I believe I was born melodramatic. I figure if I’m less dramatic than I’ve ever been, that first moment as a fetus, I must have been one spectacular show-off. I always assumed that I cried louder than any of the other babies, except my parents say I was really quiet. I probably figured out that being quiet had more drama, “Maybe if I don’t cry they’ll think something’s really wrong, and I can get them to freak out.”
In a stunning bit of karmic symmetry that only G-d can conjure up (Thanks G-d, no offense, but you’re such a bitch sometimes) I have been cursed blessed with two children who are just like me.I start praying about an hour before I pick them up from after-school care. The serenity prayer, ancient Hebrew laments, Scientology rituals – I don’t give a shit. I’ll be a Tibetan Catholic Rastafarian if it means that the Almighty will grant me one peaceful pick-up. Because almost invariably when I get there, it’s as if my two sons, who are seven- and eight- years old respectively, have been gripping a pull-up bar doing mental chin-ups to appear “normal” and when mommy gets there, suddenly they can let go and start being “themselves.”
Seven-year old Samson is playing with a yoyo when I get there. He is joyful, glowing and proud as he shows his friends how he has mastered “Around The World.” I walk in and he sees me, “Look mommy,” he cries, showing off his skills. And promptly hits himself in the eye with the yoyo.
“WAH,” screams my Olympian, “Ehhhh, waaahh, nooooo, ow ow ow ow, ow, ow… ow. ”
There’s no mark and no blood, but for about fifteen full minutes he is inconsolable, even after being offered hugs, ice, and perhaps even some chloroform…
Why does something like this always happen right when I come and get them? Invariably, one or the other will start weeping/howling/thrashing around moments after I arrive.
“Hi mommy, so nice to see you, I missed you today… let me show you a great view of my tonsils as I scream as if I’m being killed.”
Then the complaining starts, “What’s dinner? I don’t want that dinner. I don’t want to go out to dinner/have dinner at home/be force fed by a team of Romans in preparation for being thrown to the Gladiators. I don’t want to do homework, I’ll never finish my homework, why do I have so much homework?”
On and on, until I wish I were the Emperor Mominous, and with one subtle nod, could release the lions and give them something to get really dramatic about. As we say here in the Malibu hood, that shit would get real for them, real quick.
The drive home is no less charged with emotion, as eight-year old David grabs the whining baton from his brother.
“Why doesn’t daddy ever come and get us?” he wails, “Daddy never gets us during the week. During the week, we never see him, it’s like he’s DEAD.”
“You just saw daddy this morning,” I reply fake calmly. “And on the weekend he took you to Catalina, where sadly you got bitten by deer ticks and contracted Lyme disease. Daddy’s not dead he’s at work.”
Seeing as I’m not one of those women who starts drinking wine at 4 o’clock, this is hard to take. Sure if I were drunk, I might accidentally careen my kids into oncoming traffic, but at this point I’m so annoyed, I’m considering doing it anyway.
Perhaps now I’m being just a tad dramatic, but the fact is giving birth is dramatic, for all parties. Think about it, you’re a baby, and you just got created, out of nothing… then you grew hands and feet and a brainstem (though I swear I’ve seen some people in L.A. walking around without one) and now you’re living inside somebody and you don’t even know if you have anything in common with them. And you have no control over where or how or when you’re coming out; you can’t even pick your star-sign. No wonder we come out screaming.
And for the mother, what more theatrical event than the unveiling of the vaginal curtains to reveal a real live human, whom one has been incubating for the better part of a year with varying degrees of pain, discomfort and the foregoing of raw fish? In my case, the baby was scooped out of an incision just above an area of my body I hold especially precious, even before they stuck a needle in my spine, this in itself was a reason for histrionics.
I was first introduced to the term “The Witching Hour” with all of the ceremony of the secret coven in Eyes Wide Shut, with none of the R-rated nudity and funky Commedia Dell Arte masks.
“Let us never speak of this again,” murmured the pre-school moms, eyes twitching in the noonday sun. “For it is at this time at the striking of the fourth hour each noon, and possibly well after the tenth each eve, that the Satanic demons possess the children to scream and writhe. And behold they shallt stick out their forked tongues and create a living hell for all those who must feed, clothe, force homework upon them, hence lay them down to bed.”
I’m convinced that “The Witching Hour” as it is known, is single-handedly responsible for more moms drinking than any other phenomenon. It is inexplicable why young children are so fussy starting at 4 p.m., and there is no doubt that it gets better with time (remember driving them around in a car-seat with the radio static turned up? Just me?) but for those of us who remember, it’s all like “Lest We Forget.”
Resolving not to go through this alone, I often reach out to someone I trust in these moments, as I know there are others like me, all over this oddly spaced-out city, some even within twenty-five miles of where I currently reside, who are going through the same thing. The solidarity is not just a relief, it feels downright lifesaving. Mostly for my poor children, who have already narrowly avoided being driven into oncoming traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway by their sober mom.
I reached out to one such person I trust last night and got the text back, “I think you are being a little melodramatic (smiley face.)”
“OMG,” I texted myself mentally (is that a sign of insanity, to text yourself?) “IMO he’s right. I’m being v.melodramatic (frowney face.)”
To him I just texted “Ha ha ha ha ha,” feigning an insouciance I did not feel (and also because I’m too cool to use LOL.)
Then I prepared to do my night as usual: namely making a giant fuss about having to cook dinner, complaining loudly about the dog still defecating on every single thing I hold dear and cursing the mountain of dishes in the sink that will taunt me for eternity…
But instead, while they watched their favorite show on Netflix (which happens to be called Total Drama) I rinsed out each dish and put it in the dishwasher, grateful to own one. And I put new sheets on the kids’ beds without complaining. And I even cleaned dog shit out if the dog’s crate and resolved to call the vet in the morning. And I resisted the urge to say “Hey guys check it out, I’m like a regular fucking Thích Nhất Hạnh over here…”
And when they started their nightly pre-bedtime exorcism ritual, I was able to say “Guys it’s just putting on PJ’s, brushing your teeth and peeing; the sooner you do it the sooner you will get your story. It’s not that dramatic.”
I guess they must have picked up the non-verbal cues (cause they’re observant that way) because they totally noticed that there were no dinner dishes in the kitchen and they were all, “Mommy did you throw the dishes in the trash?” And I acted like it was no big deal like, “Mommy just put them in the dishwasher already…no drama.”
Watching Total Drama must have instinctively taught them to recognize the opposite because they did ‘PJ’s, teeth, and pee’ in record time. I read them some of the horror book they like to hear at bedtime, and they fell asleep so sweetly and on this particular day at least, no one even had to die.