I scoop up Joel and walk towards the noise, only to see Owen emerge from the bathroom, his pants pulled up to his armpits, a la Urkel. I sigh deeply, dramatically, and say, “What are you doing?”
“I’m done, “ he puffs with the bravado that only an overtired three-year old can muster.
“Did you wipe? Did you wash your hands? Did you FLUSH?” I ask these questions to the air, for Joel, Owen, and I know that none of these things, ONCE again, came close to happening. And, for the record, there was a full roll of toilet paper on sitting on the counter.
“No.” he replies. “Too loud.” This from the boy who screams with such fervor and intensity that wine glasses shatter, and dogs in neighboring states stop dead in their tracks.
“Owen. Please go back inside, wipe your bottom, flush the toilet and wash your hands.” During this exchange, Joel has managed to whip his glasses off his face, and is once again, scratching them up. They look like a window on the Green Line after last call. Owen, meanwhile, walks away, suddenly deaf, dragging his filthy, germ-ridden hands across the kitchen table.
“That’s once,” I say, as my heart rate subtly increases. Owen continues to walk away, towards the living room. I set Joel down, and walk toward him.
“Owen,” I say, “Look at me.” Owen’s brown eyes twist to the left, than the right, than to the ceiling. “NOW!” I bark. He gazes at me, and I know he’s thinking, “Look, lady, I’ve got things to do, and germs to spread. I really don’t have time for your jibber-jabber.”
Before I had children, I didn’t know that toddlers knew about contempt. Once again, I stand corrected. “Owen,” I say, “you need to go in the bathroom and wipe your butt and flush the toilet, or, or…” Words fail me until I say a half-hearted, “you’ll be sorry.”
“Mommy, don’t panic,” he replies, and walks away, taking the time to give Joel a solid shove, knocking him onto the floor.
To recap: The baby is howling, his older brother is a dirty, dirty child who will pass on Swine Flu while bullying all of the children in his preschool, which, of course, will come back to me, his terrible mother, for not raising him correctly. I will eventually visit him in a local penitentiary, where, I just imagine, he will STILL NOT WIPE HIS OWN BOTTOM (although his roommate may be up for the task).
The stress courses through my veins, like a fire hose in a water balloon. I cannot keep the calm, unflappable demeanor that SAHM are expected to have, and I find myself screaming in my preschooler’s face, “YOU GO UPSTAIRS RIGHT NOW!!!!!!”
Of course, Owen bursts into hysterical tears, meaning that all three of us are in some form of hysterics. He runs up to his room, crying.
I pick up Joel, and rock him gently, and whisper the same prayer that I always whisper at times like this, “Please, Lord, don’t have Owen bring this up in therapy. And please, dear Lord, grant me wisdom. Please help, please help, please help, please.”
I take a big breath, feel my pulse decrease. And, from a distance, I hear my dear, sweet son say, “Mommy? My butt hurts.”
I take another deep breath, decide to smile, and say, "Why don't you go downstairs and try wiping? Everything will feel much better, I promise."