Our current foray into British costume drama of the literary variety is North and South, the 2004 adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's 1855 novel about the conflict between the pastoral South of England and the newly-industrialized North. Although the first episode didn't have enough fist fights or sword action to satisfy Son, a five-year-old madman, the ladies watched avidly and were able to discuss the plot and themes with satisfactory understanding.
So we were all looking forward to watching the second episode last night after dance classes and dinner. We assembled in the living room, already (mostly) cleaned in anticipation of the evening's viewage, we popped in the disc, and we set about searching for the remote control. This is not because we are too lazy to walk across the room and push buttons. On our DVD player, at least, there's no way to select an option down the menu without having the remote. And of course, the remote, last seen on the arm of the couch, had gone missing again.
Back in acting class, the professor told us that all drama starts either with "You never did that before!" or "You always...!" Drama was starting, and it was of the "always" variety. The remote is lost almost every day, because people never put it back in the big armoire that houses the TV, and so one is forced to search between the couch cushions and under the radiators almost every time one wants to watch something. And the longer the search goes on, the more intensive the finger pointing.
Everyone's mood comes out in moments of remote stress. I, who felt this an object lesson to all the children, proclaimed matter-of-factly that this was what happens, and if people wouldn't put things back then the innocent would suffer as well as the guilty, and let this be a lesson. Darwin, who had been particularly looking forward to relaxing and seeing what happens next, kept his cool in a clenched-jaw paternal sort of way as in the course of his search he kicked over the bin of tiny beads that some lady had been using to make bracelets. The oldest, 11, immediately went slack-jawed as she stood in the middle of the floor trying to retrace everywhere she'd seen the remote that day (without expending the energy to actually look in any of those places). The second, 10, felt she was being unfairly blamed when she is the hardest worker in the family, and was growing increasingly resentful and shrill. The 7-year-old was on her tummy on the rug, demanding tweezers to pick up the smallest beads from the carpet, and playing detective with the 11-year-old. 5- and 3-year-old were packed off to bed, and baby nursed loudly through it all.
The remote refused to be found, our evening show was canceled, and all children went to bed in a huff. I began to feel remorse for my role in agitating everyone by pontificating at them, and said so to Darwin when he came downstairs after putting everyone away and doing evening chores. He laughed and reported the tenor of the discussions among the big girls. The 10-year-old's outraged sense of justice had finally brought her to the conclusion that parents were always blaming people, but what if this time the parents had actually lost the remote? It was probably Mom and Dad's fault anyway.
"Don't you agree that Mom and Dad really lost the remote?" she demanded to the other girls.
"Yes, yes," said the 11-year-old impatiently as she and the 7-year-old hunched over a notebook. "Now can we make a list of everyone's alibis throughout the day?"
At intervals over the next hour, we could still hear the Magistrate holding forth while the armchair Sherlocks assembled their clues and tuned her out.
The remote was finally found this morning, tucked far back under a bookshelf where it had no business being, and the 10-year-old was finally satisfied.
"So, we're all agreed," she said. "Mom knocked it off the couch while she was nursing, so it's all her fault."
"Let's have a jump-rope contest!" said the 7-year-old.
The 11-year-old gazed fondly at the remote. "Mom, can we watch TV now?"
Fortnightly Book, April 26
5 hours ago