You stay at the dinner table until everyone is done. Then you clear your plate and help clear the table. That's the rule. Sometimes it causes tension. Especially when one kid loves the dinner offering and can't stop eating while the other one politely took three bites and now sits with her hands folded in her lap, waiting. Seconds. Thirds. The child on my left begins to twitch. She can't sit here much longer. When will her sister be done? There is an almost audible ticking as the list of things she would rather be doing builds in her head...
...lying in the tub
...running around outside
...anything besides SITTING HERE!!!
Her eyes meet mine. Oops. Sorry. Sit still, self. Sit still.
All at once, Eve starts giggling.
"I did it! My choir teacher tried to get us to figure this out all year and I finally did it!"
We all turn to look at her. Even Lola, her cheeks stretched from within with cornbread crumbs threatening to erupt.
"Rolling your shoulders in different directions," in a voice that tells us we ought to have already known this. Duh. She demonstrates. Her rounded shoulders, the bones moving slowly and clearly beneath the taut, tanned skin of her preadolescent arms, move smoothly. In different directions. The one nearest me is rotating around and around forward to backward, front, down, back, up, front, down, back, up. The other one is moving backwards, back, down, front, up, back, down, front, up. We are all quiet, our eyes flitting from one shoulder to the other, making sure she's not pulling our legs.
The undulating motion makes me think of the giant wolf eel we watched through the glass at the aquarium today, his dorsal fin rippling in the water as he slowly and effortlessly moved from one place to the other. I'm a little grossed out. Eve is over the moon. Her crooked teeth show in a spectacular grin, the dimple on the left side of her face pushed all the way in. She has done it.
In the same moment, the rest of us at the table are all moving our shoulders beneath our t-shirts, trying to do it, too. Bubba and I look at each other, embarrassed to be found out, but Lola, cheeks still distended with dry crumbs, grins as much as she can without shooting yellow shrapnel across the table. This is really hard. A lot harder than patting your head and rubbing your tummy. I look at the tablecloth, trying to focus on the task, but every time I think I'm starting to get it I feel this tugging in my brain. These two sides don't want to work against each other. They want to be synchronized, in agreement.
Maybe it's simpler to do two things that are opposed when you're young. Maybe as I get older my mind craves unity, assent, conformity. The two halves can't bear to be in conflict.
I've heard that free-association writing with your opposite, non-dominant hand is revealing and powerful. Someone told me once, in a writing workshop, that if I just sat down in a quiet room and began writing my thoughts with my left hand, I would discover some amazing truths. Something has stopped me from ever engaging in this exercise. I'm not afraid of the revelations. I'm pretty sure I've resisted because I'm bothered by what my handwriting would look like and whether I'd be able to do it "right" or not.
But maybe tonight after the lights are out and nobody can see, I'll give this shoulder-rotating thing one more try. Maybe.