Tuesday, June 28, 2011

. . . and justice for all.

Even though my HUGE teacher paychecks just keep rolling in all summer long, I still like to supplement with a little extra income when I can. Summer nanny gigs are the perfect solution, mainly because I'm way too lazy to get a real job, but also because it keeps my only child out of my ass for a few hours a day. (I mean that in the nicest way possible.) For me, it's a part-time job; for him, it's a part-time brother.

Because I'm such a quick study, it's only taken me two weeks to get to the heart of the strange dynamic between my child and my charge. They aren't so much acting like friends; they're acting, well, like brothers. After two solid weeks of bickering and pissing contests, I've got them figured out. They don't give a hot damn about happiness or fun. They are completely unimpressed by even the most ambitious attempts at entertainment. The ONLY thing they are interested in, in fact, are obsessed with, is justice. I could lock them in a room full of snakes and rotting meat and all they'd care about is that they each got equally poisonous snakes and exactly the same portion of rotting meat.

"His meat is stinkier than mine!" I can hear them complain.

"He got more maggots than me! No fair!"

But now, I've got their number. I know where it's at. Screw fun, they just want fair. So today, we baked cookies. And not just any cookies—peanut butter cookies. We made chocolate chips last week, and it didn't go well. The randomness of the chips led to anarchy and near mutiny. But with peanut butter, I had some control. I explained to the boys that each and every one of these cookies belonged to both of them. They were going to work together, side by side, equally. They took equal turns with the beater, and got equal licking rights.

Notice my son, reaching for the other child's beater. Punk.

Next, I rolled the balls and handed them to the boys, one at a time, to roll in sugar. Even Steven. I had one boy press in all the vertical fork prints and the other, the horizontal. What could be more fair? There was only a brief uprising when vertical boy yelled, "Hey, he's smashing MY cookies!" Old habits die hard.

They'll probably continue to fight like brothers for the rest of the day, but who cares. I intend to eat the entire batch of cookies and be drunk by supper.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Special Effects

This never happens.

I'm one of those lame joke tellers who has to pause twelve times to mentally run through the punchline. My ghost stories aren't a lot better. Five-year-olds have been known to sigh impatiently and walk away to check the score on the game.

But this time was different. This time I had a secret weapon. This time, I had special effects.

We were exploring a wooded creek, my son and I and two of his friends. One of the boys discovered some debris on the bank and got to wondering where it came from.

I decided to fill him in. I started weaving this spooky story about a strange old man who had been in a horrible accident, the result of a group of seven-year-old boys—boys just like you—ding dong ditching him. It ended badly for the old man, and he vowed to get revenge on any seven-year-old boys who ever had the bad luck to wander too close to his home—this creek.

A dog barked.

"He trained his dog to bark," I told them, "Whenever seven-year-old boys came around. That's his signal. He's probably getting ready even now."

Their eyes grew wide.

I continued with my tale, adding details as the scenery dictated.

Then one of the boys said, "What's that smell?"

"Yeah, what smells so bad?"

The smell was unmistakable—death. Right on cue.

First we spotted the maggots.

Then we saw the fur.

Some bones.

A spine.

A tail.

A head.

And the creepiest part of all — a butterfly, floating in stage left. A little too Silence of the Lambs for my liking.

The two friends, sensible little boys, were properly disgusted and eager to get far away from the source of the stench. It was my child who wanted to investigate further. My child, who is still afraid to go to the bathroom at night in his own home, was suddenly fearless. He would have carried the skull home in his back pocket if I'd let him.

In fact, I think I'll let my husband do the next couple loads of laundry. Just in case.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Ebb and Flow

Our pool holds approximately 22,000 gallons. On a good day. But she's almost fifty years old now and she's starting to have a hard time holding her water. I'm coming up on fifty myself; I can empathize.

Original owners' inscription beneath diving board

Now don't confuse empathy with acceptance, because I'm here to tell you that I was not exactly feeling understanding when we discovered that the old girl had sprung a leak. Concerned doesn't quite cover it. Worried, maybe. Disconcerted.

As the gallons continued to mysteriously dribble out for weeks on end, concern turned to anxiety. The pool guy just kept scratching his head, unable to determine where our fault line was hiding. He was taking the kind of wait and see attitude only one whose name is in no way associated with the water bill can take.

By the time the pool was half empty, anxiety had morphed into full on obsession, a lie-awake-at-night frenzy of panic and fear. Our girl was silently bleeding out, and the doctor couldn't save her.

This was terrible. This was catastrophic! Could this be any worse?

The answer to that question was waiting for me in today's paper.


Exactly a year ago today, it wasn't receding water, but rising water that gripped the hearts and minds of every person in Arkansas and her surrounding states. Heavy rains inundated the Caddo and Little Missouri rivers, causing them to swell and rage, consuming the Albert Pike Recreational Area where men, women, and children slept. Best friends Candace Smith and Kerri Basinger were there, camping with their families. The flood took both of their husbands and four of their children, ages two, five, six, and eight. The water claimed twenty lives that night.

The pool guy will find our leaks and patch them. We'll lower a hose in the empty hole in our yard and let the water flow. It will all be made right with the simple act of signing a name on a check. My mother always says, "If money can fix it, it ain't a problem."

As usual, she's right.

Tonight, I get to curl up in bed with my husband on one side and child on the other. How is it possible that I needed reminding that nothing else really matters?

If a lingering worry does creep up tonight, I'll shoo it away, and replace it with a prayer for the families of the Albert Pike flood.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Blindside

It happens every year.

Just like the last shopping day before Christmas, or the psycho killer showing up the second the hot girl takes off her shirt, it always catches me by surprise. I know damn well it's coming, but then, every time, it blindsides me.

The last days of school.

You're right if you think the teacher is counting the minutes until that last kid is ushered away, heading off for a summer with mom or dad or the nanny. A summer with anyone but me. I am counting the minutes, and each one is a little harder than the last. Each one pushes me just a little closer to the brink.

I never know what exactly will be the tipping point, what will throw open the valve and unleash the tears I've been pushing back for days. Yesterday it was my little Latina child. She was working on her Pre-K Memory Book, documenting for posterity all the things she liked best about school. When we got to the teacher page, I prompted her to come up with an adjective to describe me. But she didn't quite understand the concept.

So I said, "What do you like about me?"

She looked me in the eye and said, "You heart. I love you heart." And then, a split second before I curled up and died, she added, "And you hair."

This is one of the other children I have to say goodbye to. Look at that face, and tell me how.

Tomorrow is the last day.

Send me luck. Or vodka.