This week I was blackmailed by one child and the other made a statement so painfully honest that I preferred the extortion. It got me thinking about what’s real and what’s pretend around here, and I didn’t mind thinking about it for a change. I think it’s because we are on Deployment Cycle Phase One Million: What You See Is What You Get.
One thing you get with me: I suck at parenting sometimes.
I want to confess that I’m a real sucker for child-parent bargaining. It shows creativity and ingenuity to find the trigger point. Negotiation is all about finding someone else’s pain and then finding a way to remove it. I learned this from Husband. But extortion and blackmail, that’s different.
Enter, the Schwan’s popsicle.
Now I’ve been told there are some people who don’t know what Schwan’s is, and that my friends is a real tragedy. Because if you’ve never consumed a Golden Nugget Bar, well, you just haven’t lived.
If you must know, Schwan’s is an amazing drive-up purveyor of the world’s finest freezer confections. And when I say drive-up, I mean they come to you. Think traditional ice cream truck but add UPS man charm, COSTCO size quantities, ice cream sandwiches so fresh the cookies are still crunchy, and a space-age truck of deep freeze nirvana which is probably capable of preserving your body for future medical advances should the need arise. It’s not the cheapest food available but I justify the purchase because when Gary (yes, we are on a first name basis) comes to my door I order pork chops and asparagus and things. And then I flip hastily to the back of the catalog like the ice cream addict that I am. “I’m not ordering ice cream today, Gary,” I say helplessly. “Yes ma’am,” he responds, pointing out the specials.
One of my kids’ favorites is the caramel apple pop. It’s a flourescent green tube of tartness wrapped around a frozen ribbon of soft sugary caramel. I offer them as bribes whenever rooms have been cleaned and dirty laundry has been deposited in the right place and bathroom messes have been remedied.
Which means one box lasts a really long time around here.
This particular Saturday rooms were cleaned and caramel apple popsicles were distributed. The sucking and slurping sounds of happiness filled my kitchen and I raised an eyebrow as The Kindergartener salvaged a long stripe of bright green drips from his forearm, rescuing my clean floor from certain sticky doom. He chomped down the last bite and announced, “Mom, I want another one.” He opened his toothless grin and formed his green lips into a big “say yes because you love me” smile. I think his teeth were a little green, too. “And you will have another one.” I teased. “Next Saturday.” And I fake-smiled back.
He was not at all impressed by my response. “That’s sarcasm, Mom.” The smile transformed at lightening speed into a pout, and through the furrowed brow I could see that his neurons were firing overtime. He was scheming.
Meanwhile, I was preparing to go brain-dead, a parenting technique that makes my kids crazy. I would keep repeating the same phrase, regardless of the whine, until he gave up. But then he struck mercilessly at the point of weakness:
“Mom, if you don’t give me another popsicle I’m telling Daddy what a horrible job you did while he was gone.”
I stopped chopping the veggies. I looked down at the cutting board, staring at the knife in my hand and wondered how soon he could be shipped to military boarding school. And I stared. Silently.
When I’m completely taken off guard my recent response is uncharacteristic silence. My father used it as a parenting technique and I always believed it was because he was filled with murderous rage, unable to articulate a response for fear of homicidal mania against me, his precious first-born. I know now that he was just as dumbfounded as I am by the things kids say. Brain dead, indeed.
Taking advantage of the silence, the extortioner threatened, “I’m getting a popsicle.”
But Sweet Pea immediately came to my rescue. Or she really didn’t want him to get a second popsicle, which is very possible. She wielded her nearly stripped popsicle stick at The Kindergartener and righteously declared, “Hey! Don’t say that! Look around. She’s doing the best she can!”
“Yeah, I’m ….Wait. What? Hey!” I said. Brilliant. Articulate.
I looked around. We all looked around.
Something unrecognizable and pink was slimed to the front of the cabinet. End of summer flies seeking indoor refuge were buzzing around in the living room, probably after breeding in my garbage disposal. None of them were sticking to the disgusting fly strips hanging haphazardly around the room. I had no clean dish towels. But that didn’t matter because I had no clean dishes to dry, anyway. Speaking of dry, the geranium pots were crispy and looked only slightly better than the lawn. And best of all, I had this lippy kid who I had to bribe to get him to pick his own dirty underwear up off the floor.
“WELL THANKS FOR THE VOTE OF CONFIDENCE!” I shouted back at both of them. Sweet Pea’s last popsicle remnant plopped onto the counter. They stared at me open-mouthed wondering what confidence was and how to vote for it. “Mom, that’s sarcasm again,” came the brave voice of the defiant one. I pointed my knife at him across the counter and shouted back “AWAY WITH YOU” and I banished them to the basement and reached for the corked bottle of wine. As I poured I punctuated the conversation by shouting after them down the stairs, still motioning with the knife in the other hand: “Anyway, too many popsicles will give you lumpy breasts and hairy armpits!” I hoped that covered the deep, secret fears of both children enough to pacify their confectionary cravings yet keep them out of therapy. I’m sure I failed.
And then I plopped down. And I left the mess there.
And I really think this is the difference between the last time Husband came home and this time. A part of me really thinks that it would be fabulous for him to see the house this way. He would particularly enjoy the fly strips and the pink cabinet slime. I mean, I don’t think for a moment he believes that we live in the sanitized home he sees when he comes home. But after being away from it for a year he can’t truly appreciate the effort required to get it that way. Or keep it that way. It just doesn’t seem like it’s worth the effort to create something that isn’t even real. Shouldn’t he see it the way it really is?
So, if it gets cleaned up this time around, well, let’s just say that’s what professionals are for.
But what about me? I’ve got some pink smudge and some useless flystrips hanging around, too. And I’m not that motivated to do anything about it. And a part of me really thinks that it would be fabulous for him to see me this way. An unsanitized train wreck. I’d love to show up in my jeans and flip-flops at the airport and stand there, in the middle of the aisle, as the kids run to hug him. And I’d wait. I’d wait for him come to me. Because after being away from me for a year he can’t truly appreciate the effort required to clean up this mess. Or keep me this way. And it just doesn’t seem like it’s worth the effort to create something that isn’t even real. Shouldn’t he see me the way I really am?
So, if I get cleaned up this time around, well, let’s just say that’s what professionals are for.
Forget this glass of wine. I need another popsicle. I hope I don’t get lumpy breasts and hairy armpits.