After I washed my hands, of course.
Jake, the Official Hygiene Ambassador, was keeping an eye on me in that regard, all while following me around the house, tossing questions at me like live grenades.
“I just need some proof, Mom. I need some straight answers. So I’m gonna leave cookies out for Santa, and if he’s not real, the cookies won’t be eaten, right?” We’d already had the talk but Jake was still grasping at the magical thinking we’re all guilty of when we don’t like the answer reality provides.
“Okay, then. Hand me that spray bleach.” He passed me the cleaner.
“You won’t eat them, right?” I wiped the hair from my eyes with the side of my forearm, making sure to keep my chemically dirty hands away from my face.
“What are you looking for here, honey? The truth, or something that will make you feel better?”
Jake eyed me suspiciously, and then headed for his room. “Never mind. I don’t want to talk about it. Just don’t eat the cookies.”
I got a five-minute respite wherein all I had to deal with was the cleanliness of the toilet. Then Jaxson had re-entered the scene, threw himself on the floor beneath me, and began to scream as I cleaned the bathroom. I ignored him, scrub, scrub, scrubbing Christmas Eve into oblivion.
Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells : I hummed with alarming ferocity, hoping it would drown out the little guy wailing at the top of his lungs.
It was not long before Jake returned with more questions, yelling over his still screaming brother.
“Can someone choke themselves with their bare hands?” Jake had both hands wrapped tightly around his throat, his face becoming redder by the second.
“I don’t know. Give it a go, and let me know how it turns out.” Scrub, scrub, flush. Clean toilet: Check. Jake trusts no one. The entire world and its contents are conspiring to make his life miserable or cause him physical harm. “What about a fork? Is it possible to swallow a fork?” Jake yelled over his brother, who was now pounding the nearby wall with his little feet. “I’m pretty sure you can’t swallow a fork,” I screamed, stepping over Jaxson. I headed for the other bathroom with Jake following me.
It took Jaxson a minute to realize he wasn’t center stage. Once he did, he got up, found us in the other bathroom, and threw himself another tot-sized tantrum.
“I so mad!” Jaxson announced, climbing into the empty bathtub.
“If I create my virtual world, jump into the TV, and start playing with Mario, what happens if the electricity goes out? Will I be stuck in the virtual world, forever?” Jake leaned his head against the door frame as I bent over my second commode of the day, trying not to pass out from the noxious chemical fumes.
Jake’s newest brainchild was some sort of virtual world he thought he could persuade the scientific community to invent. He’d recently made me send out a mass email with the following:
Dear Computer Geniuses and Scientists, I want a world called the virtual world. You put on a helmet and I want it to be the realest graphics you can make. It can link to any game system and when it accidentally turns off, you can still take off the helmet. And make a screen so people outside the virtual world can watch you. Sincerely, Jake PS – Make it very realistic
Of course, this email never got sent. I’d typed the letter, added the entire contents of my address book to the Send To column as Jake hovered over my shoulder, and then pretended to click send when he went to the kitchen for a soda.
Jake stared at me as I scoured the toilet bowl, patiently awaiting a response.
“I can only say that if you invent this virtual world, that’s something you might need to look into.”
Lately Jake had been obsessing more and more. I began to wonder if a trip to the pediatrician to check into some sort of medication might be in order. He couldn’t even go a few minutes without bombarding me with a plethora of questions, one right after the other, faster than I was able to answer. It was starting to interfere with his daily life.
Not to mention mine.
It was like how I imagined a stun gun attack would feel: Zap! – a moment of disorientation followed by a slow recovery. Only in this scenario, I’d be zapped again as soon as my eyes stopped rolling back in my head.
“Mom, I hate school. I wish they would just send me to juvie.”
Bang, bang, bang! Jaxson kicked the side of the tub, tossing shampoo bottles overboard.
“No you don’t. People would touch all your stuff, you wouldn’t have wipies to clean your butt with, and you’d have to sleep alone. You wouldn’t do well in juvie, Jake.”
Yank! Down went the basket of towels. When Jax saw my expression, he flew out of the tub and exited the bathroom, leaving a trail of knocked-over items in his wake.
“Mom?” Jake began, tentatively.
“What, honey?” I continued to ignore Jaxson, trying to give Jake my full attention – well, him and the area behind the toilet bowl that rarely got any attention of its own.
“Fear is an emotion God shouldn’t have given us. Because we still have common sense.”
I didn’t realize the profundity of this statement until I’d thought about it for a minute. “That’s very smart, Jake.”
“Maybe I could build a machine that would take away fear. After I get my virtual world helmet made.”
Crash! Something that sounded suspiciously like glass fell in the other room.
“Uh, huh . . . ” You get right on that. “Interesting idea, honey.”
Realizing the bathroom was as clean as it was going to get, I headed off to find out what was broken in the other room, hoping Jax didn’t need stitches.
“Mom, who is more irritating, me or Jaxson?”
I stood over a broken Christmas bulb on the kitchen floor. “You both have your moments.”
“What do I do that’s as bad as his fits?”
Jake held the dustpan for me and I swept up the mess as Jaxson watched from across the room. I looked up at him, pointed my finger and said, “Bad boy,” before jumping back into the interrogation with my elder son.
“You ask lots of questions. Questions, questions, questions. Questions are good, but sometimes when they’re coming as fast and furious as you ask them – ”
“No bad boy. No!” Jaxson screamed, and again ran to hide under the covers on my bed.
” – it feels just like getting hit with one of your brother’s little fists. Or a stun gun.” I took a deep breath and exhaled, trying not to cry.
“I guess God just made me more curious than normal people. I’m bi-curious.”
I smiled. “Where did you hear that word?” “On TV somewhere,” Jake picked up a few stray shards of red glass. At last, finally I got everything done that needed to be done and was finally able to sit in the rocking chair with Jaxson and make nice. Usually, when he realizes he isn’t going to get his way, there is a hurricane of dysfunctional behavior followed by a self-imposed time out, then him hugging me and crying, eventually leading to, “Better, Ruby?”