Short Story Long

Me: “To be or not to be. That is the question.”

B&B: “To boldly go where no one has gone before.”

Me, shaking my head: “That’s wrong.”

B&B: “What?!”

Me: “It’s wrong. It’s grammatically incorrect. Therefore, it’s wrong.”

B&B: “Jean-Luc Picard would not have gotten it wrong.”

Me: “Well, he did. Your boy got it wrong.”

B&B: “How is it wrong?”

The Verb peeks around the counter at the two of us sitting at the dining room table.  “Can I have a yogurt?”

B&B: “Yes.”

Me, simultaneously: “No.”

B&B: “Did he have any yogurt this morning?”

Me: “Yes, he had 2 yogurts. He ate one of them behind the couch and left the trash there.”

B&B: “No, you may not have a yogurt.”

Me: “And stop hanging upside down from the counter. You’re going to fall on your head. Today is not a good day to go to the hospital.”

The Verb dismounts and heads downstairs to the family room.

B&B: “He’s not going to fall. That boy has skills. Look out, world, the Verb is comin’.”

Me: “What was I saying?”

B&B: “To be or not to be.”

Me: “Right. OK, to boldly go where no man has gone. It’s wrong.”

B&B: “Yes, but why?”

Me: “OK…what’s it called when you have the preposition “to” followed by a verb? A dangling participle? I forget. And don’t say gerund. It’s not a gerund.”

B&B: “How did you know I was going to say gerund?”

Me: “You always say gerund. Any obscure grammar question that arises, your answer is always “gerund”. It’s like when we play Jeopardy. Anytime the category contains the word “international”, your guess is Pakistan. And you pronounce it Pock-uh-ston.”

B&B: “I pronounce it correctly.”

Me: “Whatever. It’s not important. Just like the answer is almost never Pakistan, the answer to this grammar question is not gerund.”

“STOP IT!” The Kenyan’s voice cuts through our Sunday morning discussion.

Me: “Jesus Christ.”

B&B: “Let them figure it out.”

Me: “If we let them figure it out, the Verb will bitch slap the Interrogator repeatedly until we walk down there to separate them.”

Sigh.

“I SSSAAAIIIIDDD STOP IT!”

B&B: “What the fuck is with these kids? Can we not have a simple fucking conversation without interruption?” Raising his voice,  “Kenyan, come up here please!”

As he crosses the threshold into the kitchen, the Kenyan is not crying. By the time he covers the 5 steps through the kitchen into the dining room, he’s at full tilt. Sobbing hysterically. With a wild look in his eyes. This child, like B&B, has two gears. He starts in park and hits 60 in 2 seconds flat.

Kenyan: “He KICKED me! In the EAR! And I didn’t do ANYTHING! I NEVER do ANYTHING, but someone is ALWAYS kicking me or hitting me, and IT’S NOT FAIR! And he KICKED me!”

We look at him. We say nothing.

Kenyan: “He DID!”

B&B: “Kenyan, we’re not calling your bluff. We’re waiting for you to calm down so that we can make sure you’re OK. And then we can get to the bottom of this.”

Kenyan: “I already TOLD you! He KICKED me! And I didn’t do ANYTHING!”

Waldorf walks into the kitchen. 10AM. Right on cue.

Me, smiling: “Good morning, honey.”

Waldorf: “Hello. Why’s he crying?”

Kenyan, to Waldorf: “DON’T LOOK AT ME!”

Waldorf: “Um, I didn’t look at you, I just asked why you’re crying.”

Kenyan: “I’m crying because EVERYONE is ALWAYS doing things to ME! Like YOU and like the VERB!”

Waldorf: “Don’t blame me. I just woke up. I didn’t do anything.”

Kenyan: “But you ALWAYS do SOMETHING! And it’s NOT FAIR!”

B&B: “OK, Kenyan, I know you’re upset, and you have every right to be. I would be too if someone kicked me in the ear.”

Waldorf: “Let me guess…the Verb kicked him in the ear?”

Kenyan: “IT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS! WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS GETTING INVOLVED IN MY BUSINESS?!”

Me: “Enough, Kenyan. Waldorf, can I make you some breakfast?”

Waldorf: “I’ll have a yogurt please.”

Me: “The Verb ate the last yogurt.”

Waldorf: “Um. OK, a bagel please.”

Me, wrinkling my nose: “Daddy just ate the last bagel, buddy, sorry.”

Waldorf: “Are you going to go to the Acme today? We’re out of everything I like.”

B&B: “Can we just address this Kenyan situation please. Waldorf, we’ll figure out your breakfast in a minute. We want to get this issue resolved first. Now, Kenyan, are you ok?”

Kenyan: “NO.”

Me: “Come here, sweetheart.”

I give him a big hug, scratch his back, and feel him immediately relax.

B&B: “Kenyan, what happened? The entire story please. From start to finish. And please tell us the truth, because we’ll eventually hear it anyway. It’s best if it comes from you.”

Kenyan, tensing again: “I was sitting on the ottoman, and I put my head on the leather chair, and the Verb KICKED me!”

Me: “OK, you’re saying he kicked you unprovoked?”

Kenyan: “YES!”

B&B: “Are you sure nothing happened that led up to his kicking you? Were you laying your head on his legs?”

Kenyan: “NO!”

B&B, raises his voice: “Verb! Please come up here!”

The Interrogator walks into the room. He edges the Kenyan out of the way. And sets up camp on my lap. He’s a mass of knobby knees and bony elbows, growing taller and thinner by the hour.

Me: “Hi, buddy.”

Interrogator: “Hi, Mom. Mom, when you die and turn into a skeleton, will you be chained to a wall?”

Me: “Um, I doubt it, honey.”

Interrogator, worried: “Are you sure?”

Me: “I can’t be certain because I’ll be dead then, so I won’t know what’s happening. But I’d say I’m almost positive that someone won’t chain my dead skeleton to a wall.”

Interrogator, relieved: “Good.”

Alrighty then.

B&B: “Verb, did you kick the Kenyan in the head?”

The Verb wears a guilty expression: “Mm hmm.”

B&B: “Why?”

Verb: “Because he did this to me…” He grabs his own nipple. And pinches.

I gasp. “KENYAN! You gave him a purple nurple?!”

B&B: “Settle down, Mommy.”

Kenyan: “I did NOT!”

Verb: “He did. He pinched me.”

Kenyan: “I pinched his leg! Not his nipple!”

Verb: “He pinched me.”

Kenyan: “I pinched you AFTER you KICKED me! FOR NO REASON!”

Verb, screaming, “DON’T SCREAM AT ME!”

Kenyan, matching his brother’s panic level: “DON’T SCREAM AT ME!

Verb: “DON’T LOOK AT ME!”

Kenyan: “DON’T LOOK AT ME!”

B&B looks at me. “You realize these even numbered children are just like you? They never back down.”

Waldorf walks into the room again. “Where is the cat?”

Me: “We let him outside.”

Waldorf: “I thought we weren’t letting him outside anymore.”

Me: “We weren’t. We aren’t. He just ran out there when I opened the door.  He’ll be back.”

B&B: “Can we please address this situation, Bethany?”

Me: “Yes.”

I direct my attention to my 9 year old. “Kenyan, I told you yesterday that pinching is unacceptable. You are 9 years old. He is 4. He looks to you as an example of how to behave. When he sees you pinch, he thinks it’s OK for him to pinch. I understand your frustration at being kicked. But, please think before you retaliate. Get us involved. That’s why we’re here. Do. Not. Pinch. Your. Brother. Or anyone. Is that clear?”

I turn to my 4 year old. “Verb, your legs are for walking, running, and kicking soccer balls. They are not for kicking your brothers. Or anyone. Do. Not. Kick. Your. Brother. Or anyone. Is that clear? Now…”

Shortstorylong

B&B: “Hold on, Mommy, I’d like to say something…Kenyan, this pinching has been going on all summer. That’s ¼ of a year. And I don’t like it. The Verb has been around 4 years. So that’s a large percentage of his life that you’ve been pinching him.”

Me: “Yes, it’s 25%!”

They all look at me.

Waldorf is still in the kitchen, “Um, no it’s not.”

Kenyan: “It’s totally not.”

B&B, frowning: “It’s not 25%, Bethany. It’s 1/16th.”

*Now is the ideal time to mention that B&B scored 800 (out of 800) on the math section of his SAT’s.

Me: “Oh, right. One summer is ¼ of a year. And he’s been around 4 years. 1/16th. Right.”

Waldorf: “We got our math skills from Dad, right?”

Wiseass.

B&B, nodding: “As I was saying, it’s a large percentage of his life that you’ve been showing him a bad choice. Now, do you think maybe there’s a chance he won’t realize it’s a bad choice? Maybe he’ll think that, because you do it, it’s an OK choice?”

The Kenyan slowly turns away in an effort to hide is face.

Continuing: “Kenyan, turn around and look at me. Kenyan, it’s disrespectful to me when you turn your back on me.”

While the Kenyan’s back is turned, I lean over and whisper, “No, he won’t look you in the face. When he feels guilty or embarrassed or ashamed, he won’t make eye contact. You have to be side-by- side with him. Otherwise, he shuts down.”

B&B, in a loud whisper: “WHAT?!”

Me, eyes wide, hands gesturing: “Side by side! Like on the sofa.”

B&B, frowning: “I’m not on the sofa. I’m at the fucking table. And he is standing there, turning his back on me, disrespecting me!”

Me, whispering: “He’s not going to look at you. He’s here. He’s listening, but don’t make him look at you.”

B&B, still whispering: “Oh, he’s going to look at me.”

B&B: “Kenyan, Kenyan! Turn around and look at me in 3…2…..thank you.”

He launches into a story about the knights of the round table and how they faced one another out of respect. So the ultimate form of disrespect is turning one’s back on someone.

I stopped listening 5 minutes ago.

B&B: “You and the Verb will both sit in time out. Verb for kicking. And Kenyan for pinching. And please, Kenyan, do not disrespect me by turning away from me when I’m talking to you.”

Our even numbered boys swallow their punishments as they exit the room.

Me, quietly: “Can I say something? And please don’t go ballistic?”

B&B: “Yes.”

Me: “The knights of the round table? Unnecessary.”

B&B: “Unnecessary?”

Me: “Unnecessary. I think it’s piling on.”

B&B: “Piling on? Your math is TERRIBLE!”

Me, laughing, “Awful. I know. It’s embarrassing.”

B&B: “25%?! What the hell was that?!”

Me, laughing harder: “Please. I’m ashamed. I like grammar. Math’s not my thing.”

B&B: “Obviously. Jesus Christ, what were we saying?”

Me: “To be or not to be…”

B&B: “To boldly go where no one has gone…”

Some day, B&B and I will sit at our dining room table on a Sunday morning. Uninterrupted. No one will need a hug. No one will climb onto my lap. No one will ask me to make his breakfast. No one will need a lesson in good choices vs. bad choices. Sometimes I look forward to that day. But not today. Today I feel lucky for the abundance of noise in my house. I feel lucky for the children responsible for making all of that noise. I feel lucky for the love I feel…so fierce it’s almost tangible…for these boys and their Dad. I feel lucky for the possibilities and opportunities that await them…every one of them…as they grow up and away from us and into their own men. Today…eleven years to the day that the Twin Towers fell, and so many innocent lives were lost…today, I feel lucky.

But, damn, it’d be nice to finish a conversation in under an hour every once in a while…

P.S. It’s not a gerund. It’s a split infinitive.

Sorry, Captain Picard.

Snapshots of Summer, Halfway Through

4 kids + Camp Mom = 87 long days of summer. We’ve officially reached the halfway point. No broken bones. Only one sunburn incident (the children were spared). A few minor cuts. Minimal mosquito bites.  Most importantly, my sanity remains intact.  I’ve learned a few things in the past six weeks.

The Little Lessons

I love having no schedule.

I hate having no schedule.

The minute a stranger tells you, “Your children are so well behaved,” is the instant they show their true colors and make a liar out of that stranger.

When I take the kids to Walmart, they will play hide-n-seek.

If there is a knock on the door, it only comes when I’m not wearing a bra.

When I take the kids to Costco, they will play hide-n-seek.

Legos are dangerous. They should be played with in a home where shoes are mandatory.

When I take the kids to the Acme, they will play hide-n-seek.

Neil Diamond is better in concert at 71 than he was at 51.

When I take the kids to Target, they will play hide-n-seek.

Making recipes I’ve pinned to Pinterest is a pipe dream.

summersnapshots

There is absolutely no reason to consume ice cream every night. Which is precisely why I eat it for lunch some days. You know, to mix things up.

When there is a glass of liquid on a flat surface in my house, my 3 year old’s elbow will be drawn to it like a moth to a flame. My reaction:

Week 1: “That’s OK, sweetheart, it was an accident!”

Week 3: Sigh. “Here’s a towel. Please wipe it up.”

Week 6: “Again?! From now on, if you’re thirsty, drink straight from the goddamn faucet!”

A 9 year old boy can thrive on a breakfast of 2 waffles with Nutella and sliced strawberries for 45 straight days. On the 46th day, he will eat 3 waffles with Nutella and sliced strawberries.

There is nothing wrong with splitting an entire bag of Sun Chips with 4 children and considering it a healthy lunch for the 5 of you.

A fedora can stay on my 6 year old’s head while he does flips in a pool. Underwater. It’s no wonder that the fedora is Indiana Jones’ hat of choice.

When my husband and I are spitting distance from the Phillies dugout, and 2 females wearing infants stroll down the stadium steps, they will inevitably sit in the empty seats directly in front of us. And obstruct our view by bouncing said children on their laps the entire night. And ask my husband to take pictures of them with their babies. Every inning. And shriek repeatedly, “Aren’t they the cutest babies you’ve ever seen?” And we’ll agree. Until the 7th inning, when my husband finally answers, “Actually, they’re not nearly as cute as the 4 kids we left at home. Where they belong.”  Never prouder, I will turn to him and announce, “Honey, you’re getting lucky tonight.”

Down in front, baby!

A chipmunk can play dead convincingly enough that my cat buys it. That same chipmunk can wait until the cat turns his back, then wink at me to let me know he’s still, in fact, very much alive.

When my husband announces to me on a Monday morning, “Oops, I forgot, I have a golf outing today. I probably won’t be home until after 10PM,” I’m going to need some time to digest that information. I’ll probably need to sit in a corner, hug my knees, and quietly sob. Don’t judge.

I don’t really like crab fries. Unless they are dipped in cheese. This is a discovery I didn’t need to make.

Parents whose kids are attending sleep away camp are easy to identify. They are either the adults who look tan, well-rested, and supremely happy…or they are the adults who see me with my 4 kids and proceed to laugh and point at me. I wish each of them a peaceful summer. And the pointers…I wish an unplanned pregnancy. May you be blessed with twins.

Perler beads…like pine needles from a Christmas tree…can be found months after cleaning them up.

Boot camp on the beach sounds great in theory. It’s a nut punch in reality. A sweaty, sandy nut punch. And I’ll still eat the donut that’s waiting for me on the kitchen counter when I get home. How could I not? It’s still warm. For. The. Love. Of. God.

The $1 movie at Regal Cinemas on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings is the best deal out there. When there are 3 busloads of camp kids in line ahead of me, I grab my youngest child and urgently yell, “He has to poop! We need to get to the bathroom…he has to poop!” I cover his mouth with my hand before he rats me out. Race to the front of the line. Then sneak into the theater first. For 5 glorious minutes, my kids tell me I’m as cool as their Daddy. Totally worth the scene I made in the lobby.

When the guys fishing on the beach pull 4 foot sharks out of the ocean, one after another, for over an hour, there’s no need to avoid swimming. Even when you have your period. Don’t ask. Just trust me. It’s perfectly safe to go into those shark infested waters.

A cat is able to launch its body at a closed, locked bedroom door so violently that the door swings open. It sounds very much like a cannon firing from the hallway into your bedroom. And it only happens at 5AM.

When I take the kids to the mall, and Party Rock Anthem begins playing over the speaker system, they will immediately form a straight line and bust out the moves to  Dance Party 3 in perfect synchronicity. Strangers will mistake this for a flash mob and snap pictures with their iPhones and post them to FB and Twitter.

When I clap my hands and relay the news, “Guys, Mommy’s piece made the Huffington Post!” like I did here, here, and here, 4 sets of eyeballs will stare at me blankly. Then one of them will pass gas, and a game of “who farted?” will ensue.

The library shouldn’t put out games for small children. Because my 3 year old will play the game, then fist pump and yell, “YES! I WINNED!!!” Forcing my 10 year old to yell, “BE QUIET!” To which the 3 year old replies, “YOU BE QUIET! YOU’RE NOT THE POLICE OF MINE EYEBALLS!” So my 6 year old chimes in with, “BOTH OF YOU, STOP FIGHTING!” The 3 year old and 10 year old then take it to the ABC rug in the children’s section. Naturally, the 6 year old screams, “STOP FIGHTING! MOM! THEY’RE FIGHTING!” My 9 year old will continue to read his chapter book like an angel play his DS as though he were in a trance. And my attempt to hide behind the reference books until the entire thing blows over will prove unsuccessful when the 6 year old finds me and inquires, “Mom, are you hiding on that bookshelf?”

If you take 4 kids to a self serve frozen yogurt store, even after you say, “do NOT touch ANYTHING,” not once, not twice, but three times, the oldest will think he’s “helping” by serving himself. He will in fact over serve himself, and his yogurt will cost $9. Not to be outdone, his 9 year old brother will serve himself while I am chastising the 10 year old. His yogurt will cost $9.15. And when the 9 year old discovers he’s chosen original tart flavor instead of snickerdoodle, his punishment will be to eat all $9.15 worth of it. And he will man up and do it. And I will swallow back tears of pride and think, “Well, now. That’s my boy.”

The Big Lessons

There’s nothing like spending a hazy afternoon at a friend’s pool with my kids. 11 kids, 6 on giant rafts, laughing, swimming, splashing…the quintessential summer pool party. We parents marvel at how our children are growing…not yet teenagers, but no longer our little boys. We take time to swallow over the lumps in our throats and tell one another how lucky we feel that our kids are friends. And that we, in turn, have become friends.  I go home on a day like that feeling like life is good.

I wake up the next morning to the news that an armed man has walked into a movie theater in Colorado and opened fire on the audience. People are dead. More people are injured. Witnesses are traumatized. The country is in shock. I am tasked with telling my older children. My job is to find the right words. Words that will educate them. That will instill just enough fear to be cautious. That will provide just enough comfort to feel protected. Words that, once spoken, will hinder their belief that the world they live in is a safe place. I go to bed after a day like that feeling like life is not always so good.

I spend the first half of the summer hoping that the men in power surrounding Jerry Sandusky didn’t really know. Sandusky is sick. He’s broken. But the men in power around him…none of those men was sick. I spend the first half of summer hoping that, had they known, they’d have put the welfare of innocent children above everything. Innocent children. And my heart breaks just a little bit upon hearing that they knew enough. Yet they failed to act. And again, it’s my job to tell my older kids. To find the right words to warn them that monsters like Sandusky exist. To encourage them to trust their instincts when something or someone doesn’t feel right. To expect them to comprehend that the men surrounding this monster had an opportunity to be better men…but didn’t take it. To remind them that these men have families who are now devastated and suffering. And to teach them that these families deserve sympathy…understanding…privacy…peace.

Summer is half over. The little lessons I’ve learned have become memories. Snapshots in my head of perfect moments with my kids. Still young…and beautiful…and unaffected…and innocent. The big lessons I’ve learned have been sobering. Gut wrenching. They’ve been the catalyst for whispered conversations with my husband late into the night…Do we tell them? How do we tell them? When do we tell them? What do we tell them? They’ve been the topic of texts and poolside conversations with friends who care just as much as we do about keeping the lines of communication open between parents and children. Did you tell them? How did you tell them? When did you tell them? What did you tell them? What did they say? The big lessons have left me wishing I could keep my children blissfully ignorant. Sheltered. Protected. Do we really have to tell them? The answer for me is yes. We have to tell them. These things happened. The children…at least my older children…will find out. Best they hear it from the people they trust most in the world…the people who will tell them only what they need to hear. And answer their questions. And offer hugs. And suggest hope. Hope that no more big lessons like these need teaching…at least for the rest of the summer.

May the last of our summer be filled with little lessons. Snapshots in our heads of perfect moments with our children.

*An abridged version of this piece appeared in the July 24th edition of the Huffington Post. It ran in the Parents section under the title “Snapshots of Summer, Halfway Through”

87 Days

T-13 days marks the start of summer vacation.

87 days of summer vacation.

87 days of Camp Mom.

87 days of no alarm clocks.

87 days of wet bathing suits and chlorine soaked towels tossed on my laundry room floor.

87 days of ice cream every day…sometimes twice a day.

87 days of my living room sofa doubling as a fort.

87 days of incessant questions.

87 days of constant negotiating.

87 days of “because I said so, that’s why”.

87 days threatening, through clenched teeth, to take away electronics for the remainder of the 87 days “if you tease your brother one more time”.

87 days of sunscreen.

87 days realizing too late that I should have reapplied.

87 days of math and language arts packets, completed 2 pages per day to avoid B&B and I hastily forging their answers the night before school the Kenyan and Waldorf working feverishly Labor Day weekend.

87 days checking out 10 library books, yet unable, 2 days later, to locate 7 of them.

87 days listening to Mommy’s music and mastering which songs can be sung at home but never in school.

87 days grilling.

87 days of paper plates.

87 days of the A/C running all day and fans in bedroom windows all night.

87 days hoping we’re invited to my parents’ shore house.

87 days praying we’ll be invited back again after the Interrogator shatters their glass-top table 3 minutes after our arrival.

87 days visiting with Little Sister, Fly Boy, and their 3 adorable kids, who annually swap the heat of the Arizona desert for summers on the East Coast.

87 days cooking 40 chicken nuggets at a time to feed her kids and mine.

87 days of sand in their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

87 days sitting at the baby pool. For the 11th consecutive summer.

87 days counting their heads at that pool.

87 days celebrating because 3 of my kids can swim.

87 days of my heart in my throat because 1 of my kids cannot yet swim.

87 days watching my freckles multiply. Exponentially.

87 days watching my skin wrinkle increasingly.

87 days having every intention to set up a playdate, but never following through with my plans.

87 days spent cursing the bra inserts of my bathing suits for their ability to hold that bloody crease right down the center.

87 days angrily removing the bra inserts from my bathing suit only to realize that the creased inserts are far more aesthetically pleasing than the real deal.

87 days vowing that next summer I will look like one of those chicks in the Athleta catalog.

87 days donning a bathing suit with a skirt because this summer I do not look like one of those chicks in the Athleta catalog.

87 days of the tent slowly killing a rectangular patch of grass in our backyard.

87 days cleaning the sticky sugar from the popsicles consumed, against my rules, in that tent.

87 days skipping a bath because chlorine kills everything.

87 days of Dr. Doofenshmirtz.

87days

87 days having no luck finding a babysitter for a concert whose tickets we purchased 4 months ago.

87 days of Acme’s Sizzlin’ Summer Giveaway.

87 days of suicide watch as a result of winning nothing but 22 stinkin’ donuts while participating in Acme’s Sizzlin’ Summer Giveaway.

87 days of “wait your turn to play the iPad”.

87 days of “No, I will not buy you that app”.

87 days of Crocs replacing sneakers whose laces need tying.

87 days spent on the beach reconnecting with cousins visiting from Texas and Georgia…and marveling at our kids’ long limbs and growing friendships.

87 days of “I probably shouldn’t, but it’s summer so what the hell, I’ll have another.”

87 days spent refereeing my kids’ arguments.

87 days of my heart ready to burst as their bonds grow stronger.

87 days allowing Waldorf and the Kenyan the freedom to ride their bikes through the neighborhood.

87 days of apprehension awaiting their safe return home on those bikes.

87 days envying my friends whose kids are attending sleep away camp.

87 days kissing my kids’ sweaty heads, relieved they’re not attending sleep away camp.

87 days dragging 4 kids through the Acme several times a week.

87 days of endless material about which to write.

87 days wondering when exactly I will find the time to write.

87 days interrupted by one glorious girls’ weekend during which I plan to take the Princeton…and Circle Pizza…by storm.

87 days planning what I’ll wear the glorious weekend I take the Princeton…and Circle Pizza…by storm.

87 days teaching my kids to boogie board and body surf.

87 days holding my breath while B&B teaches them, against my better judgment, to flip off the diving board.

87 days driving them to the empty beaches of Strathmere, where I’ll spend yet another summer not sitting and not reading.

87 days playing frisbee, run the bases, and paddleball on those empty beaches of Strathmere. And not giving a rat’s ass that it’s been 11 years since I last sat on the beach and read a book.

87 days digging a 4 foot hole in the sand because the kids asked for a DEEP hole…and because I know it’s the only exercise I’ll get all day, so I’d better make it count if I’m eating ice cream twice today.

87 days collecting stinky hermit crabs in bright yellow buckets.

87 days of stinky hermit crabs dying in bright yellow buckets.

87 days swearing that next year they are ALL going to camp. ALL SUMMER LONG.

87 days knowing that I’ll need to wrap my leg around the stripper pole to afford to send all 4 of them to camp ALL SUMMER LONG.

87 days of noisy summer thunderstorms.

87 days of weeding that I never get around to doing.

87 days timing my Costco trip just right so that the kids consume enough free samples to constitute “dinner”.

87 days of laundry needing folding that can sit one more day if the right episode of Scooby Doo demands my undivided attention.

87 days of Just Dance 3 and Mario Kart.

87 days having my ass handed to my by a 3 year old while playing Just Dance 3. And Mario Kart.

87 days of skinned knees and bruised shins.

87 days of Busch’s She Crab soup available only on Sunday and Tuesday.

87 days bumping into old friends at the shore.

87 days doing shots to celebrate bumping into old friends at the shore.

87 days paying for those celebratory shots the next day on the beach with the kids.

87 days wishing B&B were a teacher.

87 days thanking God B&B is not a teacher after spending 3 consecutive days in his company.

87 days vowing that next school year I’ll be my most organized.

87 days delaying the purchase of school shoes.

87 days of my 3 year old with a head full of damp curls.

87 days promising the kids we’ll accomplish everything on their to do lists.

87 days realizing we haven’t accomplished one item on their to do lists.

87 days living simply in comparison to most of their friends. And most of our friends.

87 days of gratitude that Dad has lived another year cancer free.

87 days until, for the very first time, every one of my kids is in school. Full time.

87 days looking forward to bedtime.

87 days wishing I could freeze time.

87 days to make memories with them that l hope will last a lifetime.

87 days wondering whether someday they’ll want to make those same memories with their children.

87 days of vacation.

Bring it.

And bring with it a very large pitcher of your finest margaritas.

Happy Summer

And Then There Was the Time I Embraced the Checkout Clerk…

“Mommy, why are you sweating?”

I mop my damp brow with the sleeve of my youngest son’s coat.

Think of something to say….quickly!

Me: “Um, my coffee is making me hot, honey.”

This white lie satisfies the Interrogator. He smiles at me, leans against my arm and looks back down at the book he’s holding.

“I’m telling you, it happens. It happens all the time. It could happen to you and B&B too.”

Please change the subject. Before I start hyperventilating on top of my sweating.

The barber continues cutting the Kenyan’s hair.

Kenyan: “What could happen?”

Barber: He stops cutting and smiles, eyes wide, at my son’s reflection, “Twins could happen.”

Waldorf: Looking at me, “Mommy, I thought you and Daddy said you’re not having any more kids. I thought you said 4 kids is already too many kids.”

Me: “It is too many kids, honey. We’re not having any more kids.”

Barber: Smiling at my reflection in the mirror, “I know couples who thought they were finished. Men who spent a weekend with frozen peas on their cojones. 3 years later…twins.”

Interrogator: Looking up at me again, “Mom, what are cojones?”

Me: “Balls. Cojones are balls.”

Interrogator: “Wait a minute! I have balls.”

Kenyan: “Oh my God! THAT would be cold.”

Verb: Jumps up and points at his jewels, “These are mine balls, Mom! And here is mine penis!”

Waldorf: “Wait, why would a man put frozen peas on his balls?”

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Me: “Yes, Interrogator, you have balls. Kenyan, gosh, please use gosh. Yes, Verb, those are your balls and penis, very good. Now sit back down. Waldorf, a man puts frozen peas on his balls after he gets hit there with a soccer ball.”

Interrogator: “I don’t want to play soccer, Mom. Don’t make me play.”

I deliver a piercing glare to the barber’s reflection in the mirror.

Proud of yourself? 

He smiles back at my reflection and whispers, “Twins!”

Me: Leafing through Men’s Health because my kids’ barber doesn’t have In Style, “Did you hear Ralph’s is open on Mondays? I’d love to take my kids to get a haircut on a Monday.”

He stops smiling and whispers, “Touché.”

He resumes his clipping and I resume my counting.

How many days has it been? I wrote it on the dry erase board, but B&B leaned up against it and erased it. Damnit. Damnit. Goddammit.

Ding!

I look at my phone. Text from B&B:

“Hey, gorgeous, I know you have all the boys today, but could you please go to the liquor store and pick up a bottle of that wine your Mom likes? I told her I’d get one for her. And I’m swamped.”

I release an enormous sigh. I still have to take these idiots to the grocery store. Now the liquor store too?

I reply to B&B:

“Fine. I’ll get the wine. But the liquor store is my least favorite place to go when I have all four kids. Please file that in your mental rolodex. Also, your sperm better be fucking dead. I am not joking.”

He replies:

“You’re the greatest, thanks. I had my vasectomy 3 years ago. My sperm are fucking dead. Don’t worry.”

I reply:

“Well, you may want to inform your barber. Who is announcing to me and your children that your sperm are not dead, and that I’m in fact going to get pregnant. With twins.”

He replies:

“I know it’s a long day with the boys. I hope it goes by quickly. I appreciate all you do for them. You’re a great Mom. I will be home around 6:30. Then you’ll have the break you deserve. I love you!”

Blah, blah, and blah.

I’m still counting. And sweating.

Next stop is the liquor store. I pull into the parking lot, put the car in park, lock the doors, and turn around to look at all four of my kids. The Verb smiles. The Kenyan makes a silly face. The Interrogator looks at me inquisitively. Waldorf’s the first to speak.

Waldorf: “Uh, Mommy? Is there a reason why you are just staring at us?”

Me: “Yes. I need everyone’s attention. Are you all listening?”

“Yes.”

Me: “Good. We are about to walk into that liquor store. It contains very fragile bottles. I am going to put the Verb into the stroller, “

The Verb cuts me off with a scream, “NO! I want to walk!”

Interrogator: “How come HE always gets to go in the stroller? I’m tired from getting a haircut. I want to go in the stroller. But I don’t want to be buckled, Mom. Only babies are buckled.”

I look at them all again, “I’ll wait. We’ll sit here through lunch. Through dessert. Through your afternoon snack. Through all of your favorite TV shows. Through..”

Verb: “Oh, find, I’ll go in the stroller.” Find=fine.

You bet your ass you will.

Me: “And, I want all hands either in pockets or on the stroller handles. Where do I want hands?”

“In pockets or on the stroller handles.”

I make eye contact with Waldorf who I sense is on the cusp of asking if he can put his hands in the Kenyan’s pockets. I shoot him a look…Mommy ain’t playin’

Me: “Good. Let’s do it.”

I struggle through the liquor store door with my entourage of fools, each of them itching to ditch me and hide from one another behind stacks of expensive bottles containing the nectar of the gods.

We head straight for the red wine. I scan the shelf and attempt to engage the older three, “Boys, look for the word ‘Four’. We need to find a bottle of wine with the name that starts with ‘Four’, OK?”

The Kenyan locates it, uses his elbow to point it out (since his hands remain in his pockets), and I grab it and head with my wingmen to the register.

Oh, great.

I know the guy who is working the register.  I’m not even a regular customer. I stop here maybe five times a year. But this bastard has a steel trap for a memory. I hope he has the common sense not to bring it up in front of my kids.

“Well, look who it is…the lady with the brilliant suggestion!”

He doesn’t.

Me: Smiling, “Hi. Just this today please.”

He takes his time scanning the bottle, looks at the label, nods, then looks at all of my kids.

Liquor guy: To my kids, “You boys helping Mom today?”

My kids look at him. Half of them nod their heads and the other half pick their noses.

Liquor guy: To me, “No wonder you made that suggestion. Four kids?” He whistles.

Me: “It was a valid suggestion. Ingenious really.  I see you haven’t put it in place.”

Liquor guy: “Condoms at the register? I thought you were joking.”

Me: “Does this,” I wave my arms over the group of small boys that form a barrier between me and the register, “look like a joke to you?”

The 20 something kid in line behind me chimes in…

“Condoms at the register? Dude! That would be clutch! Save me a trip.”

Me: Looking at the kid, “Thank you,” Looking at the register guy, “SEE?” Looking back at the kid, “I suggested it TEN YEARS ago. HE thought I was joking. Now look at this mess I’m in.”

Interrogator: “Mommy, what’s a condom?”

Me: “It’s a rubber glove.”

We exit the liquor store with the sound of their laughter trailing behind us.

Selling condoms at the register of the liquor store is a brilliant idea. Because sometimes when you get drunk…you get pregnant.

Next stop…the Acme. We pull into the parking lot. I’m in a full sweat again. Not because I have all the kids with me. Not because I’m mentally drained from the barber shop and the liquor store stops.

I’m sweating because I fear there’s a very real possibility I am pregnant.

We pour out of the minivan and I load the younger two into a mac daddy cart with a fire engine in front.

As soon as we cross the threshold, the Kenyan and Waldorf are sprinting toward the pretzels and donuts. The younger two escape their car and run after their older brothers.

This is a disaster in the making. I should really just leave right now. Collect my kids, turn around, and leave. But I can’t.  I have to get a stupid pregnancy test.  Goddamn B&B and his fucking sperm.

I dole out donuts, hoping they’ll be mistaken for “lunch”. At the very least, their full mouths should make it difficult to speak. Give my ears a little break and allow me to digest this potential nightmare.

Verb: “Mom…MOM! I want that one! That balloon! That one! THAT ONE!”

Mother of GOD, the lungs on this kid.

I grab the balloon at which he points and tie it to his nasty steering wheel.

Me: “We are not buying this balloon. We are borrowing it while we are shopping. Do you understand?”

Verb: “Yes, Mom, oh, goody, goody, goody, I got a balloon, Interrogator.”

Interrogator: “What? How come I don’t get a balloon? How come HE gets a balloon and I don’t get a balloon?”

Me: “Kenyan, can you please get him a balloon and tie it to his steering wheel?”

The Kenyan ties the balloon, and we continue shopping.

Two aisles later, the Interrogator’s balloon floats past my ear and hits the ceiling.

Interrogator: “That’s not fair! I lost my balloon! I don’t like losing my balloon! It’s not fun losing my balloon! It’s not fair and it’s not good and I don’t like it!”

I look at Waldorf, “Buddy, can you help me out here?”

I assume he’ll understand what I’m asking…and that he’ll get another balloon for his brother.

I assume wrong.

He bends down, unties the Verb’s balloon, it floats past my ear, and it hits the ceiling right next to the Interrogator’s balloon.

Waldorf: Pleased with himself, smiles, looks up, places his hands on his hips, “There. Now nobody has a balloon.”

WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!

If I am pregnant, I will LOSE. MY. SHIT. Which is essentially what I do on my kids. Right there in the soup aisle.

I race through the store, eager to finish before their desire for all things sweet eclipses their fear of another of my episodes.

Last stop is the feminine hygiene aisle. I grab the generic pregnancy test kit.

Kenyan: “What’s that?”

Me: “It’s a thermometer.”

Waldorf: “Who’s sick?”

I am. Sick of answering these incessant questions.

Me: “Hopefully nobody is sick.”

There is not a chance in hell I am going through the self-checkout lane in my condition. Both the Interrogator and the Verb are still crying. Waldorf is playing grab-ass with the Kenyan who, judging from his loud protests of, “Stop it…STOP IT,” isn’t interested in engaging.

I head to the first open lane and gasp when I see who’s behind the register.

Ray.

Ray is like my Dad. Well, not really. Ray is black. And I am white. But he is about my Dad’s age. Although he doesn’t know my name. He calls me “young lady”. But we have a relationship. He’s seen me through every one of my four pregnancies. He’s seen me sleepwalking through checkout with a crying newborn. He’s seen that newborn grow into an infant who’s hanging from the front of me in a Baby Bjorn. He’s seen that infant become a toddler who sits in the cart and throws a temper tantrum. He’s watched that toddler’s spot in the cart handed down to a younger brother because that toddler grew into a boy who is in now elementary school. He knows me. He knows my four boys. He knows my story.

Ray looks at me, and his eyes light up with recognition.

Ray: “Well, young lady, what a nice treat.”

Me: Smiling, swallowing over the lump in my throat, “Hi, Ray.”

I place my items on the conveyor belt, burying the pregnancy test in a corner of the cart.

I can’t buy it. Not today. Not in front of Ray.

Ray: “The boys are getting so big, young lady. Very handsome. Very well behaved.”

Now I’m really going to cry. He’s lying about their behavior just to make me feel better.

Me: Whispering, “Thanks, Ray.”

Kenyan: Urgently, “Mommy, you forgot this! You forgot your thermometer! To see if you’re sick!”

I close my eyes. Release a deep breath. Take the box from the Kenyan and, with a shaking hand, give it to Ray.

Me: Like a crack addict…RIP Whitney…who’s just been busted, I whisper, “It’s not mine.”

Ray: Ringing up the pregnancy test, “Oh, it’s none of my business, young lady. But you’re a wonderful mother. Any baby would be lucky to have you.”

And that’s it. That’s all it takes. I start bawling right there in checkout aisle #6.

Me: Through my tears, “Actually, Ray, it IS mine. And my husband had a vasectomy! And I don’t want to have twins. 4 kids is enough…it’s too many! And 6 kids is ENTIRELY TOO MANY! And I don’t know WHAT I’m going to do. I don’t want, twins, Ray. I CAN’T HANDLE TWINS, RAY!!”

Ray steps out from behind his register, walks around the conveyor belt, and wraps his giant arms around me. And I stand blubbering against his navy blue Acme vest, my barrette catching on his nametag.

Ray: “Young lady, there, there, young lady. I tell my wife about you. For years I’ve been telling her. I say, ‘I don’t know how she does it, but she does it. All those boys. And she’s always smiling. Always friendly. Always patient with all of those boys.’ I tell her you’re a wonderful mother. I tell her how lucky your husband and those boys are to have you. You remember that. You’re a wonderful mother. They are all lucky to have you.”

I wipe my eyes and look at my kids. All four of them, faces covered in chocolate from the donuts, are dumbfounded. Gawking at me. They don’t know what to make of my Acme meltdown.  I look up at Ray and smile.

Me: “Thanks, Ray. We also had four donuts. Sorry, I forgot to tell you.”

Ray: Winking, “Those donuts are on your old friend, Ray. You have a wonderful day, young lady.”

I smile my thanks, knowing I’ll resume crying if I attempt to speak.

We drive home. I put a movie on for the kids. Abandoning the grocery bags on the kitchen floor, I race upstairs to the bathroom with my “thermometer”.

I mop my sweaty brow for the second time that day, waiting for the results…

“Please be negative, please be negative, please be negative, please be negative…”

I smile, overcome with relief.

I text B&B:

“I got the wine. And your sperm are dead.”

He replies:

“I told you they are dead. Thanks for picking up the wine. I’m lucky to have you.”

I reply:

“You’re welcome. And that’s what Ray says too.”

He replies:

“Ray is right. My dead sperm and I would love to take you to dinner tonight.”

I shake my head. Incorrigible.

Could be worse. B&B and his living sperm could want to take me to dinner.

I smile and reply:

“My uterus and I happily accept.”