It sure looks like it tastes better this way.
Recently, Gbot was consulting a dinosaur encyclopedia in the back seat. Examining the page on saber toothed tigers, he exclaimed, “Saber tooth tigers had sharp fangs to protect them from predators, and they could totally fang up people.”
I thought of The Pump Track Challenge.
The Pump Track Challenge: the bots’ first-ever competitive athletic event, which they participated in while on vacation in Idaho in July. I thought of it because it totally fanged me up, as only a competitive athletic event for the five-and-under set could.
The Pump Track itself, as, say, a static sculpture in dirt, is pretty tame. About the size of a basketball court, it consisted of a series of whoop-dee-doos (dirt rollers: think a sine wave) and banked circles–imagine twelve-foot diameter, three-foot-deep dirt teacups. It’s kind of like a skate park, but for people on mountainbikes. This one was overseen by the Blaine County Recreation District, one of those model community entities that rarely makes a wrong move.
Even when it becomes a kinetic, interactive sculpture, with bots zooming around the upper inside edges of the teacups and pumping over the rollers, the Pump Track is only mildly nerve-wracking. We discovered it, on a tip from a friend, one hot afternoon when all the locals were at the Aquatic Center next door. We were giddy with excitement. Gbot strided like a pinball up, down, and around; Mbot attacked it gamely but spent as much time in the dust as he did in the saddle. This is a kid who never used training wheels. The Pump Track takes practice.
An old friend of mine, Eric, who happens to be in charge of maintaining the track, was pulling weeds for the upcoming Challenge,. He urged us to participate. He’s got a son of his own, aged three, who would be there. It wasn’t really a race, he said. One bot on the course at a time, he said. Just them against the clock, he said. And, at the end, trophies.
“Trophies?” asked Mbot.
“Trophies!” said Gbot.
Over the next several days, the conversations around our guest house sounded like this:
Me: “Gbot, take off your shoes and wash your hands.”
Gbot: “Is this the day of the Pump Track Challenge?”
Me: “Who wants to watch ‘The Magic Schoolbus Gets Energized?!'”
Gbot: “I want a trophy!”
Belatedly, I began to sense danger.
Because, for all my trying and denying, the bots aren’t mountainbots. They’re burb-bots. They’d rarely ridden on dirt; they’d never nudged their knobbies along the steep lips of earthen teacups. They were game, but green. They didn’t know it. I did.
I tried to explain to the bots that they might not get a trophy. That only the fastest kids get a trophy. Which will probably be the kids who live here in the Valley, the kids who get to ride the Pump Track EVERY DAY! The kids who are older. The kids who are bigger. (The kids who are genetically programmed to kick your ass in any athletic event, not just now, but through your entire life, no matter how fast you pedal your own ass on the Pump Track, courtesy of the Andrews non-Olympian strain of DNA.)
This said (or, actually, I left that last part left unsaid), I do believe that persistence and passion can elevate anyone to the lofty heights of their potential. I know this personally, because I didn’t learn to ride a bike adequately until I was thirty, at which point my passion for cycling proved so strong that, in spite of the terror it inspired in me, I spent the next decade pushing my beloved Gary Fisher (it’s red! A red bike!) four thousand feet at a time up dirt trails narrower than a Republican’s mind and zooming down the same trails with a death grip on the handlebars–thus utilizing my body for activities it wasn’t originally designed for, kind of like finding one of those round plastic cones you put over a dog’s head to keep it from gnawing on some recent wound, and re-purposing it as a lampshade.
If you love to ride, you love to ride. And even if your center of gravity is at breast level and your reflexes operate on a 12k bandwidth, that passion can push you through hundreds of hours of dedicated practice, which will eventually turn you into an adequate (albeit heavily scarred) mountain biker.
The bots love to ride. Especially Mbot. But this preoccupation with a TROPHY was unsettling. A TROPHY ATTAINABLE ONLY BY THREE PEOPLE. A trophy that is significant because it indicates its owner is a winner, but is more significant because it indicates that all others are LOSERS.
I explained to the bots that you don’t ride in a race just to get a trophy. ! I explained that you did it to have fun. ! I explained that, when you race over and over, you get better, and can see how much better you’re getting. ! I explained that everyone who participated was a winner. ! Just for doing it. ! I spoke with exclamation points, in case the tone of my voice was strained and unconvincing.
Because I am a competitionphobe. Everything about a race turns my insides to liquid and shoots me to the nearest bathroom. But I don’t want my sons to grow up to be like me (in this way). I want them to grow up to feel, if not what it seems many others seem to feel in the throes of athletic competition (ALIVE!!!! GRRRR!!! JUST COME AND TRY TO EAT THESE QUADS, SABER TOOTHED TIGER!!!), at least that competition is healthy and fun. ! That it strengthens you, physically and psychologically. ! That it is a great way to share your passion with like-minded beings. ! That it builds self-confidence in a pleasurable way. !)
What I did not try to explain is that if you enter a competition, it’s feels good to win. It’s a prize for working so hard as well as a public affirmation of your athletic superiority. On that day. In that discipline and age group. And that it usually kind of sucks to not win. At least, right away, and for a while afterward.*
Also, whether you are a winner or a nonwinner (we do not use the word LOSER. The only loser is the person who uses the word LOSER) seems to matter to lots of people. People will form opinions about you based on whether you win or do not win. Also on how you win or do not win. By entering a competition, you are subjecting yourself not only to the inarguable clock but to public scrutiny.
Good luck with that.
I realize it’s one of the marks of my socioeconomic class to overthink these things. In the future, I will try not to.
Good luck with that.
I offered up to the universe my Pump Track Prayer: Please, let the bots participate in a Pump Track Challenge without having it fang them up for the rest of their lives.
When we arrived at the Challenge, at four o’clock Thursday afternoon, the Pump Track was no longer our private oasis of speed, fun, and possibility. It was crawling with others. It was foreign. It was threatening. Parents and bots and bikes and officials navigated one another to blaring music. Normally I would have liked the music, but now it was oppressive. My bots seemed unfazed by the crowd or the activity. They located the trophy table and fingered the shiny made-in-China cyclists sparkling in the sun atop flimsy plastic pedestals.
At the registration table, I found I knew the woman who handed me our papers, an athlete named Janelle. Years before, we’d waited tables and ridden bikes together. In my memory, she is very very small, and I’m seeing her from behind, because she is very very far ahead of me on the trail before she disappears altogether.
I filled out the forms and gave her my credit card to pay the five dollar registration fee. Knowing yet another Pump Track insider should have, I thought, made me feel like an insider, too. Like we Belonged. It didn’t. I didn’t know more than six adults and four children here (including my own). One of the adults was a friend, Amy; our bots had just had a playdate. But another, Eric’s wife, either wasn’t recognizing me or was recognizing but not acknowledging me. Probably not recognizing. My shirt was not quite as casual as those of the other parents. I felt like the bots and I were inside a balloon, an invisible balloon whose impermeable walls separated us from all these other people–these locals–these people whose lives were lived in this snug valley, lived on two wheels, lived within the friendly competitive communal embrace of one another.
I zip-tied the bots’ numbers onto their handlebars. #155 and #156. Suddenly astride their bikes, with their official numbers, the bots looked like they belonged. Just like that. I tried to imagine it all from their points of view. They knew only that they were gonna get to ride their bikes, with other kids, and that there were trophies. They’d gotten the $5 ride through the balloon walls. I was alone inside them now.
Gbot–steady, sturdy, strong on his Strider and 3 3/4 years old, fell nicely into the two-to-four age group. His course was marked with yellow plastic bowls turned upside down, and consisted of a brief out-and-back with a steeply banked circle around a tree at the far end.
Mbot–five years old for all of two weeks, fell uncomfortably into the five-to-seven age group. His course, marked with red upside-down plastic red bowls, consisted of a three-leaf-clover pattern of teacup rims, then a steep whoop-de-doo up to trail along a towering (well, four feet—a steep four feet) embankment—The Ledge—that gradually descended to circle the same tree as Gbot’s course, then back over Gbot’s course. I cursed myself for not fibbing at the registration desk and signing him up for the younger kids’ race. It’s not like he was a contender. I just wanted him to have a good time. I assumed that having a good time correlated directly to riding the course successfully and as it was meant to be ridden. I was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to do it. I was afraid he’d be upset that he wouldn’t be able to do it.
Terrified, actually. Because I want to protect these children from everything, at the same time I want to affix to them a mosaic of positive life experiences like heat proof tiles, enough to absorb the blast of entry. Get back in my body, I want to say. Where I can keep you safe. Where the biggest competition is with my bladder, for real estate.
Gbot hit the dirt for practice runs with no concept of fear or of the direction of the course. Twice he was ushered off the big boy course, wailing, “I want to go on the red course!”
Mbot hung back at the start, where other kids pushed in front of him, until I encouraged him to take a few practice rides, too. When he finally headed out, it was at the direction of one of the adults in charge, and it was roughly ten seconds behind a kid—a bigger kid—and ten seconds before another, bigger, kid. The result was that there were three kids on the course at a time. Within seconds, deep in the third teacup, Mbot and his bike ended up under a bigger kid and his bigger bike.
Technically, it had been Mbot’s fault. He’d gone straight from the first teacup to the third. But he didn’t know the course. I wanted to shout at the guys in charge. He’s FOUR! Or would be, if he’d been born two weeks late. These are small children, for god’s sake, not bees who were born with their that-way-pollen-grows figure-eight dances spliced into their genes, like the girl Olympian figure-skaters excising their compulsories out of ice. I ran.
The bigger kid extricated himself and his bike and rode away, and then I as pulling Mbot upright, pulling his bike upright, telling him it wasn’t his fault, that hitting the ground is part of riding, is part of racing. That he’d fallen lots of times and bounced right up. That I’d fallen lots of times on my bike. He was in tears. He was talking nonstop, inconsolable. He was blaming himself for the crash.
We hobbled, like a four-legged, two-wheeled monster, a Pump Track version of the Elephant Man, to the far side of the course, where we could be alone. For the next seven minutes, tears flowed onto my not-casual-enough shirt. But every time I said, “It wasn’t your fault, Bug,” and, “You don’t have to race!” the answer was a teary wail: “No! I want to go! I want to race!” My stomach was churning. How would he remember this? Maybe he wouldn’t. Even if he didn’t, it would Change him. Shape him. A hundred thousand years from now, anthropologists would see the scar in his fossilized psyche like paleontologists today can identify tooth marks in the femurs of woolly mammoths. (Mothers think not only melodramatically, but in sweeping time frames.)
Leaning against the wood ranch-style fence, looking through ridiculously clear mountain air, right out of a pre-Raphaelite painting or HDTV, toward Carbonate Mountain, fifteen-hundred vertical feet of sagebrush at whose dusty brown foot I’d lived for ten years, whose flank I’d pushed up and careened down on my bike countless times in another life–my memories, not Mbot’s, never Mbot’s–we gathered ourselves. We wiped away tears. We circumnavigated the Track and pushed into the throngs that were now readying for the first race of the day.
It was Gbot’s race. The field was fifteen-strong. Eric’s son was hiding his face (which was already half-hidden beneath an enormous brave-animal helmet), in his mother’s neck. Others went, swooping down the six-foot ramp onto the course. An announcer provided not-quite-funny commentary over a loudspeaker. Someone worked the large digital clock, setting and resetting it, from beside the finish line. Finishing times: Forty seconds. Thirty seconds. Twenty-two seconds!
Brave-animal-helmet had still not been imbued by the characteristics of his totem. Gbot, under his red dinosaur helmet, was ready to roar. Finally he was at the starting line. His name of Basque origin was, as always, pronounced incorrectly: not phonetically, exactly as it is spelled, but in the only way people have heard things that look similar pronounced, based on some person of German ancestry they once went to school or played ball with: Eckhardt. Mispronounced, he went.
He shot down the ramp and onto the first of the whoop-de-doos. His legs strode madly all the way out. His verve was admired over the loudspeaker. He rounded the tree in under ten seconds. And then…he sort of slowed down. As if perhaps he wasn’t sure of the course, or as if he’d forgotten what he’d come for. Or–and this is what it looked like to me–as if to savor the ride. He was out for a Sunday stride. He was taking it in. He was enjoying himself. He had no concept that churning toward the finish line, merely twenty feet away, would get him one of the coveted trophies. He meandered across the finish line well off the top three. I was thrilled he had made the finish line, and not headed back up to the starting line. Mostly, though, I was just thrilled it was over. I hugged him, told him great jobb. Gbot appeared unmoved by the whole thing.
The real knuckle-chewer was in the chute. Ten racers into his twenty-strong category, #155 was called to the start. Although Mbot was the youngest in his group, he was as tall as the seven-year-olds. Everyone thinks he’s older than he is, I thought. Everyone will judge this gangly kid, has already judged him, the one who cried in front of everyone. Mbot still had only a sketchy concept of the shape of the race course. “Eckhardt.” The clock started. Mispronounced, misunderstood, misjudged, he went.
He accelerated down the ramp, pedals whirling. Steered around the first teacup, skipped the second one (as he’d done in practice), hit the third (kind of) then headed up the rise onto The Ledge. And there, lacking momentum, he rolled to a complete stop. His bike tipped over. And this is what he did: Having never watched a mountain bike race, having ridden almost completely on level grade concrete since birth, he untangled himself from the bike, hauled it upright, took it by the handlebars, and pushed it up the steep rise. He walked that mother right to the top, where he threw his leg over it again, pushed off–at the edge of The Ledge, no less–and navigated the rest of the course en velo.
Where did he learn to do that? I wondered. He didn’t have to learn. He just knew.
On the safe side of the finish line, where I pounced on him and smothered him with praise, he, like his younger brother, seemed unfazed.
It was obvious that the bots were experiencing a completely different event than the one I was suffering through. For them, it really was fun! The wreck had happened to another boy, of another generation, in another universe, in front of another crowd, watching that other tall crybaby who can’t ride a bike—not only watching him but watching him as he’s crying, his narrow back to the crowd, his tear-streaked face to the mountains, watching and thinking, as even Eric had thought, “The kids taking a pee against the fence.”
At trophy-getting time, Amy’s son won the first-place trophy in Gbot’s category. (His progenitors include a grandfather whose hiked extensively in the Himalayas, with and without broken bones, and a mom who attended college on a swimming scholarship.)
Gbot did not get a trophy. Mbot did not get a trophy. What they did get was a green ribbon apiece for participation. A mother must have thought of that. Mbot was absolutely and unexpectedly thrilled with his. Gbot collapsed into a wailing heap that refused to go home without a trophy.
“I want a trophy! I want a trophy!” sobbed thirty-five-pound Gbot-the-root-vegetable, embedded in the soil beside the Pump Track, as I tugged gently but insistently, and then insistently and not gently, at the soft, plump, upraised fist. I think I carried him away. And then, blissfully, we fled.
I fled, at least. To the grass lawn outside the Track. Mbot posed for a photo with his green ribbon. I dialed up Husbot. “I was in a bike race,” Mbot grinned into the phone. “And I got a bow!” Ribbon, bow. The word “ribbon” didn’t occupy a place in Mbot’s reward vocabulary, but he was willing to welcome it in. Gbot was not. He refused to hold his bow for a picture. He wanted nothing to do with it. The next day, it only served to remind him of what he did not get: a trophy.
The next day, Amy and I commiserated over how not fun The Pump Track Challenge had been. We both asked, with dread in our voices, the same question at the same time: “What happens next time, when Amy’s son doesn’t win?”
Then you’re on, Mom.
Three days later, the bots were no longer even talking about it anymore. Not the pump track. Not the trophy. They were still riding their bikes. The uncool baskets had been reattached. The bots had moved on.
But I couldn’t. I’d been disturbed at the strength of my Pump Track emotions. They included,
- “Get the fang out of my child’s way,”
- “Don’t fanging judge my child,”
- “This fanging contrived situation to measure small children against each other sucks fanging ass.”
- “Calm down, Betsy, for fang’s sake. It’s only a race. And it’s not even your race.”
It took several more days before the good of it sank in: Without that clock, without the other kids around, without those hideous trophies waiting to be claimed, Mbot probably wouldn’t have jumped up so fast when his bike tipped over, and pushed through. And now he knew what it felt like, to try that hard in order to accomplish a goal he’d set himself.
Was it worth it? My hairdresser, the one who keeps trying to lowlight me, would say it was not, would say that since the Pump Track Challenge I am not quite so girlishly brunette. I’d say I suppose it was. Although it seemed much more of a challenge for the mothers of participants than for the actual participants.
I know that my children are not going to win sometimes. That’s life. I don’t care. But I don’t want it to hurt them. I want them to be able to be okay with it. But it’s a challenge to come to peace with the fact that my children are going to be judged. And that sometimes, they are going to end up at the bottom. I know that my children are going to enter into all kinds of situations that society has contrived to measure, distinguish, separate, label, and create desire and discontent. I want them to walk proudly away from those situations wearing their green bows.
I know that my children were born with a strength and resilience that I cannot know or measure.
It is a challenge to show some of that strength and resilience myself.
*I know this only because I was a prepubescent athletic phenom in Auke Bay, Alaska. In strictly an Auke Bay School Field Day Champion context. Because I reached nearly my adult height and weight by the age of twelve, I kicked ass at the fifty yard dash (yes, there is one, for children), the hundred yard dash, the 400-meter relay (I was not anchor), the high jump, and the shot put. Then I turned thirteen and the destiny of my body–to sit in a chair while I typed–became manifest. But the ribbons (there were no trophies) rocked.
We are alive and well, and to prove it, I will transcribe a brief conversation I enjoyed with Gbot in the bathroom yesterday*
*For those not familiar with Spanish nomenclature for human anatomy, the word “pito” is Spanish–and our family word for–the little penises in the household. (Usage tip: Do not make the mistake of transferring the word to the larger, grownup version. Apparently, it is understood as insulting. Something to do with size.):
Gbot: “My potty thinks all life is evil!”
Gbot: “My pito thinks all life is disGUSTing!”
Me: “It won’t always think that, Honey.”
Maybe for the next post, we’ll venture out of the bathroom. But there are never guarantees.
So, here is a confession: the Andrews family crest is headed by a small, irritating raccoon.
A small, irritating raccoon made from cotton pompoms, holding a pompom apple, both apple and raccoon circa 1975.
A small, irritating, inanimate raccoon by the name of Superpeeky.
There are actually two of him. Different generations. Identical except for the fact that one was acquired by my brother when he was five, and the other two years later. My brother carried them around everywhere, with a fist around their necks (an anatomical feature denoted by the layer of glue affixing the pompom body to the pompom head.) Over the years, their necks elongated and they lost any semblance of a chin they once may have possessed.
Over the decades, Superpeeky has contracted a personality like some contract a disease. He is an egomaniac; he thinks he can fly but is tragically anti-aerodynamic; his brain, such as it is, with just one axon spinning wildly in attempt to synapse with itself, actually resides in the apple that he carries between his front paws; he lusts after the female wild boars who root about the bamboo forests near my brother’s home in Japan, and he is suspected of having fathered several boar/raccoon offspring, probably born with their apples in their mouths, but no one knows for sure, as none have ever been sighted.
The Superpeekies have also acquired a brief but notable wardrobe. Grandpa Supes (the elder) wears a red-and-white striped suit that I hand-stitched for him I think when I was nine. He has not taken it off since. Over this, he wears a Magic Tanning Shirt. It is pale yellow with a white polo collar, fashioned by my mother long ago in homage to a ten dollar shirt my father wore for over two decades during annual family vacations to Hawaii, and which he insisted accounted for his deep and even tan, which was the envy of his teenaged daughters. (It was the eighties). The original shirt was immune to the ravages of time, the changing of fashions, and an onslaught of sand, suntan lotion, sloughed skin, and derogatory remarks. As though feeding on the negative attention, it only grew stronger (while growing shorter and more misshapen) as the years passed. Sort of like Yoda.
I finally forced its retirement by purchasing a new Ralph Lauren model in a similar shade of yellow, but like Freddy Kreuger or, more accurately, like a wolf spider, who carries its pinpoint-sized, newly hatched spiderlings on its vast back, and if crushed by, say, Harry Potter, Volume 3, in the middle of the night, lives on in the miniature versions of itself that are small enough to scuttle to freedom (until they’re sprayed with toilet bowl cleanser)*, the shirt found new life in Superpeeky-sized versions of itself.
(If at this point you are questioning the sanity of my family, I am in no position to offer you assurances of normalcy. But if you ever find yourself in an airport interrogation room being questioned about why a small, irritating raccoon holding an apple and made out of pompoms is wearing a polo shirt, you’ll be able to whip out an answer with convincing speed.)
Superpeeky the younger can often be found sporting the Magic Tanning Shirt, which he wears sporadically, as the mood moves his keepers (the Superpeekies rotate between my brother’s office in Japan and my parents’ bookshelves in Idaho, when they haven’t been kidnapped by other family members who have been known to demand ransom in macadamia nuts).
One could write a doctoral dissertation on the psychosociological ramifications of Superpeeky. In the meantime, he has several practical uses.
He makes an excellent foil against which to measure oneself and the situations in which one finds oneself (for example, “Wow, gout must really suck, but by God, at least your brain isn’t in your apple.”)
He also provides a good go-to subject for special-occasion customized greeting cards when the selection of eCards falls short. For example:
FATHER’S DAY CAN GET BETTER AS YOU GET OLDER
and your hearing starts to go:
I’m just saying, every family should have a Superpeeky. (But if ours disappears, we will track you down and make you wear a Magic Tanning Shirt.)
*Not that that ever, ever happened in real life in the bots’ bedroom, leaving Husbot to clean up the poisonous toilet bowl cleanser which presented much more of a potential hazard to bots than a harmless yet large and gross mommy wolf spider.
“Hello. You have reached the Center for Viruses of the Digestive System. If you would like to order a Virus for the Upper Gastrointestinal Tract, please press or say ‘one.’ If you would like to order a Virus for the Lower Gastrintestinal Tract, please press or say ‘two.’ Your order will ship immediately upon the arrival at our main facility of another sample. The estimated arrival time will be less than” (pause) “one hour. Oh, look, here it is now. To hear this recording in Spanish, please go to a different, more multicultural blog. To hear a different, less gross message, please go to a blog where everyone is healthy. Thank you for calling. Have a nicer day than ours.”
….Experts are still debating exactly what his superpowers are, and whether they are helpful on Planet Earth. One eye-witness reports seeing him do the superpee, shooting, in a fit of defiance against larger powers, urine up to two feet onto the wall behind the toilet.
Another eye-witness, or possibly the same one, claimed she saw him break through a discipline deflector shield that was supposed to be protecting items on a very high counter, and obtain an entire bunch of bananas, simultaneous upsetting a stainless-steel decorative trivet which landed on Naked-Boy’s foot.
Still another eye-witness has produced proof that the newest and smallest superhero pranced across newspapers splattered with still-wet oil-based magnetic wall paint during his mother’s latest attempt at home improvement. The witness was charged with negligent looking-away-from Naked-Boy while being in charge of him. Naked-Boy does not appear to be magnetic. He does, however, appear to be naked.
He was first sighted several mornings ago, after his mother dressed him for school, or thought she did. Soon afterward, he pranced into the living room in his distinctive “costume” and declared, “I’m NAKED-BOY! Meet NAKED-BOY! I’m SOOOOooOO NAKED!”
There are no photos available, in the interest of protecting the privacy of the private parts of the party.
Gbot, this morning, scowling in front of the mirror and wildly smoothing down his hair, which I’d just brushed into floofiness: “No! I look like a baby!”
Gbot, seconds later, after I’d help smooth his floofy hair flat against his head: “Noooooo! I look like a rich old man!”
Personally, I’d go for the baby look over the other any day of the week.
I know I just said that I like my hair. It’s true: I don’t want the lowlights that even Husbot had the nerve to suggest not long ago. But I have to admit I’ve been getting really tired of my face.
Pulling my unbrushed tresses straight back into an elastic band every morning while encouraging pottying, pouring cereal and milk into pouring containers so the bots can pour their own cereal and milk into bowls, mopping cereal and milk and potty off the floor, pulling clothes onto bots who would rather be playing, pushing toothbrushes into the mouths of bots who would rather be playing, and encouraging self-shoe-putting-onning of bots (who: that’s right….) wasn’t helping matters.
The answer to all my problems, of course, was bangs. Cheaper, subtler, and–ostensibly–less painful than a face lift. Which I don’t want anyway. And so on Friday, I finally got around to making an appointment. I didn’t care with whom. I called the Ulta next to the Barnes and Noble, which I’ve been to several times, and was told that Carmen had an opening at 3:30. The name rang a bell. Carmen had done something or other–probably given me a trim–a few years back. I remembered only that he was very young and flamboyant with sticky-uppy hair, half dark and half platinum blond. He was a bit soft around the middle, and he talked nonstop about Disneyland. I had no other recollections, except that I had no feeling of heavy trauma associated with the memories, so he must have done a passable job on my hair.
I remembered nothing more until 3:45, when I was in his chair, post hair-wash, avoiding looking at myself in the mirror as I always do in the hairdresser’s chair, and he got out his comb.
It was a hairstylist’s kind of comb, very thin and long, like a stiletto, with two hundred needle-like teeth. He combed once, twice, and then it happened: the comb, on its way from crown to hair tip, jammed into the top of my ear. Then he raised his hand to comb again, and again it flapped my ear painfully down on its way earthward. And I suddenly remembered: Carmen, in addition to enjoying Disneyland very much, wanted to be a spy. He was concerned, however, because he only spoke English. And he might need to learn, say, Arabic. Two years ago, I had kindly encouraged him–after all, there we were–a hairstylist who wanted to be a spy, a housewife/new mother/magazine writer-who-hadn’t-published-an-article-since-giving-birth who wanted to write a book. And then he’d gotten out his comb.
And I remembered thinking, Carmen, my friend, how can you possibly be a spy, when you can’t even sneak up on my ears?
I saw on Friday that Carmen had aged well: he had lost his baby fat, his hair was all one color, and he seemed more confident. I sat with those words ringing in my stinging ears, slightly concerned about what would happen to my hair, but not particularly worried that an international assassin would appear and put a bullet through his black shirt that would then travel through my head.
He started talking about Disneyland.
But then he started asking questions. Consulting the photo I’d brought, ripped from an overpriced hairstyle magazine I would never use again, and asking more questions. They were good questions. He snipped, he clipped, he measured with his hands. He shaped, he thinned. He shared a recipe for a killer white salsa with shrimp.
And I found myself quite happy that Ulta salon will probably never lose Carmen to the CIA, because my ears may be slightly the worse for wear, but he did sneak up on my softer, more feminine side, and tweak it on the ass.
And not once did he suggest lowlights.
Due to the nature of this post, I cannot provide photographs of the actual subject at the time of his discovery.
But Gbot likes to count his money, although I use the word “count” in the most liberal way. In relative terms, he doesn’t have very much, although more than Mbot, because he’s better at keeping track of it. He is a natural hoarder. This morning on his pillow amongst fifteen or so stuffed animals, lay a purple puff ball, a hot wheels car, some Trio pieces, a toy microphone, and a harmonica. (He uses the harmonica most mornings before 6 a.m.) Under his pillow were two gift cards he had liberated from the glove compartment of the Botmobile.)
Several times a week, Gbot will come to me holding a piece of spare change to put in his piggy bank. He finds it laying around–it’s either fallen out of Husbot’s pockets, or I’ve left it on the counter or pulled it from under the sofa. Some of it’s actually his own, as last summer, Nanny gave both bots little fabric baggies filled with quarters to take to the zoo to buy food for the fish, goats, and llamas.
The baggies and their contents immediately became objects of contention: I quickly learned that the propensity to hoard and fight over small shiny objects seems to be embedded in our DNA. Every time I’d let the bots get out their money, it would start a fight. They were two and three when it began–too young to even know the practical value of what they were hitting each other over.
Let me reiterate that Gbot just turned three. A just-turned-three-year-old doesn’t understand that a Starbucks gift card enables the holder to walk into “The Chocolate Milk Place” and buy ten boxes of chocolate milk. But he’s always liked the toy credit card that came with the toy cash register he got for his birthday, and apparently, he likes real ones, too. He knows they’re good for something.
So yesterday afternoon when we were all very tired, Mbot played with his LeapPad and I let Gbot count his money. Generally I keep the piggy banks in a high cupboard–out sight, out of mind. But yesterday I got his down, uncorked the hole, and helped him empty it on the table. Counting his money kept him busy for thirty minutes.
And because I forgot to put it away last night, it was still on the table this morning, a shining pile of change beside it. I told him that he had to put it away before I would give him his Cheerios. Then I went about my business in the kitchen. Several minutes later, I heard, “THIS is a spectacular way to clean up my money.”
I was emptying the dishwasher and didn’t look up.
Then I heard, “Here! Is that what you expected?”
I turned around. “I need to put copper pennies in my underpants so it will seem like a piggy bank!” he told me happily, jingling his underpants, into which at least three dollars in change had been deposited, with both hands. They were Batman underpants, and The Joker smiled wickedly from their crotch. The Joker would have been thrilled at this development. Then Gbot’s expression changed from glee to consternation and he began to rearrange things down there. That’s when he announced: “If I put too much money in my underpants, my pito will hurt.”
That’s when I suggest he rethink his banking options, and use the ceramic pig instead. I helped make the withdrawal, and explained that money has germs on it and so it’s best to keep it out of our underpants. And hoping fervantly that his were the only underpants it had been in.
And this is a good reason not to store your money in your mouth, either.
To make things easy today, and to prove that the bots are still here, being their eminently quotable selves, I’ve transcribed a few lines from the past forty-eight hours. You can see that we haven’t been bored; our topics ranged from mammals to physics to love. They are all connected, after all.
Mbot, on the beluga whale: “We studied the Polar regions. All of us had to learn about the beluga whale. It hops around the sea scaring people.”
Gbot, on panda bears: “If I were a panda, I would eat ALL your bamboo.”
Mbot, on Gbot: “I want his stomach to get REALLY fat, so he floats away!”
Mbot, on me: “I think you taste good in your heart, Mom, cuz you make my heart beat really fast.”
Mbot on Junepbear: “Joompbear, you’re deesGUSting.” (I gasped inwardly when I heard this. Mbot was examining his old stuffed bear at close range, and I feared that he finally had gained some perspective on the ratty old thing’s rather poorly aging fur, which at this point doesn’t get a whole lot cleaner looking with washing. I feared I was witnessing the end of an era. I shouldn’t have worried. He continued lovingly, “You’ve got some jelly on your head!”
Mbot, on relativity: “So, germs think that garbage cans are continents?”
Gbot on ear cell hydration: “I poured water in my ear so my ear cells could have a drink.”
Mbot, from the back seat: “Can’t you please drop me off at Grandma’s, Mom? I really want to give you some peace.”
Mbot, having rethought his opinion of Gbot: “I want him to be cute for the rest of his life.”
Ditto, and right back atcha, kid.