Happy Trails

“Listen up! We’re going 5 to 6 today! We’ll stay off the trails because it’s muddy! But, you guys need to get comfortable with distance!”

5 to 6 MILES?! Lay off the crack pipe, lady.

I peer down at the Kenyan, standing next to me in the rain. He’s whistling and kicking stones with his brand spankin’ new sneakers.

Between the steady pounding of the rain and the whistling…my child hasn’t heard a word his track coach just said.

“Alright, everybody ready? We have under an hour, let’s get moving!”

I sidle up alongside his coach.

Me: “Um, hi. I’m the Kenyan’s Mom. Did you mean 5 to 6 miles cumulatively? Or individually?”

Coach: “Individually.”

We both look at the Kenyan. He’s still whistling.

Coach: “How old is your son?”

Me: “He’s 8.”

Coach: “And what’s he up to?”

Me: “Pounds?” No freakin’ clue. “I don’t really know what he weighs off hand, I have 4 kids, so”

Coach: Cutting me off, “Miles. What’s he up to in miles?”

Oh, nuts. This kid has only ever run circles around our couch. How do I calculate that distance? Well, let’s see…he runs while he watches one commercial-free cartoon. Which is approximately 23 minutes.

Me: “He’s up to 2 miles. 2 ½ if he’s well rested.”

2 ½ miles if none of his brothers launches off the couch to tackle the Kenyan mid-run. Which is an epidemic in our family room.

Coach: “He’ll be fine. You running with him?”

I try to suppress a giggle. Am I hearing this right? I’m attending one of my kids’ sports practices, and I get to exercise? I’m actually encouraged to accompany him?

Track. Practice. Rocks.

Me: “Happy to.”

She turns her back to me, then quickly turns around again.

Coach: Smiles, “I don’t know what my kids weigh either. I have 5.”

Well, well, well. Look who speaks my language.

“And I homeschool them.”

OOOF! Well, that’s been settled. The homeschooling mom always wins.

happytrails

Me: “Come on, Kenyan, let’s get moving!”

This kid loves to run. He’s been running since he could walk. He’s SUPER high energy, and the running settles him down. Everybody knows this about the Kenyan. And he knows it about himself. When the Kenyan gets antsy in school, his teacher instructs him to do laps in the hallway.  When he gets home from school, I set the timer, and he runs for 8 gloriously uninterrupted minutes before starting his homework. It’s unorthodox, but it works for him.

A 1/4 mile in, I glance over and smile at my male clone.

Kenyan: “Mommy, seriously, why are we running in the rain?”

Me: Winking, “Because we’re hardcore, buddy.”

Kenyan: “No, Mommy, you and Daddy are hardcore. I could run in the family room and not get wet.”

Don’t think I hadn’t already considered that.

Me: “Ah, indeed you could, Kenyan, but here you are part of something. You are a member of a team. Dedicated to improving. This is the only place we need to be. Not many Moms and sons get to do this together on a rainy Saturday morning. I think we’re pretty lucky, huh?”

Kenyan: “Freezing cold rainy Saturday morning.”

Word.

We swap gloves because his, like the rest of him, are already soaked.

This promises to be a long 5-6.

I. Love. To. Run.

Love.

Back when I was a kid, and I hadn’t a clue what stress was, I hated running. Fast forward to one husband, one mortgage, two car payments, two kids under two years old, and one father diagnosed with cancer…and a runner was born.

Am I setting a healthy example for my kids? Yes. Can I still run faster and farther than all of my sons? You bet your ass. But Waldorf is catching up in speed, and the Kenyan is gaining on me in distance. Do I like what running does for my body? Uh, hell yeah. But these aren’t the reasons I run. They are the icing on the proverbial cake. I run because I like what it does for my mind. A run always brings me balance…even a bad run. It is the great equalizer in my life.

And if ever a girl needed some peace, it’s me.

One mile down and the Kenyan is hanging tough. The elements haven’t done him in yet. They haven’t done me in yet either, but I’m thinking the silence may get me soon.

I open my mouth to say something, but quickly catch myself…

Typically I bitch about B&B when I run. And the kids. Can’t go there, can I?  Let’s see…

Me: “So, Kenyan, would you consider yourself more a math guy or a language arts guy?”

Weakest conversation starter ever.

Kenyan: “Language arts.”

Me: “Me too!”

End of conversation.

We trudge on in silence. He slows to a walk.

Mile 2. Probably his first two consecutive miles of his life.

Me: Taking off my hat to wring the rain from the brim, “I’m so proud of how hard you’re working.”

Take that, Nurture Shock. 

Coach pulls alongside us in her golf cart somewhere in the 3rd mile.

Coach: Looking at me, “Don’t make him go the whole 5 to 6. He may be too young still.”

Master of the obvious.

Kenyan: “Mom, I think I’m gonna puke.”

Me: “You’re not gonna puke. You may vomit, but you won’t puke.”

He looks at me and smiles. He’s not gonna puke.

Kenyan: “I’ll toss my cookies.”

Me: “You’ll boot.”

Kenyan: “I’ll regurgitate.”

Smartypants.

Me: “You’ll hurl.”

We repeat this cycle…run, walk, wring out hat, positively reinforce wet 8 year old, scour our brains for synonyms for vomit…for 1 ½ more miles.

What the hell are we doing here? Is he enjoying this at all?

After practice, we drive home. The Kenyan complains his legs are tired, but it doesn’t stop him from resuming his circular running pattern around the family room almost immediately.

B&B: Quietly, “How was it?”

Me: “I think it was a disaster. But he didn’t complain too much. So I can’t be sure.”

The Kenyan talked earliest. Full goddamn sentences at 11 months. He leaned against me one day while he was watching Sesame Street. Reached out, patted my leg, and asked me, “Got crumbs, Mommy?” Nope. Mommy just needs to shave her legs, my little Baby Einstein. If he is at all displeased with something, he is very vocal about it.

B&B: “You know he would whine like an old lady if he didn’t like it.”

Me: “No doubt. I just hope he’s not doing it because we are runners, and he doesn’t want to disappoint us.”

B&B: Nodding, “See how he feels at the next practice.”

We drive to the next practice. No rain. Slightly chilly evening. I’m nervous, but trying to hide it.

Me: “Kenyan, I’m excited we get to run together again. And no rain this time!”

Crickets.

Me: “Kenyan? Are you OK?”

Kenyan: “Huh? Oh, sorry, Mom, I was just reading.”

He thinks I didn’t catch it, but my 2nd grader smuggled The Hunger Games into the car in between some Geronimo Stilton books. I remember hiding Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret between some Beverly Cleary books when I was his age.

Naturally, he’s my favorite today. Hey, I know it’s over his head, but it’s not like he’s unsupervised on YouTube.

We arrive. He does his warm-up laps. Then he does his stretching. Finally, Coach sends us out for a 3 mile trail run.

I suspect she just hammered the nails into the track coffin.

The first mile I’m sprinting to catch him. I don’t even need to look at my watch to know he’s running trails WAY faster than I do.

I hope my 8 year old doesn’t smoke me this entire run.

When I finally catch up, I’m winded. And he’s smiling brilliantly.

Kenyan: “What’s the matter, old lady? Can’t catch me?”

Game on, little man.

Me: “You’re fast tonight, Kenyan. Let’s see if you can run the entire time…no walking. Try your best. If you can’t, that’s OK. It’s something to work towards next time. But, if you can, I may hear Dairy Queen calling your name.”

Kenyan: Cupping his hand around his ear, “What’s that you say, banana split? You’re calling my name?”

Yes. I use rewards. And sometimes they contain calories. Guess what? It works.

He doesn’t stop once.

Well, except for the run-in with the “puppy”.

The Kenyan is deathly afraid of dogs. I don’t know why. He hasn’t had a traumatic experience with a dog. He’s just totally freaked by them. And I love dogs. But I think a healthy fear of a dog is a good thing for a kid. He keeps his distance, and he reduces the risk of a dog biting him square on the mug.

So, we’re cruising along…we have ½ mile left. The Kenyan hasn’t slowed a bit. He’s picking out ice cream flavors…

Kenyan: “3 scoops, right? I think I’ll get strawberry…no, no, no…cookies and cream, moose tracks, and….”

I keep running, smiling, thinking he’s alongside me. He’s not.

I turn around to find him standing as still as a statue with a look of panic in his eyes. His lips are moving, but barely a whisper escapes, “I’m afraid of dogs, I’m afraid of dogs, I’m afraid of dogs.”

I follow his line of sight and see a dog the size of a small bear running around in a field to our right. His owner’s attempting to train him, but he is headed straight for my Kenyan.

Shit.

I change course and sprint at the oncoming dog.

We collide 10 feet before he reaches my son, who is now wheezing with fear.

And then the damn dog mounts me and attempts to impregnate me.

Come on, not in front of my kid!

His owner finally catches up to us and attempts to remove his gigantic animal from my violated body.

Owner: “Sorry, he’s a puppy. He’s still so excited.”

I gathered that.

I have hay in my hair and paw prints on my running gear. But we’ve got a run to finish.

Me: “Kenyan, you were saying? Cookies and cream, moose tracks, and what?”

Kenyan: “Oh, oh, yeah, maybe cake batter.”

We finally finish, and I have to turn away from him and act like I’m catching my breath.

Truly, I’m hiding my tears.

I couldn’t be prouder of my 2nd son. The baby who smiled when the breeze blew. The one year old who took his first steps and then ran. The toddler who worshipped his older brother. The little boy who began drawing and wouldn’t stop until each detail was perfect. The boy whose younger brothers always want to sit alongside. The child who has more imagination in his little finger than I have in my entire body.

He didn’t think he could do it. I didn’t think he could do it. I know it’s “just practice”, but the Kenyan buried it. And I couldn’t be prouder.

So, we head straight to DQ. I call my Little Sister out on the West Coast to fill her in on our evening.

Me: “I love track! It’s so much fun! And today Coach had us do a trail run…my favorite!”

Little Sister: “Wait, are YOU running track or is the Kenyan running track?”

Me: I glance over my shoulder at him and whisper, “We’re running it together.”

Kenyan: “I can hear you, Mom. I AM RUNNING TRACK! NOT MOMMY! Now tell her about the ferocious beast that attacked you.”

We get home and B&B looks at us expectantly.

B&B: Reaches over and removes straw from my hair, “Well?”

Me: Smiling, “He killed it. KILLED it. ½ mile warm up, 3 mile trail run, ½ mile cool down. Without stopping.”

Kenyan: “Except for the puppy incident.”

Me: Shaking my head, “Please, Kenyan, it makes me feel dirty. Let’s not talk about it.”

B&B: Smiling and high fiving the Kenyan, “We’re really proud of you, Kenyan. Way to turn it around!”

Kenyan: “Mom, did I run 4 miles tonight?”

Me: “You sure did, buddy.”

Kenyan: Smiling, “Only 1 more until I’m at 5 miles…just where Coach wants me to be!”

He runs up the stairs to shower. And I shake my head.

I stand corrected. Son of a bitch WAS listening.

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?”

adultswim

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.”

 

The Shit Show that is Disneyworld. Part III. The Agony and the Ecstasy.

I dated the Basketball Player all 4 years of high school. One year, his team made it to the city finals, which were played at the Palestra, University of Pennsylvania’s home court. His team won the semi-final game, but lost the championship game. His picture was featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer’s sports section…two pictures in fact. One shot of the Basketball Player jumping in celebration with his teammates after the win. And one shot of the Basketball Player with his head in his hands, hiding the tears streaming down his young face, after the loss. The caption read, “The Agony and the Ecstasy”.

When I think about our first trip to Disneyworld, that caption fits. In my mind’s eye, I see the exhilaration on my kids’ faces when we finally arrive and the fun is about to commence. I blink, and that image is replaced by Waldorf’s profile. He’s looking out the window of our rented minivan. And he’s taking deep breaths. Fighting to hold back the tears that threaten to spill. And, no, he’s not crying because it’s time to go home.

*****

I am not a cat lover by nature. We had a dog for a short time when I was growing up, which makes me more a dog kind of gal.

Why did we have a dog only for a short time? Because we kids never participated in taking care of her.

Mom: “If you kids don’t start helping with that goddamn dog, so help me God, I will give her away!”

Older brother: Worried, “Give her away? To whom?”

Mom: Emphatic, “To a farmer, that’s who! That dog is part kangaroo! She jumps all the hell over the place! And she has run a path in the lawn!”

One day, we kids noticed a disturbance in the force…

Little Sister: Curious, “It’s quiet.”

Me: Observant, “Mom’s singing more than usual.”

Older Brother: Panicked, “Where’s the dog?!?!”

True to her word, Mom had given away the family pet. It was a full week before we’d even noticed her absence, so we really weren’t the answer to a lonely pet’s prayers.

Me: Upset, “Mom, you gave the dog away? How could you?”

Mom: “I told you children I would! Not one of you walked her, fed her, or played with her.”

Little Sister: “But she jumped on me when I tried to play with her!”

Mom: “That’s because she’s part kangaroo. She’ll be much happier on that farm where she can run and jump to her heart’s content.”

*And, farm is NOT code for Chinese restaurant. Our dog literally moved to a farm.

Me: Inspired, “Can we get a cat?”

Mom: Eyes narrowed, “Absolutely not.”

Me: “Why?”

Mom: “Because cats are sneaky.”

The Great Oz had spoken. I grew up believing cats are sneaky. Because Mom said so.

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*****

So, I have all of these kids, right? And they’re always asking for pets. Not just your common dog, cat or fish. They want the obscure pets. A rat. A warthog. A scorpion. An owl.

But my Waldorf has only ever wanted one pet. He is a lover of my nemesis, the cat. Waldorf is consistent and relentless. He’s always wanted a cat, and he’s never stopped asking for one.

I try very hard not to put my shit on my kids. By shit I mean my baggage. And I’ve got some fascinating quirks. They deserve a post all their own. But here’s one example. I hate bugs. Like vomit hate. I like to do a dance to illustrate my hatred upon sight of a bug. But, because I’m surrounded by penis-wielding sponges, I refrain from indulging in my bug-hating dance while I’m in their company. My kids spend most of their formative years with me. Chances are, if I hate bugs, they will too. And that would be putting my shit on them. Which I’m trying to avoid.

Me: Swallowing back the bile, “Hey, Kenyan, check it out…it’s one of those stink bugs. Cool, huh?”

Kenyan: “Oh, they are like something right out of the cretaceous period! They closely resemble a smaller version of an ankylosaurus. Without the tail. And the spikes. Well, they don’t really look like an ankylosaurus at all, but they are cool!”

Me: “You really know your dinosaurs, buddy!”

I hate you, bug. Feel my hatred. Oh, I’m acting so cool around my kid, but I want to dance on your dead carcass right now.

I’ve never divulged my “cats are sneaky because my Mom said so” theory to my kids.  Just because I don’t trust felines doesn’t mean my kids should distrust them.

So, my good man Waldorf hit the double digits his last birthday. And we wanted to get him something special.

Waldorf: Excited, “You know what I want most for my birthday?”

Me: Hoping for a practical idea for a present, “What?”

Waldorf: Animated, “A phone!”

So much for practical…

Me: “Negative.”

Waldorf: Pleading, “All of my friends have phones!”

Me: Feigning agreement, “Well, why didn’t you say so?! What color do you want?”

Waldorf: Incredulous, “Seriously?!”

Me: Grinning, “No.”

Waldorf: Excited again, “How about an iTouch?!”

Me: “Nope.”

Waldorf: Borderline whining, “All of my friends have iTouches!”

This is indeed true. But I know my child, and I know his 10 year old brain should not have unsupervised internet access.  Sure, I’ll be whistling a different tune when the Verb hits the double digits; for now, it’s a no go on the iTouch.

Me: Apologetic, “Sorry, big guy. You’ll have to come up with something else.”

One evening I broach the topic of Waldorf’s birthday with B&B…

Me: “Waldorf’s birthday is next month.”

B&B: “Yep.”

Me: “He wants an iTouch or a phone.”

B&B throws his head back in laughter.

Me: “I know. Let’s do something special, but unrelated to electronics.”

B&B: “I’m on board. What are you thinking?”

Me: “Maybe a pet.”

B&B has three populations who are completely enamored with him: 1. Elderly people, 2. Children under the age of 12…this includes infants, 3. all 4 legged creatures. And the 4 legged creatures may be his biggest fans. He is like Snow White and Cesar Milan all in one. Without the dress, the beautiful singing voice, and the Spanish accent.

B&B: Eyebrows raised, “Wow! A pet?”

Me: Nodding, “Maybe a cat.”

B&B: Laughing again, “You hate cats!”

Me: “I do not hate cats. I just don’t understand cats. They seem like good pets though. I don’t have to walk a cat.  Or play frisbee with a cat.”

B&B: “Have you forgotten that the Kenyan is deathly afraid of all 4 legged animals?”

Me: “I have not forgotten. I will run it past him first. And we will only move forward with it if he’s comfortable.”

B&B: Getting excited, “Alright. I’m sold. I had better start thinking about good names.”

Me: “Think of 2 names.”

B&B: Nodding, “Good idea. Then we’ll let the kids choose between the 2 names.”

Me: “Oh, then think of 4 names. If we get one cat, we’re actually getting two cats.”

He looks at me quizzically.

Me: “Isn’t it obvious? Double digit birthday means double present birthday.”

So, I talk to the Kenyan. This child is an enigma. He is a lover of animals. He retains a plethora of obscure facts about animals. Yet he is scared to death of creatures that walk on four legs in the flesh.

When I ask him, his initial reply is “Um, no thanks, Mommy.”

A few days later, he approaches me.

Kenyan: “Mommy? Remember we were talking about the” he looks left, then right, then over his shoulder, then whispers, “the C-A-T?”

I smile and nod.

Kenyan: Looking over his shoulder again, “Well, I was thinking. I think I can do it. Actually, I know I can do it. It’s only a cat. And it’s Waldorf’s 10th birthday. And that’s a big deal. He deserves a special present.”

Me: “Actually, sweetheart, it’s two cats. Does that change things for you?”

Kenyan: “2? Like brothers?”

Or sisters, because I could use some girl power in this house.

Me: “Yes. Like brothers.”

Kenyan: Brightening, “In that case, I definitely want to do it. We can’t separate brothers! Can I help name them?”

My sweet, brave boy. I love the way you love your brother.

Me: “That’s the plan. Watch out, because Dad wants to name them too.”

We take the Kenyan with us to the SPCA. He helps us pick them out. Two adorable kittens. One shy, one outgoing. Brothers. God forbid we have another female in the house.

They are cute. Really cute. Even if they are sneaky, they’re still cute.

While they get their shots, we have time to decide on names. The only names in our lottery are those affiliated with the Harry Potter books.  Waldorf really wants Severus. The Kenyan really wants Fawkes.

*Head’s up for an HP spoiler alert…

B&B: Concerned, “Waldorf, in the book, Severus Snape meets with a tragic ending, buddy. Are you sure you want to choose that name for your cat?”

Waldorf: Unwavering, “Severus Snape is the bravest character in all of the Harry Potter books. And I respect bravery. That’s the name I want.”

B&B: To Waldorf, “Sound logic. Severus it is.” Quietly to me, “Let’s just hope he doesn’t meet with a tragic ending, like his namesake.”

We get the kittens home, and Waldorf is in love. Absolutely smitten. Particularly with Severus, who’s outgoing. He’s the alpha…so is Waldorf in the sibling hierarchy…and he and Waldorf are BFF’s.

The Kenyan takes a few days to come around, but he quickly reaches an understanding with Fawkes, who’s painfully shy. The Kenyan seems to have his Daddy’s way with animals. And he’s the only one whom Fawkes responds to in his first weeks in our home.

And I warm up to both cats. And, not to brag, but they both have a crush on me. Especially Fawkes, the shy guy. He follows me everywhere. And he stares at me all the time. When I look at him, he averts his eyes, like he’s a boy I’ve just caught admiring me. I demonstrate this to B&B as we go upstairs to bed one night.

Me: “Watch this. Fawkes is sleeping by the computer now. But he’s obsessed with me. He’ll leave when I leave.”

B&B: “Bullshit. He’s sound asleep.”

Me: “Puleeeze. That cat is in love with me. He lives to protect me from you. Wants to make sure you don’t deflower his lady love.”

I stand up, walk toward the stairs, and Fawkes immediately awakes and follows me.

She shoots…and she scores.

Me: Smiling, “See? He hearts me.”

B&B: Shaking his head, “That’s so bogus. You don’t even like cats.”

Me: Acting wounded, “Bite your tongue! That was the old Bethany! Now I love cats!”

It’s true. I am now a big fan. They increase the chaos of our household. They fit. Two more boys at which I roll my eyes and shake my head.

Severus turns out to be a wiley little feline. He has claws. And he uses them to climb my curtains.  My custom curtains.

Grrrrrrr.

Severus breaks six ornaments on the Christmas tree this year. And not the crappy ones my kids make at school that make my tree look so junky. The nice ornaments.

Damn that cat.

Cats supposedly hate citrus. So we drop lemon and orange peels all over the counters a few months ago to discourage him from jumping onto them.  Severus eats the orange peels.

Son of a bitch.

Most cats get really sleepy when you give them catnip. Fawkes chills out like he just smoked a giant doobie.  Not Severus. He gets violent. He climbs on high pieces of furniture and sits very still. When I walk past him…not even realizing he’s there…he flies into the air and jumps on me. Then he proceeds to bite my shoulders and claw at my hair.

Freaky little feline.

Cats notoriously hate getting wet. That’s why many people squirt them with a spray bottle in an effort to “train” them. Good luck training a cat. Severus gets in the bathtub with my kids. While they are bathing. He steps right into the bubble filled water.

WTF?

He drinks my coffee on a regular basis.  Recently, I have been on a brownie baking tear. One day, Severus steps on a fresh batch of my homemade brownies.  And he eats half the batch before they have cooled enough to cut.

Me: Furious, “Severus!!! Goddamn you! Your pawprints are all over my brownies!!”

Severus looks at me.  I get up in his grill for a staredown.

I am the alpha. I am the alpha. Blink, you dumb cat. You know you want to blink. I am the alpha. My eyes are getting dry, but I am the alpha. Jesus, how long can you hold a stare? Blink!!!

Verb: Curious, “Huh? Mommy, why are you staring at Severus?”

Me: “Because I’m showing him who’s boss.”

Severus breaks eye contact and flees the scene of the crime.

I’d like to think it’s because I’m the alpha. Sadly, it’s Severus’ survival instincts kicking into high gear.  The Verb is dangerous and unpredictable. And both cats avoid him at all costs.

Waldorf loves every bit of this cat’s quirkiness. He believes Severus is absolutely one of a kind. And we happen to agree with him. Every day, upon his return home from school, Waldorf and Severus make a beeline toward each other.  And every morning before school, Waldorf bids Severus a dramatic farewell.  This puzzling cat happens to be the first love of my 10 year old’s life.

So, when the kids are on spring break, we travel to Florida to get our Disney on for the very first time.  We arrange for our neighbors to feed the cats while we are away.  Right before we leave, Severus darts out the back door into the darkness.

Me: Muttering, “Damn, Severus just ran out.”

B&B: Shrugging it off, “No problem, he’ll be back. He loves being outside.”

Me: Concerned, “I know, but Waldorf will be upset he can’t say goodbye.”

And Waldorf is upset. But he internalizes his feelings.  He walks around our house at 4:30AM for 30 solid minutes the morning we leave.  Searching for his favorite cat.  So that he can say goodbye.

Me: Patient, “Waldorf, sweetheart, we have to leave.  Your buddies will check on him.  I’m sure he’ll come back.  But we’ll miss our flight if we stay longer to search.”

Waldorf: Concerned, “OK. Please leave a note for them to look for Severus.”

Me: Assuring him, “We did, honey.  And we’ll text their Dad to let him know as well.”

So, we leave a note. And we drive away. And we almost miss our flight. But I blame B&B for that. And I text Waldorf’s buddies’ Dad.  And he gets his boys out of bed to look for Severus.  Then he texts me back…

“No cat. But I heard an owl while we were out looking for him.”

I show the text to B&B.

B&B: “I was afraid of that.”

I know 6 different ways to end a toddler’s temper tantrum, but I know nothing about wild animals. Nocturnal, feral, or otherwise.

Me: “What do you think he means?”

B&B: He looks at me like I’m stupid, but doesn’t call me stupid, which is progress, “He means the owl ate Severus, Bethany.”

Sweet Jesus! Say it isn’t so!

I blink back tears after this news.  And realize how much I’ve grown to love that idiotic cat.  Then I swallow down an entirely new wave of sorrow, thinking of Waldorf.

His heart will be broken.

We sit down for lunch in Disney one afternoon. I place the kids’ lunches in front of them on trays.

Me: “Bon appetit, gentlemen.”

B&B sits down with his tray. It contains a meatball parm sandwich, a water, an enormous brownie, an orange, an apple, and a bag of doritos.

Wait a minute, we’re on the meal plan. What’s he doing with 1, 2..3 snacks?!

Waldorf: “So, Severus is back, right?”

Uncomfortable silence.

This is not good. We have no answer for him. And I still have to address B&B’s lunch time gluttony.

Me: “Um, we don’t know, honey. But we’ll send a message to your friends’ Dad and ask him. But he’s working, so he’s really busy.”

B&B: “I’m sure Severus is OK, whether he’s come back or not. He’s a tough little cat. And it’s warm outside. If he’s still out there, he’s probably having a ball!”

That satisfies Waldorf for the time being. B&B and I look at each other with a mix of relief and discomfort.

Me: “Bullet dodged for now.”

B&B: “I have a bad feeling about this.”

Me: “I do too. Ahem, what are you doing with those snacks?”

B&B: Looking at his tray, “I’m going to eat them. I’m hungry.”

Me: “No, you’re stealing from our children. We are on the meal plan. Every person gets two meals and one snack every day. You are either consuming every day’s worth of your own snacks at this lunch table, or you’re forcing our children to go without a popsicle on the last hot afternoon in the park.”

I look at him with obvious attitude.

What do you have to say for yourself?

He replies by opening up the Doritos and placing them, one by one, slowly and deliberately into his mouth while maintaining eye contact with me.

Me: Reaching across the table to take his hand, “I certainly hope you don’t choke. Since I don’t know the Heimlich maneuver. It would be a darn shame if you choked right here at the lunch table. On one of your sons’ snacks that you had to have.”

In response, he picks up the apple, looks at me, and deliberately bites into that.

Choke. Please choke. 

He doesn’t choke. And we don’t hear any news about Severus.

Our neighbors look for Severus.  And my brother, sister-in-law, and nieces look for him. They email more neighbors. Post signs. Leave food outside. It remains untouched.  There’s no sign of him.

Near the end of our trip, Waldorf makes an announcement.

Waldorf: “I’m ready to go home.  I’m ready to see Severus.  I miss him.”

B&B and I exchange a quick glance.  I take a deep breath.  And prepare to deliver the news that will break my first baby’s heart.

Me: Quietly, “Waldorf, Severus hasn’t come back.”

Waldorf: Eyes wide, “WHAT?!”

Me: “Since he ran out. He hasn’t been back.  Your buddies have looked for him. And your cousins have looked for him.  But no one has seen him.”

Waldorf, my private little man, always guarded with his emotions, blinks back tears.  The gravity of the situation sinks into his young brain.

Interrogator: Chiming in, “What?! Somebody STOLE Severus?!”

Verb: Like an angry mob member, “Huh? Stole him?! Well, I’ll get him back! I’ll use my Spinjitzu on that bad guy who stole Severus!”

Interrogator: Quick to join the angry mob, “Yeah, me too! And we’ll rescue Severus from the bad guys!”

All roads lead back to Ninjago with these fools.

Me: “Maybe somebody took Severus in because he’s so friendly.  But there’s no need for Spinjitzu, my little ninjas.  We’ll keep looking for him.”

Trust me, they’ll return Severus as soon as he mounts their curtain rod. Or their Christmas tree. Or eats a birthday cake that’s been set on the counter to cool.

I steal a glance at Waldorf, who’s very quiet and continues to fight back his worried tears. And I do my best to blink back my tears at the sight of his struggling. The Agony.

B&B and I don’t even have to look at each other to know…there is no chance we’re mentioning the piece about the owl.  No way.

So, we return to a home that’s lost a pet.  For the short term or forever…we don’t yet know.  B&B and I feel the weight of the loss of Severus, whose name may in fact be a self fulfilling prophecy.  And, as his parents, we’re tasked with being honest (but not entirely forthcoming) with Waldorf…and with maintaining an optimistic outlook that our cat is simply hiding.  Waiting for his best friend to find him.

I don’t like broken Christmas ornaments. Nor do I appreciate claw marks on my window treatments. And I am not a fan of sharing my morning coffee with anyone. Especially a pet.

But I’ll live with all of it. Chalk it up to the chaos of my household.  If it means that my oldest boy, my private son, is reunited with his first pet. If it means that the worried look on Waldorf’s face whenever Severus’ name is mentioned transforms back into the easygoing smile of a boy whose world is just right again.

I’ll take paw prints in my brownies for Waldorf. After all, I am a cat lover.

Who’da thunk it?

This WAS the end of my story. A real cliffhanger. But we’ve had a very recent development…

Thursday evening I’m getting ready to walk out the door with the Kenyan for his track practice. I receive a text from my brother…

“Am at the pizza place one town over. Could this be your cat???????”. He’d attached a picture of what looked like Severus on a “Found Cat!!!” poster.

Holy crap!!! Severus!!!!!! He’s still alive!!!!!

I creep upstairs and leave a message on the contact person’s voicemail in a loud whisper. I don’t want Waldorf to hear me and get his hopes up unnecessarily.

I show the message to B&B, who walks through the door 2 minutes after I needed to leave, and he is equally excited. And equally hushed.

Me: “We’ll be back soon. Mum’s the word about this to the kids.”

After track is over, the Kenyan and I settle back into the car. I check my phone. There’s a text from B&B.

“We have Severus!” with a picture of Severus on the dashboard of my minivan.

Why take the animal carrier to pick up the traumatized cat when you can give him a spin on the dashboard of the family vehicle?

We arrive home to find Waldorf, standing at the front door, cradling Severus, who looks thin and very much like he’s lost a fight with a pine tree. Waldorf is grinning from ear to ear. And the Ecstasy.

All is right once again in my oldest boy’s world.

Waldorf approaches us before bed that night.

Waldorf: “Mommy? Daddy? I think I owe my Uncle something for being the one who found Severus.”

We smile and wait for him to continue.

Waldorf: “So, I think I should buy him some olives. And I’d like to do it with my own money. Because I wouldn’t have Severus back if it weren’t for him.”

Waldorf and his Uncle have a shared love of this little cocktail tray regular.

B&B: “I think that’s a great idea, Waldorf. We’ll get some olives for him tomorrow. I’m glad your cat is back. Now off to bed you go.”

I walk out of the room as Waldorf does.

B&B: “Where are you headed?”

Me: “I’ll be right back. I’m just going to the kitchen.”

Severus is back. I’d better cover the brownies.

Picture by Waldorf. Severus plans his next escape. I’m totally jealous.

 

The Shit Show that is Disneyworld. Part II. Getting There.

B&B reaches across the aisle and caresses my ankle in a gesture of affection.

Me: Quietly, from the side of my mouth, “I’m not really in the mood to be touched right now, thank you.”

Especially by you.

B&B: Acting wounded, but attempting to suppress a grin, “OK. But I have two words for you.” He holds up one finger, “Suntan,” he holds up a second finger, “Lotion.”

Me: Leaning into the aisle towards him, “That’s a coincidence because I have two words for you,” I hold up one finger, “F,” I hold up a second finger, “You.”

We are now drawing the attention of our fellow plane passengers, who are watching our whispered across-the-aisle dialogue like a tennis match. And it’s B&B’s serve.

B&B: Brow furrowed, “You have the better memory of the two of us, so can you help me out with something? How many times did security root through our suitcase? Was it once? Or was it twice? I forget. I do remember they had to confiscate the,” he holds up one finger, “Suntan,” he holds up a second finger, “Lotion. But I forget just how many times they searched the actual suitcase. Do you remember? You have SUCH a great memory!”

He places his hands under his chin and flutters his eyelids in an attempt to make me laugh.

I smile. Because I’ve decided how I’m going to kill him.  

Me: “Stop talking to me, please. If I am trapped on this airplane with you, at least don’t remind me that you’re here.”

He pretends to zip his lips closed, then swallows the invisible key. Which is impossible, because if it’s zipped closed, how does he then swallow the stupid key?

Asshole.

It’s day one of our Disneyworld vacation. It’s not even 7AM. And I am seething mad at B&B.  With whom I’ll be spending every second of the next eight days.

Find a happy place. Find a happy place. Find a freakin’ happy place.

I hand out coloring books and crayons to the Verb, who’s next to me, and the Interrogator, who’s next to him in the window seat.

Me: “Here you go, guys. These trays pull down so that you can color like you’re sitting at a desk.  Interrogator, please stop kicking the chair in front of you. Thanks, buddy.”

With the two younger boys momentarily busy, I’m able to relax for a minute with my thoughts.

Goddamn B&B. I told him. I told him, and he laughed in response. Correction, he GUFFAWED in response.

I look over at the Interrogator, who’s wearing his figure 8 and protectively patting his right collarbone.

My sweet injured little boy. Forced to sprint through the airport lugging his backpack filled with Legos and chapter books because B&B had guffawed at me.

The flight attendant walks through the aisle. She stops next to me. She takes a cursory glance at B&B, then leans down and asks me, “It was his fault, wasn’t it? That you nearly missed the flight.”

Before I have the chance to nod my head in agreement, B&B’s face and hand appear at her hip. He points at me.

B&B: “Actually, it was her fault. Security searched our suitcase…how many times, Beth? Because of the,” he holds up one finger, “Suntan,” he holds up a second finger, “Lotion.” His head disappears the instant before I swing at it.

First I will cut out his tongue.

The flight attendant looks at me. She shakes her head and rolls her eyes.

Flight attendant: “Definitely his fault. And I’ll bet you packed for all four of the kids, right?”

Before I have an opportunity to concur, B&B busts into his best impression of the homicidal freak-show Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs.

B&B: “It places the lotion in the basket!”

Next I will make him eat his tongue.

The flight attendant shakes her head and walks past us.  The lady sitting behind me taps my shoulder. I turn to look at her through the crack between my seat and the Verb’s.  She brings her face close to the crack.

Lady behind me: “It was your husband’s fault. I can tell by the look on your face. They almost closed the door to the plane! He cut it too close.”

Again, before I can agree, her face is replaced in the crack between the seats by the face of her husband.

Husband of lady behind me: “I don’t know. He said something about suntan lotion, and you had no defense.”

WTF?

B&B: Channeling Buffalo Bill, this time more loudly, “It places the lotion in the basket!”

Me: Venomously to B&B, “You are embarrassing yourself and your children.”

This is a blatant lie. Nothing embarrasses B&B. He is one of those rare birds who doesn’t care what others think of him. And the kids are busy coloring and playing with handheld electronics. They haven’t a clue what’s transpiring between their parents.

B&B responds by holding up one finger, then another, while deliberately mouthing the words, “Suntan. Lotion.”

Then I will cut off his index and middle fingers.

Husband of lady behind me: “See?”

I glare at him through the crack between the seats.

Then I will make this clown eat the fingers.

*****

B&B is a risk taker. And a rule breaker. He is an adrenaline junkie. He does his best work when his hand is held over an open flame. That’s just how he operates. He loves stress.

I am more of the hurry up and wait variety. It’s much less stressful. I try to avoid stress whenever possible.

All that yin/yang, opposites attract stuff is certainly romantic in theory. Toss a couple kids, a few cars, a mortgage that’s been refinanced more than once and over a decade of marriage into the mix? My yin aches to kick his yang square in the balls. 

Neither of us has done much traveling since before we had kids. Waldorf was born just days after September 11, 2001.

I flop on the sofa that cloud-free, beautiful morning, and will my first baby to be born.

Me: To my painfully swollen stomach, “Please be born today. Please, little boy? Please don’t wait until tomorrow.”

I turn on the TV and struggle to make sense of the two gaping holes in the Twin Towers. After the first tower falls, my sister in law comes running through my front door in tears. After the second tower falls, B&B comes running through my front door in tears. Little Sister is hysterical. She is unable to reach Flyboy, her fiancé, a pilot who is in the air when all planes are grounded on this tragic day in our nation’s history.

Me: To my painfully swollen stomach, “Please don’t be born today. Please, little boy? Please wait until tomorrow.”

Before 9/11, it was perfectly acceptable to arrive 15 minutes before your flight was scheduled for takeoff.

Post 9/11, you have to arrive 90-120 minutes before your flight is scheduled for takeoff. Particularly if you’re traveling with multiple kids. Thanks to my fertile womb and my affinity for a second cocktail, this is our current predicament.

The evening before we fly…with multiple kids…to Disneyworld, the boys are in bed. Asleep in the clothes they’ll wear on the plane. The suitcases are zipped, closed, and weighed. Last minute items are packed. I lay down next to B&B for what I know will be an unrestful sleep.

Me: “It’s $25 to check a bag.  So we’ll only check one bag. I put the suntan lotion in the suitcase we’re checking so that security won’t confiscate it.”

B&B: “Smart move.”

Me: “Our flight is at 6:40AM. We need to be at the airport by 4:40AM. 5AM at the latest.”

He guffaws in response.

Me: Unamused, “That’s what the airline recommends.”

B&B: Shaking his head, “No way. That’s ludicrous. We’d have to leave at 4AM to arrive at that time. We’re not leaving at 4AM. Let the kids sleep a little. There won’t be any traffic. It’s not an international flight. We’ll be fine.”

Me: Unconvinced and beginning to stress, “I disagree. We should aim for 4AM. We can’t expect these idiot kids to run through the airport. Especially if we’re only checking one suitcase. That means we’re carrying four other suitcases.”

B&B: Guffawing, “We won’t be running through the airport.”

Me: Blood pressure rising, “I am telling you, I will seriously kill you if we miss the flight because we don’t leave early enough.”

Rule breaking fool.

Guffaw, guffaw.

Now I’ll never get to sleep.

I wake the kids at 3:40 AM, brush their teeth, and pack their toothbrushes.

Me: “B&B, we’re ready. The kids and I are ready. You haven’t put the suitcases in the minivan yet?”

Tick tock

B&B: “No, but we’re fine. Just relax. I’m going to put all of the bikes into the shed before we leave. Then I’ll pack the suitcases.”

Me: Trying to remain calm, “I thought you were going to do that last night?”

B&B: Slightly defensive, “Well, I didn’t get around to it last night. So I’m going to do it now.”

Tick tock, tick tock

Me: Quietly, “I was hoping to make a quick getaway before Waldorf realizes that Severus ran out into the dark and hasn’t returned yet.”

*Severus Snape is one of our two cats. He and Waldorf are BFF’s.

Waldorf: “Mommy, have you seen Severus?”

Too late.

Me: “Waldorf, Severus ran out very early and hasn’t come back yet. You might not be able to say goodbye to him before we leave. But you can look for him for 5 minutes because that’s when we’re leaving,” I look straight at B&B as I say this, “In 5 minutes, right, Daddy? We sure don’t want to miss our flight.”

Behind Waldorf’s back, I bare my fangs at B&B.

Guffaw.

5 minutes turns into 30+ minutes, and I’m torn between busting out some yoga poses to find my inner zen and managing my mounting stress with a mimosa at 4:30 AM. And I’m leaning heavily toward the mimosa because I’m a runner, so I don’t know any yoga poses.

B&B finally takes the driver’s seat, and we leave the house. I look at the clock in the car.

5:08 AM.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock

B&B: “You realize I’m stopping at Wawa, don’t you?”

I turn at him and hiss. He identifies this behavior, correctly, as one baby step away from my giving him a come to Jesus in front of the kids. Which I typically try to avoid doing in front of the kids.

But even I have my limits.

B&B: “Fine. I’ll get something at the airport.”

We arrive at the airport in record time. Thanks to minimal traffic and B&B’s lead foot. Park in long term parking, unload the suitcases, unload the strollers, schlep the kids with the suitcases and our carry-on bags to the shuttle stop. And wait in the dark.

Tick tock. Tickety tick tock.

I look at my watch, breathe deeply, nearly choke on the fumes from I-95, and refuse to look at or speak to B&B.

Son of a bitch. My blood pressure is through the goddamn roof because he didn’t listen to me.

B&B: “Beth, we’re fine on time. It’s only 6 AM. The plane doesn’t leave until 6:40 AM. Be cool.”

Shut up. And don’t tell me to be cool. Can’t you see I’m ignoring you?

Shuttle arrives. We drag the kids, the luggage, the strollers, and the carry-on bags aboard. 10 minutes later, we arrive at our terminal.

Me: “Hi, we want to check this bag, please?”

Airline Employee: “Sure. I’ll just change your flight information.”

Me: Smiling, “OK, thanks. Wait…why?”

Airline Employee: “Oh, you’re too late to check a bag on this flight. You’ll have to wait until the next available flight to Orlando in order to check this bag.”

The noises of the airport immediately fade…and are replaced by the thumping of my pulse. It’s rapid. And it’s fueled by anger. Borderline mania.

Me: “Boys, earmuffs, please.”

All four of my children cover their ears with their hands.

I turn to B&B.

Me: “I am going to fucking kill you.”

The airline employee looks quizzically between the two of us.

Interrogator: “Mom, can we take our earmuffs off yet?”

I shake my head in response.

Me: To B&B, “I fucking told you. And you didn’t listen.  And now I’m going to fucking kill you.”

Airline Employee: “So, did you want me to book the next available flight or not?”

B&B: Grabbing the suitcase we’d hoped to check, “No, thanks. Do you think we can still make our flight?”

Airline Employee: Looking at the clock and frowning, “You’d better run.”

B&B: “Boys, take off your earmuffs. Are you listening to me? Grab a bag. Follow Mommy. And RUN!”

Tick tock, to the tickety tock.

Up the escalators with all of our bags, all of our carry on items, all of our kids and two strollers. We run towards security. There are at least 100 people in line ahead of us. I look at B&B, tears forming in my eyes. But we catch a break, and they take us in the significantly shorter family line.

6:20 AM

B&B: “We’re fine, Beth. Totally fine. We have 20 minutes.”

Don’t talk to me. I am going to have to kill you in front of all four of our children. And then I’ll have to spend all of your life insurance money on their therapy. Don’t. Talk. To. Me.

Shoes off, belts off, pockets emptied, iPhones in bowls, laptop unpacked, strollers collapsed, carry-on bags and suitcases placed on conveyor belt.

Tick tock, tickety tickety tock.

Me: “Verb and Interrogator, stay close to Mommy. And walk straight toward that nice lady when she tells you to walk through this machine.”

Interrogator: “Mom, what’s this machine, Mom? Is it gonna hurt? Is it an X-ray, Mom?”

Me: “No talking right now, Interrogator. Listening ears only. I’ll tell you about the machine once we get on the plane.” If we get on the plane.

We proceed, single file, through the body scanner. In my state of near hysteria, I forget to suck in my gut as I walk through.

Oops. Sorry to the airline employee who will have that image singed on her brain for the foreseeable future.

We collect our strollers, iPhones, laptop, belts, shoes, carry-on bags, and suitcases from the conveyor belt.

Me: “Boys, get ready to run again. And no questions, please, until we are on the plane.” If we get on the plane.

Airline Employee: “Ma’am, is this your bag?”

I hate when people call me ma’am.

Me: I look at the bag she’s holding and recognize it as one of our suitcases. “That one? Yes. That’s ours.”

Airline Employee: “I’m going to have to search it.”

Tickety tick to the mutha fuckin tock.

Me: “Shit. OK.”

Interrogator, “Mom, you said a bad word. A curse word. You’re not supposed to say that word.”

Me: “Sorry, honey, you’re right. Mommy is just stressed because we’re running late.”

B&B: “Is that the bag we were going to check? Isn’t the suntan lotion in that bag?”

Me: Shaking the suitcase in my hand, “No, THIS is the bag we were going to check. It contains the suntan lotion.”

I immediately turn to the airline employee who’s checking my bag.

Me: “Listen, I don’t know what’s in there. But our flight leaves in,” I look at my watch, “10 minutes. And we have 4 kids. And we’re going to Disneyworld for the first time. Can you please look very quickly and give me my bag back? So that we don’t miss our flight? Because if we miss our flight my kids will be devastated. And I’ll have to kill my husband because it’s his fault we’re late. Then they’ll be devastated about that too.”

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The airline employee locates and extracts the four brand new containers of suntan lotion. WHAT THE HELL ARE THEY DOING IN THERE?! I glance over at B&B. He’s looking in our direction. If he sees that I’ve packed the suntan lotion in the wrong bag, he will razz me about it until I’m too old to remember my own name. I spread my arms wide and stand on my toes in an effort to block his view.

But he’s so tall and I’m so not tall. Plan B, move onto plan B! I decide to mount the table that holds our suitcase in an attempt to block his view. I’ve got one knee up on that bad boy, and I hear clapping. And laughing.

Foiled. Shit. And shit. And SHIT. 

The airline employee looks at me, half smiling, “Sorry, I have to run it through again. But I’d kill him too if he made me miss my flight.”

That’s the plan, lady.

I glance over at B&B. By my calculations, he has maybe 15 minutes left on this earth before I kill him. Yet I’ve never seen him more satisfied. More joyful. Our luggage is scattered around him. And our children…some with shoes, some without…are scaling the bags and jumping from one suitcase to another. He doesn’t bother to correct them. Doesn’t even remember they exist. For him, there’s only me.

Me and my suntan lotion screw up.

She runs our suitcase through the scanner again. I reach out to take it from her.

Airline employee: “Sorry. Something else is showing up in here. I have to search it again.”

WHAT????

B&B bends in half in a fit of laughter. He pulls himself to his full height and wipes his eyes of the tears his laughter has just produced.

B&B: Still laughing, “What else did you put in there? Shampoo?”

Shampoo on an airplane

Me: Frantic, “I don’t know! I don’t remember!”

B&B: Smiling, “How could you not remember? Oh, that’s right, you obviously didn’t remember to pack the suntan lotion in the right suitcase.”

Me: “I packed those suitcases 2 days ago! And I barely slept last night! And I don’t know where Severus is! And we are going to miss our flight because you said we would be fine on time! Stop talking to me!”

The airline employee finds the J&J lavender scented lotion I apply to the Interrogator and the Verb after their baths.

I love the smell of that lotion on them. I could use a whiff of that lavender to relax my shit right about now.

She hands me the suitcase. And we sprint in the direction of our gate.

A US Airways pilot puts his hand on my arm as I run past him.

Pilot: “Are you the family of six headed to Orlando?”

Me: Not slowing down, “Yes!”

Pilot: Shaking his head, “They’re getting ready to close the doors. I’ll call ahead and tell them you’re coming.”

Me: Yelling,“Thank you!”

We reach our gate, run down the ramp, collapse the strollers and step onto the plane. Every eyeball on the plane watches while we struggle with our luggage and our children and head toward our seats. B&B shoves our bags into random overhead compartments throughout the back of the aircraft. Miraculously, they all fit.

We collapse into our seats.

B&B lives to see another day. Just barely.

Two hours later, I’m over it. I’m deliriously tired and excited. We are flying to Florida to meet my parents, whom we haven’t seen in two months. And we’re going to Disneyworld with the kids for the first time.

B&B: Looking at me from across the aisle, “Still mad?”

Me: “That depends.”

B&B: “On what?”

Me: “On how you answer my question.”

B&B: “By all means, please ask it.”

Me: “Our return flight leaves at 7:35PM. What time shall we be at the airport?”

B&B: He hums a few notes of the Jeopardy theme, butchering it, “What is 5:35PM, Mr.Trebek?”

Me: Grinning, “Congratulations. You’ve answered correctly.”

He reaches across the aisle and caresses my ankle.  I reach across the aisle and scratch his back.

The flight attendant catches my eye and smiles.

I hear the muffled voices of the couple who sit behind me.

Lady behind me: “Oh, she’s forgiven him! And much more quickly than I’d have forgiven you.”

Husband of the lady behind me: “Well, she should forgive him. They were late because of the suntan lotion, weren’t you listening? It’s her fault!”

B&B must hear them. Because he leans back, adorns his handsome face with his most innocent look, and points at me.

B&B: “It was definitely her fault, but she has a hard time admitting she’s wrong,” channeling Buffalo Bill for a third and final time, “It places the lotion in the basket!”

Moron.

I take a deep, cleansing breath. The first of what promises to be many with eight consecutive days accompanied by B&B and our four clueless sons.

And so begins our vacation…

The Shit Show that is Disneyworld. Part I

I’m fairly organized. I do not own a label maker, so I wouldn’t classify myself as anal. But I do color code my calendar, which is a dry erase board. Each penis, or son, gets his own color. And then, for good measure, I take a picture of it with my iPhone. In case B&B leans against it, deleting its contents. Which inevitably happens every month. I never move the calendar. It’s nailed to a wall. Yet he manages to lean against it. And always in the beginning of the month.

When it comes time to pack for Disney, I use the same logic when assembling the kids’ outfits. I don’t dress my kids in matching clothes. But we need some bright colors so I’m able to spot their wandering asses during peak season. Vomit green. Fluorescent orange. Tomato red. My children are the palest bunch of kids I know. Even in August. So, none of these colors compliments their dark hair, light eyes and translucent skin. But we are talking survival here, not an episode of Dance Moms.

disney1

Every day, before leaving the hotel for the park, B&B opens the door to let the kids out in single file line. And I subsequently grab the arms of those who’ve already crossed the threshold, drag them back in, and slam the door closed.

B&B: Confused, “What? Your parents are waiting for us.”

Me: “The picture. We need the picture.”

B&B: Even more confused, “What picture?”

Me: “The picture of what the kids are wearing today. In case one of them gets lost.”

B&B mutters under his breath while I assemble the boys into a group.

Me: “Don’t touch him, Kenyan. Kenyan!!! Please do not touch the Interrogator.”

Waldorf: “Why do we need a picture? We haven’t even left yet?”

Me: Pointedly, “Do you remember what happened to Nemo?”

In chorus, “OH GOD! WILL YOU EVER STOP TALKING ABOUT THE NEMO STORY?!”

Verb: “YES! I know what happened to Nemo! He got taken by the bad guy!! Cuz he wasn’t listening to his Dad!”

Me: Winking at him, “Excellent, Verby!”

You’re my favorite today.

B&B: Holding his iPhone, ready to capture their images, “Alright, guys, look at me and smile…Verb, VERB! Look at Daddy, Verb. Now, Kenyan, you look at Daddy. Guys, come on, can you look at me so we can get this picture and go have some fun?!”

Me: Now I’m muttering, “They don’t need to look at you. It’s about the outfits. We need to document what they’re wearing.”

Duh.

Snap! Picture taken.

B&B: “Are we allowed to go now?”

Me: “I’m ignoring your sarcasm…busy saving your kids’ lives, and just Ignoring. Your. Sarcasm.”

We wait, with 20-30 other cattle, for the bus that will deliver us to the park.  Many of them hold small gowns, all of them pressed, some lined with crinolines, all covered in protective plastic. I look down at my full coffee cup. Oh, the nectar of the gods. It has a lid. I’m in good shape.

I really need this coffee. Really really. Goddamn Disney for neglecting to place a Dunkin Donuts right at this bus stop.

A random Mom holding a small princess gown and accompanied by an adorable 4 year old…my spider senses tell me she’s the owner of the dress…eyes my coffee cup.

Random Mom: Loud enough for me to hear, “There’s no drinking on the bus, honey, remember? No food and NO drink. We wouldn’t want anything to spill on your beautiful gown.”

She looks right at me as she makes her announcement.

I look right back at her…and send her this message, telepathically…

Oh, message received, bold broad. But your daughter’s gown is hermetically sealed. And look at this cast of morons who surround me. I’ve got 2 senior citizens, one distracted husband, one 10 year old who walks 15 feet ahead of us, one 8 year old who lags 20 feet behind us, one 6 year old in a stroller with a broken goddamn clavicle wearing a freaking figure 8, and a 3 year old in a stroller hacking up a lung with a virus. If you don’t want me to drink my coffee on that bus, we’re going to have to throw down.

We stare at each other, eyes smoldering.

As if on cue, the Verb breaks into a violent coughing fit.

I raise my left eyebrow and send her one more message, telepathically…

Go ahead and say something about my coffee. I’ll sit Coughy McPhlegm right next to your little Cinderella for the 20 minute bus ride.

She tucks tail and heads to the back of the line to avoid the Verb’s plague. And my coffee.

I wink again at the Verb. Excellent timing, little man. You are indeed my favorite today.

Waldorf: Excited, “Here comes the bus!”

B&B: “Verb, Interrogator, out of the strollers. Let’s do this.”

We collapse the strollers and herd the kids onto the bus.

1, 2, 3, and 4. OK. All here.

We enjoy the short bus ride. The energy is high. The excitement almost tangible. And there are a few other rebels who’ve dared to bring their lidded coffee aboard the Disneymobile. Mom and I chat with a sweet girl from Connecticut, while B&B talks easily with her husband. I’m beginning to feel the magic everyone talks about when they visit Disney. I feel like we’re all on spring break in Cancun together. Except it’s much more expensive. And there’s no tequila. And we’re forced to act responsibly.

So, I guess it’s not really like spring break at all, but I love the energy of the crowd. Well, everyone’s energy but the coffee nazi’s.

We arrive at Magic Kingdom, reassemble the strollers, count the children, take a few more pictures, field several questions from the Interrogator, listen to numerous complaints from the other three boys, and hurry into the park.

As soon as I spot Cinderella’s castle, I look at Waldorf and the Kenyan. They hit each other and point at it…

Waldorf: Lit up, “There it is! That’s the castle! The one we see in all of the Disney movies!”

Kenyan: Nodding, equally excited, “Oh, I recognize it! It’s so awesome! It’s HUGE!”

Ah, this is the good stuff. Big memorable moment of happiness. 1, 2, 3, 4, and they’re all here. Breathe it in…and savor it.

It’s a short moment, because it’s time for Drill Sergeant Mommy to rear her commandeering head.

Me: Barking, “Waldorf, Kenyan, put your hand on a stroller. And do not remove your hand from a stroller without first asking permission. Do you understand me? Tell me ‘yes’ so I know that you understand me.”

“Yes, Mommy.”

Me: “Good. B&B, please make sure the Verb is buckled. Interrogator, I won’t buckle you, but if you get out of that stroller without asking permission, you’ll be buckled back into it. Do you understand?” smiling, “Isn’t this fun? Let’s have some fun!”

B&B: Quietly, smiling, “You sure know how to suck the fun out of Disney, Mommy.”

Me: In return, “I’m ignoring your sarcasm. Busy saving your kids’ lives and just Ignoring. Your. Sarcasm.”

We navigate the park cautiously at first. Dad and Mom look at maps. B&B and Waldorf look at Disney iPhone apps to gauge the wait times of rides. They discuss which rides we should fastpass. And I count heads.

1, 2, 3, and 4. Good. They’re all here.

It’s a great deal of walking. Under a very hot sun. It’s a lot of time spent waiting. In lines hundreds of people long. It’s constant counting of heads.  Amidst a crowd of tens of thousands. It is equal parts stressful and fabulous.

We use a fastpass on the Peter Pan ride, which promises to be kick-ass if the constant wait time is any indication. As we stand in line, waiting our turn, Mom taps B&B on the arm.

Mom: “There’s…oh, what’s his name? From the Phillies!” She reaches for Dad as well.

*I don’t know that I’ve mentioned this, but B&B is a sports nut. Fanatic really. He is a frequent caller to sports radio shows. He takes notes…at times copious…before placing these calls. He feels passionately about his opinion and will gladly participate in a verbal spat with the radio hosts and/or any other caller who dares to question his sports knowledge base. Which is extensive.

B&B: Immediately perking, “Who? Where?”

Mom: Pointing, “There, right there. Wearing the white sunglasses. Outside It’s a Small World.”

Waldorf: Tossing in his two cents, “Oh, that’s the worst ride. No Phillies player would be waiting to go on that.”

1, 2, 3, and 4. All here.

Me: “We need to move forward. The line’s moving forward.”

B&B: “Holy shit, it’s Shane Victorino!”

Mom: Claps her hands together, “Yes! The Flyin’ Hawaiian! I knew it!”

1, 2, 3, and 4. Still all here. Maybe I will just push us forward a little bit.

Waldorf: “Wait, what?! The Flyin’ Hawaiian is here?! Where?”

Dad: “Who? What? Did somebody mention Shane Victorino?”

Sweet Jesus. I’ve lost all of the adults. 1, 2, 3, and 4. Still got the kids. OK.

B&B: Speaking to no one in particular, “What hat am I wearing?” he rips his visor off his head and examines the front of it. He looks at me, “Damnit! Why didn’t I wear my Phillies hat today?!” He opens his arms their full width as he poses this question. And his wingspan is well over 6 feet, so he’s now poking people who immediately surround us.

Probably because we had no way of knowing their outfielder would be standing 20 feet from us.

I look over to see whether or not it’s indeed Shane Victorino. Either it’s Shane or his identical twin. And I’m fairly sure he doesn’t have a twin.

B&B: To my Dad, “Are they playing today? This is a long way from Clearwater.” To me, “Check your phone, see if they’re playing.”

Oh for the love of God.

I pull up our home team’s spring training schedule.

Me: “Nope. Off today. They were on the road yesterday.”

B&B: Quietly, “It has to be him. Let me double check that schedule. I would LOVE to jump out of this line and talk to him about the UFC! He is a huge MMA fan.”

Oh dear God.

Waldorf cups his hands around his mouth, “SHANE!”

Oh no.

Mom: Waving and yelling as well, “Yo, Shane! Go Phils!! Woohoo!”

Oh NO. Her too?! 1, 2, 3, and

My counting is interrupted by a shrill whistle. Dad’s whistle. Like Waldorf, he cups his hands around his mouth, yelling: “Hey, SHANE! GO, PHILLIES!” and follows it up with another shrill whistle for good measure.

Jesus Christ Almighty.

At this point, I am waving people past us.

Me: “Go ahead. Go in front of us. No, we’re OK, thanks, you go right ahead in front of us.”

Interrogator: Frowning with discontent, “Hey, they’re budging! Budging isn’t nice! It’s bad manners!”

1, 2, 3, and 4. All here.

Me: Patiently, “It’s not budging, honey, I’m waving them ahead of us.”

Interrogator: Stomping his feet, “WHY? I don’t want to go last! You’re making me last! I don’t want to go on this ride if you’re making me last! I don’t like being last!” He folds his arms, plants his feet, and refuses to move forward.

The Kenyan and the Verb are heavily involved in a game of fake ninja sparring. But the Verb doesn’t grasp the “fake” concept just yet.

Kenyan: Shrieking, “OW! Verb!! Don’t kick me for REAL! Just PRETEND to kick me!”

I sigh audibly.

I look at Mom, Dad, and Waldorf. Each of them is yelling, whistling, and waving as though they’re stranded on a desert island and have just spotted a rescue boat on the horizon.

I look at Shane Victorino. He has his arms folded. He has what appears to be the slightest hint of a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. And he is doing his very best to look everywhere but at the three gesticulating fools standing right next to me.

B&B: “I guess he can’t hear you.”

Mom: “Aw, shoot!”

Dad: “That’s a real shame.”

Yes, that must be it…

Me: “OK, let’s see what this Peter Pan fuss is all about!”

1, 2, 3 and 4. Phew.

As we walk from one end of the park to the next, Mom and I glance at our fellow parkgoers.

Oh, ladies. Ladies, ladies, ladies. Why do you do it? Just because it comes in your size doesn’t mean you should buy it.

Mom: Quietly, “Now I know how everyone here can afford Disney. These broads are all wearing their daughter’s clothes. Their 12 year old daughter’s clothes.”

True dat.

The park is fun…like a work party is fun. I can enjoy myself somewhat, but have to remain on my best behavior. Because I’m still working. As soon as I catch myself relaxing, I remind myself that I’m still on the clock. There are heads to count and fastpasses to obtain.  Keeping track of 4 boys in Disney over spring break is exhausting work. The strollers are a royal pain in the ass…although I am not as pressured to count the heads that are connected to the bodies that ride in those strollers.

One evening we enjoy a delicious dinner on the water in Downtown Disney. Afterwards, we brave the Lego Store, which is walking distance from the restaurant. And just so happens to be the only place more crowded than the Magic Kingdom.

Dad: “Are they giving something away here?”

Me: “In bulk?”

There are both indoor and outdoor Lego competitions occurring simultaneously. Outside the store is an enormous Lego replica of Maleficent, in her dragon form, fighting the prince. Life size Buzz Lightyear and Woody…both made entirely of Legos…stand inside the store.

So much for a relaxing stroll through the Lego store. Still on the clock. A little more challenging with that margarita pumping through my veins.

B&B: “Buddy up. Every adult take one child. Stay together. We’re going in.”

Mom gets the Kenyan. Dad gets Waldorf. I get the Interrogator. And B&B draws the short straw and buddies up with the Verb.

Although I may have drawn the short straw with the Interrogator. My God that boy can talk.

Interrogator: “Mom, Mom. I need to find the Ninjago’s, Mom. Can you help me find the Ninjago’s, Mom? I need to find them. I need to see if they have the blue ninja, Mom. Cuz blue’s my favorite. It’s your favorite too, right, Mom? I know it’s your favorite and my favorite. We both love blue. So it’s our favorite.”

Me: Nodding, “We both love blue. Lead the way, Interrogator.”

We squeeze our way through the masses to check out their stock of Ninjago sets. Which amounts to three total. One in our price range. Two with price tags big enough that I classify them as Christmas presents. Big Christmas presents.

The Interrogator grabs the box in our price range, hugs it to himself, and smiles.

Interrogator: “Oh, I found it, Mom. It’s just what I need. There’s a snake. And a staff. And it’s not blue, but it’s just what I need. I’m ready to go.”

Me: Smiling, “It’s a smart choice, Interrogator. I like it very much. Let’s keep looking though, because your brothers are still deciding.”

I steer him over to the less crowded area where you can build your own Lego characters. He loves it. Jackpot. He’s matching heads with torsos and legs. Searching intently for weapons, muttering to himself all the while.  I smile and use this opportunity to do some people watching.

Two girls in their mid-20’s sidle up next to the Interrogator. They both have very peculiar hairdos. And, I’m being generous when I say peculiar. Both girls’ heads are almost completely shaved on the left side. Both have very long, unkempt, blond hair on the right side. And both girls have colored the middle sections of their hair, which are the thickest areas, a variety of purple, green, and blue.

Fascinating choice. Altogether fascinating.

They immediately begin building Lego characters. And they are taking their work very seriously.

A voice is at my ear whispering: “Why do they do that to themselves? Don’t they realize how ridiculous they both look? They must really need attention, don’t you agree?”

I’m not so bothered by the hair. Their age coupled with their affinity for building small Lego characters is what’s got me spellbound. 

I turn to identify the owner of the voice. And immediately begin digging my nails into the palms of my hands in order to avoid falling into a heap of laughter on the spot.

The disapproving woman’s face is unidentifiable. Because it’s been painted to look exactly like the face of a cat.

Wow. I mean…WOW.

Me: Grinning, “It’s ironic, isn’t it?”

Catwoman: Puzzled, “What is?”

Me: Nodding, “Exactly.”

I take that opportunity to round up the troops so that we can exit the very colorful premises.

1, 2, 3,4…got em all.

While waiting on a dock for the ferry to take us back to our hotel, all four of my exhausted, slap-happy sons participate in a game of grab-ass. It’s only a matter of time before one or more of them falls into the drink.  I can’t speak for the other three adults, but I’m ready to hear less from the crowd of males ages 10 and under.

Me: Warning, “Boys, I wouldn’t play that game if I were you. We’re over very dangerous water here. This is Florida. Home of the alligator.”

Silence. Followed by a collective gasp. I punctuate my statement with a very serious face and a deliberate raising of my eyebrows.

Oh, a little mind fuck never hurt anyone.

They stand, ramrod straight, until the ferry arrives. They board it and sit, ramrod straight, the entire ride home. In silence. Except for the Interrogator. Who is, naturally, sitting next to me.

Interrogator: “Mom, Mom, I don’t like alligators, Mom. Do alligators think I’m sweet meat, Mom? Bugs do. Bugs think I’m sweet meat. They love to bite me. Will an alligator bite me too? I’m scared, Mom. I’m scared of this boat, and I’m scared of this water, and I’m scared of these alligators in this water coming on this boat who are going to eat me. I don’t want to get eaten, Mom.”

Serves me right.

Me: Like a freight train, I keep coming, “I think alligators prefer swamps to this water. So we may be safe. They don’t like boats. So that’s good. But talking wakes them up, so we should be very quiet. Just in case. Never wake a sleeping alligator. Especially in Disneyworld.”

Interrogator: Eyes huge, whispering, “MOM! You’re not gonna take me to a swamp, are you? I don’t want to ever go to a swamp. Never. Ever.”

Me: Shaking my head, “No, no swamps. Not tonight at least. Maybe at Animal Kingdom though.”

The Interrogator climbs immediately onto my lap.

Makes my job easier. Now I only have to count 3 heads.

The Interrogator falls asleep each night worrying equally about alligators in swamps and his 2nd loose tooth. He awakes each morning firing questions rapidly.

Interrogator: “Oh, did my tooth fall out while I was sleeping? Are we going to a swamp today? I don’t want to go to a swamp today, Mom. I don’t like alligators to eat me. They’re gonna eat me, aren’t they, Mom? Did my tooth fall out or didn’t it?”

We manage, a couple nights, to ditch the Verb and the Interrogator with my parents and head to Magic Kingdom with Waldorf and the Kenyan.

Now THAT is what I’m talking about. 2 kids, baby.

They are game for everything. And we literally run from one end of the park to the other, and back again. Several times. And they are able to keep up with us. We dart in and out of bystanders watching the Electrical Parade. We drop 52 soaked feet down Splash Mountain to watch the first of the fireworks appear in the sky.

 

We get our choice of seats on Space Mountain. I choose wrong. I choose the last car, thinking it will whip me around the most violently. And I am correct. It does whip me around more violently than the other cars. But it also manages to whip one of my boobs right out of my very well padded, heavily underwired, fairly expensive Victoria’s Secret bra.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph!! Where is that fakakta camera?!?!

I spend most of that ride shoving my goods back into their cage and peering accusingly into the darkness for the camera that captures images of the passengers of Space Mountain.

It’s a wonderful trip. Filled with amazing memories. And my four boys get to experience all the magic of Disney with my parents. Which has been a dream of Dad’s since I shared with him, eleven years ago, that he was going be a grandfather for the very first time.

We arrive home happy, fatigued, over-fed, and eager to plan our next trip back.  B&B scrolls through the pictures on his phone, shaking his head.

B&B: “Wow. I’m exhausted. That was such an amazing trip, wasn’t it? I can’t wait to go back.”

He rolls his eyes and turns his phone towards me so that I can see the picture he’s viewing. It’s a shot of the boys in our hotel. One that I insisted he take so we would know what each of them is wearing every day. In case we lose one of them.

B&B: “Am I allowed to delete this picture now? Is it safe? Or are they still in danger?”

Me: “I’m ignoring your sarcasm. And, yes, you may now delete that picture.”

He leans back. Directly against my color coded dry erase board calendar.

Mother Humper. Never fails.

But, I have to admit…he’s making some progress.

At least it’s the end of the month.

Who Skipped a Semester in Italy for 4 months of Houlihan’s Dinners? Asking for a friend…

I met B&B the summer before starting my junior year of college. I pegged him…correctly at the time…as a serious hottie, a great athlete, a smart guy, and an all-around obnoxious individual.  We dated that August, and I returned to school in September, not sure whether he even knew what school that was. Or my last name.

The first night back at school, my roommate, Maria, and I are gussying up to head out to a party.  Cue the Indigo Girls CD.

Maria: “So, what’s up with that guy you were seeing?”

Me: “Um, nothing, I guess.  I don’t know what his deal is. I think he goes to school, but I’m not sure.”

Maria: “Does he have your number?”

Me: “I don’t know. Maybe. I don’t think he’ll call anyway.”

Our conversation is interrupted by a knock on the door. Maria swings it open, expecting to find a fellow college classmate. Negative. All 6’2” of my summer fling are standing in the doorway.

Holy crap, what’s he doing here? How does he know where I go to school? Did I leave something in his car? I bet he’s here to return something I’ve left in his car.

Maria: Stepping to the side, “Beth, I think it’s for you.”

Me: Smiling awkwardly, “Um, hi!”

B&B: Intensely, “Can I talk to you for a minute? Out here in the hallway?”

Hmmm…this is mysterious. Well, I know he’s not going to tell me he’s pregnant, so that’s a relief.

I step out into the hallway, and look at him with expectant eyes.

Yowza. He’s super duper hot. I hope I’m not blushing. Goddamn this Irish skin. I hope he thinks I’m playing it cool. I do not feel like I am playing it cool, but I hope I at least appear to be playing it cool.

Me: “So, how did you find me?”

B&B: Smiling, but not a happy smile, “I have my ways.”

Mysterious indeed. Possibly borderline stalker.

Me: Clearing my throat, “So, why the house call?”

B&B: Defensive, “What, this isn’t a pleasant surprise?”

Me: “No. I mean it is. It’s a surprise. It’s pleasant, yes, but you arrive unannounced and pull me into the hallway; so I’m curious what your agenda is.”

B&B: “OK, I will get straight to the point. I know you considered me a fling. And I’m here to tell you that this right here” he moves his finger back and forth between the two of us, “this is not a fling. I can see that you and your roommate are getting ready to go out. So go out. Have a ball. But this is not a fling. And I will be back. Tomorrow. And we will go out.”

And he walks away. No goodbye. Nothing.

I don’t know whether I should feel flattered or violated.

ciaobella

Maria: “What was that all about?”

Me: “I don’t know. I guess he kinda likes me. He’s an extremely obnoxious person. I think he just ordered me to go out with him tomorrow.”

Maria: “Are you going to go?”

Me: “I guess so.”

Maria: “He’s really cute.”

Me: Agreeing, “Very bossy though. I don’t know how I feel about that.”

A few months later, my feelings about B&B have become clearer. Maria and I planned, with a few other friends, to study abroad for our 2nd semester of junior year. In Italy. Mom and Dad are completely on board. The plans are being made. The excitement is building. Everyone’s excitement. Everyone’s but mine. I am in love with the obnoxious summer fling. And I have no intention of missing 4 consecutive months of Houlihan’s dinners and movies in order to study in Italy. Without B&B.

Please rev up the time machine and take me back.

Clearly, I had no idea that B&B would have stalked me down in Italy, just like he’d done in Philadelphia. He’d have knocked on my European door and announced he was studying there for the semester as well. Or, at the very least, sleeping on the floor of our hostel.

So, Maria studies in Italy. And I stay in Philly. Yes, “Dumbest 20 year old girl on the planet” award goes to me.

When my best friend arrives home, several months later, she brings back a piece of Italy with her. She’d bought me a leather backpack. It is the most beautiful backpack I’ve ever seen, and the softest I’ve ever touched.

I still have that backpack. I missed the trip, but I keep the backpack. Still, almost 2 decades later, it smells like Italy to me. Yes, it smells overwhelmingly like leather. But it also smells like a fabulous loaf of fresh baked crusty bread. With a subtle bouquet of table wine. And a lingering smell of handmade pasta. I use my piece of Italy on special occasions. I’ve taken it to the hospital four times…once for each time I delivered a son.  When I take it out of the attic, I look at it for a minute, and I smile.

I don’t stop to look at much for a minute, so when the Kenyan catches me doing just that, he calls me out.

Kenyan: “Mommy, why are you staring at that backpack and smiling?”

Me: “Because I love this backpack. Maria brought it home from Italy for me. I was supposed to go with her, but I was a fool in love, so I skipped the trip.”

Kenyan: “OK, but there’s not much funny about a backpack. No offense, but you just look kinda weird smiling at a bag for like 10 minutes. I thought we were in a hurry to take the Interrogator to the hospital?”

The Interrogator has broken his clavicle, and we need to hit the hospital for some X-rays. But he’s been walking around with the broken clavicle for 2 days already. An extra minute of my gazing at a bag isn’t going to make much difference.

Me: “Yep. Off we go. Give me your book, and I’ll put it in my backpack.”

Unsure how long we’ll be waiting in radiology, I pack enough that we’ll easily sustain ourselves for a solid week on one of the remote islands on which they dump a new cast of Survivor. All books are placed in my Italy bag. Cooler for drinks and fruit. Earth friendly grocery bags filled with snacks, a vast variety of coloring books, Mad Libs, crayons, sketching pad, and pencils. Electronics are charged. Extra AC adapters go into the bag just in case. And off we go to the local hospital. To wrack up more frequent flier miles.

In the car, I prep the kids about the importance of staying close to me in the hospital. Stranger danger and all of that fun stuff.

Me: “Do you boys remember what happened to Nemo when he swam away from his Dad?”

Waldorf: “Oh, God. How many times are you going to ask us that?”

Kenyan: “Alright, already, with the Nemo story.”

Verb: “YES! The big bad DIVER got Nemo! And he took him! And he put him in the tank!”

Interrogator: “Mom, does an X-ray hurt, Mom? Are they going to hurt me when they take my picture, Mom?”

Me: “Yes, the diver was a stranger who took Nemo from his Dad. Because Nemo wasn’t using his listening ears. Had he stayed close to his Dad, his Dad would have protected him from that bad diver.  I want you to stay close to me, so that I can protect you. So, please use your listening ears. Especially you, Verb. No running ahead. And, no, Interrogator, an x ray doesn’t hurt.”

The Verb is notorious for running ahead. Sprinting, actually. And the Interrogator prefers to take his time. Which leaves me in a bit of a quandary when I’m with both of them. Do I remain with the lagging 6 year old? Or do I bust my ass to catch the 3 year old and sling him over my shoulder, turn back to the Interrogator, and walk with him while receiving concussion-inducing kicks to my head from his younger brother? Who couples the kicks with verbal assaults. I continue to try to work this one out on a daily basis.

Radiology is smooth sailing. They take us almost immediately. The girl at registration is very sweet and chatty.

Reception girl: Incredulous, “Wow, are they all yours?”

Me: Smiling, “Guilty.”

Reception girl: “4 boys?”

Me: Nodding, to her, “4 boys,” looking over my shoulder to the kids, “Waldorf, please let the Verb watch the game you’re playing. He’s strapped into that stroller and I’d prefer he stays there.”

Reception girl: “Did you find out what you were having when you were pregnant with them?”

Me: Nodding, “Yes, with 3 of the 4 of them. I thought my broken clavicle over there was a girl. Turns out he was not, “ looking over my shoulder to the kids, “Kenyan….Kenyan! Listen to me, Kenyan. Look at me with your eyeballs please so that I know that you’re listening. Thank you. Please move over one chair so that the Interrogator can sit there next to you.”

Interrogator: “I don’t want to sit, Mom. My arm hurts. I don’t want to get my picture taken, Mom. I don’t like it here. I don’t like the hospital, Mom. I’m hungry.”

Me: “I’m right here with you, buddy. And I promise it won’t hurt to have your picture taken. Waldorf…Waldorf! Please go into my leather backpack and get out the crackers for the Interrogator. He may have 6 since he’s 6 years old.”

The Verb makes a lunge for the crackers because he was born with a hollow leg. He misses because he’s harnessed into the stroller. Waldorf’s face morphs into the face I recognize as the teasing face.

Me: Hissing, “Waldorf, the Verb did not have a nap today. We all need to have extra patience with him. Please hand him 3 crackers because he’s 3 years old.”

Reception girl: “Can I have your license and insurance cards please?”

Me: Handing them over, “Sure, here they are.”

What a nice treat that she didn’t ask me the question that everyone asks me.

No sooner do I think it than she asks it.

Reception girl: Smiling, “So, are you going to try for a girl?”

Wow, you’re only the 3,249th person to ask me that question.

Me: Attempting, unsuccessfully, to smile, “I’m sufficiently overwhelmed with the 4 healthy boys I have. So, no.”

I am a fairly mouthy chick at times, and on occasion it’s gotten me into a pickle. But it never ceases to amaze me how many people ask me whether I’m going to attempt to get pregnant with a girl or whether I’m upset that none of my sons was born with a vagina. Last I checked, that’s nobody’s business. It reminds me of the time we were at a wedding when I was pregnant with the Interrogator. The kids were invited to the wedding, so we had Waldorf and the Kenyan with us.

Random old broad: “You’re pregnant again? When are you going to stop getting pregnant? 2 kids aren’t enough for you?”

Big, fat, obnoxious pregnant Me: “Nope. The sex is just too good. I can’t help myself.”

F YOU, old broad. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

I digress…

Just then, B&B arrives. It is nearing the end of his work day, and he knows I may need Fun Dad to save the day if the hospital proves crowded. He stays with the other 3 boys while I go with the Interrogator to get his X-rays taken. It takes all of 5 minutes. The Interrogator is a rock star.

Before we know it, we’re in the parking garage, prepared to drive home. And so begins the chorus of, “I want to go in Daddy’s car!  No, I get to go in Daddy’s car! Me too! I said it first! You always go in Daddy’s car! It’s mine turn to go in Daddy’s car!” It’s Waldorf’s lucky day…he gets to drive home with Daddy. In a newer, cleaner vehicle that does not smell, at all times, like flatulence. I get three whiners, who are tired from a long day. And one of whom is very sore from carting around a broken bone for the past two days. Finally this poor kid is validated.

We are a block away from the hospital, and I am already tasting the wine that eagerly awaits me at home.

I will have two sips of wine before putting the kids to bed. Then, I will savor the rest of the glass. Because this has been one LONG week.

Verb: Urgently, “I HAVE TO POOP! MOM, I HAVE TO GO POOP! RIGHT NOW, I HAVE TO POOP!”

I pull over immediately. B&B pulls alongside me. We roll down our windows.

Me: “The Verb has to go #2. I have the travel potty in the car. Give us a few minutes.”

I will have 5 sips of wine before putting the kids to bed. Then, I will chug the rest of the glass.

Me: “Alright, Verby, let’s get you unbuckled. Please be very careful that you don’t step on Mommy’s beautiful bag from Italy. And please don’t step on this great big bag of snacks that I packed. Let’s get your pants down and get this show on the road.”

Verb: “NO! I want to pull mine pants down mineself!”

I will have one glass of wine before putting the kids to bed. Then, I will pour myself another glass.

The Verb struggles with his pants. And I crack the windows because he’s gassing up a storm.

Interrogator: “Ew, Mom, ew, I smell gas. I hear gas, and I smell gas. And it smells bad. Verb, your gas smells bad.”

Oh, just wait until he takes a dump in this little potty, my good man. The tears will be streaming down your face once you catch a whiff of that.

The Verb finally gets his pants down. I get him situated on the potty. And he begins his conversation. Because he loves a little chit chat with his bowel movements.

Verb: “Mom, the Interrogator has a broken bone! And we go’d to the hospital for him to get his picture taken!”

Me: “Yes, we did, buddy.”

Verb: “And no bad diver taked me away from you, Mom. Cuz I had mine listening ears on, Mom. I do’d good listening.”

Me: “You certainly did have your listening ears on, big guy.”

Verb: Looking down, “Alright! I winned!! I did the biggest poopy ever! And I winned! And now, I’m gonna go pee.”

Me: “Well done, my boy. Then, we can drive home.”

What’s that noise? It sounds like splashing.

Me: “Interrogator? Did you spill your drink back there?”

Interrogator: “No, Mom. I didn’t spill.”

Pssssssss

Me: “Kenyan, what about you? Did you spill your drink? I hear something. A liquid. A liquid hitting a solid.”

Kenyan: “Nope. I didn’t spill anything.”

Verb: Looking up from the travel potty, “Ooops. That was me, Mom. It was mine pee. It go’d all over your beautiful brown bag.”

Mother of all that is good and pure. My precious bag. My piece of Italy. The one item I’ve managed to keep from the evil clutches of my offspring. And my youngest child just whizzed all over it.

SNAP goes my patience.

I immediately exit the car. I walk straight to B&B’s car. He rolls down the window.

Me: “Please step out of your automobile. And take Waldorf with you. You will be driving my car, for the safety of all of your children, particularly the youngest one.”

B&B: Perplexed, “Sure. You OK?”

Me: Shaking my head, “No. That’s why I need to drive separately. Please.”

He and Waldorf swiftly exit his car. I slip into the driver’s seat, lock the doors and start my temper tantrum.

Me: To an empty car, “I will chug one bottle of wine. Then, I will lay down for a long winter’s nap.”

When we arrive home, B&B, aware of my woe, tends to my bag. Neither of us knows a thing about treating leather, so he blots it with a dry paper towel. And lays it in front of the heating vent to dry.

B&B: Enveloping me in a hug, “I’m sorry about your bag. I know you love that bag. One day we’ll get to Italy. Without these idiots. Just the two of us. And we’ll find you a beautiful bag like this one. And, I promise, no one will take a piss on it.”

Me: Voice muffled against his chest, “That sounds nice. A trip to Italy. Without kids. The bag. And the absence of pee.”

I look up and smile at my obnoxious summer fling. The same guy who arrived unannounced at my door step and mandated that I date him. The man who’s given me four beautiful sons. The one person who rarely makes it easy, but always keeps it interesting.

If ever I get to Italy, I’d be lucky to go with B&B. 

Or George Clooney, but I think I’m too short for his taste.

So I put my piece of Italy, my reminder of the trip I never took…but hope to someday…back into the attic. It still smells like leather. And fresh baked crusty bread.  I still smell the subtle bouquet of Italian red table wine. The fragrance of handmade pasta. And now, the slightest hint of my youngest son’s urine.

Could have been worse. He could have pooped on it.

The Jedi Mind Tricks my Kids Play

I don’t know a thing about raising girls. I do have some experience with raising boys.

Whether I’m doing anything right is an entirely different animal.

It has been my experience with boys that they need to move their bodies around. Frequently.  So, we hang at the playground after I pick them up from school every day. Before you go kidding yourself that I’m a great Mom, allow me confess…it’s a selfish move on my part. This playground situation is ideal for me. Because the second that my kids enter my car to drive home from school, the commotion reaches an immediate peak. And it remains there, at that ungodly high level, until they are all finally in bed. That’s 6 solid hours of commotion.

Um, no thanks.

The playground sets me up for a mere 5 solid hours of commotion.

It’s less than ideal, but I’ll take it.

One day last month, we’re at the playground. There are a few regulars, who are there every day, like we are. The groupies. I love these other broads. Some are Moms. Some are nannies. We are different ages, different ethnicities, different backgrounds. So, while my kids shake their sillies out, I enjoy the camaraderie of these women who share their unique stories with me.

Maggie is a groupie. Maggie has one son, Eddie.  Eddie is a good buddy of Waldorf’s. Maggie stays home with her son. And his other Mom, Jaclyn, works full time. We adore this family.

Maggie: Half smiling, “So, Jaclyn and I were talking to Eddie about what were to happen if we both die.”

Me: Eyebrows raised, “Oh, yeah? Serious chat to have with your 10 year old.”

Maggie: Nodding, “Yeah, but you know it’s just the three of us.  So, guess what he said?”

Me: “What?”

Maggie: Big smile, “He says, ‘If you both die, I want to live with Waldorf.’”

Me: Incredulous, “Shut up! He did not!”

Maggie: Nodding, “Yes, he did. He said he wants to live with you guys.”

Me: “Jesus, Maggie, seriously?  It would be a tight squeeze, but we’d be happy to have him.”

I am smiling. Glowing. I stay home with the kids, right? But I am somebody who thrives on setting goals, working toward them, and achieving them. That means I have to derive a great deal of pleasure from cleaning a sink full of dirty dishes.  Because I don’t know whether my raising of these kids will be successful for another 20-30 years. Waldorf’s friend wants to live with us if his parents die? That’s an enormous compliment to me. Positive reinforcement at its finest. And I’m a sucker for positive reinforcement.

We love this boy, and we’d be honored to welcome him into our family if, God forbid, he ever loses these wonderful women.

Why us, I wonder?

I wonder if it’s because he sees how I interact with my own kids.

Fun Mom.

Maybe it’s my brownies. Oh, and the chocolate chip cookie bars! Yes, he loves my baking.

Mom who cooks.

You know what? Eddie’s an only child. I bet he’d love to be a part of our crazy dynamic.

Mom who gives her children siblings.

Oh, wait…how could I overlook this one? It’s B&B! He’d love to have B&B as a father figure!

Mom who is married to virile man.

Maybe it’s the entire package!

I smile, look at Maggie, and she smiles back at me.

Well, how about that…maybe we are doing something right.

Me: Excited, “Did he say anything more? Did he tell you why he’d want to live with us?”

Maggie: Nodding, “Oh, yeah, yeah. We asked him ‘is it because you see how good Waldorf’s Mom is with him and his brothers?’”

I raise my eyebrows expectantly….

This is the greatest day of my life. I am savoring this moment. This one right here. Moment of happiness.

Maggie: “He said, ‘nope.’”

Eyebrows fall…

Oh.

Maggie: “We asked him, ‘is it because Waldorf’s Mom is always bringing those delicious snacks to the playground? Because she always has the good food for Waldorf and his brothers?’”

Eyebrows back up…

The way to a boy’s heart is through his stomach, yes?

Maggie: “He said, ‘nope.’”

Dammit.

Maggie: “We asked him, ‘is it because of B&B? You know, cuz you don’t have a Dad, you just have us women?’”

I raise my eyebrows again…

Sometimes the sheer Leave It to Beaver-ness of our family makes me nauseous, but maybe it’s appealing to a kid whose family is less traditional. And B&B is a stud of a Daddy.

Maggie: “He said, ‘nope.’”

That settles it. Must be all the Gremlins under our roof.

Maggie: “We asked him, ‘is it because they’re such a big family? All those kids to play with? All that fun to be had?’”

My head hurts from all of this eyebrow raising…

Has to be. Doesn’t it?

Me: “And?”

Maggie: Smiling, “He said, ‘it’s not that Waldorf has so many brothers. It’s that he orders them around. And they listen to him. I watch them. They do it here, on the playground. Waldorf tells the younger ones what to do…and they do it. Every time. I want to live with them so I can give the orders and watch the younger boys carry them out.”

Come again?

Me: “Well, Maggie, this has indeed been both an enlightening and a humbling conversation.”

Maggie: Laughing in agreement, “That’s what he says. He wants to live with you so he can order the younger guys around.”

Pfffffffffft. That’s the sound of my bubble bursting.

I pick up what remains of the homemade brownies, along with the pieces of my shattered ego, corral the kids, and head to the car for my 5 consecutive hours of commotion.

The Pecking Order of siblings. It exists indeed. And it is alive and well in our home.

The Interrogator recently celebrated a birthday. I was slightly nervous about his reaction to his presents after our Valentine’s Day debacle. But, he was thrilled with everything…hard to go wrong with all things Ninjago.

The behavior of his brothers, older and younger, during his opening of the presents was especially interesting to watch.

Typically, I am awake and downstairs by 6AM, finishing the packing of the lunches and the snacks for the kids to take to school. I am vigilant about where I place my feet when I walk down the steps. I know which floorboards creak the loudest and avoid them at all costs. A quiet exit from my bedroom and stealthy descent down the stairs will ensure I’m able to listen, even for only a few minutes, to Howard Stern. Or to the beautiful silence of no one asking me for a goddamn thing.

This happens once every 3-4 weeks.

On birthday mornings, everybody gets up extra early, so any plans for solitude are shot.

But, that’s OK, because I am as excited for the kids’ birthday as they are.  

Every morning, the Verb jumps out of bed with the gusto only a 3 year old can possess.

BOOM!

Verb: “MOM! I’M ALL DONE SLEEPING! I HAVE TO GO PEE!”

The loud boom of the Verb’s feet hitting the ground usually wakes the Interrogator, who sleeps in the bunk above his younger brother. If not, the follow up announcement about relieving himself typically does the trick.

The morning of the Interrogator’s birthday, my little Verb is up before 6. The birthday boy awakes then as well. Within 2 minutes, the Kenyan and Waldorf appear in the hallway.

Me: “What’s the special occasion, guys? Everybody’s excited to get to school early?”

Waldorf: Straight faced, “Ha ha.”

Kenyan: Laughing, “Oh, yeah, Mom, let’s go right away!”

Verb: “Huh? Mommy, it’s the Interrogator’s birthday!!”

Interrogator: Smiling shyly and rubbing his tired eyes,“It’s my birthday, Mom. My 6 birthday. Now I’m 6, Mom.”

Love. Complete and unconditional.

I hug and kiss my birthday boy, the baby who, upon his exit, left me feeling as though my uterus was carrying around a bucket of marbles for a solid 6 months post-partum. Heavy marbles. That moved nonstop.

Me: “Happy birthday, sweet boy.”

The kids race down the steps in anticipation of the Interrogator’s opening his presents. The Interrogator, smiling, reaches for the first present. The biggest present. On the bottom of the present pile.

Waldorf: “Wait, hold on! Don’t you want to open THIS present first?”

He hands the Interrogator a different present.

Waldorf always has an agenda. Always.

Interrogator: “Oh, yeah, yeah, this one, right. OK, I do want to open this one!”

He tears open the wrapping paper and immediately smiles.

Interrogator: Grinning, “Oh, a Ninjago skeleton. I just love Ninjago skeletons. This is perfect.”

He struggles to open the packaging. The Kenyan thrusts a different present under his nose.

Kenyan: Excited, “Interrogator, Mommy will open that for you. HERE! Open THIS present!”

Let him open it if he wants to open it. Good God, these kids are pushy.

Interrogator: Easily convinced, “Oh, yeah, here you go, Mom. Can you open it please? I want to open this present.”

He digs into the wrapping paper, uncovering another…different…Ninjago skeleton.

Interrogator: Smiling, “Wow! 2 Ninjago skeletons! For me? This is the best birthday. I love being 6.”

Again, he attempts to extract the skeleton from the packaging. Impatiently, Waldorf shoves a present between the Interrogator and the unopened skeleton.

Waldorf: Curtly, “Here. Open it.”

I catch B&B’s eye. We exchange angry faces at our older kids’ attempt to control the Interrogator’s birthday present opening sequence.

For the love of God, let the kid open the presents in the order he wants.

Me: “Ahem.”

Both Waldorf and the Kenyan look at me.  I silently take my hand and wave it back and forth across my throat. International sign for “cut it out”, right?

Kenyan: “Someone’s dead? Who’s dead?”

Waldorf: “You’re going to chop someone’s head off?”

This is what it’s like to be surrounded by penises. I mean idiots.

Me: “Waldorf and Kenyan, maybe we’ll let the Interrogator choose which presents he’d like to open next. You’ve both done a nice job helping him. Thank you for that. But let’s let him decide. Go ahead, Interrogator, which present do you want to open next?”

The Interrogator looks at me, then at his remaining pile of wrapped presents, then at his two older brothers.

Interrogator: “Um, I don’t know. Which one do you think I should open, Kenyan?”

The Kenyan grabs a present from the pile. Before he has the chance to hand it to the birthday boy, Waldorf puts his hand on the Kenyan’s arm to stop him.

Waldorf: “No. You want to give him THAT one.”

He points to a different present. The Kenyan immediately obeys. Puts down his first choice, picks up Waldorf’s recommendation, and hands it to the Interrogator.

What the hell kind of Jedi mind trick was that?!

The Interrogator rips the wrapping paper off, unveiling the coveted Ninjago blade cycle. A collective gasp is heard.

Interrogator: Nearly screaming in excitement, “Oh! Oh! It’s just what I always wanted! It’s just right! And I knew Santa would bring it for my 6 birthday because I’m a good boy, Mom, right? Right Mom? Santa bringed this blade cycle for me because I’m such a good boy?”

Me: Struggling not to laugh, “You know what, buddy? You are SUCH a good boy. That’s from Mom and Dad and all of your brothers. Santa’s taking a vacation, and we’re celebrating your birthday.”

Waldorf: One eyebrow cocked, “Um, Interrogator, I need to see that box. For JUST a minute. Please.”

The Interrogator has a death grip on the present he desired most for his birthday. He hugs the box to his chest, takes a deep breath, then hands it over to his oldest brother.

Waldorf’s eyes light up. He smiles. He looks at the picture. He whispers to the Kenyan. The Kenyan’s eyes light up. The Kenyan smiles.

What are they up to?

Waldorf: “OK. Interrogator, we’d like to make a deal.”

Look out. The chief negotiator is on the case.

We listen to Waldorf sell a used car to his younger brother. The Kenyan occasionally chimes in for good measure.

The Interrogator is unsure whether he should accept the offer. He is a hoarder. Not in the way Waldorf hoards items, like aluminum foil hotdog wrappers from school, but a hoarder no less. The Interrogator is famous for taking 8 different Lego characters, all wielding weapons, with him to the bathroom. To pee. It takes him longer to set the Legos up on the windowsill than it does to relieve himself and wash his hands. He has a phobia of his brothers stealing his Legos. We have rescued many a Lego from the toilet as a result. And soaked several in bleach before returning them to his little grabby hands.

But his need for his brothers’ approval surpasses his desire even for his most coveted birthday gift.

Interrogator: “OK, Waldorf. I’ll trade my two new guys for your old guy you’ve been hiding in your closet.”

Waldorf and the Kenyan high five. Waldorf runs past us, averting his evil eyes from our disapproving parental glares.

We’ve just witnessed the perfect illustration of why Eddie wants to live with us. The sway the older brothers posses to manipulate their younger brothers. The pecking order at its best.

Or, from a parents’ perspective, the pecking order at its worst.

B&B and I step out of the room to discuss what’s just transpired.

B&B: Angrily whispering, “This is horse shit. I am going to beat those two morons. I am going to hold them down and beat them. And I’m going to enjoy it. The way they took advantage of that sweet, innocent Interrogator. They deserve a beating.”

Me: Agreeing, “They do indeed. But there’s nothing we can do about it.”

B&B: Feeling challenged, “The hell there isn’t. Watch me. Watch me while I beat them.”

*As an aside, B&B never lays a hand on the kids.  I hand out the beatings.

Kidding.

Me: Shaking my head, “It’s the pecking order. You can’t mess with it. Circle of life and all that shit.”

B&B: “It’s bullshit.”

Me: “Yep. But it’s a rite of passage. Nothing you can do about it. You’re the youngest, you should know. Didn’t your sisters dress you up as a girl and put makeup on you?”

B&B: “Maybe. Probably. I know I watched a lot of daytime soap operas. God, I loved Guiding Light.”

This is life with B&B. One minute, he’s preparing to hold the children down and enjoy beating them. The next, he’s fondly reminiscing about daytime soap operas. He is one of a kind, indeed.  

I remember the pecking order in my nuclear family growing up.  My brother is the oldest, therefore he rode shotgun and dictated the music choices in the car. He also capitalized on his status as oldest sibling in order to bamboozle us out of our very favorite candy during our post-trick-or-treat trading fest at the kitchen table.

Big Brother: Straight faced, “Little Sister, I’ll trade you one of my Charleston Chews for 2 of your Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.”

Oh, that’s junk. Nobody wants a Charleston Chew.

peckpeck

Little Sister: Eager to please Big Brother: “YES! YES! It’s a great trade! Actually, take all 5 of my Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.”

Me: Looking cross-eyed at Little Sister,”Have you lost your mind? Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are your favorites. And Charleston Chews are junk. That’s the worst trade of the night.”

Little Sister: Beaming, “No, it’s fine. I want him to have them. All of them.”

I look at Big Brother, who’s smiling like the cat who swallowed the canary. He throws a Maryjane at her for good measure. Then he laughs.

That’s just plain evil. But it’s the pecking order.

I was guilty of abusing it as well…

Me: “I notice you didn’t make your bed this morning, Little Sister.”

Little Sister: Tossing her curls over her tiny shoulder, “What? Oh, yeah. I wanted to play with my dolls. Don’t tell Mom I didn’t make my bed.”

Me: Taking advantage of my poor, innocent younger sibling, “Give me a reason not to tell her, and I won’t.”

Little Sister: Pleading, “I’ll buy you a pack of gum if you don’t tell her. Grape Hubba Bubba. I know that’s your favorite. Please don’t tell?”

I consider her offer. Before I have the chance to accept it, she sweetens the pot…

Little Sister: “And a cherry flavored Laffy Taffy! I know you love those too! I’ll buy you both if you don’t tell Mom I didn’t make my bed.”

Me: “Deal.”

The Pecking Order. The Rite of Passage of Siblings. The Survival of the Fittest.

Eddie wants a taste of it? Heck, what’s another boy in this house. Welcome to the jungle, Eddie.

I sure hope you’re not allergic to dust, my boy.

 

*Special thanks to Maggie, Jaclyn, and Eddie, a family of rock stars, for allowing me to include them in this story. Our school, our community, and our families are richer for the friendship, love, and laughter you’ve brought to them. XOXOXO

 

 

When They Say They’re Going to Puke…They’re Going to Puke

Mr. Dreamy, head of my kids’ school, has mentioned to parents that the folks at school will believe only half of what our children say occurs at home, if we believe only half of what the children claim happens at school.

Translation…50% of the time, our kids are big, fat liars.

One day last month, the Verb was eating the house down more so than usual.

Me: “Hey, Verby-Verb, you’d better slow down. You’re going to have a belly ache if you keep eating so much tonight.”

Verb: “A  belly ache? Nah! Can I have some more rice, Mom?”

Rice is the devil himself at my dinner table. The cleanup makes me batty.

Me: Sighing, “Sure, Verb. Here’s some more rice.”

An hour later, after I’ve washed the dishes, bathed the younger guys, reminded Waldorf 16 times to start his homework, packed the next day’s snacks and lunches, and picked up 142 grains of rice from the floor, I am tucking the Verb into bed.

Me: Inhaling his 3 year old deliciousness, “Goodnight, my sweet angel boy. Mommy loves you.”

Verb: Words muffled by his thumb sucking, “G-Night, Mommy. I love you, Mommy.”

One down, 3 to go. Then, American Idol, I have a date with you. You and a very large glass of red wine.

Soon after, I tuck the Interrogator into bed, but the Verb is still awake.

Verb: Happily, “Mom, mine belly is too full from eating so much rice.”

The Verb holds the prestigious title of “2nd biggest inventor of bedtime stall tactics” under our roof. 1st prize goes to Waldorf.

Nice try, Verb. I handed you that line. Be more creative next time.

Me: “You’re fine. Your belly isn’t hurting you. You’re just tired. Lay down and go to sleep.”

Interrogator: Worried, “What? Is he gonna throw up? Ewww, I don’t like throw up. It’s stinky.”

Me: “No, Interrogator, he’s not going to throw up. He’s just teasing Mommy. Goodnight, boys. Please stay in your beds, close your eyes, close your mouths, and go to sleep.”

Interrogator: Still concerned, “Mom, what about the throw up, Mom?”

Me: Closing the door, “Goodnight, boys.”

Back downstairs with the older two, I am running out of fuel.

Me: “Guys, we can play one game of Uno or we can read quietly. Which would you like to do?”

Don’t say Uno. Please don’t say Uno. I am so tired, please let’s all just read quietly.

Kenyan & Waldorf: “UNO!”

OK. Beats Monopoly.

Mid-game, I hear the duet of voices that should be asleep beckoning me. I head upstairs to investigate.

Me: “This had better be an emergency, boys.”

Interrogator: “Mom, the Verb doesn’t feel good, Mom. He says his belly is too full from eating so much rice.”

Verb: Smiling and dancing from the waist up, “Yeah, Mom! Mine belly is too full.”

Me: Sternly, “Both of you listen to me. Lay down. Right now. And ZIP IT.”

For the love of Pete.

Waldorf, the Kenyan, and I finish our game of Uno soon after.

Me: “OK, Kenyan, please go upstairs, brush your teeth, and put on your pjs. And Waldorf, please go upstairs, put on your pjs, and brush your teeth. Notice the order of those directions, boys.”

It’s essential to separate them as much as possible as bedtime approaches. To reduce their participation in the game my parents have so appropriately labeled, “grab-ass”.

I assure you it is a metaphorical, not a literal, game. Well, maybe that’s not entirely true.

I am putting away the cards when the Kenyan flies back down the stairs.

Kenyan: Urgently, “Mommy! The Verb is sick! I heard a gagging noise coming from his room, so I opened the door and he was PUKING! It’s EVERYWHERE! And it smells DISGUSTING!”   

Son of a bitch. He called my bluff.

Together, we run upstairs. The waft of vomit hits me at the top of the stairs. I enter the bedroom the Verb shares with the Interrogator. I find the Interrogator, holding his nose and dry heaving on the top bunk.  And my sweet little Verb, on the bottom bunk, sitting upright in bed. He appears lost, and his face and hair are covered in vomit.

Verb: Matter-of-factly, “I throwed up on mine face, Mom.”

boywhocriedwolf

No wonder he’s B&B’s current favorite. I. Could. Eat. Him. When he isn’t covered in puke.

Me: Grabbing towels, “Oh, sweetheart, you did. I’m so sorry! My poor boy, let’s get you cleaned up. Waldorf, please start the bath for the Verb.”

On the top bunk, the Interrogator is clearing his throat every 4 seconds, occasionally mixing it up with the insertion of a dramatic dry heave. I look at him, pointing my finger.

Me: “Don’t even think about it. Pull the covers over your head, and close your eyes. You won’t smell it then. Kenyan, please open a window in here. Scratch that, open both windows. Waldorf? I don’t hear the water running! I need your help, buddy! Group effort here!”

Kenyan: “Um, Mommy, I don’t mean to blame you, but I did hear the Verb telling you that his belly was too full. More than once.  So, I think it may actually be your fault that he puked. All over his covers. And his rug. And his hair. And his face.”

Tattletale.

Verb: “And mine ears. I throwed up in mine ears, Mom.”

Poor baby!

Me: “Kenyan, thank you for your unsolicited opinion. And for opening the windows. And for alerting me to the Verb’s unfortunate predicament. March yourself up to your room please. Your night is over. Waldorf! Why don’t I hear the water running?!”

I step into the hallway to find Waldorf, wearing a mask of guilt. And playing with the cat.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=skDQhCYZRvI

Life with boys=constant redirection on my part. Constant. Every waking minute. Redirecting one or more of them. That includes the adult male who resides with us as well. Who happens not to be home during the current vomit crisis.

I fill the tub, bathe the Verb, strip the sheets, make the bed, lay towels on the new sheets, place the trashcan next to his bed, and struggle to keep the impatience out of my voice while the Interrogator hits me with question after question about vomit. Finally, I tuck the barely conscious Verb into bed, for the 2nd time that night.

Me: Whispering, “I’m sorry, sweet angel. I’m sorry I didn’t believe you about your belly. Goodnight to the little boy who did not cry wolf.”

One would think that I had learned my lesson.

Of course I hadn’t….

So, recently, my Interrogator took a tumble on the playground. A little harder than usual. Typically, he can brush it off and get right back up there. But there were screams, tears, and a refusal to continue play after this fall.

Eh, the Verb’s been waking him up earlier than usual. I bet he’s tired. That’s why he’s crying. And, look, already he’s calming down.

That evening, I tell B&B that the Interrogator fell. And that he is favoring his right arm.

B&B: “Are you giving him attention? He probably likes the attention. I’m sure he’s OK.”

Me: “I don’t disagree with you. Sometimes an injury is the only way to get the floor in this house. But look at how he’s holding it. I think he may be hurt.”

B&B: “Come here, Interrogator. Let Daddy take a look at you.”

Interrogator: “My arm hurts, Dad.”

B&B: “Let’s get this shirt off and have a look.”

With a wince, a gasp, and a sharp intake of breath, we maneuver the Interrogator’s shirt over his head. I shoot concerned eyes at B&B. He mouths the word, “drama”.

Boys #2 and 3 tend to be more dramatic than the average male.  

B&B: “Let your arms go limp like a puppet’s arms. I am going to lift them up. You let them drop when I let go. OK?”

The Interrogator glazes over.  This is not uncommon. B&B proceeds gently to lift the Interrogator’s arms up. Just below shoulder height. He lets go of both arms, which remain, where he left them, exactly below shoulder height.

Interrogator: Dropping his arms to his sides, “Oh. See? I did it, Dad. My arm hurts, Dad.”

B&B: “No, no, no. Let’s try this again. I want your arms to be like Kermit the Frog’s arms. OK? You be Kermit, and I will work your arms. When I let them go, they should drop.”

I watch a repeat performance of what I’d just witnessed 30 seconds ago. The Interrogator doesn’t understand the concept.

Or he doesn’t trust B&B. This could also be the case.

Now, B&B is a bright guy. Sometimes with brilliance comes impatience. He is working very hard to keep the impatience out of his tone while speaking to the potentially wounded Interrogator.  I know he’s working hard, because he increases the volume of his voice. Exponentially.

B&B: “NOW, INTERROGATOR, LISTEN TO ME VERY CLEARLY. I AM GOING TO RAISE YOUR ARMS UP. YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE LIMP ARMS. UNDERSTAND? LIMP. ARMS. WHEN I LET THEM GO, THEY SHOULD FALL TO YOUR SIDES.”

The Interrogator blinks excessively in what I gather is an attempt to reduce the volume of his father’s booming voice. I try it too. Because B&B is essentially screaming in an effort to appear patient.

A large bear enters the room. It is almost my height. I recognize it as the birthday present we gave to the Kenyan last year. The Kenyan peers around from behind the bear. He is waving the arm of the enormous bear.

Kenyan: Waving furiously, “Interrogator, watch how I make his arm move! Let Daddy move your arm like this!”

The Verb enters the room, sees the Interrogator shirtless, and immediately removes his own shirt. He leaves the room for an instant, returning with a smaller stuffed bear. He begins waving his bear’s arm at the Kenyan’s bear.

Me: “B&B, do you think this is really effective? What are you hoping to achieve?”

B&B delivers the death stare.

Suit yourself.

Waldorf walks in the back door. He has been outside playing.

Waldorf: “Why don’t the Interrogator and the Verb have their shirts on? It’s freezing. And why is Daddy yelling? I can hear him all the way outside. What’s with all of the bears? ”

B&B: “Waldorf. Come here. I need you to demonstrate something for me. Let your arms go loose like a puppet’s arms. I am going to lift them up, then let them go. When I let them go, they should fall on their own down to your sides. Ready?”

Waldorf nods. B&B raises his arms up slowly. At shoulder height, B&B releases Waldorf’s arms. Which remain at shoulder height.

Me: “I rest my case. Come on, Interrogator, let’s get your pj’s on.”

B&B is miffed. I watch him raise Waldorf’s arms up to shoulder height again. He will keep Waldorf there for the next hour until he gets it right.

Interrogator: “Mom, my arm hurts, Mom.”

Me: “I know, sweetheart. I gave you some medicine, and I bet you’ll feel much better by tomorrow morning.”

Interrogator: “OK, Mom. I love you, Mom.”

Me: “I love you too, sweet boy.”

The Interrogator favors his arm the entire next day, which he spends in school.

No fever, no vomiting, why keep him home? I e-mailed his teacher. The fact that he had a substitute that day is irrelevant. He told the sub about his arm. Numerous times. If there is one thing I know, it is this.

Two days later, when he is still holding it funny, I know it was time to have it looked at.

Hmmm. Maybe I shouldn’t have let him jump on the trampoline last night. That probably didn’t help much.

So, we hit the doctor. The diagnosis? Broken clavicle. Angulated fracture to be exact. I don’t know what that means. Except that it’s worse than B&B’s break was when he sledded into that twig last year.

So, maybe my kids aren’t big, fat liars.

Or, maybe I’m just a lousy Mom who dismisses her kids’ complaints too quickly.

But, I’ve only gotten it wrong with two of my kids. Don’t forget, I have two more kids. Which means I get it right 50% of the time.

Just like Mr. Dreamy predicted.

Well….sorta….kinda…right?

My Husband Lost his Mind Once

Sometimes I get frustrated because B&B can’t read my mind. I don’t truly think he should be able to read my mind. Not the obscure things like my silk sleeveless blouse has been at the cleaner’s for 6 months. But there are certain…more obvious…things I think go without saying.

B&B: “I have to tell you, I am so ffff…I am so angry that I can’t get this MMA event on network TV!”

Me: Attempting to remove the sarcasm from my voice, “Oh, I feel terrible for you…for US, that we can’t stay up until 1AM and watch those cage fights together.”

I keep my eyebrows high, and I smile and nod…not in agreement, but in a congratulatory manner. He just tripped on a curse. And caught himself before using the F word in front of all of our eavesdropping offspring. This is good because school (and most of society) frown on a 3 year old peppering his learning of the ABC’s with f bombs.

Verb: “H, I, J, K, L and M and P. Ah, fuck, I forgot the N. Huh? And the O? Let’s take it from the top, OK?”

This is hypothetical. To my knowledge, it hasn’t happened. Yet. 

We recently had one of those moments. A bad one. A failure to communicate? Doubtful. An unspoken understanding between parents? Probable. B&B feels I should have explicitly communicated my thoughts…and I feel this is a case in which his common sense should have dusted itself off and come out for a cameo.

But maybe I’m overreacting.

B&B is a busy guy. Busy hands, busy thoughts. Relaxing doesn’t come easily to him. There is always some project he has going on around the house, which is good because he likes to stay busy. He mutters around the house on the weekends….“I need to rewire this…I need to replace the valve on that…I need to replace that toilet, I’ve been meaning to do that. I need to get on the picnic table, then get on the ladder to trim those cypresses…I need to track down my sawzall. Do you know who borrowed my sawzall, Beth?” Busy, busy. Meanwhile, I just nod in agreement and stay out of his way.

Oh, and I make sure his life insurance payments are made on time.

This busy-ness is fine with me because he likes his projects. Keeps his mind sharp. This is not fine with the kids because they want B&B to play with them. All weekend long. Particularly Waldorf. That boy loves his Daddy. Pure worship. B&B forgets sometimes that he has 4 little men who watch and imitate his every move. So, when the holidays were approaching, and the time had rolled around for the annual hanging of the lights, I pulled B&B aside…

B&B: Anxious, “What, am I in trouble? What did I do? You’re not going out today, are you? Don’t leave me alone with these idiots. I have things I need to do. And I’m on a roll here, so let me get to it.”

Me: Shaking my head, “No, you’re not in trouble. No, I’m not going anywhere today. I was just going to suggest that you invite Waldorf outside to do the lights with you. He needs some Dad time. I know you could do it faster working alone, but he’ll feel like a superstar if you allow him to help you.”

B&B: Pensive, “What should I have him do?”

B&B likes to give our house the “Boathouse Row” treatment, trimming the entire house in white lights. It’s quite a process. It involves a great deal of climbing, walking on the roof (in B&B’s case, it’s never walking, it’s always upright jogging, all 6’2 of him), hundreds of clips, at least 20 strands of lights, more cursing than I’ve heard since watching Eddie Murphy Raw. And…wait for it…the handmade map. The coveted map. He misplaces the map each year and is forced to make a new one. Every year, after having been on the roof for the better part of 6 hours, he storms back inside, blaming 4 of those hours on rewriting this year’s map. Last year, I had a moment of genius, and stored the map with the indoor holiday decorations. My territory. It took me 90 seconds to bring it down from the attic.

Me: Animated, “You could have him read off the map to you!”

B&B: Excited, “Good call. Waldorf! Hat, coat, gloves, shoes! Daddy needs your help!”

One down, three to entertain. Waldorf will be thrilled, and I’ll make cookies with these guys. I will get to the laundry in a month or so….

Two hours later, cookies are cooling and lunch is sitting on the table, waiting to be eaten. I head outside to let the elves know that it’s lunchtime.

Me: “Waldorf? Lunch time!”

Nothing. I see a ladder. With no 10 year old at the bottom of it. I walk around the house one way. Another ladder. Without a 10 year old at the bottom of it. I walk around the house the other way. Nothing.

Waldorf must be in the bathroom, I just didn’t hear him pass me in the kitchen.

I head back inside, check the bathrooms. No Waldorf.

Me: “Guys? Have you seen Waldorf? Is he in here?”

Kenyan: “I don’t know.”

Interrogator: “What, Mom?”

Verb: “WALDORF!!! He’s not in here, Mom.”

Hmmm.

I close my eyes, listening. I hear two voices. Two sets of feet.

Nope. No way. There is no way.

I head back outside, a little more urgently.

I married a smart man. A man with a genius IQ.

Sounds like the voices are coming from the roof. Along with the footsteps. One heavy pair, one light pair.

I refuse to believe it. Because there’s no way it’s true. 

I look up. Above the door. Above the windows. Above the gutters. All the way up. It hurts my neck to look so high.

My first born son is sitting on the roof, next to B&B, waving to me.

Jesus Christ algoddamnmighty. The father of our child invited our baby up on the roof with him.

This time, I am going to kill him. For real. 

Now if there is one thing I know, it’s the value of NOT giving B&B a come to Jesus in front of the kids. It doesn’t help anyone. They don’t need to see their father emasculated and their Mom’s little bit of crazy rear its ugly head. Of equal importance is telling B&B in very  clear (albeit whispered) words that I am not at all comfortable with his allowing our child on the roof of our house. These are the words I, mistakenly, thought went without saying. The unspoken understanding.

Apparently, with Boathouse Row on the docket, all bets are off.

So I stand directly below them in the event that I have to be a human shield for my falling child.

And I try desperately to make eye contact with B&B, I from the ground, he on the roof.

Me: With my eyes, “I am going to kill you. Can you read my eyes? These are the eyes of the person who is going to kill you. Take a good look at them.”

But his Lasik procedure has gone bad, and he’s not wearing his new glasses. So I know he can’t see my threatening eye signals.

Instead I am forced to use my voice, minus its hysterical pitch, to beckon them from the roof.

Me: “Guys! Lunch is ready! Come down very carefully, please! Today is not a good day to go to the hospital!”

A quick aside, many of my conversations with my children and B&B end with “today is not a good day to go to the hospital!” I toss it around frequently and casually, the way that others remark, “See you tomorrow!” But it’s warranted. Every time.

Waldorf completely ignores the ladder. Hangs from the lowest section of the roof, then lets his hands go, landing squarely on his feet. Which are now the same size as mine. My oldest boy is lit up from the inside out. True happiness. Unadulterated joy at working alongside the man he reveres most on this earth. B&B is equally thrilled. The annual map making-induced stress is nonexistent. He has found a willing helper in our oldest son.

B&B: “I’ll tell you, this guy is a great helper! I’m actually having fun up there this year!”

The two of them are engaged in back slapping, high fiving, butt slapping, chest pounding, farting. The works.

Me: “Waldorf, your soup is inside, go ahead in and eat it. I want to show Daddy something on the side of the house.”

B&B’s face lights up. He has been working hard all morning. Also spending quality time with Waldorf. Papa thinks he’s getting paid.

B&B: “You want to show me something, huh?” Eyebrows raised.

You’ve lost your brilliant mind, big guy.

I level him with my eyes.

B&B: Face falling, “Uh oh. 30 seconds ago, I was 80% sure I was getting lucky. Now I’m 75% sure I’m in trouble. But I don’t know what I did.” (a little homage to Modern Family here..thank you, Phil, for this ridiculous line that we use so frequently now in our home)

minderaser

Me: Speaking quietly, yet venomously,“He was on the roof. With you. And you were aware that he was on the roof. Yet, you did not order him immediately and carefully off the roof. Please explain this to me in language that I can understand.”

I cross my arms.

B&B: “It was your idea that he help me with the map!”

Me: “From. The. Ground.”

Numbskull.

Silence. Arm crossing.

B&B: “I shouldn’t have let him on the roof?”

Now your brain is working.

Silence. More arm crossing.

B&B: “Alright. I probably shouldn’t have let him on the roof.”

Let the common sense wash over you. It’s nice, isn’t it? Push that crazy out. 

Silence. Slightly less arm crossing.

B&B: “You’re right. I shouldn’t have let him on the roof.”

OK, I’ve tortured him enough.

Official end of arm crossing.

Me: “Thank you. Come on inside, your soup is ready too.”

B&B: Relieved he’s been forgiven, “Are you sure you don’t want to show me something on the side of the house?”  Eyebrows raised again.

I smile and shake my head. Confident that this is one of those times my husband cannot read my mind.

Don’t hold your breath. Dumbass.

What Happens When You Die?

Growing up we ate a family dinner. Every night. Mom, Dad, older brother, yours truly and little sister. We ate in the kitchen. Together at the table. We held hands and said grace before anyone touched the food. We made eye contact as we prayed. We blew kisses to one another after saying “Amen”. We smiled and shared food graciously. We were the picture of domestic perfection gathered around the table for the quintessential family dinner.

Except for the TV.

There was (and still is) a TV in my parents’ kitchen. Tuned into ABC news. Always. Inevitably, the moment after we so graciously shared food with one another, Dad silenced us.

Dad: “Shh. Shhh. Let’s hear what Jim O’Brien has to say..”

Me: Whispering to little sister, “I changed the name on my cabbage patch doll’s adoption papers to Amelita Cassie. Do you like it? She looks like an Amelita, don’t you think? I mean, I’ve never known an Amelita, but I think she looks like an Amelita would. If I knew one.”

Little Sister: Eyes wide with excitement, “I LOVE it! Amelita! It’s beautiful!”

Dad: “Shhhhhh! I’m trying to hear Jim O’Brien, girls. We’ve got the 5 day forecast coming up. Then you can talk.”

We eat in silence for 1 minute…1 minute, 30 seconds…older brother is going to town on the olive tray.

Yuck. Olives. He can have them all.

Little Sister: Whispering loudly, “I am going to ask for a cabbage patch preemie for Christmas! They smell like real babies!”

Me: “Christmas? But it’s May. What if you write it down, then forget where you put your list? Maybe you should write it in your diary. Then you’ll remember.”

Little Sister: Forgetting to whisper: “YES! My diary!”

Dad’s neck veins begin bulging.

Mom: Whispering, “Girls, eat your meatloaf. Your brother is eating all of his meatloaf.”

We glare at him. He grins at Mom. Looks at us. Points to himself and mouths, “I’m #1” to us.

Brown noser.

Little Sister: Forgetting to whisper again, “I don’t like meatloaf. It’s gross.”

Me: Whispering, “I don’t really like meatloaf either. Can I have something else? Cereal?”

Dad: “Goddammit, girls! I am trying to hear the weather! Can you wait to talk until the commercial?!”

Me: “But, Dad, the weather’s over.”

Dad: “Shhh. Shh. I want to hear the sports. Bethany, what did our boy Mo Cheeks do last night?”

He had me there. I always wanted to hear what Mo had done.

We wound up eating our dinner in virtual silence every night. And, Mom, before you get sensitive and think I’m making fun of you and Dad…I’m not. I personally think silence at the dinner table is a stroke of genius.

Allow me to illustrate why…

The Interrogator was obsessed with death for a brief time last year. One of his friends at school had mentioned something in morning circle about someone dying. That’s all it took for the avalanche of questions to commence.

Me: “Boys, please get your drinks and sit down at the dinner table.”

Everyone sits down and begins eating (oops, no grace before meals at our house).

Me: “So, Interrogator, tell me about your day. What was the best part?”

Interrogator: “Mom, I don’t know what the best part was.”

Me: Animated, “Think about it. Think about all you did today at school with your teachers and your friends. And everything you learned. What did you like best?”

Interrogator: “Mom, I like now best. Mom, I need to tell you something.”

Me: “What do you need to tell me, buddy?”

Interrogator: “Mom, it’s OK when I die because I will be alive again on Easter! And then they will hang me up on the cross.”

Well now. This is really something else. Definitely not what I’d expected to hear.

Interrogator: “So, don’t be sad, Mom.”

Waldorf: “Interrogator, what in God’s name are you talking about?”

Kenyan: “Interrogator, you have no idea what you’re saying.”

Verb: “I’ll be sad when you die, Interrogator.”

Interrogator: “Thanks, Verb. But I’ll be back. Don’t worry. On Easter day.  Then I’ll die on the cross. Then, I…um…oh. What happens then, Mom?”

Uh-oh. He expects me to answer. I’m the Mom. I’m supposed to have the answers.

B&B: “Interrogator, I’ll tell you what happens when you die.”

Me: “Oh, sweet Jesus, please do not. Don’t scare these children. Not at the dinner table.”

B&B: “Scare them? You mean tell them the truth?”

B&B is an atheist. Which does not make him a devil worshipper. It makes him a non-believer. A lover of science. A man who requires proof. And please don’t feel badly for him. He is completely at peace with his faithless existence. And please don’t pray for me that he finds Jesus. I don’t need him to find Jesus. I need him to hit the toilet when he pees instead of my white bathroom floor. If you’re going to pray for anything, please pray for better aim.

Waldorf: Proudly, “I’m not scared of anything. What are you going to tell us?”

Kenyan: Unsure, “Wait, is it really scary? Because I don’t like really scary things. I like things that are a tiny bit scary, but not a lot scary. Is it a lot scary? Because I don’t want to know.”

Interrogator: Concerned, “Mom, after they hang me on the cross, what happens next?”

Me: “No one is going to hang you on a cross, sweetheart. That happened to someone a long time ago.”

Interrogator: “So, what happens when I die?”

B&B: “Let’s talk about what we do know. Let’s talk about what happens to your body after you die.”

So much for talking about the best part of everyone’s day…

Interrogator: “Well, I want Mom to have it.”

B&B: “Nope. Mom can’t have it. It will smell bad.”

Interrogator: Wrinkling his nose, “Bad like poopy?”

Verb: “HEY! No potty talk at the table!”

B&B: “Interrogator, after you die, your body will be buried underground.”

Oh, Christ, here he goes…

Interrogator:  Troubled, “Huh? But I can’t breathe under there! And there are spiders. You know I don’t like spiders! I’m afraid of them!”

Kenyan: “Or you could be burned…what’s that called…incensed?”

Me: “Kenyan, incensed is what I’m going to be with Daddy if he doesn’t choose his words carefully. And homicidal is what I’ll be when he sleeps through some inevitable nightmares that one or both of your brothers will have. But, to answer your question, the word you’re looking for is cremated.”

Kenyan: “Oh, yeah, cremated. They burn your body, then it becomes dust. And Mom can save your dust. Or let it blow away.”

Interrogator: Horrified, “WHAT? MOM DON’T LET THEM BURN ME! I DON’T WANT TO BE DUST! I WANT TO BE ME! I WANT TO STAY WITH YOU!”

I look at B&B.

Nice work. I mean, truly, really very nice work.

B&B looks at me.

I pick up my phone. Text him these words…

“I will fucking kill you if u use the words ‘worms will eat u’ in a conversation with the Interrogator. U dig?”

He texts me back…

“It’s true. After u die, and your body is buried, eventually, worms eat ur lifeless body. I will not lie to him.”

I text him…

“Oh, U WILL LIE. This is ur child, and u will lie. U will lie or the worms will be eating UR BODY. Very soon.”

science

The Interrogator is in a full panic at this point. Crying. Hyperventilating. Head in his hands.

Interrogator: Pleading with the Verb, “Don’t let them burn me, Verb. Don’t let them do it.”

Verb: Standing on his chair like a knight in shining armor, yells, “I’ll per-tect you, Interrogator!” *(per-tect=protect)

Waldorf and the Kenyan are delighted by this spectacle. Pandemonium at the dinner table is good stuff for them.

B&B and I put our phones down.

I get up to hug the Interrogator. That’s not enough for him. He follows me back to my chair and climbs onto my lap. Which means the Verb feels the need to climb onto my lap as well. They elbow each other (and me) as they settle in against me.

Looks like I’ll be eating a cold dinner tonight.

Just when I think the conversation is over…

B&B: Entirely too excited, “Boys, do you know what Daddy wants done to his body after he dies?”

I am giving him the angriest of my angry eyes, but he can’t see my face. I am buried under his two youngest children.

Waldorf: Like an eager student, “Oh, I know! I know! You want to donate it!”

Kenyan: “Donate it where? To a museum?”

B&B: Pleased with his pupils, “You are correct, Waldorf. I want my body donated. Not to a museum, Kenyan. To science. SCIENCE!”

*B&B never speaks the word “science”. He yells it. I don’t know whether it’s an outburst of affection for the subject or a shout-out to the old Thomas Dolby song She Blinded me with Science. Maybe it’s both.

Kenyan: “What happens to your body when it’s donated to science, Daddy?”

I reach around the Interrogator, desperately feeling on the table for my phone in order to send threatening texts to B&B. But, my God, the Interrogator is heavy. I can barely move my arm under his weight.

B&B: “Oh, it’s amazing what is done with your body when it’s donated. Medical students get to study it. And learn from it. They use it to learn how to operate on living bodies once they become real doctors.”

Kenyan: Visualizing, “Wait, so they cut you? Like they cut your dead body?”

B&B: Grinning, “Yes! Yes, they will cut my body open!”

Waldorf: “I bet it smells bad. No offense, Daddy.”

B&B: Grinning and nodding, “It will smell horrible, Waldorf! Imagine the worst smell you’ve ever smelled….my dead body will smell worse than that.”

The three of them are completely engaged with one another. Loving this conversation.

My arms are going numb holding these two kids.

Me: “OK, I think we probably should change the subject right now. I’ve got 2 kids with definite n-i-g-h-t-m-a-r-e potential whose appetites have already been ruined.”

Waldorf and the Kenyan voice their protest in unison: ”Come on! Let Daddy finish! We want to hear it!”

B&B: Urgently, “Oh, wait, you know what’s important? Beth, you can’t forget to tell them about my eyes.”

Me: “Tell whom? And what about your eyes?”

B&B: Eyes wide, “About my Lasik surgery.”

Me: Nodding, “Should I just slap a sticky note to your corpse? ‘To whom it may concern: study his eyeballs. He had horrible vision that was fixed by the Lasik procedure. But then his vision started to go bad again 10 years later. That really pissed him off by the way.’? How’s that? Good plan?”

Now my legs are going numb under the weight of these kids.

B&B: Completely unaffected by my sarcasm,“Good question. I’ll have to look into that.”

B&B will have to look into it…

Kenyan: Growing pale,“Wait, wait, wait. Did you say eyeballs?”

B&B: “Yes. They will probably remove most of my organs. And they should definitely study my eyeballs.  Because I had an operation to fix my vision. This is really interesting, guys. They cut a flap off the surface of my eyeball. Then they peeled the flap back. Then they lasered off the appropriate amount of cells underneath. Then they replaced the flap!”

Kenyan: White as a sheet, “Oh, wow, Mommy, I don’t feel very good. I don’t feel very good at all. This eyeball talk makes me feel not very good.”

He leaves the table and walks slowly upstairs to the bathroom.

Me: “B&B, I have two emotional basketcases on my lap. And a possible puker in the bathroom. Now’s the perfect time to take what remains of your audience elsewhere to continue this enlightening conversation.”

B&B: Agreeably, “Sure, Waldorf, let’s go downstairs where your brothers can’t hear us.”

I groan with effort as I rise from my chair, still holding the Interrogator and the Verb. I sit them on the counter and scribble a note for myself.

“Best use of tax return money: TV for the kitchen”

I’m telling you, my parents were geniuses.