Friday, February 19, 2010

Taming the Hulk (Part 3) by Karen Cantwell

(continued from yesterday's post . . .)

While the girls padded around the house collecting blankets and pillows and changing out of leotards, I grabbed a few items of my own and snuck them into a large brown paper bag. A Ziplock baggie finished off my list of necessary items.

At the front door, loaded down with pillows and blankets, the girls waited. I could tell by the looks on their faces that they were concerned their mother might be one step away from Loony Bin Central.

I opened the Ziplock baggie and held it out. “First, turn over all cell phones.” Callie gave me her I’m-a-teenager-and-too-cool-for-this roll of the eyes, but slipped it in the baggie anyway.

“Thank you. Now, anything electronic that plays music, video games, adds, subtracts, multiplies, downloads an “app,” pretends to be a dog, cat or alien pet from a distant dying planet.”

The baggie filled to capacity as the girls pulled items from pockets I didn’t know existed. I zipped it up and laid it aside.

“Now for the adventure. Everyone out and follow me.” I didn’t even wait for the questions and quizzical looks. I picked up my mysterious brown paper bag and marched to the backyard. The air was dry and warm. Prime for what I had planned.

I loved my backyard. The thick green lawn stretched gracefully from the house until it met up with a line of trees that encircled the house on every side. It was a major selling point when we bought the house – a large yard for the kids to run and play, private for special family times and also wonderful for entertaining. Yet we rarely even saw it anymore. Howard, mowed it religiously every Saturday, treated it with fertilizer and weed killer, then forgot about it until the next weekend. It was kind of sad, really. So well cared for, yet oddly neglected.

The girls arrived slowly, very confused, but they arrived.

“Can you lay out the blanket, Callie?”

“This is our adventure? The backyard?”

“Please – I really think you’ll like this.”

Reluctantly she laid out the used-once-only quilted picnic blanket. I moved to the center, put down the bag and sat my rumpus down.

“Come on girls. Sit.” I patted the blanket.

Bethany and Amber sat first, hugging their pillows, joined by Callie who sat on hers and hugged her knees. Ever so slowly, I pulled my surprise out of the paper bag. The girls stared, wide-eyed. They were speechless.

“What’s that?” Amber asked, breaking the awed silence.

“I know what those are – those are cheese balls,” answered Bethany. “Ashley Masters gets them in her lunch every day.”

“Correct,” I said opening the large cellophane bag. “These are cheese balls. They’re made from over-processed corn-like products, artificial colors, artificial flavorings, and MSG. None of which is good for you and probably causes cancer in laboratory rats if you feed them enough. The beauty of the cheese ball is that it’s smaller than its cousin, the cheese curl, and therefore, pops effortlessly into the mouth, just so.” I munched on the crunchy prize, savoring its junk-food goodness.

“And you’re going to let us eat them?” Bethany asked cautiously.

“Go for it.”

All three girls smiled and grabbed for the bag. Within seconds, they looked like chipmunks, their cheeks bulging while they chewed. I pulled out a second bag and joined them in the munch-a-thon.

After a few minutes, I passed around cans of soda. “No junk food is complete without two thousand grams of sugar water to wash it down with.” I gulped with pleasure. “Isn’t this the life?”

“Where did you get this stuff?” Cheese powder spewed from Bethany’s mouth as she talked.

Sheepishly, I had to admit that I kept a stash of my favorite junk food hidden deep in my bedroom closet, partaking of the delicacies only after they were all asleep or at friends’ houses. I thought the girls would be mad, but they just laughed.

“Is this supper?” Callie asked after a long swig on her drink.

“Sure. Why not?”

She looked at me oddly, then smiled. “Cool.”

“And what do we do after this?” Bethany asked.

“That’s the best part. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

Amber beamed. “Boy, Bethany, I like your homework a whole lot. I can’t wait until I’m a fourth grader.”

Without caring about the clock, we lay on our blanket, heads on our pillows, watching the sun filter through green tree leaves, sparkling and dancing and it sank in the western sky. Yellows turned to golds, turned to blues turned to purples, and soon we were counting fire flies in the dark. We talked about our dreams, about fairies and leprechauns, whether trees can feel pain, what life would be like if we never grew up, and if it was really true that cats and dogs only see in black and white.

We held hands, rubbed backs and took turns braiding each other’s hair. I learned that Bethany had a crush on Max Higgins, Callie thought her Japanese teacher was “kind of cute” and very smart, and Amber thought boys were “icky.” The girls admitted they all hated ballet, but Bethany thought singing lessons would be fun. We told stupid knock, knock jokes and laughed so hard that soda came out our noses.

If the phone rang, we never heard it.

If the Department of Homeland Security raised the terrorist threat level, we didn’t know. We didn’t care.

Life was good. Life was perfect. Hulk was long gone.

And when Bethany turned in her homework assignment, she had only one answer to one survey question.

“My mom’s idea of the perfect day is eating cheese balls in our backyard until the sun goes down.”

The very next day I called our old, less famous pediatrician who gladly gave us a timely appointment. Then I called Elite Academy of Dance and told them we wouldn’t be returning for any ballet classes. The fact that they wouldn’t issue a refund didn’t even register on my Richter scale. I had a long and calm talk with my husband, who agreed to less work and more family time. And that oddly neglected backyard – we spend hours out there now.

In retrospect, I realized something important. The antidote to a Hulk attack wasn’t the cheese balls at all. It was what the cheese balls represented: love and fun.

Simple ingredients really.

After all, what is life if love isn’t fun?

Just ask the Hulk.

The End.


Rayna M. Iyer said...

I came here because Hart Johnson mentioned your blog on hers.
Didn't know what I would find, but the story that greeted me was wonderful.
Thank you for a story that any mother can and should relate to. I will be back for more.

Karen said...

Thank you so much for reading AND enjoying. That's why I put these stories here. :-) I hope you enjoy those to come.