“Mummy? Who was Medea?”

Happy Friday the 13th and lets get started on America’s Worst Mother&#153.

This week we are horrified to see Meghan, driven mad by a distant husband, a decaying house, and the slings and arrows of a thousand papercuts pondering going all Andrea Yates on the children: Shania, Mirrabella, Opie, and Smegma. As we have seen in previous columns, over the past five or six weeks, the Gurdon’s house has a jammed door that can hardly be opened, overflowing toilets, and a broken doorbell. This week we discover:

“Who was the dog? No, don’t drink the bathwater, Phoebs.”

“It’s yummy,” she says, raising a teacup to her lips.

“We like it,” seconds the mermaid.

“I know, but remember? The water in our house may be yucky, we have to get it tested ? ”

As if there’s not enough decay and breakdown around here, what with the sudden death this week of both the dishwasher and the phone, and the fact that when I unplugged the vacuum cleaner this morning, only one prong came out of the wall, leaving behind a protruding metal splinter with the potential to electrocute careless passersby ? as if there’s not enough of that, it turns out that the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority has known since 2002 that lead levels are spiking all over the city but only now, thanks to the Washington Post, has let slip this alarming fact to the public. It’s not like one can even say, “Well, children, at least it’s not Ricin,” for of course Violet and Phoebe have never heard of castor beans. Or, for that matter, of the Senate.

Yes. As if it’s not enough that the house is a deathtrap, the water in the Gurdon house may now contain unhealthy amounts of lead, which fires a spark in the alcohol-fuzzed mind of Meghan that this would be a good time for the children’s bi-monthly bath. But how to lure the feral Gurdon children into this chemical stew of slow death? It is at this point that Meghan comes up with The Secret Magical Pool of Pretty Colored-Water That You Should Lay Face Down In and Breathe Deeply:

Last night our new mania for food coloring in the bath went awry, and the girls were immersed in a kind of foamy gray Love Canal that made me want to avert my eyes. This time I make sure the drips leave the tiny teardrop bottles with firing-squad accuracy: 12 red + 8 blue = “Purple!”

The first Gurdon children are placed in the tub where they play make-believe assuming the roles of a mermaid and then a housewife with crushed dreams and hopes and the empty black void of afternoons spent drinking and watching Green Acres reruns:

Violet puts a toe into the bubbles and withdraws it quickly. “First I’m going to be a mermaid sitting on my rock,” she says, and curls elegantly on the edge of the bath like an almost-four-year-old Narcissus.

“Today we played the Farmer Wants a Wife,” says the mermaid, trailing her hand in the purple water, “I was the wife, Rory was the farmer, and Harry was a bone.”

“I am a wife,” Phoebe says, beaming.

“No, you’re not.”

Meghan, trying to remember the last time she had a ‘bone’, suddenly snaps out of her reverie, and immediately starts plotting against her smug neighbors with all of their clean well-fed kids, well-maintained houses, and fancy book learning:

That mirthless laughter you hear is mine. That heart bursting with regret is mine. That dining-room table heaped with great boxes of dinner invitations, envelopes, response cards, return-address stamps, and postage stamps is… mine.

There’s only one glimmer of fun: Whenever I come to an invitation for a family whose car I happen to know bears a “Regime Change Begins at Home” or “Attack Iraq? No!” bumper sticker, I pointedly affix one of the US Postal Service’s handsome Purple Heart stamps. So as I fold, insert, slit my cuticles, wince with pain, and seal the envelope, I amuse myself with one of those absurd strawman scenarios best enjoyed in the quiet of one’s own imagination

This scenario is much more satisfying to Meghan than her daily peeking through the blinds at the neighbors houses while muttering obscentities and scratching herself through her faded housedress. They’ll pay…oh, yes…they’ll pay.

To sum up: Regardless of their long term health prospects, the Gurdon children are saved for another week. Meghan’s sociopathic personality disorder (first witnessed in the infamous “capable mother” column) continues to go unmedicated. Mr. Meghan is still AWOL. And Twitchy the Amphetamine Rabbit grows even more depressed knowing that Easter dinner is just around the corner.

Tune in next week when Meghan goes up on the roof with a high-powered rifle and begins “thinning out the neighborhood herd”.

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