On the field somebody calls for the ball, yelling, “Xavier! Xavier!,” and hearing the name makes Rosemary mad all over again. Adam had lied to her. A straight-out, bold-faced lie. Lies plural. Even after the third library notice about Xavier’s Xylophone or Xavier’s X-Ray or whatever the book was, something her son shouldn’t be reading at his age, something way below his grade level. Shouldn’t he be into Harry Potter or Percy Jackson by now? Even after those notices, Adam had said that he didn’t have the book. He claimed to have turned it in already. He said it was a mistake. When she had told him to double-check his room, he had insisted that he had.
Rosemary had found the book in less than five minutes. Under the bed. Not deep. Not buried. Not hidden. He wasn’t stealing it. He didn’t want to own it. He just couldn’t be bothered to look for it. In the most cursory of ways. Even though he had said that he had. She knows he can’t find the milk when he has the fridge open and is looking right at it. She understands there is something that doesn’t connect a boy’s eyes to his brain, but she had asked— she specifically remembered asking — “Did you look under your bed?”
“I did,” he had insisted.
I did. I. Did. A lie. He had lied because that was easier than to go upstairs and bend down.
Xavier’s X-cellent Adventure, or whatever the hell it was, had been right there. Under his bed. Racking up overdue fines like a taxi meter. The money should come out of his allowance, but that already was earmarked to pay for the window and broken patio torches. Pretty much his allowance for the next five years had been allocated, like wages being garnished, which meant it was difficult to get him to do chores. Each one was negotiated with a series of threats. No electronics until the garbage was taken out. No soccer until he vacuumed.
Rosemary knows her children think she goes on and on about money, always pointing out how much things cost. She does it because she is frustrated by how they don’t seem to appreciate what she does for them. But she can’t say that. Not all the time. Concentrating on the money is how she can express her annoyance without saying something she will regret, without sounding like she doesn’t love them. Because she does. She just wants more of a sense from them that they are aware of all she does. Consequently they think she is cheap and uptight, obsessed with price tags. They have no idea. She isn’t like James and Jacob’s dad, Martin. She doesn’t take them to events and refuse to pay for parking, finding some spot in an alley blocks away and making them climb fences. She doesn’t apply for financial aid for every school overnight trip. She doesn’t “forget” to pack lunches like Hunter’s mom, relying on the school’s emergency ones. When they need cleats, uniforms, musical instruments, she buys them. She pays every dime, every time. It isn’t about the money; it is about her children knowing how much she does for them, even when she doesn’t want to. It’s about trying to give them a sense of what parenting costs her.
This isn’t how it was supposed to be. The cry of every parent she knows. At least the honest ones. When are her kids just going to do what she asks when she asks it? When are they just going to say Okay instead of arguing? For a brief time, they had thought she was a God, and they would ask her to do impossible things. Mom, make it stop raining or Mom, make it snow. Now, she was wrong about everything. If she said it was going to get dark at night, they would say, “No, it isn’t. There’s street lights. There’s the moon.” If she said it was nine o’clock, they would say, “No, it’s 8:58.” But someday, someday, Go brush your teeth was going to result in them actually going and brushing their teeth. Not arguing that they didn’t need to. Not ignoring her or back talking. Not insisting teeth were stupid and they don’t care if they fall out. Not saying they would do it in a minute or that they already had (even though they’d been outside the whole time). Someday they would say “Okay” and brush their teeth. That would be a miraculous day. She had no doubt she would cry.
Maybe Xavier, whoever he is, does this already. Isn’t it a Hispanic name? Maybe Hispanic kids are different, and they don’t argue. They are mostly Catholic, aren’t they? Doesn’t that mean they honor their parents? Xavier might brush his teeth when asked, or shower, or load the dishwasher. Except Rosemary knows, kids are kids. She should find Xavier’s mother and say, Excuse me. Perdon. By any chance has your kid ever had an Adam the Alligator book overdue from the library, one that was right in his bedroom but that he couldn’t be bothered to look for? She would bet Xavier’s mother would throw herself into Rosemary’s arms, weeping with relief at having someone understand her frustration.
The phrase “misery loves company” had meant nothing to Rosemary until she had children; now it describes almost every time she talks with another parent, an honest one. Once she had seen a mother walking along a sidewalk being trailed by a child who was screaming, “You are ruining my life!” Rosemary had thought, “Oh, thank God, them too.” These are the true ABCs of parenting. Anger. Bewilderment. Consolation. It is the same in any language.
A faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Joseph Mills has published six collections of poetry. In the spring, his fiction collection “Bleachers” will be released by Press 53.