A long time ago, when my daughter was six, I became a single mother. It wasn’t my choice, and we had some very bad years, and I would not recommend being unmarried with children to anyone, especially since I’ll never be able to make it up to my daughter for her lousy childhood. But when Lani moved in with Sweetness and Light, I figured I could do better this time. So before they got here, I painted their rooms in their favorite colors and got them curtains with sequins on them (which their mother and Aunt Krissie loved more than they did) and then I started collecting art projects and puzzles and paints and general Good Stuff and put it all in a box in my closet that became the Magic Box that opens whenever it rains and Some People get bored. So at the slightest hint of moisture now, Light comes and finds me and says, “Magic Box?” (We will ignore for the moment all the snickering that occurs when Aunt Krissie and Mommy talk about Aunt Jenny’s Magic Box, “not to be confused with the Glittery HooHa.” Really, these women should not be allowed around children.) The nice thing about the Magic Box, is that whenever it opens, it’s the Best Day Ever. So what I’m thinking is, everybody should have a Magic Box. What I’m also realizing is that there is no way to talk about the Magic Box without talking dirty, so I’m leaving this topic now.
I am now way too interested in the Littlest Pet Shop toys. Last week, the box gave up panda bears with annoyed expressions wearing little straw hats with pink flowers. Plus Hello Kitty glue sticks. Best Day Ever. The kids liked them, too.
Sweetness is interested in boys in a completely charming well-this-is-interesting kind of way. We were watching Thoroughly Modern Millie on my mistaken assumption that it would be as delightful as I remembered it, and Lani and Krissie wandered off bored, but Sweetness watched everything, asking me why Millie was kissing Jimmy when she was in love with Mr. Graydon, and why Mr. Graydon liked Miss Dorothy better than Millie, and I found myself looking at the movie in a whole new way. When it was done, I gave her the DVD. I figure she’ll miss all the white slavery stuff and concentrate on Miss Dorothy blushing and Jimmy kissing Millie. Also, she’d have yanked it out of my hand if I hadn’t handed it over. When Sweetness wants to consider something in depth, do not get in her way.
Another good thing about living with kids: kids’ books and DVDs. We watched Coraline which is one of the most stunning movies I’ve ever seen. Absolutely beautiful. Plus, good story. The 3D screwed up the color so I prefer the 2D version but really just amazingly gorgeous. Then I went out and got Stardust, which I realized was too adult for them after I watched it first, but I wouldn’t have watched it at all if it hadn’t been for them, and despite its flaws, it was a lot of fun. And gorgeous. And now for the first time, I’m seriously considering writing kids books because Sweetness devours them and then I steal them. There’s something very elegant and minimalist about kids books and YA fiction.
Sweetness has this problem with thinking through her sentences too thoroughly–she wants them to be correct, damn it–so she gets half way through and starts over. Over and over. I told her she was like somebody standing on a diving board, jumping up and down but not diving, so now when she starts to get tangled, we all yell, “Jump, Sweetness, jump!” and she laughs and finishes the sentence. Light, on the other hand, has so much to say that she gets to the end and then starts another one immediately, usually preceded with, “And you know what?” As in “I got a Littlest Pet Shop gecko, and you know what? it has spots, and you know what? if you hold it in your hand and keep it warm, the spots go away, and you know what . . .” which has unfortunately led to her mother and I laughing helplessly because “and you know what?” and “guess what?” and “I’m thinking of a number between one and ten” are all Light trademarks now. The “I’m thinking of a number between one and ten” is particularly deadly because you have to keep going until you get it, and then it’s a big anticlimax, followed by, “I’m thinking of a number . . .” But even that isn’t as disastrous as the riddles. Dear god, the riddles from kids can go on forever. Light has one that she gets caught in a loop in every time:
Light: Knock, knock.
Adult: Banana who?
Light: Knock knock.
Adult: Who’s there?
Adult: Banana who?
Light: Knock knock.
(Repeat endlessly until the adult in the conversation starts to scream. Then . . .)
Light: Knock knock.
Adult: Who’s there?
Adult: Apple who?
Light: (Look of confusion.) Wait, wait. Knock, knock.
Adult: (Oh for the LOVE OF GOD) Who’s there?
Adult: Orange who?
Light:Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?” (Helpless giggles, falling over backward.)
Adult: Goes for a boozle.
But I was talking about riddles. So Light says, “I have a riddle. Do you want to hear it?” I say, “Yes.” You have to say yes, it’s in the kid rule book. Light says, “What’s black and white and black and white and black and white and black and white?” Lani says, “Here’s a hint, Krissie told it to her.” I say, “A panda gang bang.” Sweetness says, “What?” Lani says, “AUNT JENNY!” I say, “I give up.” Sweetness says, “A nun rolling downhill.” Insane laughter, followed by falling over backward. Lani passes over a boozle.
We went to Target for some preliminary school shopping. This is where I confess that I’ve gone school shopping every year, whether I’ve had a kid to shop for or not, because, like every writer I know, I have an office/school-supplies jones that just won’t quit and August is the Best Month Ever for pens and papers. After much consultation about backpacks and lunchbags, Sweetness carefully chose a plain one that was in excellent taste; Light darted from one to the next saying, “This one! No, this one!” picking out a Tinkerbell bag and then a Littlest Pet Shop lunch bag and then a Hello Kitty bag, stopping only when forced to choose; and Lani and I got cheapo-on-sale-seven-dollar book bags for our laptops (Lani’s was Hello, Kitty and mine was Betty Boop). Then we moved on to the sparkly pencils. I love school shopping.
The last time Krissie was here, I was culling my jewelry and she found a sterling silver purse/locket about an inch and and a half in diameter that had a flap that opened to reveal a compartment that I think was supposed to hold cotton dipped in perfume. She said, “Mine,” and I passed it over. Then we got to National last month and she was wearing it, and I said, “Oh, good, that looks wonderful on you.” She said, “Do you know what’s in it?” I said, “Pot?” and she said, “No. Think Keith Richards.” (This is probably the place to tell you that her sister Taffy died a couple of months ago which was terribly hard for her.) You know, it’s not often that I am truly speechless, but my chin hit the floor. For those of you who are not Keith Richards fans, he caused a stir awhile back when he announced that he’d snorted some of his father’s ashes. I finally said, “Taffy’s in there?” And Krissie said, “She loved parties. So I’m taking her to all of them.” Which was really nice. And then, god help me, I laughed because . . . well, because, but I did try to take it seriously. When I knocked the pendant off the table at the hotel, I said, “Sorry, Taffy,” as I put it back. So if you see pictures of me staring at Krissie’s chest at National, it’s because I’m still dealing with the concept of Taffy in silver. (I know this ramble is about kids, but if you think Krissie is an adult, you’ve never seen her at Hobby Lobby or Steak N Shake.)
We went to the mall and Light wanted her ears pierced. She’s seven. We did the whole are-you-sure? thing and she was sure, lusting after a pair of sparkly pink and gold daisies. Sweetness, at ten, was not enthusiastic and decided to wait to see how things went with Light. The people at Claire’s, no dummies, decided to do both ears at once. One-two-three-punch-SCREAMS LIKE YOU NEVER HEARD FROM THE DAMNED IN HELL. People walking by in the mall turned to look in horror, so I said, “As God is my witness, she begged for them,” but I saw some definite we-should-call-children’s-services expressions. Light sobbed for about a minute and a half, and then I held up the blue plastic dolphin on a lanyard with a pink sparkly chapstick inside it that I had purchased in anticipation of this moment and said, “Look!” She went for it, although still a little sniffly, not helped when Sweetness said, “I’m never getting my ears pierced.” Then I told Light that in six weeks when she could wear other earrings, she could borrow some of mine which also helped, although Sweetness in the background saying “I’m only getting clip earrings forever” was not encouraging. Then we decided to go to Steak N Shake where there are Butterfinger milkshakes, and everything was just fine. And now the earrings sparkle and Light is in no pain and Sweetness tells her she looks beautiful while giving me and her mother the hairy eyeball as if we’re about to drag her off and have her drilled, too. Also we had Steak N Shake milkshakes again the next day because Aunt Krissie wanted them, plus French fries, so the world is a good place. And Sweetness is never getting her ears pierced, so we can just forget about that.
Sweetness writes stories and illustrates them, and she also does cartoons. Here’s one:
The caption is “Winners on scaring Sweetness out of her shorts,” because the dogs bark so loud and in the beginning that freaked Sweetness out. That’s Veronica up there on top getting the gold. Sweetness is going to be rich and famous some day and win the Nobel prize for literature. And Light will manage her career after she finishes managing her mother’s. As Lani said, “Light is going to be my Mollie.” Or possibly a great actress. The world is Light’s oyster, which she will open by force, pour ketchup over, and then decide not to eat.
Lani and Krissie and I are now talking about getting tattoos. Krissie already has several and I have two, but Lani has none and feels sort of dreary because of it, although we took her to get her makeup done at the dirt store, and I’m telling you, she had color. ( Jackie, the guy at the dirt store also did Sweetness and Light. Sweetness went for red lipstick which made her very unsure so half an hour later I gave her a Kleenex and she wiped it off. Light went for green lipstick and sported it all day, only losing it to her milkshake.) So we’re working on finding a simple triple symbol–very simple–since I have a couple of medium sized tattoos already and frankly, one more that size is going to start to look tacky although some people (cough Bob cough) have implied that I may have already crossed that line. I said, “You’re an army guy, don’t you have tattoos?” He said, “I was Special Forces, we weren’t allowed to have them.” Yeah, well, I don’t have to move silently through the night killing people with my little finger, so I can have tattoos. And so can Lani and Krissie. However when Light said, “Tattoos?” we all three said, “NO!” so she grumped off in her earrings. When she’s sixteen, she’ll come home with “Born To Organize Hell” on her forehead, but for now, I’m done with the heartrending screams. Also I’m out of plastic dolphins.
On Saturday nights, we have parties and everybody gets a turn planning them. Last week it was Light’s turn and we did clay animals and then we danced.
This week was Sweetness’s turn so we did a talent show and made sugar cookies. Next week it’s my turn and we’re watching a movie and making cupcakes and eating spaghetti. At six o’clock on Saturday nights, I think, “Oh, hell, the party,” and then five minutes later I’m laughing my butt off. I highly recommend the six to eight party plan. With dancing.
Everything you need to know about Sweetness and Light, you can tell from their sugar cookie habit. Sweetness takes two perfect cookies from the jar, looks sternly at a cookie half still in there, says, “Apparently, somebody broke a cookie,” and then eats hers plain. Light takes her two, slathers them with chocolate icing at least half an inch thick, puts sprinkles on top, draws a heart in glitter icing, (doing a play-by-play the entire time) and then says, “Which is better, chocolate icing or chocolate icing on a cookie?” I say, “Chocolate icing on a cookie.” She shakes her head and says, “No, just chocolate icing.” I say, “Then why aren’t you just eating just the icing?” Light gets an annoyed look on her face. “Why didn’t you tell me I could do that before I put it on the cookie?” I say, “Why didn’t you tell me you liked it better before you put it on the cookie?” Then Light eats both cookies, gets chocolate up her nose, which goes nicely with the Tang on her shirt and the ketchup and the ginger ale on her pants, and goes to play with the dogs. Sweetness is cookie haiku; Light is cookie burlesque.
Last week, Light and I were out on the patio waiting for the dogs to pee so we could go back inside and have breakfast. Light said, “My mom thinks we might stay here for a long time.” I nodded and said, cautiously since I wasn’t sure whether she was afraid they were staying or afraid they weren’t, “Well, we don’t know, but if that happens, I would like it.” “I would, too,” she said, and then she got up to chase the dogs.
I cried a little. Not much because then Light would tell me riddles to cheer me up, and there’s only so many times I can say, “Banana who?” before I start screaming, but I must say, this time I like being unmarried with children.