A couple of weeks ago, I had one of those mornings.
You know the kind.
The kids and I were supposed to be out of the house by 7:34:35 AM to avoid being seriously late, and it was getting precariously close. I looked up at the digital clock on the stove just as it clicked over to 7:33.
I was putting another of my customary breakfast sandwiches that I eat on the way to work—a Special K frozen sausage, egg, and cheese on flatbread—into the microwave because my younger son had asked for the first one I’d made. Although I’d already made him a bowl of cereal, I’m a sucker for mommy guilt, especially being a full-time working mom.
“Are you sure you’ll eat it?” I’d asked him, hesitating before I unwrapped the crinkly paper that it comes in to pop it into the microwave.
“Yes,” my son answered. “I’m really hungry.”
“Okay, because I don’t want to waste it…” I’d explained. There are only 4 in a package and those little bastard sandwiches cost like 5 bucks a box.
“I want it, Mommy,” my son replied.
“You’re sure?” I said again.
“I want it, Mommy,” he repeated, and this time he gave his belly a rub for emphasis. “I’m really hungry.”
So I was putting the second one in so that I’d have something to eat on the way to work (I’d rather be late than hungry, and I’m a sucker for a routine—wouldn’t my day be totally off if I didn’t eat my breakfast sandwich? Damn OCD), and these were the things I still had to do, due to the aforementioned OCD that everyone (my husband) has told me for the last 18 years that I should get on pills for, but I refuse because I’ve heard that you can’t drink while taking them and dammit a life without booze is not a life I want to live:
· Fill up my coffee cup, add cream and sugar, unplug the pot, move it to the opposite counter (just to be SURE that it’s unplugged!), and check 23 times that it’s actually unplugged, even though it’s all the way across the room from where it started
· Throw the kids’ lunches in their backpacks, grab my own lunch, fill up my water bottle (at least 12 cubes of ice)
· Check about 4 times (each room) to make sure all lights and ceiling fans are off
· Check about 4 times that the little night light above the stove is off (I mean, you hear all the time about hood lights bursting into flames and burning down houses…or not)
· Get the kids out the door while balancing everything precariously in my arms as I lock the door and jiggle it 17 times to make sure it’s locked
· Set a mental reminder to have my husband do the annual tightening-of-the-doorknobs because the one on the front door is getting loose (but HOW?)
Perhaps I should re-think the pill thing. I’m sure they make a brand that allows for a few drinks every now and then.
In any case, there was simply no way I was going to be on time that morning.
I didn’t need a mirror; I could feel the frenzied look on my face, the one that always causes my older son—a very mature 7—to step up and help his mama. It’s the same look, coincidentally, that causes my younger son to ponder and try out new ways to fuck with me.
I popped my breakfast sandwich into the microwave, hit 1-1-5, and turned to see my younger son, still at the table, give me a smile as he spooned another bite of Lucky Charms into his mouth.
“Hurry up, son,” I said. “You’ve got exactly one minute and 15 seconds to finish that cereal and at least some of that sandwich, and then we’re out the door.”
He shot his breakfast sandwich a disdainful glance and I could feel my blood pressure rise.
I had forgotten something in my bedroom, so I rushed to get it, feeling my straw-like golden mane (it’s funny because I kind of look like a horse) flying behind me. I knew my hair was going to be a little frizzy that day because beads of sweat were forming on my forehead and at my temple and that perspiration never fails to moisten the wisps of hair that fall around my face, causing it all to go to shit.
As I entered my bedroom, I caught a look at myself in the mirror over my dresser and realized that the shirt that I was wearing—the brand new flowy one that I had gotten at Wal-Mart for only 7.97—was see-through.
“Goddammit,” I muttered to myself, throwing open a drawer to find a tank top that I could slip on under it. “It’s simply impossible to find quality shit at Wal-Mart for $7.97 anymore.”
I changed quickly, grabbed what I’d forgotten, and then walked into the kitchen, where my son was still giving the evil eye to his breakfast sandwich.
“Oh, no,” I said, “we’re not starting that. You begged for the breakfast sandwich. You had to have the breakfast sandwich. Mommy asked three times if you were sure that you wanted the breakfast sandwich. You’re eating that breakfast sandwich!” I heard my voice go shrill at the end, and I wondered if the more I said “breakfast sandwich,” the less of an effect that it had. Because my son wasn’t even lifting a finger to touch the breakfast sandwich. And it was pissing me off.
Speaking of breakfast sandwiches—
I smelled something burning.
I hurried to the microwave to check on the second breakfast sandwich, the one that I had popped in for myself. The microwave display showed that my sandwich still had 9 minutes and 3 seconds to cook.
9 minutes and 3 seconds…what the hell?
I hurriedly jabbed at buttons on the microwave to shut the thing off. “What did I push?” I asked myself. “What did I push?”
I could’ve sworn that I had only hit 1-1-5, but there were the crispy edges of my sausage staring up at me from the plate, telling me differently.
“I can save it,” I said with all the confidence of an Emergency Medical Tech performing CPR. “I can save this sandwich.” I pulled the paper towel—brown because it was burnt, too—off of the sandwich, watching as bits of it remained stuck to the bottom as I pulled. I reassured myself with a shrug. It had happened before; I could eat a little bit of paper towel. It almost had the same consistency of the flatbread, anyway.
“Sorry, Mommy,” I heard my younger son say, and I could tell from the way he said it, the way his voice rose and fell in the middle of the word “sorry,” that it was one of those preemptive sorries. I looked over my shoulder at the table, where I watched him give a nonchalant shrug as he rose from the table and walked out of the kitchen. “But I don’t want this breakfast sandwich.”
I wasn’t sure if the room actually turned red or if it was the angry blood that was pooling in my eyes as I glanced down at my poor burned breakfast sandwich that never would have even been an issue—a crispy issue that, on top of it all, was making me at least 1 minute and 15 seconds later for work—had my son not begged, pleaded, and insisted that he needed my first breakfast sandwich.
I took a deep breath. “Get back in here and eat a few bites of that breakfast sandwich,” I said. My voice was calm—so eerily calm, in fact, that my older son, who has had an extra 3 years to learn to recognize the signs pointing to his mom on the brink of crazy, stepped slowly around the corner and into the kitchen.
“Do you need anything, Mom?” he asked me sweetly.
“Just your younger brother’s head on a silver platter,” I replied, opening the utensil drawer and retrieving a butter knife. I held it out to him. “Can you do that for me?”
Okay, that last part with the butter knife and the head-on-the-silver-platter request didn’t actually happen. I made it up. Holy shit, you guys, I didn’t literally go crazy.
What I really did was smile at my older son, thank him for being so helpful, and then call out to his brother just as the clock clicked over to 7:36.
“Get in here, son, and eat a few bites of that breakfast sandwich,” I said again.
“NO!” my younger son yelled from the living room, where he had turned on an episode of Peppa Pig.
My older son sighed heavily and raised his eyebrows as he looked at me, shaking his head in a gesture that lamented kids these days.
“ONE,” I started. I had barely gotten the full number out of my mouth when I started the second one. "TWO!”
It came out in that guttural voice—the one of whose origins I’m not even sure, but it sounds like some otherworldly Hades shit bubbling out of my face and it clearly says I’m not fucking around. I'm not sure what would have happened had I gotten to three*, but I do know that with the tone I used, I even scared the shit out of myself, which is good because a flighty, "Come and eat your sandwich or I'll...okay, I'm not sure what I'll do but it'll be BAD!" probably wouldn't have been so effective.
Had my son not come running to the kitchen table and hurriedly taken a bite of the sandwich, I might have done it myself just to avoid my own sandwich wrath.
But my bluff worked. My boy sat and ate a bite.
“I normally wouldn’t be such a jerk about it, buddy,” I explained, softening. “But you insisted on that sandwich. I asked you three times if you were sure. And Mom’s in a hurry, and I’m not a short-order cook, and dammit, you’re eating at least some of that sandwich.”
My son nodded his head and took another small bite. I felt myself start to calm down until I looked up at the clock once again. 7:37.
I sighed and decided to call my boss and tell him I’d be a few minutes late. I picked up my phone but just as I began dialing, I heard my younger son let out a small yelp.
I turned in time to watch him spill the rest of the milk from his cereal bowl onto his pants.
And it wasn’t the kind of spill that could be swiped up with a damp paper towel.
Nope. This one would require a new pair of pants.
I set the phone down, trying to remain calm by reminding myself that one late day of work was no big deal in the grand scheme of things. I mean, I was just one small person in this world, living on this huge planet out in the middle of an infinite solar system surrounded by only-God-knows what else.
Then I started getting anxious about all of the mysteries of the universe and beyond, and I focused instead on finding a pair of uniform pants for my son in the basket of clean, unfolded laundry that had been sitting on the living room floor for the past three nights.
I think, if I’m recalling things clearly, that this was the point where I actually did lose it. Because as I sifted through the laundry basket, getting deeper and deeper, I came to the sinking realization that there were no other clean uniform pants. The ones he was currently wearing—the milk-stained pants— had been the last pair.
“DAMMIT!!!!” I yelled.
I swear I could feel my skin turn green and my leg muscles bulge out of my khaki capris, ripping them into a pair of shredded cutoff shorts as I morphed into the Hulk and began grabbing items of clothing one by one and throwing them into the playroom just off of the living room. When I’d gotten to the bottom and there were no clothes left to throw, I lifted the empty basket over my head and hurled it across the playroom, where it hit the wall with a tiny plastic thud and fell unsatisfyingly to the floor.
I didn’t cry. No, I didn’t cry, and as I looked at both of my boys, now standing next to one another, frozen with their mouths hanging open as they drank in the sight of their mother, I realized that it was because we all recognized something at the same time. We recognized—they from my look of wide-eyed hysteria, I from how it felt wearing the look of wide-eyed hysteria—that I was too busy teetering on the edge of insanity to cry. If I cried, I might just slip in.
And so, instead of crying, I sighed, looked at my boys, and delivered my defeated monologue on society.
“It’s not our fault, boys. It's not our fault. It’s society’s fault.”
I paused for a moment, letting the words sink in. I wanted them to gain as much as they could of the vast knowledge and wisdom I was planning to impart to them as I stood knee-deep in strewn-about clothes. “Society expects too much from people nowadays. We schedule every moment of our lives, packing in as much as we can from dawn to dusk, and still it’s never enough. And it starts at such a young age.”
I looked at my older son. “I mean, look at your brother—he’s only four years old, and he already knows how to write!” I said accusingly, extending an arm toward my four-year-old.
My older son and I turned to look at my younger son, standing pantsless in the middle of the living room, staring back at us with a look of confusion on his face. Was he supposed to be proud of himself for knowing how to write at such a young age, or should he go ahead and begin a lifelong journey of self-loathing that he would forever be able to trace back to this very moment—the moment when his mom pointed out that he could—GASP—write at the tender age of 4. THE NERVE!!
I stopped. “I’m sorry, pet,” I said to my younger son, walking to him so I could pat him on the head. “Good on your for knowing how to write. Good on you.” (I love British authors; I want to be one someday. Every once in a while I’ll slip into their dialect and act like I did it on accident.)
I was getting tired, and I hadn’t even begun my work day yet. Hell, I hadn’t even called my boss to let him know I was going to be late for my work day. I sighed again, once more turning to my boys in a final, desperate attempt to get them to understand.
“Look at me,” I said, emphasizing by pointing to myself. “I grew up in the days where moms got to sit at a card table in the kitchen with their sisters and watch soap operas, drink coffee, and smoke ciggies while playing pea knuckle all day. The only preschool I attended was Mother’s Morning Out one morning a week. I was basically illiterate until the 2nd grade—we all were back then—and look how well I turned out!”
The statement hung in the air for just a beat too long as we all took in my red, frazzled face, my wild hair and eyes…and the upturned laundry basket in the next room, surrounded by clothes all over the floor.
My older son moved a few steps toward me and patted me soothingly. “Sure you did, Mom,” he lied, reassuring me. “Sure you did.”
And then my younger son said this: “Mommy? I have to poop.”
Nine minutes later, I sat at the table chewing on my younger son’s breakfast sandwich while he took a shit in the bathroom and my older son watched a little bit of Wild Kratts. I texted my boss:
Going to miss the meeting this morning. Younger son is taking a dump; it’s been nine minutes and there’s no end in sight. Bright side? It’s Thursday, and there’s only one day left in the week for me to be late. See you in a bit.
When my son was finished pooping and I’d checked his butt to make sure he’d wiped well, we finally got loaded into the car, where he said this as soon as we took off:
“Mommy? Where’s my breakfast sandwich? You didn’t eat it, did you? I’m hungry.”
*I employ a lot of hyperbolic humor in my writing. Any consequence I give my kids is always even-keeled, healthy, and well thought out because I am a good mom who raises her boys in a house full of humor and love no matter what kind of frenzied morning we have. Basically: Suck it, internet trolls.