I sat on the deck with my 6-year-old twins yesterday afternoon, soaking up, as Joni Mitchell says, the sun pouring down “like butterscotch.” Jane, 2, was napping. I had the dishwasher to unload, dinner to prepare, laundry to fold. But I tipped my chin toward the warm glow, hoping to delay these chores, ignore my kids, and relax for just a few more precious minutes.
“Tell me something really embarrassing that you did,” Georgia hurled at me like a grenade out of the pure blue sky.
I snapped to, did a quick mental scan, and eliminated numerous college-binge-drinking-related misadventures: The time I had too many shots on my 21st birthday and missed a morning flight to the family celebration for my grandfather’s 80th. The time friends and I were caught, inebriated, lugging a mattress out the back door of a fraternity house. Instead, I retrieved what I felt was an age-appropriate whopper.
“When I was on a car trip with another family in 5th grade, my friend made me laugh so hard that I spat chewed-up bits of ice cream cone all over the back of her parents’ heads.”
“Was her mom mad?”
“What did your friend say?”
“It wasn’t me, mommy! It was Courtenay!”
“Tell us another!” my twins cried in glee.
So I regaled them with a 6th-grade tale about accompanying friends to a water park where the highly-chlorinated pools drained the dye from my turquoise bathing suit, rendering me essentially nude by the end of the day. In the recounting, that memory became for me an instant metaphor for my present existence: our three children sucking me dry throughout the day with their incessant needs and questions, leaving me, by evening, a skeleton of my former self, skin stretched tissue-thin, nerve endings wincing just below the surface.
“What did you do?” Georgia asked, still perched on the edge of my adolescent vulnerability and the ancient, chemical pools.
“Then what’d you do?”
But with their characteristic lack of mercy, my twins refused to relent. They apparently found the image of me as a prepubescent, skittering naked through a water park, insufficiently embarrassing. Rather than satisfying them, each new story seemed to awaken ever more urgent inquiries, more dogged requests for sordid material.
And so I recalled how I slipped and splattered my lunch tray across the cafeteria floor as a freshman in high school, in front of the seniors roosting on the windowsill; how I accidentally flooded a bathroom at work; how I once taught a class with my fly unzipped; how I collided with another car in college, only to see my senior thesis advisor leap out, fist raised.
“More!” my twins cried as I unfurled each fresh boondoggle. No amount of maternal mortification sated their curiosity. So I decided to make it personal.
“Well, there was this really embarrassing time when I was pregnant with you guys and throwing up a lot— ”
“Why were you throwing up?” Griffin interrupted.
“Because sometimes pregnant women feel sick. Anyway,” I said, “daddy and I were at the beach, walking home from dinner, when I suddenly spewed hamburger and milkshake all over the street.”
“I’m not drunk. I’m pregnant!” I remember shouting at an old woman glaring at me from her stoop—though I expunged this part from the retelling.
“That’s not embarrassing,” Georgia said. “That’s just gross.”
And with a flinch of disgust, she leapt off the deck to chase her brother across the yard, finally leaving me in peace.