Does this dog look like a male or a female? This is an important question that sparked some very serious debate in my home the morning of Valentine’s Day.
A couple years ago, I started getting the tiniest of gifts for my boys for Valentine’s Day. A little bit of candy, for instance. But, we’ve dropped the mother lode at the dentist in the past year, and I am on a serious no-candy tear.
Me: Proudly, to the dental hygienist, “I don’t let the boys eat those gummy vitamins. I know they are the work of the devil. Huge cavity starters.”
Dental Hygienist: Looking at my kids’ x rays. “Mm hmm. Do you let them eat fruit snacks?”
Me: “Sure. But only for dessert.” Again, proud of myself.
See? I set boundaries in my house. I take care of my kids.
Dental Hygienist: “Giving them fruit snacks is just like giving them gummy vitamins. Except you’re giving them 16 gummy vitamins instead of 1.”
So, my gifts of candy to my children have morphed into little stuffed animals. I realize I have 4 boys. And one might assume that boys aren’t interested in stuffed animals. Particularly 10 year old and 8 year old boys. In our case, you’d be assuming incorrectly.
The first year or two that I had little Valentine’s Day gifts for them, they were surprised and thrilled.
Boys: “Mommy! Thank you so much! This is my favorite stuffed animal ever! Happy Valentine’s Day, Mommy! I love you!”
Me: “Aw, shucks, guys. I love you too.”
This past year, things have abruptly taken a turn. For the worse. The Kenyan approached me about two weeks ago, while I was either doing dishes, packing school lunches, or doing laundry.
Kenyan: “Hi, Mommy!”
Me: “Hi, Sweetheart! How’s your cartoon coming?”
The Kenyan writes and illustrates his own cartoons these days. His protagonist is Block Man, an ordinary shape who saves other good shapes from the more menacing shapes. Like the rhombus. The rhombus is a menacing shape in the Kenyan’s stories.
Kenyan: “Oh, it’s good, Mommy. I’m editing my most recent story now. Almost done.”
I love this child. This creative little child.
Kenyan: “Mommy, I wanted to show you something.” He whips out a piece of paper and begins reading from it, “The Lego Ninjago Tornado of Creation Spinner blah blah blah blahbity blah blah blah.”
Me: “Sounds cool, buddy.”
Kenyan: “Yes, it’s very cool. And I want it.”
Me: “Well, your birthday is still a couple of months away, but let’s start making a wish list.”
Kenyan: “No, Mommy, I want it sooner than that.”
Me: “No can do, buddy. You know the drill. Birthdays and Christmas we get presents. The rest of the year, we enjoy our presents. And make lists of all the presents we hope for in the future. And practice exemplary behavior to prove we deserve those presents.”
A little brainwashing never hurt anyone.
Kenyan: “Mommy, that’s not true. You get us presents for Valentine’s Day. I want this for Valentine’s Day. Instead of a cute stuffed animal. Please.”
You cannot be serious. This kid has some nerve.
Me: “Go away from me. And take your paper. Before I get very angry.”
The Kenyan walks away, sulking.
Me: “And you’d better not be sulking, I know it’s only February, but Santa is watching.”
Things are bad if I’m already playing this card.
That night, after the kids are in bed, I relay the story to B&B.
Me: “The Kenyan really pissed me off today.”
B&B: “Really? That’s not typical for him.”
Me: “I know. Which makes it even more irritating to me. You know how I always get them something small for Valentine’s Day?”
B&B: “Yes, which you know I think is stupid and a waste of money for a bullshit holiday. Why would you designate a day to tell people that you love them? Why don’t you just tell them if you love them? Or just bring home flowers because it’s a nice thing to do? You know I don’t bring you flowers much now because the cats eat them, right?”
Me: “Yes, I know how you feel about Valentine’s Day. And I know the cats eat the flowers, which is why you don’t bring them home. That’s fine. But, that’s not my point. You know I get the kids something small for Valentine’s Day…right?”
B&B: “Yes. I said yes.”
Me: “You said more than yes, so I want to make sure we get back on point.”
B&B: “We’re on point. We never got off point. This entire time we’ve been talking about Valentine’s Day, haven’t we? Well, and the cats eating the flowers. “
Please let the world end now. Right this minute.
Me: “Stop talking please. I am going to tell a story. You be my audience. How about that? Wait, don’t answer. Just be the audience. The quiet audience.”
B&B: “This isn’t fair. I don’t do this to you. And your stories are very long.”
Me: “My stories are long because you interrupt me. I am going to begin now.”
And maybe my stories are the tiniest bit long.
I have a feeling my audience is not so enamored with me, but I forge ahead…
Me: “So, for Valentine’s Day, I typically buy the kids a cute little random stuffed animal from Target. And they are always appreciative. They name their animals. Sleep with their animals. Play with their animals. It’s $20 total, and it’s well spent in my mind. Not something I do frequently for them. And they go bananas for it. And they play nicely together and leave me alone for a little while. We both know you can’t put a pricetag on that.”
B&B is about to agree.
Me: “Wait, don’t talk, I’m not finished yet.”
He is clearly irritated again. Still, I trudge on…
Me: “So, today the Kenyan comes to me. With a request. He wants me to buy all 4 of them Legos for Valentine’s Day instead of stuffed animals. WTF is that?! This is not a drive-thru service! Now they are expecting a gift instead of appreciating a small token? And since when is Valentine’s Day about Legos? It’s about candy, which I refuse to give them after all of their cumulative cavities, and cute stuffed animals. And overpriced flowers that I will kill you if you try to buy for me. That’s what Valentine’s Day is about.”
B&B is quiet.
Me: “My story is over. You may now resume your role as my husband and no longer play the role of quiet audience.”
B&B: “Thank you.”
Me: “You’re welcome.”
B&B: “No, thank you for keeping it short, not for granting me permission to speak.”
Wait a minute, that’s not funny.
B&B: “I can see why you were irritated at the Kenyan’s approaching you about the gift. It was assuming. And the type of behavior we expect from a spoiled brat. Which we are trying desperately not to raise.”
B&B: “I say you get them nothing this year. F them. Then they’ll appreciate it next year if they are lucky enough to see a Hershey’s kiss in front of their obnoxious little faces.”
Hmm. I don’t think I can do that. I like to be good cop. But I do feel better that B&B has validated my feelings of frustration.
The day before Valentine’s Day, I hit Target in a panic. In my anger at the Kenyan’s gift request, the day had managed to sneak up on me.
I’m lying. I’ve been writing nonstop, and am less on top of things than usual as a result.
I head straight for the seasonal aisle while the Verb is in preschool. It’s a complete traffic jam. 2 broads are yapping it up right in the middle of the aisle. Blocking my path to the cute little stuffed animals that are in my price range.
Come on, ladies, move your carts to the end caps, please. We are all giving you angry eyes, can’t you feel them?
I tap my foot a tiny bit to alert them to my presence. Nothing.
Hey, gals, take this chat to Starbucks please, the rest of us are on a schedule here.
I move a little closer. I wreak. I know I wreak. I’ve just come from a workout. I can smell myself. I will use this to my advantage.
Hey, do you smell that funk? Are you trapped in my green mist? It’s nasty, isn’t it? Move your cart out of my path before I rub my stink on your designer handbag.
Me: Very politely. Slightly sing-songy, “Excuse me. I’m just trying to reach around you here to the stuffed animals. Sorry if you smell something bad. It’s just my sweat.”
Now I am getting the angry eyes. I don’t like the angry eyes, so I grab 4 different stuffed animals and dash off to pay.
That night, before going to bed, I take a look at the stuffed animals. There is one owl with a chalkboard and conversation hearts. I bury those hearts in the trashcan beneath the coffee grounds so that they will not defile my children’s teeth any further.
The owl is for the Kenyan, my little artist.
There is one teddy bear. No frills. Very cute. Small. Soft.
This is for my sweet little Verb.
There is one gorilla. He has the design of lips that have kissed him on his brown cheek.
This is for my Waldorf, who still lets me kiss him goodbye in the mornings. But only on the cheek. And only when he thinks none of his friends can see.
Finally, there is one dog. With a Cupid headband. The cutest of the four stuffed animals. The biggest. The softest.
This is for the Interrogator, currently my favorite, I mean the one who loves dogs the most.
I lay the stuffed animals at the boys’ breakfast spots, smile contentedly, then head to bed.
B&B: “The Interrogator is really pumped for Valentine’s Day. He would not stop talking about it before bed. He is wired.”
Me: “Good! He’ll be so excited when he sees the stuffed dog I bought for him. Every time we see someone with a dog he asks, ‘excuse me, are you the owner? Can I pet your dog?’ I think he’s going to love it!”
The next morning I awake at 5:00AM. The Verb has just climbed into bed with me.
I am so tired, but he is complete deliciousness.
For the next hour, I attempt desperately to catch my sleep again. But it’s impossible with his scratchy little voice breaking the peace every 3 minutes as he rattles off the time.
Verb: “Huh? What time is it? That say’s 5..2..E. What’s 5 2 E? Huh? Mom, what’s 5 2 E?”
Me: “Um….I don’t know honey, why don’t you ask Daddy?”
The Verb begins poking B&B.
Verb: “Daddy, Dad, Dad, Daddy, Dad, Dad, DAAAAAAAD!”
Verb: “Mom, Dad’s not waking up. What’s 5 2 E, Mommy? Oh, wait, now it’s 5…2…4!
The E must have been a backwards 3 in his mind. OMG. Please just be quiet, child.
Me: “Very good, buddy. Now let’s close our eyes until 6…0…0.”
Sleep is pulling me back in. I am almost there.
Verb: “Mom! Mom, it’s 5..2..B! Huh? What’s 5..2..B?
5:26. Forget it. I’ll just get up.
The Verb runs back into his room. He is the noisiest of our kids, so he easily wakes the Interrogator.
I know I’m going to be assaulted with breakfast requests and meaningless questions for the next 75 minutes before the rest of the crowd has to be shaken awake.
Wait, it’s Valentine’s Day! They will be so happy to see their stuffed animals!
Me: “Happy Valentine’s Day, my sweet boys! Give Mommy a big hug and a kiss. I love you so much!”
They give me hugs and kisses and race downstairs to see if I’ve planted something at their designated spots.
Verb: “Oh, a bear! Look, Interrogator, a bear! For me? I’ve always wanted a bear! I love mine bear!”
He hugs the bear and runs over to hug me.
Interrogator: “What the…what?! Huh? I’ll check downstairs.”
He races past me to the family room. I follow him.
Me: “Buddy, you missed your present. It’s sitting at your spot. Go up and see it.”
What is he doing? Is he hiding? Why is he hiding?
Me: “Interrogator? What’s wrong? Are you ok?”
Interrogator: “Don’t talk to me! Don’t look at me! I don’t want you to look at me!”
Me: “Are you sick, honey? What’s wrong?”
Interrogator: “I don’t like it! I don’t like it one bit!”
Me: “You don’t like what, honey?”
Interrogator, finally looking at me, very angrily, “I don’t like that….that GIRL dog!”
He hides his face again.
WTH is he talking about? It’s a boy dog. With a Valentine’s Day decorative headband. Girl dogs are pink. This is brown and white. It’s clearly a boy dog.
Me: “Interrogator, that’s not something a good citizen says to his Mommy. When someone gives you a gift, you say ‘thank you’. You don’t run and hide and cry about it. Please come here and let’s talk about it.”
Interrogator: “I won’t, Mom. I won’t come over. I’m leaving. You gave me a girl dog, and I’m leaving.”
This is a true test of your resolve, Bethany. DO not laugh. Do NOT laugh. Do not LAUGH. Don’t do it.
I go upstairs and look at the Verb. If any of my kids will give me an honest answer, it’s this one.
Me: “Verb, is this dog a girl dog or a boy dog? It’s a boy dog, right?”
Verb: “Nope. That’s a girl dog, Mommy. See? It has a headband. Girls wear headbands. The Interrogator’s dog is a girl dog.”
A new round of muffled crying comes from the family room after the Verb’s declaration.
I spend the next hour finishing the lunches, feeding the Verb, and attempting to coax the Interrogator out from behind the sofa cushions. He is acting as though I’ve arranged a marriage for him and he’s discovered his bride looks like Jabba the Hut.
B&B was right. He will love my telling him that. We spent two hours affixing candy boxes to 100 Valentine’s Day cards last night for all of their classmates. F these kids. Next year, these kids get nothing for this ridiculous holiday.
The older two finally join us. They are thrilled with their owl and gorilla. They quickly hug me, flash satisfied grins, admire each other’s animals, name them, and immediately begin battling their stuffed animals, right at the breakfast table.
Well, now I feel a little redeemed. The Kenyan isn’t even carrying on about the fact that there are no Legos.
Waldorf: “Interrogator, what did you get?”
Interrogator: Really braving his sorrow, sighs deeply and attempts a smile, “I got a soft doggy.”
Waldorf: “Oh, you love dogs! You are always asking to pet dogs. Can I see it?”
The Interrogator looks pleased with his brother’s attention, yet worried about the reveal. He lifts the dog from under his blanket and shows it to Waldorf.
Waldorf: “That’s a girl dog.”
The Interrogator’s face collapses. First he wears a look of horror. Then sadness. He looks at me, devastated at my deplorable choice in Valentine’s Day gifts. My heart breaks.
Kenyan: “It looks like a girl reindeer. It doesn’t even really look like a dog. It’s definitely a girl.”
I cannot laugh. I cannot laugh. I will not laugh.
B&B enters the room. The Interrogator has again hidden himself under the sofa cushions.
B&B: “What’s up with him?”
Waldorf: “He’s mad about his present.”
Kenyan: “Yeah, his reindeer. Or his dog.”
B&B: “What do you mean he’s mad about it? How could he be mad about a present? It’s a present.”
The Verb runs up to B&B, showing him the evidence.
B&B: Glances at the dog, then at me, “Is he mad because it’s a girl?”
Me: “It’s NOT a girl dog!! It’s a boy dog! Girl dogs are pink! This dog is brown and white!”
Kenyan: “I’ve never seen a pink dog. What are you talking about?”
Waldorf: “Mommy, there are no such things as pink dogs. A girl dog is just a dog with no penis.”
Verb: “Waldorf! Hey! No potty talk! I telled him no potty talk, Mom.”
B&B: “This dog is wearing a headband. It’s clearly a girl. You gave him a girl dog. No wonder he’s pissed. This present is junk.”
The Interrogator continues to wail in the background.
We have 3 happy kids and 1 shattered soul. I am a terrible gift giver. And it’s not even 7AM yet.
Goddamn this holiday.
I take the kids to school, help distribute their Valentine’s Day cards, hit the gym with the Verb, then we rush to Costco to pick up a cake (to deliver back to school for a lunch celebration). Racing down the aisles of Costco toward the bakery, I see something that brings me to a screeching halt.
It’s the smaller version of the giant teddybears I have already given both to Waldorf and to the Kenyan for their birthdays. Their bears are over 5’ tall, and they are obsessed with them. This bear is an exact replica, only he’s 3’ tall. And $8.99. A bargain for certain. And I do love a good bargain.
This bear is the perfect bear for the Interrogator. If those yappy chicks at Target hadn’t been blocking my path, I’d have made a more well informed choice yesterday. And I would have realized that dog I’d picked for my Interrogator was a dud.
I toss the bear into the cart next to the Verb.
Verb: “Oh, hey. Nice to meet you, bear. My name’s Verb. What’s your name? Oh, it’s bear? That’s a nice name! Hi.”
I grab the cake and bust out of there.
I am excited about the bear.
I call B&B from the parking lot.
Me: “I bought a bear for the Interrogator. It was only $9, and it’s really cute.”
B&B: “Did you check between the bear’s legs to make sure he has a penis?”
Me: “Yes. I mean no. I mean it doesn’t have a penis, but it’s not a girl bear. There are no accessories. I certainly don’t want to reward the outburst he had this morning; but I do want to offer this as a bit of an apology for not realizing that dog was a girl. Even though I think girl dogs are pink.”
B&B: “Girl dogs probably are pink. But boy dogs don’t wear headbands. So that was a girl dog you bought.”
Me: “Actually, no dogs wear headbands. Ever.”
B&B: “True. When are you going to give him the bear?”
Me: “After school.”
So, I pick the kids up at dismissal. We linger so they can enjoy the nice weather on the playground with their friends. I am excited because I know the Interrogator will be thrilled with his bear. An exact replica of his older brothers’ bears, only a little smaller.
Once we get home, the boys scatter throughout the house. The Interrogator is looking for his blue ninja.
Me: “Interrogator, can you come into my room for a minute? Mommy wants to talk to you.”
Interrogator: “Aw, Mom! I can’t find my blue ninja! Do you know where he is? Where could he be? Is he in the car? Oh, no. If he’s in the car, can you go get him? Please? I can’t find him.”
Me: “We’ll discuss your blue ninja in a moment. I wanted to talk to you about the dog I gave you.”
Interrogator: “I don’t want to talk about the dog until I find my ninja.”
Me: “I don’t want to talk about the ninja until we discuss the dog.”
Interrogator: “Grrr. Fine.”
Me: “So, now that some time has gone by, what do you think of your dog?”
Interrogator: “Mom, I don’t know, Mom. I just want to play with my ninja.”
I am going to set that ninja on fire.
Me: “OK, we’ll talk later.”
Interrogator: “Fine! He’s fine! My dog is fine, OK? Grrr.”
He’ll stop growling momentarily. This I know for certain.
Me: “Well, do you think your dog would like someone to play with him?”
Interrogator: “Like my blue ninja? Yes! My dog wants to play with my blue ninja, so I need to find him, Mom, I really need to find him.”
Me: “Actually, what I want to say is this…Interrogator, I am so proud of you. You are such a sweet boy. I am sorry that you were so upset this morning about the dog I gave you. Maybe you will feel better if I give you this?”
With that, I thrust the bear out toward my Interrogator!
Interrogator: Backing away, frowning, “What’s this?”
Me: Beaming, shaking the bear at him,“It’s your bear! He’s for you! Do you like him? I bought him for you!”
Interrogator: Backing away more, “I don’t want this bear! He’s too…..too small! He’s not big like me! He’s not big enough! He’s a small bear! I don’t want a small bear!”
And he runs from the room, hysterically crying.
What the hell is going on around here?! Too small? This bear is too small? This bear is 2/3 the Interrogator’s size! Goddamn this bloody holiday!!!!!
I follow him, out of patience at this point. I fling the bear into his bedroom with him. He is crying and refusing to look at me.
Me: “Listen to me, Interrogator. I am upset with your choices today. I have given you two gifts and you have not thanked me! Gifts are a token of appreciation and love. I love you, that’s why I gave them to you. The kind thing to do is thank me for giving them to you.”
Interrogator: “I don’t want them. I don’t like them. You hurt my feelings.”
Oh, yeah? Well, you’re officially not my favorite anymore. How do you like them apples?
Me: “I am going to leave you in your room by yourself for a little bit. You need some time to think about how your words have hurt my feelings.”
Did I completely screw that up? He’s 5…was that the right approach for the 5 year old? Or is that more the speech for the 8 year old?
It’s like I need cheat sheets in my pockets at all times with all of these kids.
Waldorf intercepts me in the hallway. He lingers. And eavesdrops.
Waldorf: “I heard that. In there. I heard what happened.”
Me: “Unbelievable. I don’t know what’s gotten into the Interrogator today. He’s usually thrilled to receive a gift. I’m not batting 1000 with him today.”
Waldorf: “Hmm..nice idiom. Well, ahem, if he doesn’t want the bear, I’ll certainly take the bear. He would be a welcome addition to my collection.”
Collection of shit. This kid keeps everything. I’ve thrown away tin foil hotdog wrappers that he’s smuggled home and hidden for safekeeping in his closet.
Me: “Actually, Waldorf, if he doesn’t change his tune, I’m going to return both the dog and the bear. The Interrogator might need some more serious consequences after these outbursts.”
Waldorf’s eyes grow wide in panic. He’s already envisioned himself adopting the bear. The emotional attachment has already begun for him.
The Verb walks past us and stops outside his bedroom door (which is also the Interrogator’s bedroom door). The door is open. The Verb glances in.
Verb, “Hey! Mine bear! It’s mine bear! You found mine bear!”
He runs into the room and scoops up the $9 bear I’d just given to his ungrateful older brother.
Interrogator: Suddenly protective of the bear, “It’s NOT your bear! It’s MY bear! It’s MINE! Don’t touch him! You’re going to rip him! YOU’RE GOING TO RIP MY NEW BEAR AND HE’S MINE! AND HE’S NEW! AND I WON’T BE YOUR FRIEND ANYMORE!”
The Verb backs down to no one. Toe to toe, he will stand and holler at anyone foolish enough to challenge him.
Verb: Up in his brother’s grill, “IT IS NOT YOUR BEAR! IT IS MINE BEAR! HIS NAME IS BEAR! MOMMY BUYED HIM FOR ME! NOT YOU! I GOT HIM FIRST! I GOT HIM AT COSTCO WITH MOMMY! HE’S MINE! GIVE HIM TO ME!”
The Interrogator and the Verb have the bear trapped in a dangerous game of tug of bear. I don’t know how much longer he’ll hold up. But he’s from Costco, so he’s good quality.
Holy shit. I am not even going to intercede quite yet. This is almost comical.
Waldorf leans over to me and says, “You realize any second now the Verb is going to hit or spit on the Interrogator, right?”
I look at him to nod my agreement and I hear the loud SLAP of the Verb’s hand hitting the Interrogator.
I separate the boys and take turns comforting both of them. Because they are boys, they are over it immediately. And, suddenly the Interrogator can’t part with his bear. Or his dog. He drags both to the dinner table. Snuggles up to me with both of them for his book before bed. And insists on sleeping with both of them.
As I tuck him into bed, I give him a big hug and kiss.
Interrogator: “Mom? I love my dog, Mom. I think it’s a boy dog. And, Mom? I really love my bear, Mom.”
Me: “I’m so glad, buddy. Your dog and your bear are lucky to be loved by a boy as sweet as you.”
Interrogator: “Mom? I love you the most, Mom. Let’s sing the National Anthem together, Mom. Oh, say can you see…”
Guess who’s my favorite again?
And guess who’s going to buy Legos for Valentine’s Day next year?