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.”
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?”
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.”
“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?”
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?”
B&B: “Are you sure nothing happened that led up to his kicking you? Were you laying your head on his legs?”
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.”
B&B: “Verb, did you kick the Kenyan in the head?”
The Verb wears a guilty expression: “Mm hmm.”
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?”
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…”
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?”
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?”
Me: “The knights of the round table? 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.