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Shrieking Sister Seeks Silent Shepherd

Do you remember in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, those black-as-night horsemen called the Ring Wraiths? They rode around in ponderous slow motion to the point you wondered if they ever got tired of it all and just wanted to strip off their shrouds and break dance.

One of their defining characteristics is their blood-curdling shriek — a long, high-pitched wail of horror. If you can imagine that same shriek but think of it coming from somebody happy, say, Elmo, as a result of, I don’t know, seeing pink balloons, then you will have an idea of Thing Two’s newest occupation.

She skipped the cooing phase altogether. Sometimes I see commercials of babies cooing and it sounds like a puppy and a peach-faced angel tickling noses and it makes me think, “Oh, I want one too, one of those babies!” And then I remember I in fact have a baby, but that she sounds like the one who fell off the assembly line and blew a fuse. I’m now calling her my Crazy Loon, not because she is mentally insane but because she sounds like exuberant waterfowl.

Gordon heard the shriek on Monday evening from inside the house while he was in the backyard with Drew. He ran inside thinking she was being attacked by whatever might have been living in our Christmas tree, but when he saw her grinning gums realized he had been duped. Duped again!

I heard her shriek at 5:45 Wednesday morning. This was AFTER I heard Drew dump out his entire train collection at 5 a.m. onto the wood floor which, when you’re dead asleep, sounds like satan dropping a pile of California Redwoods right next to your head. “I want to die,” I moaned to Gordon. “They’re trying to kill us. They are trying to physically kill us.” 

I really don’t remember Drew going through this Ring Wraith phase. I believe he was a legitimate cooer. His only mildly embarrassing vocal expression was a tendency to say “cheers” a lot at the dinner table, which I was afraid indicated to other people that we his parents were big time drinkers. But that just isn’t the case — I swear, at least not during months NOT called December — it was just a fun trick that made adults do something synchronized on command. His only real power play.

“She likes the sound of her own voice,” I said dolefully, realizing my most vain character quality had found its next genetic expression.   

I worried she might like the sound of it best in a place with acoustics, namely the auditorium of Drew’s preschool. I say auditorium, but what I mean is the sanctuary of the Methodist church, a mini cathedral with soaring ceilings and stain glass windows. We went there yesterday for the Christmas program in which Drew would be performing as either a sheep or shepherd (he was never very clear about it).

All week he had been singing a version of “Baa Baa Black Sheep” entitled “Baa Baa White Sheep.” I tried to decipher the true lyrics, but the best I could do was, “Baa baa white sheep, what do you hear? I see uh angel sitting clean.” I suggested a few alternatives and was hoping for him to put a finger on his nose or nod frantically like we were in a game of Pictionary. “Drew, is it ‘I see an angel sitting by the king?’” I thought that sounded plausible. But he would just stare, then sing again, “I see uh angel sitting clean.” I guess it was better than angels ridin’ dirty like Krayzie Bone.

As the week wore on, he began to adopt my suggestion, “I see an angel sitting by the king,” which satisfied me. Wouldn’t his teacher be grateful I had coached his diction? 

When the program started, the older preschoolers processed in, with Mary (who stumbled and dropped the baby Jesus into his manger like a sack of flour), Joseph and a few key angels in tow; then the younger class came in as the wise men for a grand total of 13 wise men (what can I say, they’re Methodists), and then Drew’s class filed onto the stage. To my delight, Drew was a shepherd, a beige strip of cloth tied around his forehead with brown cord.

We were a little afraid of an episode given Drew’s extreme sensitivity to clapping and other loud public botherations, but he only stood there self consciously — yet quietly — the whole time. I never saw him move his mouth one time and the only hand motion he performed was the old barroom-fisted elbow bend during We Wish You a Merry Christmas. He was the strong, silent type of shepherd.

When Baa Baa White Sheep began, I leaned in to listen as if deciphering Morse code. They sang, “Baa Baa White Sheep, What do you hear? I hear an angel singing clear.” Singing clear! So THAT’S it. Angels were there, next to white sheep, singing clear. Wait a minute. What kind of school IS this? Don’t angels sing CLEARLY? Have we not heard of adverbs?

The director got up, thanked us for being there and dismissed the children from the NARTHEX, which amazed me that the word NARTHEX had been so skillfully worked into the rhetoric even as CLEAR had fallen on its face.

I considered mentioning my “sitting by the king” lyric to the director and perhaps even to the teachers, but decided there was something slightly more Ebenezer Scrooge than Bob Cratchet about that, and if Drew is my Tiny Tim, well, I wasn’t going to be on the wrong side of history.

Madeline only let off one or two warning shots before the program began. She shrieked only once before the processional started, as if to say, “You see the power I have here in this situation, but I will today be merciful.”

So all in all, it was a backwards week: Madeline shrieking Puccini in her swing, alone; Drew standing silent, stock-still before an enrapt audience.

And me, the proudest mommy of them all.