My job, right now, is to keep things as normal as possible ’round here, for the kids, and try not to let on that I’m exhausted and stressed out and worried and generally not at all interested in cooking or working or listening to the story of how that one Pokemon totally defeated that other one.
Some days this is easier than others.
Today I decided that maybe if I sandwiched together a bunch of errands it would 1) take up most of the day and 2) make it less obvious to the children that I was making sure we all have outfits appropriate for wearing to a funeral. Maybe I just think Monkey needs a tie because people keep mistaking him for a girl and that Chickadee needs a pair of dress flats because she’s about to start 5th grade. Who knows, right?
Back to that whole “no interest in cooking” thing: I decided we would start our travels by going out to lunch.
I don’t know what it is about fast food restaurants that make my daughter GO INSANE, but if recent history is any indication, I just need to keep her away from any establishment where she’s allowed to select her trans-fats from a menu on the wall.
The season of her discontent started at Arby’s when I discovered that they now have a menu where you can choose five things for $5.95, and so I ordered three sandwiches (one apiece) and an order of fries and a drink (for the kids to split).
“Why do I have to SHAAAAAARE?” she whined. “He always wants SPRITE! I don’t WANT Sprite!”
“Can I have another cup for some water?” I asked the kid behind the counter. He handed one to me and I thanked him.
“I DON’T WANT WATER!” Chickadee bellowed. I looked down at the two cups in my hands.
“The water cup is for ME,” I said.
“But I don’t want to share!” she declared, just in case I hadn’t heard her the first time.
“Okay,” I said. The surprise on her face was so adorable I almost felt bad for following it up with, “Then you can have water, and I’ll share the big cup with Monkey.”
“I WANT LEMONADE!” she cried.
I pulled her over to the wall and leaned down so that my face was close to hers. “Chickie,” I said, softly, “I really don’t think we need to work ourselves into a froth over beverages. You have two choices: You can either take the water cup and have your own, or you and your brother can share something other than water. But you may not continue yelling at me.”
“He’s not going to want lemonade, though,” she grumped.
“Hey Monkey?” I asked. He stopped twirling in circles (he knows how to keep himself amused, I’ll give him that) to look at me. “Is lemonade okay to drink?”
“Sure!” he said, and went back to spinning.
“There,” I said. “Problem solved.”
Except that it wasn’t, because it turns out that Arby’s only had sugar-free lemonade, and because I’m a horrible, mean mother I risked another blow-up by refusing to let the kids have it. Sure, rot your teeth out with sugar, kids… but let’s save the genetic mutations for when you’re older, please.
“BUT I DRINK THIS ALL THE TIME!” Chickadee snarled.
“Not with me, you don’t,” I said. “Pick something else.”
“WELL THEN I WANT ROOTBEER! AND HE WON’T WANT THAT!” she cried.
“Hey Monkey?” He twirled over and hooked his arms around my hips. “How about rootbeer?” I asked.
“Sure!” he said.
Yes, the cup-sharing thing is awful, what with how both of my children stubbornly refuse to compromise. Oh, wait….
We finally collected food, drinks, and various cups of ketchup and sauces and went over to a booth. “Chickadee,” I said, looking around, “I forgot to get napkins. Could you please go grab some?” She nodded and went back to the counter. I slid in on a bench and sat down. Monkey sat down next to me. I considered this for a moment. “Monkey,” I said. “Chickadee is going to have a fit when she sees you sitting there.”
“That’s okay, I’ll cover my ears,” he replied, ever sanguine.
Usually when we sit at a table, I sit next to Chickadee and Otto sits next to Monkey. Having just been chewed out—and feeling rather wrung-out, to boot—I was disinclined to tell my son to move, even though I knew it was going to be a problem.
And of course it WAS a problem; Chickadee came back to the table and dissolved into tears because “Monkey is sitting in MY SPOT!”
I invited Chickadee to sit across from me. She flung herself onto the bench opposite with much wailing and gnashing of teeth. I looked up at the ceiling and remarked that in a minute, I was going to go find my own table and pretend I was there alone, and then I was going to eat all the fries.
Luck was with me—as sometimes happens, that was enough to make her laugh. And then everything was fine.
For about thirty seconds.
“What’s the difference between those two sauces?” asked Monkey, pointing at the little cups of sauce I’d grabbed from the dispensers.
“I’m not sure,” I said. I stuck a finger in the nearest cup and tasted it. “This one is a little bit sweet,” I said, and then put the same finger into the next cup and put it in my mouth, “And this one—”
“EWWWW YOU LICKED YOUR FINGER AND PUT IT IN THE SAUCE!!!” wailed Chickadee.
I made sure to smack my lips a little before concluding, “—is a little bit spicy. WHAT is your PROBLEM?”
“NOW IT’S FULL OF YOUR GERMS!” she cried.
“OH NO!!” I said. “That’s almost as disgusting as when you take a bite of my food! Or if you lived in my body for nine months! OH MY GOD!!”
It was at this point that I saw the boy sitting on the bench behind Chickadee turn around to look at us. He appeared to be about her age, and clearly wondering if I was crazy. Sitting opposite him was a woman who appeared to be his grandmother, who had clearly been listening and was now squelching her laughter in a napkin.
Chickadee glared at me and then licked one finger and plunged it into the sauce. “See how YOU like it,” she said.
“Mmmmm… saliva-y!” All three of us dissolved into giggles and again harmony was restored for a minute or two. I noticed our eavesdropper was continuing to enjoy our banter.
When Chickie got her panties in a wad again, I can’t even remember what it was that was bothering her, but the eyes were rolling and the chin was jutting and her tone was very unpleasant. The plan had been to eat and then head to the library, where the kids would turn in their summer reading charts and collect their prizes for not being illiterate, and then we’d run our other errands.
“Listen,” I said, “You need to get yourself together or we are not going to the library.” At this point I noticed the listening grandmother still observing, and I flushed with embarrassment that I was having this conversation in public. And then I simultaneously realized I’d said the wrong thing. “Wait. No. I am not having a repeat of last week. You need to get yourself together or we ARE going to the library, but Monkey can turn in his chart and get his prizes, but YOU will not be allowed to turn in yours.” Her eyes went wide for just a second, then her french fries became very interesting. She was silent, at least.
A minute later the the pair from the other table got up to leave, and as they passed us, the woman waited until her back was to Chickadee and then she made eye contact with me and flipped me a thumbs-up.
I couldn’t help it—I grinned.
“What, Mama? What’s funny?”
“Nothing,” I said, feeling more cheerful than I’d been in days. “Who’s done eating? We’ve got lots to do and I’m ready to go.”