I often feel like I’m on an island, surrounded by penises. The island part appeals to me because I dig a nice beach. Unfortunately, there is no island. I’m simply surrounded by penises.
“Verb, stay there while I talk to Mommy.”
I approach his teacher with caution, “Oh uh. What did he do?”
She frowns, “He bit someone.”
“He bit someone.”
Oh, Jesus Christ.
His teacher graciously finds the silver lining, “The boy was fine, and the Verb was honest about it.”
Translation: Congratulations. Your kid is a biter, but not a liar.
Me: “Uh, yeah, but he bit someone.”
She throws me a bone, “I figured he was probably tired?”
Me: “He was exhausted. He was up too late last night because B&B was reading to him past his bedtime. Then he and the Interrogator were carrying on in their beds. Then I moved him into our bed. Then I carried him to his bed when I went to sleep. Then he came wandering into our room at 4:30AM. So, yes, he was tired. I’m sorry, I should have warned you this morning.”
She laughs, “Well, tell B&B it’s his fault that the Verb bit someone.”
Yes, of course it’s his fault. I’m glad she sees it too. How dare he keep our child awake reading to him.
Teacher, “He should make an I’m sorry card for the boy he bit.”
Me: “Absolutely. Who was it?”
She reveals his identity.
His parents are really nice. And he’s not the youngest of 4, so they’re not used to these shenanigans. Son of a bitch.
Teacher, “And the principal will probably call you about it tomorrow.”
Teacher shaking hands with the Verb: “OK, Verb, thank you for being honest about what you did today. Don’t forget to make your card for your friend, and tomorrow is a new day!”
I gather my flock, and we migrate to the playground. The Verb extracts his dessert from his lunch bag and sits next to me on the bench.
I turn to him, “DUDE?!”
Verb: “Yes, Mom?”
Me: “Does Daddy bite Mommy?”
Me: “Does Mommy bite Daddy?”
Me: “Do we bite our friends?”
Me: “We do not bite people. Neither do you. You put food in your mouth, and nothing else. Understand?”
I kiss his sweaty head: “Now, go play.”
He runs off to join the Interrogator.
Wait until I tell B&B about this. This kid morphs into a beast if he doesn’t get enough sleep.
“Mrs. Meyer, can I have a ride home when you leave?”
I look up from the bench to see one of Waldorf’s friends. “Sure, hon. I’ll drive you home.”
There are 3 of them…Waldorf and two buddies. It’s a sticky day…unseasonably warm and humid…so I’ll drive both friends home if necessary.
I look at his other friend: “I’ll drop you off at home too.”
Me: “Guys, come here a minute.”
The three of them gather around me.
“The Verb bit someone in school today.”
Six eyeballs grow wide.
Me, nodding, “And he may bring it up when we’re in the car. So I want you guys to reinforce to him that we do not bite people. We use our teeth for chewing food.”
Waldorf: “And gum.”
Waldorf’s buddy: “And spitting.”
Waldorf’s other buddy, “And sometimes for whistling.”
Jesus Christ Almighty.
Me: “Well, yeah, but let’s just stress that we don’t use our teeth for biting. OK?”
“Hey, Mrs. Meyer, where did he bite the other kid?”
Me, matter-of-factly: “On the butt.”
They’re gone. Immediately on the ground. Grabbing their guts. High fiving. Kicking their feet.
It’s a chorus of voices: “The butt?! He bit somebody’s butt?! That is AWESOME! That’s HILARIOUS! Wow, I thought the Verb was cool before…but now? The Verb is the MAN!”
Me: “Get it all out now, gentlemen. I expect you to keep straight faces in the car. Otherwise, you’ll both be pounding pavement.”
“Sure, Mrs. Meyer…sure…bit his butt?! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!”
The boys spend the next 45 minutes playing tag, climbing trees, scaling sliding boards and jumping from the swings. We manage to drop both of Waldorf’s friends off before the subject of biting arises in the car.
Interrogator: “I didn’t wike my job today.” (Wike=like. The Interrogator struggles with his L sounds.)
Me: “Oh? What was your job?”
Interrogator: “Sponge duty.”
Me: “What do you do when you have sponge duty?”
Interrogator: “You kween up (clean up) people’s messes. I didn’t wike it.”
Oh, I feel you, Interrogator.
Me: “Verb, what was your job?”
Verb: “Not to hit. Or bite. Or call anyone ‘poopypants’.”
Me: “Did you call someone poopypants too?!”
Verb: “No! My job was NOT to call anyone ‘poopypants’.”
Interrogator: “That’s a potty word.”
Verb: “I KNOW! That’s why it’s my job not to say it. Unless I’m in the bathroom. Then I can say poopypants poopypants poopypants!”
Interrogator: “MOOOOOOOOMMMMMMM! Verb said poopypants 3 times!”
Me: “I heard. Stop with the poopypants, both of you, please.”
Waldorf, unsolicited: “Verb, you know, you shouldn’t bite anyone.”
Interrogator: “Huh? Verb, did you bite someone?”
Verb: “Mm hmm. On the butt.”
The Kenyan serenades us from the back seat, “ I’ve got a butt. He’s got a butt. She’s got a butt. We’ve all got butts.”
*Side note…This is a real song. Coincidentally we heard it the very morning of the biting incident. Perhaps the writer of the song bears some of the blame for the Verb’s poor behavior. Just sayin…
Interrogator: “Why would you do that?!”
Verb: “Um, I was tired.”
Interrogator: “But you don’t bite someone on the…”
Waldorf interrupts, “OK, enough, we know, Interrogator!”
The Interrogator yells at Waldorf: “You’re a PU TAO!”
In unison, we ask: “WHAT?”
Interrogator: “I said you’re a PU TAO!”
Waldorf: “Mommy, the Interrogator is calling me something in Chinese.”
Me: “Interrogator, what are you calling him?”
Interrogator: “A grape! Pu tao is grape in Chinese!”
Waldorf: “OK, I am NOT a grape. That’s just ridiculous.”
Waldorf: “Oh, God. Enough with the Chinese already!”
Verb: “Yes! I take Chinese too!”
Me: “Interrogator, what does Ping guo mean?”
The Interrogator couldn’t be more pleased with himself: “It means apple! In Chinese!”
Waldorf is less than amused: “Yes, we KNOW in Chinese!”
Interrogator, grows serious: “I’ll have to ask my teacher what the word is for ‘butt’ in Chinese. Since the Verb bit someone on his butt.”
Me: “Please refrain from doing that. We do not need to use potty words in Chinese class.”
Interrogator: “Well, he did, Mom. He bit someone’s butt.”
Kenyan continues serenading, “ I’ve got a butt. You’ve got a butt. He’s got a butt. We’ve all got butts.”
Me: “Enough butt talk. Enough.”
When we finally arrive home, I hide in the powder room and call B&B:
“So, your son bit someone today.”
B&B: “Oh, shit. Which son?”
B&B: “Is the other kid OK?”
B&B: “What happened?”
Me: “Well, he was up too late last night when you were reading to him, remember I told you?”
B&B: “Whoa, wait a minute. You’re not blaming me for this, are you?”
Me: “No. Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous.”
Me: “Anyway, he was overly tired and he made a bad choice.”
“Where did he bite the kid?”
Me: “On the butt.”
B&B erupts into laughter.
Me: “It’s not funny.”
B&B: “Come on, it is kinda funny.”
Me: “When it’s somebody else’s kid, it’s funny. Not when it’s our kid.”
I wait for him to stop laughing. And wait.
Me: “So now the principal will be calling us tomorrow.”
Me: “It’s protocol. The teachers need to report that stuff to cover their asses.”
B&B: “Cover their asses? They better cover their asses! Before the Verb takes a bite out of theirs too!”
Oh, and here is the Kenyan’s contribution.
A short comic strip illustrating the biting incident. Artwork by the Kenyan.
So, here I sit. On my island. Surrounded by penises.
Verb: “I don’t want to wear mine raincoat! I want to take off mine shirt!”
Me: “Yes, you do, and no, you don’t.”
Interrogator: “I’m not going to eat breakfast right now. I’m going to play.”
Me: “Yes, you are, and no, you’re not.”
Kenyan: “My legs hurt. And I don’t like my haircut.”
Me: “No they don’t, and yes, you do.”
Waldorf: “Everything hurts. I can’t walk.”
Me: “No it doesn’t, and yes, you can.”
All this in a span of 3 minutes. While herding them to the car to drive to school.
We walk to the car. I open the doors. They pile in.
Me, with exaggerated calm: “Verb, get into your car seat. Verb, turn around and sit properly in your car seat. Verb, hand me your Legos or I will turn you around in your car seat. And I won’t do it gently. Verb, that’s 1. Verb, that’s 2. Verb, that’s..”
A split second before I drop the hammer, he turns around, sits properly and smiles.
3 year old boys aren’t any easier the 4th time around.
Verb: “I love you Mommy. Forever and ever. Ahhhh-men.”
This is his newest thing. After he tells me he loves me, he adds “forever and ever. Amen.” And he draws out the Amen. Most recently, he’s been hitting me with this gem when he’s on the toilet. Right after he requests I wipe him.
It’s not so cute anymore.
I pull out of the driveway. Begin our 14 minute drive to school. I’m lost in thought when the Kenyan interrupts my reverie…
Kenyan: “Well, how can they have a baby if they were not married?”
Me: “You don’t have to be married to have a baby.”
Waldorf, resident expert on every topic, chimes in: “Yes, you do.”
Me: “No, you don’t.”
Waldorf: “Yes, you do.”
I’m ignoring Waldorf now.
Kenyan: “I’m never getting married. I don’t want all these kids.”
This is not the first time I’ve heard him say this. In contrast to the Verb’s “forever and ever, Amen”, I find it thoroughly amusing. Every time I hear it. I should probably be insulted, but I’m too amused to be insulted.
Me: “You don’t have to have kids if you’re married.”
Waldorf: “But you do have to be married to have a baby.”
Some days I think he was put on this earth to make my life a living hell challenge me at every turn.
Me: “No, you don’t.”
Kenyan: “How does that work?”
I glance in the mirror. Eight blue eyeballs are trained on me.
I haven’t even had my coffee yet.
Me: “It works in a way that not everyone in this car is ready to hear about. It works in a way that I’m happy to explain to you at home.”
Waldorf: “You do have to be married to have kids.”
Oh, for fuck’s sake…
Me: “You DO NOT. Remember that talk Dad and I had with you about how babies are made?!”
I raise my eyebrows and make what I hope is meaningful eye contact with Waldorf in the rearview mirror. Then I swerve the wheel to compensate for the 6 seconds spent focused on the mirror.
Waldorf, suddenly disgusted, looks away: “Ugh, yes, I don’t really want to talk about that.”
Me: “I don’t either, but that’s what I’m referring to.”
Waldorf: “You mean about the no pants?”
I raise my eyebrows higher, make even more meaningful eye contact, swerve the wheel again.
Me: “Shhhh. Yes.”
Kenyan: “No pants? What the…”
Interrogator: “No pants? Who has no pants?! That’s inappropriate, Mom!”
Me: “Yes, it’s inappropriate.”
Waldorf: “Dad has no pants sometimes.”
Ever the instigator…
Me: “OK, enough, thank you. That’s good.”
Verb, shrieking with disbelief: “Dad has no pants? Interrogator, YOU had no pants last year! Remember, you go’d pee pee on the potty, then you came outside with no pants?” He kicks his bare feet in sheer joy.
Interrogator, laughing, “I remember, that was fun, wasn’t it, Verb? Except it wasn’t last year, it was yesterday. It was fun and funny. But Mom didn’t like it.”
Me: “I remember that you lost dessert for that stunt, Interrogator. Pants are mandatory outside.”
When I was young, I thought my parents were prudes. Very old-fashioned. Totally overreacting to, what we considered at the time, very cool music.
The first album I ever owned was Sheena Easton’s A Private Heaven. My older brother, lover of music, gave it to me on Christmas morning, 1984.
At that point in my young life, it was one of the greatest gifts I had ever received. Aside from my Monday afternoon piano lessons, it was the first thing musical that was mine. Which makes it the only thing musical that was mine…clearly the piano lessons didn’t count. I held it gingerly in my 10 year old hands. Stared at the cover, hoping one day to look remotely as cool and beautiful as Sheena. Removed the record from the jacket carefully. Held it along the edges, as I’d watched my brother do with his New Edition, Cars, and Michael Jackson albums. Placed it perfectly on the record player. Lifted the needle, eased it onto the record, and turned up the volume…
Me: Eyes closed, in a moment of pure happiness, “My sugar walls…blood races to your private spots…lets me know there’s a fire…”
Big Brother: Tapping me on the shoulder, “Better put the headphones on before Dad gets mad. You know he would rather listen to Neil Diamond.”
Me: Smiling, “Oh, OK, good idea…”
I listened to that record every day after school. With the headphones on. Dancing next to the record player. The words were on the jacket of the record,…VERY cutting edge at the time…so I’d sing along while dancing.
One day I came home from school and went to the record player for my daily dose of Sheena. I couldn’t find my new record.
Me: Panicked, “Mom! Where is it? Where is my record?”
Mom: Playing dumb, “What record?”
Me: Impatient, “My new record. My only record. My Sheena Easton record.”
Mom: Muttering, “Oh, dear.”
Me: Nearing hysteria, “Oh dear, what? Did it…DID IT BREAK? Did somebody break it?!”
Mom: Quietly, “Well, I guess you could say it broke.”
Me: Shrieking, “How? It was a present!!! I love that record! Who touched my record?! It’s MY record!”
Mom: Calmly, “Well, your father did, honey.”
Me: Worried, “Did he drop it?”
Mom looked past me. Out the back door of the family room. Beyond the deck. Past the trees. Out by the train tracks.
Mom: Looking back at me, “Yes. He dropped it.”
Me: Furious, “I can’t believe he did that! Why didn’t he leave a note apologizing?! That’s my favorite Christmas present!”
Mom: Finally angry, “Bethany, you’re lucky he didn’t make you eat the broken pieces of it yourself.”
Me: Incredulous, “What?!”
Mom: Making sure we are alone in the room, “Do you know what Sugar Walls are, Bethany?”
Me: Hands on my 10 year old hips, “I know Sugar Walls is a song on my Sheena Easton record! That Dad broke! But, no, I don’t know what they are. What are they?”
Mom: Quietly, “Sugar walls are another name for a woman’s private parts.”
Holy shit. And Eww.
Mom: Continuing, “Your father saw the name of that song, read the lyrics to it, then took that record straight out to the train tracks as soon as he heard the next train coming.”
Jesus, he placed it out on the train tracks? He listened for a train, walked out the door, across the deck, through the yard, beyond the brush, and laid it on the train tracks? Who does that? Why not just throw it into the trashcan?
Mom: “That record is history, young lady.”
Not long after that, Mom was driving us kids (older brother, younger sister and yours truly) in the car. My sister and I sang along to the Madonna song playing on the radio, “But you made me feel…yeah you made me feel shiny and new…”
Me: “Mom, what’s a virgin?”
“Like a virgin…hey…touched for the very first time…”
Mom: “Is everyone listening, children? A virgin is someone who’s not married.”
Three short years later, Mom was driving little sister, me and a friend. I rode shotgun and had control of the radio.
Me: “Oh I love this song!” Singing along, “I swear I won’t tease you, won’t tell you no lies..”
From the back seat, little sister and friend join in, “I don’t need no bible just look in my eyes, I’ve waited so long baby, now that we’re friends, every man’s got his patience and here’s where mine ends..”
“I WANT YOUR SEX!”
Mom narrowly misses the guard rail.
Mom: “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, girls! What in the devil’s name are you singing?!
Me: “It’s SUCH a cool song, Mom.”
Mom: Shaken, “Well I don’t think so at all. I don’t know why he has to use those words. That profanity.”
Little Sister: Laughing, “Come on, Mom, so he says, ‘sex’, so what?!”
Mom: “I don’t know why he can’t just say, ‘I want your science notes’.”
Classic moment in our family’s history. Still, the fact remains…my parents were total musical prudes.
When I got pregnant with Waldorf, I read all of the well-known pregnancy books. I learned that he could hear many of the things that I heard. So, I stopped listening to Howard Stern and started listening to NPR, classical music and Kenny Loggins children songs.
Oh, go right ahead and laugh. Naturally, if I could go back in time and slap my pregnant self, I would. First, I would laugh and point at my ridiculous, know-it-all, pregnant self. Then, I would slap some sense into myself.
When Waldorf was born, our music collection consisted of Sesame Street, Nursery Rhymes, and our Making Music Together CD’s.
The Kenyan was born five minutes after Waldorf, and we expanded our repertoire to include The Wiggles.
And, yes, we saw them in concert.
Once the Interrogator was born, the Sesame Street and Nursery Rhyme CD’s were scratched beyond repair. We kept it fresh with Raffi. And the Backyardigans. And Laurie Berkner, the adorably energetic singer featured on Noggin . Come on, parents, say it with me…”Noggin. It’s like pre-school on TV”.
By the time the Verb was born, my goose was cooked.
The Verb, like his three brothers before him, screamed bloody goddamn murder from the moment we left the hospital until we turned his car seat around to face forward, 4 miserable months later. Pair that with the 7 years of listening to nursery rhymes while driving, and I was hanging by a very thin thread.
Me: Driving, “P-p-p-poker face p-p-poker face..muh muh muh mah p-p-p-poker face.”
Interrogator: “Hey, I want to hear Buzz Buzz Buzz!”
Kenyan: “I want to hear Knees up Mother Brown!”
Me: Raising my voice to be heard over the screaming of the infant Verb, “Nope. No sirree. No more. Never again. Gentleman, there will be no more Laurie Berkner. There will be no more Raffi. There will be only Mommy’s music.”
Waldorf: “What’s Mommy’s music?”
Me: Increasing the radio’s volume,“This is Mommy’s music. Muh muh muh mah. Muh muh muh muh mah.”
A few months ago, I walk through the family room on my way to the laundry room and I stumble upon the Verb singing. His 3 year old voice is scratchy and low. He has a wicked memory, so he’s good with lyrics. Therefore he sings loudly because he’s proud of his ability to recollect the words. I stop chanting “toilet paper, toilet paper, toilet paper” long enough to listen.
Verb: Swaying from side to side,“All eyes on me when I walk in, no question that this girl’s a 10, don’t hate me cuz I’m beautiful, don’t hate me cuz I’m beautiful…”
Verb: Nodding, “Now do the pretty girl rock, rock, rock, do the pretty girl rock, rock, rock…”
The next day, I hear the Kenyan singing to himself while he is doing his homework. He is a child in perpetual motion. Thoughts, words, hands, feet, mind all race from the moment he awakes until he falls asleep each night. So, yes, he sings while he does his homework.
Kenyan: “Ah, girl look at that body, ah, girl look at that body, ah, girl look at that body…I work out..”
What the hell is he singing?
Kenyan: “I got passion in my pants and I ain’t afraid to show it, show it, show it, show it. I’m sexy and I know it..”
LMFAO?! I will destroy the iPod that taught him those lyrics! I will place it on the train tracks behind Mom and Dad’s house, and I will destroy it! Wait a minute…the Kenyan doesn’t own an iPod…
Me: Careful to eliminate hysteria from my tone, “Buddy, where did you learn that song?”
Kenyan: Smiling, “From my friends. At school. I learned this one too…”
He pushes his homework to the side, gets up from the table, stands up and starts shaking his booty.
Kenyan: In perfect cadence, “I like big butts and I cannot lie. You other brothers can’t deny. When a girl walks in with an itty bitty waist and a round thing in your face you get sprung…”
For. The. Love. Of. God. How in God’s name does he know a Sir Mix A Lot tune? If he busts into an NWA song next, I’m going to have to home school him.
Me: “Alrighty. I love the way you gyrate your hips. It’s just super. Now let’s get back to your homework, little man.”
A few days later, as I’m cleaning up from dinner, my iPod kicks out a song. I’m alone in the kitchen doing the dishes, dancing and singing along to it as though I’m on a table top in a club in LA alongside Lindsay Lohan.
Me: “I’m into havin sex, I ain’t into makin love, So come gimme a hug, if you’re into getting rubbed…we gonna party like it’s your birthday..”
Kenyan: “Mom? What song is that?”
They’re sneaking up on me now? Can I ever get a moment’s peace in this house?
Me: “Um, it’s one of Mommy’s songs, bud. From my running mix.”
I reach with soapy hands to fast forward to the next song on my playlist…
Gwen Stefani belts out: “Uh huh, this my shit, all the girls stomp your feet like this…”
I reach my soapy hands out once again to fast forward to the next song on my playlist..
Kenyan: “Mom, your running music sure has a lot of curses in it.”
He’s got me there. The only thing that has more cursing than my music is my writing.
So, in an effort to compromise between Big Bird and 50 Cent, we listen to Kenny Curtis and the Animal Farm on the way to school. It’s a program on Kids Place Live, which is a channel on satellite radio. It takes every ounce of my self-discipline not to listen to Howard Stern, but I realize the children are in the car. And those loudmouth kids will blab to their teachers if I listen to Howard. Even if it’s only in the front speakers.
Plus it’s a Friday, so Howard’s a repeat anyway.
Kenny Curtis: “And this next song goes out to Paige, who turns 7 today! Happy birthday, Paige!”
“I like ‘em big…I like ‘em chunky! I like ‘em big…I like ‘em chunky!”
I glance down at the radio, to make sure I’m dialed in properly..
What station is this? Yep, Kids Place Live.
The Interrogator and the Kenyan sing along: “Chunky, chunky, chunky, Plumpy, plumpy, plumpy..”
Me: Attempting normalcy, “How do you guys know this song?”
Interrogator: Kicking his legs to the beat, “It’s from Madagascar 2, Mom. I love this song…I like ‘em round, with somethin’ something..”
I wrack my brain for a creative play on words to teach them. But I’ve had no coffee, no shower, and no breakfast. And nary a creative thought for a solid decade.
I’m tired. And I’m picking my battles. And, the song is about a goddamn hippo anyway. A real hippo. Plus, it’s a catchy tune…so, in an effort NOT to be old-fashioned, I crank up the volume and jam with my boys…see, Mom, I’m no prude…
I drive my kids to and from school. Every day. They could take the bus. It would pick them up 3 houses away, right at the end of our street. Still…I drive them.
I have eight child-free daylight hours a week. That’s not a lot. Because I’ve been doing this stay-at-home Mom thing for a decade. I’d like some more child-free time than that. Still…I drive them.
The Kenyan asks regularly to ride the bus. The Interrogator begs frequently to ride the bus. Still…I drive them.
Sometimes their behavior during those car rides to and from school threatens my sanity. And this is a dangerous thing.
For everyone in my house.
Me: Frustrated, venting to Mom, “The kids are making me nuts on the drive to and from school. I mean really nuts. I had to change their seats around in the car like their teachers do in school.”
Mom: Frowning, “I don’t know why you don’t put those boys on the bus. The cost of gas alone should make you put them on the bus.”
Me: “I like to have that time with them. I always hope to connect with them. And, I don’t know if my sweet Interrogator is ready for the bus. Waldorf and the Kenyan may not realize they need to protect him if one of the other kids teases him. And, Mom, there are high school kids on the bus! I don’t want my five year old on the bus with kids who may expose him to things I’m not ready for him to hear yet.”
Mom: “They’ll be fine. It’s not that far a bus ride. I put you kids on the bus.”
Me: Now it’s my turn to frown, “Oh, I remember. And we hated it.”
Mom: “Well, the bunch of you drove me crazy in the car.”
Try four boys in your car instead of one boy. It puts the C in crazy.
Me: Quietly, “At least I can control them in the car. On the bus, I lose all control.”
Mom: Finally agreeing, “Hmm…you make a good point.”
We look at each other and, without a word, understand perfectly what the other is thinking.
The real reason I’m not putting my kids on the bus isn’t because I want more time with them. Christ, I am looking for time away from them. And it isn’t because I am afraid for the Interrogator. He charms everyone he meets. The real reason is the last I mentioned. The control issue.
The real reason I won’t put my kids on the bus?
That’s right. Derek. Bennis.
Growing up, Derek Bennis was my next door neighbor. He and I were in the same class at the same elementary school. They don’t come any cuter than Derek. He was the baby to two older sisters. A smart kid. A great hockey player. A shameless flirt.
Derek and I. Circa 7th grade. I appear to be mauling him, but I assure you we were only friends.
And when we stepped onto the bus every day, he was a complete madman.
Derek was the embodiment of fun on the bus. A bus driver’s worst nightmare. He headed straight for the back seat. Especially on the big bus. The farthest possible spot from the driver. A bus veteran, he prepared everyone around him for the upcoming hills so that we could catch air. And the bumps? Derek created a signature bounce/jump combo so that his blond hair would brush the ceiling of the bus upon contact with the bump. His seat choice positioned him perfectly to signal the truck drivers behind our bus to blow their horns…and they delivered every time.
On this bus, my brother was the male antithesis of Derek. He was all business. He chose a seat in the middle of the bus. Proudly donning his flourescent orange safety badge over his Member’s Only jacket. Unrolling his aluminum foil pouch with care and precision to extract a cinnamon stick on which to chew. Scanning his head from left to right for any violation of bus safety code. Rising from his seat only to call others on their violations. Using a stern voice and an effective point of his finger to remind them they were under his supervision. The bus cop.
*As an aside, I must call the reader’s attention to the importance of birth order at this point. My brother is the only boy in our family. And he is the first born. Derek is also the only boy in his family. But he is the last born. Their behaviors on the bus are, in my opinion, very tied into their places in their nuclear families.
Deep thoughts…from a Food Marketing major.
One day on the bus, I sit close to my sister, discussing pressing topics for 8 and 10 year old girls…
Me: Excited,“I really hope I get a Barbie convertible for my birthday.”
Little Sister: Animated, “Oh, that would be perfect! Then we could drive both our Barbie’s to my Barbie McDonald’s in your Barbie convertible!”
Me: Nodding, “I know. It would be excellent. Please tell Mom I really really want a Barbie convertible.”
Our conversation is interrupted by my older brother’s running past us toward the back of the bus.
Oh dear. He never runs on the bus.
Little Sister: Worried, “Uh oh. He never runs on the bus. That’s a violation of bus safety.”
Me: Nodding, “I know. I wonder what’s going on.”
We turn our heads to see the catalyst for his swift passing…
Older Brother: Pointing his finger furiously and using his sternest voice, “Hey…HEY! What the heck?! Pull your pants up! Right now! Pull your pants up and sit down in your seat!”
Little Sister and I look at each other, eyes wide. We both know immediately.
We whisper in unison: “Derek Bennis.”
The mischievous young Derek had gotten carried away with his back of the bus audience. And he had dropped trough and mooned the car behind our bus.
Harmless. Hilarious. Intended to be funny. In no way intended to hurt or offend anyone else.
But, that’s a big no-no on the bus, even 25 years ago. OK, fine, 28 years ago. So, Derek got into a little bit of trouble with the school, the bus driver, and his parents. I believe there were even some apology letters written to the car behind us included in his punishment.
When I think about putting my kids on the bus for the ride to and from school, I don’t worry about their exposure to a Derek Bennis. No, no, no, it’s much worse than that.
I worry that each and every one of my sons IS Derek Bennis. Which is a wonderful thing. Except when it comes to the school bus.
A little cajoling from the kids in the seats surrounding them, and BOOM, off come the pants. Times four.
My hands are full enough. I don’t need that shit on top of everything else I’m juggling.
So, I drive them to and from school. Every day.
Some days are fun…
Me: Glancing in the rearview mirror, “Waldorf, we need to discuss a solution to a problem I am having.”
Waldorf: “What’s that?”
Me: “Severus Snape is playing with the cords by the computer.”
*Severus Snape is one of our two cats. Fawkes is the other cat. Yes, both names are an ode to the Harry Potter characters.*
Waldorf: “Uh huh. So?”
Me: “So, that’s not good.”
Waldorf: “OK, we’ll figure something out.”
Interrogator: Brow furrowed, “Mom, why’s that not good, Mom?”
Me: “Well, Interrogator, if Severus bites through the cords we could lose all of our important information on our computer. Emails, pictures, everything.”
Kenyan: Eyes wide, “Or, worse, Severus could get electrocuted!”
Me: “That’s right. And I have enough to do already. I don’t really want to clean up fried cat off the carpet.”
Waldorf: Shocked, “Mommy! That’s terrible! Don’t ever speak that way about Severus!”
Kenyan: Horrified, “Mommy, how could you?! He’s our cat! That’s just mean!”
Verb: Confused, “Huh? Fried what?”
Me: “Fried cat, Verb. An electrocuted cat is a fried cat.”
I know I shouldn’t tease them, but sometimes it’s so fun.
Interrogator: Worried, “Oh no, Mom! Mom? Is there an…an ELECTRICAL EEL by our computer, Mom? Is he going to electrocute Severus, our cat? Aw, I don’t want an eel to electrocute Severus! I love Severus! I don’t want him to die, Mom!”
Straight face, Bethany.
Me: “No, buddy. No electrical eels are living by the computer wires. Just the computer wires themselves.”
Interrogator: Looking at the Verb, “Phew, that’s a relief. I don’t like electrical eels, Verb. They scare me.”
Verb: Heroically, to the Interrogator: “Don’t worry, I’ll get that bad guy electrical eel in our computer!”
Interrogator: To the Verb, “Thanks, Verb. You’re my best friend.” Then to me, “Mom, when Severus gets electrocuted, I want a hamster. OK, Mom?”
This is a good day to drive my kids home from school.
And, some days are not so fun…
On the drive to school, we listen to Kenny Curtis and Animal Farm on Kids’ Place Live Satellite Radio. It’s palatable for a children’s station. Meaning it doesn’t make my ears bleed.
We are almost at school one morning, and Kenny Curtis is rattling off the birthdays.
Kenny: “And, happy birthday to Martin, who’ll be 4 years old today!”
Verb: “Huh? Martin? I have a Martin at mine school!”
Me: “You do?”
He’s so smart, this little man. He doesn’t miss a trick.
Verb: “Mm hmm. And, Interrogator, sometimes I call Martin…Tartin!”
Oh, that’s not nice.
Me: “Verb, I don’t think you should call Martin Tartin. That’s teasing. You don’t like it when your brothers tease you. Don’t tease Martin please.”
He’s not listening. He and the Interrogator are laughing at Martin Tartin.
Martin, tartin, sartin, lartin, cartin, dartin….uh oh. I know what Martin rhymes with…
I look in the rear view mirror, making eye contact with Waldorf. I make my eyes very wide and begin shaking my head, almost imperceptibly, but enough for him to notice.
I look at the Kenyan. I see only the top of his winter hat. He is engrossed in a Diary of a Wimpy Kid book. Which means he’s completely cut off from the conversation, the car ride, and the entire world in general.
Phew. Bullet dodged.
We pull into the school driveway.
Me: “Gentlemen, have a great day! Interrogator, please remember to take your library books out of your back pack and into your classroom, it’s Day 5, so you have library today. Kenyan, good luck on your spelling test. Waldorf, nice work on your science invention. Give me a quick kiss before you get out, guys…”
Kiss from Waldorf and he jumps out. Kiss from the Kenyan and he jumps out. Kiss from the Interrogator and, right before he jumps out, he turns to the Verb.
OMG that sweet boy is going to tell the Verb “I love you.” I love him so much I want to eat him.
Interrogator: Smiling, “Verb, you know what else rhymes with Martin?”
Verb: Smiling back, “What, Interrogator? What rhymes with Martin?”
Interrogator: Laughing, “Fartin rhymes with Martin!”
Out he jumps, and off he runs, hysterical laughter trailing behind him.
Verb: “Fartin? Fartin! Ha-ha!! Mommy, Martin Fartin! Martin Fartin! Martin Tartin Fartin!”
Good grief, Charlie Brown.
Now I’m going to have to talk to the Verb’s pre-school teacher. Give her a head’s up about this new nickname for poor, unsuspecting, 3 year old Martin.
So, for the foreseeable future, I will drive my boys to and from school. Every day. And my four little Derek Bennis’ will be stuck with me. And I will be stuck with Kenny Curtis and the Animal Farm.
With some luck, we’ll all stay sane enough to keep our pants on.
*A special thank you to my old neighbor, Derek Bennis, for allowing me to use his name and picture in this post. My bus rides home would have been so boring without you, old friend.
I talk to myself. All the time. Out loud. I am sure it is a result of having at least one child with me basically every waking (and often sleeping) moment for the better part of a decade. Sometimes I hear myself and realize I’m not merely talking to myself…I’m talking to another person who isn’t even there. I am having a teaching moment with no student.
Me: “Now I’m going to buy the red peppers. I like the red peppers. Not because they are red, like my favorite apples, but because they are the sweetest of the peppers. Peppers also come in orange, yellow and green. Green are the least sweet. Mommy doesn’t like the green.”
Why are people looking at me funny? Oh, dammit! I’m doing it again. I am in the Acme, buying peppers, talking to a child who is in fact in pre-school this morning.
I was talking to myself one day last week, while I was walking from the kitchen to the laundry room. I have to repeat, mantra-style, my purpose for leaving one room to go to another. Otherwise, I’ll forget by the time I get there.
Me: “Paper towels, paper towels, paper towels, paper towels”
I really have to pee.
Me: “paper towels, paper towels, paper towels”
Stupid bladder. Fine, I’ll pee, but I better repeat my mantra while I’m relieving myself.
The powder room is connected to the laundry room, so the paper towels are in plain sight from the commode.
Me: “paper towels, paper towels, paper towels”
Also in plain sight is the powder room’s white sink. With a large, dark brown streak on the outside of its bowl.
Me: “Paper towels…Paper…towels…”
What is that? What is all over the side of the sink?
Oh, for the love of God. Seriously?! Which one of those boys wiped their poop on the side of my sink? Disgusting creatures. Hmm. Let me think….
Because the powder room is connected to the laundry room, it’s freezing in there. All year long. That’s a bonus during the summer months. When the A/C is running, it’s a refrigerator in there. We are tripping over one another to use the powder room. But the other 9 months of the year? Most of the kids will wait for the full bathroom upstairs.
The Interrogator always asks permission before going #2. He gets very close to me, looks left and right and whispers, “Mom, I have to ask you something…can I…” He looks left, right…left…right, “Can I go poop?” Sometimes he’ll get to the coveted bathroom to find the Kenyan or Waldorf in the same situation.
Interrogator: “Who’s in there? I have to…” looking left, right, left, and lowering his voice to a whisper, “I have to poop.”
The Kenyan: Behind the closed bathroom door, “Interrogator, I’m in here. Use the downstairs bathroom.”
Interrogator: Speaking to the closed bathroom door, “Awwwww! I don’t like the downstairs bathroom. It’s cold. I like this bathroom. I have to go, are you almost done?”
The Kenyan: “No! Don’t rush me! You’re going to have to go downstairs!”
The Interrogator typically dances around in circles in his bedroom, getting increasingly paler in pallor with each passing second, waiting for the throne of his choice. Sometimes he absolutely has to resort to the cold bathroom.
So I know he’s a suspect.
Hmmm. Waldorf hasn’t used the powder room since 2005. He refuses. It’s too cold for him 12 months of the year. The Kenyan hasn’t used the powder room since August. He will use it seasonally, like a summer suit. Which leaves the Interrogator and the Verb.
The Verb is potty trained. Our little Verb is very independent. This is good, because we, as parents, are very tired. He was going to have to raise himself whether or not he was independent. So, it’s fortunate that he is. He doesn’t ask permission to open the refrigerator or the pantry or to use the bathroom. He just does it. And this independence actually helps me most of the time. So, when he does his business in the bathroom, he likes privacy. Finally, a kid who’s speaking my language. But, like a ninja, he’ll creep up on me while I am washing dishes or putting away groceries. I’ll turn to find him standing there with his back to me, naked from the waist down, bent over and grabbing his ankles. And he says, “Mom, I go’d poop. Now you can wipe mine heiney.”
Me: “You are such a big boy. Great job, off you go. Don’t sit down at the table until you put your pants back on please.”
So, it’s not the Verb. The Interrogator. It’s definitely the Interrogator.
By this time my inner monologue has completely overpowered my chanting, so I’ve no recollection of why I’d left the kitchen in the first place.
What did I need again? Damn these kids. Well, the Interrogator is going to have a little tutorial in bathroom cleaning when he gets home from kindergarten today. I better write this down before I forget…
Me: heading back to the kitchen, “Poop on the sink, poop on the sink, poop on the sink”
I grab a paper and pencil.
Me: “Poop on the sink, poop on the sink, poop on the sink..”
No point on the pencil.
Ahhh. Do they ever sharpen the pencils? I have 7 sharpeners in this drawer! And 42 pencils! Would it kill them to sharpen the freaking pencils? Wait, why do I need a pencil? Ahhh!
Finally, I find a pencil with a point. I scrawl, “Interrogator gets his first lesson in sink cleaning,” and put the note on the center of the counter where I’ll be sure to see it in a few hours.
Now I know what most of you are thinking.
How could this woman, this filthy woman, possibly find feces on the sink and walk away?
First of all, it was on the side of the sink. Not in the sink. Don’t judge. This would never have happened 1, 2, even 3 kids ago. Is it gross? Definitely. Is it unsanitary? Clearly. Is it a teaching moment? Without a doubt. And the professor is in. I smile, and head back downstairs to the laundry room.
Me: “Rubber gloves, rubber gloves, rubber gloves”
I grab the rubber gloves, and then place them ever so gingerly next to the note.
Fast forward. Several hours later, I pick the boys up from school. They are all sitting in the car, buckled, making a mess of the snack I’d brought for them.
The rapid fire questions begin…
“Will Dad be home for dinner? Can I PLEASE play electronics tonight? Why do we have to have homework? I don’t like this snack, didn’t you bring something else that I really like? Can we have dessert first tonight? Can you tell him to stop breathing on me? Who stepped on my paper airplane? Where is my Ninja’s spinner?”
I haven’t even taken the car out of park yet.
Me: “Gentlemen, you’ve just had a nice time playing on the playground. When we get home, I am going to start making dinner, and you, Waldorf and you, Kenyan, will start your homework. Without complaining.”
Interrogator: “What about me, Mom? Can I watch Ninjago on the iPad? Please? Can I? You know I love Ninjago. It’s my favorite, Mom. Especially Jay. Because…you know why, Mom? Because he’s blue. And blue’s my favorite, Mom. It’s your favorite too, right, Mom? Even though you’re a girl and girls should like pink, you like blue most, right Mom? I know you like blue. You’re not going to make me eat big chicken tonight are you, Mom? I don’t like big chicken. I like little chicken. I only like little chicken. I don’t like big chicken. It makes me sad when you want me to eat big chicken. It makes me choke. I don’t like to choke, Mom. Don’t make me do it. Are you going to make me do it? Eat the big chicken?”
Yes, this is what life is like with the Interrogator. Eardrum exhaustion. And big chicken, by definition, is any chicken that is not chicken nuggets, which obviously, is little chicken.
At this point I make angry eyes at Waldorf and the Kenyan, whose ears are both bleeding, and who are clearly reaching out simultaneously to choke the Interrogator.
Me: “Oh, my sweet little Interrogator, I have such a treat for you at home!”
Interrogator: “Aha!! I know it! It’s dessert! It’s chocolate berry flan! My most favorite dessert! And NINJAGO ON THE IPAD!!! I just know it is!”
Me: “Not quite, buddy. Remember the other day when the Kenyan was in the upstairs bathroom and you had to use the downstairs bathroom?”
Interrogator: Whispering, looking left..right…left.. “When I had to go poop?”
Waldorf: “We can hear you, Interrogator! When you whisper, we can hear you!”
I shoot my angry eyes at Waldorf again to silence him.
Me: “Yes, Interrogator. When you went #2. Did you forget to tell me something? About the sink? About something you put on the sink?”
The Kenyan: “What? What did he put on the sink? It better not be one of my Legos!”
Waldorf: “What did he put on the sink? It better not be something of mine, or….”
Interrogator: “Oh. Right. Yeah. Poop, Mom?”
Waldorf and the Kenyan are outraged and disgusted. The Verb hears their dissent and joins in.
The Kenyan: “Oh my…Interrogator! That’s disgusting! What the…the poop goes in the potty, not in the sink!”
Waldorf: “This is, I have to say, totally disgusting. This may be the most disgusting thing I’ve heard from these kids. And that, well that is saying something.”
The Verb: “Interrogator? You go’d poop in the sink? Aw…that’s yucky.”
Interrogator: “No, no, no! I went in the potty. Then, it got on my hand. And I wiped it on the sink. Sorry, Mom. Sorry for doing that. Sorry for wiping it on the sink.”
Me: “Thank you, Interrogator. You get the treat of helping me clean the sink when we get home.”
Interrogator: Incredulous, “Oh, man!”
Waldorf: “That’s only fair! You made me clean the toilet when I peed all over the back of it.”
Me: “Indeed I did, Waldorf. And you’ve managed to perfect your aim since then, haven’t you?”
Waldorf: “Uh, yes. Because I do NOT like those rubber gloves.”
As soon as we pull into the driveway, Waldorf, the Kenyan and the Verb jump from the car and race to the powder room to investigate the crime scene. The Interrogator walks as slowly as possible, looking at me with his best angry face.
I strip off his coat and prep him for surgery. Rubber gloves, check. Open window for ventilation, check. Clorox wipes, check.
He’s still wearing his angry face. Which makes it increasingly difficult for me to suppress my laughter.
Interrogator: “Sorry, Mom. And, you’re beautiful, Mom. And I love you. Can you please clean the sink? Poop is yuck. I don’t want to do it.”
Me: “I love you too, bud. And thank you for your sweet words. And I will not clean the sink. Because I didn’t dirty the sink. You did. Which is why you will clean it.”
He places the wipe against the sink as though he’s Bob Ross on PBS on a Saturday afternoon, mixing titanium white with just a touch of red to paint happy little clouds.
Interrogator: “There. Done.”
I raise my eyebrows.
Interrogator: “Grrrr! Yuck. I don’t like it! Fine!” scrubbing harder now, “Ugh, yuck. Ugh! Why do you make me do this? Ugh.” Gagging now. Scrubbing more slowly and gagging a great deal.
Oh, shit! Truly, shit! He’s gonna puke! Where’s the bucket?
Me: “Bucket, bucket, bucket, bucket”
I look frantically around the laundry room, only to find the bucket hanging right next to the…