Thursday, February 18, 2010

Taming the Hulk (Part 2) by Karen Cantwell

(continued from yesterday's post . . .)

I rubbed my head again and closed my eyes. My perfect day. Today was not a perfect day. It was a nightmarish day. Thinking back though, so many days were like today. Running from lesson to lesson and tutor to doctor to orthodontist. There was always something and it was always important. Ballet was important for coordination and motor control – their pediatrician told me so. And piano lessons were critical for the learning process – their teacher told me so. Or maybe it was the child psychiatrist on the Today Show. Who knew anymore? With so many “experts” out there, it was hard to keep track.

Then there was Amber. She was two points under the national average on her pre-reading skills test so the tutor was imperative or she could be left behind eating the dust of millions of gifted kindergartners out there tearing through Harry Potter.

And I had my organic cooking class, “Cook Healthy, Raise Healthy Kids.” Twice a week I barely made it to class on time to learn the value of feeding my children chemical-free foods rich in nutrients. I thought my new dishes were quite yummy, but the girls . . . they weren’t so enamored. Once, I caught Amber sneaking over to her friend Penny’s house for hot dogs and macaroni and cheese.

There were just so many things to know in this parenting game – so many things I had to do right, or it would all go wrong and they’d end up homeless, cancer-ridden drug addicts begging for pennies on the corner of Despair Street and Loser Lane.

“Mommy! Callie called me an itchy shoe!”

I opened my eyes to find Amber two inches from my face.

“Shichimenchoo you dope. Not itchy shoe.” Callie joined Bethany and me for a sit-down at the kitchen table. Her bent posture and grim face indicating her teenage displeasure with the world in general. A sophomore in high school, she loved confusing us all with foreign vocabulary words, courtesy her new favorite class, Japanese I.

“Translation please.” I rubbed my temples. Hulk wanted out.

“Turkey. I called her a turkey. She stole my new purse and put bugs in it.”

Amber’s saucer eyes signified her innocence. “Not bugs – butterflies. At least they’ll be butterflies one day. Probaally”

“Okay, quiet everybody. I need a minute to think. I’m helping Bethany with her homework. Then if we high-tail it, we can still catch thirty minutes of ballet.”

“I have homework too!” Amber crawled up in my lap and started poking my nose with her chubby little fingers.

“You are such a little freak show,” Callie sneered.

“I’m supposed to count something in nature, so I chosed to count the freckles on Mommy’s face. Now I need to start over. You broke my consummation.”

“Concentration, dip brain.”


My blood pressure was escalating second by second. I didn’t want Hulk to show himself, but I didn’t know if I could stop him. “Callie. Please, let her count.”
As Amber slowly and meticulously touched and counted brown spots on my face, I watched hers. Her clear, perfect skin, just beginning to be speckled by the dots she inherited from me. Her bright, blue eyes shimmered as if they radiated light of their own. Her pink, pouty lips were perfect by all accounts. I marveled at her sweet, warm breath on my face – still a child’s breath, untouched by the ravages of time. I realized that it had been weeks, maybe even months, God forbid years, since I’d really looked at my sweet baby. A wave of calm blew through me and for a moment, Hulk receded.

“ . . . fifty-three, fifty-four, fifty-five . . . Fifty-five! You have fifty-five freckles on your face.” Amber leaned back, smiling proudly at her accomplishment.

I pulled her in and kissed a soft cheek, then hugged her tight.

Callie sat across from me, her face propped up by her hand. No smile on her clear, lovely face, no sense of joy.

Bethany, a thing of beauty in her own right, was next to me was glowering under a dark cloud of annoyance. She wanted an answer to her survey question.

What had I done to my children? To me? To our family? In my frantic need to do everything “right” and make their lives perfect, we had all ceased to be happy. We were scurrying around like rats in a maze, living by someone else’s rules. And nothing was perfect.

I looked at my watch. If we jumped in the car that very minute and I ignored all posted speed limits, we could make it to ballet and still get twenty dollars worth of lesson. I could still proudly tell the doctor that the girls get exercise every week and announce to neighboring mothers that my girls have never missed a ballet lesson at the Elite Academy of Dance. Ever. Hulk would have to appear to make that happen, and the girls would go to bed miserable, having seen Mom at her worst. Again.

Or . . . in what can only be described as a flash of brilliance, I got a better idea.

“Girls,” I announced. “Change of plans.”

“What does that mean?” asked Amber.

“We’re scrapping ballet. Callie, be the sweetheart I know you can be and get the picnic blanket out of the upstairs closet.”

She raised an eyebrow. “We’re going on a picnic?”

“Of sorts.”

Bethany did not look pleased. “I need to get this homework done.”

“This is your homework. Trust me. You’ll love it. And everyone bring pillows. Lots of pillows.”

Amber wars liking this game. “Can I wear my pajamas?”

“Wear whatever you want. Meet me at the front door in five minutes.”

(to be continued. Conclusion will be posted tomorrow)

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