When we were children, my brothers and I developed the term “kootchie,” which means that everything is in its place, working well, without any bumps or dips. Our goal was to ensure that our lives glided smoothly on — our friends were true friends, schoolwork was manageable and resulted in high grades, our clothes were cool, and dinner was tasty.
The problem with worrying about everything being kootchie, however, is that so much of life is out of our control, and while the friend situation may be going okay for a while, a hostile social studies teacher may be making the hour before lunch unappetizing.
Or, speaking of unappetizing, dinner that day may have been the Dreaded German Meal. Someone gave my father (was it one of us kids? Which one?) a calendar highlighting recipes from around the world. Early spring was destroyed by March’s roster of vinegar-soaked beef with raisin gravy, lemon-butter drenched boiled potatoes, and red cabbage with brown sugar and — God help me — more raisins.
As a child, I surveyed this acid-indulgent fare with horror, wondering how I could possibly scoop it all into my napkin for later disposal without being found out.
Cocooned in my baby-of-the-family world, I assumed for years that I was the only one who wept upon returning from school and smelling that peculiar acrid smell, but at a family gathering once I mentioned the “German Meal” and was surprised to hear all four sibling groan.
“God, that was awful,” the Middle Brother said.
“I found any excuse to head to the library for extra studying, during dinner,” my Treasured Only Sister confessed. (How unfair — she could drive; her 8-year-old sister was trapped.)
“Ach! The German Meal,” Youngest Brother paled and greened.
My father, the Professorial One, was shocked. “Are you talking about that wonderful German Meal?” he asked.
So here we have a prime example of things being not kootchie, and if the German Meal occurred on the same day as the enforced boy/girl dance class in PE and the increasingly regular occurring blow-ups with one’s “best” friend, then life was tumultuous indeed.
But life is tumultuous, and while some aspects of it may proceed smoothly for a while — the dog scratches on the door to go out instead of plopping the pile in front of it; the car actually does start, after the second or third try; the computer hasn’t been making that funny buzzing noise for a good day now — it consists of many things that don’t work quite the way they should, relationships that are heading up or down, boring jobs that at least are jobs, mysterious tears in the upholstery, and too many obligations scheduled in for the time allotted.
One evening, when the Eldest, the BoyFriend, and the Toddler were visiting, the Extremely Tired Toddler Who No Longer Naps and Is Really Cranky and Obnoxious in the Early Evening was being really cranky and obnoxious in the early evening. It was collectively determined by every member of the household populace over the age of 12 that the Toddler needed to go to bed.
The Toddler disagreed, and loudly expressed this disapproval.
The tired adults, who would gladly have exchanged places with the Toddler in bed if any of us were short enough to fit in it, attempted to read the paper, do a crossword, knit, while in the background a furious, exhausted, determined Toddler expressed herself in the way that I wish I could have, years before, about the German Meal.
I dropped a stitch. The Eldest erased and erased and erased 23 Across. The BoyFriend calmly read the paper; looking over his shoulder I saw that it was an article about silk flower arrangements. I don’t think so.
The Norwegian Artist glided over to the piano.
“Perhaps she needs a Goodnight Song,” he announced, and began playing. Initially, harmonious notes competed with the discordant concert from above, but after several minutes, the proportion of silence to weakly defiant yells increased until, a few moments later, only the piano music rippled the sound waves.
When the piano stopped, it was very silent indeed. Peaceful. The BoyFriend settled on a story about scaling Mount Everest.
The next day, the BoyFriend mentioned the incident to me.
“I thought it was an unusual and effective way to solve the problem,” he commented. “Instead of getting irritated, or leaving the room, or giving up and letting the Toddler control the situation, the Norwegian Artist found a creative way to relax himself, while at the same time providing a way for the Toddler to wind down and stop fighting sleep.”
Struck by this analysis, I realized that he was right.
Life is never kootchie, and it never will be. But we don’t have to get irritated, or leave the room, or give up.
We can find peace amidst the chaos, harmony amidst the cacophony, creativity even when we are tired.
Just so long as we don’t have to face that German Meal.