Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tet Shots and Other Horror Stories, the Reprisal

I've never fully understood why people liked this post so much, but it continues even now to get pageviews. I whipped it out so quickly, too, that I'm surprised it turned out. At any rate, I'm afraid to edit it, for fear I'll ruin it. So here it is, a week before my 1st blogger anniversary - my most popular post.

One day I told my kids not to do something. I said in a stern voice, "Don't play that way, because if you do one of you will slip and fall and hit your head. Then you'll pass out, and you'll be bleeding profusely. I'll have to take you to the hospital, and we'll be waiting three hours. No money for the vending machine, and a strange old man with an unpleasant odor will be sitting by us trying to give you candy. But you won't get it, because you never know! And that's why Mama always checks your candy on Halloween!"

At the end of this speech, Matthew, my husband, is shaking his head and giving me the familiar look that says, where did I get you - Mars?, and my children are staring at me in a daze, terrified of they don't know what, because they've forgotten what I've told them not to do in the first place.

They do have one question, though.

"What's passing out?" asks Ana.

"Well..." I begin, but Matthew practically burns me with a look that reminds me I've already done my motherly duty. So I just smile at them and say, "Never mind. Now run along and play, you little monkeys!"

Then I turn to Matthew and shrug as I tell him, "I know, I know. I always say too much."

But maybe that's because I think too much. For instance, if I find a pair of scissors on the floor, I don't just think, Ooooh, that's not safe. Better put those away. No, a whole scene of the tragedy that might occur if my preschooler got a hold of those plays out in my mind. I can see her discovering them while I'm, say, in the bathroom reading the newspaper or something. "What nice sharp blades you have, scissors!" she might say before she runs around with them, laughing maniacally, opening and closing the blades with gusto like some midget Edward Scissorhands.

No pens, pencils, knives or scissors, I think as I pick up the scissors, passing my hand before my eyes, and put them away with a shudder.

Matthew, of course, is the one who left them on the floor in the first place. There are no mini-tragedies playing in his head. And he can simply say to the kids when necessary, "No, you're not doing that." or "No, you can't play with that. It's dangerous!" If they ask him why, he simply responds with the classic, "Because I told you so!"

But I don't know where to stop. And if they ask me why, I'm likely to give them a gruesome, full-bodied answer, and this doesn't just apply to questions concerning their own safety.

Not long ago, Berto brought me my book on ancient Egypt and pointed to a picture of a mummy.

"How did they make mummies?' he asked.

I stared at the picture. I understand his fascination. But what to say, what to say? It never occurs to me to lie and say, "I really don't know son. I believe it was a complicated and mysterious process - which nobody does nowadays, so don't you worry!"

"You really don't want to know," I say instead, feeding his appetite.

"Oh, come on. Tell me, Mama. Come on!"

"Well...alright then." I laugh and make room for him on the couch so we can enjoy a long cozy chat about mummification. "Okay, first they took a long metal hook which they inserted into the nose of the dearly departed, and then......"

The other day I saw the kids playing with a splintery old board. They had it propped on their playset, using it as a see-saw. Then they leaned it on the slide, so they could scamper up to the fort.

I walked outside. "Hey, hey, hey!" I yelled. "You get that board off there right now!"

"Why?" said Berto. "It doesn't have any nails."

"Yes, it does," I answered. "And they're old and rusty, too. Do you want a tetanus shot?"

"What's a tetanus shot?" he asked nervously.

"It's a shot, and it hurts," I said in brilliant explanation. "You have to get it when a rusty old nail goes through your foot, and the needle they give it with is, like, a quarter inch thick. Last time I got one, I passed out. Then I went home, and I passed out again. My arm hurt for days. I ran a fever, too."

Berto looked at the board, finally spotted the nails, and pitched it over the slide as if it were on fire.

I nodded my head in approval and went back inside. Another successful warning given, another tragedy averted. But next time I should think about cautioning them with a story that doesn't involve passing out in excruciating pain. I should tell them about stitches, perhaps.


  1. Hillary- I see the appeal of this post! I mean, I totally see in scenes and my kids get one helluva soliloquy every time there's any remote chance for a waiting disaster to succeed. And no one can sense those disasters more than a mother.

    I loved, loved this piece. Sometimes our uncensored, unedited, rawest, most passionate writing is our best. I'm glad you re-posted this so I could see one of your best. ;)

  2. We are kindred spirits in (over-)active imaginations. I have some stories to tell but I won't want to distract from your lively tale here for the pleasure of readers.

  3. Jayne - thanks so much. I am proud of this post, but I fear I won't be able to write another one people like as well.

    And we mothers have an absolute gift for seeing a coming disaster. :-)

  4. Shopgirl, that's exactly what my sister said first time she read it! I would love to hear your tales on this subject in your blog posts. I'll be looking out for them. :-)


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