Just like every other year, the Department of Motherhood gave me two weeks’ notice before the date of my assessment. They would expect me to make sure the children were presentable, the house was presentable, and the standards of the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act were being adhered to. The assessor, Dr. Nancy Ann Blur, would come into my home, walk around for an hour, make a couple of check marks on her clipboard, and then leave believing she had gotten the perfect view of what I did to raise my children every year. Many people today still think this makes sense. It is like that one snapshot taken during a family vacation and used as the Christmas card every year. They expect that one snapshot to show everybody exactly what happened with the family that year. Instead it shows only what they want people to see, the happy perfect moments. It hides all of the pain, the struggles and the heartaches every family must endure at some moment every year. That is part of life. Nothing can be perfect all of the time.
The arrival of the letter from the Department of Motherhood to the Britva family sent me in motion again. I had a lot of work still to do to make sure I received the marks I wanted. There was a relationship I was building with the children, and even though it wasn’t where I knew a great relationship should be, I knew by no longer treating Ben and Katie with respect and instead, allowing them to do whatever they wanted for the next two weeks would completely destroy all of the work I had put into those two children. It would be devastating to them. They would act out in ways that would be ridiculous and maybe even dangerous. Even though I did care about these two children, I knew this was the best way to destroy the relationship I had created with them.
I let Ben sleep in each morning and no longer worried about whether he made it to school or not. Katie got jealous quickly and stopped acknowledging my presence until I gave her the credit card and dropped her off at the mall instead of taking her to school. She went on a new shopping spree every day, and she no longer complained about the unfairness between the way she was treated as opposed to her brother.
When the kids were at home together, I started engaging them in new and exciting games. We set up forts with the cushions of the couches in the living room and created catapults out of large rubber bands. We took sides of the room and started to attack each other with various food products we found in the fridge. It made quite a mess in the room and Brandon, during one of his sober moments, wondered why we were destroying the nice furniture and the room itself. I really didn’t have an explanation he would accept, but I did have a way of making sure he didn’t interfere with my plans.
I started giving him the one thing he always wanted from me. We started having sex at least once a day. It sometimes happened early in the morning and sometimes it happened late at night. A couple of times, Ben and Katie caught us in the act, but usually Brandon was too drunk to care and I would shoo them away telling them daddy and I were busy at the moment. They tried to avoid us after the first time they caught us, but it became more and more difficult for them because we had sex wherever we thought it would be convenient. Sometimes that was the bedroom, sometimes the bathroom, sometimes the living room, and a couple of times the kitchen. It did make me feel guilty to use Brandon that way, but I knew what I was doing was for the greater good. I swallowed my pride during each of these sessions because I knew it was part of the greater plan I had set out to accomplish.
The rest of the time was spent partying with the children. I picked up smoking just so I could teach Ben and Katie how to do the same. I allowed them to experiment with alcohol for the first time. I knew it might be a little early, but Ben was approaching the fifth grade, so it was about time he learned about the joys of drinking. We also had cuss sessions. Ben, Katie and I would do nothing but sit around the table and see how many different cuss words we could shout out at one time. Because of these sessions, the words became a part of the kids’ everyday vocabulary.
I took a page out of Palin’s game book, and started to feed Ben and Katie coffee in the morning. They were so excited to have this adult drink that they guzzled it right down. Of course, I had to doctor the coffee up a little bit with a lot of cream and tons of sugar, but afterwards the desired effect was what I had anticipated. They went crazy for an hour or two and then have a sugar crash leaving them helpless until I gave them another cup of coffee.
The cleanliness of the house needed to be perfect for Dr. Blur’s visit. It was more difficult to just give up on the cleaning altogether than I thought it would be. I have always been a clean person and when I started to see the collection of dirty dishes, used beer bottles and old newspapers collect in the kitchen, I wanted to pick them up and tidy up the house. It was the same for all of the other rooms. Toys and dirty dishes found themselves scattered all over the place. Clothes collected in the bathrooms and the floors of the children’s bedrooms. Unmade beds screamed at me to be put right. Various object begged to be put in their proper places. The mess and the smell drove me crazy, but I kept a store room down in the basement clean. Whenever I felt the urge to clean I would hide myself down there and organize the cans of food and Christmas decorations kept down there. If that wasn’t enough, I chose to keep the entry way clean to give a good first impression. Both of these places allowed me to keep my sanity and the house started to look perfect for my anticipated guest. I was more ready for this assessment than I had ever been in all of my years of mothering and I had to do a lot less to prepare for this event than I ever had to before.
When the day of the assessment arrived, Brandon’s alarm went off the same time as always. He had drunk a lot the night before, so he didn’t even flop over to acknowledge the blaring noise coming out of his clock; he just continued to snore away one hell of a hangover. I got up and quickly turned it off so it would not disturb him. I went off to take a shower and get ready.
I had pulled out my dress the night before. It had hidden itself in the closet ever since I had moved in with Brandon and the kids, but I knew I had to wear it that day. The ugly blue denim stared back at me as I hung it in the bathroom. I turned on the water in the shower to let the water warm up before I stepped underneath it. Still to this day, I can’t imagine who thought it would be a good idea to make a dress out of the same material they used to make jeans. It made such an ugly display, but today I would wear it like a badge of honor. I knew it would be the last time I would have to wear it, but I needed it to make the picture complete.
I stepped into the shower. It felt good to let the hot water run over my body so early in the morning. It warmed my bones and my soul, preparing me for the battle I would have to engage in later. It was better than any cup of coffee because it was a natural rejuvenation of the spirit and not one requiring a drug like caffeine.
When I was finished with the shower, I got out, and while wearing a towel, I fixed my hair and put on the hideous mask of make-up just as I was taught during my time at the Capital Limited Re-education Center. I looked in the mirror after I was finished, and I saw the face that used to stare back at me every day at the Mother Mall. It was a little different because I had let my hair grow back and the natural color did return. My natural hair gave me the strength to wear the make-up one last time because I knew the real part of me was still there to go through this assessment.
Then I put on the dress. I looked at myself in the mirror. The memories of the last year came flooding back to me: the girl who showed up on my doorstep and ruined my life, the assessment tearing me away from my children, the bus ride to that awful place out in the desert, the battle with this dress the first time around, the days as a commodity waiting to be sold, and my new life with this family going through their own personal struggles. It all culminated in this moment today, and even though I had to harm many people to get where I was, I knew what I was about to do was for the greater good. I patted down the dress to look my best and get ready for the main event.
I left the bedroom with Brandon still snoring away. I went down the stairs and knocked on the doors of the children. Through the closed doors, I told them to get up to get ready for the assessment. I had talked to them the day before about what was going to happen today. We even went through their closets to find the perfect clothes for them to wear for the assessment. Katie had a dress lay nicely over the chair at her desk in her bedroom. Ben had a nice pair of slacks, a collared shirt, and a tie so he could look presentable. They knew their appearance was important for the show being given that day. They also knew their best and proper behavior was expected. I had no hesitation in my mind they would live up to my expectations. I told them coffee would be ready for them when they came downstairs.
I went downstairs myself, and into the kitchen. I grabbed the pile of papers collecting on the kitchen table and dumped them in the corner of the room on the pile of discarded newspapers. Flies were beginning to get comfortable in this corner. I didn’t really care because it was far enough from the kitchen table, and I was starting to get used to the mess for the first time in my life. I started a pot of coffee and made sure cereal and milk were ready for the children when they came downstairs. I knew they were in the process of getting ready because I could hear the showers starting upstairs. Things were moving in the right direction, and I knew I had some time to read the newspaper while the coffee brewed and I waited for Dr. Blur to arrive.
I went outside to get the paper. The morning routine of all the other houses was at the point where all of the mothers followed their husbands out to their cars. They were all dressed in the shiny, gold dresses and I knew they would be shocked to see me wearing a dress for the first time. I had never put it on since I moved in with Brandon and his kids. Most of the time, in the morning, the mothers saw me wearing my pajamas. If I went out to the front yard during the day, I would usually be wearing something casual like a t-shirt and a pair of jeans or on the warmer days, God forbid, shorts. I didn’t know if it was a bigger shock for them to see me wearing a dress or the fact it was the denim blue one never associated with this neighborhood before. I continued to ignore them. They were not the ones for whom my crusade was designed. The battle needing to be fought was for the women like Sandy Slaver and Karen Moore, the women whose lives had been taken away from them by the absurd rules laid out in the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act. I picked up the paper and went inside to enjoy it with my cup of coffee.
Once again, Katie was at the table, eating breakfast. Her hair was wet, and she was wearing her bathrobe. She hadn’t put on her dress yet. “Good morning, Rachael.”
“Good morning, Katie. Why haven’t you dressed yet?”
In between spoonfuls of Fruit Loops, she said, “I thought I would let my hair dry first. I’ll put it on after breakfast.”
I looked up at the clock and saw that it read 9:00. From what I knew about Dr. Blur and her punctuality, she would be here promptly at 10:00, and I knew everything needed to be just perfect for her arrival. I looked back down at her and said, “That’s fine. Just remember, I need you ready in an hour.”
“Don’t worry, Rachael. I’ll be. Can I have my coffee now?”
It was still a little early for her to be enjoying this treat, so I looked back at her, “You can have it after you’re completely ready. How’s your brother doing?”
“He got a little bit of a late start but he’s in the shower now. He should be ready on time.”
I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat down with my paper, “Good, now finish your breakfast.”
She finished her breakfast, and I started to browse through the paper. There was not a lot of news to excite or inspire me except for this day in history. Two major items stood out. It was on April 28th that sailors had it with Captain William Bligh’s tyrannical rule on the HMS Bounty and left him to die adrift on a lifeboat in the middle of the sea with eighteen other sailors who were sympathetic to his cause. Also France invaded the Austrian Netherlands thereby starting the French Revolution. Both events took an act of rebellion and went down in history for the efforts put forth by those groups. I wondered if the act of rebellion I was going to perform would go down in history as another one of those moments that changed the world, or if I would quickly be forgotten as soon as my headline was thrown in the recycling bin.
It didn’t matter either way. I knew I needed to continue with my plan because in my heart I knew it was the right thing to do. I could no longer live with myself if I continued to let this injustice prevail for innocent mothers on a daily basis. I might not be the new Rosa Parks, the new Gandhi, or the new Martin Luther King, Jr. but I knew in my heart I would be at peace for stepping up to do the right thing.
Ben finished taking his shower, put on his clothes and came downstairs to grab a bite to eat. Katie put on her dress and looked like a younger version of June Cleaver waiting for the day she could be a model mother like the United States wanted her to be. It pained my heart to see any young woman being mistreated in this way, but I knew it would be for the best when all the dust had settled.
I gave the children their coffee, and made sure to add a little extra sugar to give them an extra boost for the day’s events. They started to drink it fifteen minutes before 10 o’clock. Right before the good doctor had arrived, the cups were empty and the jitters were beginning to rush through Ben’s and Katie’s bloodstreams. I looked at the clock in the kitchen and noticed I had a little bit of time to look around the house and admire my handiwork. Everything was perfect. Piles of dishes were stacked up in the kitchen sink. Week old newspapers littered the floor. An odd smell permeated the rooms from old food products thrown across the wall. The living room had dirty clothes and stacks of used DVDs all over the place. Empty beer bottles, empty wine bottles, and half filled but open whiskey bottles could be found all over the place. The kids were starting to become restless and were taking it out on each other. If they didn’t have some other place to direct their energy soon it would be wasted on the moment, but I knew the punctuality of Dr. Blur wouldn’t let me down and at exactly 10:00, the doorbell rang.
I walked over to the door and opened it to see Dr. Nancy Ann Blur standing on the porch with her clipboard tucked in its position in the crook of her arm, and her other hand holding Mr. Clicky-Pen while adjusting her glasses on the bridge of her nose.
“Dr. Blur, so nice to see you again,” I said while planting a genuine smile on my face.
“It is good to see you again too, Rachael,” she said as she walked into the entryway. “I always do enjoy testing the mothers who have been under my tutelage. It gives me an opportunity to revel in how wonderful my teaching methods truly are.”
My smile grew even larger as I shut the door behind her. I turned around to face her and said, “And I am really excited to show you how much I have learned from you. I know this will be one experience you will never forget.”
“Click,” said Mr. Clicky-Pen as her hand poised it over her clipboard. She breathed in the air and I could see her wrinkle up her nose at the odd scent she detected. She hadn’t seen the rest of the house yet, so she couldn’t quite place it with the pristine condition of the entryway, so she shrugged it off as something not really a part of what needed to be assessed.
“Well then let’s begin. Where are those lovely children you are now in charge of?” Dr. Blur said as she looked around the entryway expecting them to pop out of the ferns hanging from the ledge connected to the staircase.
“Oh, I’ll call them so we can get started,” I said, and turned around so Ben and Katie would be able to hear me from the kitchen. “Children, it is time to get started.”
I could hear the children start to stir in the kitchen as they made their way to the entryway. I looked over at Dr. Blur and asked her, “Would you like me to make you a cup of coffee while you talk to Ben and Katie?”
“That would be nice,” she said as I moved down the hallway to the kitchen. Ben and Katie came racing past me the other way to greet our guest. I let them have their fun while I made a cup of coffee and put it on the kitchen table to wait for the time when Dr. Blur would get to this part of the house. I noticed the cup was very clean, so I took a sip out of the cup so a stain of lipstick would find itself on the end Dr. Blur would drink from. I put the cup back down on the table and paused to listen to how things were going in the other room. Screams of joy were coming from the kids, and stern commands of heightened excitement were coming from Dr. Blur. A smile grew on my face.
I sat back in the chair. I rested my legs on the table. My left foot kicked off my right high heel and it splooged upon a pool of ignored maple syrup on the linoleum. My right foot kicked off my left high heel and it rested on the table like an attentive soldier ready to spring into action. I untied my apron and threw it across the room until it landed in a crumpled heap next to the entrance to the kitchen. My body felt at ease for the first time in years. It was so comfortable that I regretted not grabbing my purse and bringing it over with me so I could enjoy one of the cigarettes hidden within the side pocket.
Katie came running into the kitchen holding Mr. Clicky-Pen high and clicking him madly as she ran towards the door on the other side of the room. I could hear Dr. Blur shouting something about her clipboard in the other room, but I thought it best to let her deal with that situation. I really wanted my cigarettes and the opportunity to have them in my hands without having to remove myself from my comfortable position had presented itself.
“Katie, come here,” I beckoned to the girl who had run into the room.
She stopped running and looked at me with a questioning look as if she had done something wrong.
“Don’t worry honey, they’ve made it impossible for you to do anything wrong anymore,” I said to reassure her. It was kind of sad really. She was still young enough to be unaware of how much power she really possessed. It would change in the next couple of years, but for my present situation I could still use what little bit of innocence she had to my advantage. “Do you see my purse over there on the counter?”
She turned around and looked at my purse. She turned around to face me again with a blank stare and said, “Yeah, Rachael, what about it?”
“Can you bring that over to me?”
She looked at me as if a negotiation might be in order, “What do I get out of it?”
“Well, I was going to have a cigarette. Do you want to have one of those?”
She smiled and said, “YEAH!” She turned around, grabbed the purse, and ran it over to me.
As I dug through the purse to get my cigarettes and lighter I explained to Katie, “If Dr. Blur asks you why you are smoking a cigarette, you just explain to her that it is in compliance with Standard Number Two: A child should get whatever he or she wants at all times in order to experience all that life has to offer.”
I tapped out two of the Marlboro Reds. I put one in my mouth and the other one in Katie’s mouth. I lit mine up and while I sucked in the sweet taste of the tobacco I motioned for Katie to lean in closer. I lit the lighter and shielded it with my other hand as if some unanticipated wind was going to blow it out at any moment. Katie sucked in deeply and expertly. The week I had been training her and Ben on the joys of nicotine had paid off.
She blew out a cloud of smoke and said, “Thanks, Rachael.”
“You’re welcome; go have fun with your brother.”
As Katie ran out of the room, I said to myself, “I think I just covered Standard Number Five: A mother should trust their child’s judgment to do the right thing in any situation and should never violate this trust.” I threw the lighter on the table and blew out a puff of smoke. I looked around for a place to ash my cigarette, but didn’t see any receptacle, so I just ashed it on the floor.
Ben ran into the room. He was carrying Dr. Blur’s clipboard. I stopped him as he ran by. “What do you have there, Ben?”
“It’s a clipboard. I wanted to see how destructible it might be.”
I popped my legs off the table and looked at him closer, “Well, that’s an interesting query, Ben. What do you suppose might cause the destruction of that clipboard?”
“I don’t know. Maybe fire.”
I looked over to where my lighter rested on the table and said out loud, “Standard Three: A mother should not impede in the natural learning and exploration process of their children.” I picked up the lighter and tossed it over to Ben. He caught it with one hand. “There you go. Just make sure you conduct your experiment in the fireplace. I don’t want you burning down the house.”
“Sure thing, Rachael,” he said as he ran out of the kitchen towards the living room and the fireplace.
I put my feet back up on the table and continued to enjoy my cigarette while stating, “That should cover Standard Six: A mother should regard the safety of their children as a top priority.”
A lot of screaming was coming from outside of the kitchen. I was hoping Dr. Blur would come into the kitchen and enjoy her coffee before it got cold. I took another sip from the other end to test if this was the case while leaving another lipstick mark. It was still hot, so she should have been happy with it when she came into the kitchen. I could hear the screaming from one end of the living room being redirected to the other end of the living room where the fireplace was. Dr. Blur must have noticed Ben’s little experiment.
Katie came back into the kitchen. She ran up to where I sat. She still had Mr. Clicky-Pen in one hand and a cell phone in the other hand. “Hey, Rachael, look at what I found.”
I looked at the treasures and asked, “Where did you get those?”
“Oh, I found them on the ground.”
“But honey, I believe these are Dr. Blur’s.”
“Well, she dropped them and then just left them there like she didn’t care about them anymore. She just left them in the middle of the room and went chasing after Ben. I think she wanted to play with him. Can I keep them? My friends at school will love to see them.”
I was about to tell her no because no matter how far I had pushed the envelope I just couldn’t condone stealing, but then it hit me. “You know, Katie, Standard Number One states, ‘A mother should ensure the popularity of their children to make sure they have a healthy amount of self-esteem.’”
Katie looked at me with a quizzical look.
“It means you can keep them, honey.”
She smiled instantly. “Thanks, Rachael.” She turned around and ran out of the room.
The noise continued from the other room, and I wondered how long it would be before it woke up Brandon. I was surprised he hadn’t stirred because of the ruckus being made downstairs, but then I remembered how much he had drunk the night before. I knew it would take a lot more than the noise going on out in the living room to disturb him. It was while I was pondering this that there came a noise from the living room that should have been enough to wake my slumbering husband. It was a squeal unlike anything I had ever heard before. If I could ever imagine the death wail of an Irish banshee, I would guess this is what it would sound like. I knew I needed to see what was happening before things got out of hand.
I threw my cigarette in Dr. Blur’s full cup of coffee and went out to the living room to investigate. Even before I could look upon what ever tragedy had occurred, I announced my presence by saying, “What in the world is going on out here?”
I walked around the corner as the wail continued to get louder. Ben and Katie instantly ran over to me and smothered me in a hug. It was as if they were escaping from the devastating noise issuing from the room. I looked down at the floor to see the source of this noise. Dr. Nancy Ann Blur was kneeling in the middle of the floor. Her nice neat hair was thrown out of place as if she had grabbed huge clumps of it and tried to tear it out of her head. She might have actually tried to do it, or it could have been one of the kids that tried. I’m not really sure how she became so disheveled in such a short period of time. A couple of buttons had been ripped from her blouse and one corner of her shirt had edged off her shoulder exposing her whole shoulder to the room. Her glasses laid in a broken heap at the edge of her knees. A pot once holding a fern had found its way firmly around her left foot. Tears were streaming down her face. Her howl continued to reverberate from her gaping mouth. In her hands were the last remains of Mr. Clicky-Pen. He was broken into five or six pieces that looked beyond repair.
Dr. Blur looked up at me, “Look at what your brats did to Mr. Clicky-Pen.”
I patted the kids’ backs to indicate I needed to go talk to Dr. Blur. I walked up to where she wept over her dearly departed friend. I knelt beside her and gently cradled the pieces of Mr. Clicky-Pen in my hands. I looked down at the remains and then I looked up at Dr. Blur. She looked back at me with the pain in her eyes inviting consolation. I said the words that best fit the moment, “It’s a pen.”
Dr. Blur blubbered away in shock. “What?”
“It’s a fucking pen, Nancy. It’s not even a good pen. You’ve created an emotional attachment to something that outweighs its real importance. This is something that usually finds itself hidden in the back of some junk drawer, and you’ve given it a name and all your love for the past twelve years. It is kind of sad you’ve done this with an inanimate object. It might be time you just admit the true worth of Mr. Clicky-Pen and just let him go. There’s no point holding on to something that just doesn’t work.”
Dr. Blur started to reach out for the remains of Mr. Clicky-Pen, but I moved my hands away before she was able to grab them.
“I’m going to do something for you, Dr. Blur,” I stood up with Mr. Clicky-Pen in my hands as Dr. Blur remained on the ground blubbering. “I’m going to set you free.” I started to walk over to the fire burning brightly in the fireplace with what I could only assume were the remains of Dr. Blur’s clipboard. “You might hate me for what I’m going to do today, but someday you’ll realize it is for the best.” I looked down into the fire before I looked back at Dr. Blur. Her lower lip stammered away in disbelief. “We just need to get rid of the things that just don’t work very well.” And I threw Mr. Clicky-Pen into the fire.
The howl that emerged afterwards could have shaken the foundations of the vaults at Fort Knox. It was the equivalent of dropping an atomic bomb in the middle of suburbia. I could feel the shock waves almost knock me off my feet. I’m sure all the other mothers in the neighborhood heard the sound of the pain emitting from the middle of my living room. Dr. Blur couldn’t take it anymore. She got up from her spot on the floor and headed towards the front door. Ben, Katie and I followed closely behind.
Dr. Blur banged her head into the door as she opened it because she was more worried about getting out of the house then she was about the proper door-opening procedure. She might have maintained her balance if it wasn’t for the potted planted firmly gripping her left foot. Instead, she flopped down on the hard linoleum and the reverberation of her fall shook the whole house. Another fern edged itself off a nail that kept it hanging from the ceiling and came crashing down on top of Dr. Blur’s head.
She shook her head to get the dirt and ceramics out of her hair. Dr. Blur turned around to see the crew of people staring down at her, mocking her pain. She regained control of her senses and quickly got up from the floor using the edge of the door to help. She pushed herself out of the screen door. She ran down the front walk while screaming out the pain she was experiencing.
I stood at the entrance of the house watching the bewildered way she ran down the street. Ben and Katie cowered behind me to watch this odd display of humanity. Brandon appeared at the landing on the second floor of the house. He was wearing a pair of tattered boxers, scratching his belly and wiping away the sleep from his eyes.
“What in the world is going on down there?”
I turned around to look at him. “Oh, just demonstrating the last of the standards of motherhood to my assessor, honey.”
“Standard Number Four: Proper, loving shelter shall be supplied to everyone under the legal care of the mother.”