Tonight we went to our local Italian restaurant for dinner where Caroline met (in the ladies' bathroom) a very nice older woman who raises purebred Persian cats. Caroline returned to our table and started to tell us about her new acquaintance and the kittens when her brothers set upon her like Sally Jersey and the Countess of Leiven, decrying her forwardness and warning her of the dire consequences that will arise from too much familiarity with the unknown.
Steve said, "SHE'S FINE!" at the same moment I said, "It's ok. She's just being friendly and we're all here."
Edward began to list every awful thing that can happen to short people and Patrick expressed his views on the social presumption of children who mistake kindness for interest. I snapped at them both: "Enough! Caroline is friendly and smart and likeable and she is perfect just the way she is."
Caroline grinned and said, "I'll bet I will be president one day."
Patrick said, "President?! Really?! Do you even know what a Democrat is?"
Which takes me to two very separate anecdotes that I am not telling in chronological order:
1. I said:
Patrick. Look at me. This is important:
My brother is four years older than I am. He was bigger than me. He was faster than me. He could ski. He could swim. He was great at soccer and he played the violin really, really well. We couldn't go anywhere without meeting somebody who would recognize him and greet him as a friend. He worked harder, laughed more, knew more about almost everything than I did.
But all I remember is my brother telling me that I could do it. I could ride that bike. I could put on skis. I could speak French, write a novel, tell that boy who broke my heart to regret every second of his life that passed without me.
And forty years later he is still one of my best friends. I talk to him at least once a week if not once every other day. We know each other like no one else can.
Patrick, my sweet love, you have the opportunity to be that brother. You are so amazing in your own right; don't be jealous. Don't be negative. You have Caroline and Edward for the rest of your life: enjoy them.
2. As the waiter came to clear our plates Caroline answered Patrick's question:
"Of course I know what a democrat is! A democrat is African-American... "
Steve snorted. Patrick laughed. The waiter bolted. I turned purple.
"Garwk! No!" I shouted."No!"
Then I found my composure.
"I mean, yes, our current president is President Barack Obama and he was elected through the Democratic party and, yes, he is an African-American; so I understand why you made that connection but it is more complicated than that."
The entire family, Edward included, turned to me in polite interest and you know what? I spend a lot of time pretending not to know things that I know and this time I just went for it.
"Well!"I said. "I'm so glad you asked. Let's start with 1783 and the farewell address given by George Washington. In that seminal letter... ."
Steve said, "I think you might want to dial it down."
"Fine! OK! Democrats! It's a political affiliation and a person can be African-American or Caucasian or Hispanic or Asian-American or a smurf. It has nothing to do with race. In fact do you want to know who identify as Democrats, Caroline? Daddy and me."
Steve said, "Actually I voted for Colin Powell."
"He wasn't running," I said through clenched teeth.
"It's called a write-in."
I thought about stabbing him in the eye with a bread stick but instead I amended, "OK. Dad doesn't like anyone telling him what to do. Ever. But... ."
Patrick made a Venn Diagram for us on a cocktail napkin: Presidents, African-Americans, Democrats.
I started to explain why the diagram was not usable and Caroline's new friend came over to show Caroline the cat pictures on her phone and Edward said, "Speaking of governments did you know that the Aztecs just killed their enemies? And that they had boy warriors ?"
Children. Sometimes they embarrass you. Sometimes it is a misunderstanding. Always it is in public.