The Secret Life of the Mother Who Sometimes Gives Public Readings about How Well She Manages A Large Family
I stormed around and slammed doors in anger on Monday night, despite being all dressed up (wobbling in Lily’s high heels which she insisted I needed), and heading out to a book event. Within the hour, at the Horizon Theater, I would read aloud from my manuscript in “WordFeast,” an annual concert of writers, actors, and comedians to raise funds for the Atlanta Food Bank. I would read aloud from my book-in-progress, about our big family.
But long-neglected garbage cans were banked outside our kitchen door. The situation looked like the New York City Garbage Strike of 1975.
Luckily, it was Monday, a take-out-the-garbage night! I located my four younger sons bunched around the computer watching great basketball moments on You-Tube. They were in excellent moods and well they should have been. I’d just picked them up from the YMCA and had treated them to Mexican take-out on the way home. Nevertheless, despite the hours of fun and spicy food I’d provided, I approached the group skittishly, with a sickly smile of fake cheer. These kinds of encounters don’t always go well.
“Guys!” I greeted them. “Umm, the garbage cans…Let’s…”
Without even turning around–triggered by the syllable, “Let’s”–they instantly replied: “It’s not my turn.” They did this in perfect unison, even in harmony, like a Barbershop Quartet.
“I know,” I said. “Technically, it IS Daniel’s night, but let’s all…”
This time, triggered by the sound of the syllable, “all,” they erupted, dis-harmoniously, along the lines of: “Yosef never brought the cans back/I do the recycling/I do Thursdays/Why doesn’t Lily do the garbage?” and the ever-popular, “It’s not my night.”
Throughout this recitation, their eyes never left the screen upon which Kobe Bryant was making three-point shots from 29 feet away.
”Mom, look!” said Jesse. “Twenty-nine feet.”
“FINE!” I yelled back. “FINE!! GREAT!!”
It’s weird how sometimes I don’t even feel this coming. I go from all smiles to the frothing rage of injustice in a moment. I turn into The Little Red Hen.
“I’LL DO IT MYSELF! DON’T I ALWAYS SAY YES TO YOU? YOU WANTED MEXICAN/I BOUGHT YOU MEXICAN. YOU WANTED THE Y/I TOOK YOU TO THE Y.” I went from zero to 90 in one second. I banged back across the wood floor in the unhappy high heels and SLAMMED the office door behind me and clattered across the house, into the kitchen, out the kitchen door, and SLAMMED the kitchen door behind me, and threw myself upon the overflowing and wet-with-rainwater green industrial plastic garbage cans filled with THE BOYS’ old apple cores and popsicle wrappers and sandwich crusts and lousy schoolwork.
Yosef followed. He trotted down the steps and hauled a garbage can up the next-door-neighbor’s driveway right behind me.
After Yosef and I made two trips, Fisseha peeked out. “FORGET IT. WE’VE DONE IT,” I yelled. He vanished.
“Thank you, Sweetie,” I murmured to Yosef, stroking his head.
I thundered back through the house in search of my notebook about how well I manage my large family and I encountered Jesse practicing basketball moves in the livingroom.
“NO BALL-PLAYING IN THE HOUSE,” I shrieked for the one-thousandth time, and I GRABBED the ball, STORMED across the livingroom, THREW open the porch door, MARCHED onto the deck, and hurled Jesse’s basketball with all my strength towards the woods.
I believe that basketball flew 29 feet.
I drove to the writers’ concert in tears, with a rip in my stockings and splotches of mud on my skirt. When it was my turn to perform, I crossed the stage, took the mike, read a warm and loving essay about my adorable children, and…was a gigantic success! The audience roared with laughter and affection; I was a huge hit; they loved me; they loved my children. I love my children, too.
Of course my children scattered like squirrels at the sound of my re-entry. But they’d cleaned up the kitchen in my absence. And as they dashed away from my office, they took their potato chip bags, Coke cans, and soccer socks with them.
Most of the time I’m a sweet, tolerant, soft-spoken 21st-century parent. My father wasn’t. “Laugh first, yell later,” is my usual motto, while my father’s usual motto must have been something like: “Yell first, ask questions later.”
It seems that yesterday’s motto was: Sometimes you just have to yell a little.