoria, caught up in the excitement of the day, the director informed me, had crapped her pants. Would I be so kind as to come there and change her, she wondered. I was tempted to say I was busy and suggest the director call my wife instead, but I was afraid Sharon wouldn't hear her cell phone ringing over the crashing waves and seagulls. So to day camp I went.
However, it wasn't Victoria that greeted me when I arrived at the building. It was Lila. A screaming Lila. Keep that in mind, because that will come up again later in the story.
Victoria had locked herself in a stall in the girl's bathroom. She had been in there since the director called me. "I think she's embarrassed," the director said. This woman should never be allowed to supervise children. Victoria could march through town leading the Fourth of July parade with a dump in her pants the size of Central America and be completely unconcerned. It wasn't that. It was the Festive Toilet.
When she heard my voice, Victoria unlocked the stall. "Look, Daddy! I took care of it," she exclaimed proudly, holding up hands that showed more brown than white. Her pants were around her ankles. Her panties were, too. She had been taking fistfuls of toilet paper, swiping them through her pants, throwing them into the toilet, then going back for more paper. At no point did she tear any of the paper off the roll, which left great loops of brown and white streamers dangling over the sides of the bowl. It looked decorated, like somebody was planning a potty-themed birthday party. Or welcoming home a beloved turd after a long absence.
To preserve her dignity, I won't tell you how much of her own poop she smeared upon herself during this process, except to say all of it.
Lila spent the majority of the time needed to clean her sister, the stall, the floor, and then myself, sitting outside the bathroom wailing in pain. Just before I had arrived, I was told, she had gotten her finger slammed in a door. A staff member had been holding ice on it for a while as I cleaned Victoria, but at some point that person had simply drifted away. And as I was using a wet paper towel to try to get the feces out of the treads of Victoria's sneakers, I realized Lila had drifted away as well.
I found her in a classroom, unattended and whimpering. Her finger, which had looked red and swollen when I came in, was now looking like a bratwurst. Cue the emergency room.
We didn't drive straight to the ER; we went past our pediatrician's office first. I had decided I was probably not in the best mental state to decide if this finger required the hell-on-earth that is an ER visit. The doctor looked at the finger for less than a minute. "Keep on driving," she said. "I'm pretty sure that's broken." So on we drove, Lila's middle finger swelling up in the exact same gesture I was mentally making at the world.
Lila was a champ at the ER. Why wouldn't she be? She was the star of the show. Victoria, however, became less and less enthusiastic about the hospital as she watched her twin talk to doctors, get a bracelet, and suck down painkillers. By the time Lila went for x-rays, Victoria was looking for a door to slam her own middle finger into. Finding none, she had to content herself with throwing herself to the floor, hoping for a head injury.
The finger turned out not to be broken, just badly sprained. Lila wore a splint on the finger for four days afterward. By the second day, the swelling had gone down, and the day the splint came off, she made a very tentative fist, slowly morphing her four-day bird-flip into a fight-the-power salute. And then she had to give back her gold medal.
Looking back on that day, now a week ago, it plays like one of those themed movies in which different directors shoot different, unconnected scenes all with the same cast. There was the sentimental childhood-illness tearjerker, the madcap scatological comedy, and then the fast-paced emergency-room TV drama. And, if you can believe it, it all took place before nap time.
But not long before nap time.