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By Shauna Glenn
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Shauna Glenn
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Mommy, Mommy? You awake? Mommy, MOMMY!"
I opened one eye. "What?" I said, waking from a dream where I was in the super market-topless, asking the produce guy to check out my melons.
"Well," said my second child, Lilly. She's our seven year old, blonde-haired, blue-eyed informant. If anything was going to go down in our house, you can rest assured that Lilly would be on it-CSI had nothing on this girl.
She continued, "Gracie went in the baby's room, woke her up and is feeding her bubble gum and Mountain Dew. And I know you don't allow us to have caffeine this early!" I told her that I was coming to tell you and she said, "Go on you little shrimp! Tell! See if I care!"
"Don't you think that's rude, Mommy?-calling me a shrimp? I can't help it if I'm short. I got that from you, right?"
She stood there, arms crossed, very officially, waiting for me to jump out of bed and pounce. All the while I was wondering if I lay still enough and didn't say anything, she would get bored and move on, I was even trying not to breathe. But she was standing there with her eyes so focused on the task at hand that I felt she had already won. Beaten down already, and what, only 6:08 on a Saturday morning. I pulled back the covers and eased my feet to the floor, my body willing me to stay in the bed-it's not time yet, it seemed to be screaming. As I got up, my husband (who conveniently sleeps through everything!) rolled over. I suddenly had the urge to punch him in the face. Instead I stuck my tongue out in his direction and followed the short informant down the hall toward the kitchen.
Why me? What did I ever do? I pay my taxes, I obey the law (except for the occasional speeding-okay maybe more than occasional, it's more like a part time job) and I vote like any good American. Why am I the constantly the target of these unprovoked Saturday morning attacks? Am I the only one on the planet who has to deal with this shit so early in the morning? And if I'm not, is there a support group I can join?
One thing I have considered doing is sedating the children. Not a lot. Just enough to have them snoring until a much more acceptable time on the weekends. I could market it to all the parents of young children around the world and become a billionaire. Oprah would have me on her show, claiming I had saved millions of families with my wonder drug for kids. We would have a catchy slogan and happy children singing the praises of my lullaby cocktail. There would t-shirts and bumper stickers and every mom in the world would have a permanent smile on her face. Women would have fewer wrinkles and gray hairs and even feel like having sex more often than on Arbor Day. I made a quick mental note to get to work immediately on my possible new venture.
As I continued to follow Lilly down the hall I realized that she was still giving me the 4-1-1 on exactly what had taken place in the few minutes that the three apples-of-my-bloodshot eyes had been up-and it sounded like a full day already.
"Uh-huh, okay I'm coming," I said. Stopping in the bathroom to pee was probably out of the question because if I don't seem somewhat concerned about operation "Mountain Dew," Lilly will continue to yap-yap-yap in my ear some more and if she doesn't stop, I fear I may lose my mind. She hurried off ahead of me warning Gracie, "Mommy's coming and you're in big trouble."
Big trouble. What does that mean anyway? Big trouble is robbing a bank or murdering someone, but to little kids-nine, seven, and nearly two, it means Mommy's going to put you in time out, or at the very worst, wash your mouth with soap for saying "shut up" or "stupid."
I entered the room of the scene of the crime.
"Mommy, I can explain." Ah. The future used car salesman of our family (we're so proud). Gracie, our oldest daughter, the actress, the princess, the "no one understands me" one of the bunch, began her morning ritualistic diatribe on how she has once again been the victim of wrongful accusation.
"You see, I thought I heard the baby crying, but when I went in there she heard me, I guess, and just woke up. So I couldn't just leave her there. I mean, what if she woke you and Daddy up? You really need your sleep, I know. You work really hard and I was just trying to handle it for you. I went to get her some milk, but we are out of milk so Mountain Dew was the next best choice. She really seems to like it. But that fartknocker, Lilly, had to go and wake you up and tell on me."
"I am not a fartknocker," Lilly cried out. "Mommy, did you hear what Gracie called me?"
"I heard, I heard. Now Gracie, please don't start the morning off by calling names. Tell Lilly you're sorry." I'm so beat down. And I felt a migraine coming on.
"Sorry," she said, not so convincingly, but good enough for me.
They were both looking at me, waiting to see what I was going to do. I didn't feel like doing anything, except screaming at the top of my lungs, packing a bag, and leaving on the next flight out of here. But, as the tallest one in the room, I guess it was up to me to handle this.
I looked at Lilly, standing there with her arms crossed with her eyes fixed on me like any minute I was going to spew biblical-like commandments, and Gracie, who had since become bored with this whole thing and was now staring at the television. So I said the only thing that came to mind. "Who wants breakfast?"
Lilly looked so disappointed that the hammer didn't come down on her big sister. She threw her hands up in the air and mumbled, "So not fair."
"I'm right there with you sister," I said off in her direction as I bent down and picked up the baby who was now tugging at my gown. Hannah is my twenty-month old and is the easiest and sweetest little girl. It's too bad she doesn't have a chance growing up here. I'm already putting some extra money aside for her therapy, which she will need a lot of. I held her close and whispered in her ear, "Get out of here while you still can." She just nuzzled my neck and giggled.
The big girls love their little sister. They are always willing to wake her up in the morning or from a nap, hold her for two seconds, then proceed to be utterly bored with her and hand her to me. Not before saying, "the baby wants you, Mommy."
So after serving breakfast and plopping the girls down in front of the television, I was finally able to have my much needed morning martini-I mean coffee. My husband, Tom, and I said we would never use the TV to baby sit the children. We do lots of things now we said we never would.
Before we had kids, we listened to our friends say the television was a lifesaver when they had things to do or wanted to get in some much needed rest or have sex for the first time in a month. We looked at each other like, we are so not going to be those people. I remember we actually laughed about it and I even felt sorry for them. Well, who's laughing now? I remember having a conversation with my mother before Tom and I had children and I told her my plan of having a perfectly run household and children who would be the most polite, cleanest and obedient of everyone we knew. The sound of her hysterical, almost psychotic laughing still echoes in my head. It's like a souvenir for my ignorance. Boy, for being college educated I was sure dumb.
You would think that by my third child I would have parenting down to a science. But every time I seem to get ahead, they learn some new moves that completely throw me off. I have been in the parenting section of the bookstore on more than one occasion looking for titles like, "How to squash your child without killing his spirit" or "Making the best of your 18-year prison sentence" but have come up empty. I'm not looking so much to be a better parent as I am to beat them at their own game.
I'm not complaining-although it sounds like I am. I thought there would be more to my life than being someone's wife and mother. I had plans-big plans. I wanted to have a career. But not just that, I wanted to be somebody. I wanted validation from I don't know, anybody, everybody. And now, I'm so far from my original plan that sometimes I feel like I'm choking to death. I feel like there's a world out there, alive and moving, and I'm in some parallel universe where kids are in charge and I'm the resident nose wiper. There's got to be more to my life than this.
These days I can pretty much function on auto-pilot. I got Hannah fed, washed, and diapered. She is now able to begin her daily routine of tearing up books, writing on furniture with crayons that seem to appear out of thin air. I know I have repeatedly thrown out the offending marking tools, but every time I turn around, she is either eating them or leaving her signature on anything that is less than two feet high. I also get the pleasure of refereeing arguments between Lilly and Gracie. I mumbled cuss words under my breath, most of them aimed at my sleeping husband who has yet to emerge from the bedroom. Don't even get me started on Tom. To think that one day, a long time ago, he could've done nothing wrong. I wouldn't have believed you if you'd told me back then that one day, I would at times, hate the very sight of him. Ha! Well those days are over. What is it about some men who are brilliant in the workplace, but lose all capacity to function when he enters the front door of his home? This is my reality. Tom comes home, plops down, and the force of gravity in that chair keeps him there, hostage, until it's time for bed. He doesn't know how to work the DVD player, put his dirty plate in the dishwasher, or even change out the empty toilet paper roll.
I did a quick head count. I didn't see the baby and I certainly couldn't hear her. This could be bad. I hope she hasn't flushed herself down the toilet. She tried to do that once. She climbed in the toilet and pulled down the lever. Water rushed out of toilet and flooded the bathroom. Just then, Lilly found Hannah standing in the toilet and panicked. Before I could stop her, Lilly had called 9-1-1 and told the operator that her little sister had flushed herself down the toilet. The operator didn't know if it was a prank or not, so she sent the fire department. By the time I was clued in to what had transpired there were four uniformed firefighters in my living room, lecturing me on the seriousness of calling 9-1-1 when there was no emergency. I wanted so badly to put all the children up for adoption after that, but Tom talked me out of it. Anyway, she was no where near the bathroom this time. I found her, sitting in a usual spot, in front of the cat bowl, eating cat food. Our cat, Sadie, who must have been eating before being interrupted, looked at Hannah with disdain. I can almost read her mind. She'd eat the baby if she could get away with it. But instead, she waited patiently for the baby monster to finish her kibble snack. I scooped her up off the floor and tickled her tummy, cat food dribbling down her chin. "Let's get you cleaned up, kitty, kitty," I said to her and she meowed.
* * *
Tom and I don't live on the same planet. When I tell him about my day and different things the kids have done or said he looks at me as if I'm speaking a foreign language. I guess in a way, I am. He has absolutely no idea what goes on here while he's off at work, or what I refer to as paradise. Tom's world includes getting to sleep longer, working out at the gym, lunch at fabulous places that I've only heard about, and of course, sharing with me how tired he is from his long day at the office. I have yet to tell him how exhausting it must be to sit behind a desk (no one pulling at your legs), talk on the phone, and return emails. Oh and don't forget all the adult conversations and interactions he has to endure. That must be terrible for him. There are no dirty diapers or silly arguments to break up like "Gracie won't let me play with her Gameboy" or "Lilly says I'm dumb because I can't spell 'giraffe'" in Tom Land. Don't get me wrong. I wouldn't want to change places with him for a minute (except to go to the fabulous lunches). I just like to complain about it sometimes. I know what goes on at his job. Tom's world is filled with negotiations, time lines, schedules, meetings (Bore Fest 2000 he actually attended and was the headlining speaker), business plans, seminars-and anything and everything else to cure any sleep deprivation illness one might have.
I know this because I was in his world before we had children. In fact, he is a partner at the advertising agency where I used to work. That's how we met actually. After we found out I was pregnant with Gracie, we played rock-paper-scissors to see who would quit their job and stay home with the baby and I lost-or won. However you want to look at it.
* * *
AROUND nine o'clock, Tom finally got up and joined us. I knew that he was coming a few minutes ago because I heard the shuffling of his feet. Feet-shuffling seems to run in Tom's family. And it drives me fucking crazy. Every time he does it I want to scream, "Pick up your mother fucking feet before I kill you!" But I don't. I realize that would be overly dramatic if not a little psychotic. I just let the sound of his feet shuffling consume me like a flesh-eating bacteria hoping that one day, fingers crossed, he'll realize himself that he's making this obnoxious noise and stop doing it. That has yet to happen.
The first time Tom's mother came to stay with us, I found out where the offensive shuffling came from. On that first morning, she came from her room, scooting her feet across the hardwood floors all the way to the kitchen. I happened to be pouring my morning brew and my hands began to shake so badly that I almost dropped the carafe. And then, one of my eyes began twitching uncontrollably. I managed to pull it together and excuse myself to my closet where I grabbed a handful of sweaters to muffle the sound and let out a scream that would have woken the neighbors two streets over. I immediately felt better. All the rage left my body-it was quite cathartic. I stood up straight, folded back the sweaters and reminded myself of all the many reasons I married Tom.
Looking at him now, I'm reminded even more. He is so darn cute with his scruffy beard and his hair sticking straight up. It's hard not to feel some sympathy for the man-I mean he is like a hostage in an estrogen-filled prison-with no possibility of parole.
"Morning girls," he said with enthusiasm, "who has a kiss for Daddy?"
The girls jumped up, the television spell broken. They raced to their dad, the man they think can do no wrong (I'll fill them in on a few things when they're older), and began the hugging and kissing routine. This is why Tom wanted children. He's got his own little set of groupies. And as I stood there watching them, I didn't worry about all the things I felt were missing from my life and enjoyed the moment.
Tom seemed to have everything under control with the children, so I took the opportunity to sneak off and have a few minutes to myself. I made sure to be quiet going up the stairs so that no one noticed I'd left the room. I went into my bedroom closet and reached way in the back of my sock drawer and pulled out my journal. I grabbed a pen from my vanity table and hurried to the chair in the corner of the room. I opened the blinds to let the morning light stream in through the window. It looked like it would be another beautiful September day in Fort Worth. I opened the book and thumbed through the pages of previous entries. Sometimes I spend half an hour reading the things I wrote from months past and run out of time to write anything new. I didn't want to do that now-I really wanted to get my thoughts out of my head and onto the paper. And with three young children and one helpless husband just a few rooms away, I only had a short time to do it.
I've been keeping a journal as long as I can remember. When I was thirteen, I was so angry at my parents for getting a divorce-and even angrier about the new husband my mother had picked to marry. I would write horrible things about my new step dad in there and would then black it out with a marker-afraid that he would find it and read it and be even stricter with me. It just felt better to write it down. I felt my anger physically leave my body. I wrote about the boys I'd kissed, the fights I got into with my girlfriends, and movie stars I wanted to be like and ones I wanted to marry. Rob Lowe and John Taylor from Duran Duran were mentioned more than once-probably like a million times. I still have every single one of those journals. The one I'm writing in now is number 27. And let me tell you, there's some good shit in those journals. I would absolutely die if anyone ever saw them. I have most of them in a large plastic container in the attic. Sometimes when I'm feeling nostalgic I'll go up there, sit next to the box and read through my old high school journals. Once, in the middle of the day and before I got pregnant with Hannah, I took a bottle of wine up to the attic, put on one of my old cheerleading uniforms (it fit pretty good-I just couldn't zip it up all the way) and sat on the floor reading about all the silly, irrational shit that teenaged girls feel. I ended up getting smashed off the wine and lost track of time. I kept hearing the phone ring through the floor and decided I'd better see who it was that kept calling. I tripped on a box of Christmas ornaments and nearly fell out of the attic. My head was swimming from all the wine I'd had on an empty stomach. I carefully climbed down the attic stairs and caught the phone on the sixth ring. It was Tom "Are you all right?" He asked.
Excerpted from Relative Insanity by Shauna Glenn Copyright © 2010 by Shauna Glenn. Excerpted by permission.
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