The Screen Door Slams, Mummy’s dress waves…

It’s empty nest day with America’s Worst Mother&#153 as she packs her kids (Nectar, Croatia Lee, Pannini, and Gap) off to school.

I blot my eyes and wonder if this can possibly be true. As Phoebe trotted into her first day of nursery school, she threw back carelessly, “I’m three now. I don’t need to hold your hand,” and it struck like a stiletto in my heart.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’m kind of surprised that Meghan isn’t homeschooling the little Gurdlings given her penchant for turning daily life explanations into opportunities to show off her educational chops.For example:

“Enslaving the negro was part of the genius of free enterprise because it provided us with a pool of cheap replaceable labor to pick our cotton which then became high thread-count linens and sheets. Now eat your scone, sweetie.”

You know, stuff like that.

Anyway, after dropping Pannini off at nursery school Meghan comes home to an empty household and, unable to find any anti-depressants in the botom of her purse, gives way to morbid thoughts:

A fresh tear rolls down. On impulse I decide to wallow in this delicious misery, partly to get it over all at once, but mostly because I don’t have a choice. I find myself thinking mournfully of a photo series that ran in the old Life magazine. It depicted a father and his daughter in their bathing suits, posing side by side each summer over many years. In the first photo, the father is young and tanned and muscular; the little girl dimpled and adorable. As the series progresses, the daughter blooms through childhood and gawky adolescence while the father’s body slowly and almost imperceptibly slackens. In the final image, if I am remembering correctly, she is a plump and ordinary-looking middle-aged woman; he is a hollow-chested old man. Thus we are replaced by our children; thus we find ourselves blubbing in school parking lots when our youngest child starts nursery school, and sic transit gloria Mummy!

This, of course, leads Meghan to start thinking about her kids growing up and eventually disappointing her in various ways (one child is gay, one becomes a Goth and forms a band called Mummycide, one collects Thomas Kinkade reproductions, and one sells Amway) and the day spirals out of control in ways that even an afternoon of Oprah and a pitcher of mai tais can’t correct. But salvation comes in the form of a crumpled piece of construction paper:

Phoebe extracts from her backpack a crumpled piece of orange construction paper speckled with smiley-face stickers. “I have a picture,” she says, handing it to me. “Actually, it’s your picture.”

Before I had children I used to observe with distaste the saccharin, gurgling way women often talk to small ones. “Oh!” a woman presented with a piece of crumpled construction paper might gasp, “Is that for me? It’s soooo beauuuuutiful!” The phoniness of this type of flattery seemed to me self-evident, and I felt sure that children perceived it. “I will never talk to my children like that!” I thought. “It devalues compliments!” I thought. “It will teach them contempt for my judgment!” I thought.

What I failed to understand is that, if the person in question is the darling of one’s life, and the wadded-up paper is representative of that person’s genius and is, in fact, the very first piece of art produced in what will be that beloved person’s long academic life, then a sugary tone is not only forgivable, it also happens to be utterly genuine.

“Oh!” I gasp, clutching my stiletto-scarred heart, “Is that for me? It’s soooo beauuuuutiful!”

Phoebe grins. “Then you can keep it.”

Mummy than takes the piece of paper (which sounds remarkably like a Basquiat, but less ironic) and puts it on the refrigerator for her friends to admire until they say “Yes. She’s a genius…now can I have my Zima?”.

Next week….a lonely Meghan starts an affair with the gardener and learns a position called “The Human Wheelbarrow”.

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