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)

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In Preparation

(Scene opens in dinning room, ridiculous piles of school supplies everywhere, fast sort begins)

Grade School Pile: ALL THE THINGS! YOU MUST STOCK UP FOR THE APOCALYPSE! THERE IS NO HOPE OF EVER FINDING ANOTHER PENCIL PAST THE START OF SCHOOL! IF YOU ARE NOT TRIPLE STOCKED NOW YOU WILL NEVER GRADUATE AND IT WILL GO ON YOUR PERMANENT RECORD! YOU WILL BE JUDGED ON THE TYPE OF CRAYONS YOU GET AND YOUR FOLDERS NEED TO BE SPECIFIC COLORS THAT NO ONE CARRIES! ALSO ANTI-BIOTIC EVERYTHING BECAUSE OF REASONS!

Middle School Pile: Overly organized and oversized binders that you will never use. Start to flirt with college ruled. Adult calculator but your scissors are still safety. More pencils than grade school, half the markers. Do kids not use pens any more?

High School Pile: Got a folder? A pencil? Cool. Here’s your locker combo. Good luck.

Begin the beginning

(scene opens in mostly clean dinning room)

Me: (sets up laptops) Duolingo for everyone!
Kids: (groan)
Me: Come on, you can do this.

(ten minutes of failure noises from the computers)

Gamma: I don’t know anything!
Beta: This program is stupid, it doesn’t know anything.
Alpha: Why can’t I figure this out?
Me: (goes to check each computer screen, obviously struggling with calm) Okay. Somehow I failed to give you the explicit instruction to start on “Basic”. You realize you’re trying to do the levels that already assume a level of fluency?
Alpha: (defensively) There were less lessons at that level!
Me: But you don’t speak German!
Beta: But if there were only three exercises, how hard could it be? There are fourteen on the first level! That’s a lot harder!
Me: (facepalms) You need to learn how to say hello before you can recite poetry, guys.
Gamma: Hola, mama!
Beta: (snarls) That’s not German!
Me: (Throws up hands) SHE’S LEARNING SPANISH!

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.

Power of Fashion

(scene opens in mini-van)

Me: Thank you for coming with me to pick out a graduation outfit.
Alpha: (simmering) Why can’t I just wear a nice shirt and my black pants?
Me: (tiredly) Because this is a graduation. It is a formal event. You need something better than the black polo grandma got you for the party.
Alpha: But no one ever wears a suit!
Me: (hotly) They do! You just ignore them in favor of pointing out all the kids who are going to show up in their jeans and Jordans. Tell you what – if you want to wear a black suit and a black tie, you can do that. It doesn’t have to be goofy colors.
Alpha: (softens) Like John Wick?
Me: (hopeful) Exactly like John Wick.
Alpha: (mulling) That sounds good.
Me: (performs mental Victorious Picard)

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.

I Feel Your Pain

(scene opens in oddly clean kitchen)

Me: (wearily stirring dinner)
Gamma: (perpetual whine) Moooooom! I’m so bored! What day is it?
Me: (deep sigh) Thursday. Same day as when I told you an hour ago.
Gamma: (whining intensifies) Thursday?! How much longer is Spring Break?!
Me: Friday, Saturday, Sunday. You have three days left. You go back on Monday.
Gamma: Three days?! (collapses to floor dramatically) I’ll never make it, I’m so bored. I wish I could go back to school today.
Me: Me too, honey. Me too.

Follow Up

(scene opens in foyar)

Me: (handing Alpha his scarf) Try to have a good day at school. Remember, if anyone asks you if you have any wishes today, go for something mundane like “can fly” or “turn invisible”.
Alpha: That’s boring.
Me: I know. But it won’t freak your teachers out. Maybe say “I want to be the Silver Surfer and fly through space” or “I want a TARDIS so I can travel time and space.”
Alpha: (deep sigh) I don’t want to have to spend my life saving the world.
Me: It’d be worth having a TARDIS. Anything more esoteric and your teachers aren’t going to understand.
Alpha: No one understands me.
Me: I know honey. Being weird is hard.

Threat Assessment Level

(scene opens in kitchen, ringing phone)

Me: Please don’t be Alpha’s school. Please don’t be Alpha’s School.

(close up on caller ID, Alpha’s school)

Me: (resigned) Hello?
Case Worker: (prim judgemental voice) Hello, it’s Alpha’s case worker. His teacher sent him to me for inappropriateness. I have him on speaker phone. He was supposed write down his three wishes as part of a class project. Go ahead and read them, Alpha.
Alpha: Hi mom.
Me: (worried) Go ahead, Alpha.
Alpha: My three wishes: Control over all sentient life on the planet, Fallout 4, to be able to control Death.
Me: (starts laughing) Well, I understand what you were going for in context, but perhaps you didn’t explain yourself well enough for the teacher. You need to work on your literary expression.
Alpha: I tried to. I tried to explain that there’s so much bad in the world that wouldn’t it be good to be able to summon Death and just have the bad guys poof into ash?
Me: Probably, but until you can use more expressive language in explaining your thoughts and ideas, you’re going to get in trouble for them.
Case Worker: (much different tone) Well, okay Ms. Carrot, I just thought you should know what’s going on in class and I get what Alpha’s trying to say. Just so many crazy things going on in the world right now, I just thought you should be kept informed. I’ll send him back to class.
Me: Thank you.
Alpha: Bye mom!
Me: Behave yourself.