Living in West Central Florida, there are certain things my children have never experienced. The most obvious and disappointing to them is the absence of snow. We had planned a winter trip up to visit the cousins two years ago in December–that year that the big blizzard came in and closed everything. We joke that the kids were praying so hard for snow during their visit that they brought on the blizzard that cancelled their visit. That is the one story about prayer that the kids hate hearing us tell.
But they love hearing about snow. They are fascinated by it. When they go to the beach, they make “sand angels.” When we go to Disney, they ask if the soap bubbles spewed around the park at holiday time are really snow. They look at pictures of snowflakes on the internet. They are somewhat obsessed with the whole concept.
The fact that I understand this is the ONLY thing that kept me sane at the end of the summer. It saved them from a fate worse than boarding school. It actually made the whole thing kind of funny.
I woke up one morning in early August at around 8 because my cleaning service arrives between 8 and 8:30 and it’s rather embarrassing to be caught sleeping when other people are beginning their work day. Actually it’s rather embarrassing to me to admit that, as a stay-at-home mom, I have a cleaning service. It makes me feel like an utter sloth. But they get done, in two hours, what it takes me three days to do. So there it is.
At that point the kids were still in bed so I just closed their door and made myself scarce so the women who help me take care of my house could do their job unimpeded. They were taking care of my floors and bathrooms, and wouldn’t take long. I went into my home office and tried to wade through some of the mountains of papers that had piled up in there over the summer.
The cleaning service came, and left, and still the kids were still asleep. This was odd, as they usually wake up to the sound of a vacuum, and since we were getting ready to go on our final summer vacation to Disney that day, I expected they’d be bouncing off the walls. In retrospect, this is the first thing that should have tipped me off that something was . . . different. As it stood, I had so much to do and so little time to do it that I didn’t really think about it. I am notorious for procrastinating on packing, so even though we were supposed to leave at noon that day when my husband got out of work early, I hadn’t even opened a suitcase. I was in a bit of a tizzy.
Instead of waking the kids I started packing my own suitcase, then my husband’s. I had all our clothes and toiletries done and the kids were STILL asleep. At 10:30. Finally, I just had to go into their rooms and wake them up because I needed them to get their clothes together. I have had far too many experiences lately where I have packed “the wrong things” for them (yes, their words. So sorry, Critter, that I didn’t realize you wanted to only wear the green woolen skirt for the entire trip to a theme park in August. Silly me!), so now I just make them pick out their own outfits. And when they complain of being too hot or too cold I tell them it’s entirely their own fault!
Even though it was 11 am they groaned and moaned like I was getting them up for school. But after I said DISNEY for the sixth time they finally pulled themselves together and started packing. I went into their bathroom to get their toiletries together and noticed this white paste like stuff on things that the cleaning ladies had piled in one corner of the bathroom as they cleaned that morning. It still amazes me to what extent my cleaning ladies, and my own inattentiveness to my household, helped save my childrens’ necks that day. Because I don’t know what I would have found if I had gone into that bathroom BEFORE my cleaning service got to it. I shudder to think.
None of the kids toiletries were in the white-paste-box, so even though part of my brain was nagging, “How did THAT happen?” I shook it off, made a note to clean all that up when I got home from vacation and just threw their stuff into a baggie.
At that point, my husband arrived home and we started getting REALLY excited about our trip. The kids were bouncing around, I was laughing, my husband was excited, and all we needed to do was pack a few last things before we could leave. Also, we decided we should eat a little something.
As my husband sat eating a sandwich he looked at me and said, “How did that bottle break last night?”
“What bottle?” I asked.
“The bottle in the garbage can.”
“What bottle in the garbage can?”
“Have you not looked in the garbage can today?”
“Do I usually paw through our garbage in the morning? Why would I be looking in the garbage can?”
“I don’t know. I just looked in there when I threw out my coffee grinds this morning and I saw a broken bottle in there covered with some kind of white paste.”
I suddenly noticed a significant absence of bouncing children. They were GONE.
The cleaning ladies had taken out the garbage, so instead of looking I just asked, “What, EXACTLY, did you see in the garbage can this morning?”
“This little glass bottle, like of lotion or spray or something, but it was broken, like the top had cracked off. It was glass, so I was concerned, so I took out the pieces but it hadn’t shattered or anything. They were all there. So I figured I’d look into it more when I got home. I think I remember seeing it in the kids’ bathroom closet, so I just assumed it broke last night after I went to bed and that you had thrown it away.”
“Yeah. No. It wasn’t me.” I thought about the closet and remembered I had one glass bottle of lotion that I kept in the kids bathroom, out of their reach, high on a top shelf. I went to look in their bathroom. The house was silent. But I know for a fact that ominous music was playing in everyone’s head at that point.
I opened the closet. The cleaning ladies hadn’t cleaned the closet. And that, my friends, is how the kids got BUSTED.
Everything. was caked. with powder. The floor. The shelves. Everything. Basins had been stuffed onto shelves, coated in that white paste I’d noticed earlier in the day. Crusted, dried, powdery towels were stuffed on top of clean towels. Two containers of baby powder were empty. The bottle I was thinking of had broken, I assumed, as the girls were taking down the powder. The question was, WHY?
“GIRLS!!!!!! GET IN HERE!!!!!!!”
Two very meek children walked into the bathroom. It seemed they had actually gotten smaller.
I looked each on in the eye. “Explain. Fully.”
My girls knew better than to even TRY to lie to me. They knew, from previous lectures, that while they would get in trouble for doing something wrong, they would get in ten times more trouble if they lied about it. The big one, Boo, cracked first. She always does.
“It wasn’t my idea! It really wasn’t! I was just in here peeing and Critter came in to spend time with me!”
Critter started to cry.
For some reason, the situation was so absurd I found it hard not to laugh. I kept it under control, though. “Peeing does not cover my bathroom in white paste. Unless there’s something physically wrong with you I don’t know about. Keep talking.”
“Critter wanted to make a Winter Wonderland.”
I just stared at them. It was getting much harder not to laugh.
“WITH POOWWWWDDDERRRRRR!!!” Critter cried.
I lost it. I just started to guffaw. I had to sit down. Tears were streaming down my cheeks. The kids looked at me as if I’d grown three additional heads. My husband came into the bathroom. “What is going on?” he asked.
The kids decided to ignore my laughter and just play it straight with their dad. Boo did the talking. “Christa wanted to make a Winter Wonderland last night out of powder, and needed my help getting the powder down. So I climbed on the step-stool and got it for her, and she sprayed it all over the bathroom. The bottle broke when I was getting it down and it fell in the powder and the lotion seeped out. I picked it up and threw it away and no one got hurt. I swear, daddy, no one got hurt. But then I came back in the room and there was powder everywhere and I thought it looked fun, and I knew I was going to have to help clean it up anyway, so I got the other container of powder and did it too. And then we tried to clean it up. We really did. We filled two basins with water and got towels and started trying to clean it all up but it wouldn’t come up and just made this PASTE. EVERYWHERE.”
At this point I’d pulled myself together a bit. “When, exactly, did you do this?” I asked. “I was up last night until midnight!!”
“I had a bad dream!” Christa cried. “I woke up. And I woke Beth up. So she had to pee. So I came into the bathroom and saw the closet open and saw the powder and I thought a Winter Wonderland would make me feel better!” She paused for a moment. “And you know, it did make me feel better.” She gave me a teary smile.
“Until we had to clean it up!” Beth yelled. “And it wouldn’t. get. clean! And it was late. And I was tired. And we tried, mom. We tried really hard! But it got all pasty and messy and so we just threw everything in the closet so you wouldn’t get angry. Please don’t get angry, mom. Please?”
I was really mostly kind of furious, but in one of those “Wow I’m so angry that if I don’t laugh I’ll scream,” so I was still giggling on and off. Everyone at that point was looking at me like I was crazy. “Don’t let the laughter fool you, kids,” I said. “I’m angry. I’m actually really, really angry. But I can’t scream at you loud enough to express how furious I am. So I’m laughing as a way to release my absolute fury. But if I were you I would go to your rooms. Separately. While your father and I discuss what we are going to do about this.”
It was one of those parenting moments where we were just dumfounded. Husband and I couldn’t even play good cop/bad cop. We didn’t know where we stood on anything. It was like:
Me: What were they THINKING? But, they’d tried to clean it up.
Husband: But they TRIED TO HIDE IT! But they were just so tired they were going to get to it later.
Me: BUT THEY DIDN’T.
Husband: Well, we’ll be making them clean it themselves when we get home.
Me: Are we still even GOING to Disney?
Husband: Well, I want to go to Disney. And you want to go to Disney. And we’ll lose our deposit if we don’t go.
Me: But they don’t deserve to go to Disney.
Husband: But WE do!
Me: Yes. Yes we do. Can we leave them home?
Husband: Not old enough yet. But someday!
Me: So we’re going.
Me: And how exactly are we going to punish them, then?
Husband: Let’s punish them in a way that makes OUR lives easier. Let’s take them to school at 7 am and leave them in extended day til 6pm.
They must have heard that one, because there was an audible cry from the rooms in the back of the house.
Me: Well, if I did that I’d kind of miss them.
Husband: You’d miss the two kids who turned your bathroom into a powdery mess?
Husband; You. Are. A. Sap.
Me: Yeah. It’s like Stockholm Syndrome. They took me captive when they were born, and I can’t stop loving them.
Husband: I’ve got it! No EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES FOR THE FALL SEMESTER!
Me:: No. They have to do something!
Husband: Yes. They have to learn respect for this household. And learn to clean.
Me; Soy you mean no dance. No theater. No karate. No me running all over town getting them hither and yon!
Husband: Yes! And when they get home they’ll do their homework and then CLEAN THE HOUSE!
Me: They’ll be like little servants.
Me: The tables will have turned!
Husband: Oh, they will turn. They are turning now!
So, full of glee, we called the girls out and gave them a run down of all the choices of punishment.
Critter started talking before we did: Mommy, Boo and I have decided we do not deserve to go to Disney.
Husband: No, you don’t. But we do.
Boo: Oh. That’s true.
Me: We thought about leaving you home.
Husband: No. We think that would be illegal at your age.
Me: Maybe with a sitter. Too bad they don’t have drop-in orphanages.
Boo: So we’re going to Disney?
Husband: Of course we’re going to Disney.
Boo: But we’re not going to ask you to buy us anything.
Me: Damn right you’re not going to ask us to buy you anything and don’t use that word I just said at school.
Husband: But there must be CONSEQUENCES to what you have done.
Critter: We can clean it before we leave!
Me: But then WE don’t get maximal Disney time.
Husband: This whole fiasco is seriously cutting into my Big Thunder Mountain railroad enjoyment plan.
Me: Yes. And I was so looking forward to a nice dinner.
Boo: So we’ll clean up when we get home?
Critter: But that’s not punishment enough for what we’ve done, Daddy! It’s just not! WE LIED!! WE SNEAKED!!!! WE MADE A HUGE MESS!!!!
Me: True. So, what do you think we should do to punish you?
Boo: Take away all our toys.
Critter: Make us stay in our rooms ALL YEAR!!!
Boo: I heard something about extended day.
Critter: NOOOOOOO! Please NO, Mommy! I’ll never do it again. Never. I promise. DON’T SEND ME AWAY!!!!
Boo: Yeah. I hate that place.
Husband: I suggested extended day to your mother but she still seems to like you, even after what you’ve done, and wants to spend time with you.
Boo: Thank you mommy! (Hugs me)
Critter: MOMMY I LOVE YOU!!!!!! (Jumps in my lap).
Me: (Giving hugs back) Yeah. I would miss you if I was away from you that long. So that’s out. What else could we do?
Boo: Make us clean all the time. Every day.
Critter: And not just our rooms, but the whole house, all the time.
Husband: I think that might end up being it.
Me: Yup. That’s it. But the key is where you’re going to find the time to do that.
Husband: And that’s why we’ve decided that you will do no extracurricular activities in the fall except Girl Scouts.
Me: Your extracurricular activities will be cleaning. And cooking. We used to call it Home Economics.
Boo: That’s a punishment?
Critter: We WANT to do that stuff!
Boo and Critter: YEAH! We want to HELP YOU with stuff around the house, mommy!
And that was that. We went to Disney, had a great time, and when we got home the kids emptied the closet, cleaned every shelf, cleaned the floor, and put everything back. For my part, I made sure they had plenty to do after that–emptying and loading the dishwasher, cleaning their rooms, doing the laundry, making the beds. I’d like to say they kept the house super-clean, but my house is destined to always be a slight mess. It’s who we are. But the time the kids spend doing chores that I would otherwise have to do is now time I can dedicate to reading, writing, and exercising. So the story really does have a happy ending.
And the other night, as we were talking at the table about Christmas, we mentioned that a local tree lighting ceremony would have snow. Critter said, “Yeah. That’ll be nice. Outside the house. Because there’ll be no more snow in here!”
Lesson learned, then. Lesson learned.