“Mama, what are these called?” my three-year-old holds up the crunchy cellophane cereal bag, almost as long as she is tall.
I look up from my book – my third in three weeks – and give her a succinctly sufficient answer. “Crisp Rice.” It is a dark, rainy June morning and I have just started reading a new book with perfectly brewed, perfectly sweetened coffee in my bright yellow sunshine coffee cup at the kitchen table. It is a lazy summer Monday that feels like an autumn Saturday. Just me and my book. And those three underage people who live in my house and depend on me somewhat for their existence and livelihood. But other than that, I’ve got the day to myself. I keep reading.
“Mama, I want some cwisp wice,” comes the inevitable response. “In a cup. With a spoon. NO MILK!”
I put my open book pages down on the table to signify that my pause is brief. Bookmarks actually denote a much longer break. Let it be known I am not putting the book down. I am only pausing. I take the bag from her as she holds it up to me. “Really?” and I look at her expectantly.
“Pwease?” Ugh. She’s so cute I could almost forget she has interrupted my pretend day off. She doesn’t play fair.
“Sure, I’d be happy to.” I stand to oblige.
The other two are watching TV in the living room and I had managed to slip by them unnoticed. Apparently my disguise as a mere passer-by looking for coffee and a good read coupled with the distraction of television was effective on them, but this one is cunning. She caught scent of my trail quickly and followed it here to the kitchen table. I’ve been flushed out into the open.
I pour cereal into a small plastic cup and grab a plastic spoon, crunching some as I shove it hastily in. “Here.” I offer it to her and she takes it back to the chair beside mine to eat. She no longer has to climb into the chair the way she did last summer, but simply stands on her tip-toes and finds her bottom level with the seat and slides in.
My book – a memoir – has me riveted from the beginning. I am only ten pages or so in, but I am hooked. Exotic locations. A spiritual journey. And though I am by no means a fan of romance, there is even a bit of that added to the delectable mix. The author is locked in an embrace with a mysterious foreigner and the sexual tension is palpable.
He is about to kiss me, I know it. His breath…Mama…is close and warm. His eyes…Mama…are liquid blue and drawing nearer. I close my eyes…MAMA!
No one can say the girl isn’t persistent. I look up at the third and most exasperated chant of my name. “What?” I ask my dark-headed elf, trying to act as though I hadn’t been ignoring her, lost in a juicy, somewhat seedy, scene. I am, after all, immune to such twaddle. Really.
“I pee pee in my pants,” she answers matter-of-factly, continuing to shovel cereal into her mouth with her plastic blue whale spoon. I sigh and look down to find the chair beneath her dripping into a puddle on the floor, mingled with bits of crisp rice. She is looking at me, chewing noisily, awaiting a response. Her face shrinks a little in mock naivete that works in her favor. Large and crystal blue, she can have anything at all she wants in life with those eyes alone.
“Why?” I ask, knowing full well she will have no good explanation for peeing in the floor, but needing to seem as though she should have one.
Crunch. Crunch. “I dun know.” She abandons her spoon and resorts to eating her cereal with her fingers, one infinitesimal piece at a time.
I could jump up and clean the mess, and probably should, but it is my self-declared day off and I’ve already made her breakfast, for crying out loud. She doesn’t seem bothered, as she hasn’t even broken stride feeding cereal into her hungry little pink mouth and the puddle isn’t going anywhere. I continue to read.
After a few minutes, I cannot help but notice from the corner of my eye some motion that seems unrelated to eating. A glance in her direction tells me she has dumped her cereal from the cup and is crushing crisp rice with her thumb. She then sweeps the crumbs to the floor and repeats the process again, further complicating the situation beneath her chair. I sit and watch her in silence, trying to decide if I should say something to dissuade her from doing it or continue to let her experiment. I mean, she does seem very engrossed and it could quite possibly be one of those rare educational moments of self-discovery that could lead to a breakthrough of historical proportions - Something like Ben Franklin and electricity or Marie Curie and radium. Who am I to interfere with destiny? But I don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that a solid and a liquid, once mixed, form…well, sludge, and once they are unified, there can be no separation.
“No, honey, don’t do that,” I say, feeling more than a little irritated with this, the second and slightly more labor-intensive, interruption of my day of leisure. “You are making a bigger mess.” I scoop up the remaining intact cereal and dump it back into the cup, also making a pile of crumbs out of her reach to be left until I am ready to tackle the clean-up process, which is, at the very least, a chapter away. I may even leave it until tomorrow.
She looks at me, again with the eyes, and reaches her hand out to touch a vagabond grain of crisp rice. Never taking her eyes from mine, she pulls that one, tiny grain back to her slowly – oh, so slowly - underneath her index finger. Unblinking, she slides it off the top of the table, holding it there between her finger and the rounded edge. Then, eyes locked onto mine, in true Easy Rider, “stick it to the man”-fashion, she crunches that little grain into oblivion. I sit, speechless. I could not have been more shocked if my sweet, little cherub-faced toddler had jumped up, flipped me the bird and shouted obscenities across her mushed up, milk-less breakfast. She may as well have said, “What the f---, woman?! Step off, b—ch, and let me eat my ceweal in peace!”
We stay frozen in a standoff stare, both of us somewhat bewildered by what just happened. Her look changes from one of defiance to wide-eyed horror of slow realization. It is written somewhere in that book of unbreakable rules for mommies that thou shalt never allow blatant, outright disobedience to go unpunished. And punishment for such behavior should be as painful and unforgettable as said child might endure, like no Dora videos for a week or hiding all the Barbies. And if the mommy of the offending child fails to follow through, she will be sentenced to a lifetime of bratty behavior.
And somehow, in the end, it’s enough for me today that she appeared to be afraid. All my correcting, directing and objecting will have to wait until tomorrow. Today I am off.
I pick up my book and continue to read.