Seismology

It was the most benign of moments. We were standing in the laundry room. I was folding Dave’s boxer shorts, trying to talk to him over the competitive interruptions of Gwen, who is evidently in the throes of an Electra Complex. Seriously, can I have a conversation with my husband without you honing in, you…you…little Harpy?

Yes, that is basically the exact thought that ran through my brain as I stood there folding my husband’s underwear, competing with my six-year-old daughter for his attention. Then a low rumbling sound interrupted us all, along with a series of slow, rolling shakes and flickering lights.

Dave and I froze and stared at one another, silently trying to decipher the source of that faint thunderous sound and tremors moving our house. My mind quickly ran through a list possible explanations. Train? No, we’ve moved from the houses situated near commuter trains. Boiler exploding? Holy shit, I hope not!

“Is that an earthquake?!” Dave asked.

“Holy shit, I think it is!” I responded.

Gwen, who was standing between us, immediately began shrieking. Her eyes widened with terror.

“It’s okay, Gwen,” I said, instantly sorry we’d forgotten she was listening to our every word.

“I don’t want to die!” She screamed. “We’re all gonna die!”

Rather than running to David, she ran to me and jumped up, demanding to be held. As soon as I picked her up, her arms locked around my neck, almost completely cutting off my air supply. She continued emitting a series of hysterical screeching noises in my right ear, which promptly began ringing.

Despite her terror, I was slightly annoyed. I know, what kind of mother exhibits annoyance at a moment like that?

Me.

And I’m admitting it to the world at large – to my tens of readers. I am the type of mother who feels annoyed when faced with the possibility of temporary hearing loss and suffocation.

Mostly, as I stood there turning blue, I recalled that time last year when Dave treated the kids to a viewing of 2012. Don’t you remember? It was that John Cusack movie that tried to profit on the public’s fear of the apocalypse. If not, trust me, you didn’t miss much.

Well, that movie was rated PG-13. Dave rented it a year ago yet, Gwen only recently got over the phobia that developed after watching it. To help her work through that intense fear of earthquakes and general world destruction, we told her earthquakes never happen in Maine. Not ever.

We’re so fucking smart.

Last night, Mother Earth demonstrated that we are, in fact, a couple of morons. An earthquake centered just about five miles from our house sent us this message and it was delivered via a good shaking and some deep rumbles.

“You lied to me,” Gwen sobbed into my neck. “You said there were no earthquakes in Maine.”

Oh, the guilt of a mother is a real mother

I’m a writer, not a seismologist for Christ sake. Granted, I knew I was making a bit of gamble when I told Gwen Maine never has earthquakes. At the time, that little voice in my head actually said, “Oh, you’re going to regret that someday, stupid!”

Now, I usually pay attention to that voice but last year I truly believed the chances of a 4.0 earthquake occurring in Maine were slim. By west coast standards, our earthquake was pitiful. I know this. You know this. Gwen did not know this.

Gwen’s frame of reference for earthquakes involved gaping, man-eating cracks in the earth. She was expecting hot magma, death, and destruction. She was waiting for that moment when we’d plunge to the depths of…of… I don’t know, Hell? And what did Dave and I do? Did we run like the guy in the movie, protectively sweeping his children into his arms whilst dodging explosions and fissures? No. We stood in the laundry room staring at one another like a couple of dopes and holding onto underwear.

It’s not difficult to put yourself in the shoes of a six-year-old and know the extent of her terror when you’re writing a memoir using your own six-year-old voice. When, on a daily basis, you…I, relive the fear and confusion of my six-year-old self. When I recall that break in trust – that moment when I realized my parents were human and maybe weren’t the smartest, or strongest or most beautiful two people in the world – that parents are sometimes wrong.

And so I was wrong.

Last night Mother Earth gave me a not-so-subtle reminder that in the future, maybe I should take a slightly less lazy approach to quelling my daughter’s fears. Like, maybe I should have explained fault lines and cited statistics and discussed tectonic plate shifts with my then five-year-old. But I didn’t. Instead, I looked at her, sighed, and then took the easy route. I soothed her fears with a know-it-all statement about earthquakes never happening in Maine and, a year later wound up being choked, rendered deaf in my right ear and eating my words.

Today, I discussed tectonic plate shifts, fault lines and whatever basic seismology is available to me via the internet. Overboard? Maybe, but Gwen lost a little bit of trust in us last night. Education is the best way to combat fear, right? My goal is to rebuild her trust and let her know that we were as surprised by those tremors as she was.

Gwen is better today. She’s interested in the kid-friendly earthquake information I’ve been reading with her. Her nerves are no longer raw.

Now, let’s just pray that Frankenstein doesn’t appear.

Scarlet Letters

Back in high school, I never really associated myself with one particular clique. I successfully maneuvered through a few and chose to steer clear of the girls with mean streaks. On more than one occasion, I risked my own life social standing and stood up for girl who was being bullied or turned into a social pariah. Maybe it’s the Libra in me, but I just can’t stop myself from fighting for fairness.

For some silly reason, as a teenager I thought we’d all eventually outgrow those bouts of bitchiness. Maybe it was just blind hope that led me to think people automatically turned nice when they were done growing up. Somewhere along the line, I was misled. I’m disappointed to report that there are vast amounts of adult women who have failed.

That’s right. In fact, if I could legally walk around with a giant rubber stamp and a red ink pad slapping a big red “F” on foreheads of all perpetrators, I would. I’d mark them all with their very own scarlet letter to alert the world that they have failed to evolve. Unfortunately, assault with a rubber stamp is against the law and most people can spot these stunted gals from a mile away anyway.

So, I even though I was way off the mark back when I believed girls grew into women capable of being kind/forgiving/tolerant/aware/supportive of one another, I can only assume that, like me, the world is filled with people who thought adulthood changed things. You know, the idiots who believed in some sort of mass evolution or future utopian existence…  Well, fellow dreamers, while there are oodles of nice ladies out there, apparently there is also a large contingent of female humans crippled by their inability to do the following:

1.  Make eye-contact and say hello to the women they see every day.

It’s not hard. Just move your eyeballs toward the person in front of you, tell your brain to form the word “hello” and then make your mouth move. If “hello” doesn’t work for you, here are several variations of salutations that might fit the bill:  good morning, good afternoon, howdy, what’s up? hi, how are you? or perhaps a simple and non-committal, hey. Because that’s better than nothing.

2.  Avoid gossip.

Especially when the persons with whom you are gossiping are too daft to keep the source of the gossip (you) close to the vest. It’s simple really…save the gossip for your husband or the family dog. They don’t really care about what’s happening at the PTA meeting/playground/gym, so your petty gossip won’t come back to bite you in the ass later.

Maybe now is also a good time to propose that women should refrain from forming pitchfork carrying mobs intent on annihilating the women who don’t fit their agenda or who, for some reason pose a threat.

Might I suggest that if you’re feeling the need to incite the masses, there are well-trained men and women who can be hired to psycho-analyze this disturbing behavior right out of your brain. I know, crazy…right? And it’s conveniently covered by most medical insurance, too.

Sadly, the reasons for Queen Bees and their Wannabees don’t seem much different now than they were when I was 15 years old. There are still groups of grown women prepared to attack if they don’t like the way another person talks, dresses, walks, thinks…

It’s depressing to think I’ll have to tell my daughters that the cliques never really go away. There’s always someone vying to be the leader but so few actually carry it off with grace and aplomb.

Playgrounds and play groups and beach outings and car pools…they’re still there. The perfectly coiffed women who married well, the harried working moms trying to stay on schedule, the moms trying to be perfect so their kids will perfect and popular, the former career-girls who now stay at home and apply their expertise to their family, attacking school-related functions with a vengeance.

I’ve tried my best to avoid all of the above, but as mommies, we all inadvertently stumble into a viper pit at some point.

Last summer, as I prepared for my grad school residency, the phone rang. (Here’s the part where I come clean) For a while there, I let unknown local numbers go straight to the answering machine, mostly because I never knew if it was school-related phone call or a mom from one of our schools trying to sell face cream. Anywho…on that day last summer, it was school-related.

The voice of a woman who I’d never met filled my kitchen and informed me that we were five dollars short on our tuition for the year. Okay.

And it was okay, until the tone of her message took a very snooty turn, reiterating twice that our payment should be X amount, as if we were idiots or some sort of pathetic losers whose five dollar shortage was causing the wanton destruction of a perfectly fine establishment.

My active imagination conjured an image of the woman on the other end of the phone. She became a sneering uppity WASP dressed in cashmere twin-set with a fluffy Pomeranian in her lap. I still haven’t met her, but the image sticks and her call seems to have set the tone for the year.

Now, months later, I look back at the years I worked in New York law firms and find myself missing the up-front and honest approach of my male co-workers. As much as I dislike gender stereotypes, I enjoyed working with men who said what they had to say and moved on. No grudges. No backstabbing. No fake smiles. No insecurity-induced sniping.

Boy, do I miss those guys.

Chaos and Headless Dummies

Unfortunately, Narragansett No. 7 has been a casualty of back to school chaos which included, but was not limited to, a missing school bus, hurricane Irene, a visit from grandma and our dear friends Taryn and Rob. Adding to the insanity, my second writing packet has to be completed and returned to my Stonecoast faculty mentor by September 23rd, so whatever spare time I have had in the last seven days has been devoted to reading books and writing. Ghost stories and traumatic memoir and short stories and…well, you get the idea.

How positively smart of me to take on graduate school at this stage in my life. I mean, really… life wasn’t complicated enough.

It’s been slow at No. 7. I know…

But I miss you.

I miss us.

It’s not you. It’s me.

I’ve changed and become responsible. I’m going to bed at a reasonable hour and doing my homework now. I’m scaling the mountains of laundry that accumulated while we waited for our new dryer (Dear Samsung, you suck!) and we went school shopping. Yes, I took all three children (simultaneously) to the mall where we shopped for shoes and clothes. We all survived, thanks to my quick thinking and street smarts.

No, not really. We survived because there is nothing inherently dangerous about the mall. I have also stopped worrying about the people in Baby Gap. Seven years of motherhood has desensitized me. I don’t care what anyone thinks when Kate knocks down one of those creepy decapitated Baby Gap mannequins. Let’s face it; they’re a disturbing bunch. Those cranium deprived faceless babies could be inflicting irrevocable damage upon the mental state of children all over the world! It isn’t that far-fetched, the Gap has gone global. Kazakhstan is the latest country to be infected by denim clad headless dummies. What kind of newly-hatched human wouldn’t be alarmed at the sight of an impeccably layered, plump toddler without a dome? It’s weird.

I’ve also stopped worrying what people think when I holler the names of my children at random intervals. Besides, the hollering is only a portion of my cyclical technique. It begins with my pillage of the sale racks while repeatedly looked left, right and left again. I then execute a half spin and inspect the region directly behind me to determine the exact location of each of my three children. If, somewhere in my manic cycle of pillaging and mothering, I happen to lose sight of a child, I loudly call out his or her name while shushing the others so I can assess said child’s location. To a childless woman, it might appear that I have some disorder akin to Tourette’s syndrome. I repeatedly perform this odd ritual to ensure that my children have not been stolen or climbed a “Gap Employees Only” ladder to ceiling height.

 By the way, Gap employees… my two year old can’t read that plaque on your ladder, so if you are no longer using the ladder to adjust the headless babies, please put it away. Children + Ladders x Mother without prescription meds = me deeming you a daft jackass for leaving it unattended in the first place.

If, in fact, you have negligently failed to remove the safety hazard ladder from the sales floor, it’s best for all parties involved if you refrain from reprimanding my child for climbing said ladder. Trust me. You are required to provide a safe and pleasant environment while I attempt to squander copious amounts of my husband’s salary on clothing for my children. That happens to be a portion of the money I plan to recoup if a judge should decide that Gap Inc. owes my injured child a hefty sum for her pain and suffering.

Also, if I choose to undress one of your plump headless and impeccably layered mannequins because it is wearing the last purple 5T dress, you can’t stop me. Please don’t sigh and show visible annoyance because I am disrobing your creepy display. Just give me the clothes and no one will get hurt. I’m trying to attire my children, so that dummy will just have to find a new get up.

 While I’m on the subject, might I offer some additional suggestions?

If you see a mother with three children and a pile of clothes on August 28th, it’s fair to assume they are school shopping. Maybe, I don’t know… HELP HER? Why not periodically take a spin through your store and check on the family of four who has squashed themselves into a tiny dressing room? This is the perfect opportunity to do your job. It’s not that hard, you know.

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away, sales associates performed this very function. It’s true…I swear. I’ve heard legends about the ancient ones.  They were a tribe of sales people who willingly assisted parents rather than ignore them. In fact, newly discovered cave paintings crudely depict a Gap sales associate actually making eye contact with a customer while handing over a wooly mammoth poncho. Can you imagine? 

Seriously. When it reaches the point where a woman is red in the face and visibly sweating, you might step in and say, “Oh, let me help you with that.” If she is dealing with a crying toddler and 7 year old determined to study the private parts of pregnant mannequins and when she is no longer quietly lamenting that it would be nice if someone – anyone – could help, maybe it’s time to stop folding and interact.

 If, for some maddening reason you have chosen pay no heed to your customer, it is most unwise to suddenly dash behind the register and sweetly inquire, “Did you find everything you needed today?” Chances are, if I’m the person you’ve posed that question to, you’re going to get an earful and raging case of the stink-eye. I’ll probably say something to the effect of, “No. In fact I didn’t because I just spent two hours restraining my children while performing the job of a Gap sales associate.” This statement will either produce a moment of stunned silence or an indignant glare. Either way, you’ll stand on the other side of the counter and realize that yes, that woman did just say that to you.

You’ll be forced to watch her children, who now resemble a riotous troop of chimpanzees, as they hurl your freshly folded clothing on the floor. If you’re smart, you won’t say a damn word. That harried mother has surrendered and silently given her children full permission to behave like poo-flinging primates. She is allowing them ransack and annihilate Baby Gap. Why? Because you, dear sales woman, stood chatting and folding sweaters for an hour and half instead of offering your much-needed assistance. That’s why.

Of course, the preceding paragraph is entirely hypothetical.

Beulah…Beulah…Anyone?

This was one of those days when I had the good fortune to run into “that” woman. You know, the older woman who feels it necessary to comment on every aspect of your child’s behavior and calls you out on your lackluster parenting skills. Generally, I find that these women lurk in malls and grocery stores. From now on I’m going to refer to all women with whom I have these run-ins as, “Beulah”. Here’s how it went down with Beulah this afternoon but first, a bit of background. My little Katie-Bird has a nasty rash on her face. Two trips to the doctor and we know what it isn’t, but still have no real conclusive diagnosis. Personally, I think its eczema, but we’ll know for sure after another visit with her pediatrician next week. (No itching/distress/blisters/spreading – just flare-ups in the cold Maine air.) Now back to Beulah.

On the way to pick Gwen up a pre-school, I popped into our local Rite-Aid to pick up a bit of ‘healing ointment’ for Kate’s face. It was particularly red and bumpy today and, despite how adorable I think she is, it didn’t look very good. So I stood in the ‘healing ointment’ section searching the shelves for the right concoction while Kate squirmed around in my arms. She’ll be two in February but she’s so tiny that I still tend to carry her a lot. Today I put her down so that I could reach the jar I needed. As Kate walked toward the sliding doors with me in close pursuit I heard Beulah say, “Where are you going honey?” Kate entirely ignored her and walked straight to the door and proceeded to bang on the glass. “You know” Beulah said when she spotted me, “they can’t get out the second set of doors, but I’ve seen them get caught in there and they can’t get out.” Kate clearly doesn’t weigh enough to open either set of doors, but this went unnoticed by Beulah.

First of all, just let me say the Beulah’s of the world piss me off. Immensely. Despite her annoying statement that dripped with condescension, I responded with a smile and a lame, “Oh, really?” while placing my items on the counter. Kate stood at my feet and fondled the candy. We aren’t candy eaters in our house so, of course, when my children see candy they scramble and beg for a morsel. That’s what Kate began doing in front of Beulah.

Me to Kate: “No, no…you can’t have a candy bar, Kate.”

Beulah to me: “Well, you know…when they get it at home that’s what they want when they go out.”

Ummmm, Beulah? Do I know you? Have you been to my house? Do you have a front row seat to our family mealtimes? Have you personally taken an inventory of my pantry? No? Then suck it. You’re starting to get under my skin. Please just ring me up and stop talking before this gets ugly. (Clearly, Beulah doesn’t follow No. 7 or she’d have read “Dear Rage Filled Stranger,”.)

Some more small talk ensued, but I was operating on high alert. I really just wanted to pay and escape Beulah and her judgment without any casualties. I picked up Kate and held her as Beulah rang up our tub of ‘healing ointment’. I watched with gritted teeth as she zeroed in on Kate’s rash covered face. “What have you done to your face?” she inquired of my 23-month-old as if Kate could respond with a long-winded explanation. Beulah looked at Kate and then to me, as if challenging my silence. Her eyes held all sorts of accusation. They told me that I am a horrible mother that has somehow purposely inflicted a skin disorder on my beautiful baby. Those eyes demanded an explanation. I had had enough at that point. Game on, Beulah.

I pulled a sorrowful grimace onto my face and cast a forlorn gaze upon my girl and sighed, “Yeah…she has herpes.” Beulah’s expression turned from judgmental to uncomfortable as her eyes darted back and forth between Kate’s face and mine. “We think she got it at birth, but since the other two got away without catching it…” I gave a nonchalant shrug of my shoulders and held out my hand expectantly. Beulah handed me my change in dumb-founded, horrified silence. I thanked her very much and told her to have a lovely day.

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