“If a dollar was only ten cents,” our middle child, Carmen, says as she digs into her purse, “everything would be a lot cheaper.”
I turn to her, ready to respond, to correct her mistaken notion. But then I pause, my mind suddenly locked up.
Her mother squints, lips moving, she too attempting to work out the math.
Her sister Ellie, nine years old and a year younger than Carmen, she turns to me, face desperately searching mine. Can that possibly be true?
It reminds me of when Carmen was reading a history of Pocahontas for a book report, curled up on the couch with a blanket and pillows, consumed completely by what she was reading. Her older brother Sam sat near her, doing everything possible not to read his own book.
He stared over Carmen’s shoulder. “Why do you like reading about dead people?” Sam asked.
“What?” Carmen said, turning to him.
“Why do you like reading about dead people?”
“I’m not reading about dead people,” she said.
“Well, I mean that Pocahontas is dead now.”
“No she’s not,” Carmen said. “She’s in London getting married.”
Sam was on the floor now, giggling, squirming as if someone was physically tickling him.
“Mom!” Carmen yelled. “Sam says Pocahontas is dead! But she’s not dead! She’s in London! Can you make Sam be quiet!”
“Am I right?” Carmen asks now. “If a dollar was only ten cents, everything would be a lot cheaper. Wouldn’t it?”
Her mother leaves the room. Ellie continues to stare at me. I’m still desperately trying to do the math on what Carmen has said. Trying to frame my explanation, to articulate why her suggestion is flawed.
Yet, for the moment, I’m still stuck, all thoughts lost in some logical gap.
When my father was in the hospital having surgery, we took the kids to visit him. It was Friday night, busy at the hospital, a fire truck and two ambulances parked near the entrance, their red and blue lights all spinning and flashing. A man in a wheelchair was being pushed up a ramp. A person on a gurney breathed loudly into a plastic mask.
Carmen came up next to me as we walked. Leaned toward me. “Well,” she said knowingly, gazing around at the scene, “I can see why they put a hospital here.”
It pretty well left me with no way to respond.
“I mean,” Carmen says now, “a bag of chips wouldn’t cost a few dollars. It’d cost maybe a quarter. Or less.”
I feel my powers weakening. My already tenuous grip on the complexities of my life, on the things I’m trying to teach the kids, it seems to be rapidly slipping away.