Author Note: Okay, I've decided that this series is now called "Old Growth." Thus it references (family) trees, growth, and the battering it takes to become old and venerable, and vaguely the idea that you still have growing to do when you're old. This particular story is something of a bridge between the previous story and the one I'm working on right now. It doesn't quite stand on its own, so I suggest that you start by immediately rereading 'And Baby' first.
Pregnant, Nita couldn't find a comfortable way to sit in her kitchen chair. If she sat up straight, her lower back pinched; if she slouched, the entire weight of her abdomen pressed upon her hips and bladder, and she immediately had to go to the bathroom. In many ways, her physical discomfort was the least of her worries – she couldn't have her coffee and was stuck with white tea, her manual refused to give her the kind of information she needed on the problem of the plastic soup in the Pacific Ocean, and Helena had dropped off her two-year-old daughter with only half an hour's notice this morning, on her way to volunteer at a soup kitchen in Manhattan. Luckily, Chloe was fairly well behaved and Nita was enjoying the quiet engendered by nap time until a snorfle, cough, and wail rose from the living room just out of Nita's sight.
Nita stood, and frowned, and went to investigate and comfort. The living room was strewn with toys and books, and there was a very guilty looking four-year-old across the room from crying Chloe. "I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry!" cried Lizzie, avoiding her gaze and crying bold faced. "Don't yell at me, mommy, don't yell at me."
Nita sighed and sat down on the couch, where she picked up Chloe and nestled her into what lap she had left. "I won't yell," she promised. "But, Elizabeth Kathryn Rodriquez, what did you do to your cousin?" Nita often wondered who Lizzie took after – though named for her grandmother, she seemed often to be full of the spitfire that had possessed both Dairine and Carmela combined when they were teenagers – certainly neither her nor Kit were ever this much trouble. Especially at the age of four.
Lizzie looked at her mother briefly and then looked away again quickly - and then reached for a book that had been thrown on the floor. "Read to me?" Nita sometimes spent her subway rides reading about child psychology. As a preschooler, Lizzie was struggling with the difference between guilt and initiative – she acted upon ideas and then figured out if it was the right idea later. She had apparently figured out it was a bad idea; she was avoiding the subject.
"Lizzie," said Nita with a warning in her voice, rocking back and forth on the couch as Chloe calmed and began sucking her thumb. Causing a sleeping child to cry was a problem – especially with a newborn on the way.
"I pinched her nose," said Lizzie, refusing to meet Nita's eyes. Lizzie demonstrated on herself, using her thumb and forefinger to completely seal her own nostrils.
Nita's eyes widened, but she struggled to stay calm. "Lizzie, how did you think that Chloe was going to breathe if you pinched her nose?" Her mouth, obviously, and there was no real harm done, but this was something she'd have to talk with Kit about – if Lizzie couldn't be trusted around babies, it would be a hard couple of years.
"Dunno," said Lizzie, looking at the carpet. "I'm sorry, Mommy," she said, tearing up.
"Come here," said Nita, and held out her arms so that Lizzie could come over for a hug. Lizzie dragged her feet, but came over for the embrace, flinging herself in the last two feet. "Oof," said Nita, and began to stroke her daughter's hair. "Don't do it ever again. You know, you're going to have a little brother or sister soon, and if they're napping, you're going to have to let them nap. New rule, okay? Let sleeping babies sleep?" Lizzie nodded into her mommy's shirt, and Nita sighed again. She looked down at Chloe, and then at the clock. "Let's have a snack, okay? Auntie Helena will be here soon. Mommy will be back soon, Chloe!" Chloe nodded sleepily, thumb still stuck in her mouth.
Nita cajoled Lizzie into the kitchen, where she climbed onto a chair, sitting on her haunches. Chloe she carried on her hip, gathering pretzels and throwing some grapes into a colander to be washed. "Mommy," said Lizzie from her seat. "Do I have school tomorrow?" Nita thought back in her head.
"Yes, actually," said Nita. She did a mental check – Lizzie usually had homework, which really meant that the parents had homework. It was perpetual show and tell at this preschool. "Do you know what letter you're talking about in class?"
"L!" she said. "L is for Lizzie, and lighting!" Lizzie made noises like explosions, pretending to throw lightening bolts. Nita frowned; there was a no television for Lizzie rule in the house, at least until Lizzie was a couple years older. Where had she seen or heard of anyone throwing lighting bolts?
It was then that the door bell rang. "Thank goodness," said Nita, and buzzed opened the front door for Helena. She opened the door to the apartment a crack, and with Chloe still on her hip, she began rinsing the grapes.
"Dai?" asked a hesitant voice from the doorway, followed by a weak knock. There was a teenaged girl standing there, looking absolutely shocked and somehow horrified. Nita looked around, and didn't see anything that would be particularly shocking or horrifying, just a mother in her early thirties and two kids. The doorbell buzzed again, and so Nita returned the look of shock and horror, but only for a fraction of a moment; Helena would be there soon, so evidence of wizardry would have to be minimized. Nita buzzed in Helena.
"How old are you," asked Nita briskly, wrestling Chloe's growing limbs into a high chair. Chloe kicked one foot, thinking it was helping put the foot through the hole. Nita took hold of her ankle and threaded it through. It was harder than it looked with a pregnant belly.
"Uh, thirteen?" said the girl, "I just came for advice..." The girl stepped forward, and she reached towards Chloe, trying to help; she backed off at the last moment, suddenly shy.
"My sister-in-law, who is not aware of my occasional occupation as an Advisory, and likes to pretend that wizardry doesn't exist, is about to pick up her child here," said Nita, forcing a smile. She patted Chloe on the head, and now settled into the high chair, was reaching for a grape. "Can you pretend to be a babysitter? You're a little young, but it'll be okay."
The teenager nodded, and quickly found a seat at the table, slinging her backpack over the back of the chair, apparently figuring that that would be the best camouflage.
"Hello!" called Helena from the door, and Chloe grinned and giggled. "Mommy!" she said, gleefully.
"Hey, how was volunteering?" asked Nita, smiling genuinely.
"Great," said Helena. "They're always so grateful at the St. Vincent DePaul society."
"Awesome," said Nita, who began to put Chloe's baby bag back together as it sat on a kitchen chair. "I have to hurry you, Helena," Nita began. "I've got a meeting soon." Nita gestured at the wizardling, letting Helena believe that her own babysitter had arrived, even though the supposed babysitter was the meeting.
"Oh, of course," said Helena, picking up Chloe, who nestled onto her mother's shoulder. "Thank you so much for the last minute babysitting – our nursery was closed for some reason, I hope it had nothing to do with lice." It had had something to do with lice, thought Nita. But she had deloused and denitted Chloe very quickly after Helena had left. She just hoped Helena would take precautions at home. Maybe she would send Kit over to his sister's house with a spell diagram to help her out.
"You're welcome," said Nita, and handed Helena the diaper bag. "We'll see you again soon, all right?" When Helena left, she turned back to the kitchen table where there was a slack-jawed teenager and her daughter, who had a sharp look on her face.
"You lied," said Lizzie, her eyebrows furrowed.
"I didn't lie," said Nita, calmly. "Did I ever say that...." Nita looked at the wizard to supply her name.
"Margene," she offered, her hand a helpless gesture.
"Did I ever say that Margene was a babysitter?" Nita said, hand on her hip.
"No, you shoulda told that she's a wizard," said Lizzie. She crossed her arms across her chest.
"It is not my place to introduce wizards as such. Now, go play in your room," said Nita, calmly. Lizzie got down off of her chair and stamped her feet as loud as she could all the way down the hallway to her room. "Margene," she said, turning back from watching her daughter's temper tantrum, "thank you for waiting." Margene still had the same look of shock and horror on her face as when she walked in. "Is something wrong?" asked Nita.
"I... just didn't think that wizards were housewives," said Margene, and then she looked away, embarrassed. "It's not what I expected when I sought out an advisory." Nita looked at herself. She was seven months pregnant, with a four-year-old daughter. Her kitchen was a mess, her table was covered in blocks, children's books, and her manual plus her notes. When Nita was fourteen, she never would have thought of a wizard like this either – as a mother, a caregiver. At fourteen, Nita wouldn't have believed that women would give up careers to rear little souls, though she knew her own mother had given up dancing for her. She wouldn't have thought that she would have given it up herself. Nita felt a twinge of pity for Margene, so young; willing to sacrifice her breath for the universe, but not her 'life' – not understanding that.
"Wizards come in all shapes and sizes, I'm sure you know. I'm a meteorologist by education, training, and career," said Nita gently. She sat down at the table too. "My specialty leans towards the oracular, though I've always had an affinity towards living things. It might not be something you understand yet, Margene, but... this was my choice, freely chosen. My husband is a wizard too. My partner in all senses of the word. Between us we would have had the money for daycare. But we chose this. I chose this. And, like wizardry, motherhood doesn't live in the unwilling heart. At least not easily. Read up on Betty Friedan some day." Nita smiled. "Besides, it gives me a lot more free time to devote to being an Advisory. What can I help you with?"
Margene looked down at her hands. "It's not exactly wizardry related. Though, I guess it has to do with the unwilling heart. I guess, maybe." She let her hair fall into her face, and Nita recognized in her a kindred spirit, someone who needed to think before she spoke.
"Let me make us some tea," said Nita, quietly, and walked over to the stove, where she picked up her kettle and filled it, then set it on the burner and turned up the gas. She busied herself first gathering mugs and tea strainers, filling them with tea leaves, and though Margene got up to join Nita in the Kitchen, sitting on a bar stool at the island, she remained quiet. Nita began gathering up the dishes from around the kitchen, loading the dishwasher and running water in the sink, to bide time until the kettle whistled and the water cooled a little.
"I'm in religious education classes," Margene said, finally. "It's dumb, I hate it, but my parents make me go. My mom is this pious housewife who makes me go, and when I tell her that I don't want to, and that I'm not sure I believe she starts crying and telling me that it's for my soul. And that all of my older brothers and sisters..." it was at this point Margene was interrupted by the kettle but the force of her story kept her talking as Nita turned off the gas and set a timer for the water to cool, "my older brothers and sisters all did it, but not one of them really seems to like... still be religious. And then I'm not sure if being Confirmed fits with wizardry, or if it's... just a dumb echo of what's really important in the world." She sighed, and looked down at her hands again. Nita placed a coffee cup in front of her hands, and poured water over the strainer she had prepared.
"Thank you, for choosing to talk with me, first of all," said Nita, stirring her own mug. "Second of all, Catholic or Protestant?"
Margene once again looked at Nita as if she were crazy, and Nita wondered how often she had given Tom and Carl those looks when she were a teenager. "Protestant," she said, in a voice that wondered how or why this was relevant.
"That makes my speech a little easier," said Nita, smiling gently. "You're right, religion is an echo of the truth, of our Choice as humans. But a lot of things are echoes, Margene. This reality itself is an echo of Timeheart. But Christianity certainly isn't a dumb echo, or an incorrect echo, and if you want to abandon the Bible, though it contains truths, you have your manual. And it certainly doesn't contain any easy answers, either. For humans, our Choice has been obscured. It is partially our search for meaning that enriches our lives." Nita paused for a moment to pull out her tea strainer. "Martin Luther doubted, Margene. He doubted, and he stood up for it, and he changed the world."
Margene stared at her mug. "So, you're … telling me... that it's both okay to doubt and that I should work to have faith?"
Nita laughed. "I suppose that I am."
Margene sighed. "Should I get Confirmed then?"
Nita looked at her seriously. "I cannot tell you that. My understanding is that it's something that has to be entered into with your fully informed consent. And if you fully understand, even if you doubt, and it's something you want, you should do it. You could think of it as an Ordeal." She smiled, and then grimaced as she was kicked in the ribs by her progeny. "Ouch."
"You're a lot of help," said Margene, reaching for sarcasm as her last defense. But it wasn't the kind of sarcasm that cut, it was just a quiet frustration of someone receiving the answer they knew was right, but that they were hoping against hope would be different.
Nita laughed. "I'm sorry, Margene. I wish I could just tell you what to do, but then I'd be a dictator instead of an Advisory." Behind the young wizard, the door to the apartment opened, and a man with tan skin and an olive complexion walked in. "Hey, love," said Nita. She walked over to him and leaned her head up for a kiss – Christopher put his hands on her swollen stomach and obliged with a peck on the lips, a smile on both of their faces.
Then Kit turned to Margene, who blushed and looked away, thinking she had intruded onto something personal. "I'm Kit," he said, holding out his hand. "You're new." He still had his messenger bag slung across his chest, and still wore his spring-weight jacket.
Nita swatted his shoulder. "This is Margene's first visit to Casa Rodriguez, but she's no rookie," said Nita. She winked at Margene, who looked away again.
"Hi," she said. "Uhh, I better go," said Margene. She slid off the bar stool and started backing towards the door. "Thanks for the tea, and the advice." She looked at Kit, suddenly concerned.
"Don't worry," said Nita, interpreting the look. "I don't tell Kit what my advisees talk about unless I need help solving their problems. He is my partner, but I know how to keep secrets."
"Thanks," said Margene softly. She looked down at her hands, and then looked up. "Nita?" she asked, brightening up a little.
"Yes?" Nita knew it looked unprofessional, but she leaned into Kit's shoulder, moved as close to him as she could as he stood there, claiming him, in essence, with her body language.
"I'd like to babysit for you," said Margene, "if, you know, you think that's okay?" She stepped across the kitchen, sideways, to reach for her backpack from the chair. She didn't want to lose eye contact right now, not with such an important request.
Nita looked at Kit, and Kit looked at Nita, and Nita smiled. "When you're 14, we'd love a babysitter," she said, returning Margene's gaze measure for measure.
"My birthday is next month," said Margene, smiling. She pulled the straps onto her shoulders. Then she looked down and away, embarrassed.
"You're in the book," said Kit, reassuring in the statement; it became a promise with those words. "We'll give you a call." Margene nodded and slipped out the door. "What was that about?" he asked, when the door was firmly shut and he had kissed his wife again. He leaned down so that his mouth was right by her ear. "Is she deeply madly in love with her partner?"
Nita bust out laughing. "No, but she's struggling with the divine, a bit. She'll be fine, or she'll be back to talk more, I'm sure."
"Because if she were madly in love with her partner, you'd have to tell her it all works out, you know." Kit looked down at Nita, and twined his fingers in her hair.
"Mostly works out," said Nita, half smiling. "Did you tell our daughter about fighting That One with lightening bolts?"