At open house, each of the first grade teachers had a sheet for parents to sign up to come help the kids with their reading each week. Unfortunately, I went to Finn’s class first, and by the time I got to Drew and Porter’s classes, the lists were all filled.
I was secretly relieved. I already listen to the twins read books every night for homework, and I wasn’t dying to take time out of the school day to listen to other people’s children stumble through Sheep In A Jeep. Still, when the reading helper schedule came out, I felt bad. Plenty of other mothers were making the sacrifice. I resolved to get on the list for next semester.
Bill went fishing with my dad all weekend, so it was just me and the boys. Saturday morning I woke up to a silent house. The boys’ beds were empty. As I made coffee, I saw some movement in the magnolia tree in the front yard. A moment later a guerrilla dropped from the branches and raced into the nearby azaleas. Then all three boys ran toward the side yard, clutching their firearms.
They truly looked terrifying. There was a hint of fall in the air, and they’d raided the coat closet and found ski masks. As I watched, I noticed that Drew had a gun attached to his belt and a canteen strapped to his back. Although his face was already obscured, he’d tied a red bandanna around his face, cowboy style. Porter had a pair of plastic binoculars dangling from his neck and carried a big stick and a butterfly net. Finn had his long rifle from Disney World and wore a batting glove on each hand.
I went back to my coffee and luxuriated in the peace and quiet, punctuated from time to time with cries of “The Taliban is coming!” and “I caught Osama! You guard him while I go get some nuts to feed him!”
Finn had a football game later that morning. Drew and Porter begged to wear their terrorist clothes to the field, but I decided that might not be safe in today’s climate, so I made them change into regular clothes and leave their guns behind. Unfortunately, I failed to frisk them for weapons.
Finn made a couple of good tackles, and his team won. Drew and Porter spent the entire game playing under a tree with a couple of friends. I figured they were building a caterpillar habitat since that’s been the hot activity all week during recess at school.
After the game, I strolled over to the tree to tell them it was time to go.
“Hey guys, I want to see the habitat,” I said, as I came near. They had smoothed out a circle of dirt and surrounded it with rocks.
“We’re not making a habitat,” Drew said absently, pulling a handful of something out of his pocket and tossing it into the circle. “We’re making a fire.”
“Yeah, and we’re gonna chop some wood to put on the fire,” Porter said cheerfully. He was holding a pocketknife, using it to whittle small chips off a stick.
I peered into the circle and saw that the white scraps Drew had deposited were cigarette butts. While I had thought my boys were helping Mother Nature by fashioning a home for caterpillars, in reality they’d been playing with knives and nicotine during the entire game. No wonder they hadn’t bothered me.
I confiscated the knife, checked everyone’s pockets and hustled them into the van. On the way home, I stopped to rent movies, which formed the backbone of my plans for the remainder of the weekend. My boys don’t get to watch TV during the week, and their consumption is strictly limited on the weekends. The promise of multiple movies was powerful.
Once home, we settled into an easy routine: an hour of chores, watch a movie. Repeat as needed until house is clean or everyone falls asleep.
It was a resounding success. The boys cleaned their rooms and bathrooms, including the dried up toothpaste that inevitably settles on the counters and sinks. We got the whole house vacuumed and all the laundry done. We cleaned the garage and swept the deck. We cleaned out the van and went to the grocery store.
It wasn’t until we were all snuggling in my bed late Saturday night that I realized we had skipped baths. Everyone was smelling a little ripe. I wrote “bathe boys” on a sticky note and put it on my mirror, then I put everyone to bed.
Sunday the twins had a baseball game. Both boys got a hit, and Porter had a nice throw from the outfield to second base. Of course, he’d been put in the outfield because he couldn’t stop playing in the dirt when he was in the infield, but still: when the pressure was on, he performed.
It was late afternoon when we got home. I helped the twins with their homework, then ran a tub full of water. I commanded them to bathe thoroughly, and I returned to the kitchen to heat up a nutritious meal of chicken fingers and french fries, with a choice of yogurt or applesauce on the side.
As the food cooked, I returned to the bathroom to wash the twins’ hair. To my surprise, they were already out of the tub, with towels hung up and pajamas on. I certainly wasn’t going to undo all that they had achieved by making them get back in the tub, so I went ahead with dinner and still more homework.
Before I tucked everyone into bed, we all got in my bed and snuggled a while. After a moment, I noticed a noxious smell permeating the air.
“Porter, let me see your feet,” I said. He can produce some gnarly foot odor. He pulled them out from under the covers and I sniffed them. They didn’t smell like roses, but they were not the source of the stench that assailed my nostrils.
I started sniffing cautiously around the room. As I got near Drew’s head, the smell grew stronger. I checked Porter’s, too. Ugh. I thought about the boys running around in ski masks that covered their heads. In baseball hats. In batting helmets. No wonder they reeked. I groaned.
I wasn’t concerned about the actual smell; I knew it was just dirt and sweat. I was worried about what would happen when an unsuspecting mother took Drew in her lap to help him read It’s A Frog’s Life and got a whiff of him. I’d be the talk of the first grade.
“What’s wrong, Mom?” Drew asked.
“You stink,” I said. “I don’t think you’ve washed your hair in days. You smell like a skunk.”
The twins thought that was hilarious.
“I stink like a skunk! I stink like a skunk!” Porter chanted, bouncing up and down on the bed.
“I LIKE to smell like a skunk,” Drew proclaimed. “Then no girls will get near me.”
“Yeah, girls with GERMS,” Porter agreed.
Finn looked at me. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “It’s kind of late.”
“I’ll show you what I’m going to do,” I said, and I marched to the bathroom and retrieved a can of Psssssst I’d bought more as an exercise in nostalgia than out of any belief that I’d actually use it.
Psssst was an integral part of my mom’s beauty routine when we were growing up. The can sprays a substance that looks like liquid chalk onto your hair, which you then brush out. Apparently it takes the dirt and oil with it. When my mom wasn’t around, my sisters and I used to spray it onto our hands then scrape the powder off with our fingernails.
I read the fine print. Pssst claims to be perfect for “in between shampoos” and “after sports.” Porter and Drew met both criteria.
“That looks like it’s for ladies,” Drew protested. “You can’t put that on my head.”
“You have two choices, mister,” I said. “You can hold still while I spray this on your head, or you can take another bath.”
“No bath! No bath!” Porter yelled. “Spray me first!”
I started spraying and brushing.
They howled as I ran into tangles. My goal wasn’t to attain actual cleanliness, just the scent of cleanliness, and the Psssst was not heavily scented. I sprayed and brushed several times before I noticed any improvement in the boys’ smell. After three or four applications I deemed them respectable enough for school. I had used almost the whole can.
And then I put everyone in the bed.
This morning, I was dragging. The boys were already up and dressed for school when I ambled into the kitchen to make coffee. Porter was making pancakes and Drew was picking at a bowl of Trix. Both of them were wearing ski masks.
“What are you doing?” I yelled. “”Take those off immediately!”
“But Mom,” Drew said, “I want to wear a hat to cover my hair. My hair smells like a girl.”
“Me, too,” said Porter.
“You can’t wear hats to school,” I said, peeling the ski masks off each twin. “It’s against the rules.”
Last night’s smell washed over me. The hats had clearly been the main culprit.
“And believe me, you don’t smell like girls,” I added. “Let me get the spray.”
I got the Psssst, but it was almost empty. I went in the kitchen and looked under the sink for Lysol, but couldn’t find any. Right on schedule, there was a honk in the driveway. Chatty Mom had arrived to take everyone to school.
“We get to go to school stinky!” Porter exclaimed, picking up his backpack.
“Not so fast!” I screamed. I ran into the laundry room and grabbed the Febreze and chased Drew and Porter into the driveway, carefully aiming shots of spray at the backs of their heads. I stopped when I got to the van. Chatty Mom looked at me and the bottle of Febreze.
“I am not even going to ask,” she said. “I’m sure there’s a perfectly good reason you’re spraying your children with fabric refresher.”
“There is,” I said.
“I trust you,” she said, as she started backing out of the driveway.
So far no one has called from school demanding that I bathe my filthy children. Dare I claim victory?