December 2012
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The components of a hug

We are in the grocery store.

“Mother, all I want is to verbalize some issues I have with my sister.”

“No. All you’ve done for the last twenty minutes is verbalize issues you have with your sister, and I am tired of it. I believe I have mentioned my tiredness multiple times. Stop telling on your sister. Stop talking about your sister. She’s not even here! Why do you allow her to occupy all this room in your brain?”

“OK, but she keeps using my . . .”

“Stop talking about Kallan. I do not care I do not care I do not care.”

“Mother, how can you know the level of your care-age before the thing about which you will surely care deeply has even been reported? How do you know that I do not have things of heart-stopping significance to share with you?”

“Oh, I don’t know . . . so far you have complained about how she eats too many treats and fails to flush the toilet and doesn’t fix her bed and won’t stay off of your side of the couch and texts too much and reads too little and stays up too late and watches TV shows that are too mature for her . . . seems unlikely the next thing you have to share is going to stop my heart with its significance.”

“So your issue is with my failure to prioritize the problems correctly? Believe me, I have saved the most important problem for last.”


“Mother, if I was a person who called 911 every time I got a hangnail . . . ”

“You are soooo that sort of person.”

She continues as though I have not interrupted, “If I was that sort of person, you would be right to dismiss my fingernail complaints, but if I then called about a heart attack, it would be counterproductive in that moment to lecture me about the insignificance of my previous calls.”

“Listen, small wolf-shrieking child — If you do not stop talking, I am going to bonk you on the head with a bottle of pancake syrup.”

She stares at me appraisingly, “Probably best you never went into any of the people-helping professions, Mother.”

“You are driving me crazy.”

“See, as long as you are already annoyed, I just do not see what harm this last bit of reporting can do.”

“New rule: You are not allowed to speak to me until we get home.”


“Fine.” I push the cart along the aisle perhaps ten feet.

“Mother, I’m going to have to tell you this last thing. It wants to come out and I believe you need to know and I must say it.”

“Don’t say it.”

“I have to say it.”

“I am going to lie down in the middle of the cereal section and curl up in the fetal position and cry. Please don’t say it.”

“Kallan just refuses to respect . . .”

“Oh . . . my . . . god. Stop talking.”

“No, Mother. Listen.”


“Mother, listen.” She takes my arm and looks up beseechingly into my face, “Mother, I am asking you to listen. Please?”

“Ugh. This had better be important.”

“It is, Mother.”

I take a deep breath, “Fine. Let’s hear it.”

“Kallan has been using my shaving cream.”

I stomp away, waving my arms in frustration, “I knew it. Shaving cream? Are you kidding me right now?”

Maj hurries to catch up to me, and she grabs me by the arm, “Listen, listen . . . listen. You know how you bought each of us a can of shaving cream? Both cans rest on the edge of the bathtub . . . hers is green and mine is pink. I was sitting in the bathtub the other night, and I was going to use some of my shaving cream . . . ”  She looks at me, “It is important to note here that this would have been the first time that I used my shaving cream, which is significant because that means the can should have been pristine and brand-new and never used.”

I sink my head into my hands, “Let me guess.”

“That’s right, Mother. When I removed the plastic cap of my unused can of shaving cream, there was a little spitty colored remnant of soap cream on the nozzle and also pressed up into the cap. Now I know what you are going to say just like I knew what you were going to say in that moment if I had called for you – Who knows how that happened? and That doesn’t mean your sister used the shaving cream and Just rinse it off and move on with your life. So even though I was aware that the truth of the matter was that the devil was walking around on legs of stolen smoothness, I took a deep breath and I rinsed off the nozzle and the cap and I tried to move on with my bath.”

“So those relaxation exercises are really paying off, huh?”

“What? Hush, Mother. OK, here’s where it gets good.”

“Yes, I was waiting for the good part.”

“Focus, Mother. Alright, so I was just in the middle of letting this obvious theft roll off my back like duck-water . . . I finished rinsing off the can and the cap and I snapped the top back on the can (still without having used the shaving cream myself, mind you) and then I went to place it next to Kallan’s can of shaving cream and I picked up her can of shaving cream which she has been using almost every night because that girl seems to believe there will be an inspection of some sort like sirens are going to sound and lights are going to blaze and uniformed officers will show up at the door with clipboards and noisy snap-button pens, and they will demand to gauge the extent to which the household’s personal grooming has been attended to, and if that ever were to happen, you, Mother, would be hauled off in fuzzy-legged chains and so I am not actually that concerned for myself and . . .”

She stops to take a breath and takes in my glare, “Alright Mother, yes . . . perhaps I have gotten a bit off-track. The point is that for a moment I was holding both cans of shaving cream in my hands, Kallan’s many-used can in one hand and my supposedly never-used can in the other hand and LO AND BEHOLD it was apparent that the weights of the cans were not at all aligned with reported usage.”

I am now slumped over the shopping cart in surrender.

“So to sum up at this midway point in the reporting: Kallan’s can of shaving cream appeared to be significantly heavier than my can of shaving cream, which clearly indicated a problem. Maybe this is all in my imagination, I thought to myself, even though that was utterly implausible, and so I put both cans down and then I picked both cans up and I put both cans down and I picked both cans up and every time mine appeared to be lighter. I thought about that for a moment, and I realized that perhaps I was biased – perhaps I assumed that my can weighed less because I was so certain there had been a stealing. Perhaps my brain was supporting the accusations my mouth was about to make but in a less than truthful and honest way, because I have noticed, Mother? I have noticed that my brain likes for me to be right, even if that means a small rearrangement of the facts to suit my rightness. Have you ever noticed that I tend to be unable to let things go until I have proven myself to be correct, Mother?”


She muses, “Self-awareness stuff like that is part of growing up. I read that somewhere. Anyway, listen to the next part, because this is fascinating and also goes to show that I am something of a problem-solver and also possibly a budding scientist.”


“Mother, stop growling like a pirate. People are looking at you. Why must you embarrass me?”


“Alright, so I placed the cans on the edge of the bathtub and then I closed my eyes — You do see the genius of the blindness, right? — and I picked up the cans over and over and over again, one in each hand. I even moved the cans around while I had my eyes closed so there would be no way for my hands to cheat on my brain’s behalf. Again and again, I picked up the cans and I gauged without looking which one felt lighter to me. Perhaps thirty shaving-cream iterations blind-testing for weight differential, and at the end of this testing, it was glaringly apparent that my can of shaving cream was lighter than my sister’s can of shaving cream. Inescapable unavoidable undeniable conclusion? Kallan is a shaving-cream thief.”

I stare at her, “Iterations? Did you just use the word iterations?”

“What’s your point, Mother?”

“Never mind. OK, so if you did all this testing and came to solid conclusions, why didn’t you tell me this the other night?”

She looks at me, surprised, “Mother, you told me to try not to come to you with every little problem. I’ve been squelching things down.”

“Yeah, how’s that working for you?”

“Yes, well . . . Mother, things I stuff down tend to swell within me until they must be released . . . I should get credit for having lasted this long. I’m not sure you appreciate the strength of my need to say the things I am not supposed to say.”

I push the cart into the next aisle, “Sweetie?”


I grab a can of shaving cream from the shelf, “YOU ARE DRIVING ME INSANE. Repeat after me: Kallan’s been using my shaving cream. May I please have a new can?”

Maj stares at me, “Seriously?”

I toss the can into the cart, “Seriously.”

“Huh. That’s rather anticlimactic.”


“I was hoping for something involving Kallan whippage.”

“Not so much. Now stop talking. I’m not even kidding – stop talking before I freak all the hell out.”

Maj steps awkwardly forward and wraps her arms around me tightly, pressing her cheek to my chest. Maj is not a hugger, and so I am confused for a moment. I stare down at the top of her head and reach to embrace her as well. I try to release my irritation with this small crazy woman who is my older daughter. I try to relax into the hug.

The hug tightens.

It continues to tighten.


I bring my hands up to try to peel her off of me, “This isn’t a hug at all, is it?”

She fights my efforts and tightens her grip, “It has some of the components of a hug, but no, this is not a hug.”

I snake my hands into the space between us and give her a little shove, “Get off of me, then. I can’t breathe. What on earth are you doing?”

She takes a step back as I push her, “Taking a measure of your tension. Heart rate, blood pressure, muscular response . . . and I have to say, you appear to be rather highly strung.”


“What do you think could be causing all this stress in your life?”


“You really do have to learn to relax and let things go, Mother.”


“Stress is bad for you.”


    29 comments to The components of a hug

    • Just . . . arrrgle.

    • I luff her. All that for a can of shaving cream. Oy. Imagine how loud it must be in Maj’s head at all times.

      Randomly…did she decide to start shaving because Kallan did? Or was she just measuring Kallan’s thievery for kicks?

    • Maj is SO you.

      No denying it.

      Hee hee!

      • Shhhh.

        She so is.

        She hates when I point that out.


        • Also?

          It’s winter-ish time around here. Shaving your legs is only for the warm-ish months.

          We need the extra hair for warmth.


          • Eh . . . I don’t wear shorts or skirts in the warmer months either, as a rule. My weird allergy makes me extra-cautious about exposed skin. Seriously, in the summertime, air-conditioning is often an issue for me.

            I AM SO SEXY!


            I just shave when I feel like it.

            Maybe pretty soon.


            Depends on if there’s any shaving cream left in Maj’s can.

            Hee hee.


    • Stress is bad for you, you know.

    • steph

      Thank you for this. There have been a number of times I’ve wanted to strangle my spawn because she just can’t seem to get to the point of her stories. Ever. But she is only 8 and I can only hope that she develops the flexible vocabulary of The Maj.

      There may or may not have been an “incident” at my daughter’s inbred, podunk, pig town preschool in which I got a little shouty at the teacher. In their test my daughter could only identify a few vocabulary picture cards in a short amount of time. It looked bad on paper. When I watched said test, it was because she wanted to stop and tell a story about each and every picture she saw. (Who knew a 4 year-old had that much to say about a mailbox?) She didn’t get any wrong, but she slowed down the test to a nearly complete stop and it allowed her time to see only a handful of cards. They were all excited to declare she had a pronounced learning disability. I got a little cranky when I realized it wasn’t my daughter who was impaired.

      I’m sure Maj would have been with me on the flawed scientific process they were employing. In fact, I would have loved to have seen Maj’s method for explaining the said flawed logic to the teacher!

      (For the record, a well-timed move across a few states to a town with a better school district has reduced the level of my teacher-focused stress. However, it has increased the number of the stories because they all seem to think she is cute and tend to encourage it. Argh, indeed.)

      Sorry about the rambly story. *snort* I think I may have just discovered where the kid gets it.

      • Hee hee.

        I love you.

        Tomorrow is parent-teacher conference day at the girls’ school. I expect to hear the same thing from Maj’s teachers that I always hear. Responses fall into two camps:

        1) Maj is an excellent student and a joy to have in class.

        2) Maj is an excellent student, and Maj frightens me a little bit.

        I like the teachers in the second group much better than those in the first.

        Those frightened people are paying attention.

        And they should be scared.

        Hee hee.

    • Mary

      Is it strange that Maj has a very distinct voice in my head when I read your posts? And her way of talking reminds me a great deal of my now 19 year old son. I somehow managed not to throttle him, though I’m still not exactly sure how.

      • Mary?

        I love that you can hear Maj’s voice in your head.

        That the voice you hear is that of your still-unthrottled son?


        I would so like Maj to survive her time with me.


    • a snowsprite

      A literal blind study on shaving cream cans? Ha! Maj kills me.
      And her wordage as usual … love it!

    • Hello,
      I have been reading you on and off for a while now, but never commented. I think.
      Just wanted to say that I did feel a bit tense myself at the end of your story, heehee! The level of tension around my shoulders could have been quoted as ‘highly strung’ too I think.
      Some mothers should get a shortcut straight to sainthood…

      • Helene -

        Trying to imagine Maj’s face if I were to get a short-cut saint-crown for dealing with her shenanigans.

        Saints wear crowns, right?

        I may have to make myself such a crown.

        I do like when Maj’s face goes all incredulity.

        Hee hee.


    • She comes up with: “Inescapable unavoidable undeniable conclusion” and you are surprised she said ‘iterations?’

      My kids need more schooling.

    • Good timing with this one – I *JUST* mentioned on the twitter that I’m on my way out to buy some fresh duct tape.

      Kris, it’s been 3 weeks home with the boys and I don’t think I can make it for 3 more!! lol

      • Hee hee.

        Did you read the post I put up about duct-taping the dog?


        So much fun.

        Also? Six weeks? What the hell?

        • That was just a generalization, as I assume I’ll be unemployed for AT LEAST another 3 weeks, although there is no end in sight. This “staying and home to nurture” thing is not something I was wired for. ACK.

          And yes, I think I remember the duct taped dog – it solves everything!!!

          • Ooooh.

            I thought you meant the boys were on some sort of extended vacation from school or something.

            Got it.

            As for the unemployment?

            No way you don’t put an end to that situation in rather short order.

            You are rather an ass-kicker, babe.

            You’ll be fine.


    • It is really good that the Maj FINALLY let you know some of the things that have been eating away at her insides. Because, otherwise, you would have been totally in the dark. Then one day, boom, she’s on Dr. Phil, shaming you in front of America, and NOT EVEN plugging your book.

      • She will shame me.

        She can’t wait to shame me.

        I asked her the other day if she thought her memories of her childhood would be happy memories. She stared at me, “Seriously, Mother? Do you not even listen when I speak?”


        There will be shaming.


    • Jessica

      “It has some of the components of a hug, but no, this is not a hug.”

      OMG you are doomed. DOOMED!

      Oh Maj, I can’t wait for you to start blogging!

    • My Xavier is working on squelching.

      It’s nearly killing him.