The doorbell ringing was like a death toll. The shreds of Palin’s dress were draped on the steps and my two children were lying underneath me, crying. I needed to figure something out and quick, or I was in serious trouble. I snatched up the two crying children, one under each arm. I rushed them up the stairs and plopped them on Lindsey’s bed. I needed to think quickly.
“Hey, Lindsey, Zach.” They continued to cry. “How would you like sundaes for breakfast for the next week?”
This idea caught Zach’s attention and he brought his cry down enough to hear the details of the offer. He still took in quick short breaths.
“If you stop crying, and make sure you look your best for the nice lady coming in the door, I will give you sundaes for each meal for the next week.”
Zach started to whimper a little less, and said, “Okay.”
I looked over at Lindsey, “And for you Lindsey, I will get you that princess dress we saw at the toy store the other day.”
Lindsey who had been listening to the deal I was making with Zach started to cry a little less as well.
“If you calm down and be a nice girl for our guest, I’ll buy you that dress.”
“Even with the crown?”
“Even with the tiara.”
Lindsey started to smile and the river of tears slowed down to a gentle stream. I wiped them away to try and make it look as if she wasn’t crying at all. The sniffling of Zach had stopped altogether and with the exception of one person, it looked like I would be able to survive this disaster. I would need to make a deal with Palin quickly before Dr. Blur started to wonder what was going on in the home.
As if to emphasize my fears, the doorbell rang again.
I looked over at my children and told them, “You two stay here and try to calm down. I’ll be back in just a second. We’ll show Dr. Blur what a wonderful family we have.” The positive reinforcement made both of them smile a little bit more.
I left the room and quickly made my way across the hall to Robert’s office where Palin had made her invading nest in my happy home. I tried to open the door, but it was locked. I tapped lightly on the door and asked softly, “Palin?”
“I want a car,” was all I heard from the other side of the door.
I was taken back. “What?”
I could hear her get up from her bed and pad her light feet to the other side of the locked door. “I heard you making a deal with those two little brats, and if you want me to play along with your game then you need to get me a car.”
I tried to calculate the financial burden this would put me in. Robert would never agree to buying Palin a car. I would have to think of ways to make this happen and I would never be able to manage it with the small budget Robert gave me for food, bills, and entertainment for the family. I would never be able to get a haircut again, and I would have to make do with less when I cooked. This would last five years until I could completely pay it off. I would need to negotiate something more reasonable.
“Palin, can we talk about this later?”
The doorbell rang again.
“Your future awaits, Rachael. What’s it going to be?”
“Palin, we’ll work out something later.”
My heart thumped harder when I heard her say, “Okay.” I had a hard time deciding what that “okay” meant. Was she “okay” with the fact that we could work it out later, or was she “okay” and considered my reply as a decision already being made? Would I soon have to face the consequences of my indecision? I couldn’t let it bother me anymore because my fate was waiting at the front door.
I took a deep breath as I stood at the locked door. I straightened up my blouse and pants before I turned and walked down the stairs. I picked up the shreds of the dress and stuffed it into the closet next to the front door. I breathed in deep again before I opened the front door up. There stood my idol. In the past, this would have been a moment of great excitement. Here was the person I most admired standing on my doorstep getting ready to validate everything I had done with my family. But this time I just felt my heart beating harder as I hoped I would be able to make it through the next hour.
She dressed in the same outfits I had seen her wearing in the past. She had on a white blouse framed in a strong but fashionable red business jacket. She wore a business skirt hiding the knees of her legs but at the same time showed what powerful calves she had. She also wore high heeled shoes and the right one tapped gently on the ground. Her lips were pursed in a statement that said ringing a doorbell three times was incredibly inappropriate.
Her hair was pulled back in a simple ponytail and her glasses highlighted her eyes which were busy staring down at the clipboard she had tucked in the crook of her arm and into her chest. The glasses also rested on her nose which she would twitch from time to time as if she was Samantha on Bewitched getting ready to cast some spell.
In her other hand she held one of those clicking pens. The pen was red and I remember being able to read what was said on it, “Sex has Consequences.” The pen was busy scratching away on the clipboard.
I tried to put on my best smile. “Hello.”
Dr. Nancy Ann Blur looked up from her writing and said, “Mrs. Rachael Young?”
I opened the door wider and motioned for her to come in. “Yes, that is me, why don’t you come…”
Her foot stopped tapping and she stood on the front porch to adjust her glasses. “Mrs. Young, I have noticed you have received excellent marks for the last three years, and it was because of this I personally chose to see what a fine household you have established here. It was my hope my assessment of your household would justify all of the hard and tireless work the Department of Motherhood does.”
She stopped talking and stared at me. I was confused as how to respond. “Yes, and I hope you find every…”
She interrupted me again, “And so far I am having a difficult time seeing how the excellent marks you have gotten have actually been achieved.”
“Well, I could change that perception if you would like to…”
“I do not like to be made to wait,” she bluntly stated.
“I am sorry about that. We had a little acci…”
“I also do not like excuses, Mrs. Young. Excuses are just nature’s way of avoiding the truth”
My humility started to pour out of me as I bowed down my head. I felt as if I were a puppy getting scolded. “Sorry.”
“Do you see this, Mrs. Young?” she asked me as she held out her red pen.
Looking up from my pose of shame, I said, “Yes.”
“This is my favorite pen, Mrs. Young. I love this pen. It was given to me as a gift when I was in high school, and I have held on to it since then. Every time an ink cartridge has expired, I have had it replaced. I used this pen to write the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act. I used this pen to write the standards that accompanied this wonderful bill. I use this pen for every mother I evaluate. The saying on the pen reminds me about the importance of our actions and the importance of motherhood. If you are not willing to be one of the wonderful mothers this country needs, then you need to think about your actions earlier before they are too late.”
She was quiet again. I stared at her expecting for her to start talking again. When she didn’t start up again, I thought it was my turn to respond. “I couldn’t agr…”
“I’ve named my favorite pen, Mrs. Young.”
I stared at her again in the silence. When I couldn’t bear her cold eye boring down into my soul anymore, I asked, “What did you name your pen?”
“That’s a nice name.”
“I know. Do you know why I named Mr. Clicky-Pen, Mr. Clicky-Pen, Mrs. Young?”
I shook my head afraid she might tell me the answer.
“It is because I want the mothers I am assessing to know the name of the device that is marking everything wrong they are doing. You see, every time Mr. Clicky-Pen speaks, it means you are doing something wrong. The less you hear Mr. Clicky-Pen click and the less you hear Mr. Clicky-Pen scratch on my clipboard, the better you are doing.”
I looked at Mr. Clicky-Pen with new respect. “That is good to know.”
“Now, Mrs. Young, some mothers never meet Mr. Clicky-Pen. Some mothers don’t even know Mr. Clicky-Pen exists. These mothers are the ones who get excellent marks on their assessments. The ones who see Mr. Clicky-Pen and are introduced to Mr. Clicky-Pen are the ones who do not score well on their assessments. Considering this is the beginning of your assessment and Mr. Clicky-Pen is already out, how do you believe you are doing with your assessment so far?”
“Not well at all, Mrs. Young.” Dr. Blur didn’t wait for another invitation and barreled past me into my house. As she walked by me, she added, “Mr. Clicky-Pen and I surely hope for your sake things take a turn for the better and very quickly.”
She stood in my entryway and used her finger to check for dust on the furniture. I knew she would have to look very hard to find anything wrong with my cleaning abilities because of how meticulous I was. I knew this was one of my strengths and her prodding helped to get the assessment back on the right track. The contemptuous look on her face changed into one of smug admiration.
“Click,” went Mr. Clicky-Pen. He hid himself back into the pocket on Dr. Blur’s business jacket.
“You keep a very clean entry way, Mrs. Young,” Dr. Blur exclaimed.
“Well, the entry way is the first impression someone gets of your house,” I said quoting from the first chapter of her book, Mama Grizzly.
She turned and looked at me, “Well said.”
“Thank you, but let me take you into the kitchen.” We walked down the hallway and I indicated a chair at the kitchen table for her. She bypassed it to take a longer tour of the kitchen. She stopped by the stove and stooped down to see if there was any grease hiding underneath the burners. I knew she could look as hard as she wanted, but she would never be able to find any there. Partly because it was a brand new stove to replace the one that burned down, and secondly because I still scrubbed it thoroughly just to make sure.
“Can I get you a cup of coffee before I introduce you to the children?”
She moved away from the stove and took the seat offered to her earlier. “That would be nice.”
I put a small napkin on the table and placed a mug claiming I was “The World’s Best Mother” on top of it. I poured her a cup of coffee and asked if she needed any cream or sugar.
“No thank you. I like it black. But let’s get down to business; when do I get to meet these lovely children of yours?”
“Let me go get them for you.”
I left the good doctor by herself in the kitchen and went upstairs. I tapped on Palin’s door first, and whispered, “Palin?” I stood by the door for a few seconds before trying again, but both times produced the same result, dead silence. My heart raced because I didn’t know which Palin would show up when Dr. Blur wanted to meet her. I had a feeling it would be the one I didn’t want. There was nothing I could do about it at the moment, so I went to get the younger kids and hopefully they would impress Dr. Blur enough, so whatever Palin had in mind wouldn’t matter much.
I went back to Lindsey’s room. She and Zach were sitting quietly on the bed waiting for me to show up. Neither of them was smiling, but it had been long enough that they no longer looked like they had been crying. I knew within a couple of minutes of being presented to Dr. Blur, they would start to warm up to her and she would love both of them. It would earn me even more good marks with the wonderful job I did in raising them.
“Are the two of you ready to go and meet out guest?”
They looked over at each other. Lindsey offered her hand to Zach. Zach squeezed it reassuringly and they both looked at me and nodded their heads.
“Good, well, let’s go meet her.”
They got off the bed and followed me downstairs to meet Dr. Blur. When we got to the kitchen, Dr. Blur had, once again, wandered around the kitchen. This time she found herself at the cabinet holding the family’s glassware. She was inspecting one of the wineglasses in the sunlight coming through the kitchen window. It made me smile because once again I knew there wasn’t a thing in that cabinet she would find dirty. My glassware was spotless. She wouldn’t find a smudge, a streak or even a speck of dirt on any of my dishes.
I interrupted her quietly so she wouldn’t drop the wineglass, “Excuse me, Dr. Blur, but I would like to introduce you to my two children, Lindsey and Zach.”
The kids said in unison, “Good morning, Dr. Blur.”
The doctor turned her head while still holding up the glass. She looked down at them through the pair of spectacles hanging precariously from her nose. She put the wineglass back and closed the cabinet door before she walked over to the children. For the first time since she walked into my house she gave a genuine smile. “Why, hello there, children.” She walked up to Lindsey, “You must be Lindsey. How old are you?”
Lindsey looked at her left hand and slowly counted out four fingers. “I am four years old.” She looked so precious I wanted to go over to her and squeeze her tightly feeding her all of the love I felt in my heart.
Dr. Blur also seemed impressed. “My, you are a smart one to be able to count at such a young age. What is it you want to be when you grow up?”
Lindsey beamed and I breathed easier because this was one of the questions we had practiced numerous times throughout the course of the year. She was going to grow up to be a housemother just like her own mom.
“I want to be a princess.”
My heart sank. How could she say that? She knew this was one of the important questions and she just completely blew it. When I looked back at Dr. Blur, I tried to smile to make it look like an innocent mistake. Dr. Blur let out a hearty laugh. She looked at me with compassion in her eyes. “Oh, they are just so precious at this age.”
I smiled back and said, “Yes, and their imaginations are so large as well.”
Lindsey seemed to enjoy the encouragement and went on with her dream, “Yes, I am going to have a pink dress and even a tea-air-a.”
My heart sank even more because I was worried Lindsey would tell the good doctor about our deal. Dr. Blur just patted her on the head, and said, “And I’m sure you will find the perfect prince to make you very happy.” I was getting very lucky. Apparently, Dr. Blur believed what Lindsey really wanted was just a four-year-old’s way of saying some day she wanted to have a family.
Dr. Blur turned her attention to Zach who was standing up straight. “And who is this handsome young man?”
“I am Zachary Noel Young. Thank you very much.”
Even though I was looking at Dr. Blur’s back, I could feel her beaming at Zach. “What a very polite young man.”
Zach looked over in my direction, and asked me, “Do I get ice cream tomorrow morning now?”
I knew I needed to think quickly in order to counter the dangerous territory my son was wandering into. “Only if that is what you want.” I tried to laugh it off as just something a six year old would say.
My laughter was infectious because Dr. Blur joined in and added, “Kids, say the darndest things.”
I had dodged another bullet, but the biggest one was about to come. Dr. Blur stood back up and checked her clipboard. She looked up at me and then back at what was written on the paper in front of her. She asked, “Mrs. Young, it says here you have three children under your care. There seems to be a Palin Young missing from the group. May I inquire as to where she would be at this time?”
I knew this was the moment of truth and I tried to laugh it off. “Well, you know teenagers.”
Dr. Blur raised her eyebrow over the rim of her glasses. She pulled out Mr. Clicky-Pen from her coat pocket. “Click,” he said as he poised himself over the clipboard.
“No, I don’t, Mrs. Young. Why don’t you enlighten me?” Dr. Blur asked.
I tried a different approach. “Well, she just arrived in our family two weeks ago and I am still working with her about getting up on time in the morning. Teenagers have a hard time getting up in the mornings.”
I knew my excuse sounded nothing more than just what it was, an excuse. Mr. Clicky-Pen seemed to agree as he scratched something on the clipboard sheer.
“Mrs. Young,” Dr. Blur said as she watched what Mr. Clicky-Pen was saying, “I already told you I don’t like excuses. I want to remind you that you are in the business of being a mother. If you don’t feel competent enough to help a teenager grow into a fine young lady then maybe you have no business being a mother.”
I bowed my head down in shame. “You are right. This should be about my ability as a mother.”
Dr. Blur looked up from her clipboard and said, “Well then, let’s go meet this other daughter of yours. Let’s leave the excuses where they do the most good, behind us.”
“Okay, her room is right this way.”
I led Dr. Blur up the stairs. I could hear my heart beating harder each step I took up the stairs. I wondered what horror would present itself from behind the door to Robert’s office. When we came to the door, I reached out for the knob hoping that if my luck held, it would be locked. This way Dr. Blur wouldn’t know what an awful person Palin was and she wouldn’t be able to make a connection between this and my inability to be good mother. When I started to turn the knob, my luck didn’t hold. Dr. Blur was about to meet the bane of my existence. I opened the door expecting to see a sullen Palin, but was treated with a fate, even worse. The door framed her back in bed, making love with her boyfriend, Dustin. I couldn’t tell if Dustin was naked because he was underneath the covers. I could see Palin was because her bare back was presented to us as the door banged against the wall.
I could hear Mr. Clicky-Pen scratching away behind me and I knew if I was going to salvage anything from the assessment, I would need to take charge of the situation.
Instead of taking charge and making sure I was articulate, I was only able to utter out the words, “Oh my God.”
The sound of my voice broke Palin away from her boyfriend. She tried to cover up her shame and yelled at me at the same time. “What the fuck? Don’t you know how to knock? This is a serious invasion of my privacy.”
“Scratch, scratch,” spoke Mr. Clicky-Pen.
I could start to see how this girl was going to be the ruin of me. Instead of meeting my ultimate demise, I muscled up some courage. “Palin, we have guests. I told you once already to get out of bed and now I see you here with this boy.” My mind raced as to where she was hiding him. The blatant lie she had told me about making sure he wasn’t here this morning tugged at my memory.
Dustin picked the worse time in the world to address me. “But Mrs. Young, this shouldn’t be anything new. You’ve seen me here at least three times this week.”
Mr. Clicky-Pen continued to document the moment.
There were now two people in this room I wanted to strangle, but I knew that if I lost my cool, this would be the end of me. I chose to ignore Dustin’s statements and to focus my anger on Palin instead. “Palin, you get out of that bed right now, get dressed and come downstairs to talk to our guest.”
This set Palin off.
“You’re not my mother. You can’t tell me what to do! This is my life and I should be allowed to live it the way I see fit.” With the sudden rise of anger in Palin, it must have made Dustin feel like the closest target of her rage was the one in the most immediate proximity to her. Realizing that was him, he tried to make himself invisible by sinking further into the bed.
“Clack, scratch, scratch,” I heard from Mr. Clicky-Pen as he flittered about in Dr. Blur’s hands behind me. I knew I needed to fix this situation quickly or I would be the one being hauled away to re-education. My family would fall further under the destructive rampage of this teenage girl, and my real children, Lindsey and Zach, would be a lost cause by the time I made it back into their lives.
In a calm and controlled voice I said, “Palin, you know this is not the way a young lady should act.”
“Maybe I am not a young lady.”
“Scratch, scratch,” came from Mr. Clicky-Pen.
“Maybe I am sick of living under your rules.”
I was taken back with that one. “Darling, you have only been living here for two weeks. In fact, I’ve only known you for two weeks.”
She jumped up from the bed and rushed at me brandishing her arms and her nakedness in a defiant manner. “That’s two weeks too long in my book. I’m always here living under your rules. You don’t allow me to do what I want. You never give me what I need in order to survive as a teenager in these trying times.”
I tried to hide her nakedness with a blanket resting on a chair nearby. Dustin tried to hide his by sinking further into the bed. I tried to reason with her in order to save myself from the threat of re-education. “Palin, we have fed and clothed you ever since you’ve gotten here. We have given you a beautiful room to live in. We have given you everything we possibly could in order to make sure you were happy.”
She pushed off the blanket, so she could show off all of her teenage glory. It lay in a crumpled mess on the floor. She pushed an accusatory finger under my nose and screamed, “You gave me this small little room to live in. You forced me to swallow down the garbage you serve for dinner every night. You know I can’t eat that crap. I have a sophisticated palate, and I demand it be indulged with something more satisfying. You don’t even have a television in my room. It is no wonder I have turned to sex in order to stimulate myself because God knows no one in this building is willing to do it for me. And the only time you offer to get me anything is to make a deal so I can make you look good for your assessment.”
Mr. Clicky-Pen sounded like he could be composing a novel that could compete with War and Peace as the longest piece of literature ever written.
“What are you talking about Palin?”
She seemed to have an answer for everything I said. “Didn’t you just offer me a car if I behaved myself today?”
Dustin poked his head out of the blanket he was hiding behind. “It’s true. I heard them talking about it.”
“She even made deals with the little ones downstairs.”
“Scratch, scratch, scratch.”
That was when I had lost it. My hand flew up from my side and slapped her in the face. She gasped in horror. She couldn’t believe what had just happened. I could hear Mr. Clicky-Pen commenting on these events behind me.
Palin, my mind was screaming, Palin, you will be the end of this family, but she was falling once again into the arms of the boy she thought she loved.