“Mummy? Are we pretentious or just banal?”
When we last left America’s Worst Mother™, her children, Persephone, Daisy Mae, Arugula, and Oedipus, were foraging for food and trapping feral rabbits in order to survive. The kids, while paging through a copy of Thirty Minute Rabbit Recipes pointed out that the Latin term for rabbit is cuniculus, prompting Meghan to smile inwardly and remember that night in college when she and her roommate Stephanie drank that whole bottle of peppermint schnapps and one thing led to another… and, well, let’s just say there were lots of awkward silences for the next three semesters and leave it at that, okay?
Anyway, this week finds the frequently ignored children playing with age-appropriate puzzles amid massive dangerous stacks of dusty books that really need to shelved properly to make those “nosy bitches at Child Protective Services get off Mummy’s back…Jesus, do I need another drink”.
I am on the phone as Phoebe picks her way towards me through crags and buttes of novels stacked on the floor. She climbs up on to my chair, and sits behind me on another literary pile.
Ten months ago, the movers shoved all our accumulated volumes indifferently on to shelves throughout the house. An hour ago, I conceived a fierce Howard-Dean-like desire to organize them by storm.
Of course, there is a large divide between developing “a fierce Howard-Dean-like desire” to do something, and getting off the phone, even when one of your children is trying to get your attention:
” — Mummy?” Phoebe inquires behind me.
“Just a minute, darling — Go on,” I say to my English sister-in-law, who is planning an Anglo-Canadian raid this summer on coastal Maine, where I grew up and where our family has for the last two years rented a tiny cottage.
Phoebe taps on my head.
“Sweetie, I’m on the phone. See? I show her the handset and return my attention to London.
Now, for all Meghan knows Arugula could be lying at the bottom of the stairs in a pile of Toynbee and Waugh, but Meghan can’t be bothered.
Phoebe is saying something urgently: ” — And go!”
Partly absorbed in the long-distance family logistics, partly aware of Phoebe trying to communicate, I am also thinking of the small weather-beaten, leather-bound copy of Rabelais that 15 minutes ago I actually threw out. No spine, terribly fragile, who’s ever going to know what it is when they see it on a shelf, let alone read it? Still, throwing away a book. I think of Fahrenheit 451. I think of Mussolini. With a sick feeling, I retrieve the book with its falling-off front cover and discover that it belonged to my husband’s grandfather, a swashbuckling Englishman who flew in the first-ever squadron of the RAF, ran off with a mistress, and died on the Italian Riviera.
” — Mummy!” Phoebe says desperately.
But to no avail, as Meghan distractedly talks on the phone while making up more dramatic relations in her mind in an effort to fill her empty and unfulfilling life as a mother to four mewling demanding little yard-apes, and why, of why, couldn’t she learn to insert that diaphragm correctly, like it was so hard or something? Jesus!
Meanwhile, Arugula has started to bleed from her ears…
I gaze at the heaps of books on the floor. What a mess. I roll my sleeves down absent-mindedly. After an hour of hither-and-yon, the room looks like India after Partition. Abandoned nonfiction books huddle worriedly on shelves that used to be full of their own kind, but which are now packed with pushy newcomer novels. Poetry collections and yellowed lit-crit paperbacks sit in small stacks, some here, some there, because I still don’t know where they can be allowed to settle. Meanwhile, the dust is unbelievable, like wind whistling through an ashtray.
“Just a minute,” I say, then: “Oh heavens, the Proust!”
A tinny trans-Atlantic laugh comes down the telephone line.
“Sarah, I’ll have to call you back, Phoebe’s just — “
We are then relieved that to see that Arugula is fine and that Phoebe (who also goes by Persephone or Busty McBoomboom) has merely used pages 11-14, 17,18 of In Search of Lost Time, Volume 5 : The Captive, The Fugitive for toiletpaper when she knew that it was being saved for company and the kids were supposed to be using Trollope’s Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite.
What’s a mother to do?