Accountability Part 2 – Chapter 1

PART 2

RE-EDUCATION

1

Never in the history of the creation of man had someone so beautiful fallen so far, so fast. At least that was what Dr. Blur had told me at the end of my assessment when she was filling out the last of the paper work. Things continued to slide after the good doctor’s first exposure Palin. My young unwanted house guest claimed the deal for the car was all my idea. She even went so far as to show her disgust at the prospect of belittling such a prestigious organization such as the Department of Motherhood by allowing this kind of behavior to take place on a regular basis. Palin claimed it was up to her to put an end to such atrocities. She told the good doctor that if her actions could inspire other children in similar situations then it was imperative she made the accusation against me. Dr. Blur was about to agree but she needed to investigate some more before making her final judgment.

It drove me crazy. Dr. Blur walked around the place like I was the only one who made some horrendous mistake that morning. Did she not notice the naked girl and the young man having sex in Robert’s office? How could she have missed it? How could she have thought it was my fault that was going on? Granted it was happening underneath my nose and after some more prodding of Palin, it was made perfectly clear it was something happening on a regular basis. I probably should have put an end to it earlier, but to my defense, I never had any experience with teenagers before. Most mothers get some time to know their children and build up the rapport needed to be an effective parent of teenagers. What makes them think that throwing a teenager, especially one as obnoxious as Palin, in the lap of some unsuspecting mother right before their assessment is actually a fair and honest way to make sure the mother is living up to the standards? It was ridiculous. There was no way I could have passed that assessment with the situation I was put in. It was almost as if I was set up to fail in order for them to prove their point. But those were the rules and regulations I was forced to play by. Dr. Nancy Ann Blur constantly reminded me I should not make any excuses because they were not what made a mother great. She kept on reminding me it was all about a mother’s integrity as a person and her ability to pass that integrity on to the next generation.

For a while it looked as if I would only get a good scolding and some bad marks. I would be able to stay at home and raise my children for another year. That was until Palin interceded again. She pointed out that even if my excuses held up in a court of law, there was still the issue of how I raised my two other children. She pointed out I had also made deals with Lindsey and Zach. Granted they sold out for less than she would have, but they were very young. She explained how their impressionable age allowed me to manipulate them for much less, which would give me the ability to continue to sell them short long until they left my care. Not only was I teaching them that bribing was alright, but I was also teaching them the value of what they were being bribed with didn’t need to be a lot. A quick interview with Lindsey and Zach just confirmed everything Palin had said was true.

Even thinking about that little slut today, makes my anger boil over.

After the assessment was over, Dr. Blur claimed I was the worst mother she had ever encountered. I was such a disgrace. Mr. Clicky-Pen agreed with her so much Dr. Blur had to replace the ink cartridge half way through the assessment in order to write down all of the terrible and horrible things she was observing. The police were notified immediately and I was going to be the first mother ever that would not get the three year grace period to change her evil ways. I would be taken immediately for re-education to ensure this did not happen again. I was handcuffed and taken to a holding cell to await my trial.

The next couple of days were a whirlwind of camera lights, wagging fingers and sleazy lawyers. I was shuffled from one place to another. The courts wanted to make sure I had a fair and more importantly, fast trial. The media wanted to make sure my face was proudly displayed on the front page of every newspaper and magazine across America. The Department of Motherhood wanted to make an example of me.

Robert told me it would take me five years of allowances to pay off the type of lawyer I needed to get me out of my situation. He didn’t think it would be fair to me. Instead, a court-appointed defense attorney was assigned to me. He was a young man who had just passed his bar exam a couple of weeks earlier. I was going to be his very first client ever. He was really excited for his chance to serve justice and he thought it would be a great opportunity to bone up on his trial skills. He was nice enough but I still wish to this day he would have had more experience in front of a jury so I wouldn’t have looked like such a fool at my trial. He didn’t get me off and I was sent off to the Capital Limited Re-education Center in La Junta, Colorado. I was loaded onto an old school bus and handcuffed to one of the seats like a common criminal. I was seated next to another woman who was treated the same way as I was. Her name was Sandy Slaver, and we exchanged pleasantries when we first sat down, but we were so embarrassed about our situation we didn’t say much more to each other as the bus made its way to the Capital Limited Re-education Center.

Nobody on the bus was allowed to say goodbye to their children. The Department of Motherhood thought it would be best for the children if they were kept away from these inadequate mothers. I hadn’t even seen Lindsey or Zach since I was taken away after that fateful day when I failed my assessment. I was treated like a common criminal. My hands were handcuffed and my feet were shackled. I was forced to wear an ugly orange jumpsuit. They even had armed guards on the bus as if they needed them to keep the world safe from such terrible mothers.

I thought it was a little bit too much, but who was I to tell the government how to do their job? I was a mother that couldn’t help her children grow up the way they should. I must be a threat to society. What did they expect a renegade mother to do? Did they expect me to scold some random stranger on the street? Did they think I might coddle someone who tripped on the sidewalk and skinned their knee? Did they expect me to stop a business man on his way to make a large deal and demand I see his homework before I let him continue on his way? All I wanted to do was see my children again and tell them how much I loved them, but according to the government, my children were the ones I was the real threat to. They were to be left under the care of Robert, who I am sure was placing them under the direct responsibility of Palin. I was being led off to learn how to become a better mother so my children wouldn’t be left to the fate of the un-American nurturer.

The bus I was in headed off to the plains of Colorado. The mountains that always comforted me shrunk slowly into the horizon. The endless plains rolled on ahead giving me nothing to distract myself as we rolled on to my new lodgings. The mighty lodge pole pines covering the landscape got smaller the further east we went. They became less frequent and slowly turned from these straight tall trees into these gnarled mutated creatures trying to reach for the sky but were instead dragged to the ground by the weight of gravity. The dust sucked up any grass and replaced it with small tufts of cacti. A wrong step would send large spikes through a person’s shoe and into their foot, causing them to hobble along until they were able to pull the darts out.

The buildings we encountered took notes from the foliage. When we left Denver, the mighty skyscrapers loomed all around us, but the further east we went, the smaller the buildings became. They went from office buildings to apartment buildings to suburban houses littered among decaying strip malls, and the occasional restaurant. The homes of the happy families started off huge and impressive. Their structures had withstood the test of time and showed how a loving home could withstand the forces of nature or the heartlessness of bureaucracy. The houses slowly turned into quickly slapped together buildings imitating each other. Each house was the exact copy of the other with just small changes such as a tree placed in a different spot or different shade of tan used to paint the house. By the time we turned off the interstate towards the lonely two-lane highway, the houses turned into single level homes with chipped paint and various forms of unwanted mechanical devices littering the front yards. By the time we came across the imposing green sign pointing towards my destiny, La Junta, the houses had turned into shacks barely kept together and were only seen standing by themselves every five miles down the road.

With all of the desolation my eyes had experienced on the trip out to the Capital Limited Re-education Center, I was extremely excited about seeing something that demonstrated humanity still existed in the world. When I first saw the Capital Limited Re-education Center, it did not fill me with the hope I was looking for. It loomed large on the horizon. It was the only sign of life that could be seen for miles around. It stood like a prison out in the middle of nowhere with plains surrounding it. Anybody finding themselves in the vicinity would be spotted for miles around. All other life was removed from the location. The small shacks I had come to see as a sign of humanity disappeared. The gnarled trees no longer found solace on the desolate ground. Even the dangerous cacti that scared me with their imposing spikes could find no root in the ground. The only changes to the landscape were devil twisters formed by the wind or the occasional tumbleweed rolling towards more hospitable terrain.

“It looks like a prison,” Sandy told me.

I nodded in agreement and added, “I hope they don’t treat us like common criminals.”

Sandy grabbed the chains binding me and reminded me, “It is a little too late for that.”

As the bus inched closer to the Capital Limited Re-education Center, I could see the walls were made of slabs of granite. Small slits were cut into the stone offering the only sunlight into the building. They were held up high which meant they were either windows to the tops of the rooms on the first floor of the building or air vents for the bottoms of the second floor rooms. Either way they would not allow for spectacular views of the surrounding landscape. The whole building was surrounded by a large fence with rolls of barb wire on the top of it. On each corner of the fence there was a tower holding a spot light. Each tower held big imposing men with rifles slung over their shoulders.

When the bus reached the front gate, a loud alarm went off and the gate started to retract back. The bus bounded over the dirt road into the courtyard. I could see Dr. Nancy Ann Blur standing at the front door with her clipboard tucked into her side and Mr. Clicky-Pen poised in her right hand. Behind her a little flower garden had been constructed. Three women worked in the garden. One had a trowel and was digging small holes to plant various forms of delicate flowers. Another pushed a wheelbarrow full of peat moss and the other carried a green plastic water can. She used the can to sprinkle the flowers with much needed water.

I had a hard time telling the women apart. Each woman had the same haircut. It was a short bob hanging just above their shoulders and dyed platinum blonde. Their faces were painted with bright red lipstick and rosy cheeks. Each one had pearl earrings dangling from their earlobes and they each had a pearl necklace draping itself across their neck. They even wore the same dresses. The dresses fanned out into a swaying hoop just over their knees. Their shoulders were covered with puffy sleeves to protect their arms where they met their collarbones. Their waists were cinched tight with an apron pleating out in front of their skirts. Each dress was the color orange, just like the jumpsuits we were wearing on the bus. They all wore high-heeled shoes matching the hideous color of their dresses.

It was not what I was expecting as the bus rolled over the lonely highway to get here. I was expecting women dressed up in jeans and t-shirts, being shuffled around by guards. I couldn’t decide if I was pleased with the change of my expectations or worried about it. I didn’t have much choice as to what I could do about it, so when the bus came to a stop, I stood up in my spot waiting for the guards to release me from my seat. When they did, I went and joined the rest of my companions in our new future together at the Capital Limited Re-education Center. When the guards finally unhooked me, I shuffled my way to the edge of the stairs off the bus. I took a couple of bunny hops down the stairs hoping I would be able to control my balance enough so I wouldn’t go toppling into the courtyard and embarrass myself in front of the other women here for re-education. My feet created puffs of dust as I landed in the courtyard dirt. I then shuffled my way over to my place in line and waited for instructions from Dr. Nancy Ann Blur. Sandy came up and found her place right next to me. When we were all in place like a group of military trainees on their first day of basic training, I looked up and down the line. The women in the line looked like we would’ve been friends in another life, but I thought in my heart this was an illusion. The women must have been harder than me in order to end up in the situation like this. I knew I was a better mother than all of the other women in this line and it was a mistake I was here at all. I knew Robert would come down here any minute and take me away from this awful fate. Until then I knew I must refrain from making any serious mistakes in front of these other ladies. That way they wouldn’t hurt me or even worse Dr. Blur wouldn’t lump me in with the rest of them.

Dr. Blur looked at us from over her clipboard. She made a quick check with Mr. Clicky-Pen and then looked over at one of the guards accompanying us on the long bus trip.

“Ladies, I would like to introduce you to Steven.” She indicated the man dressed up in a military uniform. “He will be your authoritative executive throughout the course of your mother re-education process.” She looked over at the man she was talking about. “Steven, why are these ladies in shackles?”

Steven snapped to attention as if he was getting a direct order from his commanding officer. He shouted across the courtyard at Dr. Blur while looking directly ahead, “Standard procedure for any prisoner, ma’am.”

“But Steven,” Dr. Blur said as she walked over to the first woman in line, a tall and slightly over-weight brunette, and patted her cheek. “These ladies are not prisoners. They are just mothers who have lost their way and need a little adjustment in their lives in order to get back on the right path.” She started to walk down the line and looked at every woman in their eyes as she passed them. “In fact, these women are some of the noblest citizens of this fair country. In the eyes of many people, they are considered heroes. It takes a lot of patience and care to raise a young child in this world, and without them the future of this country would be in jeopardy.”

By this time, Dr. Blur stopped walking right in front of me. She looked down the line to where Steven was standing in attention. She addressed him directly, “You have a mother, Steven, don’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And wasn’t it your mother that helped make you into the wonderful human being you are today?”

Steven started to get flustered. “She did a wonderful job of raising me, ma’am.”

“And because of that, don’t you owe your mother some respect?”

“I love my mother,” Steven sobbed as tears started to well up in the corner of his eyes.

“Well, then would you want to see your mother locked up like a common criminal.”

“No, ma’am.”

“Then let’s unlock these mothers, so we can start to teach them how to be the wonderful mothers this country needs.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Steven said. He jumped into action and started to unlock the shackles around our wrists and ankles.

While he was making his way down the line, Dr. Blur looked at me right in the face and said, “Good job, Steven, because we wouldn’t want to damage one of our nation’s greatest commodities.” Her eyes squinted just a little bit to see if she could read what was going on in my mind. I tried to compose my facial features into one of awareness. Apparently, she got the answer she wanted because she turned around on her heels and walked into the Capital Limited Re-education Center with her clipboard tucked firmly at her side.

I thought the experience was strange but her generosity helped get the shackles off. It felt good to no longer have the metal rub against my wrists. I gently massaged them to see if I could get the feeling to return to them. My wrists were starting to feel a little better by the time Steven made it all the way down the line. He dumped the gear to the side and then he goose stepped to the center of the line. When he made it to the center, he rotated on his heels so he could face us and snapped once again into attention. While looking over our heads, he shouted, “Attention!”

I looked down the line to see what the other ladies were doing. Sandy looked back at me with a confused expression on her face. Most of the other women looked back and forth down the line with the same look of confusion. A couple of them took the message given by Steven seriously and started to stand up straighter with their heels touching.

Steven didn’t wait for all of us to comply; instead, he continued on with the instructions we needed to have. All instructions were shouted at us, basic training style. “Welcome ladies to the Capital Limited Re-education Center. During your stay here you will learn what it means to be the perfect mother.” Steven stopped at this moment to turn his head to the side and bite the knuckle of his right index finger. His eyes squeezed tightly before he let go of his knuckle. He muttered the words, “I love you mother,” just barely audible enough for us to hear before he turned his head back to us and continued his instructions. The bizarre gesture convinced a couple more of the ladies to stand at attention.

“Upon entering the Capital Limited Re-education Center, you will notice cubicles on your left side. You will each take a cubicle. In the cubicle, you will remove your orange jumpsuit and put on the hospital dressing gown made available to you there. In the back corner of the cubicle there will be a chute with a button above it on the wall. You will push this button and the chute will open for you. This is where you will dispose of your orange jumpsuit. Also in each stall you will notice a barber chair. After you have disposed of your jumpsuit you will take a seat in the barber chair. On the left arm rest of the barber chair you will see another button. You will press this button when you have completed all of these tasks. Do I make myself clear?”

Sandy timidly raised her hand in the hopes of asking a question. I tried as best as I could by only using my looks to tell her she shouldn’t ask anything because Steven’s question was meant to be rhetorical.

Steven ignored her and instead shouted over our heads, “Good, now follow me.” He then placed his right foot over his left and did some kind of weird move causing him to whip around so we were now facing his back. He was still standing at attention. He started to goose step over to the door and after a couple of steps, the ladies who also stood at attention started to follow him. Ironically enough, they tried to imitate the way he was walking but not with much success. When the rest of us felt uncomfortable enough standing in the middle of the courtyard by ourselves, we joined the group and made our way into the Capital Limited Re-education Center. I was one of the last ones to enter. When I entered the Capital Limited Re-education Center for the first time, I noticed a long white hallway with white ceiling tiles and a white linoleum floor which stretched on forever. My eyes stung because of the change from natural light to florescent light. All of the white made the place look like a hospital and the ladies I rode over here with slowly made their way into the cubicles. There were only a few left towards the end of the hallway, and I made my way down until I found one not already occupied.

I went into what was more a tiny room and less a cubicle. The theme of white continued in there. There was a barber chair right in the middle of the room with a sink behind it and various utensils used to cut somebody’s hair. There were also jars around the edge of the sink holding various types of goo and gels. Across from the chair on a hook hung the hospital gown I was instructed to put on. I got to work.

I took off the orange jumpsuit, happy to be rid of it. I then put on the hospital gown. My new clothes barely hung over my butt, and much of my back was exposed by the loose way it was held together. The only way to secure it was to tie three little pieces of string together. I do not believe it helped much with my modesty.

I took the orange jumpsuit over to the chute on the far corner of the room. It looked like the lid to a toilet seat implanted in the floor. The button I was instructed to push was half way up the wall and blinking. I held my jumpsuit over the hole wondering what would happen when I pushed the button. My finger hesitated at the button, hoping I was making the right choice before it became too late to change my mind. I pressed the button, and the lid popped open. A great sucking sound came from a hole in the ground. My orange jumpsuit was ripped from my hands and sucked down the hole. After it had gobbled up the cloth, the lid slammed shut and quiet once again invaded the room. I have always been a little bit more wary of buttons after that experience.

I looked at the other button on the armrest of the barber’s chair as it flashed red. My finger hesitated over the button. I wondered what would happen if I didn’t push it. Steven answered that question for me as he started to shout down the hall, “Hurry up, ladies. You don’t want me to have to come in your room and push your buttons for you.” That settled it and I pushed the button. I expected another hole to open up and for me to be sucked into oblivion. I squeezed my eyes shut against what would happen, but after nothing did, I opened them to find myself still in the room. It was exactly as I was before I closed my eyes.

This is when the wall on the far side of the room opened up in the middle like a little door. Out walked a short man with his dark hair gelled up into a pompadour. He looked at me standing in front of the chair, and sighed, “Lady, didn’t you hear the instructions?”

“Excuse me?”

The man walked behind the chair and grabbed a white frock and put it on. “You were specifically told to sit in the chair before you pushed the button.”

I stepped up into the chair and apologized as I did so. He rolled his eyes, and went behind the chair. He stepped up on a wooden platform placed behind the chair. He pressed a button on the chair and I was thrown back into a lying position. Before I knew what was happening, a barber’s sheet was draped over me and the short man meticulously snapped it securely around my neck. He pressed another button and the chair slid back so my head was gently resting in the sink. He pulled a faucet snaking out from the back of the sink and started to spray my hair with water.

I looked up at him as he sprayed my hair down and asked, “Am I getting a haircut?”

He pulled one of the bottles off of the shelf and squirted a healthy portion into my hair. The smell of strawberries and lilacs floated in the air. He started to massage the liquid into my scalp before he answered, “Honey, you are getting a lot more than that. You’re getting a complete makeover.”

The massaging allowed my muscles to relax for the first time in weeks and I started to fall under his persuasion. “Did the people here analyze my body type and my facial features to come up with what would be my best look?”

It started to make me feel good they might’ve thought of me in this way, but he dispelled that myth quickly. “Oh, honey, it is nothing like that.” With one hand he continued to massage my scalp and with other he caressed one of my cheeks. “I wish what you asked was true. I spent five years in cosmetology school in order to learn how to work with facial features so every woman’s haircut would highlight their face. With you I would bring out those lovely green eyes and show the world what lovely cheekbone structure you have.”

His voice was soothing. Its rhythm was starting to lull me to sleep. Through that haze halfway between sleep and being awake, I was able to mutter, “Thank you.”

“And your body begs to be placed in a business suit. With your strong shoulders and powerful legs, it would force men to treat you with respect and you would be able to rise to power easily with your image.”

It must have been his soothing voice and the need for release from the stress I endured over the past couple of weeks that was making my eyes so heavy because I started to struggle to keep them open in order to hear what he had to say. The allure of leaving consciousness won out and I closed my eyes, but I was still alert enough to say, “I didn’t know I had that in me.”

“And you’ll never find it either.”

The contradiction didn’t stir me from my need to slumber, but I still questioned it anyway. “Oh, really?”

“Oh yeah, because that’s not the type of makeover you are going to get.” He started to rinse the shampoo out of my hair.

The water was the final straw putting me sleep, but I remember mumbling the word, “Oh,” before I drifted off. I had a dream filled with Lindsey, Zach and me. They were older and I guess I was too. They had become sophisticated adults. Zach was so handsome as he came walking across the grass wearing a suit just like his father. He carried with him a gift in a small slender box. It was wrapped in beautiful bright gold wrapping paper with green ribbon and a bow. Lindsey walked next to him. She had grown into a beautiful woman. Her hair was auburn like mine and it blew gently in the wind. But there was a difference between her and her brother. Her brother was smiling; she had a frown upon her face. Her brother walked up to me with confidence; she slouched along in a shy manner. Her brother’s clothes were of rich design; hers looked like they had been worn often and were beginning to show effects of the wear. They walked up to me and Zach bent down to where I sat on the grass and kissed my cheek. He handed me the present in his hand and told me, “Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.”

My heart leapt because it was my favorite day of the year, and my children had remembered me on this day. I looked down at the present. It felt light in my hands. It begged to be ripped open, but instead I looked up at the two of them and said, “Thank you. Is this from both of you?”

Zach looked down at me with concern. He said, “Of course not, Mom. That is just from me. Lindsey didn’t get you anything.”

I looked over at Lindsey with dismay. She started to bite into her fingernails of her index and middle finger. Instead of looking me in my eyes, she turned away from me in shame. She started to walk away from me, and I wanted to shout for her not to go, but Zach knelt down beside me. He told me, “Don’t worry about her mom; she’s been on that path for a very long time. There is nothing you can do about it now.”

I looked into Zach’s eyes and saw a hollow reflection of Lindsey walking over the horizon. He patted the present in my lap. “Open up your present. I want to show you what I got.”

My joy of opening the present left with my daughter, but I continued to do what he asked. I pulled back on the bow and the ribbon unraveled from the present. I carefully popped open the seam where the paper was taped together so I wouldn’t rip it. Underneath was a skinny rectangle box. I slowly pulled off the lid and looked into the box. The box was empty.

Zach kissed me on the cheek again and said, “Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.”

This is when I woke up from my dream. I had been moved to a bed and a blanket had been pulled over me in a loving manner. I was now in a different room that I assumed was still in the Capital Limited Re-education Center. A trickle of daylight filtered in from a small window on top of a wall I faced. There was a poster tacked to the wall of Evelyn Bronson standing in the kitchen and smiling at the camera. It was black and white and it looked like it was from the height of the Leave it to Beaver days on television. Underneath her picture written in bold, white letters were the words: YOUR HERO. I looked at it questioningly and felt a dull throb in my head. It felt as if I had a little too much to drink the night before.

I moved my hand up to my head and ran it through my hair. A lot of it seemed to be missing. In fact, it was cut very short. It seemed to stop just below my ears and right above my neck. I sat up quickly because I wasn’t expecting them to cut that much hair during my makeover. I always loved my long auburn hair. It was the first thing about me that attracted Robert. I started to panic and looked around the room to see if I could find a mirror. I needed to see exactly what they did with my hair.

I was sitting on a bed on the far end of a small square room. There were only two doors in the room: one directly on the opposite side of the room from the bed and a smaller one on the right hand wall of the room. There were no closets or any other possessions in the room except in the middle of the room. A dressmaker’s dummy stood next to a small table that had a binder, a notebook, and a red clicking pen on it. There was a dress on the dressmaker’s dummy. It was a one-piece dress made from an orange fabric. It was the same orange as the jumpsuit I was wearing earlier. It had a low round neckline tapering off into puffy sleeves just barely covering the shoulders. From the waist, a three-tiered skirt flowed out into a hoop just barely covering the knees. There were high-heeled shoes sitting nicely underneath it matching the color of the dress. There was also an apron decorated with sunflowers cinched around the waist of the dress and spreading out over the skirt.

I looked down at myself sitting up in bed and noticed I still had the hospital gown on. I quickly scanned the room to see if there were any other clothes available for me to wear. Once again, all I saw was the dressmaker’s dummy, the table with the paperwork on it, the bed, the poster, and the dress. The dress was something out of the 1950’s. I couldn’t imagine anybody wearing anything like that anymore, but something nagged at me in the back of my mind. I tried to think where I had seen dresses like this before. The poster behind me. Yes, but where else? I was quickly reminded of the women gardening when we first arrived at the Capital Limited Re-education Center.

I got out of the bed and edged my way over to where the dress stood in the middle of the room. I started to think about the hairstyles on the women outside of the Capital Limited Re-education Center. My hand went up again to touch my hair. My heart started to beat a little harder. I stopped halfway between the dress and the bed and turned to look at the poster behind me. I looked at the haircut Evelyn Bronson had. It looked exactly like the one the other ladies had. I started to worry I might have the same haircut as well. Tears stared to well up in my eyes. I started to move closer to the dress again.

My hand caressed the fabric at the sleeves. It was smooth and I could tell that it was made of silk. I still couldn’t see myself wearing such a dress. I didn’t know anybody who would find such an atrocity attractive anymore. The tear my eye was collecting shuffled down my cheek to dangle from the edge of my chin. I sniffed and wiped my nose. While I was doing that I noticed I was parallel to the other door in the room.

The door was open and I could see it led to a bathroom. There was a mirror hanging from the wall behind a counter. There was a piece of paper taped to the mirror above a collection of cosmetics. My eyes moved away from this to the center of the mirror where I could see my reflection standing next to the dress. I noticed not only was my hair cut but it was also now the same platinum blonde the other women’s hair color had been. My face was also painted with a bunch of cosmetics. I didn’t even recognize myself anymore. Another tear collecting in my other eye rolled down my cheek to meet the first one.

I rotated the dress so it faced the mirror. I stood behind it, and faced the mirror. My head stood at the top where the head of the mannequin would be. I looked over the body of the dress and I could feel my breath become quicker and shorter. I looked up to stare into the mirror. The illusion I saw completed the image. June Cleaver stared back at me.

I screamed before I fainted.

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Accountability – Part 1 – Assessment

 

I know this is a reposting of the first part of Accountability, and I apologize to all of you who have been following it since the beginning. I will pot the first chapter of part 2 next week, but I wanted to give everybody else a chance to catch up with the first part, and make it easier to find the whole thing, so here is “Assessment”.

 

PART 1

ASSESSMENT

1

Did I dream of this?

When I was young, is this what I hoped for?

Did I dream of ending up in this dead end job or did I have greater ambitions?

Can I mark the exact moment that my dreams got taken away from me and I was sent down the path to this pitiful end?

Now I can. I know looking back I can pinpoint the exact moment my life changed. As a teenage girl just graduating from high school and embarking on a new life I looked at the moment differently than I do now. But of course, I was distracted at the time. The most handsome man in the world, Robert Young, had just proposed to me, and even though my parents didn’t approve of our match, I didn’t care because I was eighteen and I was in love. So what if we had only been dating for two months? When it is true love, you know in a matter of seconds and no length of time will tell you differently. And I looked at him and I saw he could give me everything my heart desired: a beautiful home, a loving husband, and a prospect for children on the way. So what if he was ten years older than me? Love could conquer that age difference.

But this wasn’t the moment that changed my life. It happened later in the summer during the wedding planning and the moving into his house. I saw it unfold on the national news. I used to love watching the People’s Network for news. Robert would get angry at me if he caught me watching, but he wasn’t around the day the news broke. I was picking out the music for our wedding and I wasn’t really paying attention anyway. I had the TV on more for background noise, not planning to be influenced by the propaganda Robert believed it portrayed. But there she stood on that big screen television, the woman who would eventually change my life, Dr. Nancy Ann Blur. She was taking about the report she had just written and filed with the United States government. That was the exact moment my dreams had officially been taken away from me.

It was 2014 when Dr. Nancy Ann Blur came out with her famous report, A Family at Risk. It pointed out that the central core of the family unit was at risk because too many mothers were becoming too busy to take care of their children anymore. They were always working on their careers or making sure they were moving up the social ladder. Their families often took a back seat. It was because of this that children were growing up to be disrespectful of their elders and unfit to become productive members of society. Dr. Blur was debating another woman on the television show who claimed what the good doctor was suggesting was absurd. I got to know that woman really well. When she was debating the good doctor, the People’s Network placed her name under her face so we would all know that she was Mrs. Karen Shatney-Moore. That lady was the CEO of the greatest company of that time, Homewide Inc.  Every mother in the world had at one time used a product created by Homewide Inc. Most of the mothers could even tell you which products they used were created by Homewide Inc. The company made quality products that were able to make life easier for mothers no matter what stage of development their children were in. They made nursing blankets and breast pumps for the time when the children were still babies. For the children in the pre-school age, they created fun games that taught the children about their colors and counting, all the while engaging enough not to bore the mothers silly while they played the games. They had a collection of authors they employed that were some of the most skilled authors out there. The writers told stories that were fun to read and easy enough for the children to read, yet were able to connect with every generation. The company also created equipment for outdoor use that was fun for children of all ages. The best part of this equipment was the children enjoyed it so much they would want to get outside to grab what the day had to offer. I remembered growing up with Homewide Inc. products and memories of the times I used them were some of my fondest.

The CEO of this company claimed that the problem was societal. The raising of the next generation should be the concern of everybody and shouldn’t be placed squarely on the shoulders of one group of people. It was an interesting debate, and at the time, I thought Dr. Blur gave the stronger argument with quick one-liners and witty retorts. Her argument stated that something should be done in order for the significant framework of the American culture to not get lost in the wake of these terrible mothers that were infiltrating the families of this great nation. She demanded that mothers be held accountable for the way they were raising their children, and the great men of Congress agreed with her. Within only a short year, they drafted and passed the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act to make sure the youth of America were no longer subjected to this atrocity. It was a bi-partisan bill that only garnered six “No” votes, most notably Congresswoman Shelly Perkins and Senator Sarah Hathaway. The American people took care of those dissenters by not voting for them in the next election. It forced them to go home to become the housewives as the stipulations of the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act said they should have been in the first place.

When time moved on and it came down to people losing their jobs and other people speaking about my future, I started paying more attention. I had felt pride in a nation that was starting to take the profession I would be going into more seriously. I was proud to be one of the trailblazers helping to bring this new piece of legislation into reality. I was still not a mother yet, but as I licked the envelopes of my wedding invitations, I knew Robert and I would be trying to have children soon afterwards. It would be during the birth of my first child, Zachary Noel Young, a year later that I excitedly started to uphold the standards of this now famous bill.

The National Caring and Loving Behavior Act was a simple bill. It established a new department of the national branch of the government, the Department of Motherhood. This department would be headed by the Secretary of Motherhood, and during the birth of my second child, Lindsey Ann Young, they had found the perfect person to take on this prestigious role, the woman who worked long and hard to make this law a reality, Dr. Nancy Ann Blur. She had established a series of standards every mother needed to live up to when raising her children. Each year a representative of the Department of Motherhood would visit the home of every mother in the United States and test the children to see if the mother was living up to the standards laid out by the act. If the mother passed the examination, her name would be posted on the National Accountability Website and the ones who had exceptional scores would be profiled in the newspapers. I had been featured in The Elbert County Gazette for three years in a row before my life took a dramatic turn. The mothers who did not earn proficient marks were taken from their children and sent to re-education centers. These centers supplied the mothers with the proper training so they could be more like the exceptional mothers making this country great. Each center was built by the leading economic force in America, the Capital Limited Corporation. Capital Limited’s goal was to make sure that every American, no matter their age, was given the opportunity to become a productive consumer within our society and these re-education centers would help to achieve this goal. They claimed it was not a perfect system, but they were tweaking it every year to make sure the standards were strong enough to reestablish America as the leader of motherhood it had always been.

I never complained about the act because I believed it was making this country a better place to live. It wasn’t yet living up to the standards laid out but that was not because of mothers like me. It was because of all of the other mothers. They spent all of their time fighting against the wonderful ideals this act could accomplish. I believed if the dissenting mothers would just take responsibility for their jobs in life and quit nick-picking over the little things this act doesn’t do, they might find it was a fair and honest way of raising their children. I thought they would see that everyone benefited because of it. Mothers had better relationships with their children. Children got to know their mothers better and they learned all of the skills they needed in order to make it in this difficult world or become caring mothers themselves.

I still mull over these thoughts. I constantly wonder if there was a moment when I could’ve done something differently or if I was a victim of fate from the exact moment A Family at Risk was presented before a confused nation. It doesn’t matter for me anymore, but if some other mother out there could learn something from my experiences, then my telling this story will be worth it.

The moment I can really pinpoint as the time when I should have realized my fate was decided for me, was a couple of weeks before my second to last assessment. It had started off as many mornings had before that day, in the kitchen.

The kitchen was, and still is, the place where I feel most comfortable. Nobody had ever outdone me in that arena, especially when breakfast had to be served, and people needed to be prepared for their responsibilities for the rest of their day. It was all about the timing to make sure everything was perfect and all I needed to hear to get going was what I considered my starting gun, my husband’s alarm clock. It was the sound I waited for every morning, but until I heard it, I stood in the ready position. My fingers stretched out from my sides making sure they were limber enough to take on the challenge. My mind ran through the list of all the things needing to be done and the order in which they needed to be accomplished. I always made sure my lips were moist. It was a superstition of mine. My legs would tense up as I got ready to spring. My eyes would narrow down upon my opponent, the stove, and I would wait.

On the day my life changed, I stood in the kitchen like a gunfighter at 12:00 noon, ready to do battle with the man in the black hat. The only difference was the gunfighter was dressed in chaps, a dirty shirt and vest, and I was dressed in pajamas with red hearts all over them, a pink bathrobe and fuzzy bunny slippers. The other difference was that the man in black was actually an inanimate object that I had complete control over, the stove.

Robert’s alarm started to screech from upstairs.

I sprung into action.

I leaped to the drawer underneath the stove and pulled it open. I gathered two frying pans and a large, square, flat griddle. I placed the griddle on the back two burners of the stove and the frying pans on the remaining two front burners as I kicked the drawer shut. I turned the right front burner on with my left hand while opening the fridge with my right. I pulled out a new package of bacon, a dozen eggs, a tub of butter, and a gallon of milk and placed them on the counter beside the stove. I grabbed a knife from the magnet on the back wall, sliced open the package of bacon with it, placed it back on the magnet pointy end up, grabbed the plastic from the package and ripped it down to expose the uncooked meat. I peeled the bacon off one at a time to place it on the heating-up frying pan. The first piece of bacon started to sizzle as I put the fifth piece down. I went through the whole package until the pan was full. This was like any other morning, and things were running smoothly. The routine was a machine and I had perfected it.

I listened upstairs to make sure that part of the machine was running smoothly also. I heard the water running in the shower in our bathroom. That meant Robert was at the appropriate place that morning, but I hadn’t heard from the children yet. I grabbed the gallon of orange juice and the maple syrup and plopped them down on the kitchen table before I ran to the edge of the stairs. I looked up to see Lindsey, my four year old daughter, standing on the top of the stairs. She still had her pajamas on. Her index and middle finger of her right hand were being sucked gently in her mouth, and her left hand clutched her pink blankee.

“Lindsey, is Zach up yet?”

She shook her head no.

“Well, go wake up your brother, and tell him I said so.”

Lindsey turned to run off towards her brother’s room as I headed over to the coffee pot. I put the pot under the running faucet as I prepared a new filter with the morning coffee in it. I put the filter into the coffee machine, and then I poured the water in. I turned it on and started to hear the coffee percolate through as I checked on the bacon. The bottom side hadn’t cooked enough yet for me to flip it over, but the sizzling sound told me things were going according to schedule.

I opened the cabinet to the left of the oven and pulled out two large mixing bowls. I cracked four eggs into one of the mixing bowls. I poured in some milk, added just the right amount of sugar and flour from the canisters that were on the countertop, and grabbed a whisk hanging from a small hook underneath the cabinets. As I turned on the two burners underneath the griddle, I threw the whisk in the bowl. I popped open the butter, grabbed a spoon from the silverware drawer, took a healthy scoop out of the tub and threw it on the griddle to let it slowly melt down into a brown liquid glaze. I threw some more butter in the other frying pan, and turned the burner under that one on. I checked on the bacon and saw that it was starting to shrink but noticed it was still not ready to flip over.

With the other mixing bowl, I cracked open six more eggs and poured in just a splash of milk. I grabbed the first mixing bowl and started to whisk quickly in order to create a fluid, even batter.

The shower had just turned off. Two kids stumbled into the room and took their seats at the kitchen table; one of them still had her fingers in her mouth. The bowl got placed on the counter so I could pour the orange juice sitting on the table into two juice glasses. I placed one in front of Lindsey and the other in front of Zach. Lindsey took her hand out of her mouth so she could pick up the glass with two hands and drink it down. Her blankee fell to the ground. Zach just sat there and stared at the glass of orange juice.

I quickly picked up the blankee and draped it over Lindsey’s shoulder.

I remember this happening because she looked up at me and smiled, “Thank you, mommy.” Back then I thought I needed more, but now I see all I needed were those little thank yous in order to validate how great a mother I actually was.

I picked up the mixing bowl and started whisking again, I looked over at Zach and gave him the jumpstart he was looking for, “Zach, honey, drink your orange juice. You need to get ready for school.” It seemed to wake him up from his slumber and he picked up his glass to drink it down.

I made my way over to the griddle where the butter had melted evenly. I poured the now perfect batter onto the griddle making eight perfectly round pancakes. I quickly flipped over the bacon at just the right time and grabbed a new whisk from where it hung on its little hook underneath the cabinets. I started to whisk the eggs in the other mixing bowl until they turned into a perfectly smooth yellow liquid. I looked down at the other frying pan and saw the butter had melted as well. I poured the egg mixture into the frying pan and let it sit for a moment.

The pancakes were cooking nicely, the bacon was cooking nicely, the coffee was almost done, and once again I was right on schedule. I grabbed two coffee mugs and placed them at the two open spots on the kitchen table. I worked my way over to the front door, opened it, walked outside, picked up the paper, waved to Sheila, our neighbor across the street, and walked back inside. I pulled the paper out of its plastic wrapper, pulled out the Sports page, placed it on top, and put it on the table in front of Robert’s spot.

I walked over to the paper towels. I pulled off two and folded them in half. I pulled a plate out of the cabinet, and placed the paper towels on top of it. I flipped over the pancakes, and scraped up the eggs so they made fluffy delicious nuggets. I pulled the bacon out of the frying pan and placed it on the plate with the paper towels on them. The paper towels started to soak up the hot grease as the smell of bacon wafted over the kitchen. I poured the excess grease into an empty coffee can I kept under the kitchen sink and placed the hot pan in the sink.

I grabbed the coffee pot filled with coffee and the bottle of French vanilla creamer from the refrigerator. I poured a little splash of the creamer into both of the coffee mugs. I gave myself a little more because I like things sweet, and poured the hot coffee in after it. As soon as I was finished, Robert came down the stairs. He was in the process of tying his red tie I loved so much. It was a good color on him. He was always more of a spring, and the color gave him a sense of flair to his strong jaw and broad shoulders. He came over to where I was standing by his chair. He gave me a quick kiss on my cheek.

“It smells wonderful. You’ve really outdone yourself again, Rachael.”

“Well, I will have it plated up for you in just a second. Why don’t you sit down, get started on the paper, and have a sip of your coffee.”

“You’re too good to me honey,” he said as he sat down and unfolded the Sports page.

“That’s what love is all about,” I replied as I headed back to the stove and pulled out four plates.

The exchange was part of our routine. We had said the same words to each other every morning for the last two years with only slight variations.

Looking back at that moment, I should have been mad about the exchange, but I was so lost in my morning I hadn’t noticed how insulting it actually was. I placed the food on each plate in a formation. Two pancakes at the two o’clock position, four slices of bacon at the ten o’clock position, and a healthy amount of scrambled eggs at the six o’clock position. I usually gave Zach and Robert a few more eggs than Lindsey and me because I believed, as I still do now, it is important for us ladies to keep our girlish figures. That day was no exception. I brought over the boys’ plates first and they dug in right away. By the time I had turned off the stove, placed the dishes in the sink, put the milk back in the fridge, and brought over Lindsey’s and my plates, the boys were already half done eating.

I sat down, unfolded the napkin and placed it gently in my lap. I remember looking over my perfect family and smiling. That morning Robert looked up from his paper to notice the odd expression on my face. “Is everything alright, honey?” he asked me.

I was shaken from my thoughts about how lucky I was to have such a wonderful family and looked back at him. “Yes, everything is perfect. Just enjoy your breakfast honey, or you’ll be late for work.”

“Oh that reminds me,” he said as he shoveled more eggs into his mouth, “I got a weird notification yesterday at work. It said something about a certified letter they were trying to deliver to me yesterday. The post office actually tried to deliver it to me at work. They were having a hard time finding me even though they shouldn’t have tried to deliver it to me there in the first place. Anyway, I was wondering if you had a little extra time today, maybe you could swing by the post office and see if you could pick it up for me.”

“I would love to. I can do it after I drop Zach off at school.”

Robert finished his meal and quickly got up from his seat. He grabbed his briefcase while he was on his way over to where I was sitting. He kissed me on the other cheek this time and I could smell the coffee on his breath as he did so. “Thank you, honey. I knew there was a reason I married you.” And he was off. Behind was left a dirty plate and a pile of crumpled up newspapers. Zach was also finishing up, and he seemed a bit more awake now that he had some food in his stomach. Lindsey continued to try to shovel more of her breakfast into her mouth, but more than half of it landed on her lap. The responsibilities of the day were coming at me with full force and if I wanted to make sure Zach got to school on time I would have to get started, but I was enjoying the feeling the morning had left with me. It was one of those moments when you are truly happy. I had everything I ever wanted: a beautiful house, a wonderful husband, and two amazing children. I let out a sigh of joy and then got up grabbing the dirty plates as I went.

“Come on, Zach. Why don’t you go get dressed? We’ll need to leave for school in just a couple of seconds.”

Zach got up from his seat and looked over at me, “Okay mommy.” He pushed in his chair and ran up the stairs to get ready for school. Lindsey looked longingly after Zach as he ran up the stairs and then she looked back at me.

“Do you want to get ready too?”

She nodded her head up and down.

“Go ahead and get ready like a big girl.”

She smiled at me. She lay down on the seat of her chair and slithered off on her stomach. When her feet touched the ground, she turned around, grabbed her blanket, and then ran up the stairs to get ready like her older brother. My perfect family had left me, and all I had left to remember from it was the remains of a served breakfast. I grabbed the last dirty plate off the table and took it to the sink. I started to wash the dishes as I thought about how truly blessed I was. A lot of my friends would constantly complain about their families when we met for coffee every Tuesday afternoon. Back then I couldn’t understand why they would complain because I was living in the perfect household thanks to my ability as a mother. The government kept assuring us we were living in the age of the mother and they did everything in their power to make sure the good mothers were recognized for what the government believed was the proper way to raise a child.

Other mothers would always complain about how the government was intruding in their houses. They would also complain about the way the system was set up. They thought it was an unfair system that would eventually ensure that all mothers would fail. This way the government could come in and take over the official duties of motherhood.

Usually when the conversation reached this point, I would start to laugh. Why would the government want to take over the duties of motherhood? What could they possibly gain from watching over the youth of America? Where would they find the money needed to make this a reality? It was so preposterous I had to sit back and laugh.

The other mothers didn’t like my laughter. They believed I hadn’t reached the point with my kids yet where this act would cause the same problems they were having with their children. It was only a matter of time when I would start to feel the same pain they were feeling.

I still dismissed it as a just a bunch of whiny ladies who regretted the mistakes they made with their children and were looking for an easy target to blame. The government is always the first one in cases like theirs.

These thoughts raced through my mind as I washed the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen from the morning’s meal. Right about the time I finished up, Zach and Lindsey had made their way downstairs. They were in the living room watching television before we had to pack up and go to school. I walked into the living room and saw them happily staring into the wonderful world of The Buddy Bears. It is the cartoon brainchild of the Capital Limited Corporation. They constantly show it on the kid’s channel. It is a family of bears called the Buddys. Each ten minute episode has a family problem resolved by the mother using the standards laid out by the Department of Motherhood. Capital Limited claims they work with the Department of Motherhood to produce this show as a way of teaching kids what they need to know when they grow up.

When I went downstairs, they were in the middle of an episode and I knew it would be foolish for me to turn off the television before the episode was over. I had tried doing this once before when Zach was younger and had just started school. He had become so mad he threw a temper tantrum. My actions were a direct violation of Standard Number Two: a child should never be denied the experiences that life has to offer.

I knew by waiting for the commercials to come on, I would have a better chance of not disturbing the natural happiness of my child’s life and I would be able to get him to school easier as well. He might be a little bit late, but really education wasn’t nearly as important as my child’s happiness. So I sat and waited for the antics of my son’s favorite cartoon to end before I rustled him up from the couch and drove him off to school.

2

The easy transition into my son’s school day didn’t go as smoothly as I hoped it would. A commercial for the newest Buddy Bear appeared after the episode of the cartoon was over. The newest Buddy Bear was Billy Bob Bear. Billy Bob Bear had grown up in a broken household and was eventually left on his own because his real parents didn’t care enough about him. He was lucky enough to stumble upon the Buddy Bear family. Mama Buddy felt sorry for Billy Bob Bear and knew he needed a strong mother figure in his life, so she adopted him. Even though Billy Bob Bear was a little rough around the edges, he thrived under the caring love of Mama Buddy. He started to learn how he too could be a wonderful influence on the people in his life. I used to look at stories like this as a real inspiration and wished I had the opportunity to be like Mama Buddy sometime in my life.

Anyway, Billy Bob Bear wasn’t the problem. It was the fact he was being introduced in doll form that very morning. Zach had all the rest of the Buddy Bear collection and after he saw the commercial, he felt he needed to get the newest edition. He jumped up and down and begged me to buy Billy Bob Bear. I knew these toys were expensive. If I spent the money I was given as an allowance by my husband on this new toy for Zach then I wouldn’t have enough left over to get the haircut I desperately needed at the time. I knew it was a painful decision and my hair would need to wait for a couple more weeks, but my children came first in my life. I knew how important it was for Zach’s happiness, so we went out and got him Billy Bob Bear that day.

We didn’t have enough time to get one this morning and make it to school on time, so I told him we would pick it up later in the day. But Zach stressed how important it was he had one for school that day. He screamed and shouted and refused to get in the car unless we went to the toy store that morning. There was no way he could show up at school without the latest edition of the Buddy Bear family to display for his class. This seemed reasonable to me because it complied with the Department of Motherhood’s Standard Number One: A mother should insure the popularity of their children so they would have a healthy amount of self-esteem. Because of this, we set off to the nearest toy store to get a Billy Bob Bear before I dropped him off at school. We got to the store and of course it wasn’t open until 9:00, but I could see the display for Billy Bob Bear inside. It took awhile for Zach understand we couldn’t buy one until they opened the store. I showed him the display and we spent the hour staring at it in order to appease him.

Lindsey, on the other hand, was being the angel I always hoped for with my children. She quietly sat on the sidewalk and sucked her two fingers while I pointed out all of the exciting things the toy store had to offer to Zach. I felt so bad she wasn’t getting something for herself, so when the store finally opened, I bought her a new stuffed Baby Buddy. She played with it in the back seat as we dropped off Zach at school. I had to sign him in at the front office and I was scolded by my son’s teacher who was on her break at the time, but what did she know about being held to such high standards. Teachers didn’t have to deal with the threat of their reason for living being taken away from them if they couldn’t perform up to the required standards. I know I had done the right thing with my son and I gently took her scolding with a grain of salt, because when she was held accountable like I was then she would have room to talk.

I also stopped by the post office to see about the certified letter Robert had asked me to pick up, but the lady behind the counter told me they had sent it to my house already, special delivery. She said that I could expect it sometime in the afternoon and she didn’t even have to go in the back and check. I should’ve known something was up when they had the rest of my mail for me. I thought it was weird they would send the certified letter ahead of my regular mail, but I took the rest of the mail because it helped to validate my trip to the post office. Lindsey was once again the perfect angel while we were at the post office. It seemed purchasing the Baby Buddy for her was a great idea because it was the new toy that kept her occupied while I talked to the lady behind the counter. The postal employee even commented on how well behaved Lindsey was, and how I must be the greatest mother to have such a wonderful child. It always made me feel like I was doing the right thing when other people recognized what a great job I was doing.

By the time we got back home and ate lunch, Lindsey was wiped out from all of the running around we had already done. I tucked her in her bed to take a nap and she still had the new bear tucked under her arms when I snuck downstairs to read the newspaper and the mail.

I loved the house we lived in. It was a larger version of the dollhouse I used to play with as a child, except now I lived in it. Each room was designed for a specific purpose with comfort in mind. It was also a stimulating environment just as required by the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act. Every room in the house had a large flat screen television that could be viewed from any of the comfortable chairs surrounding them. Bookcases were in every room with various knick knacks and the occasional novel made into a movie.

One of the rooms was made into a library which housed our large collection of DVDs. They were arranged in alphabetical order by title in the various genres: children’s, horror, science fiction, action, romance, comedy, and Brad Pitt movies. If one couldn’t find a movie that they would find entertaining, they just weren’t looking hard enough.

The basement was turned into a game room with another large screen television. All of the video game consoles were there from the Wii, the PS4 and the Xbox with Connect. There was also a collection of all the newest, as well as classic video games. The couch in the room was the most comfortable one ever made. Anyone who sat in it felt like they were sinking into oblivion. There were many times I had to convince Lindsey and Zach to leave the confines of this couch in order to join Robert and me for dinner.

They were never required to join us for dinner, of course, but there were many nights we spent that meal together as a family, at least once a week. When we shared dinner together it was at the table in the kitchen. I would serve all of the kids’ favorites as long as they had some nutritional value, such as hamburgers, pizza, tacos, vegetables (as long as they were deep fried for taste), or omelets. Every night for desert we would enjoy some frozen delight served from our soft serve ice cream machine. The children were so good at using it they were able to make their own deserts any time they wanted to during the day.

The kids’ rooms were a joy for me as well as them. It was the perfect environment for them to stimulate their minds while enjoying the privacy of their own space. They each had a 3-D television big enough to enjoy, but not big enough to spoil them, 42 inches. They would often have many of the 3-D movie selections in their rooms during the course of the week, and I would have to remind them that they needed to be returned to our video library. Then I would return them to our video library. They each had their own gaming system as well. I tried to find the most educational games for them, such as Baseball and Football so they would get their sports, Medal of Honor so they could learn their history, and the Zelda and Final Fantasy games for literature. We also made sure that they had some of the fun games as well like Grand Theft Auto and Silent Hill, but we encouraged them to play the more educational ones.

Robert had his office upstairs next to the children’s rooms where he was able to finish his work. It was actually an extra bedroom we had converted into an office, and we put our guests there when they came in from out of town. I also had my special spot, and that was, as I’ve already said, the kitchen. This is where I would prepare the meals, pay the bills and watch over the kids if they happened to be in the family room playing. The kitchen table was the place where I would be able to wind down, look the mail over and read the newspaper every once in awhile. On the day my life changed, I had put Lindsey down for a nap, made myself comfortable in the kitchen and read a front page headline that caught my attention.

Secretary of Motherhood Avoids Assassination Attempt

Dr. Nancy Ann Blur, the nation’s first ever Secretary of Motherhood, was attacked by a crazed individual wielding a frying pan Monday afternoon at a speaking engagement at the Angelina Jolie Auditorium. She was talking about how important it was for mothers to follow the standards laid out by the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act. The attacker was a Miss Beverly Robinson who had made it up to the stage where Dr. Blur was giving her speech. She was stopped short by security. When Miss Robinson was detained, she threw the large frying pan she was carrying at the Secretary of Motherhood, coming very close to hitting her in the head. If it wasn’t for Dr. Blur’s athletic ability the outcome might have been completely different than it was.

Witnesses who were attending the event and were sitting next to Beverly Robinson stated they, “…noticed something strange about her behavior. Before Dr. Blur took the stage she was clutching on to her large purse and muttering something about ‘Wanting her to give them back.’”

Security guards who stopped Beverly Robison from reaching her goal said she had shouted, “I want them back b#&ch!” right before she threw the frying pan at the beloved secretary. They believe the frying pan was being concealed in the large purse and that is the reason why nobody noticed the deadly weapon when the Miss Robinson entered the Angelina Jolie Auditorium.

Beverly Robinson had just been released from the Capital Limited Re-Education Center near La Junta, Colorado two weeks prior to the incident with high marks. She was going to be reintroduced into the motherhood program when Thomas Stannish had offered her a job taking care of his two children. They had recently been left without a mother due to the inability to live up to the expectations of her duties. Beverly Robinson had found herself in a similar situation one year earlier when she was unable to have the children in her care pass the Motherhood Assessment Program (MAP) test for three years running. According to the rules of the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act, this violation is what led to her being placed in the re-education program.

Dr. Blur, whose approval rating is at an all time high of 78%, said about the incident, “It is sad indeed when things like this happen, but this is the reason I worked so hard to make sure the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act was passed in the first place. There were too many mothers out there who just weren’t being held accountable for the way they were raising their children. It is vitally important for our youth we weed out these bad mothers and replace them with ones better equipped to handle the job.”

I remember sitting there and staring at the paper. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to attack this wonderful woman who had done so much to make sure mothers got the attention they deserved. At the time, it was clear to me that Beverly Robinson was insane and there wasn’t any amount of re-education that could be made possible to turn her into the perfect mother the act intended. I was sure Dr. Blur had done everything in her power to help this woman and she was just beyond help. I thought it was sad that not all women could be great mothers like I was, but I was sure that was why the government created the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act, to make sure these mothers, like Beverly Robinson, stayed away from children before real damage was done. I used to believe this act was making sure every child had a wonderful mother and it was all due to that amazing woman who wrote her historic report.

Dr. Nancy Ann Blur used to be my idol. She had grown up from small roots to take control of her life and be one of the most respected women of the United States. She grew up in the small town of Jeffery City, Wyoming where her dad was a science teacher and her mom was a school secretary for the elementary school in town. She was the only girl growing up with four brothers and in her teenage years she spent her afternoons with her mother at the school helping out in the after school program. It was there she found her love for children and discovered how important it was for parents to raise their children correctly. If kids weren’t given this opportunity, they would be led down the wrong path of life. Her brothers taught her that the stronger gender was actually the woman and it was what the mother did with her child that was more important in life than the father.

After she graduated from high school, she went to college. She attended five different colleges before she was able to graduate from the prestigious Eastern Wyoming Christian College in Casper, Wyoming with a degree in journalism. It took her six years to earn the degree. Part of the reason was because she couldn’t find a college that fit with her moral beliefs, and secondly because she grew up in a large family with such a low income. She was forced to raise her own money in order to make it through school. Luckily, she was blessed with charisma and she was able to earn a scholarship by winning a couple of beauty pageants. It was her talent with the trumpet that really impressed the judges the most. She even went as far as to come in second place in the Miss Wyoming pageant of 2007.

After she graduated from college, she earned a job broadcasting sports at the local Fox affiliate in Cheyenne, Wyoming. She pushed hard for the station to cover the local sports instead of focusing on the larger teams coming out of nearby Denver, Colorado. She earned their respect and spent most of the broadcast focusing on rodeos, beauty pageants, and high school sports. It was on one of her trips to cover a sporting event in her hometown of Jeffery City when she became aware of the corruption taking place in that town. She learned that Sam Hogston, the mayor, was fiddling around with the finances of the town. She vowed to resolve this problem. She quit her job in Cheyenne and ran for mayor of Jeffery City.

She won the election 635 to 211 by running under the campaign of making sure the children received the funds denied under Mayor Hogston. I didn’t watch the debates for the elections when they originally happened, but as I learned more and more about Dr. Blur I went back and watched them on YouTube. Dr. Blur was able to make Mayor Hogston look like a fool through the debate. He was not an attractive or imposing man to begin with, but when the debate was underway she made the short, fat, bald man look like a fumbling, bumbling idiot. After the election, she lived up to her promise by raising $14 million dollars through grants and donations to create a rodeo fairground for the local high school. She would have been able to finish the fairgrounds in a record amount of time if it wasn’t for the fact that the media, the People’s Network, had dug up some useless dirt about the mishandling of finances.

With all of the good she did for the children of Jeffery City, the President of the United States took notice. She continued to climb the political ladder when she wrote her report and soon afterwards was nominated for the newly appointed position under the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act, the Secretary of Motherhood, which she proudly accepted. She quickly laid out her philosophy of how the department should be run by writing the national bestselling book, Mama Grizzly. I had a signed copy of the book and at one time, it was the greatest treasure that I owned. I used to keep it safe on the bedside table and I had even gone so far as to sit down and read the first three chapters of the book. This is where I learned so much about Dr. Nancy Ann Blur’s life.

I used to believe the awful thing about Dr. Blur I had read in the paper that fateful day just helped prove my point about how some people did not take what she asked them to do seriously. Beverly Robinson, Dr. Blur’s attacker, probably didn’t understand that if she just took the time to live up to the standards presented in the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act, she would see that they are wonderful guidelines to help raise her children. There was no reason to fight the standards, but by accepting them she would become a better mother, the children would live in a secure household, they would grow up to be responsible adults, and the United States of America would thrive as a country.

I, on the other hand, was not afraid to show what a wonderful mother I was. I had always been ready to show the Department of Motherhood my skills every year and my two children shined with every assessment given in my household. The next assessment really excited me. It would be the fourth in a row with excellent marks. I was just waiting for the date to be announced when one of the assessors would come over to my house and observe what a wonderful environment it was to nurture children. This was why my hands started to shake when I saw the letter tucked away in the pile of mail I brought home from the post office. It was from the Department of Motherhood. Before opening it up, I looked around me like a sinner who was about to do something that would send her to hell for all eternity. When I knew I was alone, I focused back on the letter in my hand.

My index finger wiggled its way under the flap and I ripped the envelope open. I slid out the single piece of paper and closed my eyes before I read it. When I found the courage to open them up, I read the following words:

Dear Mrs. Rachael Young,

It is my pleasure to inform you the assessment period is once again upon us. We have diligently gone through our records and they show you have exceeded expectations for the last three years. Because of this, we will be scheduling you early in the process with one of our elite assessors. Please, be ready at the time indicated, as we know you will be. The assessment will be taking place on April 2nd at 10:00 AM and your assessor will be Dr. Nancy Ann Blur.

Thank you and have a nice day,

Department of Motherhood

I stared at the letter and had to look again after reading the name of my assessor this year. I couldn’t believe the Secretary of Motherhood would be coming to my house to be my assessor, but there her name stood out on the sheet of paper in front of me. I could tell that it was even her signature because it was exactly like the signature I had in the copy of Mama Grizzly that sat on my bedside table. She would be in my house and would see what a wonderful job I did raising my children. I was so happy. I believed this was the most amazing honor ever bestowed on me. I looked up at the calendar to see how far away the date was. It was only two weeks, but I knew I would shine because I had been following the standards all year long. I knew my children were ready to prove to the world what a wonderful mother I was. The excitement that rushed over me was so great I wanted to scream, but I knew if I did I would wake Lindsey from her nap, so I held it in.

Instead, the doorbell ringing two seconds later was what woke her up.

3

When I opened up the front door, there was a teenage girl standing next to a postman. She had dark black mascara under each eye about an inch thick. She wore bright red lipstick that glittered when the light hit it just right. Her jet black hair was puffed out so it created the look of licorice cotton candy sprouting from the top of her head and cascading down to hide her face in a dark shadow. She wore a red push-up bra peeking through the top of her tight fitting white tank top. It pushed up what little she had of breasts to turn them into pale oranges. She also wore tight black jeans showing off every muscle in her legs except for her calves which were hidden behind black knee-length high-heeled boots. In her left hand, she dangled a little black purse with a picture of Hello Kitty on it. She looked like she had just been pulled off the street from her night job, and the postman looked like the one required to drag her to stand at my front door. He held a clipboard in his hand and looked down at the name on it.

“Is there a Robert Young here?” he said as he looked over my shoulder to see if I was hiding him somewhere in the house. The girl snapped her gum loudly behind him.

“He’s at work right now, but I am Rachael Young, his wife. Can I help you?”

He looked down at the clipboard again and growled. He looked over his shoulder at the girl rolling her eyes at him and he turned back around to me. “I guess you are close enough. Can I get you to sign here?”

He held out the clipboard and removed a pen from behind his ear for me to use. I looked down at it and saw Robert’s name written on a certified mail slip with a big X next to the place asking for a signature.

“Can I ask what this is for?”

“I’m delivering a piece of certified mail and I need you to sign for it in order to get it off my hands. You are his wife, so you can sign for him.”

I started to hear Lindsey crying upstairs in her room, so I bent down to quickly sign the piece of paper. Everything was piling up on itself really quickly, and I wanted the man to give me the piece of mail so I could go attend to Lindsey’s needs. I looked up at him after I had finished signing and said, “Thank you very much, and if I co…”

“She’s all yours lady,” he said and turned from my front door and ran back to his mail truck.

The girl strolled in like she owned the place. The tips of her high heeled boots clacked upon the linoleum as she sashayed her way over to the big couch and plopped down, dangling her boot heels over the edge of the arm. While she was waiting for my response, she dug through her purse until she was able to extract a small compact mirror from it. She popped it open so she could look at herself and make sure her hair was still poofy and proper. I was lost as what to do because Lindsey was starting to move from a gentle cry to a full blown-out scream. She had never been forced to wait this long for me to attend to her needs.

The girl looked up at me and asked, “Are you going to take care of that? It’s really annoying.”

It was as if I needed her words to give me leave to go run upstairs to make sure Lindsey was alright and that’s just what I did. Lindsey was standing up in her bed. Her mouth was opened wide like a bottomless cave unleashing the howl from down below. Her eyes were creating streams of water flowing into that dark cave decorated with five stalagmites and three stalactites dangling from its edge. Her new Baby Bear was lying on the ground five feet from her bed. I picked it up and handed it to her.

“Don’t cry honey. I have your Baby Buddy right here,” She grabbed the bear from me.

She threw Baby Buddy across the room and started to scream louder, “I want my blankee!”

It was stupid of me to give her the newest toy when the one that traditionally comforted her would have been the one she wanted. I quickly scanned the room for her blankee, but I couldn’t see it anywhere. “Honey, where is your blankee?”

This put her into a stage three temper tantrum. This wasn’t the worst stage, but it was still devastating to see. Lindsey would scream while crying and lay down on her stomach to bang her fists into whatever object she was laying on. “You lost my blankee!”

I knew I had to stop this temper tantrum before it hit stage four or it would take me forever to calm her back down. I knew the only way to prevent this disaster would be to find her blankee and quickly. My mind raced to think where I had seen it last. We had it with us when we went to drop off Zach at school and I remembered seeing it in the car next to Lindsey’s car seat when we were done at the post office. In fact, I remembered seeing it there when I took her out of the car seat because she cared more about her new stuffed Baby Buddy then she did about her blankee. I remember thinking it was a nice improvement to have her care more about her new toy than the one she usually dragged around all over the place.

“I know exactly where your blankee is. I’ll be back with it in just a second.”

She calmed down a little bit. The tragedy was reverting back to stage two. She was starting to sit up, but the tears and the howl still continued. The blankee would help return her back to normal within a matter of seconds. When I thought she was in control of her senses enough, I ran down the stairs to the garage. I would have been able to get her blanket and be back in less than a minute, but as I ran into the living room, I had to stop because I realized there was one more thing I had to deal with, the young lady checking her make-up in the compact mirror as she lounged on my couch.

I moved closer to the girl. I had my index finger ready to point and was about to say something when she snapped her compact closed. The stranger looked up at me with blue eyes hidden away behind too much black eyeliner.

“So, where is Robert?” she said. She made sure to enunciate the “b” in his name so I could see her bright red lipstick make the condescending sound.

“Who are you?” I asked her.

She rolled back her eyes and let out an exaggerated annoyed sigh. “Robert didn’t tell you about me?” She made sure to make that condescending “b” sound again.

My mind raced

Was Robert having an affair? He had been a little more aloof lately. Why would he be having an affair with somebody so young? She was old enough to be his daughter. Had he been going to the Mother Mall to find a younger model to replace me? If this were true, why would he have told me about her? Why wouldn’t he just go to the Mother Mall and pick one up instead of taking his chances by ordering one by mail. I looked back at her and stammered out a, “N-n-no?”

She puffed out another annoyed sigh as she got up from the couch. She reached down her shirt and pulled out a tattered envelope from her bra. She handed it to me, “That should explain everything.”

I looked at the unopened piece of mail. It was addressed to a Palin Young and it had come from the Department of Motherhood. What did the Department of Motherhood have to do with my husband and this girl who shared his same last name? I looked up from the envelope to see this girl get up from the couch and bend over to unzip her boots.

“BLANKEE!!!!” screamed from upstairs, and my thoughts returned to the other crisis going on in my house.

“I’ll be back in a second to deal with you young lady,” I told the stranger who had invaded my humble home.

She rolled her eyes at me and worked to pull off the tight fitting boots. “Whatever.”

I didn’t have time to deal with her at the present moment, so I let her pick up the remote to the television. She started to flip through the channels as I ran to the car to grab Lindsey’s blankee from the back seat. When I had it, I ran back upstairs. As I was passing through the living room, I noticed the girl had done something with the television and a smaller box appeared on the screen saying something about locked channels. I knew I had to prioritize and I would figure out what she was doing after I had calmed down Lindsey.

I came back into Lindsey’s room and her meltdown had moved from level two to borderline level four. A river of snot had joined the river of tears covering her face in a wet, messy goo. She had quit pounding her bed and was now rolling on her back instead. Her mouth blared out decibels not meant for human ears to hear. I grabbed the box of Kleenex on the dresser in hopes to clean her up a little bit after I calmed her down.

“Honey, mommy has your blankee,” I said as I handed her the prized possession. She opened her eyes a little bit to see the thing she most desired. She reached up with one hand to grab the blankee and took the index finger and middle finger from her other hand to stick into her mouth. The crying and screaming had stopped, but a huffing gasp of air continued through the small spaces created by her lips wrapping themselves around her fingers. She laid down on the bed and continued to whimper. I took out a couple of Kleenexes and used them to wipe away her tears and the snot spreading itself across her face.

After I had cleaned her up to the best of my ability, I asked her, “Are you doing better now?”

She nodded back her answer. That was when I started to hear the strangest noises coming from the family room. It was the combination of a woman moaning and a man grunting. I looked out Lindsey’s door wondering exactly what was going on downstairs. Lindsey stopped whimpering long enough to sit up in bed and look out the door herself. With one crisis diverted, it was now my time to turn my attention to the other one.

“Lindsey, there is something that mommy has to do downstairs. Can you stay up here until I tell you it is okay to come down?”

The noises got louder and faster, and Lindsey looked out the door like she was terrified of what she would find downstairs. She looked back at me and nodded more enthusiastically this time. I left Lindsey’s bedroom and went downstairs to talk to the invader.

When I got downstairs, she had herself sprawled out on the couch, and she was watching television. This was the source of the sounds I was hearing. On the screen was a naked woman on her hands and knees moaning loudly as her breasts swung back and forth like over-bloated udders underneath her. Behind her was a naked man grunting rhythmically as he banged his pelvis into her rear.

The girl sitting on my couch looked up at me and said, “Hey, look, I was able to unlock the Playboy channel for you.”

I picked up the remote and quickly turned off the television.

“Hey, I was watching that. You are, right now, breaking Standard Number Three: A mother should not impede the learning and exploration process of her children.”

I threw the remote back down on the coffee table. “That would be great if I was your mother, but I am not. I don’t even know who you are.”

The girl sat up on the couch and said, “Didn’t you read that letter that I gave you, yet?”

I had completely forgotten about the letter. It was in the back pocket of my jeans. I pulled it out and opened it up. The girl on my couch rolled her eyes as she picked up the remote and said, “That letter should explain everything.” I stood in the middle of my living room feeling like a stranger in my own home as I read:

“Dear Palin Young,

I am sorry to report to you that your mother has failed her assessment for the third year running. Because of this, she is required by law to be sent to the Capital Limited Re-education Center. Since this is the second time she has been sent to be re-educated, and because she is an only mother, you will be relocated to another mother who can be a better role model for you.

Our records indicate that you have a father, a Robert Young, who is living on the opposite side of town. He is married to a mother who has performed exceptionally well on her last three assessments. We at the Department of Motherhood believe that this is the perfect environment for you to achieve your full potential. Her name is Rachael Young and she will now be your new mother. You’ll be delivered to her through certified mail by the United States Postal Office and the mothering will officially begin the moment someone in the household signs for you.

Due to the circumstances, if you encounter any difficulty making adjustments to your new environment, please contact us at 1-800-555-LOVE. Ask for your case manager, Miss Allison Torpedojager, to help you through any tough times.

Thank you and enjoy your new mother,

Allison Torpedojager”

I looked down at the letter and said, “Robert has another child?”

Palin flopped herself down on the couch. “Oh, didn’t daddy tell you about me?”

“No.”

I thought I knew everything about my husband. He was a great provider for this family, but I had no idea he had a past, especially one including this stranger now invading my home.

“Well, he should have. It seems my biological mother and he were quite the item back in high school. They were voted prom queen and king and that was the night good old daddy knocked up mommy dearest. Nine months later here I come as their bundle of joy. Of course Robert tried to do good by mom by marrying her right out of high school, but they just weren’t meant to be together. Robert eventually divorced my…”

“Wait a minute, Robert has been married before,” I said as I slouched down in the seat behind me.

Palin gave me a look of genuine surprise. “Wow, there is a lot old Robert hasn’t told you. Don’t worry it didn’t last long. Robert and my mom fight all the time. It was over by the time I was five years old.”

A lot of questions raced through my mind, “What do you mean ‘fight all the time’? Does he still see your mom? When was the last time you saw him?”

“Oh, he comes over about once every other month to see how I’m doing, but for the most part he makes himself pretty scarce. Most of the time he comes over, gives my mom a little money, they fight some, he talks to me for a bit, and then comes back here to the family he apparently really loves.”

I was in complete shock. How could he do this to me? How could I have lived with him for the last seven years and not have known about his other family? If he was keeping this a secret from me, what other things about my husband were out there I didn’t know about? It made me feel like I had been living with a stranger for the last seven years. I started to wonder what I really did know about my husband. We courted for such a short time, and quickly had Zach right away because of my love for children. He never took me to his work; I never met any of his co-workers; I didn’t even really know what he did for a living. I knew nothing about this man, and his past had just knocked on my door, waltzed into my living room, and blessed us with free porn for all eternity.

Palin continued on with her story, “So when my mom failed her assessment again due to some minor glitch about boyfriends, she was sent to The Capital Limited Re-education Center and I was left to my lonesome again. Grandma died a couple of years ago. That’s who took care of me last time, so all that’s left is Robert. He’s my closet living relative. So, because of some freaky new rule, I am the newest edition to your family.”

I looked over at this teenager lounging on the couch in my family room and muttered out the only thing that I could think of, “I guess that makes me your mother.”

Palin fluffed the pillow behind her head. “Yep, that’s right. Now let’s get things started off right. You can go get me a soda, mother.”

4

Robert’s alarm woke me up. I jumped in bed as if I was rushing towards the stove to get breakfast ready for my family, but was even more shocked to find myself still in bed instead of in the kitchen like I usually was. When I saw I was still in bed, my heart jumped. I looked over at Robert who was turning off the alarm. He rolled over in bed and jumped back as well.

“Honey, what are you still doing in bed?” he asked.

It had been years since I had slept until Robert’s alarm went off. I had created one of the world’s best internal clocks. It would wake me up at exactly 5:45 every morning. It was almost as if somewhere in my head every morning there would be the electronic click of my clock telling me it was time to get up. My internal clock would always allow me to get out of bed early enough to stare down the stove and get myself ready to take on the challenges of the day. The last time I had slept through my internal alarm clock was when I was running a temperature and had a sore throat. I had taken some cold medicine the night before and it really knocked me out. Robert had been late for work that day and the kids were all out of pace because of the delay. After that morning, I swore I would never allow that to happen again, yet here I sat in bed with Robert’s alarm clock blaring fifteen minutes after my internal alarm clock should have warned me to get up.

“Honey, are you going to make me breakfast?” Robert asked. I’m glad he did because it shook me out of my daze.

“Yes, honey, sorry. I’ll get right on that.” I tried to get out of bed, but my brain swam around in my head. I looked over the edge of the bed to see only one pink fuzzy bunny slipper staring back up at me. I had no idea where the other one was, but I didn’t have time to concern myself with that because I needed to get breakfast ready for my family; otherwise their day would be off kilter. I shook the cobwebs off my brain and left the lone bunny where it sat looking for its partner. I slipped on my pink bathrobe to get breakfast ready.

At first I couldn’t understand why I had slept in so late, but as the events of the night before were starting to sift through the sleepy fog of my mind, I was able to start to piece things together. Palin had been a demanding girl all afternoon long. She kept on asking me to do this or that for her. Any time I didn’t respond to her request, she would remind me of one of the standards. When she started to make a drink and I took offense to that, she reminded me of Standard Number Two: A child should never be denied the experiences that life has to offer. When I picked up her purse to move it someplace where it wouldn’t be in the way, she pulled out 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. When she talked loudly on the phone about finding something she called a score, and I asked her if I could use the phone so I could call Robert, she started quoting Standard Number One: A mother should ensure the popularity of their children to make sure that they have a healthy amount of self-esteem. It didn’t matter what the situation was, she had some answer passed down by the government which would counteract anything I believed would be the right thing to do.

Lindsey didn’t help much either. When she learned that Palin was her sister, she instantly fell in love with her. She started hanging around her wherever she went.  I don’t think Palin felt the same way Lindsey did, but when I told her I needed to go pick up Zach from school, she offered to stay behind and take care of Lindsey. Allowing that request was my first big mistake of the evening.

In the short time I was gone to pick up Zach and come back home, Palin had taught her about the exciting game of dress-up. Instead of making it an innocent game of dressing up like a princess, Palin decided to show her the latest in teenage fashion. She had poofed out Lindsey’s hair so it looked like a blonde palm tree sitting on top of her head. She had painted her face in dark eyeliner and bright red lipstick. She even added just the right amount of rouge to highlight the apples of her baby cheeks. This, together with the choice of clothes, only made me question if this was a joke or if Palin had such terrible fashion sense she would think this made Lindsey look good. For a shirt, Palin had selected Lindsey’s bikini top. She also made sure that the Lindsey was able to show off how sexy her chubby legs were by taking her nicest skirt and cutting it so short it hung to the edge of her thigh. For a topper, she took a pair of my high heels and had her walking around the hardwood floors in them. The scratches, I’m sure, are still on those floors. I couldn’t decide if she looked more like a whore or a clown. Lindsey, on the other hand, thought she looked pretty and started to throw a temper tantrum when I demanded she take off the clothes she was wearing.

While I was trying to avert a disaster with Lindsey, Palin thought it was a perfect time to take on my other child, Zach. She showed him how to unlock channels on the cable box while feeding him large amounts of espresso she had made in the kitchen (she didn’t clean up after making that mess either). By the time I made it back to the family room, Zach was running around crazy and screaming all the fun new words he learned from the exciting new channels he discovered. He even went as far as to tell me to, “Take it like a bitch, Mommy.”

By the time I was able to catch Zach to try to calm him down, Lindsey was strutting through the house in nothing but her birthday suit. I tried to tell Lindsey to put on some clothes before her father came home, and she told me she couldn’t because she didn’t have any more clothes. It was partly true because she had thrown them all out the window of her room and they were now being ravaged by neighborhood dogs collecting them as new chew toys.

I held on to Zach who was trying to squirm out of my grip while chasing after my naked daughter. Palin sat on the couch laughing at all the mayhem while smoking a cigarette and ashing it on the Persian rug in the family room.

This is when Robert walked inside from a hard day at work. I was so happy he was home. He was able to help me bring control back to the madness taking over my life. We were able to collect enough clothes from the front lawn to dress Lindsey. For the rest of the evening, she was wearing a frilly skirt I had bought for her to wear on Easter Sunday and a t-shirt with a picture of Mama Buddy on it saying, “Isn’t she cute?” Robert placed Zach on a tread mill and told him to keep on running until he ran out of the excess energy from the espresso. I was given enough time to clean up the kitchen and prepare a quick dinner while Robert visited with his other daughter in his office.

While they were visiting, I made my second mistake. I made myself a cocktail. In fact in the course of the evening, I made myself quite a few cocktails. I knew drinking was against the standards but I knew they were lenient if a mother didn’t drink to excess. Plus, I needed a little something to help take the edge off the experiences I had from that day. The thing I found that worked the best was a gin and tonic, and by the time dinner had been served, I had a little bit of a buzz going on. The rest of the night was a blur. Palin kept on demanding things from me, and every time I went back into the kitchen, I would add a little splash of Tangueray and a bit more tonic to my never-ending drink. Robert was cordial with our new guest and I don’t even remember putting the kids to bed before I crashed in my own bed. It was probably best I couldn’t remember everything that happened afterwards, but what I did remember helped explain the way I felt this morning. It was also the reason why I was running so late.

While I was collecting my thoughts from the previous day, I rushed to the staircase, but was forced to stop when I saw Lindsey. She had her back to me and was standing at the top of the staircase looking downstairs and holding her blanket in one hand with her two favorite fingers in her mouth. I suddenly realized something new about my child I had never realized before. She was on as much a schedule as I was. I could not think of a day I had not come around from the beginning of my cooking routine to see her standing at the top of the staircase waiting for me to tell her to go wake up her brother. It reminded me how lucky I was to have such a wonderful child and it pained my heart that I was going to have to break her routine by showing her I was off my schedule. She was going to be disturbed because I was actually behind her instead of downstairs making breakfast as I should have been.

She turned around when she realized I was behind her. She took her fingers out of her mouth and said, “Do you want me to wake up Zach?”

“Yes, honey,” I said as I ran past her on the stairs, and stopped before I got half way down. I looked back up the stairs and called after Lindsey. She stopped and popped her head back down the stairs. “Can you make sure that Palin gets up too? She needs to get to school also.”

“Okay, mommy,” was her reply, and she ran off to accomplish the tasks I had sent her off to do. I went back to trying to get things on track.

I ran into the kitchen, grabbed two frying pans and a large griddle and placed them on the stove. I turned the burner on under one of the frying pans. I opened the fridge and grabbed a package of bacon, a dozen eggs, a gallon of milk, and the orange juice.  I slammed the fridge door shut, and didn’t realize my bathrobe had been caught in the door. I was moving so quickly to the counter next to the stove I forgot about not having the traction offered by my bunny slippers. I slipped and fell hard on my back. Luckily the only thing damaged in the fall, besides my pride, was the gallon of milk which had cracked on the hardwood floor. It was creating a big puddle on the floor.

I threw the rest of the food on the floor, and grabbed the container of leaking milk and tried to stand up. It took a little effort because of the way my bathrobe was caught in the fridge door, but I managed to do it. Milk continued to spill on the floor as I released myself from the fridge trap, and rushed over to the kitchen sink to put what was left of the gallon of milk in there. So far a quarter of a gallon of milk was lying on the floor, another quarter was soaked into my pajama bottoms, and the other half was slowly leaking out into the sink. I knew I needed to save some in order to salvage breakfast this morning, so I went back across the kitchen to get a container to pour the rest of the milk into. I didn’t make it all the way over before slipping on the milk in the middle of the room and landed face first on the floor.

I moaned as I crawled my way over to the cabinet to grab a pitcher. Luckily, we kept them in one of the lower cabinets, so I didn’t need to pick myself off the floor in order to obtain one. Of course my pajamas gathered more milk as I shuffled my way across the puddle. I tried to look at the positive of what was happening. My pajamas were helping me clean up the mess, so I wouldn’t have to get further behind by spending so much time mopping up the mess. I got the pitcher and poured the last quarter of a gallon of milk into it, hoping it would be enough to make breakfast. I also grabbed the towel from the sink and threw it down on the puddle. I pushed it around with my foot, hoping to mop up as much milk as I could, and with the help my pajamas offered, it did a decent job of picking it up.

I picked up the wet towel and threw it into the kitchen sink next to the broken, empty milk jug. I walked over to the package of bacon and grabbed a knife from the magnet on the wall. I cut open the package and ripped the bacon out. The first piece of bacon started to sizzle by the time I put down the second one. I looked at the temperature of the burner and realized I had it on high. I turned it down a bit and continued to put bacon in the pan. I had gotten to the last piece of bacon, when I heard a scream, rattling nerves even more, “Where is my orange juice?”

Zach was sitting at the kitchen table. He was pounding the surface with his fists and demanding his orange juice. I gave one second of thought to where Lindsey was, but realized I needed to put out one fire at a time. “I want my orange juice!” Zach continued to shout as he stared at the kitchen wall opposite from where he sat.

“I’m sorry, honey,” I said as I walked over to the table with two glasses and the orange juice. I poured him a glass and he picked it up with both hands and started to drink. I figured, since I was close to the front door, this was a good time as any to go and get the paper. I went outside and picked up the paper. I was hurrying back inside when I heard Shelia exclaim over my shoulder, “My lord, Rachael, are you okay? You look awful this morning.”

I turned, and smiled back. “I’m okay. I just had a little accident this morning, and I’m running a little behind.”

“Did you hurt yourself?”

“No,” I said as I continued to run back in the house, “just a little spill. I’ll tell you all about it later.”

She was such a busy body.

I ran into the house and closed the door behind me. A sight I was not expecting threw off my morning even more. Lindsey was standing in the hallway at the bottom of the stairs, staring at the door, and holding a shred of her blankee. Her bottom lip was quivering, and when she saw me, she skipped all the stages of temper tantrum and went straight to stage four. Her howl banged off the walls and reverberated throughout the whole house.

I threw the paper on the floor, and ran over to pick her up. It might not have been the wisest of decisions because her howl went straight into my ear. I started bouncing her up and down to calm her down when Robert came to the railing from our room and looked down at me. He was only wearing only a towel around his waist and he was still wet from his shower. “What is all of that racket down there?”

I looked up at him. “Something happened to Lindsey’s blankee. I’m trying to calm her down.”

“Well, do your job and hurry it up.” He turned to go back into the room and stopped himself before he went back. He looked at me over the rail with some concern. “Are you okay? You look terrible.”

I kept on bouncing Lindsey to calm her down and said, “Yeah, I just had an accident. I’m okay. I’ll clean up in a bit.”

He gave me a look with one eyebrow raised. “You are off this morning, Rachael. Let’s not make this a regular occurrence.”

My heart sank. I was letting my family down. I had gotten so drunk the night before I didn’t even remember going to bed. I woke up late this morning. Breakfast was going to be late. Zach wouldn’t get to school on time and I would be scolded again by the teachers at the school. Lindsey was crying loudly in my ear. I couldn’t think what had gone wrong, but my own daughter gave me some insight as to where the true source of my problem began.

“Palin ripped my blankee,” she screamed in-between sobs.

Of course, it all started to go downhill the moment that girl showed up on my doorstep. I couldn’t figure out why I was put in charge of this girl. She didn’t even come from my genes. She was some accident from my husband’s past and now, for some godforsaken reason, it was my responsibility to take care of all of her problems. Not only that, but she, herself, was becoming a ripple in the smooth fabric of my family’s life. She disrupted the normal flow of everything and now she had made my daughter cry by destroying the one thing she cared more about in this world than anything else.

I looked down at the distraught child in my arms and said, “Well, Lindsey, mommy is going to take care of this right now.” I placed her on the ground and told her to stay there as I marched up the stairs to Robert’s office. It had been converted the night before to accommodate our guest.

When I got to the door, it was slammed shut and the other half of Lindsey’s blanket was dangling from the doorjamb. I tried to open the door, but Palin had locked it. I banged on the door and shouted so she could hear me, “Palin, open up this door. Right now!”

I got no response.

I tried again and met with the same result. I was once told it was a sign of insanity to try to same thing again and again while expecting different results. I knew banging on the door wouldn’t open it up, so I tried to think of how I could get in. I saw there was a tiny hole in the doorknob and I knew what I had to do.

I marched back into the kitchen past my child screaming in the hallway and the other one sitting at the kitchen table trying to pour more orange juice into his glass.

“Mommy, I want more…”

“Not now, honey, I have some other things I need to attend to.” I had to stop Zach because my mind was set on accomplishing the task at hand.

I went to the junk drawer and yanked it open. I shuffled through it looking for one of the long wooden skewers I knew was in there. I found two in the back and I grabbed them. I marched my way back up the stairs past the one child pouring orange juice into his overflowing glass, and the other one still screaming in the hallway. I marched right up to the door of my family’s office, and banged on it one last time.

“Palin, this is your last opportunity. Open this door now, or suffer the consequences.”

Once again I got no response. I gave her three opportunities to do the right thing and now it was my turn to take control of the situation. I stuck the skewer into the tiny hole in the knob and wiggled it around until I heard the mechanism for the lock click. I opened the door. The ripped part of Lindsey’s blankee fell to the ground. What I saw as I stood in the entryway to the room took me by surprise. A teenage boy, who I never saw before, was pulling up his jeans over his bare butt. Palin, not taking any notice of the show going on in her room, stood on the bed trying to unlatch the screen to the window.

“What in the world…”

Palin turned away from her task. She quickly hopped off the bed and rushed over to where I stood in the doorway of Robert’s office. She started waving her finger in my face and yelling at me, “Goddamnit, can’t people get some privacy in this house? You had better start listening to my needs, Rachael, or we are going to have a difficult time getting along with each other. You better keep that in mind because I think your assessment is coming around soon.”

I was too stunned to hear what she was saying. I pointed at the other guest in my house that was walking over to me while tucking his shirt into the jeans he just put on. I pointed at him and asked, “Who is this?”

He grabbed my hand I was using to point at him and started to shake it. “Hi, I’m Dustin. It is very nice to meet you, Rachael.”

Palin smacked him on the shoulder, “Don’t talk her, Dustin. Get out of here.”

He let go of my hand and walked out of my family’s office. He waved at Palin as he walked down the stairs to where the orange juice mess and my screaming child were. “Bye, Palin, I’ll see you later, at school.”

“Bye, Dustin. Remember you need to buy condoms before tonight.”

I stood there pointing between her and the teenage boy who just exited my house while trying to articulate words to say about what I had just seen.

Palin looked at me like nothing had happened and said, “What the hell happened to you? You look like shit.”

Her disrespect helped me find the courage to put this little girl in her place, “Listen here, young lady. I don’t know who that was or who you think you are, but this is my house and you will live by my rules.”

She turned her back from me and walked over to her suitcase. She pulled off her shirt exposing the dark red push-up bra. She took out a new shirt from her suitcase and put it on. “Oh well then, just leave me a copy of them and I’ll go over them in the next couple weeks.”

“What?”

She slipped on her shirt which was tighter than the one she wore yesterday and had a picture of a mushroom on it. “Hello, Rachael. I just moved in here. How am I supposed to know all of the rules of your place after one night? I mean, am I just supposed to guess it is against your wishes for one of my boyfriends to come over here and spend the night? Also, I don’t appreciate you barging into my room anytime you like. I deserve my privacy. Remember 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. We might have to look over your list of rules and make sure they conform to the intent of the law. Right now, I don’t have time for that because I have to get ready for school. What’s for breakfast by the way?”

I could feel my blood surge through my veins and pump hard in my temples. My breathing became heavy and haggard as I took a step into Robert’s office, but before I could place my barefoot onto the carpet, I felt a tug on my pajama bottoms. I turned around to see Zach tugging on my leg.

“Mommy, there is…”

I lifted Zach up by his shoulders and placed him outside in the hallway and told him through clenched teeth, “Not right now, Zach, I have to have a talk with your step-sister.”

“But, mommy, there is a…”

I ignored him as I turned back to the girl in Robert’s office who was looking in a mirror I didn’t remember being in the room before. She was spraying healthy amounts of hairspray into her hair to create the poof effect she had worn ever since we met.

“Listen here, young lady. I didn’t ask for you to move into this house, and I am sure you didn’t ask to be here, but I want you to know your behavior is totally unacceptable. You are not my child. You are a mistake my husband had at a very early age, and if you continue to act this way, I will make sure you and all your poor attitude are out on the curb before nightfall. Do you understand me?”

She rolled her eyes at me and snorted out a little laugh. “You can’t do that.”

“Mommy,” said Zach from outside the room.

“Why not?” I asked her.

“Standard Number Four: Proper, loving shelter shall be supplied to everyone under the legal care of the mother. You need me to stay here under the law, and you need to make sure it is a loving way, mother dearest. So I suggest you watch what you say before I report you to the proper authorities.”

“Mommy,” Zach said again.

I pointed my finger directly into Palin’s chest and said, “Why you little b…”

“MOMMY!”

I turned to face Zach, and yelled at him, “WHAT ZACH?!”

“The kitchen is on fire, Mommy.”

The fire alarm started to blare from downstairs. I quickly grabbed Zach and Lindsey and ran out of the house as smoke started to billow from the kitchen.

 

 

 

5

The bacon I was ignoring while yelling at Palin was the reason the kitchen caught on fire. We were lucky enough the fire department was able to come over quickly and get it under control. It still left a huge black stain on the wall behind the stove. There was a little bit of damage done to the drywall, and the electricity had to be turned off in the kitchen because a couple of wires connected to the stove were damaged as well. It meant my domain was off limits for a couple of days while repair men came in and fixed the damage left by the fire. It was going to cost us somewhere in the range of two-thousand dollars, but the real damage created by the accident was between Robert and me. He was extremely mad at me and I knew I would have to be extra nice to him until things blew over.

It didn’t help that Robert had to take the day off from work because we had to wait around the house until the fire department could make a report on the damages. We needed this report if we wanted to file a claim with the insurance company. Robert grumbled all morning about how we wouldn’t get any money from the claim and how our insurance would go up due to the fact the accident was preventable in the first place. It was his belief it had been my incompetency that caused the accident and he kept on reminding me insurance companies did not want to make a habit for paying off insurance claims for incompetency.

The kids were really happy because they got to spend the day at home. I wasn’t going to be able to rush them off to school because I had to explain to the fire chief about what had happened in the kitchen that morning. He had a hard time understanding how things could have gotten so out of control in such a short time. He wondered how I could have forgotten all about the bacon in the frying pan. He remembered seeing my profile in the Elbert County Gazette. It didn’t make any sense to him how such a highly acclaimed mother could make such a big mistake. He, of course, didn’t see the bane of my existence because Palin had gone back to bed the moment she found out she didn’t need to go to school. What he saw instead was my perfect children behaving themselves, sitting in front of the television and watching The Buddy Bears all day.

After the fire department left and the contractor came in to give us an estimate, the whole day had disappeared. It was late in the afternoon when things started to return to normal. That was when Palin reappeared from Robert’s office. She complained about being hungry and wondered why we didn’t have anything in the house to eat. It was almost as if she hadn’t been present for the chaos of the morning. I wanted to jump over to where she was complaining, knock her to the ground, and strangle her until that smug expression she always carried with her melted from her face. But Robert saved me from these criminal tendencies by saying that he was hungry as well. Because the kitchen was unusable, the only thing left for us to do was to get our things together and go out to eat. Robert suggested we do just that. My husband was great at bringing up all of our spirits. He pointed out it had been a long time since we had been out to dinner together, and thought it would be nice to celebrate the good things in life while forgetting about the bad ones. He told me later he would, of course, have to take the night’s meal out of my allowance, but it would be his pleasure to make sure the family could enjoy a nice dinner that night. He even knew the perfect place to take us, The Old Stone Church in nearby Castle Rock.

I had heard about this place, and I had been begging Robert to take me out there to eat for the last couple of months. So far, my only contact with the place was driving by and looking at it from the outside. There was always a collection of highly sophisticated people milling around outside the restaurant. It was the oldest building in Castle Rock. It was a church built during the pioneer days. They had gathered all the stones from a nearby quarry, and were able to create a beautiful stone church to withstand the trials of time. As the town of Castle Rock grew, the church became too small to hold the congregation coming for their spiritual guidance every Sunday. They built a new church with more modern conveniences on the hilltop where everybody in town could see it and praise its glory. The Old Stone Church went into disrepair and was forgotten by the people of the town. Recently, a chef from New York who had studied southwestern cuisine came into Castle Rock. He noticed the church was up for sale. After a tour of the inside, he decided it would be the perfect place to convert into a restaurant. With all of the new décor, and the wonderful food this chef was making, The Old Stone Church was becoming the talk of the town. Everybody who was anybody wanted to get a table to enjoy a meal there. It was almost impossible to get into and I had no idea how Robert was going to manage this with a family of five, but he assured me it wouldn’t be a problem. He would go down there to make sure everything was set up for our wonderful family night out, while I got the family together and down to the restaurant.

He left right away and I knew he would secure us a table. I quickly took Zach and Lindsey upstairs to pick out more appropriate clothes for a fancy dinner. I asked Palin if she could find something in her wardrobe but she told me she would have to go shopping to find something fancy enough. I looked her up and down. Even though I was a little bit taller than her, our builds were very similar. I told her to go look in my closet for something to wear while I went and found some clothes for the little ones.

I had Zach put on his Sunday slacks, and a nice white collared shirt. I picked out his red clip tie because it was very similar to Robert’s red tie I loved so much. It made him look a little bit like his father. Lindsey was a little more difficult because of the incident the night before. I was able to piece enough clothes together to create a nice outfit for her. It was a little casual but with her only being three years old I was sure the restaurant would forgive us as long as she behaved herself. I never had an opportunity to make myself presentable during the day with all of the people that were coming and going. I sat Zach and Lindsey down in front of the television while I went back up to my bedroom to try and find something I could wear.

When I got upstairs, Palin was locked in our bathroom. I knocked on the door and asked if she had found something to wear. She informed me she had and she was getting ready at the moment. I went to the closet and picked out a nice conservative black dress. It highlighted my figure nicely while giving me a slimming look. I had been battling my weight ever since I had my children, but I believed I still knew how to turn my husband’s head. He had always told me he had fallen in love with me the moment he saw my auburn hair and dark green eyes. He was always able to lose himself in both of these features. It didn’t mean I could let myself go though. I still needed to keep a girlish figure, or all of the auburn hair and come hither eyes wouldn’t excite my husband. I thought I had achieved this effect until I saw Palin come out of the bathroom.

She had picked a dress I wasn’t able to wear ever since I had Zach. It was a red dress with a flower pattern dancing humbly all through the skirt. It was sleeveless and strapless. When I used to be able to wear it, Robert always exclaimed about how beautiful he thought it made me look. I used to wear it simply without many accessories. I would wear a simple necklace, not much make-up, and a small purse to carry just what I needed for the evening. I was sad I could no longer fit into the slim waist of the dress. I was stunned to see it out of the closet and on another human being.

Palin was also fashion savvy enough to understand the power of the dress lay in its simplicity. She had taken the poof out of her hair. She let it cascade down from her forehead and land lightly on her shoulders. She also removed all the make-up hiding her face. She let her natural side show and it made her look five years younger. I noticed how beautiful her eyes were for the first time. They were an exotic grey blue found naturally only in chilly winter morning skies. The color begged a person to curl up next to a fire and a cup of hot chocolate. Her eyes felt uncomfortable not being able to hide behind a thick layer of mascara. They darted around looking for some place where they would not have to stare at the thing demanding her attention. I stood and gaped at her in her natural beauty.

After feeling uncomfortable for a little bit, she quit darting her eyes all around the room and the Palin I knew came back out. “What?”

“I’m sorry. I just never realized how beautiful you are.”

Compliments seemed to embarrass her even more because she immediately pointed her eyes to the ground. “I’m not really that pretty.”

I went over to her and grabbed her by her hands and pulled them from where she was crushing them into the side of the dress. When she was free of her embarrassment, I lifted her face up to stare at me. Looking directly into those eyes stole my heart. “You are absolutely gorgeous. Robert is going to be able to see his little daughter is growing up to be a fine young lady.”

She smiled at the compliment. I started to think there might be hope with this girl. It would just take some time and some love to get her to stop thinking of herself as an object needing to act out in order to be noticed. It would take some real mothering in order to help this child. I thought for a second, and I knew exactly what to do to make the moment perfect.

“Wait right there,” I said. I ran off to the bathroom and my jewelry box. I shuffled through it until I found what I was looking for. When it was in my hand, I ran back into the room. Palin was standing in front of the full length mirror, wondering if there was some truth in what I had told her earlier. I came up from behind her and draped around her neck the necklace I knew would be the perfect complement to her ensemble. It was a piece of Murano glass dangling from a simple silver chain. The glass was blown by expert glass blowers on an island off the shore of Venice. They would add various precious metals, such as silver, platinum, or gold, to the glass they blew in order to create amazing colors. The piece I was giving to Palin to wear for the night was a smoky light blue that matched the color of her eyes. It was formed in the shape of a teardrop. The decoration was the simple accent creating the complete picture of what a beautiful young lady had been hiding in Palin.

“This was given to me by your father on our first anniversary. It is not worth a lot of money, but it has a lot of sentimental value, so please don’t lose it.”

Tears started to well up in Palin’s eyes. She turned to me and hugged me. “Thank you, Rachael. This is the nicest thing anybody has ever done for me.”

I felt emotions start to well up inside of me as well. I was starting to think maybe it was a good thing this girl had been sent to me to be raised properly. There must have been something wrong with her biological mother if she wasn’t able to raise this sweet, innocent girl right. My mind raced with images of poverty, drug abuse, and neglect contributing to her biological mother being sent away for re-education a second time. If Palin started to have some love given to her, she might turn out alright. I was the perfect mother to take on this challenge because of the wonderful way I had raised Zach and Lindsey. I was starting to get really proud of myself for making such progress in only one night with Palin. Maybe if I changed my attitude about her, I would really be able to help her. But first thing was first, we needed to go meet Robert for dinner before he started to wonder what had happened to us.

I patted Palin on the back and told her, “It is alright, honey. We can’t stay in here worrying about this for too long because I have two kids waiting for us downstairs, and my husband, your father, waiting for us at a restaurant downtown. Come on. Let’s get going.”

She wiped away her tears, smiled at me, and then walked out of the bedroom. I looked at myself in the mirror one last time, feeling a little pang of jealousy because I wasn’t able to fit into that dress anymore. It passed quickly because of the pride I had felt with my ability to be a mother. I turned off the lights and loaded the kids up to head down to the Old Stone Church.

Robert was able to get us a table at the restaurant, and it wasn’t a bad table either. The table Robert was able to get for us was directly in the center of the restaurant. It was like we were on display. I thought of us as being the model for every other table to live up to. Here we were, the perfect American family, and if they achieved what we could then they would be placed on display like us.

When we entered the restaurant, Robert was sitting at the table keeping an eye on the door. When he saw us, he came over and directed us to the table. He came up to me gruffly and asked me, “What took you so long? I was about to call the house to see if you were on your way or not?”

I turned and gestured to the children and said, “Well, we had to look presentable.”

He looked at the children and an expression came over his face I hadn’t seen since the birth of Zach. It was of pure joy and love. It was like he was looking at his children for the first time. He walked past Lindsey who was holding Zach’s hand and walked up to Palin. He held her hands out from her side so he would be able to get a better look at her.

“Palin, you look fantastic. I’ve never noticed how much you look like your mother until now.”

She smiled a bashful smile and said, “Thanks, daddy.”

He noticed the necklace and scooped it up gently in his fingers. “And where did you get this piece of jewelry? It is stunning.” I was a little confused when I heard this because it had been a gift to me from him. I thought he would definitely remember giving me something as beautiful as this. I always remembered receiving it. He had given it to me during dinner the night of our anniversary. It was wrapped perfectly. Usually Robert did a terrible job of wrapping things, so he must have had somebody else do it for him, but when I opened it up, I broke down into feelings of love and admiration. Robert told me he thought I would like it. I even remember putting it on as we ate the steak dinner over a nice bottle of wine. I also wore it on special occasions. Almost every anniversary I wore it. I also wore it on my birthdays and some holidays. Surely, he had seen it before.

Palin brought me from my thoughts. “What? This? Oh, it was a gift.” Even though that was accurate, it bugged me that she took the credit for having been given the gift.

“Well, it brings out the beauty of your eyes.”

“Thanks.”

Robert led Palin past his two other children and me to the table. He pulled out the chair for her and she sat down at his right hand side. He looked over at me and said, “Can you help the rest of the kids in their seats, Rachael?”

As I got Lindsey in her high chair and Zach in his seat, occupied with his new stuffed Billy Bob Bear, I sat down in the only remaining seat on the left hand side of Robert. By the time I was seated, our waitress was already at our table taking our order. The younger kids had chocolate milk each and Palin ordered a virgin strawberry daiquiri. Robert ordered a glass of Pinot Noir for himself and a glass of ice tea for me. I really wanted a gin and tonic, but after last night’s episode, it was probably better I had something non-alcoholic instead.

Robert was also able to order for me as I distracted the younger ones trying to keep them from being a loud disturbance for the rest of the patrons of the restaurant. Palin kept him company while I was busy. They were talking about what she had been up to in the last couple of months and the logistics of what had happened with her mother. I caught little bits and pieces of the conversation, but I needed to make sure Lindsey was under control. I put on an episode of Buddy Bears on the iPad. Zach was also a little loud because he was having a conversation with his Billy Bob Bear. I convinced him to have the conversation in whispered voices so the rest of the people in the building wouldn’t hear what he was saying. By the time I was able to return to the conversation, Palin had left and Robert was impatiently looking at his watch.

“What happened to Palin?” I asked him.

“Oh, she had to go to the bathroom.”

I looked over at my husband and saw a concern in his eyes. I knew I needed to do something in order to make up for my behavior. I knew this was a great opportunity, so I told him, “I’m sorry about everything that’s happened in the last couple of days. I guess I felt threatened at first when Palin showed up at the door and I didn’t know how to properly handle it.”

He grunted an agreement, and looked back towards the restrooms and then back at his watch.

“I know my behavior was inappropriate, but I think Palin and I will be really good friends after we get over this period of culture shock we are going through. I think we were able to bond a little bit tonight while we were getting ready. She really warmed up to me when I was able to give her some honest, loving compliments. I wonder if that is something she has been missing her whole life. Maybe she can grow as a person if I am able to give her the love she needs.”

“That’s nice honey,” he said as he looked at his watch again. “Hey, I am a little worried about Palin.”

“I am too, but I think if we give her some time, she’ll find her place in our household.”

Robert looked at me quizzically for a second before saying, “No honey, I meant I am worried about her in the bathroom. She’s been gone for a long time. Could you go check on her?”

“Oh,” I said. I looked over at Lindsey and Zach and saw they were occupied with what they had in front of them. I looked back to the hallway towards the bathroom and thought the kids would be alright while I went to go check on her. “I’ll go see what the delay is, Robert.” I got up from my seat and walked to a sign indicating where the bathrooms were.

The bathrooms were situated in a hallway connecting the restaurant to another part of the building holding the bar. I could hear lots of people laughing from this area, and I wondered what type of crowd would be making such a ruckus on a Wednesday night. I blew it off and went into the ladies room. The bathroom was just as warm and inviting as the rest of the restaurant. There was a comfy sofa in there for women to sit down on, and three large mirrors for fixing make-up. There were three stalls, but all of them were open and there was no one in any of them. In fact, I was alone in the ladies room. I called out Palin’s name but this just confirmed what my eyes had already ascertained; she was not in the bathroom.

I stepped out of the room and peered back into the restaurant. She wasn’t there but I saw the back of Robert’s head sitting at the table where Lindsey and Zach were entertaining themselves. He was staring over the restaurant, impatiently tapping his fingers on the side of the table. I was starting to wonder where Palin could be, and the only place left to look was the bar. I turned around to head to the bar and almost ran into her as she was backing her way into the restaurant and laughing at something going on behind her.

“Palin, where have you been?”

She turned around with her virgin daiquiri in her hand. She abruptly stopped laughing and looked at me. I could see her mind working at what would be the correct answer to give in this situation. “I was going to the bathroom,” she told me.

The smell of tobacco invaded my senses. I leaned closer to see if the smell was coming from her, but she slithered quickly away from me and back into the restaurant. Before she headed too far into the room, my voice stopped her, “But Palin, I was just in the bathroom and you weren’t in there.”

She stalled for a second, turned to face me and said, “Oh, I must have gone in the men’s room. You know I was wondering why there were stalls in there. I feel stupid now. I guess I’m lucky no men came in while I was in there. Boy, that would have been embarrassing.” She turned around and walked back to the table. I looked back at the two doors to both of the bathrooms. I was about to dismiss it as a simple mistake, when the door to the men’s room opened and a well dressed man walked out and headed towards the bar. I looked back at the table and saw Robert once again engaged in a conversation with Palin. My suspicions grew, but I held them in check as I made my way back to the table and sat in my seat.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. When we first got to the restaurant, Palin was quiet and reserved, but as the evening progressed, she was starting to become more and more comfortable. She was really engaged in the conversation she was having with Robert. She would laugh loudly at his jokes while waving her virgin strawberry daiquiri around the room. A couple of times she came close to having the icy drink slosh over the side of the glass and splotch the tablecloth in front of her. Somehow, she managed to keep the liquid in the glass. Robert and Palin hadn’t caught on yet, but people in the restaurant were starting to notice what was going on at our table. The image of what the perfect American family should look like was slowly deteriorating and I looked desperately for something to help me regain control of the situation.

The waitress appeared at our table with our food, and I thought this might help bring everything under control again. The weird thing was I wasn’t worried Zach and Lindsey this time. It was Palin and Robert. The waitress was a good one because she knew that she needed to serve the young children first in order to keep them entertained, so Zach and Lindsey got their food first, while Palin directed her attention over to the large tray holding her meal. The waitress then delivered Palin’s meal next and Palin asked if she could have another daiquiri. I looked across the table and noticed that something else was out of place. I didn’t want to cause any alarm until after the waitress left, so I didn’t say anything until after Robert and I were both served.

Palin had already begun to dig into her steak, while I took the linen napkin next to my Caesar salad and placed it in my lap. “Palin?” I asked.

She gave a smirk as she chewed on a large piece of filet mignon, “Yeah?”

“Did you do something with the necklace? I don’t see it anymore.”

She stopped chewing and looked at me across the table. Robert looked over at where the necklace should have been and said, “Where is your necklace, Palin? I hope you didn’t lose it.”

She put her knife and fork down and reached up to her neck. She felt around as if the necklace would appear out of nowhere. When it didn’t, she looked back at me, “I don’t know what happened to it.”

The waitress returned at that moment to the table and placed the new daiquiri in front of Palin. Palin grabbed it quickly after it was placed down and sucked a huge gulp out of the drink. This behavior made me even more curious. I needed someone to confirm what I thought, and since Robert had been in his own world that day, I looked up at the waitress. She was staring down at Robert’s daughter as Palin slurped her drink through the straw. That is when I saw the necklace. It was dangling from the neck of the waitress.

“My necklace,” I said pointing at the waitress.

“Your necklace?” Robert said looking over at me.

The waitress’s hand went reflexively up to where the necklace was.

Palin sucked down another huge portion of her drink and then she pointed and accusing finger at the waitress, “She stole my necklace.”

The waitress stood there stunned with her mouth opening and closing as if she didn’t know what to say.

Robert stood up at the table and looked at the waitress. “How dare you steal my daughter’s necklace?”

I could see a manager over at the hostess stand look over at the commotion going on over at our table. The waitress looked over at Robert and said, “I didn’t steal your daughter’s necklace.”

Robert tried to grab the necklace from the waitress’s neck, but her hand went up to protect it. He pointed a finger at where it was hidden and accused her, “Oh, please, I am sure that’s your necklace. You just happen to have one exactly like my daughter’s. This tear shape is a common one everybody has. Is that what you’re telling me? It’s all the rage now?”

The waitress stood there and stammered.

Robert continued his interrogation, “If you didn’t steal this then where did you get it from?”

The waitress looked over at Palin and said, “She gave it to me.”

“I did not,” was Palin’s response as she went back to her drink.

The manager came over to the table and patted his tie on his chest before asking, “What seems to be the problem here?”

Palin pointed the accusing finger at the waitress again, “She stole my necklace.”

The waitress looked at Palin and said, “You little bitch. You gave me this necklace if I would put rum in your drink.”

The manager quickly turned his attention to the waitress. She quickly realized the faux pas she had made.

Palin had the straw of the drink in her mouth again and was sucking down the last drop in the glass. She slammed the glass down on the table, and shouted back, “That is ridiculous. Give me back my necklace, you little thief.”

The manager was at a loss of words. He looked in between the waitress and Palin. All he could get out was, “Now, Amy.”

The waitress ripped the necklace off of her neck and threw it at Palin. It bounced off of Palin’s hands and hit the table. The teardrop shattered and a blue grey dust gathered on the table like frozen flakes of dry snow. I looked at this symbol of the love between my husband and me and I felt a part of me being torn from my heart.

The waitress turned on her heels and tore her apron off. She threw it on the ground in front of the manager. “I don’t have to listen to these accusations. I quit.” She stormed out the door. The manager followed her. Robert followed both of them asking who was going to pay for the replacement of the necklace. Palin followed after him defending her actions as justifiable. Lindsey and Zach continued to play with their toys. The patrons of the restaurant turned their heads away from what used to be the perfect American family. I picked up Palin’s empty glass on the table and sniffed it to see if I could smell any rum.

6

I remained quiet after the incident at the restaurant. Palin was convinced of her innocence and because of her intense passion so was Robert. Like the rest of the family, I assured Palin I believed that the waitress had stolen the necklace. The restaurant had given Palin two hundred dollars to replace the necklace, and assured us Amy, the waitress, would never set foot in the Old Stone Church again. She would also never get a good recommendation from the restaurant which would probably mean she would never work in the restaurant industry again. I started to see the true nature of Palin. She was self-centered. She was manipulative. She was a teenager. I walked around her very lightly the next couple of weeks so her wrath would not fall on me. I had other things to worry about, first.

Dr. Nancy Ann Blur was going to be at my house in less than two weeks and I had to make sure my children and Palin were presentable. I believed it was important for me to maintain the same high standards I had over the last three years. I was really worried about my excellent rating. After every day with Palin, I worried more and more about how Palin would behave while Dr. Blur was at my house. I thought of everything I could do to try and make sure she was on her best behavior that day. I even thought of bribing her with clothes, electronics, or hairspray, anything that would get her to behave. I quickly dismissed these options because I knew there were many laws against it. The Department of Motherhood considered bribery to be cheating and would imprison individuals who attempted to get high marks by using this tactic. There were newspaper reports every year about mothers who had tried to do this and had been caught.

Begging her would not be a good idea either because that would make me look weak in her eyes. It would just open the door so she would be able to walk all over me in the future.

The only thing I could do was try to reason with Palin and hope she would act her best when Dr. Blur showed up at my house.

The next couple of weeks proved to be an exercise in futility. Palin would never get up in the morning. Nine o’clock in the morning was considered early for her. She never made it to school on time and there were a couple of times she woke up so late that it was even pointless to try to get her there at all. Her boyfriend, Dustin, showed up at the house almost every night. I caught him sneaking out of the house one morning, a day after the incident at the restaurant and I didn’t say anything. Because I didn’t react properly to the situation, he started becoming more brash. He would walk into the house anytime he pleased. He would stroll in the front door while we were having dinner, or watching television. He would wave to Robert and then Palin and he would run up to Robert’s office, shut the door, and not come out unless they had to use the restroom or wanted to grab something to eat. I walked by the room once and there were awful grunting noises coming from the room. I decided to avoid the room at all costs because I really didn’t want to know what was going on inside of there. I told Palin I didn’t mind Dustin coming over, but to please make sure he wasn’t there during the morning of the assessment. She assured me he wouldn’t be.

The bigger problem was the influence Palin was having on Lindsey. My daughter looked up to her half-sister, and she wanted to start acting like her. Instead of Lindsey wanting to be mommy’s little girl, she would do anything to act like Palin. She would try to dress like her. She pretended she didn’t care about anything anymore. She even went as far as using a black Sharpie marker under her eyes in order to imitate the raccoon look Palin had. While I was trying to scrub it off, she started to quote the standards but couldn’t explain how that meant I wasn’t living up to them. This was hard to take from a three year old girl who believed she had more privileges than an adult.

As Lindsey tried to imitate Palin’s behavior, Zach started to do the same with Dustin. He started to believe it was important for him to have a girlfriend. He talked about all of the girls in his class as his hoes and bitches. I got a call from his teacher once, explaining how she had to discipline Zach for trapping a girl in the corner of the class’s closet and kissing her. When the teacher found him, he had his hand up her shirt and was cupping her chest as if she had a breast. I know I never had taught Zach how to do this and I am sure Robert had never taught him either. It didn’t change the fact that Robert seemed pretty proud of his son after I retold him the story. Zach could have only been learning this from one place and it was from the deviant coming over to our house every evening.

Things were getting pretty stressful around the house. I knew I only needed to make it through the assessment and then I would be able to regain control over my life, my house, and my family. Until then, I would have to try to make the best of the situation and create an atmosphere portraying the perfect American family.

I had gotten back into my routine, well, at least the best I could, considering the circumstances. Palin was doing everything possible in order to disrupt my schedule. Even with these disruptions, I don’t think Robert was able to notice anything different. Breakfast, the sports page, and a hot cup of coffee were always sitting ready for him when he made his way downstairs every morning. Dinner was served on time and every once in awhile Lindsey and Zach would join us for the meal. Palin actually made it to one dinner, but otherwise she would take her dinner up to her room, alone with Dustin. The house was always clean and presented a wonderful and nurturing environment. I was even able to sneak into Palin’s room one day while she was at school and clean it for her. She got really mad at me because I threw away something she said she really needed. I couldn’t decide what it was. All I threw away were scraps of paper, bottles of hair products, and moldy food in baggies underneath her bed mattress. It was those baggies that really stunk up Robert’s office. They smelled like a skunk had sprayed in the baggie. I couldn’t understand why anybody would be saving them. After that she promised me she would keep her own room clean and for the most part she did. It was never up to my standard of clean but it was a small victory on my part.

The only concern I had left was the children themselves. I knew how important it was to make a good first impression with the assessor. If Dr. Blur could come into the house and see all of the children lined up nicely in a row with clean, fresh and respectable clothes on, then the assessor would be more likely to overlook smaller indiscretions during the assessment. A first impression is always important.

I took the kids out of school one day right before the assessment so we would be able to spend it on the perfect outfits for the day of the assessment. We went to Maydee’s Department Store, and I made sure all of the children understood the importance of our mission that day. I told them if we could get the perfect outfits before lunchtime than I would take them to their favorite restaurant, Crave. After lunch I would take them out to a movie and afterwards we would go get some ice cream. Lindsey and Zach seemed excited about the day, and even Palin showed some interest because it meant she would miss school. All she had to do was get a free meal, a new outfit, and a little bit of entertainment. When we got to the department store, I told Palin to go select some clothes while I helped the two younger kids find something appropriate. I told her to keep in mind that what she was looking for was to be up to my standards and not the typical clothes she wore. She rolled her eyes at me as she wandered over to the young miss section of the store. I watched, and worried about what she would find in the store.

I took Lindsey and Zach over the kids section. For Zach, I found a lovely polo shirt with a nice clip-on tie, some khaki slacks and a navy blue sweater vest. While he was in the changing room trying on the clothes, I went over to the girls section to try and find a cute dress for Lindsey. I was able to find a nice yellow sun dress with pleats. I knew with Lindsey’s light complexion the color would just make her glow. It would be a shocking display of cuteness no assessor would be able to escape and Dr. Blur would be no exception. Around the time I was able to collect all of the clothes we needed, Palin came back from her shopping spree. She had a bag from the department store in one hand, and I was a little shocked because I couldn’t figure out how she had paid for the clothes without my help.

She told me, “Oh, I just had them punch in your credit card number and everything was alright.”

I was a little taken back. “How did you get my credit card number?”

She laughed a little before saying, “Come one, Rachael, it is not exactly your credit card number. It’s really Robert that takes care of all of the financial needs of this family. He just lets you use his credit card in the meantime. By the way, what I found was so perfect I just couldn’t wait to find you before I bought it.”

I was really worried about what I was going to see as she pulled out her purchase from the bag. This garment would be the first thing the Secretary of Motherhood would see when she walked into my house. I was afraid it would be some black piece of clothing leaving not much to the imagination because it was either really short or really tight fitting. What I saw really surprised me. Once again, Palin, when given the opportunity to find the perfect clothing for the occasion, came through. She spread the dress out in front of her and modeled it with only her head sticking out over the hanger.

It was a full length dress with a conservative collar, and long sleeves. It was an off-white cream color with stitches of wildflowers up and down the dress. I could imagine Palin in the dress while she was modeling it for me. The image that came to mind was Palin, Lindsey and Zach standing in perfect attention as Dr. Blur entered the house. The secretary would be bowled over by these three perfect children. By the end of the assessment, she would pull me aside and tell me I had created a new standard of motherhood. I would be in all of the newspapers and they would offer me up as the ideal every mother should push to attain. Later on, I would realize how foolish such fantasies were and I know now the best I can do is just do enough to get by. I should just quit trying to live up to the impossible standards set up by a group that has no business making rules about something they knew nothing about.

Even though I’ve just recently come to realize these cynical thoughts, the rest of that day, I reveled in the fact I had the perfect family. I once again toyed with the idea it was my superior mothering abilities that were starting to turn Palin into a fine, young lady. It would only be two days later when this idea would be shattered by what happened during the assessment.

I remember the day of the assessment like it happened yesterday. I got all of the children up early. Lindsey and Zach were troopers as they woke up and helped straighten up the house as I cooked breakfast. I was even able to get a response out of Palin as I knocked on her door to wake her up. I knew she was moving because I heard her make it out of her room and into the bathroom while I was still cooking breakfast. The shower was running when I started to lay the plates of food on the table and Robert was the perfect angel after he was finished because he came over to me, gave me a kiss and told me good luck on the assessment.

After breakfast was complete, I sent the kids up to their room to get dressed in the new outfits. Palin had come downstairs with her hair wet and wearing nothing more than a very large bath towel. I should have noticed what a zombie she was at the breakfast table, but I was too busy making sure everything else was perfect. Her mouth mushed up a piece of toast while I cleaned the kitchen. She was quickly back upstairs before I could ask her how she felt that morning. When all of the kids were dressed, I had them stand in a row in the hallway in front of the kitchen.

Lindsey and Zach stood up straight as if they were in The Sound of Music and were about to sing a song for one of our guests. Palin, who was still trying to wake up a little bit, leaned against the wall and rolled her neck around in order to pop out some of the creaks from the night before.

“You all look so wonderful. Palin, please, stand up straight.”

She rolled her eyes, curled her upper lip and pushed out a sigh.

“Palin, you look like such a nice young lady when you stand up straight.”

Lindsey stood up straighter next to Palin and patted down her dress. She looked up at her half-sister and said, “You need to stand up like me, Palin.” Lindsey twirled around to show Palin how pretty she could be in her dress.

Palin looked down at Lindsey and slouched even further down on the wall, “Ugh, you are way too perky in the morning.”

“But if you stand up like me, we can be like twins.”

“Why would I want to be a twin with a fucking twat like you?”

“Palin!” I shouted at her to reprimand her for the cruel way she was acting to her sister, but the damage was done. Large tears bulged at the tip of Lindsey’s eyelids and her lips quivered. I waited for the moment the water would rush through the lashes and release her scream. Luckily, it was only a stage one tantrum, and I would be able to get it under control quickly.

Palin decided it was better to make the situation even worse by looking over at Zach and saying, “And you look like a fucking douche bag.”

Lindsey’s wail started at the same moment Zach registered what Palin had said and rushed over to her to throw punches. I picked up Lindsey quickly and started bouncing her up and down hoping this motion would appease her. “It’s alright honey. Don’t cry. Palin didn’t mean it.”

Zach was at Palin with his fists. He was trying to pound Palin in the leg with the heal of his fist. “Take it back. Take it back. Take it back.” The fists were not finding the target because Palin kept on pushing Zach aside before he got close enough to land a punch with any damage. The last push left Zach on the ground, wallowing on his back like an overturned turtle.

The way her brother was being treated caused Lindsey to scream even louder. In between the screams, Lindsey found enough breath to say, “I am not a fucking twat.”

“I know you are not, honey. Please quit crying. Everything is alright.”

Palin had turned away from the scene and started heading up the stairs towards her room. Zach had up-righted himself and started in for another lunge at Palin. He alerted Palin of his presence by shouting, “And I’m not a fucking douche bag.”

“Mommy, is Zach a fucking douche bag?”

I started to head after Zach to stop him from hitting Palin. At the same time, I tried to comfort Lindsey. “He’s not, honey. Please don’t say that word.”

I wasn’t able to catch Zach before he reached Palin’s threshold. She was able to turn around and push him in my direction. I jumped forward and was able to catch Zach before he went tumbling down the stairs. The force of my son running into me, made me lose my balance. I started to take a tumble up the stairs. My hands reached out to brace my fall. I dropped Lindsey as I reached out for anything to help prevent me from smashing into the ground. The first thing my hands were able to grab on to was the top of Palin’s dress.

The fabric of my existence was ripped by a tearing sound reverberating off the wall of my house. The sound continued as I exposed all of Palin to her new family. My nose smashed onto one of the edges of the stairs and a new sound pierced the air. I looked up to see Palin shrieking at the way I had taken away her decency. Looking back, I still wonder why she was so upset. She spent most of her time when Dustin was at our house by strutting around in barely anything more than her birthday suit. I tried to shake off all of the pieces falling apart as a watery haze swam through my vision. Palin clutched her arms to her chest, turned around and ran off to her room.

“Mommy!!!!!!” screamed Lindsey from where she laid on the floor.

“Mommy!!!!!!” screamed Zach as he struggled to get out from underneath my legs.

I let go of the long strip of fabric still clutched in my hands. I heard the door slam down the hallway. “Palin, get back here,” I commanded, hoping for once she would obey.

Above all of the commotion taking place on the stairs, the doorbell rang.

7

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?”

“Mr. Clicky-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?”

“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.”

“Scratch, scratch.”

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?”

“Scratch, scratch.”

Dustin poked his head out of the blanket he was hiding behind. “It’s true. I heard them talking about it.”

“Scratch.”

“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.

Accountability Chapter 7

7

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?”

“Mr. Clicky-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?”

“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.”

“Scratch, scratch.”

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?”

“Scratch, scratch.”

Dustin poked his head out of the blanket he was hiding behind. “It’s true. I heard them talking about it.”

“Scratch.”

“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.

Accountability Chapter 6

6

I remained quiet after the incident at the restaurant. Palin was convinced of her innocence and because of her intense passion so was Robert. Like the rest of the family, I assured Palin I believed that the waitress had stolen the necklace. The restaurant had given Palin two hundred dollars to replace the necklace, and assured us Amy, the waitress, would never set foot in the Old Stone Church again. She would also never get a good recommendation from the restaurant which would probably mean she would never work in the restaurant industry again. I started to see the true nature of Palin. She was self-centered. She was manipulative. She was a teenager. I walked around her very lightly the next couple of weeks so her wrath would not fall on me. I had other things to worry about, first.

Dr. Nancy Ann Blur was going to be at my house in less than two weeks and I had to make sure my children and Palin were presentable. I believed it was important for me to maintain the same high standards I had over the last three years. I was really worried about my excellent rating. After every day with Palin, I worried more and more about how Palin would behave while Dr. Blur was at my house. I thought of everything I could do to try and make sure she was on her best behavior that day. I even thought of bribing her with clothes, electronics, or hairspray, anything that would get her to behave. I quickly dismissed these options because I knew there were many laws against it. The Department of Motherhood considered bribery to be cheating and would imprison individuals who attempted to get high marks by using this tactic. There were newspaper reports every year about mothers who had tried to do this and had been caught.

Begging her would not be a good idea either because that would make me look weak in her eyes. It would just open the door so she would be able to walk all over me in the future.

The only thing I could do was try to reason with Palin and hope she would act her best when Dr. Blur showed up at my house.

The next couple of weeks proved to be an exercise in futility. Palin would never get up in the morning. Nine o’clock in the morning was considered early for her. She never made it to school on time and there were a couple of times she woke up so late that it was even pointless to try to get her there at all. Her boyfriend, Dustin, showed up at the house almost every night. I caught him sneaking out of the house one morning, a day after the incident at the restaurant and I didn’t say anything. Because I didn’t react properly to the situation, he started becoming more brash. He would walk into the house anytime he pleased. He would stroll in the front door while we were having dinner, or watching television. He would wave to Robert and then Palin and he would run up to Robert’s office, shut the door, and not come out unless they had to use the restroom or wanted to grab something to eat. I walked by the room once and there were awful grunting noises coming from the room. I decided to avoid the room at all costs because I really didn’t want to know what was going on inside of there. I told Palin I didn’t mind Dustin coming over, but to please make sure he wasn’t there during the morning of the assessment. She assured me he wouldn’t be.

The bigger problem was the influence Palin was having on Lindsey. My daughter looked up to her half-sister, and she wanted to start acting like her. Instead of Lindsey wanting to be mommy’s little girl, she would do anything to act like Palin. She would try to dress like her. She pretended she didn’t care about anything anymore. She even went as far as using a black Sharpie marker under her eyes in order to imitate the raccoon look Palin had. While I was trying to scrub it off, she started to quote the standards but couldn’t explain how that meant I wasn’t living up to them. This was hard to take from a three year old girl who believed she had more privileges than an adult.

As Lindsey tried to imitate Palin’s behavior, Zach started to do the same with Dustin. He started to believe it was important for him to have a girlfriend. He talked about all of the girls in his class as his hoes and bitches. I got a call from his teacher once, explaining how she had to discipline Zach for trapping a girl in the corner of the class’s closet and kissing her. When the teacher found him, he had his hand up her shirt and was cupping her chest as if she had a breast. I know I never had taught Zach how to do this and I am sure Robert had never taught him either. It didn’t change the fact that Robert seemed pretty proud of his son after I retold him the story. Zach could have only been learning this from one place and it was from the deviant coming over to our house every evening.

Things were getting pretty stressful around the house. I knew I only needed to make it through the assessment and then I would be able to regain control over my life, my house, and my family. Until then, I would have to try to make the best of the situation and create an atmosphere portraying the perfect American family.

I had gotten back into my routine, well, at least the best I could, considering the circumstances. Palin was doing everything possible in order to disrupt my schedule. Even with these disruptions, I don’t think Robert was able to notice anything different. Breakfast, the sports page, and a hot cup of coffee were always sitting ready for him when he made his way downstairs every morning. Dinner was served on time and every once in awhile Lindsey and Zach would join us for the meal. Palin actually made it to one dinner, but otherwise she would take her dinner up to her room, alone with Dustin. The house was always clean and presented a wonderful and nurturing environment. I was even able to sneak into Palin’s room one day while she was at school and clean it for her. She got really mad at me because I threw away something she said she really needed. I couldn’t decide what it was. All I threw away were scraps of paper, bottles of hair products, and moldy food in baggies underneath her bed mattress. It was those baggies that really stunk up Robert’s office. They smelled like a skunk had sprayed in the baggie. I couldn’t understand why anybody would be saving them. After that she promised me she would keep her own room clean and for the most part she did. It was never up to my standard of clean but it was a small victory on my part.

The only concern I had left was the children themselves. I knew how important it was to make a good first impression with the assessor. If Dr. Blur could come into the house and see all of the children lined up nicely in a row with clean, fresh and respectable clothes on, then the assessor would be more likely to overlook smaller indiscretions during the assessment. A first impression is always important.

I took the kids out of school one day right before the assessment so we would be able to spend it on the perfect outfits for the day of the assessment. We went to Maydee’s Department Store, and I made sure all of the children understood the importance of our mission that day. I told them if we could get the perfect outfits before lunchtime than I would take them to their favorite restaurant, Crave. After lunch I would take them out to a movie and afterwards we would go get some ice cream. Lindsey and Zach seemed excited about the day, and even Palin showed some interest because it meant she would miss school. All she had to do was get a free meal, a new outfit, and a little bit of entertainment. When we got to the department store, I told Palin to go select some clothes while I helped the two younger kids find something appropriate. I told her to keep in mind that what she was looking for was to be up to my standards and not the typical clothes she wore. She rolled her eyes at me as she wandered over to the young miss section of the store. I watched, and worried about what she would find in the store.

I took Lindsey and Zach over the kids section. For Zach, I found a lovely polo shirt with a nice clip-on tie, some khaki slacks and a navy blue sweater vest. While he was in the changing room trying on the clothes, I went over to the girls section to try and find a cute dress for Lindsey. I was able to find a nice yellow sun dress with pleats. I knew with Lindsey’s light complexion the color would just make her glow. It would be a shocking display of cuteness no assessor would be able to escape and Dr. Blur would be no exception. Around the time I was able to collect all of the clothes we needed, Palin came back from her shopping spree. She had a bag from the department store in one hand, and I was a little shocked because I couldn’t figure out how she had paid for the clothes without my help.

She told me, “Oh, I just had them punch in your credit card number and everything was alright.”

I was a little taken back. “How did you get my credit card number?”

She laughed a little before saying, “Come one, Rachael, it is not exactly your credit card number. It’s really Robert that takes care of all of the financial needs of this family. He just lets you use his credit card in the meantime. By the way, what I found was so perfect I just couldn’t wait to find you before I bought it.”

I was really worried about what I was going to see as she pulled out her purchase from the bag. This garment would be the first thing the Secretary of Motherhood would see when she walked into my house. I was afraid it would be some black piece of clothing leaving not much to the imagination because it was either really short or really tight fitting. What I saw really surprised me. Once again, Palin, when given the opportunity to find the perfect clothing for the occasion, came through. She spread the dress out in front of her and modeled it with only her head sticking out over the hanger.

It was a full length dress with a conservative collar, and long sleeves. It was an off-white cream color with stitches of wildflowers up and down the dress. I could imagine Palin in the dress while she was modeling it for me. The image that came to mind was Palin, Lindsey and Zach standing in perfect attention as Dr. Blur entered the house. The secretary would be bowled over by these three perfect children. By the end of the assessment, she would pull me aside and tell me I had created a new standard of motherhood. I would be in all of the newspapers and they would offer me up as the ideal every mother should push to attain. Later on, I would realize how foolish such fantasies were and I know now the best I can do is just do enough to get by. I should just quit trying to live up to the impossible standards set up by a group that has no business making rules about something they knew nothing about.

Even though I’ve just recently come to realize these cynical thoughts, the rest of that day, I reveled in the fact I had the perfect family. I once again toyed with the idea it was my superior mothering abilities that were starting to turn Palin into a fine, young lady. It would only be two days later when this idea would be shattered by what happened during the assessment.

I remember the day of the assessment like it happened yesterday. I got all of the children up early. Lindsey and Zach were troopers as they woke up and helped straighten up the house as I cooked breakfast. I was even able to get a response out of Palin as I knocked on her door to wake her up. I knew she was moving because I heard her make it out of her room and into the bathroom while I was still cooking breakfast. The shower was running when I started to lay the plates of food on the table and Robert was the perfect angel after he was finished because he came over to me, gave me a kiss and told me good luck on the assessment.

After breakfast was complete, I sent the kids up to their room to get dressed in the new outfits. Palin had come downstairs with her hair wet and wearing nothing more than a very large bath towel. I should have noticed what a zombie she was at the breakfast table, but I was too busy making sure everything else was perfect. Her mouth mushed up a piece of toast while I cleaned the kitchen. She was quickly back upstairs before I could ask her how she felt that morning. When all of the kids were dressed, I had them stand in a row in the hallway in front of the kitchen.

Lindsey and Zach stood up straight as if they were in The Sound of Music and were about to sing a song for one of our guests. Palin, who was still trying to wake up a little bit, leaned against the wall and rolled her neck around in order to pop out some of the creaks from the night before.

“You all look so wonderful. Palin, please, stand up straight.”

She rolled her eyes, curled her upper lip and pushed out a sigh.

“Palin, you look like such a nice young lady when you stand up straight.”

Lindsey stood up straighter next to Palin and patted down her dress. She looked up at her half-sister and said, “You need to stand up like me, Palin.” Lindsey twirled around to show Palin how pretty she could be in her dress.

Palin looked down at Lindsey and slouched even further down on the wall, “Ugh, you are way too perky in the morning.”

“But if you stand up like me, we can be like twins.”

“Why would I want to be a twin with a fucking twat like you?”

“Palin!” I shouted at her to reprimand her for the cruel way she was acting to her sister, but the damage was done. Large tears bulged at the tip of Lindsey’s eyelids and her lips quivered. I waited for the moment the water would rush through the lashes and release her scream. Luckily, it was only a stage one tantrum, and I would be able to get it under control quickly.

Palin decided it was better to make the situation even worse by looking over at Zach and saying, “And you look like a fucking douche bag.”

Lindsey’s wail started at the same moment Zach registered what Palin had said and rushed over to her to throw punches. I picked up Lindsey quickly and started bouncing her up and down hoping this motion would appease her. “It’s alright honey. Don’t cry. Palin didn’t mean it.”

Zach was at Palin with his fists. He was trying to pound Palin in the leg with the heal of his fist. “Take it back. Take it back. Take it back.” The fists were not finding the target because Palin kept on pushing Zach aside before he got close enough to land a punch with any damage. The last push left Zach on the ground, wallowing on his back like an overturned turtle.

The way her brother was being treated caused Lindsey to scream even louder. In between the screams, Lindsey found enough breath to say, “I am not a fucking twat.”

“I know you are not, honey. Please quit crying. Everything is alright.”

Palin had turned away from the scene and started heading up the stairs towards her room. Zach had up-righted himself and started in for another lunge at Palin. He alerted Palin of his presence by shouting, “And I’m not a fucking douche bag.”

“Mommy, is Zach a fucking douche bag?”

I started to head after Zach to stop him from hitting Palin. At the same time, I tried to comfort Lindsey. “He’s not, honey. Please don’t say that word.”

I wasn’t able to catch Zach before he reached Palin’s threshold. She was able to turn around and push him in my direction. I jumped forward and was able to catch Zach before he went tumbling down the stairs. The force of my son running into me, made me lose my balance. I started to take a tumble up the stairs. My hands reached out to brace my fall. I dropped Lindsey as I reached out for anything to help prevent me from smashing into the ground. The first thing my hands were able to grab on to was the top of Palin’s dress.

The fabric of my existence was ripped by a tearing sound reverberating off the wall of my house. The sound continued as I exposed all of Palin to her new family. My nose smashed onto one of the edges of the stairs and a new sound pierced the air. I looked up to see Palin shrieking at the way I had taken away her decency. Looking back, I still wonder why she was so upset. She spent most of her time when Dustin was at our house by strutting around in barely anything more than her birthday suit. I tried to shake off all of the pieces falling apart as a watery haze swam through my vision. Palin clutched her arms to her chest, turned around and ran off to her room.

“Mommy!!!!!!” screamed Lindsey from where she laid on the floor.

“Mommy!!!!!!” screamed Zach as he struggled to get out from underneath my legs.

I let go of the long strip of fabric still clutched in my hands. I heard the door slam down the hallway. “Palin, get back here,” I commanded, hoping for once she would obey.

Above all of the commotion taking place on the stairs, the doorbell rang.

Accountability Chapter 5

5

The bacon I was ignoring while yelling at Palin was the reason the kitchen caught on fire. We were lucky enough the fire department was able to come over quickly and get it under control. It still left a huge black stain on the wall behind the stove. There was a little bit of damage done to the drywall, and the electricity had to be turned off in the kitchen because a couple of wires connected to the stove were damaged as well. It meant my domain was off limits for a couple of days while repair men came in and fixed the damage left by the fire. It was going to cost us somewhere in the range of two-thousand dollars, but the real damage created by the accident was between Robert and me. He was extremely mad at me and I knew I would have to be extra nice to him until things blew over.

It didn’t help that Robert had to take the day off from work because we had to wait around the house until the fire department could make a report on the damages. We needed this report if we wanted to file a claim with the insurance company. Robert grumbled all morning about how we wouldn’t get any money from the claim and how our insurance would go up due to the fact the accident was preventable in the first place. It was his belief it had been my incompetency that caused the accident and he kept on reminding me insurance companies did not want to make a habit for paying off insurance claims for incompetency.

The kids were really happy because they got to spend the day at home. I wasn’t going to be able to rush them off to school because I had to explain to the fire chief about what had happened in the kitchen that morning. He had a hard time understanding how things could have gotten so out of control in such a short time. He wondered how I could have forgotten all about the bacon in the frying pan. He remembered seeing my profile in the Elbert County Gazette. It didn’t make any sense to him how such a highly acclaimed mother could make such a big mistake. He, of course, didn’t see the bane of my existence because Palin had gone back to bed the moment she found out she didn’t need to go to school. What he saw instead was my perfect children behaving themselves, sitting in front of the television and watching The Buddy Bears all day.

After the fire department left and the contractor came in to give us an estimate, the whole day had disappeared. It was late in the afternoon when things started to return to normal. That was when Palin reappeared from Robert’s office. She complained about being hungry and wondered why we didn’t have anything in the house to eat. It was almost as if she hadn’t been present for the chaos of the morning. I wanted to jump over to where she was complaining, knock her to the ground, and strangle her until that smug expression she always carried with her melted from her face. But Robert saved me from these criminal tendencies by saying that he was hungry as well. Because the kitchen was unusable, the only thing left for us to do was to get our things together and go out to eat. Robert suggested we do just that. My husband was great at bringing up all of our spirits. He pointed out it had been a long time since we had been out to dinner together, and thought it would be nice to celebrate the good things in life while forgetting about the bad ones. He told me later he would, of course, have to take the night’s meal out of my allowance, but it would be his pleasure to make sure the family could enjoy a nice dinner that night. He even knew the perfect place to take us, The Old Stone Church in nearby Castle Rock.

I had heard about this place, and I had been begging Robert to take me out there to eat for the last couple of months. So far, my only contact with the place was driving by and looking at it from the outside. There was always a collection of highly sophisticated people milling around outside the restaurant. It was the oldest building in Castle Rock. It was a church built during the pioneer days. They had gathered all the stones from a nearby quarry, and were able to create a beautiful stone church to withstand the trials of time. As the town of Castle Rock grew, the church became too small to hold the congregation coming for their spiritual guidance every Sunday. They built a new church with more modern conveniences on the hilltop where everybody in town could see it and praise its glory. The Old Stone Church went into disrepair and was forgotten by the people of the town. Recently, a chef from New York who had studied southwestern cuisine came into Castle Rock. He noticed the church was up for sale. After a tour of the inside, he decided it would be the perfect place to convert into a restaurant. With all of the new décor, and the wonderful food this chef was making, The Old Stone Church was becoming the talk of the town. Everybody who was anybody wanted to get a table to enjoy a meal there. It was almost impossible to get into and I had no idea how Robert was going to manage this with a family of five, but he assured me it wouldn’t be a problem. He would go down there to make sure everything was set up for our wonderful family night out, while I got the family together and down to the restaurant.

He left right away and I knew he would secure us a table. I quickly took Zach and Lindsey upstairs to pick out more appropriate clothes for a fancy dinner. I asked Palin if she could find something in her wardrobe but she told me she would have to go shopping to find something fancy enough. I looked her up and down. Even though I was a little bit taller than her, our builds were very similar. I told her to go look in my closet for something to wear while I went and found some clothes for the little ones.

I had Zach put on his Sunday slacks, and a nice white collared shirt. I picked out his red clip tie because it was very similar to Robert’s red tie I loved so much. It made him look a little bit like his father. Lindsey was a little more difficult because of the incident the night before. I was able to piece enough clothes together to create a nice outfit for her. It was a little casual but with her only being three years old I was sure the restaurant would forgive us as long as she behaved herself. I never had an opportunity to make myself presentable during the day with all of the people that were coming and going. I sat Zach and Lindsey down in front of the television while I went back up to my bedroom to try and find something I could wear.

When I got upstairs, Palin was locked in our bathroom. I knocked on the door and asked if she had found something to wear. She informed me she had and she was getting ready at the moment. I went to the closet and picked out a nice conservative black dress. It highlighted my figure nicely while giving me a slimming look. I had been battling my weight ever since I had my children, but I believed I still knew how to turn my husband’s head. He had always told me he had fallen in love with me the moment he saw my auburn hair and dark green eyes. He was always able to lose himself in both of these features. It didn’t mean I could let myself go though. I still needed to keep a girlish figure, or all of the auburn hair and come hither eyes wouldn’t excite my husband. I thought I had achieved this effect until I saw Palin come out of the bathroom.

She had picked a dress I wasn’t able to wear ever since I had Zach. It was a red dress with a flower pattern dancing humbly all through the skirt. It was sleeveless and strapless. When I used to be able to wear it, Robert always exclaimed about how beautiful he thought it made me look. I used to wear it simply without many accessories. I would wear a simple necklace, not much make-up, and a small purse to carry just what I needed for the evening. I was sad I could no longer fit into the slim waist of the dress. I was stunned to see it out of the closet and on another human being.

Palin was also fashion savvy enough to understand the power of the dress lay in its simplicity. She had taken the poof out of her hair. She let it cascade down from her forehead and land lightly on her shoulders. She also removed all the make-up hiding her face. She let her natural side show and it made her look five years younger. I noticed how beautiful her eyes were for the first time. They were an exotic grey blue found naturally only in chilly winter morning skies. The color begged a person to curl up next to a fire and a cup of hot chocolate. Her eyes felt uncomfortable not being able to hide behind a thick layer of mascara. They darted around looking for some place where they would not have to stare at the thing demanding her attention. I stood and gaped at her in her natural beauty.

After feeling uncomfortable for a little bit, she quit darting her eyes all around the room and the Palin I knew came back out. “What?”

“I’m sorry. I just never realized how beautiful you are.”

Compliments seemed to embarrass her even more because she immediately pointed her eyes to the ground. “I’m not really that pretty.”

I went over to her and grabbed her by her hands and pulled them from where she was crushing them into the side of the dress. When she was free of her embarrassment, I lifted her face up to stare at me. Looking directly into those eyes stole my heart. “You are absolutely gorgeous. Robert is going to be able to see his little daughter is growing up to be a fine young lady.”

She smiled at the compliment. I started to think there might be hope with this girl. It would just take some time and some love to get her to stop thinking of herself as an object needing to act out in order to be noticed. It would take some real mothering in order to help this child. I thought for a second, and I knew exactly what to do to make the moment perfect.

“Wait right there,” I said. I ran off to the bathroom and my jewelry box. I shuffled through it until I found what I was looking for. When it was in my hand, I ran back into the room. Palin was standing in front of the full length mirror, wondering if there was some truth in what I had told her earlier. I came up from behind her and draped around her neck the necklace I knew would be the perfect complement to her ensemble. It was a piece of Murano glass dangling from a simple silver chain. The glass was blown by expert glass blowers on an island off the shore of Venice. They would add various precious metals, such as silver, platinum, or gold, to the glass they blew in order to create amazing colors. The piece I was giving to Palin to wear for the night was a smoky light blue that matched the color of her eyes. It was formed in the shape of a teardrop. The decoration was the simple accent creating the complete picture of what a beautiful young lady had been hiding in Palin.

“This was given to me by your father on our first anniversary. It is not worth a lot of money, but it has a lot of sentimental value, so please don’t lose it.”

Tears started to well up in Palin’s eyes. She turned to me and hugged me. “Thank you, Rachael. This is the nicest thing anybody has ever done for me.”

I felt emotions start to well up inside of me as well. I was starting to think maybe it was a good thing this girl had been sent to me to be raised properly. There must have been something wrong with her biological mother if she wasn’t able to raise this sweet, innocent girl right. My mind raced with images of poverty, drug abuse, and neglect contributing to her biological mother being sent away for re-education a second time. If Palin started to have some love given to her, she might turn out alright. I was the perfect mother to take on this challenge because of the wonderful way I had raised Zach and Lindsey. I was starting to get really proud of myself for making such progress in only one night with Palin. Maybe if I changed my attitude about her, I would really be able to help her. But first thing was first, we needed to go meet Robert for dinner before he started to wonder what had happened to us.

I patted Palin on the back and told her, “It is alright, honey. We can’t stay in here worrying about this for too long because I have two kids waiting for us downstairs, and my husband, your father, waiting for us at a restaurant downtown. Come on. Let’s get going.”

She wiped away her tears, smiled at me, and then walked out of the bedroom. I looked at myself in the mirror one last time, feeling a little pang of jealousy because I wasn’t able to fit into that dress anymore. It passed quickly because of the pride I had felt with my ability to be a mother. I turned off the lights and loaded the kids up to head down to the Old Stone Church.

Robert was able to get us a table at the restaurant, and it wasn’t a bad table either. The table Robert was able to get for us was directly in the center of the restaurant. It was like we were on display. I thought of us as being the model for every other table to live up to. Here we were, the perfect American family, and if they achieved what we could then they would be placed on display like us.

When we entered the restaurant, Robert was sitting at the table keeping an eye on the door. When he saw us, he came over and directed us to the table. He came up to me gruffly and asked me, “What took you so long? I was about to call the house to see if you were on your way or not?”

I turned and gestured to the children and said, “Well, we had to look presentable.”

He looked at the children and an expression came over his face I hadn’t seen since the birth of Zach. It was of pure joy and love. It was like he was looking at his children for the first time. He walked past Lindsey who was holding Zach’s hand and walked up to Palin. He held her hands out from her side so he would be able to get a better look at her.

“Palin, you look fantastic. I’ve never noticed how much you look like your mother until now.”

She smiled a bashful smile and said, “Thanks, daddy.”

He noticed the necklace and scooped it up gently in his fingers. “And where did you get this piece of jewelry? It is stunning.” I was a little confused when I heard this because it had been a gift to me from him. I thought he would definitely remember giving me something as beautiful as this. I always remembered receiving it. He had given it to me during dinner the night of our anniversary. It was wrapped perfectly. Usually Robert did a terrible job of wrapping things, so he must have had somebody else do it for him, but when I opened it up, I broke down into feelings of love and admiration. Robert told me he thought I would like it. I even remember putting it on as we ate the steak dinner over a nice bottle of wine. I also wore it on special occasions. Almost every anniversary I wore it. I also wore it on my birthdays and some holidays. Surely, he had seen it before.

Palin brought me from my thoughts. “What? This? Oh, it was a gift.” Even though that was accurate, it bugged me that she took the credit for having been given the gift.

“Well, it brings out the beauty of your eyes.”

“Thanks.”

Robert led Palin past his two other children and me to the table. He pulled out the chair for her and she sat down at his right hand side. He looked over at me and said, “Can you help the rest of the kids in their seats, Rachael?”

As I got Lindsey in her high chair and Zach in his seat, occupied with his new stuffed Billy Bob Bear, I sat down in the only remaining seat on the left hand side of Robert. By the time I was seated, our waitress was already at our table taking our order. The younger kids had chocolate milk each and Palin ordered a virgin strawberry daiquiri. Robert ordered a glass of Pinot Noir for himself and a glass of ice tea for me. I really wanted a gin and tonic, but after last night’s episode, it was probably better I had something non-alcoholic instead.

Robert was also able to order for me as I distracted the younger ones trying to keep them from being a loud disturbance for the rest of the patrons of the restaurant. Palin kept him company while I was busy. They were talking about what she had been up to in the last couple of months and the logistics of what had happened with her mother. I caught little bits and pieces of the conversation, but I needed to make sure Lindsey was under control. I put on an episode of Buddy Bears on the iPad. Zach was also a little loud because he was having a conversation with his Billy Bob Bear. I convinced him to have the conversation in whispered voices so the rest of the people in the building wouldn’t hear what he was saying. By the time I was able to return to the conversation, Palin had left and Robert was impatiently looking at his watch.

“What happened to Palin?” I asked him.

“Oh, she had to go to the bathroom.”

I looked over at my husband and saw a concern in his eyes. I knew I needed to do something in order to make up for my behavior. I knew this was a great opportunity, so I told him, “I’m sorry about everything that’s happened in the last couple of days. I guess I felt threatened at first when Palin showed up at the door and I didn’t know how to properly handle it.”

He grunted an agreement, and looked back towards the restrooms and then back at his watch.

“I know my behavior was inappropriate, but I think Palin and I will be really good friends after we get over this period of culture shock we are going through. I think we were able to bond a little bit tonight while we were getting ready. She really warmed up to me when I was able to give her some honest, loving compliments. I wonder if that is something she has been missing her whole life. Maybe she can grow as a person if I am able to give her the love she needs.”

“That’s nice honey,” he said as he looked at his watch again. “Hey, I am a little worried about Palin.”

“I am too, but I think if we give her some time, she’ll find her place in our household.”

Robert looked at me quizzically for a second before saying, “No honey, I meant I am worried about her in the bathroom. She’s been gone for a long time. Could you go check on her?”

“Oh,” I said. I looked over at Lindsey and Zach and saw they were occupied with what they had in front of them. I looked back to the hallway towards the bathroom and thought the kids would be alright while I went to go check on her. “I’ll go see what the delay is, Robert.” I got up from my seat and walked to a sign indicating where the bathrooms were.

The bathrooms were situated in a hallway connecting the restaurant to another part of the building holding the bar. I could hear lots of people laughing from this area, and I wondered what type of crowd would be making such a ruckus on a Wednesday night. I blew it off and went into the ladies room. The bathroom was just as warm and inviting as the rest of the restaurant. There was a comfy sofa in there for women to sit down on, and three large mirrors for fixing make-up. There were three stalls, but all of them were open and there was no one in any of them. In fact, I was alone in the ladies room. I called out Palin’s name but this just confirmed what my eyes had already ascertained; she was not in the bathroom.

I stepped out of the room and peered back into the restaurant. She wasn’t there but I saw the back of Robert’s head sitting at the table where Lindsey and Zach were entertaining themselves. He was staring over the restaurant, impatiently tapping his fingers on the side of the table. I was starting to wonder where Palin could be, and the only place left to look was the bar. I turned around to head to the bar and almost ran into her as she was backing her way into the restaurant and laughing at something going on behind her.

“Palin, where have you been?”

She turned around with her virgin daiquiri in her hand. She abruptly stopped laughing and looked at me. I could see her mind working at what would be the correct answer to give in this situation. “I was going to the bathroom,” she told me.

The smell of tobacco invaded my senses. I leaned closer to see if the smell was coming from her, but she slithered quickly away from me and back into the restaurant. Before she headed too far into the room, my voice stopped her, “But Palin, I was just in the bathroom and you weren’t in there.”

She stalled for a second, turned to face me and said, “Oh, I must have gone in the men’s room. You know I was wondering why there were stalls in there. I feel stupid now. I guess I’m lucky no men came in while I was in there. Boy, that would have been embarrassing.” She turned around and walked back to the table. I looked back at the two doors to both of the bathrooms. I was about to dismiss it as a simple mistake, when the door to the men’s room opened and a well dressed man walked out and headed towards the bar. I looked back at the table and saw Robert once again engaged in a conversation with Palin. My suspicions grew, but I held them in check as I made my way back to the table and sat in my seat.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. When we first got to the restaurant, Palin was quiet and reserved, but as the evening progressed, she was starting to become more and more comfortable. She was really engaged in the conversation she was having with Robert. She would laugh loudly at his jokes while waving her virgin strawberry daiquiri around the room. A couple of times she came close to having the icy drink slosh over the side of the glass and splotch the tablecloth in front of her. Somehow, she managed to keep the liquid in the glass. Robert and Palin hadn’t caught on yet, but people in the restaurant were starting to notice what was going on at our table. The image of what the perfect American family should look like was slowly deteriorating and I looked desperately for something to help me regain control of the situation.

The waitress appeared at our table with our food, and I thought this might help bring everything under control again. The weird thing was I wasn’t worried Zach and Lindsey this time. It was Palin and Robert. The waitress was a good one because she knew that she needed to serve the young children first in order to keep them entertained, so Zach and Lindsey got their food first, while Palin directed her attention over to the large tray holding her meal. The waitress then delivered Palin’s meal next and Palin asked if she could have another daiquiri. I looked across the table and noticed that something else was out of place. I didn’t want to cause any alarm until after the waitress left, so I didn’t say anything until after Robert and I were both served.

Palin had already begun to dig into her steak, while I took the linen napkin next to my Caesar salad and placed it in my lap. “Palin?” I asked.

She gave a smirk as she chewed on a large piece of filet mignon, “Yeah?”

“Did you do something with the necklace? I don’t see it anymore.”

She stopped chewing and looked at me across the table. Robert looked over at where the necklace should have been and said, “Where is your necklace, Palin? I hope you didn’t lose it.”

She put her knife and fork down and reached up to her neck. She felt around as if the necklace would appear out of nowhere. When it didn’t, she looked back at me, “I don’t know what happened to it.”

The waitress returned at that moment to the table and placed the new daiquiri in front of Palin. Palin grabbed it quickly after it was placed down and sucked a huge gulp out of the drink. This behavior made me even more curious. I needed someone to confirm what I thought, and since Robert had been in his own world that day, I looked up at the waitress. She was staring down at Robert’s daughter as Palin slurped her drink through the straw. That is when I saw the necklace. It was dangling from the neck of the waitress.

“My necklace,” I said pointing at the waitress.

“Your necklace?” Robert said looking over at me.

The waitress’s hand went reflexively up to where the necklace was.

Palin sucked down another huge portion of her drink and then she pointed and accusing finger at the waitress, “She stole my necklace.”

The waitress stood there stunned with her mouth opening and closing as if she didn’t know what to say.

Robert stood up at the table and looked at the waitress. “How dare you steal my daughter’s necklace?”

I could see a manager over at the hostess stand look over at the commotion going on over at our table. The waitress looked over at Robert and said, “I didn’t steal your daughter’s necklace.”

Robert tried to grab the necklace from the waitress’s neck, but her hand went up to protect it. He pointed a finger at where it was hidden and accused her, “Oh, please, I am sure that’s your necklace. You just happen to have one exactly like my daughter’s. This tear shape is a common one everybody has. Is that what you’re telling me? It’s all the rage now?”

The waitress stood there and stammered.

Robert continued his interrogation, “If you didn’t steal this then where did you get it from?”

The waitress looked over at Palin and said, “She gave it to me.”

“I did not,” was Palin’s response as she went back to her drink.

The manager came over to the table and patted his tie on his chest before asking, “What seems to be the problem here?”

Palin pointed the accusing finger at the waitress again, “She stole my necklace.”

The waitress looked at Palin and said, “You little bitch. You gave me this necklace if I would put rum in your drink.”

The manager quickly turned his attention to the waitress. She quickly realized the faux pas she had made.

Palin had the straw of the drink in her mouth again and was sucking down the last drop in the glass. She slammed the glass down on the table, and shouted back, “That is ridiculous. Give me back my necklace, you little thief.”

The manager was at a loss of words. He looked in between the waitress and Palin. All he could get out was, “Now, Amy.”

The waitress ripped the necklace off of her neck and threw it at Palin. It bounced off of Palin’s hands and hit the table. The teardrop shattered and a blue grey dust gathered on the table like frozen flakes of dry snow. I looked at this symbol of the love between my husband and me and I felt a part of me being torn from my heart.

The waitress turned on her heels and tore her apron off. She threw it on the ground in front of the manager. “I don’t have to listen to these accusations. I quit.” She stormed out the door. The manager followed her. Robert followed both of them asking who was going to pay for the replacement of the necklace. Palin followed after him defending her actions as justifiable. Lindsey and Zach continued to play with their toys. The patrons of the restaurant turned their heads away from what used to be the perfect American family. I picked up Palin’s empty glass on the table and sniffed it to see if I could smell any rum.

 

Accountability Chapter 4

I’m still working on putting together my thoughts about my recent trip to Cambodia. Look for it soon, but in the meantime, enjoy the next installment from Accountability.

4

Robert’s alarm woke me up. I jumped in bed as if I was rushing towards the stove to get breakfast ready for my family, but was even more shocked to find myself still in bed instead of in the kitchen like I usually was. When I saw I was still in bed, my heart jumped. I looked over at Robert who was turning off the alarm. He rolled over in bed and jumped back as well.

“Honey, what are you still doing in bed?” he asked.

It had been years since I had slept until Robert’s alarm went off. I had created one of the world’s best internal clocks. It would wake me up at exactly 5:45 every morning. It was almost as if somewhere in my head every morning there would be the electronic click of my clock telling me it was time to get up. My internal clock would always allow me to get out of bed early enough to stare down the stove and get myself ready to take on the challenges of the day. The last time I had slept through my internal alarm clock was when I was running a temperature and had a sore throat. I had taken some cold medicine the night before and it really knocked me out. Robert had been late for work that day and the kids were all out of pace because of the delay. After that morning, I swore I would never allow that to happen again, yet here I sat in bed with Robert’s alarm clock blaring fifteen minutes after my internal alarm clock should have warned me to get up.

“Honey, are you going to make me breakfast?” Robert asked. I’m glad he did because it shook me out of my daze.

“Yes, honey, sorry. I’ll get right on that.” I tried to get out of bed, but my brain swam around in my head. I looked over the edge of the bed to see only one pink fuzzy bunny slipper staring back up at me. I had no idea where the other one was, but I didn’t have time to concern myself with that because I needed to get breakfast ready for my family; otherwise their day would be off kilter. I shook the cobwebs off my brain and left the lone bunny where it sat looking for its partner. I slipped on my pink bathrobe to get breakfast ready.

At first I couldn’t understand why I had slept in so late, but as the events of the night before were starting to sift through the sleepy fog of my mind, I was able to start to piece things together. Palin had been a demanding girl all afternoon long. She kept on asking me to do this or that for her. Any time I didn’t respond to her request, she would remind me of one of the standards. When she started to make a drink and I took offense to that, she reminded me of Standard Number Two: A child should never be denied the experiences that life has to offer. When I picked up her purse to move it someplace where it wouldn’t be in the way, she pulled out 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. When she talked loudly on the phone about finding something she called a score, and I asked her if I could use the phone so I could call Robert, she started quoting Standard Number One: A mother should ensure the popularity of their children to make sure that they have a healthy amount of self-esteem. It didn’t matter what the situation was, she had some answer passed down by the government which would counteract anything I believed would be the right thing to do.

Lindsey didn’t help much either. When she learned that Palin was her sister, she instantly fell in love with her. She started hanging around her wherever she went.  I don’t think Palin felt the same way Lindsey did, but when I told her I needed to go pick up Zach from school, she offered to stay behind and take care of Lindsey. Allowing that request was my first big mistake of the evening.

In the short time I was gone to pick up Zach and come back home, Palin had taught her about the exciting game of dress-up. Instead of making it an innocent game of dressing up like a princess, Palin decided to show her the latest in teenage fashion. She had poofed out Lindsey’s hair so it looked like a blonde palm tree sitting on top of her head. She had painted her face in dark eyeliner and bright red lipstick. She even added just the right amount of rouge to highlight the apples of her baby cheeks. This, together with the choice of clothes, only made me question if this was a joke or if Palin had such terrible fashion sense she would think this made Lindsey look good. For a shirt, Palin had selected Lindsey’s bikini top. She also made sure that the Lindsey was able to show off how sexy her chubby legs were by taking her nicest skirt and cutting it so short it hung to the edge of her thigh. For a topper, she took a pair of my high heels and had her walking around the hardwood floors in them. The scratches, I’m sure, are still on those floors. I couldn’t decide if she looked more like a whore or a clown. Lindsey, on the other hand, thought she looked pretty and started to throw a temper tantrum when I demanded she take off the clothes she was wearing.

While I was trying to avert a disaster with Lindsey, Palin thought it was a perfect time to take on my other child, Zach. She showed him how to unlock channels on the cable box while feeding him large amounts of espresso she had made in the kitchen (she didn’t clean up after making that mess either). By the time I made it back to the family room, Zach was running around crazy and screaming all the fun new words he learned from the exciting new channels he discovered. He even went as far as to tell me to, “Take it like a bitch, Mommy.”

By the time I was able to catch Zach to try to calm him down, Lindsey was strutting through the house in nothing but her birthday suit. I tried to tell Lindsey to put on some clothes before her father came home, and she told me she couldn’t because she didn’t have any more clothes. It was partly true because she had thrown them all out the window of her room and they were now being ravaged by neighborhood dogs collecting them as new chew toys.

I held on to Zach who was trying to squirm out of my grip while chasing after my naked daughter. Palin sat on the couch laughing at all the mayhem while smoking a cigarette and ashing it on the Persian rug in the family room.

This is when Robert walked inside from a hard day at work. I was so happy he was home. He was able to help me bring control back to the madness taking over my life. We were able to collect enough clothes from the front lawn to dress Lindsey. For the rest of the evening, she was wearing a frilly skirt I had bought for her to wear on Easter Sunday and a t-shirt with a picture of Mama Buddy on it saying, “Isn’t she cute?” Robert placed Zach on a tread mill and told him to keep on running until he ran out of the excess energy from the espresso. I was given enough time to clean up the kitchen and prepare a quick dinner while Robert visited with his other daughter in his office.

While they were visiting, I made my second mistake. I made myself a cocktail. In fact in the course of the evening, I made myself quite a few cocktails. I knew drinking was against the standards but I knew they were lenient if a mother didn’t drink to excess. Plus, I needed a little something to help take the edge off the experiences I had from that day. The thing I found that worked the best was a gin and tonic, and by the time dinner had been served, I had a little bit of a buzz going on. The rest of the night was a blur. Palin kept on demanding things from me, and every time I went back into the kitchen, I would add a little splash of Tangueray and a bit more tonic to my never-ending drink. Robert was cordial with our new guest and I don’t even remember putting the kids to bed before I crashed in my own bed. It was probably best I couldn’t remember everything that happened afterwards, but what I did remember helped explain the way I felt this morning. It was also the reason why I was running so late.

While I was collecting my thoughts from the previous day, I rushed to the staircase, but was forced to stop when I saw Lindsey. She had her back to me and was standing at the top of the staircase looking downstairs and holding her blanket in one hand with her two favorite fingers in her mouth. I suddenly realized something new about my child I had never realized before. She was on as much a schedule as I was. I could not think of a day I had not come around from the beginning of my cooking routine to see her standing at the top of the staircase waiting for me to tell her to go wake up her brother. It reminded me how lucky I was to have such a wonderful child and it pained my heart that I was going to have to break her routine by showing her I was off my schedule. She was going to be disturbed because I was actually behind her instead of downstairs making breakfast as I should have been.

She turned around when she realized I was behind her. She took her fingers out of her mouth and said, “Do you want me to wake up Zach?”

“Yes, honey,” I said as I ran past her on the stairs, and stopped before I got half way down. I looked back up the stairs and called after Lindsey. She stopped and popped her head back down the stairs. “Can you make sure that Palin gets up too? She needs to get to school also.”

“Okay, mommy,” was her reply, and she ran off to accomplish the tasks I had sent her off to do. I went back to trying to get things on track.

I ran into the kitchen, grabbed two frying pans and a large griddle and placed them on the stove. I turned the burner on under one of the frying pans. I opened the fridge and grabbed a package of bacon, a dozen eggs, a gallon of milk, and the orange juice.  I slammed the fridge door shut, and didn’t realize my bathrobe had been caught in the door. I was moving so quickly to the counter next to the stove I forgot about not having the traction offered by my bunny slippers. I slipped and fell hard on my back. Luckily the only thing damaged in the fall, besides my pride, was the gallon of milk which had cracked on the hardwood floor. It was creating a big puddle on the floor.

I threw the rest of the food on the floor, and grabbed the container of leaking milk and tried to stand up. It took a little effort because of the way my bathrobe was caught in the fridge door, but I managed to do it. Milk continued to spill on the floor as I released myself from the fridge trap, and rushed over to the kitchen sink to put what was left of the gallon of milk in there. So far a quarter of a gallon of milk was lying on the floor, another quarter was soaked into my pajama bottoms, and the other half was slowly leaking out into the sink. I knew I needed to save some in order to salvage breakfast this morning, so I went back across the kitchen to get a container to pour the rest of the milk into. I didn’t make it all the way over before slipping on the milk in the middle of the room and landed face first on the floor.

I moaned as I crawled my way over to the cabinet to grab a pitcher. Luckily, we kept them in one of the lower cabinets, so I didn’t need to pick myself off the floor in order to obtain one. Of course my pajamas gathered more milk as I shuffled my way across the puddle. I tried to look at the positive of what was happening. My pajamas were helping me clean up the mess, so I wouldn’t have to get further behind by spending so much time mopping up the mess. I got the pitcher and poured the last quarter of a gallon of milk into it, hoping it would be enough to make breakfast. I also grabbed the towel from the sink and threw it down on the puddle. I pushed it around with my foot, hoping to mop up as much milk as I could, and with the help my pajamas offered, it did a decent job of picking it up.

I picked up the wet towel and threw it into the kitchen sink next to the broken, empty milk jug. I walked over to the package of bacon and grabbed a knife from the magnet on the wall. I cut open the package and ripped the bacon out. The first piece of bacon started to sizzle by the time I put down the second one. I looked at the temperature of the burner and realized I had it on high. I turned it down a bit and continued to put bacon in the pan. I had gotten to the last piece of bacon, when I heard a scream, rattling nerves even more, “Where is my orange juice?”

Zach was sitting at the kitchen table. He was pounding the surface with his fists and demanding his orange juice. I gave one second of thought to where Lindsey was, but realized I needed to put out one fire at a time. “I want my orange juice!” Zach continued to shout as he stared at the kitchen wall opposite from where he sat.

“I’m sorry, honey,” I said as I walked over to the table with two glasses and the orange juice. I poured him a glass and he picked it up with both hands and started to drink. I figured, since I was close to the front door, this was a good time as any to go and get the paper. I went outside and picked up the paper. I was hurrying back inside when I heard Shelia exclaim over my shoulder, “My lord, Rachael, are you okay? You look awful this morning.”

I turned, and smiled back. “I’m okay. I just had a little accident this morning, and I’m running a little behind.”

“Did you hurt yourself?”

“No,” I said as I continued to run back in the house, “just a little spill. I’ll tell you all about it later.”

She was such a busy body.

I ran into the house and closed the door behind me. A sight I was not expecting threw off my morning even more. Lindsey was standing in the hallway at the bottom of the stairs, staring at the door, and holding a shred of her blankee. Her bottom lip was quivering, and when she saw me, she skipped all the stages of temper tantrum and went straight to stage four. Her howl banged off the walls and reverberated throughout the whole house.

I threw the paper on the floor, and ran over to pick her up. It might not have been the wisest of decisions because her howl went straight into my ear. I started bouncing her up and down to calm her down when Robert came to the railing from our room and looked down at me. He was only wearing only a towel around his waist and he was still wet from his shower. “What is all of that racket down there?”

I looked up at him. “Something happened to Lindsey’s blankee. I’m trying to calm her down.”

“Well, do your job and hurry it up.” He turned to go back into the room and stopped himself before he went back. He looked at me over the rail with some concern. “Are you okay? You look terrible.”

I kept on bouncing Lindsey to calm her down and said, “Yeah, I just had an accident. I’m okay. I’ll clean up in a bit.”

He gave me a look with one eyebrow raised. “You are off this morning, Rachael. Let’s not make this a regular occurrence.”

My heart sank. I was letting my family down. I had gotten so drunk the night before I didn’t even remember going to bed. I woke up late this morning. Breakfast was going to be late. Zach wouldn’t get to school on time and I would be scolded again by the teachers at the school. Lindsey was crying loudly in my ear. I couldn’t think what had gone wrong, but my own daughter gave me some insight as to where the true source of my problem began.

“Palin ripped my blankee,” she screamed in-between sobs.

Of course, it all started to go downhill the moment that girl showed up on my doorstep. I couldn’t figure out why I was put in charge of this girl. She didn’t even come from my genes. She was some accident from my husband’s past and now, for some godforsaken reason, it was my responsibility to take care of all of her problems. Not only that, but she, herself, was becoming a ripple in the smooth fabric of my family’s life. She disrupted the normal flow of everything and now she had made my daughter cry by destroying the one thing she cared more about in this world than anything else.

I looked down at the distraught child in my arms and said, “Well, Lindsey, mommy is going to take care of this right now.” I placed her on the ground and told her to stay there as I marched up the stairs to Robert’s office. It had been converted the night before to accommodate our guest.

When I got to the door, it was slammed shut and the other half of Lindsey’s blanket was dangling from the doorjamb. I tried to open the door, but Palin had locked it. I banged on the door and shouted so she could hear me, “Palin, open up this door. Right now!”

I got no response.

I tried again and met with the same result. I was once told it was a sign of insanity to try to same thing again and again while expecting different results. I knew banging on the door wouldn’t open it up, so I tried to think of how I could get in. I saw there was a tiny hole in the doorknob and I knew what I had to do.

I marched back into the kitchen past my child screaming in the hallway and the other one sitting at the kitchen table trying to pour more orange juice into his glass.

“Mommy, I want more…”

“Not now, honey, I have some other things I need to attend to.” I had to stop Zach because my mind was set on accomplishing the task at hand.

I went to the junk drawer and yanked it open. I shuffled through it looking for one of the long wooden skewers I knew was in there. I found two in the back and I grabbed them. I marched my way back up the stairs past the one child pouring orange juice into his overflowing glass, and the other one still screaming in the hallway. I marched right up to the door of my family’s office, and banged on it one last time.

“Palin, this is your last opportunity. Open this door now, or suffer the consequences.”

Once again I got no response. I gave her three opportunities to do the right thing and now it was my turn to take control of the situation. I stuck the skewer into the tiny hole in the knob and wiggled it around until I heard the mechanism for the lock click. I opened the door. The ripped part of Lindsey’s blankee fell to the ground. What I saw as I stood in the entryway to the room took me by surprise. A teenage boy, who I never saw before, was pulling up his jeans over his bare butt. Palin, not taking any notice of the show going on in her room, stood on the bed trying to unlatch the screen to the window.

“What in the world…”

Palin turned away from her task. She quickly hopped off the bed and rushed over to where I stood in the doorway of Robert’s office. She started waving her finger in my face and yelling at me, “Goddamnit, can’t people get some privacy in this house? You had better start listening to my needs, Rachael, or we are going to have a difficult time getting along with each other. You better keep that in mind because I think your assessment is coming around soon.”

I was too stunned to hear what she was saying. I pointed at the other guest in my house that was walking over to me while tucking his shirt into the jeans he just put on. I pointed at him and asked, “Who is this?”

He grabbed my hand I was using to point at him and started to shake it. “Hi, I’m Dustin. It is very nice to meet you, Rachael.”

Palin smacked him on the shoulder, “Don’t talk her, Dustin. Get out of here.”

He let go of my hand and walked out of my family’s office. He waved at Palin as he walked down the stairs to where the orange juice mess and my screaming child were. “Bye, Palin, I’ll see you later, at school.”

“Bye, Dustin. Remember you need to buy condoms before tonight.”

I stood there pointing between her and the teenage boy who just exited my house while trying to articulate words to say about what I had just seen.

Palin looked at me like nothing had happened and said, “What the hell happened to you? You look like shit.”

Her disrespect helped me find the courage to put this little girl in her place, “Listen here, young lady. I don’t know who that was or who you think you are, but this is my house and you will live by my rules.”

She turned her back from me and walked over to her suitcase. She pulled off her shirt exposing the dark red push-up bra. She took out a new shirt from her suitcase and put it on. “Oh well then, just leave me a copy of them and I’ll go over them in the next couple weeks.”

“What?”

She slipped on her shirt which was tighter than the one she wore yesterday and had a picture of a mushroom on it. “Hello, Rachael. I just moved in here. How am I supposed to know all of the rules of your place after one night? I mean, am I just supposed to guess it is against your wishes for one of my boyfriends to come over here and spend the night? Also, I don’t appreciate you barging into my room anytime you like. I deserve my privacy. Remember 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. We might have to look over your list of rules and make sure they conform to the intent of the law. Right now, I don’t have time for that because I have to get ready for school. What’s for breakfast by the way?”

I could feel my blood surge through my veins and pump hard in my temples. My breathing became heavy and haggard as I took a step into Robert’s office, but before I could place my barefoot onto the carpet, I felt a tug on my pajama bottoms. I turned around to see Zach tugging on my leg.

“Mommy, there is…”

I lifted Zach up by his shoulders and placed him outside in the hallway and told him through clenched teeth, “Not right now, Zach, I have to have a talk with your step-sister.”

“But, mommy, there is a…”

I ignored him as I turned back to the girl in Robert’s office who was looking in a mirror I didn’t remember being in the room before. She was spraying healthy amounts of hairspray into her hair to create the poof effect she had worn ever since we met.

“Listen here, young lady. I didn’t ask for you to move into this house, and I am sure you didn’t ask to be here, but I want you to know your behavior is totally unacceptable. You are not my child. You are a mistake my husband had at a very early age, and if you continue to act this way, I will make sure you and all your poor attitude are out on the curb before nightfall. Do you understand me?”

She rolled her eyes at me and snorted out a little laugh. “You can’t do that.”

“Mommy,” said Zach from outside the room.

“Why not?” I asked her.

“Standard Number Four: Proper, loving shelter shall be supplied to everyone under the legal care of the mother. You need me to stay here under the law, and you need to make sure it is a loving way, mother dearest. So I suggest you watch what you say before I report you to the proper authorities.”

“Mommy,” Zach said again.

I pointed my finger directly into Palin’s chest and said, “Why you little b…”

“MOMMY!”

I turned to face Zach, and yelled at him, “WHAT ZACH?!”

“The kitchen is on fire, Mommy.”

The fire alarm started to blare from downstairs. I quickly grabbed Zach and Lindsey and ran out of the house as smoke started to billow from the kitchen.

Accountability Chapter 3

I’m sorry that this installment in the story is a little late, but I was on vacation in Seim Reap looking at the amazing ruins of Angkor Wat. It was quite the trip and had given me a great perspective on the way things are working in the world right now. Look for that story in the next couple of weeks with some spectacular pictures as well. But until then, here is the third chapter of Accountability.

3

When I opened up the front door, there was a teenage girl standing next to a postman. She had dark black mascara under each eye about an inch thick. She wore bright red lipstick that glittered when the light hit it just right. Her jet black hair was puffed out so it created the look of licorice cotton candy sprouting from the top of her head and cascading down to hide her face in a dark shadow. She wore a red push-up bra peeking through the top of her tight fitting white tank top. It pushed up what little she had of breasts to turn them into pale oranges. She also wore tight black jeans showing off every muscle in her legs except for her calves which were hidden behind black knee-length high-heeled boots. In her left hand, she dangled a little black purse with a picture of Hello Kitty on it. She looked like she had just been pulled off the street from her night job, and the postman looked like the one required to drag her to stand at my front door. He held a clipboard in his hand and looked down at the name on it.

“Is there a Robert Young here?” he said as he looked over my shoulder to see if I was hiding him somewhere in the house. The girl snapped her gum loudly behind him.

“He’s at work right now, but I am Rachael Young, his wife. Can I help you?”

He looked down at the clipboard again and growled. He looked over his shoulder at the girl rolling her eyes at him and he turned back around to me. “I guess you are close enough. Can I get you to sign here?”

He held out the clipboard and removed a pen from behind his ear for me to use. I looked down at it and saw Robert’s name written on a certified mail slip with a big X next to the place asking for a signature.

“Can I ask what this is for?”

“I’m delivering a piece of certified mail and I need you to sign for it in order to get it off my hands. You are his wife, so you can sign for him.”

I started to hear Lindsey crying upstairs in her room, so I bent down to quickly sign the piece of paper. Everything was piling up on itself really quickly, and I wanted the man to give me the piece of mail so I could go attend to Lindsey’s needs. I looked up at him after I had finished signing and said, “Thank you very much, and if I co…”

“She’s all yours lady,” he said and turned from my front door and ran back to his mail truck.

The girl strolled in like she owned the place. The tips of her high heeled boots clacked upon the linoleum as she sashayed her way over to the big couch and plopped down, dangling her boot heels over the edge of the arm. While she was waiting for my response, she dug through her purse until she was able to extract a small compact mirror from it. She popped it open so she could look at herself and make sure her hair was still poofy and proper. I was lost as what to do because Lindsey was starting to move from a gentle cry to a full blown-out scream. She had never been forced to wait this long for me to attend to her needs.

The girl looked up at me and asked, “Are you going to take care of that? It’s really annoying.”

It was as if I needed her words to give me leave to go run upstairs to make sure Lindsey was alright and that’s just what I did. Lindsey was standing up in her bed. Her mouth was opened wide like a bottomless cave unleashing the howl from down below. Her eyes were creating streams of water flowing into that dark cave decorated with five stalagmites and three stalactites dangling from its edge. Her new Baby Bear was lying on the ground five feet from her bed. I picked it up and handed it to her.

“Don’t cry honey. I have your Baby Buddy right here,” She grabbed the bear from me.

She threw Baby Buddy across the room and started to scream louder, “I want my blankee!”

It was stupid of me to give her the newest toy when the one that traditionally comforted her would have been the one she wanted. I quickly scanned the room for her blankee, but I couldn’t see it anywhere. “Honey, where is your blankee?”

This put her into a stage three temper tantrum. This wasn’t the worst stage, but it was still devastating to see. Lindsey would scream while crying and lay down on her stomach to bang her fists into whatever object she was laying on. “You lost my blankee!”

I knew I had to stop this temper tantrum before it hit stage four or it would take me forever to calm her back down. I knew the only way to prevent this disaster would be to find her blankee and quickly. My mind raced to think where I had seen it last. We had it with us when we went to drop off Zach at school and I remembered seeing it in the car next to Lindsey’s car seat when we were done at the post office. In fact, I remembered seeing it there when I took her out of the car seat because she cared more about her new stuffed Baby Buddy then she did about her blankee. I remember thinking it was a nice improvement to have her care more about her new toy than the one she usually dragged around all over the place.

“I know exactly where your blankee is. I’ll be back with it in just a second.”

She calmed down a little bit. The tragedy was reverting back to stage two. She was starting to sit up, but the tears and the howl still continued. The blankee would help return her back to normal within a matter of seconds. When I thought she was in control of her senses enough, I ran down the stairs to the garage. I would have been able to get her blanket and be back in less than a minute, but as I ran into the living room, I had to stop because I realized there was one more thing I had to deal with, the young lady checking her make-up in the compact mirror as she lounged on my couch.

I moved closer to the girl. I had my index finger ready to point and was about to say something when she snapped her compact closed. The stranger looked up at me with blue eyes hidden away behind too much black eyeliner.

“So, where is Robert?” she said. She made sure to enunciate the “b” in his name so I could see her bright red lipstick make the condescending sound.

“Who are you?” I asked her.

She rolled back her eyes and let out an exaggerated annoyed sigh. “Robert didn’t tell you about me?” She made sure to make that condescending “b” sound again.

My mind raced

Was Robert having an affair? He had been a little more aloof lately. Why would he be having an affair with somebody so young? She was old enough to be his daughter. Had he been going to the Mother Mall to find a younger model to replace me? If this were true, why would he have told me about her? Why wouldn’t he just go to the Mother Mall and pick one up instead of taking his chances by ordering one by mail. I looked back at her and stammered out a, “N-n-no?”

She puffed out another annoyed sigh as she got up from the couch. She reached down her shirt and pulled out a tattered envelope from her bra. She handed it to me, “That should explain everything.”

I looked at the unopened piece of mail. It was addressed to a Palin Young and it had come from the Department of Motherhood. What did the Department of Motherhood have to do with my husband and this girl who shared his same last name? I looked up from the envelope to see this girl get up from the couch and bend over to unzip her boots.

“BLANKEE!!!!” screamed from upstairs, and my thoughts returned to the other crisis going on in my house.

“I’ll be back in a second to deal with you young lady,” I told the stranger who had invaded my humble home.

She rolled her eyes at me and worked to pull off the tight fitting boots. “Whatever.”

I didn’t have time to deal with her at the present moment, so I let her pick up the remote to the television. She started to flip through the channels as I ran to the car to grab Lindsey’s blankee from the back seat. When I had it, I ran back upstairs. As I was passing through the living room, I noticed the girl had done something with the television and a smaller box appeared on the screen saying something about locked channels. I knew I had to prioritize and I would figure out what she was doing after I had calmed down Lindsey.

I came back into Lindsey’s room and her meltdown had moved from level two to borderline level four. A river of snot had joined the river of tears covering her face in a wet, messy goo. She had quit pounding her bed and was now rolling on her back instead. Her mouth blared out decibels not meant for human ears to hear. I grabbed the box of Kleenex on the dresser in hopes to clean her up a little bit after I calmed her down.

“Honey, mommy has your blankee,” I said as I handed her the prized possession. She opened her eyes a little bit to see the thing she most desired. She reached up with one hand to grab the blankee and took the index finger and middle finger from her other hand to stick into her mouth. The crying and screaming had stopped, but a huffing gasp of air continued through the small spaces created by her lips wrapping themselves around her fingers. She laid down on the bed and continued to whimper. I took out a couple of Kleenexes and used them to wipe away her tears and the snot spreading itself across her face.

After I had cleaned her up to the best of my ability, I asked her, “Are you doing better now?”

She nodded back her answer. That was when I started to hear the strangest noises coming from the family room. It was the combination of a woman moaning and a man grunting. I looked out Lindsey’s door wondering exactly what was going on downstairs. Lindsey stopped whimpering long enough to sit up in bed and look out the door herself. With one crisis diverted, it was now my time to turn my attention to the other one.

“Lindsey, there is something that mommy has to do downstairs. Can you stay up here until I tell you it is okay to come down?”

The noises got louder and faster, and Lindsey looked out the door like she was terrified of what she would find downstairs. She looked back at me and nodded more enthusiastically this time. I left Lindsey’s bedroom and went downstairs to talk to the invader.

When I got downstairs, she had herself sprawled out on the couch, and she was watching television. This was the source of the sounds I was hearing. On the screen was a naked woman on her hands and knees moaning loudly as her breasts swung back and forth like over-bloated udders underneath her. Behind her was a naked man grunting rhythmically as he banged his pelvis into her rear.

The girl sitting on my couch looked up at me and said, “Hey, look, I was able to unlock the Playboy channel for you.”

I picked up the remote and quickly turned off the television.

“Hey, I was watching that. You are, right now, breaking Standard Number Three: A mother should not impede the learning and exploration process of her children.”

I threw the remote back down on the coffee table. “That would be great if I was your mother, but I am not. I don’t even know who you are.”

The girl sat up on the couch and said, “Didn’t you read that letter that I gave you, yet?”

I had completely forgotten about the letter. It was in the back pocket of my jeans. I pulled it out and opened it up. The girl on my couch rolled her eyes as she picked up the remote and said, “That letter should explain everything.” I stood in the middle of my living room feeling like a stranger in my own home as I read:

“Dear Palin Young,

I am sorry to report to you that your mother has failed her assessment for the third year running. Because of this, she is required by law to be sent to the Capital Limited Re-education Center. Since this is the second time she has been sent to be re-educated, and because she is an only mother, you will be relocated to another mother who can be a better role model for you.

Our records indicate that you have a father, a Robert Young, who is living on the opposite side of town. He is married to a mother who has performed exceptionally well on her last three assessments. We at the Department of Motherhood believe that this is the perfect environment for you to achieve your full potential. Her name is Rachael Young and she will now be your new mother. You’ll be delivered to her through certified mail by the United States Postal Office and the mothering will officially begin the moment someone in the household signs for you.

Due to the circumstances, if you encounter any difficulty making adjustments to your new environment, please contact us at 1-800-555-LOVE. Ask for your case manager, Miss Allison Torpedojager, to help you through any tough times.

Thank you and enjoy your new mother,

Allison Torpedojager”

I looked down at the letter and said, “Robert has another child?”

Palin flopped herself down on the couch. “Oh, didn’t daddy tell you about me?”

“No.”

I thought I knew everything about my husband. He was a great provider for this family, but I had no idea he had a past, especially one including this stranger now invading my home.

“Well, he should have. It seems my biological mother and he were quite the item back in high school. They were voted prom queen and king and that was the night good old daddy knocked up mommy dearest. Nine months later here I come as their bundle of joy. Of course Robert tried to do good by mom by marrying her right out of high school, but they just weren’t meant to be together. Robert eventually divorced my…”

“Wait a minute, Robert has been married before,” I said as I slouched down in the seat behind me.

Palin gave me a look of genuine surprise. “Wow, there is a lot old Robert hasn’t told you. Don’t worry it didn’t last long. Robert and my mom fight all the time. It was over by the time I was five years old.”

A lot of questions raced through my mind, “What do you mean ‘fight all the time’? Does he still see your mom? When was the last time you saw him?”

“Oh, he comes over about once every other month to see how I’m doing, but for the most part he makes himself pretty scarce. Most of the time he comes over, gives my mom a little money, they fight some, he talks to me for a bit, and then comes back here to the family he apparently really loves.”

I was in complete shock. How could he do this to me? How could I have lived with him for the last seven years and not have known about his other family? If he was keeping this a secret from me, what other things about my husband were out there I didn’t know about? It made me feel like I had been living with a stranger for the last seven years. I started to wonder what I really did know about my husband. We courted for such a short time, and quickly had Zach right away because of my love for children. He never took me to his work; I never met any of his co-workers; I didn’t even really know what he did for a living. I knew nothing about this man, and his past had just knocked on my door, waltzed into my living room, and blessed us with free porn for all eternity.

Palin continued on with her story, “So when my mom failed her assessment again due to some minor glitch about boyfriends, she was sent to The Capital Limited Re-education Center and I was left to my lonesome again. Grandma died a couple of years ago. That’s who took care of me last time, so all that’s left is Robert. He’s my closet living relative. So, because of some freaky new rule, I am the newest edition to your family.”

I looked over at this teenager lounging on the couch in my family room and muttered out the only thing that I could think of, “I guess that makes me your mother.”

Palin fluffed the pillow behind her head. “Yep, that’s right. Now let’s get things started off right. You can go get me a soda, mother.”