We stood in the side yard, in front of the garden, peering down at the little black, white and yellow stripped caterpillars. “What’s he doin?,” my little nugget asked. “Eating breakfast…or brunch, it is 11 o’clock, you know?”. “Why’s he eatin’ leaves?” he inquired, “McDonald’s is out of salads” I answered, fully aware that I could pretty much say anything. If I used the right inflection, the answer would be accepted as fact and we’d move on to another question. “What do you think that caterpillars’ name is?” I asked my son, turning the tables on the toddler inquisition. “Dooping,” he said very matter-of-factly. Dooping, I thought, must be German. “I wanna pick him up,” he declared. “No, let’s not,” I said, in my best mother voice, I knew that any physical contact between he and the caterpillar was going end poorly for the caterpillar.
I tried to shift his focus to something less…well…less squishy. As luck would have it a squirrel scurried down the pillar of the swing-set. I sent him over to inspect. It seemed to work, so much so, that I removed myself from the squatting position I had assumed between the boy and the garden. He bounced back over to me full of information about the squirrel encounter. He was halfway through his dissertation on squirrel exit strategies when, with one fluid motion he raised his arm, pointed his finger and then brought his arm down, smacking Dooping, right between the antennas. I don’t know if you’ve ever witnessed a caterpillar being physically assaulted, but it’s not a something easily erased from the memory banks. Something resembling a tongue shot out of his mouth as he reared up on his back legs and put his two sets of front legs up in a defensive position, which is evidently the interspecies body language position for “Holy Shit! What the hell just happened? Here, take my wallet!!!!!”. I expected him to drop dead from the massive head injury inflicted at the hands of my very amused son. He didn’t though, resilient little bastard, he shook off the attack and kept eating as if nothing happened.
And so began the first day of my perma-vacation, I could now add caterpillar security guard to my list of things I was not very good at. It was Monday, I’d been unceremoniously fired from the paralegal position I had held for a little over a year, the Friday before. I’d never actually been fired before, not that I hadn’t deserved it, but no-one had ever given me the axe. It was stingy and hilarious all at the same time. I couldn’t wrap my brain around it.
I wasn’t upset. I loathed having to get up and go do that job every day. I was Satan in a suit. I produced the paperwork that made people homeless, but not for normal foreclosure proceedings like not paying mortgages. No, I made people homeless because they didn’t pay their monthly homeowners’ association dues, they didn’t read the fine print when they bought their homes and didn’t realize they could be tossed out on the streets for missing a few payments or planting an unapproved tree. It made me feel dirty. Monday through Friday I listened to people plead with me not to foreclose on their homes. I listened as they demanded to know how I slept at night. I listened as they told me they hadn’t worked in over a year, they’d been injured in an accident and their cousin just died. Yeah, most of these people were full of shit. Some of them had real problems and there was absolutely nothing I could do to help them, it was heartbreaking.
I was worried; a million thoughts were swinging wildly in between my ears. The most obvious was “What am I going to do now?”. I had been threatening to go back to school since my son was born, this might be my opportunity…but to do what? Was I really ever going to find something that I was good at? “Do what you love and success will find you,” a friend told me when I called him to tell him the news. Although it’s good advice, it sounded like he was quoting fortune cookies…while my life was going down the toilet.
“Momma, watch out…there’s dog poop over there,” the seriousness in his voice brought me out of my worry induced trance. I should have known something involving Clorox and half a roll of paper towels was about to occur, but I didn’t react quickly enough. He darted across the yard to the location of said pile of poop, lifted his leg and stomped like a pocket-sized sumo wrestler. I assumed by the proud look on his face, he was demonstrating exactly how dangerous this pile of poop could be to an unsuspecting passerby. I wanted to laugh, but I didn’t dare. On my way to get the hose and inspect the damage, I wondered why I’d felt guilty about not being home to see these things. “See it?” he asked. “Yes, Pumpkin, I see it. Don’t touch,”.
It was much easier to go to an office every day and move papers from one side of my desk to the other, staying home and tracking and disinfecting the activities of a very energetic 3 year old boy is treacherous. It’s what I wanted to do all along, the staying home thing, in theory anyway. Only, I wanted to stay home with one of those von Trapp children, Friedrich, or whatever the fuck his name was. I’m totally onboard for the singing songs, making play clothes out of drapes and having children respond to the sound of a whistle. Hosing dog feces off the shoes of a moving target and screaming “Don’t put that in your mouth,” at such regular intervals it seems as though I had tourette’s syndrome was an entirely different ball of wax.
After the clean-up, I booted up the laptop, reviewed my finances and decided going back to college was the best way to spend my time, while looking for a job that didn’t make my skin crawl. With a few clicks and the entering of my credit card information I was a college student again. “This is going to be interesting” I thought, as I reviewed my transcripts. My GPA wasn’t exactly sparkling. I hadn’t excelled at much of anything the first go round, except drinking strawberry wine coolers and bleaching my hair platinum blonde. I was hoping to get more out of higher education on my second attempt. Classes started the next month and I was eager to undo the damage I had done before.
If I hadn’t had the benefit of a calendar at my fingertips, I would have sworn that the bagel I’d had for breakfast granted me the power of time travel and my stomach and I had been transported back in time 12 years. I was seated in a classroom, waiting for my professor to arrive, trying to ignore the witless banter of the people surrounding me. Very little had changed about the place and its student body since the first time I sat at the faux wood grain desk with their uncomfortable, attached, brightly colored orange chairs. The only thing that appeared to be different was me. This time I was sober, planning on attending the classes I was enrolled in, doing the assignments and was checking a cell phone for text messages; instead of trying to decipher numeric codes on the small screen of a beeper.
Everyone was a stereotype with feet. There was a group of blue-eyed meatheads encircling one pretty girl, trading stories about getting “so wasted”, lifting weights, and imaginary sexual conquests with this “smoking hot, older girl”. A group of freakishly tall black kids sat in the back of the room, mumbling things about “practice”, “Coach B” and “catching the bus” to get to work on time. Although, I had arrived early and sat in an unoccupied quadrant of the room, I was quickly surrounded by burnouts; who smelled like patchouli oil and theater majors, who looked like they took their fashion cues from the David Bowie, in his Ziggy Stardust phase. I found myself wishing I had picked a seat closer to the quiet, Asian kid who minded his own business and drew cartoons.
The door opened and my professor walked in, she had a familiarity about her that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. She seemed fresh, youthful and enthusiastic. “This isn’t going to be so bad” I thought, encouraging myself. She proudly announced that we were enrolled in the first class she had ever taught. I hung on her every word, right up to the part where she told the class about her qualifications…and discovered she that the reason she appeared so youthful was because she was several years younger than me. I then began to connect the dots in my head and realized that along with being much younger, I had also dated her older brother for a few months in the mid-nineties. I had spent many an afternoon, sitting with her on the couch, watching “Pop-up Video,” trying to distract her from any veiled sexual reference that appeared on the screen. As she told us about her hobbies and interests, I had to bite my tongue so I wouldn’t interject “and you were afraid of the dark until you were 14. Do you still eat ranch dressing on everything?”. My face started to twitch as I wished I’d packed a wine cooler and a box of Clairol’s Born Blonde. This was going to be a long semester.