Maybe it’s the hot weather. Maybe it’s all the togetherness we experience in the summer. But there are days when I’m pretty sure my children are out to get me. Moments when they seek to take my sanity and tear it into shreds.
Now don’t get me wrong. They are cuties.
But sometimes there’s a gleam in their eyes that makes me a little nervous.
I had one such moment standing in a public restroom with one of my daughters. I froze, my eyes bulging. If I were a cartoon character, steam would have been pouring out of my ears.
In that moment I remembered a scene from two decades ago. I remembered rolling my eyes at a group of mothers with small children in the bathrooms at Disney World. Their words were terse, clipped.
“Stand right there.”
“Don’t touch anything.”
“No, no, NO! Get off the floor!”
I’ll never be that uptight, I muttered in all of my 17 year-old wisdom. Those moms need to get a grip.
And now, those words branded themselves in my brain as I stood in a not-very-clean public restroom and watched in slow-motion horror as my daughter licked the bathroom wall. (Why? Why would you do that?)
I felt dizzy and light-headed. I thought about germs, stomach viruses, and disease in general.
And the little wall-licker just looked at me like You need to get a grip.
I shouldn’t be surprised. I was a cutie too.
A cutie with the same gleam.
And there were moments when I pressed my sweet Mama’s sanity through the shredder.
I started at 5 years old with The Hide-and-Seek Incident. When it was my turn to hide I hurriedly scooted under my bed (it was the perfect spot!) and waited, fully expecting my friend to give up because I was in the best hiding place ever. (Is it clear that I wasn’t very good at this game?) He found me within a few minutes and began pulling on my legs. As he pulled I decided that if he couldn’t pull me out, it didn’t count. So I did the only thing I could do. I wrapped my teeth around a railing under the bed and just held on. He more he pulled, the harder I bit down. His stubbornness outmatched mine and when he finally pulled me out from under the bed my front teeth were sticking straight out.
I stood in front of the mirror trying to push my teeth back down. Mama stood beside me, looking at me. I couldn’t read her expression. I tried to explain, “I didn’t want him to find me!” but it’s really hard to talk when your teeth are running parallel to your top lip.
I know when Mama began her day, Most Traumatic Playdate was not on her list of things to do.
And that expression? Now I understand. Oh Mama, I get it.
In 5th grade I bounded into the house after school and announced, “Today was picture day and I forgot all about it!”
Mama gave me a once-over and a horrified expression filled her eyes.
I thought she was worried about paying for it, so I explained. “The secretary loaned me some money, and I can pay her back tomorrow.”
When her expression didn’t change, I figured she must have been worried about my hair. Again, wanting to put her at ease, I said, “And I borrowed a comb from someone.”
Her expression didn’t change.
I was dumbfounded. I didn’t know what her problem was. After all, I was wearing my favorite Battlestar Galactica t-shirt. I still loved it, even though the vinyl had peeled off in some places.
That was back in the day of film, and one-shot-is-all-you-got pictures. If you blinked or sneezed or wore an old t-shirt, you had an entire pack of pictures of that single moment.
Yeah, Mama. I get it now. Really, I do.
Then there was the Armadillo/Kitchen Knife Incident. I walked by a dead armadillo laying on the side of the road, which was not unusual. There were ALWAYS armadillos on the side of the road. I didn’t see one actually cross the road until, as an adult, I stopped my car so that one could make it across the street.
But on that day, for reasons I cannot explain, I was seized by the spirit of medical discovery. I wanted to know what that armadillo looked like on the inside. What color was his blood? Red? Green?
This was way before Google, and before our first set of encyclopedias, so there was only ONE WAY to find the answers to these pressing questions.
I grabbed my mother’s sharp kitchen knife and approached the dead animal. But when I touched the knife to his fleshy belly, the spirit of medical curiosity left me. I couldn’t do it.
I walked home feeling a bit deflated.
My mother was standing in the front yard. “What are you doing with my good kitchen knife?” her tone was clipped, terse.
In my defense, I had no idea that armadillos can carry leprosy. But my Mama knew. And I’m sure every fact she ever learned about the spread of disease raced through her mind as I told her. “Well, there was an armadillo on the side of the road…”
I’ll bet she felt dizzy and light-headed. I’ll bet she heard it in slow motion.
And I get it.
The Wall-Licking Incident brought it all home.