Not Worth the Risk

(scene opens at cluttered dinning room table, strewn with scribbled notes in a childish hand)

Me: (looking over outline) Okay, now explain to me again what this paper is about.
Beta: I had to take two colleges that had programs I want and compare and contrast them. I want to go to Engineering, so I picked Tuskegee University and University of Florida.
Me: (slight disappointment) No MIT? Don’t want to be a pirate?
Beta: (shrugs) These two looked interesting.
Me: Well, I’m okay with going to Tuskegee. It’s a historically black college, just so you know and aren’t surprised when you get there. But I’m never sending you to Florida.
Beta: Why not?! I like warm sandy beaches.
Me: Then I’ll send you to the Mediterranean. Florida has something called “Florida Man” and it is the embodiment of all that is crazy and unstable in the human psyche. Why it only manifests in Florida, no one knows. Maybe its in the water, maybe its swamp gas. There are so many other Engineering schools that I can – and will – send you.
Beta: Is Florida Man like Big Foot?
Me: Crazier. He’ll eat your face.

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Time, Time, Time

(scene opens in dim dinning room)

Alpha: (comes in foyer, shedding snow)
Me: (concerned) What are you doing home? Did they cancel track?
Alpha: No, I have homework.
Me: (appalled) ….you ditched track to do homework? You’ve missed all of last week’s practice already! How much do you have?
Alpha: I have to finish the late worksheet.
Me: That’s it? (temper rises) How long do you think that’s going to take you?
Alpha: (hesitantly) All night?
Me: You actually have no clue how much homework you have on any given night, which is amazing since you never bring homework home.
Alpha: (defensively sullen) I didn’t think I could run if I had homework.
Me: (shakes fists at the sky, shrieking) School. Practice. Homework. Dinner. Bed. There is time for all things under heaven! What kind of life do you think you’re going to live where you can clear your entire calendar for twenty minutes worth of work?
Alpha: (tearfully sullen) A life on the streets.
Me: (collects with difficulty) Even street people have a schedule in an effort to survive. Thank you for making homework a priority.

(Alpha exits, Mother screams silently and tears out hair)

Lingual Conundrum

(scene opens at cluttered dinning table)

Gamma: (falling apart) I don’t know how to write a sentence in Spanish for this word! I don’t know the meaning of this word! (collapses over worksheet)
Me: (temper fraying, goes to Google Translate) Uh….”gitano” means…gypsy? (finches) That can’t be right. (close up on screen repeats definition)
Gamma: What does gypsy mean?!?
Me: (flinches again) Uh…its an ethnic group…
Gamma: (wailing) HOW DO I USE IT IN A SENTENCE!?!?
Me: (closes eyes, steels herself) Can you write “I like gypsy music?”
Gamma: (in tears) WHAT IS GYPSY MUSIC?
Me: (grimaces, calls up Gogol Bordello’s “Start Wearing Purple” on YouTube)
Gamma: (covers ears) THIS IS AWFUL! TURN IT OFF!
Me: (does so)
Gamma: (laboriously writing, speaking aloud) Mi mama me gusto…

Devil’s Details

(scene opens at breakfast table)

Me: (wearily drinking coffee)
Beta: (off screen, sounds of animal outrage)
Me: (sighs) Beta. Slither hither, please.
Beta: (stalks into the room, hunched in pouty outrage)
Me: What’s going….
Beta: (interrupts, begins a twenty minute rant of the evils of little sisters, exceptionally and unnecessarily detailed, beginning with unimportant side stories of happenings that started a week ago)
Me: And then she threw rock, you threw paper.
Beta: …wut?
Me: (sighs, puts down coffee) Hey Beta, did you have any homework you needed to finish?
Beta: (pauses uncertainly) I think so? Maybe? I don’t remember.
Me: (voice hardens) Don’t you think its a little odd that you can accurately detail every single supposed crime of Gamma – down to the expression on her face – and the immense torture you’ve been under the entire time, but you can’t remember if you did your homework last night?
Beta: (starts to crumble, sheepish grin) Uh…
Me: Get out. You’re not allowed to talk for the next 20 minutes.

How am I not ruling the world?

(scene opens in a tossed parlor)

Me: For the last time today, sit down and do your reading for English.
Beta: (whining) But I did my reading!
Me: That was for your Merit Badge. Different book. English class. Now.
Beta: (more whining, gravity suddenly triples in effort to reach paperback)
Me: (refuses to be baited, sips coffee)
Beta: (studies book as if having never seen it before) What page was I on?
Me: (temporarily looses vision) What makes you think I would know that?
Beta: (guileless) You’re supposed to be keeping up with my homework so I know what I’m doing.
Me: Find. Your. Page. Read. The. Whole. Book. Tonight.

Can’t Fool Me

(scene opens in cluttered parlor)

Beta: (warbling scales on baritone)
Me: (not looking up from embroidery frame) That second to last note is wrong.
Beta: (hotly) No its not.
Me: It is. Play it again.
Beta: (warbles, second to last note wrong) I didn’t hear anything wrong.
Me: What valve are you pushing? (looks up) Try pushing the middle one.
Beta: (plays scale through three times, none keeping the same octave all the way through)
Me: I’m waiting.
Beta: (wails) Mom! I’m playing it right! The teacher told me this is the fingering! Its just how my baritone plays!
Me: (sighs, gets up from couch, pulls up fingering chart for Bass Clef on laptop) Oh look. That’s the note you’re trying to play? (points to note) Looks like it’s middle valve.
Beta: (sullen, plays scale, all notes correct, stares at mother)
Me: Seriously. “This is just how my baritone plays?” You actually thought I’d fall for that? Remember this next time I’m not taking you seriously.
Beta: (goes back to playing scales with less warble)

To Try Men’s Souls

(scene opens in tossed dining room)

Me: So how was school? Any homework? (sips coffee)
Beta: Yeah, English. I have to find a word that describes me that rhymes with the sound of my name.
Me: (pause, confused) You have to find a descriptive word that rhymes with your name? Or one that starts with the same letter?
Beta: (instantly exasperated) Rhymes with my name!
Me: (pretty sure he’s wrong) There aren’t going to be any descriptive words that sound like your name, honey.
Beta: (falls apart, verge of tears) It has to rhyme with the “L” sound.
Me: (staying calm, grits out) Rhyme is the wrong word. Rhyme is “bat, cat, rat, prat”. Starting with the same letter is completely different. (Points to computer) Get on Thesaurus.com and look up a word.
Beta: (hysterical) But I don’t even know what word I’m looking for yet.
Me: (slams hands on table) Would you just trust my judgement for once and get on the computer!
Beta: (does so, stares at blanks screen for five minutes, quivering with tears)
Me: (sighs deeply, leans over to type)

(close up on screen shows word “argumentative”)

Me: There. (conversationally reads) Belligerent. Combative. Contrary. Litigious. Litigious is a good word. That starts with the letter “L”.
Beta: (bright and cheery) Yeah! It is a good word.
Me: (stares into the blackness that is her coffee)

Do you even music?

(scene opens in the dining room)

Me: Okay, Beta, welcome to Tiger Mom Summer school. Time to practice scales! Remember, when you see these two signatures these two notes (points them out, clearly marked as #) are always sharp.
Beta: (slumped in chair, cradling baritone horn) How do you play a sharp?
Me: (looking scale sheet) It has the fingerings right there.
Beta: I don’t think I’ve ever played a sharp.
Me: (deep breathing) You’ve been in band two years. How have you not played a sharp?
Beta: (turning red, tears starting) I don’t know!
Me: Clearly your band teacher has not been putting you through your paces and I have failed you as Nightmare Tiger Mom. We’ll begin with your first scale and it looks like I’m learning Bass Clef with you.
Beta: (begins to weep, plays soggy scale, waits for death)
Me: (finds center, remains calm) It might be an embouchure problem. You’ll have to do lip-ups. Every day you’ll need to lay face down and pick yourself up with only your lips.
Beta: (laughs through his tears)
Me: Okay. Good. Now, again.

Too Much Creativity

(scene opens in tossed parlor)

Gamma: (fresh from school) Mom! I have to make a machine for school tomorrow!
Me: Wha..? Why?
Gamma: I…(self aware pause) I didn’t finish it in class. Maybe draw it?
Me: Do you have to make or draw?
Gamma: (mental processing) …both? I need a machine that makes my life easier with snacks.
Me: (can’t even) With what? Snacks?
Gamma: Whatever we have in the house. Its a machine about snacks.

(scene cuts to cluttered dinning room)

Me: There. You have styrofoam cups, bendy straws, tape, scissors, and this aluminum tray you brought home from school. Have at.
Gamma: Whee!(proceeds to cut everything into confetti)
Me: Uh, what are you making?
Gamma: I’m just cutting.
Me: What about your snack machine?!?
Gamma: (surveys carnage) Oh. I forgot.

This again?

(scene opens in cluttered parlor)

Alpha: (sawing his way through Dona Nobis Pacem)
Me: No, you need to hold that note longer.
Alpha: (scowls, saws through it again)
Me: What’s the key signature?
Alpha: One sharp. That’s F#?
Me: Yes. Sounds like you’re playing all of them sharp.
Alpha: No I’m not! You don’t know how this song goes!
Me: Seriously. (Sings Dona Nobis Pacem perfect Catholic School acapella) Why do you think you’re ever going to win a music fight with me? I’m not even anywhere near the moderately competent musician my school ever released into the wild.
Alpha: (says nothing, goes back to sawing, only half the notes sharp)

Not a Rickroll

(scene opens at dinner table)

Beta: My music teacher told me that I needed to watch 4:33.
Me: (processing) What?
Beta: 4:33. Both he and the orchestra teacher were laughing about it. It’s a music video.
Me: Oh! Yes. (starts laughing) Of course we can watch it. (calls up the orchestral version of John Cage’s 4’33)

(minute goes by)

Gamma: When are they going to start playing?
Beta: For real. They’re just sitting there.

(second minute goes by)

Beta: I don’t get it. Why is this funny?
Gamma: They’re not playing.

(third minute goes by)

Gamma: This is boring! Where’s the music?!
Beta: (extreme suffering) I don’t get it! Tell me why this is so funny!
Me: (calls up the sheet music for 4’33)
Beta: (incredulous) Rests. The whole thing is rests. Why the hell would anyone write a piece of just rests!? And why wouldn’t anyone think that’s funny?
Me: (starts giggling)

Basic Math

(scene opens in afternoon dining room, argument in progress)

Me: (exasperated) You’re racking up a list of missing assignments! Where are they? Are you eating them?!
Alpha: (sullen, stomps out of the room, comes back with piles of papers) Here they are!
Me: (shocked) You had them this whole time? Why didn’t you turn them in?!
Alpha: (darkly) I couldn’t figure out these problems. (points to various problems on different pages)
Me: (trouble processing) So…you couldn’t figure out a single problem out of twelve and so you didn’t turn it in?
Alpha: (defensive) Yeah.
Me: (voice from the grave) So, instead of getting five 80% homework assignments turned in, you opted for five zeros.

(long pause)

Alpha: Yeah. I’m doing them all right now, aren’t I?
Me: (resigned) Honestly, I don’t care if you do them or not, but you’re turning in all these worksheets in tomorrow and you’ll be lucky to get 30% on them for being late. But better than zeros. Goddamnit, Alpha, some is better than none when talking about grades and money.