Apparently, it’s my 6th anniversary with WordPress. Who knew? I certainly didn’t. I simply realized I hadn’t posted in forever (again) and thought it might be time to throw down a few lines while my husband watches grown men throw down each other, or throw chairs down on each other. (Wrestling is not my entertainment of choice – that’s “wrasslin” if you’re from my home state.)
I don’t have much to say, though. That’s not like me. I can unintentionally take a 5-minute conversation and drag it out for an hour.
Since it’s my blogiversary, however, I feel compelled to write. So… I shall tell you a parenting story from when I was only 3 or 4 years into this whole step-momming thing. I shall entertain you, and possibly frighten you if you have a boy who is not yet 3 or 4 years old.
Disclaimer: This story happened a decade ago. Much has changed since that time – I have moved to a company I love and a role I enjoy by now, but when this occurred, life was hard. Also, it has been a decade. Memory is a tricky thing, so I’ll fill in the details I can and you’ll have to fill in the rest. Happy trails!
It is Saturday. The husband-child is at soccer practice, or out mowing, or with friends, or something else. He is not at home. It is his weekend to have the kids, so the girl child and boy child are at the house with me. He is around 4 – just had his birthday, in fact – and she is 8 going on 9. I am at the kitchen sink washing dishes that wouldn’t fit into the dishwasher or are not dishwasher safe. Or the dishwasher is broken, which is more likely.
I normally watch TV while I’m doing dishes, because we have an open floor plan and the kitchen sink is backed by a half wall that allows me to see the living room, where the TV is located. Today, though, I need quiet. It has been a long week at work, I am tired and hate my job, and home is stressful, too.
And, you know – kids.
Both kids have been surprisingly easy to handle today. They are watching TV and playing together in the girl child room. She has always been another kind of mother to him, even though we have told her to let him do things for himself and even though they get on each other’s nerves. Her room is the farthest from the front of the house. It is only 1200 square feet, so nowhere is far from the front of the house, which is built in a square shape, but I tell myself they are as far as they can be while still close enough for me to handle whatever they do.
I am precious. Also, naive.
I am halfway through the dishes. My fingertips are raisin-wrinkled from soaking in the suds.
I notice how quiet it is. It is peaceful.
This is catastrophic.
For those of you who are not parents, yet, or who may never be, please allow me to educate you. When it is quiet in your home and you have at least one small child, it is bad. It is possibly/probably a crisis of apocalyptic proportions. Here’s the formula version:
+ SILENCE =
That’s toddler + silence = nuclear explosion if you didn’t get that. The only time that’s not true is if they’re sleeping, and even then it’s only 50/50. (So. Many. Stories. I may have found my new blog subject for the next year.)
*back to the story*
I know they’re both supposed to be in the girly’s room, but it’s silent other than her TV, which is now on a show I know the boy does not like and will not watch. I dry my hands, prepared to investigate. A candy cane odor permeates the air. I wonder if they found some gum and begin imagining all the horrible things that could happen that I will not be able to (a) prevent from happening, (b) explain to their mother, or (c) remove from the carpet.
The dread I feel is an elephant sitting on a dollhouse chair.
I walk down the hall and notice he is not in his room, which is on the way, and the bathroom appears dark, but sometimes it’s hard to tell. Her door is closed. I open it and do not see her brother.
“Hey, sweetie, where’s your brother?”
“He said he was going to the bathroom, then he would go to his room and play.”
I pause, confused. “He’s not in his room, and there is no light under the bathroom door.” The bathroom, in fact, is silent.
“He’s been in there for a while, now. Maybe he had to poop.” Never in the child’s life has his poo ever smelled minty fresh. He is afraid of the dark. Oh, this is bad.
I brace myself, knock on the bathroom door, and say his name. No answer. I knock again and ask if he’s in there, in as sweet and hopeful a voice I can use. He yells back, “I be done in minute!” (He is autistic and his speech patterns and development are a couple years behind on the learning curve. His words sound more like a 2-year-old’s, but I know what he is saying.)
“Hey, buddy, are you okay? The light is off in there!” Nothing – I try the door. It is locked. He is not allowed to lock the door. I begin counting down from 100 so I don’t go from zero to rage in a nanosecond. If he has locked the door, a horror I have never known awaits me on the other side. There is also the very real fear that he will hurt himself, albeit accidentally. We changed the lock last year so it’s easier to open from the outside, though. All I need is a penny. We keep it on top of the door frame. I grab it to unlock the door, letting him know I’m going to.
I hear the knob rattle before I can unlock it, and the door creeps open. The light is still off. I am forced to step back when a noxious cloud of artificial mint escapes into the hallway. I flick the light switch.
A smurf walks out of the bathroom into the hallway.
There is no other explanation.
Every inch of skin is sky blue and the only contrasts are his white-blond hair, gray eyes, and white shorts.
The mint is so overpowering that I continue stepping backward through the hall, away from him. It is burning my sinuses.
His arms are outstretched from his body at 45-degree angles, his eyes are saucer-wide, and he begins inching toward me.
The smurf is stalking me!
He starts promising, over and over, “I won’t do ‘gain. I won’t do ‘gain. I won’t do ‘gain.” His eyes plead with me to believe him and not be mad. The gruesome remains of two tubes of toothpaste and their offal litter the bathroom sink. Another smurf may have died a violent, torturous death within these walls.
The look on his face penetrates the menthol brain fog and I finally ask, “Buddy, what happened?” I am careful to keep the question neutral so he doesn’t have a meltdown and I have a chance to get an explanation.
He says, “I fot it was shavin’ cweam.” His eyes begin to water, two silvery full moons in his cornflower-hued face.
I connect the dots.
He received a toy shaving kit for his birthday or Christmas. The play shaving cream looks a lot like a stand-up toothpaste dispenser. He thought the toothpaste was his toy shaving cream. I have no explanation for why he might smear fake shaving cream over his entire body. Maybe he watched a documentary about a swimmer? I realized long ago that happiness does not await one who travels the road through his mental world and tries to understand it. His mind is not meant to be fully understood by mere humans. It is meant to be wondered at, observed, and enjoyed – a complex work of surrealism juxtaposed with modernist art, all displayed in a funhouse of mazes and mirrors.
It’ll make you crazy.
“Buddy,” I say. “You didn’t bring your kit with you here. It’s still at your mom’s.”
He cries. “It hurts.”
He has eczema. His skin is not tingly fresh. He is on fire.
I run a bath while he stares at his shorts, contemplating his dilemma. His hands are blue with caked toothpaste. He knows he shouldn’t touch his shorts. Crisis.
Meltdown is eminent. Whether it will be mine or his is a crap-shoot.
We get him into the bathwater. It’s the same struggle I had trying to wash toothpaste off my car after the wedding – when toothpaste gets wet, it foams and sticks. It is not easy to wash away.
Also, the water has turned into a toxic, opaque blue lagoon, and less than half of the toothpaste is gone. We drain and start again. Running the shower is not an option, as the boy child cannot handle water anywhere near his face.
It takes three baths to remove blue from crevices that – once we had potty trained – I didn’t think I would ever have to see again. His skin is no longer blue, but the peppermint oil and chemicals in the paste have left him with raised bumps and angry red marks where skin is irritated. I smear him with the hydrocortizone I have left and every ounce of Eucerine cream I can get out of a boat-sized tub. He is no longer a smurf.
He is a baby abominable snowman who hails from a peppermint farm in Oregon.
How am I going to explain this?
Executive decision: I am not.
He takes a nap while I have a meeting with myself and tell myself to get it together. Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream is served at this meeting. It is a lifeline.
His mother picks him up a few hours later and bends down to hug him. She scrunches up her nose and asks, “Why does he smell so minty?”
“I am incapable of telling that story, but we’re two tubes of toothpaste short, now, and he’ll probably smell that way for the next few days.”
It will take a week for the fragrance to dissipate. We write a note to his pre-school teacher. It is an improvement over the last explanation we had to give her. A month prior to this, he accidentally started a melee on the playground and had no clue.
In his defense, he had no idea he inspired a brawl.
Side-note: he has never smelled better than he did that week. (True story – boys going through puberty are stinky.)