“Do you want breadsticks?”
“What?” I said and leaned half my body over the counter.
“Do you want breadsticks!” he yelled. I was in the mall, standing under the neon Sbarro sign at dinnertime rush hour. The cashier, a teen in plastic gloves and a hairnet, looked desperate. I finally nodded “yes” because who doesn’t want breadsticks? Behind me, my family continued to howl.
I don’t mean howling in a metaphorical sense.
My husband, five-year-old son, and three-year-old twins were waiting for their pizza-by-the-slice, holding plasticware, and “owwwww owwwww owwwww-ing” like animals.
It’s what we do.
We howl in the car on the way to the park and also at the park. We howl at the kitchen table over cinnamon toast. We howl at the pool and at the beach. We howl while trick-or-treating, probably the most appropriate setting. But pretty much any place is fair game.
We get all the stares. Old ladies smile at first, because little kids are hard to resist, like puppies and kittens, and it makes them remember the days when they were young moms. But then they look puzzled, because surely their kids didn’t run so wild? Other mothers my age mostly give us the side-eye and steer their stroller away, hoping their own kids won’t pick up the habit, like nose-picking or standing on the swings.
It’s all for a good cause, I want to tell them.
I don’t though, because I’m howling with my oldest, and yipping a little at the end, because he likes it when I spice it up. It all started with him actually. Born with a syndrome that brought him home from the NICU with a trach, he couldn’t make a sound for those first few years. When he finally got the trach out, we’d had enough of quiet. He’s still not great with words. We’re okay with that. He rolls along in his wheelchair and knows all the signs we learned on Baby Einstein and with his speech therapist. He has an iPad too that talks for him. But one of the first sounds he ever made was a cheery little “oh.” It was mostly a whoosh of air to give his voice some exercise, and sounded faintly British, like Winnie the Pooh when he runs out of honey –“Oh bother.”
One night, several years after that first “oh,” we found ourselves watching “The Good Dinosaur.” The twins were finally old enough to love Pixar as much as the rest of us. There’s a scene where Arlo, the dinosaur, and Spot, the kid, start howling at the moon. Well, you only need to show three-year-olds how to howl once and they’ve got it. Before I could stop them, they had flung the back door open and were howling into the night like banshees. I crept behind them to watch their little pajama-ed bodies silhouetted by the moon.
In the movie, Arlo and Spot are lost from their families, because it’s a prerequisite of every animated movie to make you cry. After the twins had lost their breath and come crawling back to the tv, I told them, “We’ve got to stick together, okay? Just like that.” I pointed at the screen where Arlo was frozen in mid-howl and then I glanced back at my oldest, who sat on the couch. He looked at me seriously for a minute, processing this or maybe just thinking about dessert, and before I could hit “Play,” I heard one little “ohhhh owww.” He had decided to join. The twins cheered. I cried. My husband howled. And that’s how it all began, this family howl.
And so we go, howling out the car windows on the way to preschool and through bites of smoked sausage at Costco and haircuts at Great Clips, and no, not for one second will I quiet them or myself. This is our collective howl.