By Shannon Ralph
“I don’t have any friends.”
The air leaves my lungs all at once in a violent burst, as though I have been punched in the abdomen. I grip the steering wheel tightly and keep my eyes on the broken white line running down the middle of the road. The dirty slush lining the streets of our modest neighborhood is an indicator that spring will soon arrive in Minneapolis.
“What do you mean, Nicholas? Of course you have friends.”
“No, he doesn’t.” Nicholas’ twin sister pipes in from the booster seat adjacent to Nicholas. “He doesn’t play with anybody at school.”
“How would you know that, Sophie? You’re not even in his class.”
“All the first graders have recess together.”
“Do you not play with your brother at recess?”
“Sometimes I do. Most of the time he doesn’t want to play.”
Here we go again. Talking about Nicholas as though he is not sitting right here in the minivan with us. As though he is not present. He has gone missing again.
“Why don’t you play with your sister, Nicholas?”
I glance in the rearview mirror. Nicholas is staring out the window. His petite features and wispy blonde hair are reflected in the window against a background of white and gray. Everything is white and gray in March. Nicholas appears deep in thought. I wonder briefly where he goes when we all forget he’s there.
“Nicholas?” I say again.
Sophie kicks his foot across the space separating their bucket seats. “Momma’s talking to you, Icky.”
Since she first learned to speak, Sophie has referred to her brother as Icky. It’s not a commentary on his cootie status, but rather a simple mispronunciation of Nicky. I find it simultaneously endearing and aspersing. Nicholas has ever seemed to mind.
“What?” he asks, his forehead pressed against the window. He doesn’t look at me.
“Why don’t you play with your sister at recess?”
“I don’t know. I don’t want to.”
Of course he doesn’t want to. He’s a six year old boy. Why would he want to play with his sister and her friends? But what about the boys? Why doesn’t he play with the boys?
Nicholas has never been like other little boys. He’s not your typical rough and tumble boy’s boy. He is the baby of our family—three years younger than his older brother and one minute younger than his sister. Nicholas is the runt of our litter. He is the child I have always worried about the most. Though I love my children equally, he tends to require more of my time. More energy. More focus. More patience.
Even before he was born, I worried about Nicholas. I had vivid and disturbing dreams when I was pregnant with him. In all the dreams, his sister was perfectly normal and he was born with one debilitating disease after another. Or he was missing limbs. Missing organs. Or he was simply missing.
“Who do you play with, Nicky?” I ask.
“No one,” he says. “I like to sit and watch.”
And that sums up my youngest son. A watcher. An observer. A bystander.
“I’m worried about Nicholas,” I say later that evening as I climb into bed next to my wife.
“So what else is new?” Ruanita replies.
“No, I’m serious. I don’t think he has any friends.”
“He’s young. Lucas didn’t really have friends until he was in the 3rd grade.”
“I know, but I think Nicholas is different.”
Ruanita lays the book she is reading on her chest and looks at me over the top of her glasses. “Shannon, you worry entirely too much about him. He’s perfectly fine. He’s a happy boy.”
“I know, but I can’t help it.” I climb into bed, kiss Ruanita lightly on the lips and rest my head on my pillow. I watch the shadows on the wall cast by the ceiling fan dancing in the pale light coming from Ruanita’s bedside lamp. After a few moment of silence, I turn to Ruanita.
“Do you think Nicholas is gay?”
She does not look up from her book. “I don’t know. Does it matter?”
“No, of course it doesn’t matter.”
“Then why worry about it?”
“I don’t know. It’s harder for gay men.”
“How do you figure?”
“People can be cruel. Girls can be cruel, but boys—”
“Things are changing, Shannon. It’s not like when we were young. I mean, we’re actually getting married next summer. Did you ever think that would happen in Minnesota?”
“I know things are changing. But are they changing fast enough? Fast enough for Nicholas?”I grab the book from Ruanita’s hand and lay it on the bed between us. “I’m serious. The world is full of monsters. Wild things, like in that book Nicholas loves so much.”
“Yeah, but the world is also full of good people. Nicholas is a sweet boy. He’ll be fine.”
“But how can you be so sure?” I feel tears welling in the corner of my eyes. I don’t want to cry. Ever since my son spoke the words “I don’t have any friends” that afternoon, I had been in a state of acute turmoil. Was it my fault he had no friends? Was it something I did? Or didn’t do? Am I too dismissive of him? Not encouraging enough?
“Listen, Shannon.” Ruanita looks me square in the eye. “You sound like one of those idiots who blame themselves for their kids being gay.” I flinch at her accusation, but Ruanita continues undeterred. “Nicholas is going to be who Nicholas is going to be. You can’t change him. You can’t make him into something he’s not. He’s a good kid. A smart kid. He is going to be perfectly okay.”
“Are you sure?”
“No, I’m not sure.” Ruanita reaches for my hand and squeezes it tightly in her own. “I am not sure about anything. But I’m hopeful.”
I lie in bed and consider her response. I know she is right. I must have hope.
It’s really the only thing we have to hang onto as parents. We hope that we are doing right by our children. We hope that we are not screwing them up beyond all recognition. We hope that our insecurities do not become their insecurities. That our missteps do not become their missteps. We hope that they grow to be better people than we think we are.
And, above all, we hope that the wild things of this world are gentle with the little people we so ferociously adore.
You can find more from Shannon on Chronicles of a Clueless Mom
By Shannon Ralph
This week, I am coming to the stunning realization that my eldest child is no longer the adorable little boy I first fell in love with. No, my son is a middle schooler, and suddenly the entire world is “boss.”
Lucas is definitely boss. His brother is usually boss. His sister is occasionally boss. Fried chicken is boss. Coke is boss (though he is rarely allowed to drink it). Video games are boss. Video games where lots of random stuff blows up are especially boss. Most people on television are boss. Even the dog is boss on occasion.
I am not boss. I am the epitome of anti-boss-ness, apparently.
And don’t be a total dweeb and say that someone is a boss. Boss is not a noun. Boss is an adjective, idiot.
The closet correlation for the word “boss” that I can come up with from my own vernacular is the word “rad.” I remember thinking lots of things were pretty damn rad back in the day. Kirk Cameron was rad. I mean, obviously. Recording songs from Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 onto my portable tape recorder was pretty rad. Ralph Macchio in The Outsiders was rad. And if we got married and he took my last name instead of me taking his—because we were going to be, you know, like, a progressive 1980s couple—then he would be Ralph Ralph and that would be SO RAD. Molly Ringwald was one rad redhead in Sixteen Candles. She was even more rad in The Breakfast Club. By the time Pretty in Pink came out, I was dying my hair red and trying the Molly pout on for size (strangely, it looked better on her). Huarache sandals and Sun-In were pretty rad. Lee Press-on Nails were also rad. Standing in the television department of our local K-Mart watching the video to Thriller for the first time (we did not have cable…hence, no MTV) was a life-altering rad moment. Footloose was the best movie ever made. It was so rad, it was practically tubular. Oh…wait…maybe that was Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Regardless, I experienced many rad things in my adolescence. But being rad is now a relic of the past. These days, I now know, the term is boss.
Here are the things—at forty-one years old—that I find extremely boss.
Sleeping past 6:30am is boss. Peeing without an audience is boss. Children bathing themselves is pretty boss—even if I have to threaten to smell them afterwards to “make sure.” Strawberry margaritas are boss. As is strawberry cheesecake. The BBC is boss. Ignoring the strange noises coming from my basement playroom because I am lounging on the couch in a kid-free living room is pretty boss. Re-watching episodes of Sherlock on Netflix while the kids dismantle the basement board by board is somewhat boss…if I don’t allow myself to think about the whole basement dismantling thing. Telling the kids in no uncertain terms that I will NOT be downloading Minecraft onto my new iPhone is boss. Pumpkin Spice Lattes from Starbucks are boss. Being finished with my Christmas shopping a month early is boss. Restaurants that do not have chicken fingers anywhere on the menu are boss. Movies that have no ties to Pixar or Disney are pretty boss. Nights without 5th grade homework are Über boss.
And whether my son agrees or not, I like to think I am pretty damn boss!
When I am not busy being so bodaciously rad, that is.
By: Shannon Ralph
Something happened this weekend—a lifetime first. (Well, actually, not a real first, but the first time this particular thing happened in 37 or 38 years.)
I pooped my pants.
Yep, you read that correctly. I realize this is probably entirely too much information, but I think it is life-altering enough to include it on my blog. In itself, the poopy pants were a completely explainable event—and I will explain it in a minute. I think the big picture, however, is symptomatic of a larger issue—the demise of my forty-year-old body.
So I took my daughter to Carter’s on Saturday afternoon. She needed some fall clothes because she outgrew every single article of clothing she owned this summer and, frankly, I can’t pass up a good sale. Carter’s has everything on sale right now. (Seriously, check out their website.) So we headed to the Carter’s store in Bloomington.
As soon as I got on Highway 494, I remembered that Ruanita had casually mentioned that they were doing construction on 494 this weekend. There were signs, but I saw no construction. As a matter of fact, there was very little traffic and we flew down the highway with ease.
While shopping at Carter’s, my stomach began to cramp. Then it cramped some more. Then it cramped rather painfully. Then it hurt like hell—a telltale sign of an impending bowel event of magnificent proportions. I tried to think of what I had eaten that would upset my stomach. For breakfast, I had eaten some cheese crackers and a Diet Pepsi. Then my sister had brought me an iced white mocha from Starbucks. I had skipped lunch.
Nothing screamed of dietary stupidity. Though cheese crackers and a Diet Pepsi wasn’t exactly a breakfast of champions, it was unlikely to cause the type of gastrointestinal issues I was experiencing.
I quickly paid for Sophie’s new clothes and shuffled her out the door.
(On a side note, this is why I typically do all of my shopping at Target and/or Kohl’s—the close proximity of bathroom facilities wherever you happen to be in the store. When you are forty years old, these are the kinds of things one must consider.)
We hurried out of Carter’s and I hopped (or rather, slid like a palsied Mermaid with my legs tightly pressed together) into the car. I should have stopped at the McDonalds that was right there. But that particular McDonalds is kind of, sort of difficult to get in and out of since it sits in the middle of a shopping center parking lot. So I decided to get out the rather congested Penn Avenue area and stop at a nearby restaurant with a restroom. Arby’s…Wendy’s…I wasn’t picky.
As soon as we pulled out of the parking lot, I realized that I was in trouble. The onramp to Highway 494 was closed. As were all the onramps to 494 in the Bloomington corridor. I tried to take a different route, but apparently every single driver in Bloomington that day had the exact same plan. I ended up on a frontage road with about one hundred other cars.
Not moving at all.
The cramps intensified. I broke out in goosebumps all over my entire body. I prayed the Our Father. I prayed the Glory Be. I tried to remember the words to the Act of Contrition, but eventually said screw it. I even threw in a few Hail Marys for good measure. Mary was a forty year old woman once—she had to understand.
I repeatedly told Sophie, “Mommy’s got to go to the bathroom.” “Mommy’s going to die.” “Oh God…mommy’s in trouble.”
Sophie was—and this is why I love that little girl with every fiber of my being—entirely supportive. “You can do it mommy.” “It’ll be okay, mommy.” “We’re almost there, mommy.”
Then it happened. Just a little bit, but entirely enough.
I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t stop it. I was ill.
Sophie responded with a simple “Gross.”
I eventually made it home, cleaned myself, finished my business, changed my clothes and made it to pick up Lucas from his choir rehearsal with three minutes to spare. My stomach was a mess the rest of the day, though I never figured out why.
To say that it was a disturbing turn of events would be a gross understatement. It is, however, not entirely shocking. It is endemic of a problem with which I am having difficulty coming to terms.
I am getting old.
Not granny old. Not rocking chair old. Not afghan and fuzzy socks old (though I am a big fan of both). But I am aging.
Since turning forty last October, I feel like I have fallen apart.
Suddenly, I pee on myself when I cough. Or laugh. Or do not run to the bathroom the instant the urge hits. I have plantar fasciitis and walk like a cripple. I have arthritis in my big toes. My knees creak. I fart when I bend over. Fried food does me in. I am on medication for high blood pressure. I sweat all the time. Adult diapers are rights around the corner.
I know a lot of it has to do with the fact that I need to lose some weight. But I find it odd that it all began when I turned forty years old.
I am not forty years old like 1960s-era forty year old women. They’re children were grown. They could sit home and bake pies and have Tupperware parties and watch their “stories” on daytime television. They could spend the day in their “housecoats” if they wanted to.
I have a full-time job. I have a partner who occasionally wants to see me. I have little kids. I have 5th grade homework to deal with. And zoo trips. And visits to the park.
I can’t be old. I can’t drive around the metro area shitting my pants. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
Something is going to have to change. It’s time to dust off the treadmill. Pull out the vegetables. Table the beer and wine. If my body is going to fall apart, it’s going to have to work a little harder to do so. I’m not going to make it so damn easy.
This is not going to be fun.
By: Shannon Ralph
I was asked an intriguing question this week. Completely out of the blue and totally unexpected, Ruanita (a-little-too-casually) asked me the following:
“So…do you think we should hyphenate our last names after we get married?”
To be perfectly honest, this had never occurred to me. Amazingly—despite the tornadic whirlwind of wedding planning and re-planning I have done all alone in my bustling little brain—the question of changing my last name never even crossed my mind.
Here’s the thing, I experienced a bit of buyer’s remorse sixteen years ago when we had our illegal (I like to use the term “ illegal” because it makes us appear much more hip and dangerous than the bland couch-huggers we really are) commitment ceremony. At the time, we decided to keep our own last names. Actually, I don’t know if we ever even consciously made that decision. We just did it. Or rather, we just didn’t do it. Probably out of simple laziness.
Looking back now, I wish we had changed our names. Or at least that one of us had. Ruanita has never been very keen on becoming Ruanita Ralph (I don’t blame her…sounds like your everyday 8th grade dyke P.E. teacher, doesn’t it?). I, however, would have no issues with being Shannon Pierce. It just didn’t occur to me at the time.
When Lucas was born, because Ruanita and I did not have the same last names, we made the rather innocuous decision to hyphenate his last name. He became Lucas Matthew Pierce-Ralph. Not an altogether bad name.
If truth be told, however, I despise hyphenated names. I don’t know why. I know some perfectly lovely people with hyphenated last names—including two who were expelled from my very own vagina. (Okay…that is a lie. They were born via c-section, but “expelled from my own horizontal lower abdominal incision” doesn’t have quite the same pizzazz.) But I still hate hyphenated names.
As such, I really have no desire to hyphenate my last name. I mean Shannon Pierce-Ralph wouldn’t be so bad, I guess. I could get used to it. But there is still the “ick factor” with hyphenated names that I can’t get past.
I think I am just old fashioned. I firmly believe the members of a family should all have the same last name. That is so very anti-modern of me, I know. But I can’t help it. I am a product of my homogenous 1970s Southern Catholic school upbringing. I went into a mild mourning state when my mother remarried for the first time years ago and was no longer a Ralph. I’m a Ralph. She’s my mom. Logic would dictate that she should be a Ralph, too, right? Today, she is Shirley Marie Hardesty Ralph Robbins Bauer Ralph. Why can’t everyone just be a freaking Ralph?
As you can imagine, the fact that my children have hyphenated names bugs me. Besides the fact that they do not have the same last name as me, I am kind of saddened by the fact that I can’t buy any of the cheesy monogrammed stuff that places like Oriental Trading Company sells. You know, those wooden plaques and Christmas ornaments and tote bags and door knockers and mailboxes that say:
I can’t buy those because we’re not the Pierce Family. And we’re not the Ralph Family. We’re not even the Pierce-Ralph Family. My kids are Pierce-Ralphs, but I am not. Ruanita is not.
This is one of those instances—few and far between—where I would like to go back in time and make a different decision. Given the option of a do-over, I would have become Shannon Pierce sixteen years ago. My kids would be Lucas, Sophie, and Nicholas Pierce. We would have been the Pierce Family. The Pierces, Established 1997. It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
Alas, I am not a Pierce. And neither are my children. We already have three people in my family with hyphenated names I do not care for. Why add two more to the mix? And I don’t think my kids would be keen on changing their last names now anyway. I mean, my daughter spent the last year of her life being referred to as Sophie P.R. in school because there were three other Sophies and/or Sophias in her class—so much for original naming. (As a side note, why she would not be Sophie P. instead of Sophie P.R. is simply beyond me. I mean…what the hell?) I think my kids like being Pierce-Ralphs. At least, they’ve never complained about hyphenated names. I am pretty sure, like so many other instances, I am the only one with an issue here.
And, aside from the psychological toll of changing a ten-year-old’s name, can you imagine the bureaucratic nightmare legally changing five last names at once would be? I don’t even want to think about it!
So do I want to hyphenate my last name? No. Do I want the members of my family to all have the same last name? Yes. Is one possible without the other? No. Am I shit outta luck? Yes.
There you have it.
By: Shannon Ralph
These are not my words. They are his. If you ever want to feel like a loser mom, try having your seven-year-old son cry hysterically in Target because he thinks he’s lazy.
The conversation went a little something like this.
Nicholas: It’s only three dollars. Why can’t I get it?
Me: Because you don’t have three dollars.
Nicholas: Why does Sophie get to get a toy?
Me: Because Sophie has worked really hard and earned the money to buy a toy.
Nicholas: (tears welling in his chocolate brown eyes) I’ll never have any money.
Me: Sure you will. You just have to do some chores and you can earn some money just like Sophie.
Nicholas: But I can’t do that.
Me: Why not?
Nicholas: (full-on crying now) Because I can’t.
Me: Yes, you can. You are smart and capable. You can earn money.
Nicholas: (still clutching the $3 toy) No I’m not. I try to do chores, but I can’t.
Me: What do you mean?
Nicholas: I mean… (sniffle)…I start to do chores, but then I always end up lying on the couch.
Me: Why do you do that?
Nicholas: (hugging the $3 toy tightly to his skinny little chest) Because I think I want to do chores, but then when I do them, I figure out that I don’t like it. So I lay on the couch.
Me: I don’t like chores either. Most people don’t—except maybe your other mom. But it feels really good to earn your own money. Wouldn’t you like to earn the money to buy you a toy like Sophie?
Nicholas: Yeah, but I can’t.
Me: Yes, you can.
Nicholas: No, I can’t. (dramatic sigh) I’m just lazy.
Me: (stifling a giggle) You’re not lazy, Nicky.
Nicholas: Yes I am. I just lay around all the time doing nothing. I play video games and nothing else.
Me: (treading carefully so as not to destroy my child’s fragile ego) There’s nothing wrong with playing video games…you enjoy video games. That’s okay. But it’s important to work, too. You can work AND play.
Nicholas: But I’m lazy. I’ll always be lazy.
Me: I don’t believe that.
Nicholas: I do.
Me: You’re not lazy. I don’t want to hear you saying that. You are a smart, capable boy.
Nicholas: No, I’m not. (pause for dramatic flair) I’m just a lazy bum.
I have to say that it bothered me a tad that my son thinks he is a lazy bum. In all honesty, his flair for the dramatic is a bit overdeveloped. AND he really wanted that toy and was probably pulling out all stops when it came to “playing” mommy…but still. No one wants to hear her child belittle himself in the toy aisle at Target. Target is a place for coffee and casual strolls and smiles and love and laughter and unabashed joy. Am I right?
So I had an ingenious idea. I would “help” Nicholas reach his chore-completely potential. I turned to that most sacred of all mommy tools—the chart. I have to say that I was pretty damn proud of the results. I created a magnetic chore chart that had a column for each of my three children to track the chores they completed in a week. Next to the chore chart on the wall hung a baggie full of magnets. Each magnet listed a chore and a dollar amount. The child could choose what chores they wanted to complete based on how much money they would like to earn. Once completed, they would place the magnet on the board in their column. At the end of the week, we would tally the amount they had earned and that would be their allowance. On average, the chart would allow the kids to earn about $5 a week in allowance. That seemed perfectly reasonable to me for two seven-year-olds and a ten-year-old.
Freakin’ genius, am I right?
Or so I thought. I did not, however, take into account the fact that my daughter is a workhorse and my sons tend toward gross under-achievement. Their desire for money is trumped only by their desire to sprawl on the couch and do a whole lot of absolutely nothing.
Right now, our chart looks a little something like this:
Perhaps my son was right, after all? Maybe his declaration of his laziness was a truly insightful comment rather than a thinly-veiled ploy to guilt momma into buying him a tiny plastic Angry Birds figurine that would only enhance the hoarder-esque vibe of his bedroom. Maybe Nicholas is lazy.
I should maybe work on that, huh?
By: Shannon Ralph
Puppies are adorable. They are cute and cuddly. They are little four-legged, round-bellied, wrinkly lumps of love.
At least in theory.
In reality, as my daughter and I came to learn last night, puppies can be quite a pain in the ass—or, more literally speaking, a pain the fingers and toes.
Yesterday, Sophie and I found ourselves in the unusual position of having an evening alone together. Ruanita was working until midnight, so I was poised for another night of single parenting bliss. With a heat index of 100 degrees, we would be trapped indoors. My night was looking like a veritable cornucopia of pleasure—laundry, fish sticks, dishes, and arguments over the iPad, DS, television, Wii, and cell phone. My excitement level was through the roof, as you can imagine, when a phone call put a sudden wrinkle in my planned evening of euphoric domesticity. My mom invited the boys to spend the night with her.
There it was. My escape! My Hail Mary Pass! My Calgon-Take-Me-Away moment!
did a little jig right there in my living room braced myself against the maternal longing to have my children near and elatedly reluctantly agreed to part with the boys for the evening, leaving Sophie and I the rare opportunity for a mother/daughter date night.
What to do….what to do….?
The possibilities were endless. We could go get pedicures. We could go to a movie. We could go to Yogurt Lab and fill up on toppings galore. We could go to the Mall (this momma likes to shop and hadn’t been to the mall in months and months). Oooh…and there is a Long John Silvers in the food court at the mall! My night was definitely looking up!
I asked Sophie—because, you know, it was all about her—where she wanted to go for our mother/daughter date night (hinting heavily at a fried food orgy at the gargantuan Mall of America). My daughter would have no part of it. I even offered her a trip to the American Girl Doll store. (Why the hell can’t my daughter play with dolls like other girls her age??) She couldn’t be swayed. She simply did not want to go to the mall.
Instead, my daughter batted her long eyelashes, smiled the sweetest little smile her seven-year-old facial muscles could muster, and asked me to please, please, please take her to the Humane Society to see the puppies and kitties.
So rather than domestic (air-conditioned) bliss, we spent the evening in the smelly kennel area of the Golden Valley Humane Society. Though the adoption center is air conditioned, the runs where they keep the dogs are not. Despite the roar of multiple fans, it was pretty damn hot in there. And the heat intensified the smell, which needed little inflation to knock an adult woman to her knees.
Luckily, we did not spend much time in the kennel area. Rather, we took individual pets to the personal “play” rooms that the Humane Society has. Basically, glorified closets with benches to play with the animals and get a feel for them prior to choosing a pet to adopt.
Sophie was immediately drawn to one of two bulldog puppies. A pudgy little brown and white female named Jane. I have to admit she was pretty dang adorable. All belly and wrinkles. She was just barely eight weeks old, so had probably just been separated from her mother. And she was a ball of energy that Sophie was in no way prepared for.
Jane chased Sophie. Jane jumped on Sophie. Jane nipped at Sophie—her legs, her toes, her finger. And Jane had tiny razor-sharp teeth that Sophie was not expecting. Jane was nothing short of canine hell on wheels—er, paws.
too damn long brief visit with Jane ended with Sophie in tears, cradling a red, punctured hand against her chest and me trying unsuccessfully to contain a wiggly nine-pound pooch who had, by the way, peed in the corner of our small closet playroom and proceeded to prance through it while attacking my daughter. And did I mention that she chewed on my favorite Keen sandals—an unforgivable offense no matter how cute you are!
We played with a few more dogs, including a beautifully docile and cuddly three-month-old Coonhound puppy named Bree. She was a doll and I would have taken her home in a skinny minute had I not known full well that Ruanita would have kicked me, Sophie, and the dog out on the streets. The thought of sharing a cardboard box with Sophie and a Coonhound didn’t really appeal to me, so we said a sad farewell to Bree and all the other malodorous mutts at the Humane Society.
Did I get Long John Silvers for dinner? Nope. Sophie won that debate, too, and we ended up at her favorite dinner joint—Carbone’s.
Despite the date night itinerary that would certainly not have been my first choice for a free evening, we had a wonderful time. My daughter is one amazing little girl with feelings and ideas and opinions that are so quintessentially “Sophie” it takes my breath away. Last night was one of those a-ha moments that happen in parenthood. One of those moments where you find yourself drawn out of your usual domestic drudgery and see your child. I mean really see your child. I saw Sophie last night in all of her seven-year-old awkward, beautiful, shy, giggly, independent, tender, clumsy, needy, intelligent, engaging glory.
I am one damn lucky momma!
Have you ever had the distinct impression that your body was being inhabited by another being—like, say, a pearl-sporting, plastic smiling, 50s era Memphis housewife? No? Okay, maybe it’s just me. I am not typically a believer in the occult, but it is the only explanation I can come up with to account for the day I have had today.
If you know me at all, you know that a perfect little housewife is about as far from me as a person can be. Truth be told, if it were not for Ruanita, my children would be living in squalor. I am just not a very good housekeeper. As a matter of fact, I suck. I readily admit it.
It’s not that I am lazy. I really am not. It’s just that, well…cleaning the oven just never occurs to me. Vacuuming is a natural consequence of installing carpet, but I don’t think about it. Brooms are made for a purpose, but it never crosses my mind to sweep. Normal people see a dusty table and pull out the Pledge. I either don’t see it or it just doesn’t connect. Perhaps my “housekeeping” synapses didn’t form correctly in utero. I think it might be genetic.
So imagine my surprise when, quite unexpectedly, I went on a cleaning rampage today. We had been threatening the children for weeks that we are going to make them clean their rooms–really clean their rooms. Purge their rooms. They had become so messy that even I noticed that there was no discernible pathway to their beds anymore—perhaps, in part, due to the fact that they’ve been sleeping in our bedroom since school let out. Regardless of the reason, however, their bedrooms had become an eyesore—even to my domestically blind eye.
After weeks of empty threats, Ruanita finally laid down the law on Friday. The children would clean their rooms this weekend. I was all for it until the revelation hit me that Ruanita was scheduled to work ten-hour days on both Saturday and Sunday. Shit.
That left me. Domestically decrepit me to coordinate/assist/threaten/coerce the children into cleaning. It was not the ideal scenario and I secretly suspect Ruanita, after years of watching me wandering around the house idly while she washed dishes and scrubbed toilets, was enacting some sicko passive-aggressive plot to make me clean, too.
I began yesterday with Sophie. She was a rock star. Honestly. She is such a little cleaner. Such a hard worker. If I did not have vivid memories of puking throughout her entire cesarean birth, I would seriously suspect that she was not really my progeny. This work ethic of hers is obviously a genetic anomaly—a throw-back to some indomitable pioneer woman from generations ago.
She worked her skinny little ass off. She hauled toys down to the basement. She carried bags of trash out to the alley. She willingly threw away toys/art supplies/games she did not need and hadn’t touched in months. She was all like, “Yep, toss it.” “Get rid of it.” “Don’t need it.” I was totally in awe of her.
Today was the boys’ turn. “Awe” is not really the term I would use to describe the experience of cleaning with the boys. Unless you are using the word in the sense of:
Awe, noun —the power to inspire dread or fear
Awe, noun —an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like.
Their reaction to cleaning certainly inspired dread and fear in me. Fear of turning on my television in twenty years to see a future episode of Hoarders featuring the basement-dwelling Pierce-Ralph brothers.
But I digress. Let’s get back to me. My sons’ hoarderific tendencies are a blog for another day.
I was a whirlwind today. I cleaned the boys’ room, removing four garbage bags of junk and clutter. I carried all the bags—in addition to several armfuls of various broken toys—to the trash bin in the alley. I organized all of their remaining toys and books and various collections of peculiar things. I made their beds. I vacuumed their room (after finally figuring out how to turn the damn thing on). Then I proceeded to vacuum the hallway and the living rom. I even vacuumed the bathroom rug.
Then I baked cookies. From scratch. From a cookbook my son picked out at the library. A Star Wars cookbook. I made Sand Trooper Sandies. In the shape of stars. What the hell??
Then I washed all the dishes and ran the dishwasher.
Then I bathed all three of my children.
Then I emptied the dishwasher. Seriously. Me. The woman who has been known (ssshhhh…don’t tell Ruanita) to re-run a dishwasher full of dishes to avoid putting them away, actually emptied the dishwasher of my own accord.
Then I went to the grocery store.
Then I made a huge pot of homemade chicken and dumplings for dinner. From scratch!
Then—and this is the kicker—I washed the dumpling pot. That does not sound like much, but I am a firm believer in “the soak.” I believe that all large pots should soak overnight before being washed. Yes, I am fully aware that my beloved partner, who tends much less toward a squalorly lifestyle than me, cannot stand a pot in the sink and will likely wash it before my prerequisite 24-hour soak is up. But I should not squelch my own beliefs simply because of her eccentricities. Right?
So what in the hell is wrong with me today? Have I lived with Ruanita for so long that I am turning into her? Is the nearly-orgasmic pleasure of purging more powerful than my genetic disposition toward disarray? Was the sweet swan song of dumplings more than my apathetic psyche could resist?
I don’t know the answer. Hence, my hypothesis about the body-snatching, decade-hopping, homemaker. It’s really the only feasible explanation I can come up with.
By: Shannon Ralph
I just got out of the shower. This is not, in itself, a very blog-worthy event as I usually take a shower most days. As a matter of fact, today I took two. One before IT happened and one after IT happened.
For the third time in recent months, I accompanied my daughter to a roller skating rink. Today, it was for a friend’s birthday party. And for the third time in recent months, I put on skates and confidently rolled myself right out onto the wooden rink. Unlike the other two times, however, today I did a graceful nose-dive onto that same wooden rink.
Prior to the past few months, I had not been on roller skates since I was probably twelve years old. Back in the day, I considered myself somewhat of a roller skating phenom. I could skate fast. I could skate backwards. I could spin. I could jump. I could do the hokey pokey and turn myself around. Skating was what it was all about.
One would think that skating would be akin to riding a bike. Once you learn, you never forget how to do it. Right? One would think this, but one would be dead wrong. Believe it or not, thanks in no small part to my ginormous D cups, my center of gravity has shifted somewhat since I was a twelve year old twig who prayed nightly for God to make me gain weight so my cousin, Dennie, Jr., would stop calling me a beanpole. I had no clue what a beanpole was, but I was convinced enough that it was a “bad” thing to silently beg God for some extra poundage.
Who knew God had such a fucking wicked sense of humor?
He answered my plea for pounds with wanton abandon while simultaneously ignoring my prayers for Farrah Fawcett’s hair and Daisy Duke’s legs. Real funny, God. You are one HI-LAR-IOUS dude.
But I digress.
Skating is exercise. It certainly didn’t seem like it when I was cruising around the rink at twelve years old in between stuffing nachos in my face. But at forty? It is a freaking workout. Like doing Pilates while on a Stairmaster. Or lifting weights while on a treadmill. It’s a ridiculous workout for a forty year old body.
And it was hot at the skating rink today. Quite humid. My cute little twig of a daughter developed adorable little beads of sweat on her nose as cute little skinny kids often do when it is hot. Not me though. No, I had stinky rivers of sweat careening down my face. My hair was dripping wet. My glasses were fogged up. I looked a mess. (Hence, the second shower today.) Honestly, I am surprised paramedics didn’t come rushing in the room to try to resuscitate me.
But the way I looked was far from my biggest concern. Falling on my ass was much more humiliating.
Truth be told, I didn’t actually fall on my ass. I fell more on those lovely D cups. It all played out in slow motion, as the cringe-worthy events of my life all seem to do. One minute I was trying to catch up to my daughter—she wouldn’t skate unless I went out there with her, but then she skated so far ahead of me that there was really no point—and the next minute, I could feel my torso move considerably too far in front of my skates. I was getting way ahead of myself. My brain was twelve years old again, but my legs were forty year old Jell-O.
I tried to catch myself. I swung my arms in the air rapidly like a baboon on crack, attempting to regain my balance. My left leg went right and my right leg went left. No amount of wing flapping would save me. I was going down.
I didn’t feel the fall so much as I heard it. Slap! One thigh hit the ground, reverberating as each molecule of cellulite bounced up and down against the hardwood floor. Slap! The other hit the ground. Splat! My stomach. Ka-boom! One boob. Then the other. And finally—Smack! Both hands. I was laid out flat—little girls careening around me to avoid a pile-on.
When was the last time you fell? Maybe on ice in the winter? Maybe you twisted your ankle and went down? Maybe you tripped over your dog? All of these are unfortunate incidences, but in most cases, the fall in the most humiliating part and it is all over quickly.
When you are wearing roller skates, the fall is only half the fun. Getting up is as bad—if not worse—than the fall itself. Getting up is U-G-L-Y. See…the thing is, well…wheels roll. It’s what they’re made to do. You put a little pressure on them, and the move. At one point in the rather lengthy getting-up process, my ass was sticking straight up in the air while both hands were on the ground and only one foot was on wheels. I can only imagine the horrified little faces behind me in direct view of my granny panties.
Somehow—and I still haven’t quite figured that one out yet—I finally managed to finagle myself into an upright position again and limped off the rink in shame. Of course, it was not before the “rink monitor” executed an effortless figure 8 around me to ask if I was okay. I wanted to shout, “I am forty year old woman with wheels attached to my feet! Do you honestly THINK I am okay?” Instead, I averted my eyes and mumbled something along the line of, “Umm…yea…sure…ummm…I’m fine.”
So here I sit. Freshly showered, nursing a glass of wine, and struggling somewhat with the fact that I will never again be the skating phenom I once was. Never again will I be that agile girl with the concave chest and the mad hokey pokey skills. That torch is being passed to the next generation. My beautiful little girl will take up the mantle and hokey pokey her little ass off.
Next time, I may just cheer her on from the sidelines.
By: Shannon Ralph
I have come to the conclusion in recent weeks that my youngest son may just be gay. Or not. One or the other. The important thing, of course, is that I love him regardless. But I am beginning to wonder.
Why do I think my son might be gay?
Well, there are several reasons and every single one of them is a broad, sweeping generalization about gay men. Of course, all stereotypes have to have an infinitesimal grain of truth to them, right? Or else, how would they ever come to be broadly (and unfairly) accepted to apply to an entire group of people? So while the below list may be ripe with stereotypes, they do have me wondering about where my young son will eventually fall on the gay/straight spectrum.
1. All of his friends at school are girls. He gets along better with girls, as he seems to have little in common with rough and tumble seven-year-old boys. “Rough” and “tumble” are words that would never be used to describe Nicholas. As a matter of fact, the vision of Nicholas “tumbling” with anyone makes me smile. His twin sister could totally kick his ass.
2. He told me recently that there is a “boys” table and a “girls” table at lunchtime. He is the only boy who regularly sits at the girls table because, frankly, he says the boys’ table smells. The heady testosterone-infused aroma offends his delicate sensibilities (that is not a direct quote), so he prefers to sit with the girls.
3. He wanted, and of course received, a yoga mat for is birthday. In what was, by far, the strangest conversation I have had in a good long while, the gay boy stocking shelves in the yoga aisle at Target gave us a knowing look, a wink and a nod as he told us, “You two look like you would be the accepting parents I always wished I had should your yoga-loving (wink, wink) son one day tell you he is gay.”
4. He effusively tells his sister how beautiful she is. Often. As a matter of fact, I have a picture of Sophie as the wallpaper on my phone, and just yesterday Nicholas was waving the phone around to anyone and everyone who would look saying, “Now this is what true beauty looks like!”
5. He is overly effusive about everything. Seriously. Everything. Every tree is the most beautiful tree he has ever seen in his life. His blanket is the warmest blanket he has ever felt in his life. Every grilled cheese sandwich I make his is the best grilled cheese he has ever eaten in his life. Every puppy is the cutest puppy he has ever seen in his life. I want to say, “Dude. Everything can’t be THE BEST.”
6. He is incredibly orderly. There is a place for everything and everything is in its place. Though his bedside nightstand may look like something from a particularly horrifying episode of “Hoarders,” he knows every single thing that is stored there. God help the poor soul who makes the egregious mistake of thinking his Dum-Dum wrapper collection is trash!
7. He is particular about his clothes. Whereas I believe his older brother, Lucas, doesn’t even see the clothes we hand him to put on each morning, Nicholas is quite selective about his clothing. And he has a style that only be described as Nouveau Nicholas. Though it has been known to occasionally involve tube socks and crocs, I see a possible designing career in his future.
8. He helps his sister pick out her clothes. And of course, everything she puts on is “fabulous.”
9. He is the biggest cuddler we have and constantly tells us how much he loves us.
10. I come from Kentucky where every young boy gets sheered like a sheep come summertime. My hometown is rampant with skinny little knobby-kneed boys running around with buzz cuts this time of the year. Nicholas, however, is quite fond of his hair. Whereas his older brother cares not at all about the shape of the hair on his head, Nicholas likes his long. He likes to be able to brush his bangs from his eyes with a mere whip of his head. He likes it hanging over his ears. He does NOT, however, appreciate being called a hippie—a fact I earned the hard way.
11. He gets his feelings hurt easily. Every perceived wrong is met, not with loud arguments, but with quiet tears that he tries his best to blink away before they are noticed. But I notice them. His other mom notices them. And they worry us.
How will our sweet, gentle, effusive, beauty-loving, oddly particular, someone rigid little style maven be accepted by the world? Will he be considered “weird?” The world is changing, but Nicholas is growing older every day. Is it changing fast enough for him? Wherever he ends up falling on the sexual identity spectrum, I will always and forever adore him. And like every mom who ever wondered “maybe…?” I will pray every night for a more accepting, tolerant world.
By: Shannon Ralph
So, I’ve been
obsessing thinking a lot lately about my eldest son’s all-too-near-future foray into middle school. I’m worried about him. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of meeting Lucas, let me take a moment to describe my dear son.
Lucas is, well…he’s very much a product of his environment. Take one high-strung, work-her-ass-off, the-sky-is-always-falling lesbian, add a terminally laid-back, slacker, isn’t-that-falling-sky-a-gorgeous-shade-of-blue lesbian, throw in a couple of dysfunctional extended family members with addictive personalities, add a chubby blonde baby to the mix, and you get…Lucas!
Lucas is awesome. Really, he is an amazing kid and I adore him. But he is an enigma, of sorts. He is a math whiz, but struggles with reading and writing. He can remember the (every language BUT English) words to his entire choir repertoire, but can’t seem to remember to flush the toilet. Or change his underwear. Or bring home his homework. He gets nervous. Often. But not over the things you and I might get nervous about.
He is a sociable kid. He can stand up in front of a crowd of hundreds and sing beautifully without so much as hint of nervousness. But he freaks out if the bathroom sink drips. He struggles with anxiety. He doesn’t handle the unknown very well. He has to know what he should be doing at all times. He has to know how things will turn out. He has to know how every story ends. He has attention issues at times. He’s never been diagnosed with attention problems, but he tends to escape to his own thoughts a lot. He’s a thinker. He’s what used to be called a daydreamer. He’s not worldly like other boys his age. He’s a true innocent. Obnoxious, but innocent.
Come September, he will be thrown into a completely different world and I am worried. He has a good group of friends, so I am not so much worried about him being lonely. Or bullied. Or called names. That may happen, of course, but he has a core group of four good boys that he hangs out with. He’s not a loner.
No, I don’t harbor the “normal” parent middle school worries. My worries are irrational. Ridiculous, even.
• I worry that he will be unable to remember his locker combination and will start crying in the hallway—a turn of events that would mortify him.
• I worry that he won’t remember how to get from one classroom to the next without a kindergarten-style walk-with-your-finger-on-the-wall line of classmates.
• I am afraid that the clothes I pick out for him (because he does not care in the least about clothes and will put on whatever I hand him) will be a little too lesbian chic for 5th grade.
• I am afraid he will start speaking in lingo I don’t know and that I won’t be able to find an appropriate translator.
• I am afraid he will begin cursing and, being a less than stellar parent, I will laugh rather than react appropriately, thereby reinforcing a sailor’s mouth in my innocent little boy. And we all know that “shit” and “damn” are gateway words. Before long, my baby boy will be casually spouting the BIG ONES, and it’ll all be my fault because I reacted poorly in middle school.
• I am afraid he will not fit into any of the typical middle school cliques. He’s not truly a “geek/nerd” because he is a pretty dang social kid. He’s not really a “brainiac” because, while he is amazing at math, he can’t write a coherent sentence to save his life. He is in no way whatsoever a “jock.” He has neither the interest nor the ability to be athletic. He’s not really “preppy,” as he does not own a single piece of clothing manufactured by Hollister or Abercrombie (we are Target and Old Navy people up in here). He’s never been your typical rough-and-tumble boy. He’s just a regular kid. A good kid. I am hoping there is a group for that.
• His friends will find out that 1.) He cannot tie his shoes (seriously…he wears slip-on shoes all the time and has refused to learn to tie his shoes—though his six-year-old sister can tie hers), 2.) He still cannot ride a bike (and has no desire to learn, in part due to his anxiety), and 3.) He still sleeps with the stuffed “doggie” he’s had since birth.
• I worry that his homework is going to be beyond me. Fourth grade math is already pretty damn advanced for my tastes.
• I worry that he will stop climbing in bed with his mommas on the weekends. I love that time with him.
• I worry that girls will like him. He’s a handsome boy with gorgeous blue eyes and big dimples. He’s smart. Sociable. Kind. Gentle. He’s everything an eleven-year-old girl wants in a steady “boyfriend,” right? I am SO not ready for unworthy little hair-flipping, giggling, make-up-wearing wenches hanging on my son. See…there you go. I am not going to be good at this.
• I’m afraid he’ll get lost in the shuffle. An average kid amongst average kids. How will anyone know what an extraordinary child he is?
In the end, isn’t that what we all worry about as parents? Will the world be able to recognize the amazing potential that exists behind those radiant blue eyes? Will the world understand what a beautifully crafted, brilliantly original child we created? Will the world treat him as such?
I hope and pray.