The word diarrhea has been said about 13 times so far today and no one is sick. With kids home from school and all their time spent together, the number of points they collect for saying gross things, making potty sounds, and being mean to each other is surging. Our house has become a potty-word-slinging, insult-hurling hot spot.
When we moved to New York City 10 years ago, we were so proud that we could take our daughters Sofia and Virginia, who were 5 and 7 at the time, to places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, institutions that would surely instill a worldly sophistication. We soon realized that the Met, and especially the Greek and Roman statue room, would not be a regular cultural destination due to its extensive collection of butts and penises.
This week alone Luke has earned points equal to 12 jobs, Mark 4, and Diana 3, and I’m running out of chores to give them and the will to enforce it all. I feel like a shipwrecked captain on a deserted island, slowly losing control over her crew.
It’s Saturday morning, and when the usual pillow-fighting, furniture-rocking, and ear-splitting screaming starts after breakfast, I am unable to get the kids outside, so I tell them they have to start doing jobs, like emptying these two dishwashers for example. Then Luke, 9, says, “No, I’m going to polish silver!”
We have a collection of silver-plated serving dishes from my grandmother and thrift shops, which are not valuable but I like to display their old-world beauty on our hutch and occasionally use them to serve fruit salad or dinner rolls. My mom would be happier if we would polish them, but I think their bronzy patina of neglect has an air of faded elegance, and who has the time anyway?
Luke gets the stool and reaches up to get one of the tawny bowls, and I start spreading the table with newspaper. “I want to polish silver too!” Diana, 6, says, climbing up on the hutch and trying to grab another serving dish.
Earlier this week we had taken an outing to the hardware store, one of the only stores open now, to get more polish and Luke suggested we get two tubs. “I’m going to be doing a lot of polishing,” he said, recognizing perhaps his penchant for potty words and his attraction to this method of penitence.
Mark, 12, says, “That’s not fair that he gets to do all the fun jobs!” and soon three polishers are at the table rubbing silver platters with pinky-gray cream, running over to the sink to rinse them off, and calling, “Whoa, Mama, look!”
We look into these once brown and cloudy platters and see a surface so bright and clear it’s like a mirror miraculously appearing out of a murky pond in the dark woods.
Virginia, 16, who is sitting on the couch going over the list of supplies she’ll need to paint her walls Middleton Pink, comments, “That’s the way they really look?”
After lunch Luke has to do half of Mark’s vacuuming job because he was playing with Legos in his pajamas when it was his turn to set the table. Enrico has started to help Diana with her Italian homework, and as Luke pushes the sweeper wand back and forth over the tiles, he sings diarrea in Italian over and over to the tune of “Oh My Darling, Clementine.”
I let the song wash over me and don’t even consider doing anything except going upstairs for a nap, when I hear the sound of reinforcements arriving. Sofia, 18, that former Metropolitan butt connoisseur, gets up from the living room couch and walks toward the chart with a pen like a dart, yelling, “Luke, do you want to be shining silver your whole life?”
She adds another tally mark next to his name, and I think, maybe I won’t be carried off by a band of savages. Or maybe I will, but we’ll dine together on the finest silver.