Part IV: Miracles Great and Small
While the snow continued to fall, sleeping arrangements were made in haste. Andy’s mother and Uncle Marty returned to their childhood bedrooms, which had long ago become dumping grounds for their parents’ accumulation of clutter. Boxes were moved, blankets were unearthed and knickknacks were piled and shoved aside. It was less than ideal, but the adults would make do. That left the living room couch for Hannah and the first-floor guest bedroom for the kids.
When it was time to go to sleep, Andy, Jake and Tony shared the bed, while Libby grabbed a pillow and a blanket and took to the floor.
“She thinks she’s too good for us,” Tony chided.
“Shut up,” Libby said.
While Tony and Jake continued to talk, Andy left the bed and knelt down by his cousin. He felt so bad for her. She had to wear diapers even though she didn’t want to, she was teased by her siblings and now she didn’t even have a bed to sleep in.
“You can have my spot,” Andy offered.
“It’s not the space I’m worried about,” Libby said.
“Then what is it?”
“I’m afraid that I’ll leak,” she whispered.
“You won’t leak,” he told her.
“Yeah? How do you know?”
Andy, of course, did not know whether Libby’s diaper would leak or not. But if a little bit of oil could last eight days and a light dusting of snow could turn into a heavy blanketing, then surely God could make a diaper last through a night.
“Trust me,” he said. “These things hold a lot. They have, um, polymers and stuff. I learned that in school.”
“OK,” she said, leaving the floor for the bed.
It was a snug fit, one which would have been unbearably awkward in another year or two. Libby took the end closest to the wall, followed by Andy. They were diapered and would not need to climb over anyone to get up to use the bathroom. Jake lay to Andy’s right, then Tony took the end. The one upside to the arrangement was that nobody was cold.
“Andy?” Jake asked. Andy wondered if his brother would ever learn when to stop talking.
“What?” Andy said.
“Can we build a snowman tomorrow?”
“Maybe,” Andy said. ‘Maybe’ rarely satisfied Jake, but on that occasion it did. He was quiet and Andy was quiet and Tony and Libby were quiet too. The only sounds in the room were the light crinkling of diapers whenever Andy or Libby turned. Amid such silence, sleep came with surprise ease.
The next morning threatened to turn Andy to a liar. He felt dampness on his back and his first thought was that his diaper had leaked after all. But when he felt the front of his pants to check the damage, his fingers came up dry. The dampness wasn’t around him, it was underneath him. It was Jake, he realized. Jake had wet the bed.
“Damnit, Jake,” Andy grumbled. His brother woke up, realized what he’d done, and started bawling almost immediately. It took Andy a good minute or two to calm him down.
“It’s my fault,” Tony reluctantly admitted. “He kicked me like he wanted to get up, but I was too tired to move.”
Ironically, it was Libby, the only incontinent among them, who did not wake up with a wet bed. Sleeping so close to the wall had spared her. And though she saw enough in the situation to produce a slight giggle, she dared not say an unkind word to anyone.
Andy sought out his mother to tell her what happened.
“You’re kidding,” she said.
“I wish,” he answered.
Shaking her head, she acted decisively, stripping the wet sheets off the bed and gathering them up to toss in the washer.
“I’ll do a load of pants and underwear next,” she said. “You can take turns showering in the meantime.”
“What are we supposed to wear while our clothes are getting washed?” Tony asked.
Clearly at a loss, Andy’s mother bit her lip. There was no way the kids’ grandparents had any clothes that would fit. She was about to tell them to go around wrapped in towels – even though there probably weren’t enough towels for everyone – when Grandma Gellman, who had just put in her hearing aid and was hovering nearby, came up with a solution.
“I keep some cloths for polishing,” she said. “Big ones, in your old room, dear. Maybe for now they will do.”
Andy’s ears perked up. “Big cloths” sounded to him like diapers. He knew people sometimes kept them for cleaning – he saw some once in a friend’s garage. But what were the odds his grandmother would have them too?
And yet a package of cloth diapers was in Andy’s mother’s hands when she returned a few minutes later. His grandmother wasn’t exaggerating. The clothes were big, big enough to fit even him. Though he dared not show it, Andy was excited. He’d never tried cloth diapers before.
He would have to wait awhile to get his turn though. Libby had wet her diaper during the night and was thus the first to shower. While waiting for his turn, Andy walked into the kitchen. He found his Uncle Marty sitting on a stool in the breakfast nook and nearly recoiled.
“You’re scared of me, aren’t you?” Uncle Marty asked.
“No,” Andy lied.
A knowing smile spread across the sick man’s face. “It’s OK,” he said. “Every now and then, I look in the mirror and I get scared too.” He ran his hands over his face and asked, in mock-seriousness, what happened. “I’m getting better though,” he continued. “I just need to take it one day at a time. By the time your Bar Mitzvah rolls around, I should be close to 100 percent.”
“I wish I didn’t have a Bar Mitzvah,” Andy blurted out. He hadn’t meant to confide in his uncle, or in anyone, for that matter, about this, but it slipped out anyway. He expected his uncle would chastise him, tell him how he should look on it as an honor and a privilege. Instead, Uncle Marty said he didn’t want to have his either.
“I was always the rebel,” he told a surprised Andy. “I wore my hair long and nearly got kicked out of high school. I did a lot of stupid things. Your mother looked up to me for it, I think, but I’m glad she never followed. It wasn’t until I met your Aunt Deb that I really settled down…Anyway, the Bar Mitzvah. I didn’t want anything to do with it. All that Hebrew to memorize, all those people there to watch me if I screwed up. Your grandparents made me, of course, and I was mad about it. But then when your cousins came along, I was glad that I had one. Because now I know what it will be like for them. I guess what I’m trying to say, Andy.” He paused to cough. “Is that whatever doesn’t kill you does more than make you stronger. It makes you smarter, too. You learn from it. Not just the good things, but the bad things and stupid things. All of it. Does that make any sense?”
“Yeah,” said Andy. “It does.”
He wasn’t lying or paying lip service. The cloud of confusion in his head began to evaporate and he felt two giant puzzle pieces slide together. The conclusion he reached last night playing dreidel was right after all. Everything, good and bad, was there to test him, to make him better, and if he couldn’t quite get comfortable with that idea, at least it was one he understood.
Andy headed for the bathroom next, hoping to take a shower. Someone had beaten him too it, however. The door was closed and the water was running. The second-floor bathroom was likewise in use. Andy returned to the first-floor hallway and waited so no one else would steal his turn. Across from him, the door to the guest bedroom was closed. Andy guessed Libby was in there being rediapered by Aunt Deb. He wondered if she would always hate diapers. He hoped not. It was almost enough to make him feel guilty for liking them.
Libby exited the bedroom just before her brother emerged from the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist. Aunt Deb summoned him to the bedroom and he entered reluctantly.
“Lay down so I can put this on you,” she instructed.
“Why do I have to wear a diaper?” he protested. “I’m not the one who wet the bed!”
“I know that, honey. This is just for now.”
“Noah, I am not going to ask you again.”
Andy chuckled. He knew his cousin didn’t like his real name and he knew his aunt only used it when she was serious. He took his shower, left his pants in the pile that was accumulating on the bathroom floor and returned to the guest bedroom for his diapering. Aunt Deb was waiting for him, a cloth diaper fanned out on the floor beside her.
“Have you seen my mom?” Andy asked.
“I think she went to help your dad with the shoveling,” she replied.
“Don’t be silly, Andy,” she told him. “I used to do this for you all the time when you were little.”
That was true enough, he supposed, though he didn’t remember any of his diaper changes from when he was an infant. Nevertheless, he lay down and let his aunt diaper him. She took more time than her daughter did, carefully tugging the cloth up and over and securing it in place with a safety pin on each side.
“Thanks,” Andy said. He was amazed by how soft the fabric felt against him, though he doubted it would hold very much. That was OK – he didn’t plan on wetting until he got home.
Freshly diapered, Andy joined his cousins in the living room. Hannah had stumbled across a deck of playing cards and had a game of poker going.
“Deal you in?” she offered.
“I’m not good at it,” Andy explained.
“Like any of us are,” she said. “'Sides, it’s mostly luck anyway.”
Andy agreed to play. He was dealt two losing hands before Jake joined them. He still looked sullen following his accident and declined the invitation to play. Instead, he sat on the floor watching. He was finally quiet.
The card game ate up a good chunk of time and it wasn’t long before Andy’s mother told the kids their pants were ready. They rose to retrieve their trousers, but not before Hannah snapped a picture of them in their diapers with her cell phone camera.
“Hey!” Tony objected.
“Sorry, but when am I ever going to see this again?” Hannah said. “You guys look too cute.”
“I’m telling Mom.”
“Oh please, it’s not like I’m gonna show this to anyone…”
Andy walked away from the argument red-faced, snatched his pants from his mother and promptly put them on. “Can we go soon?” he asked. He was sick of all the arguing and just wanted to be back at home.
“Actually, I think we’re all headed out for an early lunch,” his mother told him.
Andy sighed. If this kept up, he’d be in as bad a mood as Jake.
The late morning sun was hot and strong and the temperature had kicked up into the lower 40s. Snow had begun to melt into watery pools. Cars along his grandparents’ street were cleared or half-cleared, some carrying snow on the roofs like hats. Where there was only a white monolith the night before, Andy could make out the green of the grass and the gray of the sidewalk.
“It’s too melty,” Jake protested. “Now we can’t make a snowman.”
“It will snow again,” Andy reminded him.
In a three-car caravan, the family made its way over to a diner, an old standby from Andy’s mother and Uncle Marty’s childhood. The building had been remodeled and changed names and ownership several times, but a diner it remained. Somehow, Andy’s grandparents had fallen behind and so the rest of the family waited outside for them to catch up.
“You’re lucky you don’t have any sisters,” Libby whispered to him while they waited.
“Why’s that?” Andy asked. He thought Jake was bad enough.
“On the way over here, Hannah told my mom and dad to stop and get me more diapers. She said I’m going to leak again. She thinks I wet the bed instead of your brother.”
Andy looked at Hannah. She had her back to them and her cell phone out, no doubt texting her friends. Before he could talk himself out of it, he scooped a handful of wet snow off a nearby bush and flung it at her butt. She spun around angry, demanding to know who did it. Neither Andy nor Libby gave anything away.
“Urgh!” she said, barging inside the restaurant.
Libby giggled. “Thanks,” she said.
“Sure,” said Andy. “Any time.”
Their early lunch ended up being closer to a late breakfast. Having worked up an appetite, Andy downed a glass of orange juice and devoured most of a three-egg omelet. Jake, in contrast, only picked at his food. It was clear that wetting the bed still bothered him and Andy resolved to talk to him about it later. For as annoying as Jake often was, seeing him down like this was actually worse. He was only 7, Andy thought. Seven-year-olds are supposed to be bouncing off the walls.
“I’m glad we all got to see each other,” Andy’s grandmother declared. “It isn’t easy these days, with everyone being so busy. And the weather, oy! But we made it.”
“We sure did, Mom,” Uncle Marty said, raising his glass of water in a toast.
Though talkative as ever, the family made it through the meal without a single argument and Andy began to relax. He felt a pang of regret as he said his good-byes. He hoped he would see this side of the family again before his Bar-Mitzvah, especially Libby. For a girl, she took everything…well…like a man.
“I hope you, uh, feel better,” he said.
“What? I’m not si….oh. Thanks. You too.”
“They’re not bad, Libby,” he told her. “You just need to give them a chance.”
“I might have to,” she answered, regretfully and on that note, they parted.
The sun was still shining when the Greenbaums reached home an hour later. Andy put his presents away and changed into a disposable. He kept the cloth diaper though. He began thinking of what he could substitute for plastic pants so he could wear it again.
That evening, he and Jake battled it out on the Wii once again. Andy took it easy on him this time, and, perhaps out of gratitude or perhaps because he’d walked a mile in his shoes, Jake told him he was sorry that he laughed at him for wearing diapers. Andy told him not to worry. He was glad to have his brother back. All that remained was for him to figure out what he was going to do about school.