Chapter One: Not For the Faint of Heart (May Contain Quotes From ACTUAL Children)
You stand at the edge of the washing machine abyss, staring in. Slip slip slosh. Slip slip slosh. Who knew how tranquil the sound of a berry-stained, pink tank top and a pudding- laden, white denim overall set could be? Slip slip slosh. Slip slip slosh. It reminds you of the beach in Mexico. Soft sand, freshly shaved legs, cute tankini.
A curiously greenish foam is collecting at the sides of the washer. Sea foam green. Surfer shorts and on-the-spot snorkeling. Oh for the love of a cold margarita and a warm, lazy day.
You sigh. “There is no mommy here. Mommy is in Mexico.”
A pair of lacey, blue panties swirl and make their way to the top of the laundry. Slip slip slosh. Why are those underwear even in the washer? It has been years since you stopped squishing your ample bottom into them, and yet somehow – magically - they appear every month or so in the dirty laundry pile, and you wash them, and ball them up, and stick them back into your overflowing underwear drawer.
You shake your head and look down at your four year-old daughter’s deceptively sweet face. “Mommy?”
“Yes? What is so terribly important that Janie needed to interrupt Mommy’s laundry washing time? Mommy is very busy.”
She looks up at your dubiously. You marvel at the fact that only fifth grade teachers and four year-olds can truly master that look.
“You don’t look busy, Mommy.”
You sigh. Again. It’s your signature sound. “Mommies. Are. Always. Busy.”
“Okay.” Janie’s face remains dubious as she stands and stares at you.
You have never been to Mexico. Nor have you ever owned a tankini – or any “ini” for that matter.
“I’m changing my name,” you state.
“But I like Mommy.”
“Well, I‘m done with it.”
“But I like Mommy.”
“Someone else can use it.”
Uh oh. Janie’s eyes tear up and her lower lip comes out. “I don’t want another Mommy. Who will clean up my room?”
Where do they learn that sorrowful pose?
“Mommy was joking. I will be your Mommy forever.”
“Cross my heart. Now go play with your sister.”
“Cara has written all over the bedroom wall. And the door.”
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, you think.
“Again? Sweet,” you say.
You count to ten. Slowly.
Three. Four. "Janie?"
Seven. Eight. "Janie?"
Nine. "Ten," you say out loud.
"What are you doing, Mommy?"
"Yoga," you answer.
Janie looks up you, very puzzled. "Like the little green guy from Star Wars?"
"Just like that," you agree.
You abandon your enthralling laundry and make the walk of doom toward the girls' shared room. You write a little poem on the way.
Are your feet made of lead?
Is your heart full of dread?
You swing open the bedroom door and hum the Funeral March under your breath.
No sound escapes your mouth. Cara is not quite three, but her masterpiece has covered one end of a bedroom wall to the other. And indeed, the door. Your oldest daughter's favourite pop princess poster has it's own frame of crayon art. It is a kaleidoscope of colours that meet in a crescendo of chaos right beside the bunk bed. The sing-song alliteration of that thought offers very little comfort.
You close your eyes and then open them. Suddenly you realize that Cara is still furiously scribbling along the wall.
"CAAAARAAAA!" You bellow, aware that the neighbours three blocks away can probably hear you.
Cara drops her crayon and steps away, admiring her work.
"JAAAAAAAAANE REEEEEEEEESE SMIIIIIIIIIIITH!" Your four-year old jumps. "Why didn't you tell Mommy what Cara was doing?"
Janie gives you a look. "Mommy, I did tell you. But you said you were busy."
"For the love of God!"
"You just made the Lord's veins bleed."
"Name in vain. Not bloody vein."
Janie stares at you.
"It is not swearing if you are praying," you say with as much patience as you can muster.
Janie continues to stare. "What are you praying for?"
"A prayer of thanks. I am thanking God for making our windows up high enough that a small child can't be thrown through one," you answer.
Janie ponders this for a moment. "Should I pray that too, Mommy?"
"Even more than Mommy does."
Chapter Two: No on has ACTUALLY died of embarrassment, right? RIGHT?!
Forty-five minutes later you are standing in line at your local store. You are waiting your turn to put your purchases - eighteen magic erasers, a small stuffed kangaroo, a partially eaten chocolate egg, the latest computer animated DVD, and a Diet Coke - onto the grocery belt. The man in front of you is about a hundred and two, painfully slow, and keeps giving your kids dirty looks.
You have a maddening urge to stick your tongue out at him. Never mind that Janie keeps putting her middle finger up her nose, that they are still in their pyjamas. Who cares that Cara's face is covered in the other half of that chocolate egg, and that both girls are alternating between screaming, crying, and hiccoughing?They are your kids, and only you are allowed to give them dirty looks.
Grumpy Old Guy puts a bright yellow hair pick on the belt. And then a rolling pin. And then a box of artificial sweetener. He pauses momentarily, and you wonder if this is going to be his last breath. You hope absently that if you witness a grocery store death, that you will receive free groceries for life in compensation.
Your placate Cara and Janie with two pocket-fuzzed lollipops that you didn't even know were in your purse, and wait for fate to take its course.
No such luck. Grumpy Old Guy adds an enormous box of corn flakes to his pile. A bag with two potatoes in it. You pull a fistful of Janie's hair out of a Cara's hand. A picture frame. A lump of discount cheese. You wonder if these things were all on his list, or if Grumpy Old Guy is just killing time by picking up and purchasing random items. Just as he is putting his last item - a super sized white and red lint brush - onto the belt, someone taps you on the shoulder.
You turn around and face a woman wearing a two piece ladies track suit that probably costs as much as your mortgage. You recognize her as the manager at Designer Discount, a supposedly low-price, upscale women's clothing store. She is svelte and tanned, probably from hours in the gym and the tanning booth. Her hair is sleek, and professionally dyed. Her makeup is flawless and probably never gets sweated off. Her lipstick probably never touches her teeth, and her mascara wouldn't dare get clumpy. Last week you had tried to return a pair of pants to her, and she had refused to take them back because the numbers on the receipt were partially obscured by a bit of left-over melted mint. She had the same phony smile on her face then as she does now.
"I'm sorry," she says, even though she is clearly not, "But I only have four items here, and I have an appointment at work. Could I possibly go in front of you?"
You look around for the candid camera.
You look into her basket. A box of leg wax, a bag of Oreos, a cucumber, a nail clipper, a tube of whitening toothpaste, and the same lint brush that the man in front of you is purchasing. Ha! Clearly six items, not four. She reaches across your chest and grabs a package of sugar free gum. Now it's seven items. What kind of appointment can she have at the Designer Discount store that requires both a cucumber and toothpaste?
The woman is staring at you with her plastic smile. You stare back. You wonder what will happen if you deny her request. Will you in turn be denied access to the bargain rack? Given the last change room on the left - the one in the back that smells like an old lady who has taken a long bath in fabric refresher- every time you try on an over-priced blouse?
She clearly takes your silence as agreement, because she starts to sidle past you. You want to scream, "Nooooo," at the top of your lungs to this woman. She has clearly never changed a toddler's diaper, her whites are probably still white, she definitely owns a little black dress, and she couldn't, for a million dollars, open a child proof lock.
You open your mouth tell where she can stick her seven little items, and then shut it again as you see Cara reach out her sticky, chocolate and lollipop encrusted hand in the Designer Discount clerk's direction. Kid karma at it's finest.
The woman doesn't notice Cara's outstretched arm. She squeezes past your cart with her flat stomach toward the candy display and her carefully toned rear end toward your youngest daughter. You experience a moment of utter bliss as Cara's half-chewed sucker lands square in the middle of one perfect cheek.
"Mommy," whispers Janie. Her eyes are fixated on the emancipated lollipop.
"Shhh," you whisper back.
"But the lady..." She trails off.
"Butt!" Cara shouts in a way that usually embarrasses you and sets your husband off into an anti-child ran. "Butt!" She points at the questionably placed candy.
The woman glances back, pretending to be sympathetic to your role as Mommy-With -Loud-Kid.
You ignore her, and as a silent thank you to Cara and Janie for giving the woman a payback that you would never dream of giving yourself, you generously at two chocolate bars to your purchase.
As she finishes paying for her seven items, the woman forgets to thank you for your reluctant graciousness, and smiles brightly at the middle-aged grocery bagger. He grins back in an admiring way. As soon as she turns to go, his jaw drops a little. He starts to say something to her and then stops. You suppose that he must be thinking of a way to point out her decorated rear without admitting that he has been staring at it to start with.
You notice that the cashier has also been observing the interaction. She says nothing to the bagger or to the Designer Discount diva as she leaves the store.
She turns to you with a sunny smile and says, "Hi there!" as she scans in your magic erasers.
You only know that her name is Heidi because of her name tag. Heidi is one of only two cashiers who work the day shift at the J-Mart, and although you know she must recognize you, she never lets on that she does. You avoid the other cashier, whose name tag says "Mrs. Lyle". You think that the fact that she won't share her first name speaks volumes about her character. You also don't enjoy being told that it is raining outside when you bring your children into the store in sandals and t-shirts, or being told the benefits of a home-cooked meal in the middle of buying a pizza.
You wonder if Heidi is just a generally discreet individual, or if she is actually immune to bizarre purchases of her customers.
Last week you came in a bought six club pack bottles of drain de-clogger to unclog the bathtub - it took all six bottles to work their way through the roll of toiler paper that had mysteriously unravelled itself and mixed itself into soup of foam soap and slop in the girls' toy net. The week before you bought an entire shelf of nail polish remover and rented a carpet cleaner for 2 hours. And four times last month you came in and purchased Goo-Be-Gone. It is the only substance you know for sure (through trial and error) that completely removes any trace of duct tape stickiness from a dresser.
Heidi smiles at you. "That'll be sixty-four dollars even," she says.
Super, you think. You are going to pay for the transaction with the cash you withdrew for this week's spending money. Your budget is a modest $100 every two weeks, plus the tips you earn as a psuedo-server at the diner. It is only Wednesday of week one. The budget is a generous one for your husband - he rarely goes over that for coffee and fast food lunches once a week, but you often find that you spend your own money on kid-related crises and not personal treats.
You smile back at Heidi and reluctantly hand her three twenties.
You are trying to save five dollars every week to buy yourself something nice, even if you don't know yet what that something might be. But last week you used your saving for hot lunch at your oldest daughter's school, and two weeks ago you used it to replace Cara's favourite stuffed kitten. You dropped the cat into a mud puddle at the end of your drievway and then ran over it four or five times before your husband noticed it on his way in from work. When you washed it, a pink eye had popped off and left a gaping hole that made Cara cry until she turned blue.
Heidi waits patiently while you dig through your purse for four dollars in change.
You know that thirty-six dollars isn't going to take you very far for the next eleven days, and you suspect that Heidi knows it too.
When you get back to your car in the parking lot, you see that someone in an enormous SUV has left you virtually no room to get into the driver's side door. You always park reasonably far away from the store entrances and give yourself ample room on that side of the car because the rear passenger door sticks in a ridiculous way, and the kids need to be loaded into their seats on your side.
Cara starts to cry, and you notice that Janie's lollipop has become a sticky green lump in her sister's hair.
Who would commit such a heinous parking crime?
"I have to pee," Janie states.
Cara ceases her wailing. "Me too."
You stare helplessly at your car keys, at the two inch space between the SUV and then at your kids.
"I have to go. Now," Janie's face has a pained look.
"Now," Cara agrees.
Inside, you stamp your feet angrily, toss your adult-sized body onto the floor and sob uncontrollably. Outwardly, you choose humour.
"Ladies," you begin, "There is no public parking lot pee potty."
"You will have to pee in the designated personal pee potty on our private property. Unless, perchance, you have a potty in your pocket?" You look expectantly at your girls.
"Potty pocket!" Cara repeats and laughs out loud.
Although you are not usually thankful for the ill-timed bathroom humour that entertains all kids under twelve, you are, at the moment, relieved that it provides such an easy distraction.
"Now," you say, "Who thinks that my big mommy bum will fit in this spot?" You point at the scant inches between the SUV and you car.
Both girls shake their heads with exaggerated solemnity, fully in the swing of the game.
"And," you ask, "Who wants to climb a car seat mountain?"
Shouts from both, "Meeeee!"
You unlock the passenger-side front door and let Cara and Janie clamor into the back, encouraging a yodeling contest as they slip into their car seats. Now for the challenge. You kneel awkwardly on the passenger seat and stretch your arms over the console to fasten the twelve hundred straps that claim to be a five-point harness system. You know that your aforementioned mommy-sized rear end is now pressed awkwardly up against the passenger window, and you can feel your pants slipping down to expose your mommy-sized underwear.
You get both the kids strapped in and then begin the slide over to the driver's seat. It's not easy. First, your foot gets stuck on your purse strap, which is stuck somehow under the seat. This causes you to fall forward and you bang your head on the steering wheel. The horns blares suddenly, and you are beginning to feel like a slapstick comedy. A bad one. You get your foot unstuck, losing a shoe in the process. Your sweater gets stuck on the radio console, and when you finally get yourself into the driver's side, you are backwards, peeking at your kids over your seat. They giggle at you, and you wish that you could see the humour in it too.
Sighing, you turn yourself around, put the key in the ignition and give out a startled yelp as Raffi comes on full volume over the stereo. As you turn down the music, and start to back the car out, you hear Cara say, "Yay, Mommy!"
Yay, Mommy, indeed.
You spend close to two hours magically erasing Cara's handiwork. You pause only to feed the girls lunch - grapes, yoghurt, and popcorn today. They have watched the their new DVD through once, and have started it a second time.
As you are scrubbing the final corner of the door, marveling that you haven't yet exposed any drywall, you suddenly notice the time. It's 2:22. You are supposed to be on your way to your oldest daughter's school to pick her up. You should have started with the girls' shoes ten minutes ago. You drop magic eraser number eleven on the floor and race down to the rec room.
Cara is wearing a shiny pink tutu and nothing else. Janie is wearing last year's Hallowe'en costume - a squirrel with a bushy tail. Her legs are sticking way out of the bottom, and her arms aren't doing much better. She has grown a lot over the past twelve month. You don't know whether you should laugh or cry.
This is your revelation. If you put snow pants on the girls, no one will be able to tell what they are wearing underneath. You grab them out of the hall closet and stuff Cara into Janie's old pants. You hold out Leah's old ones for Janie.
"Is it snowing?" Janie asks.
Your explanation is frenzied. "No. No snow. No. Pretend. We are going to pretend. Hurry. Boots. Leah!"
Cara starts to protest. "No. Not mine pants," she tells you.
"Run!" you answer.
You stick both girls into a stroller that is too small for either of them and sprint toward the elementary school. As you round the corner before the school, you slow down. You don't want to be caught by the other moms in this frantic state. You take nine or ten deeps breaths as you approach Yew Tree Elementary.
The school is so named because you live in a themed neighbourhood. All the streets have tree names, each carefully planned little subdivision has flower name, and the other elementary school in the area is called Spruce Garden. It is source of endless mockery for your friends who live city-side, and somewhat embarrassing when you give directions to out of town guests traveling to your home. Take the Autumn Falls exit. Make a right at the sign for Sunny Elms. Your first left is White Ash Lane. Go straight through the four way stop, and White Ash Lane becomes Chestnut Drive. Your very own personal street is called CrabApple Crescent. Yes, it's that over the top.
You and your husband actually chose this neighbourhood for it's school. You moved here from a Fourth Avenue right before Leah started kindergarten. Yew Tree Elementary is not a private school, but it is "regulated". Admittance is allowed only within a four or five block radius and the school population is kept to less than three hundred and fifty students. The classes are small - a ratio of fifteen students to each teacher, and a part-time teaching assistant for each classroom. This means that there is no uniform, but a strict dress code. No jeans. No visible brand names. No makeup or nail polish for the twelve year olds. No short sleeved t-shirts between October and May, and no tanks tops in May, June, or September. Many of the parents opt for a uniform-esque look year round - black patent shoes for the girls, dress pants or pleated skirts and smart looking blouses.
It had sounded ideal, but you now have over three experience in the "regulated" school, and you know its secrets. The children can't wear Dolce and Gabanna sweat shirts, but there is no regulation on Armani Junior shoes or tacky Chanel earrings. And you are pretty darn sure that none of the other parents from your daughter's class has seen the inside of a Wal-Mart kids department. You sometimes feel that you may have traded your granola girl soul in for this fake tree environment.
You have your breathing under control as you approach your daughter's classroom. You have made it with one minute to spare, and you give yourself a silent cheer. You avoid eye contact with the other moms. You think that you can feel them staring at your snowsuit clad children