I took my family on a field trip once. I told them to get dressed, brush their hair, put on good, firm walking shoes, and gather up whatever they needed to be comfortable. Once I gathered them in the living room, made sure they were all set and ready to go, we embarked on our adventure. Straight to the dishwasher.
For a minute, they were confused. I smiled at their quandary. I had evil, secret thoughts of happiness in my black heart. I could see the look of disgust on their beautiful faces as they slowly put my scheme together in their heads. The clearer it became, their faces changed, and their arms folded. I gave them a crooked grin. I probably winked.
My voice dripped with sarcasm as I pointed at the contraption. ‘This my loves, is a dishwasher.’ Doing my best Vanna White impression, I continued. ‘You see, you can open this door and it just fold rights down. You can put dishes inside of it. You can put cups inside of it. You can put silverware inside of it. You can do all of this without barely breaking a sweat.’ They collectively rolled their eyes. ‘And then, if there are clean dishes inside, you can just remove those and put them in a cabinet.’
My explanation was thorough. In between the heavy sighing and stammering of little feet, it was well received. For a week. I even left out a stack of red plastic cups for their drinking pleasure.
Then, one night, I came home from work. A long, 12-hour shift. Exhausted, I stumbled into the bedroom, changed from my work pants to my yoga pants and tied my hair into a messy bun. I wanted a hot bath. I wanted some sleep. But, first, a nice glass of wine to take the edge of the day off.
Oh, how I wished at the moment I walked into the kitchen that I actually used my yoga pants for yoga. Oh, how I wished I knew how to do relaxation breathing. The only time I ever learned how to ‘breathe through’ something was when I was in labor and by the time my cervix was opened to a 4, there was no calm breathing, just screaming and f-bombs. This situation was no different.
As I sauntered into the kitchen and saw it, horror music played. You know, the song track they use in the movies when some serial killer is stabbing his victim by the lake at summer camp? My eyes fixated on it. The vein in my neck started bulging. My blood pressure shot to unsafe levels.
Seventeen, yes, 17 cups in the damn sink. Not one. Not five. Seven-fricking-teen. Apparently, my son decided to clean out his room. I am not sure why he loved chocolate milk so much, but I am sure by the looks of it there was a lone cow standing in a field somewhere crying in pain with sore teats from milk depletion. I tried to calm down. I really did. But wasn’t it just the week prior I showed the little sh*ts how to put those in the dishwasher?
‘Ok,’ I told myself. ‘Breathe. Breathe like they showed you in Lamaze.’ Hee, hee, ha, ha, ho, ho. ‘Maybe the dishwasher is full. Maybe he had to go rescue a baby animal somewhere. Maybe he twisted his arm carrying it all to the sink and he had to go to the emergency room.’ I flung open the dishwasher. Empty. EMPTY. I screamed.
I had had it.
I was done.
I slammed the dishwasher shut. I called out for him. I called out for anybody who would listen. His bedroom door opened, and he ran down the hall.
‘What’s wrong? What happened? Why are you screaming?’ He was worried.
Fire burned in my eyes.
He backed away.
I pointed to the sink.
‘Oh yeah, I cleaned out my room.’
My eyes bulged. ‘WHYARETHEDISHESNOTINTHEDISHWASHER?’ Yes, I said it like it was all one word.
‘You DON’T know?’ He shrugged his shoulders. He might have smiled. ‘Alright, that’s it. That’s IT! I will show you ‘I don’t know.’ You’re going to be sorry. I have HAD IT.’
I don’t even know what he said, if he even said anything. I blew past him and into the garage, grabbing the first storage bin I could find. I wrestled with it while I dragged it through the laundry room and over the heap of towels that somebody left on the floor. By the time I got back to the kitchen, he was gone, and in his place was my husband.
‘Are you ok, dear?’ He quipped.
He knew better than to say another word. He watched, silently, while I packed the dishes. He said nothing as I loaded the container with our plates, bowls, cups, silverware. Everything. I packed the entire kitchen.
When I was done, he addressed it. With his eyes wide open, he leaned in and whispered, ‘What are they supposed to eat off of?’
I took three deep, controlled breaths before I turned away and dug out one place setting for each of the children living in my house. One plate, one bowl, one cup, one silverware setting. I surprised myself at how calm I was while I placed the items on the counter. I turned to look at him and paused before I spoke. I cleared my throat.
I don’t remember if it was me or my husband who explained it to the kids. Probably him. I am sure I had blacked out from banging my head on the wall. Nobody said anything as I walked by them later and they were cleaning off their one dish when they were hungry again. My son never said anything while he soaked off the milky film from his cup. I’m sure they were terrified. Even my husband must have been scared because, a few days later, I found him standing at the coffee maker pouring coffee into a small, pink, toy teacup he must have found in my daughter’s playset.
‘What are you doing?’ I was puzzled.
‘I never got my allotment.’
I found the man a coffee cup. In his car. In a cardboard box where he stored them after he took them to work. 25 of them. On occasion, I would find that box on the front porch, like he was leaving me a gift. Well, buddy, you can’t have them all, but you can have my ‘Tinkerbell’ coffee cup. I think it eventually became his favorite.
Maybe my youngest daughter was too young to remember this incident, because just today, yes just today, she asked me if she could clean the kitchen for money. Wait. You mean you want to clean up your mess and have me pay you? In money? As opposed to giving you a roof over your head and food to eat? Um, no.
My husband was better with the kids. Way more patient. Much more forgiving.
Until that one night.
I don’t know why, but when my kids would need to get something out of a cabinet that was mounted on the wall, they would climb up onto the counter, open both cabinet doors and, in an effort to hold themselves up, they would often (and it better have been subconsciously) pull back on the doors to balance themselves. I never thought much about it until, one night, I heard a crash and subsequent screaming.
Oh, for the love of all that’s Holy, what now?
I followed the sounds of the screams, pretty confident that nobody was dead since he was still yelling. What I found was my son, on the counter in the laundry room, with all of the contents of what used to be in the cabinet on the floor below him. Art supplies. Glue. Glitter. Paper. Pens. Popsicle sticks. Batteries. A random video game controller. Halloween blood. A ski pass. A bunch of freaking junk I stashed up there. And on top of him, the cabinet, which luckily, when it came down, hit the wall behind him and, thankfully, didn’t crush him. Yes, friends, after all those years of hanging on it, it finally came unhinged, pretty much like me. I knew I had to help him although I did quickly calculate how long he might be able to stay in that position, holding up the cabinet, before he fell. I took position under him, held up the cabinet myself so he could get out, and what do you think he did?
He left me there.
So, at that point, I am holding up the cabinet, trying to balance my footing on some old phone book on the ground. I have one free hand. Barely. I manage to reach my cell phone and type out a quick message to my husband, who was at work. As a police officer.
I meant to follow up with something like, ‘I just need you to lift something.’ Or, ‘The cabinet fell, and I can’t get it back up.’ Or, ‘Just need your help really quick.’ That would have been great but, as soon as I finished the first text, of course the phone fell, on the floor, out of my reach and there was no way I was letting go of the cabinet to try to get it. And, for some odd reason, nobody came running to help me. But, maybe, that was because in all the commotion, somehow the laundry room door shut, and nobody could hear my muffled screams. My husband never texted me back. After about 5 minutes, I was sure I was going to meet my untimely death when the cabinet came crashing down on my head. This wasn’t the way I wanted to go. No, I had big plans. At least let me be trampled while drunk on vodka, dancing in the streets during a Carnival in Rio de Janeiro or something. Not this. Not crushed by a cabinet. In the laundry room. Are you kidding me? Dying in the laundry room? The laundry room has already sucked out my soul and now it wants to take my life, too?
Just when I was about to give up, I heard it. The garage door opening. Somebody was home. Somebody was going to save me. There was a pause before the back door to the garage opened. It was like whoever was out there was planning something. Come to find out, they were.
Because just then, just as the back door swung open, the front door did as well, and the deep voices of many men came ringing through the house.
You have got to be sh*tting me.
Yes, folks. I should have finished that text.
When they found me, in the laundry room, holding the cabinet with its contents all over the floor, they couldn’t help but laugh. I was in my pajamas. My hair was falling down in pieces around my face. I was tired. I was stuck in pure hell. I didn’t even have any makeup on. They patted my husband on the back and wished him well. My husband didn’t say a word. Not one word. Not one laugh. Not one sound.
He and his buddy lifted it off. His friend was trying to help without giggling. That was working until the last little bits of glitter came tumbling down on my head when they moved it.
My husband still didn’t break a smile. I tried to give him sad, puppy eyes, but still, nothing. They carefully placed the cabinet on the floor in the kitchen.
Oh, how I wish I had given him a better coffee cup.
Speaking of coffee cups, it worked. It really did. Because a month after I packed up the kitchen, I was lying in bed, watching mindless reality shows, when my son came in, sat down and quietly told me he had a question for me.
‘What do I have to do to earn back the forks?’
I composed a list of chores in my head as rainbows appeared in my room and unicorns danced around in delight.
Yes. My work here is done.”
This story was submitted Diana Register of Meridian, Idaho. Her book, “My Kid Is an Asshole, and So Is My Dog” is now available in print and kindle. You can follow her work on her author Facebook page.