I could never regret the choices we made to have children when we did but I admit that a few things got neglected in the last decade or so. Dreams in particular. Unlike Ella, my dreams never really included a large family; though I'm happy to have every one of the kids.
As we never had much use for it, the small shed on the lot had been left alone all this time. We'd never even made it over there to paint the outside or pull up the brambles really. Thus we were surprise when we finally DID make it inside to find that it wasn't really a shed at all but a house to a set of stairs that led down into a small basement like structure. It was really too large to be a storm cellar of any sort but too small to be what I might consider a full basement. And then there was the fact that it was several feet away from the house.
"I have an idea..." Val said as we looked around the dark room. There were scorched and broken pieces of furniture scattered about but the walls and floor looked undamaged - except by dirt and dust.
I knew I was thinking too much about the purpose of this mysterious basement because Val had to snap his fingers and wave his hand in front of my face to get my attention. "Wha?" I said, clearly having missed whatever he'd been saying.
"I was thinking, we could clean this place up and use it for something. If we put up a few walls we could even add a little bathroom here..." he was walking around, pacing off the areas he was seeing in his head. "And we could build a small wine cellar for some of the McWine label Jag and my folks keep sending us. The stand we have in the kitchen is all well and good for display but does nothing for aging...."
I smiled at his enthusiasm for the potential project. "Sure. And you could get those instructions from Jag and make your own machine...there ought to be enough room for one here and then a little desk and computer over there to help with business. I know you've been feeling guilty about leaving more of the work on Jag's shoulders while you focused on us and then your paintings." I said.
val responded by pulling me too him and spinning around the room with me. It didn't take him long to replicate the machine with Jag's help and we finished the cellar and the bathroom at the same time so we had a nice little office set up. "I guess we're open for business." he said with a chuckle.
"Not until you make some wine." I rebutted.
You'd think that pressing fruit and making wine would come naturally to him, given his family history and all that but I can't begin to count the number of times I came down the steps to hear him cursing and brushing bits of grape and juice from his shorts.
"Slippery little suckers" he muttered as I sat down at the computer with a small smile on my face.
Of course being a home built machine it wasn't as reliable as it could have been I suppose. Val said it was perfect but I don't think it was supposed to be spewing wine from it's guts like it did on occasion. After losing more than a few batches to a large puddle on the floor, Val conceded defeat and called Jag.
"Well what is doing?" Jag asked over the phone.
Jag talked him through the repairs and promised to come over in the morning to look at it but Val assured him it was fine. I wasn't so sure about that but I didn't say anything lest I rile him up.
After that misadventure, we seemed to be on the right course for setting up this little endeavour. The machine worked at least eighty percent of the time and Val's feet worked at least sixty percent of the time. I continued to work in our little garden and troll around town looking for the most delicious fruits I could add to our own. I hoped to be able to provide all the fruit Val could possibly need for his wine making venture but I knew, with any luck, demand would grow beyond what I could supply. Of course when that happened it would mean the winery in the basement had far exceeded our meager expectations.
When I wasn't in the garden, I went down into the office with Val to work on the paper side of things. I kept a log of all the fruit available and the various bottles he produced as well as the costs of said bottles and other expenditures. So far there was nothing being sold so I didn't have to keep up with sales yet. Hopefully soon though.
I asked Val several times when I might be able to taste some of the wine but he assured me it wasn't time yet. It seemed like everything he produced in that first year or so either went on a shelf or was tossed out. "It's just not..right..." he replied when I asked once again to taste a bit.
I shrugged and left him to it, heading back upstairs to finish the daily work required in the garden. I passed Jag on the way out and pointed him back toward the shed where he knew he'd find Val.
I was no longer the only one in the garden either. Amethyst had shown an interest as well and started joining me on the weekends - though only after about eleven in the morning as she was very much opposed to having to wake up and be a human being before then. I didn't argue with her about it as I appreciated any help I could have but by eleven I was often very nearly done for the morning.
Finally, after nearly a year of trying to work out the kinks of the wine making business, Val told me he was willing to let me try a bottle. We waited until we'd tucked all the kids into bed and then went back downstairs. Val poured the glasses silently. I couldn't help but feel as if something should be said one this occasion but seeing as this was his creation, I let him dictate the course of the event - such that it was.
"To you my dear; my love and the mother of my children." he said after handing me and glass and taking his own.
We clinked our glasses together and slowly we both took a tiny, hesitant sip. "It's delicious!" I exclaimed and then blushed at how my voice seemed so loud.
"Don't seem so surprised" Val teased. "Believe you me, you don't want to try the earlier attempts..." he said with a laugh.
While the new business had become a big focus in our lives, we didn't let it take away from other important things - like our children. The thing was, the older they got, they more dependent they got! I thought it would be a relief to have them all so self sufficient but ultimately it only made me feel sad. I missed having them come to me for their boo-boos or for a bit of a snuggle, instead they were finding that comfort from each other.
Minsk and Violet - though opposite in many ways - had become even closer if that was possible. They were already twins but they never once teased each other like the other kids did on occasion or grew further apart like Amethyst and Windsor had. Sometimes I would find something a mess or broken and I knew it was one of them as no one else was around the house at the time but they would never rat on each other - I could never decide if I should be angry or proud of their loyalty to each other.
Violet had also grown closer to Amethyst since they started sharing a room. We'd opted to move Minsk in with Windsor and then got identical bunk beds for the girls in the other room. Like Vi and Minsk, Violet and Amethyst had a lot of differences - namely the outdoors things - but they bonded over the TV. Vi loved watching TV and Amethyst didn't like being active if she could help it so she would lounge on the couch or chair while Vi was watching.
Soon they had a schedule of shows they mutually enjoyed and there would be thunder of footsteps as they moved toward the living room. "You get the snackage and I'll get it started!" Vi called out to Amethyst almost every Monday and Thursday night. Then there would be complete silence from them during the actual show and a few minutes of rapid chatter on the commercials. I tried to get a handle on what they were watching but it just wasn't for me but Amethyst assured me it was okay for Vi to watch at her age.
As always, though, homework was a first priority in the house. The teenagers got home before the younger ones but they'd usually still be working around the dining room table when their younger siblings got home. Windsor was almost always the first one done. He was very dedicated to his school work I suspect he worked on it between classes as well because he usually had less than the others.
Violet had just finished her homework one Thursday afternoon when Val sat down with a bit of left over cake - there always seemed to be left over cake. "Dad..."
"Hmm?" he mumbled, his mouth full.
"Can we get a new TV?" Violet asked, giving him her best look of pleading.
Val swallowed what was in his mouth and put down his fork before responding, "You know how your mother feels about that. The one we have works just fine..."
"No it doesn't...and it's so small! We're lucky it's even in color Dad!" Violet argued. She'd been asking for a new TV for months really and had tried almost every trick in the book.
"Vi, I said no. It works fine." Val said a little more firmly.
"But it doesn't work! That's the problem! Amethyst is trying to fix it right now before our show comes on!" Violet said with a sigh. She pushed back her chair violently and stomped away. Val put away his cake and told me, briefly, what happened and asked me to deal with Vi while he helped Amethyst lest she burn the house down in her attempt at amateur repair work.
I couldn't understand this obsession with technology most of my kids seemed to have. While we now had two computers, one was delegated to the business end of things so the six kids still had but one computer to battle over. Rum wanted it for his online gaming, Windsor wanted it for research, Amethyst wanted it to socialize on places like Twizzler and BerryBook, Minsk and Vi also tried to get a chance at it for some reason but were usually edged out by their older siblings. I didn't really feel comfortable with them spending too much time on the internet anyway at their age.
Windsor was coming home late more and more often and I assumed he was staying at the library so as not to have to fight for computer time. I was only half right. He WAS at the library but it was Amethyst who told me the real reason. "He's got a crush!" she said with a girlish giggle. The giggle was enough to get my attention as Am had never been overly girly.
"Ah, is there a cute library assistant after school?" I asked, trying to sound casual.
Amethyst giggled again. "Oh no....more like a study buddy..." More giggles.
"Okay Amethyst - tell me..." I said, using a twinge of mom voice to put an end to the giggling.
Amethyst was obviously struggling to hold back another one as she said "It's DiAngelo..."
"Oh!" I said in surprise as Amethyst hurried from the room. Upstairs I heard her laughing behind closed doors and shook my head. While I was surprised that Windsor had a bit of a crush on his best friend, I was a little sad I had to learn it from Amethyst instead of him. Still - at least he was out being social right? I decided it would be best to let him tell us in his own time, this wasn't something one wanted to be forced out on.
Eventually Amethyst emerged from her room, having gotten control of her laughing fit and joined us downstairs. I was in the midst of making dinner when I heard the radio turn on followed shortly by arguing. "But I wanna dance too!" Haiti whined.
"Not saying you can't...just stop stepping on my toes." Amethyst said, trying to nudge Haiti out of her way. While our living room wasn't large, there should be enough room for the two of them to dance. Of course Haiti wasn't the most graceful of little berries and even if he had a football field he'd probably bump into someone along the way. "Haiti! Ow!" Amethyst shouted as it sounded like he smacked into her on accident.
"Sorry..." he muttered. I came out in time to see him slumping up the stairs and shot Amethyst a warning look.
"S'not my fault he a clutz Mom!" she said.
I shook my head and told her to be nice before following Haiti upstairs. I found him playing alone in Rum's room and watch for a moment from the doorway.
"I didn't mean to step on her toes or hit her..." he muttered toward the ground.
"I know kiddo." I said, taking a seat on the bed.
"I hate being the baby of the family - no one likes to play with me..." he said with a frown. "Even Minsk and Violet act like they're so much older than me but they're NOT!"
"I know..." I said again. "Soon though - even that one year won't seem like anything."
"Sure Mom, whatever." he said. "They'll go off to high school soon and I'll still be left behind in baby school."
"And then you'll join them in high school before you know it Haiti..." but I'd already lost his attention, if I ever head it.
He was right about one thing, Minsk and Violet were about to have their birthdays which meant they'd be joining Rum, Amethyst and Windsor in high school in just a few short months. Though Vi hated the outdoors - she agreed to have the party outside since it would be easier to put the cakes and presents out there.
I knew, though, that as soon as the candles were blown out and the presents unwrapped - she'd be back inside hiding out from whatever ailed her.
Minsk and Vi looked at each other for confirmation before leaning over and blowing out their candles at the same time. Sometimes I wonder if they made the exact same wish or could reach each other's minds.
Now that they were officially teenagers, they were both eager to try their hand at a few of the things we'd told them had to wait until they were "older". Despite her preference for the comforts of indoors, Violet was the first to give the martial arts training dummy a try. After one short session she realized two things; first, being by wood in the name of exercise hurts and second, she much preferred the indoor gym in town. She never went near the dummy again.
Minsk, on the other hand, loved it and would spend hours training with it. Well that and playing in the sprinkler - a habit that he had as a child as well. Violet was also the first to successfully wrest the computer away from Rum and Windsor for a bit. I told her she wasn't allowed to join any social networking sites yet because I was still nervous about them and every time I checked on her she only seemed to have google or her email open.
Windsor still hadn't told us about his feelings for his best friend and I began to wonder if he was afraid we wouldn't approve. Val assured me that he was probably just being a guy and a teenager - basically not into sharing details like that - but I was still hopeful.
Finally, the week before Haiti's birthday, he asked if it was okay to invite a friend over for the party so they could hang out afterwards. As Haiti didn't mind and it was his party, Val and I approved. It wasn't long after that that I heard Vi sigh in frustration. "Seriously? Those are your best moves?"
I peeked into the living room and saw that she and Rum appeared to be trying to teach Windsor to dance. Well Rum was standing awkwardly by mostly while Vi tried to reposition Windsor's arms and body. Every time she moved one area, something else moved in the wrong direction and he looked like a rambling zombie instead of a smooth dancer.
"Windsor! Come on and focus!" Vi snapped as Windsor started mumbling.
"Oh never mind!" he shouted, stomping towards his room.
"Hey you're the one that asked ME remember!" Vi shouted after him. One look from me and she stop shouting but she rolled her eyes and flopped on the couch with the remote in her hand.
Defeated in the dancing arena, Windsor turned his attention to the kitchen. He seemed well aware of the fact that he could learn to prepare a fine three course meal in a few days but picked out a recipe for an elaborate salad. I offered to help him but he quietly told me he'd prefer to do it alone.
On the day of the birthday party, DiAngelo was a no show sadly, making Windsor less than enthusiastic at the party. He put on a mild effort for Haiti's sake but I could tell he was upset and disappointed that his friend - or whatever they were now - hadn't come.
For his part, Haiti didn't seem to notice his brother's lack of enthusiasm though.
With six teenagers now in the house, this once sprawling house seemed exceptionally small. There was always someone around because there were only so many place for eight people to live in one house. Naturally, many of us chose to spend the days outside so we weren't tripping over each other indoors.
But that wasn't always practical. We couldn't sleep outside (at least not comfortably) or shower outside (at least not without raising a few questions from the neighbors). As a result there were a lot of little spats and arguments between the kids - especially when they bumped into each other and as regards the bathrooms. We only had two and a half baths in the whole house - one of which was in the master bedroom. This made mornings very tense and very difficult. As much as we tried to keep the master bathroom off limits, we realized quickly that this was not practical with six teenagers trying to get ready for school.
Since Val and I worked from home and rarely needed to go out at the same time the kids were leaving, we saved our showers for after they all had a turn and were out of the house for the day.
Even before his birthday came around, I knew Rum was making plans to leave the house as soon as he was old enough and had graduated. He'd been looking on forums for roommates and cheap houses and apartments and had come to use a few weeks before his eighteenth birthday with a plan to leave. "But I need some help with the deposits." I wasn't sure how he honestly had any money towards deposits or rent as he used all his allowance on his monthly fees for his online games but I opted not to question it. Val and I agreed to help him get settled as a graduation gift. To be honest, we had a sum of money set aside for each of the children that we hoped they'd put toward college or getting settled but we put no real stipulations on it. Val also got a good deal on a laptop for Rum as a birthday present.
That night, when we said goodnight to Rum and the other kids, I tried not to tear up. All his stuff was packed and he'd be leaving a less than a week. It was hard to believe my little baby was already 18 and going out into the world on his own.
Val put his hand in mine and we went back downstairs together to clean up the cake and party plates. "He's an adult now." I said quietly.
"I know" Val said simply.
After I wrapped the cake and tucked it inside the fridge, I felt Val's arm around my waist and he pulled me towards him.