On Saturday morning, just as I was placing a K-Cup into the Keurig for my first cup of coffee, eight-year old Charlie started to tell me about a dream he’d had the night before.
“And then the dragon ate a purple cherry and he started to run so fast. He was running and uh, he was wearing a…what do you call that thing again? Where it has no sleeves on your arms? A vest? Yes, a vest! He was wearing a silver shiny vest. Like, shiny! And then….uh…then…let’s see….”
I know, precious, right? For the first two minutes. After that I felt like I was slowly pulling brightly colored scarves out of a clown’s mouth, one silky strand at a time. I began supplying words to speed up the process—“Vest! It’s called a vest!”—and tried not to yawn.
I mean, imagine if you were in meeting at the office, and your co-worker started nattering on and on about his dreams. “And then I dreamed I was riding a horse through the woods, and ….” Eventually you would say, “Listen, Doug, that’s all good and the horse sounds really fun, but we have to get moving with this meeting, so you need to wrap it up.”
But you can’t do that with kids. They don’t get it. They do not possess the skills to wrap it up. They are oblivious to the eye roll, the subtle sigh. That’s where Fake Mom comes in!
“And then! Then the dragon grew wings. Yellow wings with blue stripes! Well, they were more like zig-zags. Or maybe dots? I can’t remember…but he was…well, he flew in the air so fast….”
Just before I reached for some matches and lit my own eyelashes on fire, Fake Mom stepped up and took the reins of the runaway dragon.
“Charlie! What a creative dream! Show me how fast he flew! Can you fly up the stairs and look for a silver vest in the costume box so you can look just like the dragon? Awesome!”
And away the child galloped, flapping his arms and pretending to fly, all the way to the playroom to look for the silver vest. I let out a big sigh, poured half a bottle of vanilla creamer into my coffee, and took a long sip.
(No, we do not own a silver vest. But it kept the young lad busy for almost an hour trying to find it. I know, Fake Mom is shameless.)
With five kids, Fake Mom is essential. She comes in very handy in the grocery store, at the library, negotiating the radio station in the car.
(Note, do yourself a favor and learn from my mistakes. Do not announce something like, “Shhh. Mommy loves this song!” when you’re all in the car. Because while you’re excited to zone out for a little while and listen to your friend’s wedding song from 1998 and dream about how cute you looked fresh off your own honeymoon in your black cocktail dress, this will happen:
Me: “Ssshhh….let’s be quiet! I love this song!”
Ten-year old: “This song? This is terrible!”
Eight-year old: “I like Justin Bieber better. Can you find one with Justin Bieber?”
Five-year old: “Justin BEAVER?”
Nine-year old: “Justin BIEBER. He went to jail.”
Six-year old: “No he didn’t! He went to the moon!”
Five-year old: “The MOON? Justin Beaver go to da MOON? There no wood to chew on DA MOON!”
And just like that, your song is over.
This is an excerpt from an actual conversation that took place in the Red Hot Chili Pepper. The song was My Valentine by Martina McBride, in case you were wondering.)
Fake Mom helps me let go of those ridiculous arguments kids love to engage in, like the time Charlie tried to convince me he could walk upside down. “On the ceiling, Mom! Or even in the sky! My legs would do it, I know they would.”
My first instinct was to roll my eyes and say something snarky like, “Okay, smartie, why don’t you try it while I stand here and watch. And spoiler alert! We are NOT going to the hospital when you fall and crack your head open.”
Fake Mom does not believe in snark. She is snark-less. Instead, she smiled brightly and told Charlie that maybe he can walk upside down. After all, anything is possible! Probably better to wait until he’s a little taller to try it, though.
Fake Mom does not fall to the floor in a fit of giggles when Henry shouts, “These goddamn carrots are crunchy!” at the dinner table. Instead, she rearranges her features so they read polite, yet stern. Unaffected. She seizes the teaching moment with a firm, “That is not a nice word. And carrots are crunchy, aren’t they? Yum!”
Many of you who know me understand that Rose is probably my favorite child. It’s not because she’s my only girl or anything like that. It’s because—at six years old—she is the most pleasant person I know. Easy breezy. Sweet and kind and generous and helpful and good.
But she lost some serious points last week when she cornered me to help her pick out an outfit for her upcoming date with her Daddy. Joe had missed this year’s annual father-daughter dance because we were in Jamaica, so he promised her he’d take her to dinner to make up for it.
Two days before said date, my pink daughter called me into her room under the pretense of helping her find a library book. Then she trapped me. She all but kicked the door closed, spun around on one foot, and began a verbal assault that went something like this:
“Which dress do you think Daddy will like better, the red or pink? The pink one twirls more but the red one has more flowers. Or maybe the blue dress with a red coat? What’s his favorite color? Just look at these silver tights I found! Oh where did I put that lip gloss? I can’t even wait to have dinner with Daddy!”
I gaped back at her and slowly lowered myself down on the bed. Daddy’s favorite color? I felt like saying. The guy who kept me up all night snoring and dared question the Macy’s charge on this month’s credit card bill after he went to Vegas? Who cares what his favorite color is?
At the rate things were unfolding—literally, dresses, tights, and cardigans were unfolding everywhere—Henry was going to get bumped up to favorite child. And that kid is crazy.
Cue Fake Mom!
“Rose, I think he would love the blue one. He loves blue! It matches your pretty eyes. Now, stop unfolding all of those tights.”
I know you’re all waiting for it. You’re waiting for me to gloss this over and say something like, “I’m never ever never a fake mom with my amazing son who has autism!”
But it’s not going to happen. I’m not going to say anything like that. In fact, I probably use Fake Mom the most with Jack.
Take the other morning, for example. The elementary school bus comes at 7:09 in the morning, and we have three kids who need to wake up, get dressed, pretend to run a toothbrush around their mouth and fingers through their hair, eat breakfast, find the left boot, find the yellow mitten, run down the driveway, and get on it.
About 92% of the time, this goes very smoothly. But the other 8%? Disaster.
On this particular morning, Jack–normally the most organized–was moving very slowly. “Jack!” I said sharply. “Put your boots on! Where is your backpack? Did you even pack your snack like I asked you? What is taking you so long! Hurry up!”
He covered his ears and shouted, “Shut UP! Stop talking so much!” right back at me. I felt a bubble of anger rise up in my throat.
Fake Mom rescued me. She rescued us. Instead of taking a deep breath and screeching how dare you talk to me like that you have no respect if I ever talked to my mother that way I’d be dead you are ruining my morning, I sat down on the bench and took his warm hands in my own.
Fake Mom whispered really quietly in my ear; take a second, you can miss the bus for once, look at his face, hear his words, stop talking at him.
“Jack. What do you need?”
“My boot. Is wet. It’s wet. Too wet.”
And it was wet–soaked, in fact, from sledding the day before. So we settled on sneakers and agreed he’d stay off the icy snow banks for the day. We also agreed that shut up is ugly and mean. And after all that, we still made the bus on time.
Sometimes, Fake Mom is the best I can do.
See, Fake Mom reminds me that although I can buy a song by Martina McBride on ITunes any time, I only have so many years left to hear five-year old Henry lisp the words to Justin Beaver.
Because of Fake Mom, I take a moment to notice the quiet delight in a little girl’s eyes when she finally settles on the navy blue dress and glittery silver tights. I see that the boot is too wet, and I can appreciate that every now and again, it’s important for a dark-haired boy to believe he can walk across the sky without falling.
(But trust me, once everyone has turned their attention back to the goddamn crunchy carrots at dinner, even Fake Mom looks away and snorts into her hand until tears run down her face.)
Maybe I should write a post about how to be a Fake Wife. I’m really good at that too.