Sunday, August 17, 2014

Art and Love Therapy for Evil Little Boys

Since our return from NH two weeks ago, my three boys have been on the verge of fratricide. At summer camp, they were all in separate cabins and left to torment only those in their own age bracket. And their counselors, poor scarred 18-year-olds who still probably wake up at night in a cold sweat.

But now they have turned on each other like wolves, guided only by my new 14-year-old babysitter who was left with no recourse but to lock them in the basement and blast the "Frozen" soundtrack at them from the stereo. I fully sanctioned the activity. When they finally broke free my eldest son snatched an empty Vodka bottle from the recycling bin and chased young Mordred (as they call her) down the street brandishing it at her. I am sure the neighbors have an even finer view of us than they did before!

The evil reached its pinnacle yesterday afternoon, when 1) Eldest Son hauled Middle Son across the driveway, leaving him with horrible asphalt burns 2) Littlest Son scratched Middle Son so viciously that 3) Middle Son kicked Littlest Son clear across the room and cracked his head into the record cabinet housing the turntable.

The babysitter had long been let off duty, and I hastened downstairs to the screams. The accusations flew fast and fierce.

"He hurted me worser than I did him so he should be punished badder!"

"I did NUFFINK."

"I did nothing; however, I am sure I shall be blamed as I always am, because this is the course of things."

That last speaker, age 10, then flung the TV remote at my head and, as it bounced off my skull, I shouted "GO UPSTAIRS!"

"You always punish ME and not THEM!" he shouted. "Just because I hit you in the head with something you punish ME! Is this fair? Oh, you are such a good mother!"

He was right. They all went into a big fat time-out while I fumed about what I would do to PUNISH them. For wasn't punishment the only acceptable solution? I fretted that I was a bad mom. I didn't know the least thing to do right now. What would serve justice for their naughtiness?

Then it came to me. I would kill the little buggers with kindness. I gathered them in the living room and proposed several options to make reparations. They were:

1. You will each write a heartfelt letter to both brothers expressing that you love them and WHY. The letters must be of a reasonable length and written to the best of your abilities.

This got feedback:

"I dunno how to spell!"
"This is the worstest!"
"Oh shoot me now."

2. You will perform a skit representing the theme of "Brotherly Love." The skit must be of reasonable quality. It may not include battle scenes or death.

This also got feedback:

"But skits without conflict suck."
"Can we have just one battle scene? It could, like, lead up to a scene in which we all hug?"
"Will you be filming it? Cause if so, NO."

3. You will parade down our street singing a song that I will quickly compose called, "I Love My Brothers and My Brothers Love Me."


"I will nevah evah do that."
"Option Three sucks."
"Shoot me now."

Middle Son was openly weeping at this point, and Eldest Son was thrashing about in chair rubbing at his eyes. Littlest Son was staring glumly into space.

So, all options voted down, I told them that they had to collaborate to devise Option Four themselves. And they had to do it without arguing and come to a polite and genial agreement amongst the three of them as to what Option Four would be. This was, of course, the secret behind Option Four. The devising of the option was the activity in itself. Whatever they cooked up would simply be bonus material.

I left the room and returned in about five minutes. During that time, they had all mutually consented to make gifts for each other. The gifts would be made out of clay. They were very keen to get started. There was no talk of screen time. They were, in fact, excited about their plan.

I got out a bucket of air-dry clay and put on some music and they made these. They aren't done yet; they still need to be painted and presented. But they check them throughout the day to see if they are completely dry yet, and Middle Son keeps asking when he can give his presents to his brothers.

A magnificent dragon.

Handmade necklaces.

Strange stubby things?
After the experiment was over we met in a circle for a group hug, during which the boys, unprompted, said things like:

"I love you, my brother."
"My brothers is the best!"
"Hugs and love! Hugs and love!"

We concluded it all with a "Go Team!" cheer, after which I solemnly reminded them that any of the previous options could easily be invoked at any time.

The next day we heard a long, piercing scream from the bathroom. Middle Son had sprayed perfume directly into Littlest Son's eyes. He claimed he had been spraying it to "cleanse the room of bad smells" and that he had sprayed it far from Littlest Son's face. In fact, the victim had had his back turned to him!

Littlest Son cried out that his brother had "broken the bond of brotherly love."

A forensic reenactment of the crime revealed that the lie was preposterous, and the offender was sent to bed. The next day, I decided to bring down Option One (letter writing) as the penalty.

The gist of the letter read, in sum:

"I did absolutely nothing wrong and have no guilt whatsoever because I am innocent and did nothing wrong and am innocent. Will you forgive me? Love, your brother."

I shall start work on my original Brotherly Love song shortly, which will be filled with uniquely embarrassing references such as:

Brothers never argue, brothers always share.
Brothers even give up their last pair of underwear.
My brothers are my blood, to them I'm always true.
If they ever called upon me, I'd even wipe their poo.

Public performances forthcoming.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Manny Diaries, Chapter 13: I Found My Two Gallons of Mezcal

"Miss Jennifer! Miss Jennifer! I'm going to buy ten chickens tomorrow!"

Such were some of the first words that Manny spoke when he finally reached me by phone from his new home in Oaxaca, Mexico. And boy, did he ever sound drunk. Happy drunk, mind you. Ebullient drunk. Almost giddy with drink.

"Ten chickens! Like, 20 cents a piece. Hey! Do you know you can get two GALLONS of Mezcal here for only $16. Two gallons! Not that I'm drinking anything because, man, I'm about a mile high up in mountains and it's beautiful and I don't need to drink or do anything bad at all. Nyet! Nyet!"

Will he name one of his new chickens "Bun-Bun"?
Was that Russian he was speaking? Yes, he revealed to me that he can speak about 10 different languages fluently. Never once while he was staying with us had I heard him speak one word that wasn't English or mangled English.

"Any Eastern European language there is, I can speak it. I don't like to tell people because they will get an impression of me," he said. "Like a wrong impression or a weird impression, you know?"

It seemed odd that a man who forgot how to pronounce words like "guacamole" and called a "beet" a "parsnip" and a pork loin "that other meat--the meat, you know the one, that's not chicken and not beef, dammit, what's that called?" would have such a facility with languages. But I didn't argue.

"Nyet!" he said again, and then: "Dammit! There I go again. It's so confusing, all these languages going around in my brain."

"How about Spanish? You learning Spanish?"

"Yeah yeah! Uno, dos, tres, nachos!" I laughed. "What, what?" he said.

Mexico was treating him rather well. He loved it there, after only two or three days. He could see the President of Mexico's house from where he stood! The food was fresh and good and unbelievably cheap. He repeatedly remarked on the cheap price of the Mezcal and then quickly added "not that I'm drinking it" after every reference. He mused about the two gallons of Mezcal that were about to be delivered to his casa, and sniggered gleefully over the cheap price. "For cooking. And maybe a sip with lunch. Just a splash," he coughed.

He insisted that we all come down for a visit and live like kings. Heck, we should all just move down there permanently, because it was heaven on Earth. "Those boys can run wild in the agave fields!" he said. "It's the safest thing! A mile of space! They would be perfectly safe to just run wild. Except there are these burros...these really big burros. What are they called? Burritos...OXEN. I mean, bulls! You don't pet those guys. They could gore you."

That is one big Burrito!
The trip down had gone perfectly. His large bag weighed two pounds over the weight limit, but the woman in the baggage area had winked and waved him onward. The Federales treated him kindly and laughed at his jokes, despite the fact that he'd been gurgling free double Absoluts on the plane (apparently Aeromexico hands these out for free, plus hot breakfast. What an airline!) "I would not be escaping from anything, of course. Who the hell wants to escape TO Mexico?" the Manny snorted at customs, as they all laughed and waved him through.

His new landlords met him at the airport and took him out for dinner: A huge meal with tequila shots that amounted to about 8 dollars total for three people. After this he became really chatty and mentioned that in Vietnam, he had killed 163 people. Apparently, they keep a tally. It's considered a sort of honor, a point of pride. I think it has haunted Manny his entire life.

"That's a lot of dead people," he said, almost soberly. His landlady had hushed him and said, "Let's not talk about that, okay? Not out in public and not to other people, at least?"

"I almost screwed my pooch there, Miss Jennifer!" he said. "163 people. That's a lot." There was a long moment of silence and then he was off and running again:

"Do you know how salty the salt is here? And how sugary the sugar? I took a big lick of a salt pile and it was so salty I almost threw up. They have mountains of salt! Your dad, I mean your husband, would hate all that salt. The sugar is just so sugary. And the sun? I'm brown like a beautiful Mexican girl! I've found my smile. I have finally found my smile. There is nothing better than this. Do you know how much free booze there is, Miss Jennifer? I mean, I'm so happy, I'm not needing to drink at all. Just a little with breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you know?"

From left to right: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner.
He called back about 10 times in the next two days. He sounded a little lonelier; he asked to speak with the boys and they all shouted things like "We miss you!" as we poked them and pointed at the phone. He'd received his chickens and was prepping to name them. They each produced about one egg per day. He thought he might name three of them after the "little guy, the middle one, and the big one," our sons.

"You really ought to come down here. I'll pay for your trip! I'm working on a new business plan. Pretty soon I'll be making 10K a month. Hey, did you know that you can get a meal down here with eggs, beans, chorizo—all you can eat—plus three shots of Mezcal, all for three bucks?"

The last time he called was June 21. I recall that when he had been gone a few days we took note of a strange sort of melancholy, almost as if we had been at a funeral. "I feel as if someone has died," I said, in the parking lot of Trader Joe's. And then there was the thought: He has gone there to die. We will never see him again.

We will never see him again.

Never again will I be worried that, upon stepping out of the shower robed and towel-turbaned, that Manny will sight me and recoil and stammer his way into a doorframe. Never again will I see the plate of fresh-cut fruit that he has laid out for the boys at 6 am, making sure there is an ample supply of red apples (the only ones youngest son likes!) in proportion to green apples, along with cuts of watermelon and pineapple. Never will I see the chaotic mess he has made of the kitchen after a stir-fry extravanganza, with drippings down the edge of the stove. We won't hear him moan and cry out: "The pain! The pain!" as he plods up the attic stairs to his dark aerie.

I hast barfed profuse filthy dishware whilst I wast cooking.
Here is what I wonder on this rainy, desolate, wind-cooled night: As he steps out beyond his meager possessions (wok, pot, coffee carafe, lemon squeezer, spoon) and looks past the casa to see the burros plodding along, carrying firewood against the sunset, is he perhaps, strangely, the happiest of beings? Does he know even one sure thing that we do not, if even for the briefest of moments? He has claimed his smile. He knows better, perhaps, than to expect its certainty each dawn.

We dream a fiction. We can never really know the truths that fools and madmen hold in their dark, stung, longing hearts.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Manny Diaries, Chapter Twelve: Chippy and the Back Scratcher

He made it. The Manny made it to Mexico. He's really there, and he is really not here. I think I'm suffering from a fair amount of disbelief.

There's a residual effect in the air, like he left some ghostly effluvium here, such that I can almost hear him groaning "The pain! The pain!" as he treaded up the stairs at night. I still realize with a start, at 5:15 pm, that no one is cooking my boys a gourmet dinner, and now I have to toss some frozen lump of a thing in the oven to get them fed. I look out the window and expect to see him shuffling through the garden in his slippers, inspecting the pea shoots and looking for Bun-Bun, his special tame friend, who must have lost his (or her?) parents to a hawklike personage because the thing is FEARLESS.

This is Bun-Bun.
I once remarked that we shouldn't be so quiet and gentle around Bun-Bun because we were teaching him additional fearlessness that his parents had failed to teach him and he was gonna get snacked upon. I worry about the little fellow daily, as does, no doubt, the Manny.

Before he left, we suggested that he would be lonely without his special animal friends, Bun-Bun and Fatty the Groundhog, who lives under our shed. So we jokingly plucked a "lovey" out of the Vast Bin of Neglected Stuffed Animals and gave him Chippy the Chipmunk, who is a hand puppet,

He really took to Chippy. He walked around with him a bit, talking to him and working the hand puppet so that Chippy would "respond." I said it made him seem less crazy because at least he was talking to SOMETHING as opposed to just babbling to himself. In fact, he took Chippy with him to Mexico. But, he left the back scratcher (pictured below) behind. Do you know how I found out? When we were cleaning his room, after his departure, my husband gently scratched me on the back with it as I was bent over stuffing things into a garbage sack. glgflflh!!

Chippy and the Back Scratcher. Use your imagination to picture the scene with the Manny in it. 
The cleansing went on for quite a while. It took all morning to take down his blackout curtains and let the sun shine into the attic room, sweep the desk of detritus, and gather up a sackful of greasy and sticky coins. There was some half-gnawed peanut brittle. There were some half-empty Coke bottles, and a bottle of ear wax remedy. There was not, however, an empty liquor bottle of any kind. We figured he's gotten pretty savvy and spirited them out in the dead of night, or maybe poured the stuff into Coke bottles in the parking lot of the CVS and then tossed the evidence.

The things we leave behind.
Because there was no doubt—no doubt whatsoever—that he had started drinking with a feverish intensity right before he left for Mexico. On Friday morning, two days before his departure, he showed up in the kitchen at approximately 8:30 am as crocked as a monkey. He was mumbling and slurring and blathering about how dreadful his life was and how fearsome things had become.

"Someone's gonna screw my pooch!" he said dolefully. "Everything that could have gone wrong for me has gone wrong. All of it!"

I said: "Are you drunk?"

He staggered backwards into a doorframe as if I'd punched him in the gut, his eyes bugging out.

"Drunk? DRUNK? howonearthcouldibedrunk? Huh? Heh?"

"Well, even a child can see that you're drunk."

"No no no no no I'm not drunk! I don't drink! Why would I be drunk? My life is so bad...the pain, the pain." And he massaged his aching hip. He stumbled around, mumbling madly and bumping into things.

My husband had words with him. Well, they weren't just "words." They were bad words, spoken at a high volume. By the time we came back from a school concert event, he had gone into the city to conduct one last errand. Husband sent him a note apologizing for raising his voice, but Manny simply must not drink and lying about it just made it worse. He wrote back:

Not drinking  I'll have    a hotel Saturday  need to go don't trust you
What about thee quorts in your space you have your own problems 

"Thee quorts" referred to something he'd seen in our own liquor cabinet—intriguing, given that he had no possible reason to look inside that cabinet.  But then again, we'd been noticing a few things vanish from that cabinet now and again.

Here was a dreadful dilemma. How was he to get to the airport? How would we ensure that he was going to get on that plane and fly to a different country? And would he return in time to pack Chippy, his wok, the back scratcher (evidently not, in this case. glrk!), his French press, his lemon squeezer, and a handful of underwear?

Fortunately, he did. And he came back wearing this jaunty chapeau, which I think he imagined as a Mexican sombrero-like accessory but, on him, looked a little small atop his big ol' head.

Heisenberg Dos, in straw.

This isn't the last chapter, of course. You've probably figured that out by now. There is more. Indeed, there is more.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Manny Diaries, Chapter Eleven: Mexico is for Lovers

On Sunday (6/15/14), if all goes according to plan, the Manny will be winging his way toward his new home in sunny Mexico. The odds that he actually makes it onto the plane grow increasingly slimmer, in direct proportion to his nervous nattering and hand-wringing, and the reality that he's drinking again. Yeah. His fears include:

  • Being detained at the airport and made to pay exorbitant taxes on the few beat-up possessions that he's taking with him.
  • Finding out that his landlords will put him in enforced servitude upon arrival, and that the Craigslist listing was an elaborate ruse to get a slave.
  • Discovering that whatever suitcase he brings is exactly 1 inch too large to qualify for the one free bag (because of the wheels!) and being forced to pay more money to transport it.
  • He will get waylaid by banditos at the local Wal-Mart
  • He will accidentally drink the local water and get Monty's Revenge
  • Since he can't speak Spanish, the cheap translation app he bought will say "pussy" instead of "gracias." When we typed in "thank you." Which it does. For real.
  • And much more!

In the interest of a smooth removal, I took him to the local Goodwill to find a cheap suitcase of exactly the right dimensions. We found one right away! Here it is:

Manny accosted a fellow who was sorting girls' clothing on the racks.

"Do you work here? Or are you just some creepy guy who likes touching little girls' clothing?" he asked the man, then guffawed. "Anyway, do you have a tape measure?"

Manny opened the bag and reached into an inner pocket, immediately yanking his hand out and flinging a pair of dirty women's undies violently away from him. They landed on the end of the clothes rack and dangled there. Virginia is for Lovers, indeed.

"OH MY GOD I HAVE CRABS NOW!" he said, scratching his arm violently. "Look, do I have a rash starting?"

"Crabs don't jump that fast," I suggested.

"They jump FAST!" he said. "Like lightning! They hop. They leap."

He bought the suitcase anyway, but the whole way home he scratched at his arm and inspected it for crabs and fresh bites. He got home and obsessively washed his hands and then started on the dinner prep. Except earlier that day, my husband had hidden the salt, after an overly salty meal that had rather bloated and sickened us. (The cooking was starting to lose its shine, after we realized that the scale was telling a tale of buttery, greasy, salty, sausagey overindulgence).

So he went seeking the salt, becoming almost crazed in his hunt.

"Where's the SALT? I can't find the SALT. Could someone have HIDDEN the salt?"

"Maybe," I said cryptically. "Maybe someone did hide the salt. I believe that may have happened, yes."

"Who hides salt?!! That's a creepy, crazy thing to do. WHO hides salt? I mean...I just can't even understand why ANYONE would ever hide salt. That's troubling."

He scratched at his head and worried about the crabs again, a little bit. Then he went searching for the salt again, muttering and cursing.

Next, he decided that he wanted to have a tag sale and get rid of all his worldly possessions, but for a few treasures that he would take with him to Mexico. So he made some truly extraordinary craptastic signs and tacked them up around the neighborhood, and he sat on our lawn, sweating in the heat, surrounded by a panoply of strange goods, including the Aunt Jemima bookends from Part Ten.

This print, by the artist Niagara, greeted shoppers as they arrived at the sale.

Here are some things he said to people who dropped by:

Woman: Is this something to rest your spoon in while you're cooking?
Manny: You can use it to cook up your heroin, actually.

Man: I'll offer you $20 for that.
Manny: Don't screw my pooch! I'm not an idiot. Didn't the ad say "no crackpots"?

Husband's Frenemy who lives down the block (returning item that he bought for $10): I got home and the wife said "no." So I'm bringing it back. Can I have my $10 back?
Manny: Who the fuck DOES that?

He sorta had me in agreement at that last one.

Anyway, he managed to unload a variety of things and made some decent cash.

As his possessions disappeared one by one, I began to wonder about the mental state of a man in his 60s who is suddenly unburdened. Lightened. Free to travel to Mexico, and perhaps to never return. One of the few things he hadn't chosen to sell was the urn containing his beloved bulldog's ashes. That would go into storage, along with the bulk of his art collection. The cast iron pots, the spoons, the coffee grinder, the French press—all of it sold, gone.

And I did think of all our relentless, endless belongings in the attic, those things that we call home. What we cling to and what remains. Ashes and memory. And how my friend texted me today and said "Is Sunday a special celebration combining Father's Day and 'Get the Fuck Out of My House Day?'"
Yes, all of that.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Waters of the Afterlife Are Filled with Man-Killing Fish

I recently had a conversation with Littlest Son, now age 6. Somehow we got on to speaking of the meaning of life, and where he might have been before he graced us with his presence on the planet.

Mom: Where were you before you got here?

Son: In the Before Place. It's just grass. Grass and lots of darkness, and people talking in the darkness.

Mom: Babies about to be born—they're the ones who are talking?

Son: No, there are no ages in the Before Place. Well, actually, everyone is five years old.

Mom: What about life after you die—do you think there is an afterlife? What's it like there?

Son: How would I know?! I am not dead yet!

Mom: But what do you think it might be like there?

Son: Oh, it is all trees and grass and flowers! Everything is very beautiful. And peaceful. Half of the world is grass and trees, and the other half of the world is water. The water is blue. It's all beautiful!

Mom: And?

Son: And the part of the world that is water is totally filled with sharks.

Mom: Sharks?

Son: Oh yeah, sharks.

Mom: So, in the afterlife, you can't even swim because the water is completely shark-infested?

Son: Yes, but this is only including those sharks who have died. Not all sharks.

Mom: So, a reduced number of sharks?

Son: Yes.

Mom: What about the bunnies? Aren't there any bunnies in the afterlife? Butterflies? Nice things like that?

Son: Nope, only sharks!

In the category of "Where on Earth did we come from?" you might also like The Oeuf Room.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Manny Diaries, Part Ten: Tequila Farming!

I never thought I'd say this, but lately I have been finding Manny something resembling...invaluable. Every single day, he comes downstairs quite early, before we are even awake, and cuts up a plateful of fresh fruit for the boys. Then he waits, ready to spring into action and fry up bacon and make gourmet omelettes filled with things like fresh asparagus and feta cheese and some delicious sausage that he sourced out at the Italian deli.

By the way, he washes his hands religiously and insists on separate serving utensils for each dish. If a kid reaches out a hand toward a serving dish, he flinches and groans.

It's filled with Manny-ness!
Later, he has dinner ready on the table by 6:00 p.m. Skirt steak tacos, fresh salmon with dill and lemon, garlic mashed potatoes, roasted beets in some sort of astoundingly good salad with delicious unknown ingredients and pepperoncini poking out of the top.

One day, he made the boys a pork roast. It was absolutely fine and tasty, but one of the boys decided it wasn’t for him.

Middle son said, “I don’t really like this.”

Manny, distraught, said, “You don’t? You really don’t? Why? What’s wrong with it?”

“I dunno,” middle son shrugged. “It’s kinda flavorless and chewy.”

Manny wandered off in a tither, all the way into town. I got repeated text messages such as:

Should I try more spice??
Think they would like quiche???
Stir fry

I had the boys make a list of foods they wanted to try and the very next day, he set out to start cooking the items on that list, one by one. That night we had BLTs, except he used fancy prosciutto. They were awesome.

Let’s face it…aren’t you starting to wish that you had a Manny right about now? If you want one, you have to accept the whole package.

He hums while he cooks, and mutters to himself. He talks and doesn’t listen. He makes crass and unfunny jokes—and an occasionally exceedingly funny one. And he brought in these somewhat…unusual bookends to prop up his cookbooks.

We throw a cloth over these when people come to visit. Not that they are not, well, somewhat of conversation starters.
He mixes up his words all the time.

“I put the leftovers in the other refrigerator,” he says, gesturing at the oven.

“How about I make some guacacado?” he asks another time. “Oh! I mean, something with those eggstables. Eggpants! Eggplant hummos.”

“You mean baba ganoush, right?”

“Yeah, that!”

(The baba ganoush was excellent.)

But he is kind. He got in the habit of pushing the boys on the new tree swing that our neighbor built, and pushing them much higher than I ever could, such that they would call out for him to “give me another push” and he would comply, despite sore shoulders and aching back.

So when he said he was going to move to Oaxaca, Mexico, at the end of June and live on a tequila farm, I had some mixed feelings.

I can't wait to drink this!
One, hurrah! Two, the Manny Diaries may have to come to an end. Crap. And three, what kind of bonehead would choose to live on a tequila farm when he oughta know the one poison he should never, ever have is booze?

In fact, he got so excited about his new life as a tequila farmer that, on Sunday, when he was purportedly out buying some food for dinner, he must have wandered into a local drinking establishment. He came bumbling in at 6 pm with no food and with a bottle of tequila, made in his future hometown! He presented it to us as a gift. He stank of booze and slurred and denied having a drink, so we sent him to his room.

We can’t really kick him out now, with so little time between now and his departure. He has rented a place in Mexico and even paid for plane tickets. He says he’ll stay sober until he leaves, even during his four-hour layover on the way to his new home. If he makes that connection it will be a miracle.

I can imagine getting a tearful, drunken phone call from the Oaxaca jailhouse (do they even allow phone calls?) saying that we gotta bail him out because he insulted some Mexican dude and then got into a pistol duel over the man’s underage daughter. I can just kinda imagine that.  But I think that truth will be even stranger than my imagination can conjure at this moment. 

Don't you? WHAT do you think our Manny will do next?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Spying on My Son at Recess

Today I went on a little run to blow off some steam, in the middle of the day. And my normal route took me past the elementary school playground where Eldest Son and Middle Son attend school. But lo, I'd arrived at an odd hour, for all the kids were outside for recess! I normally ran past this area much earlier in the day, but work had intervened.

I slowed to a walk, looking for the distinctive green shirt my son was wearing. Here was a rare opportunity to observe him in his native habitat. I might get a glimpse of something interesting. For, as he has told me, fifth-grade boys like other fifth-grade girls and vice versa. And there is lots of intrigue!

I am NOT a helicopter mom. This was a total accident!
I prowled along the fence line for a bit. I wondered if any of the teachers policing recess would think I was a creepy stalker-type, although stalker moms in jogging outfits are probably rare, so I decided that putting my hand to my forehead to shield the sun and actively looking for my son would make me appear to be more of a "concerned mom" who was just checking in on his well-being. I even affected that "concerned mom face" as if I might be a mom who had received a message just then about a child vomiting during recess and had been called to pick him up immediately.

I couldn't spot the little devil so I patrolled the playground border one more time. Then I spotted him! He was in a group of about four or five kids, smiling and talking and looking like he was holding court. Yes, this was good. I recognized one of the boys next to him. A possible ally, possible enemy. One never knew with this character. I'd have to keep a close eye on the fellow. Eldest Son looked pretty confident. He almost swaggered a bit, despite some run-ins with a chunkier bully that had caused a bit of trouble during the fifth-grade year. His long, blond, girl-magnet hair was gleaming in the sun. "Yes. Yes! Yes to never paying a barber's fees ever again!" I thought.

And! One of the girls standing next to him was the girl that he has told me he likes. She was hanging on his every word. He'd picked well. She was definitely the cutest girl in his class, in my estimation. Her back was turned to me, and I could see Eldest Son slouching and acting all cool and digging his hands in his pockets and scuffing at the gravel with the toe of his sneaker. Maybe this meant...she liked him too?? I'd pulled my headphones out of my ears in case I could hear a bit of the conversation, but the burble and cacophony on the playground blurred everything.

Then I saw one of the other girls in the group poke at Eldest Son and gesture towards me, and I read her lips: "Isn't that your MOM?" I tried to duck down but too late. Eldest Son gave me "the look" that said: "Oh good grief, what are you doing??!!" Before he could react further I shot off like a rabbit down the street, as if I'd not been on a little jog but actually a crazy, ass-burning sprint. Yeah, I'm trying to beat a personal record! I waved to him idly as I shot off down the street.

When I asked him on the walk home from school what they'd all been talking about, he simply said: "Oh god, Mom, what were you doing, anyway?"

"I was interested in seeing my son, as any mother would be! I care for your welfare and like to see how you are doing and all that! And I totally happened to be passing the school. So, um, does this mean that she likes you?"

He moved rapidly away from me, shaking his head, his backpack bouncing on his thin shoulders. "Whoo boy, mom, you really...I dunno. Mom! You are crazy," he said.