“What is it going to take to get them to pick up their shit?” I grumbled through my teeth after my foot tripped across another damp towel left on the bathroom floor. I had rolled out of bed to begin the routine of schooldays revelry for the boys, but first I’d take a moment to gather my thoughts. The startlingly cool toilet seat and the fresh Fall air drifting in through the bathroom window could be invigorating at 5:15 in the morning. Posed there, a less than statuesque nude on my porcelain pedestal in the dim morning light with my chin balanced on my wrist , I began to drift back toward sleep when my head slipped from its perch and bobbed me back to life.
“O.K.” I challenged myself, “time to get moving.” After a quick hop in the shower, I threw on whatever I was wearing last night and headed down the hall to wake the boys . With a few passes by each of their rooms, I turned on lights and serenaded them with a gently crescendoing chorus of “gooooood mooooorniiiiing, time to wake uuu-uuuup… Good Morning, Time to Wake Up… Good MORNing, Time to Wake U-up…” until I was convinced they were reasonably alert and could be left to dress themselves while I adjourned to the kitchen.
The rest of the morning proceeds like some sort of grade school band practice for which I am the conductor. When they were younger none of them could play their own part without supervision and prodding to keep the tempo of the morning. They could not find their own clothes or remember to brush their teeth. They slammed vanity drawers and closet doors. Breakfast dishes clattered amid the morning scuffle and the siblings rivaled to find matching mittens and clamored over the favored window seat for the ride to school. But the day after the oldest discovered a newfound need for privacy, both his younger brothers declared their independence as well and the cacophony of adolescence that struggled against the clock suddenly found its own rhythm. Some mornings they march with a refreshing cadence. Other days they trudge along as if to a funeral dirge. Now I, their former maestro of the morning, sit in the living room marking time until we depart for school. Yes, I may still be called on for food, money, and occasional searches for clean underwear, but the trio seems to know their parts without me now. This one carefully tunes his perfect hair in the mirror, that one taps out his tooth brush on the edge of the sink, and my three-man band ready themselves to march off to school on their own.
With the breaking dawn and a now empty house, I begin my morning solo with a series of errands around town. The guy behind the counter at the convenient store belts out a “My friend! How are you?” as I walk through the door. I’m certain not to be unique among the tide of patrons that show up hunting for caffein and scratch tickets every morning, but I’ll confess his friendly greeting seems genuine and I welcome it. On days when the store is empty we may even trade some banter at the register over the weather forecast, how the kids are doing, or the questionable nutritional value of my morning snack choice.
On days like this, regular errands around town have become my water-cooler moments. Where I use to chat with fellow employees at lunch in the cafeteria or bump into friends between very important meetings, the camaraderie of stay-home parenting has to be outsourced. I often muse that being a stay-home-parent can be a solitary existence and there are many days spent working around the house when the only conversations I’ll have are with myself. That seemed to be less the case when the kids were little and the days were peppered with doctor appointments and teacher conferences, sick days and play dates. Lately however, their schedules demand mainly that I bus them between games and practices with a sack-lunch for dinner on the go. Family dinners at the table are increasingly rare and I may spend the better part of five hours in an afternoon during football season racking up hundreds of miles shuttling back and forth between the house and playing fields on opposite sides of town. The driver’s seat is my desk and the car my cubicle. My ‘friend’ behind the counter is just one of the people I work with. I’m on a first name basis with two of the guys at the hardware store and a short Asian woman who inquires about my kids as she rings up the bill for their mother’s dry cleaning. I crack jokes via txt messages with the handyman that helps me maintain my corporate headquarters, and the provocative DJ on the radio reminds me that I can still appreciate a bit of locker room humor in the privacy of my mind and still make thoughtful, respectable contributions to society in public. Why just the other day, for example, I made a new friend of an older gentleman at a local shop as he helped me frame an old picture that I had tucked away in a box for the last 20 years. He did a nice job. I liked his personality. He doesn’t know it yet, but we’re best friends now. After a few more stops, I pulled back into the driveway and prepared myself for today’s big project: mowing the lawn.
Convinced that the morning dew had dried enough from the grass that it wouldn’t chronically clog the chute to the bagger, I decided that the warming air warranted another quick wardrobe change before gassing up the mower. A tattered paint-stained pair of cut-off jeans shorts, a tired old t-shirt and Chuck Taylors, size 11, make for an impeccable business casual ensemble on days like this. “One should always attempt to look their best. You never know who you’ll run into” I jest with myself when a flicker of light off the bathroom mirror caught my attention. As if a far off voice were calling to wake this sleep-walking rube, the haze of the morning’s routine abruptly lifted as I was halted in the doorway by the unsettling sense that something was askew.
Now, mind you, I had no idea what specifically had captured my curiosity. I only sensed something ‘different’ which compelled my inquisitive nature to investigate, if only to find a lazy fly lost in self admiration on the glass. Perhaps t’was just a reflection of a glittery earring left lazily on the counter, or maybe my sleepwalking eye had glimpsed a tiny rainbow cast by a prismatic droplet of water as it trickled down the mirror. It could have been any of those things. Oh that it were… but it wasn’t.
As I moved into the sunlight, my focus was drawn away from whatever might have been ON the mirror to the reflection staring back at me IN the mirror. “Wha…What is that?” My face appeared to be blue. Not painted blue like the those aliens in Avatar or Cookie Monster blue. Not the pale oxygen deprived blue of a corpse or the depressing “I’m so blue without you” blue. The creature looking back at me had more of an etherial sort of sparkly pearlescent blue. You’d expect that sort of complexion on an elf from Middle Earth, but not on this 46 year old suburban house-husband. It seemed to be on my face and neck…. It was in my hair… and on the back of my hands. “What the hell…?” I wondered when my eye caught the first clue toward diagnosing my condition.
Remember that towel? The damp one I mentioned at the beginning of this tale? The one that one of my boys left on the floor by the tub… the tub he used the night before to treat himself to a now rare, yet indulgent, bubble bath. “So what?” you might ask. “What does that have to do with it?” Well, if you’re a woman, you might already see where this is going. If you’re an unwitting man like myself, you may need a little more help so let me elaborate. Apparently, after a rigorous football practice Junior decide to treat himself to a therapeutic epsom salt soak in mommy’s cast-iron clawfoot tub by way of what is described on its packaging as a “BATH BOMB.” Yup. Among other things, this fizzing little baseball contains sodium bicarbonate, Cocoa Butter, Shea Butter, Epsom Salt, an Essential Oil ‘Blend’ and, here’s where it gets interesting fellas, “May Contain Clays or Oxides for Coloring.” BOOM. Let me now remove any uncertainty about that last part, for as I stood there all a-glitter my eyes came to rest on a pale blue slurry of ferry dust soap scum dried on the bottom of his tubby and for a moment the humor of the situation made me laugh. But then….
“Wait a minute.” My mind began to race. “If I have it on my hands and in my hair…. well then…where else do I have it?” The curious novelty of my condition was quicky fading. Now I could see it on my arms and ears. It was on my chest. I hiked one foot up on the edge of the tub to confirm my suspicion that the hair on my legs indeed twinkled like a thousand glimmering stars. The bath bomb had exploded all over me when I unwitting dried myself with one of the discarded towels Junior must have used the night before. The fallout from his spa treatment had spread from ground zero. I peeled off my contaminated t-shirt. My body did not sparkle like diamonds bathed in sunlight. I stood there feeling like a drag queen the day after a big performance. I looked like the sarcastic il-conceived lovechild born after Denis Leary screwed Smurfette on a drunken bender. I dropped my shorts to the floor to complete my inspection… Shimmer me timber! The transformation was complete from bow to stern. Even the main mast was blue. I present to you…..Snarky Smurf.
Now, being unwittingly covered in a layer of pixie dust doesn’t really bother me. I mean, it isn’t ordinarily my style and only slightly inconvenient to have to take another shower before going back out to the store. The problem is that I already went to the store. I went to the bus stop and the dry cleaner. I saw my friend at the convenient store and the guy that runs the gas station. I stood in a line of 15 people waiting to get a breakfast sandwich for at least 10 minutes surrounded by other familiar faces. The teller at the bank cracked a nice big smile when I approached the window to deposit a check, and the girl at the grocery store register seemed unusually bubbly when she said “Good morning to you! Do we have anything special going on today?” which struck me as a little odd at the time. But, not one single person had the decency to tell me something was askew. My buddy at Town Hall said nothing. The guys I work with at the hardware store probably had a good laugh. My own family probably didn’t even notice as I pranced around in the twilight.
Resigned to the fact that I’d made my debut in front of pretty much everybody, the only thing left was to get started on the lawn. A little fresh air and yard work might even take my mind off of it and let me regain a little sense of rugged masculinity. It certainly couldn’t hurt. So rather than take a shower only to get dirty again I pulled myself together and rolled the tractor out of the garage. “At least I won’t have to face anyone else….” I had no sooner opened my mouth and the garage door when my old pal from UPS trotted down the driveway to hand me a package.
“My Friend!’ He waved. “Great day, eh!?”