The Sock Crisis

There was a time, in the Land of Barnhill, when socks flowed in abundance. They heaped and flowered and multiplied. They scattered across the wide family room floor like so much snow. We were buried in socks, awash in socks. Our cup of socks raneth over.

This sounds like an exaggeration, I know, but I swear it’s the truth. And what I am about to present, dear readers, is a cautionary tale.

The Barnhills, despite their sockish abundance – or perhaps because of it – were not satisfied.

“What care I,” they said sniffily, “for ten socks, or one hundred socks, or one thousand times one thousand socks. If they are not matched, I have nothing.”

They were not satisfied to wear mismatched socks to school or to meetings or to soccer games. They turned their noses at the wooly warmth in clashing colors offering itself each day to warm their shivering toes.

“If you want matching socks,” their mother told them, “go dig through the stupid sock pile and find them yourself.” Their mother did not, despite reports to the contrary, mutter, “Mister and Miss Complainypants,” but she certainly thought it.

And so the Barnhill children would howl with rage and agony and woe. And then they would stomp down the stairs and find the overflowing sock basket in the basement family room and dig and dig and dig until a match was found. And the socks were happy to oblige.

This went on for several months. And the sock basket grew. It grew, and it grew, and it grew. It went from mound to hillock to bluff to mountain. It had geological features – faults and fissures and outcroppings – that were studied by scientists from around the world. It was featured in documentaries, and folk songs, and fine art. It developed its own weather system. REI rolled out an entire line special shoes designed specifically for the sock mountain’s unique terrain. Brusque European men with mukluks and rucksacks, flanked by packs of well-paid Sherpas, arrived by the dozens to journey into our basement and make the death-defying climb of the storied Mount Sock, conquering it like young bull on its first night in the herd, and leaving a mess in their wake.

And honestly? It was annoying.

“That’s it,” the mother said.

And she poured herself a glass of wine and set up a marathon viewing of “Brooklyn 99”, and set up sacks for each member of the family, and, like the Miller’s Daughter spinning straw into gold (or, I guess, paying Rumpelstiltskin for spinning her straw into gold) quietly prayed for strength in the face of a most insurmountable task.

And she folded into the long night, and well into the morning. And the sock mountain remained, and still she folded. The sun climbed high in the sky and sank into the evening, and still she folded. Days turned into weeks turned into months turned into a year. Finally, after a year and a day, the last sock was folded, and she placed heaping sacks of folded socks on each bed of her beloved family.

“Here,” she said. “Folded socks. Matching socks. Coordinating colors for your sensitive arches and your tough heels. Darned toe beds to keep each adorable little piggie nice and warm. Each loop of yarn is proof of my love to you.”

And the family was happy. For a little while. But lo and behold, the folded socks, once so numerous that the drawers groaned each time they tried to close them, began to dwindle. The drawers began to echo with empty spaces. And slowly but surely, the socks began to disappear. One after another after another, until they vanished altogether.

The children searched over hill and vale. They looked under beds and in the covers. They looked behind toilets and inside grates. They even looked in the refrigerator. But it was no use. There was not a sock – matched or single – to be seen.

Because these were no ordinary socks. These were magic socks. And the magic well from which all socks did flow was irreparably blocked. And there would be no mountain and no bluff and no hillock and no mound. Indeed, even the stinky socks left by the bed would disappear by morning.

“Where are the socks,” wailed the children.

“I have no idea,” the mother said. “I just did all the laundry. AND I JUST FOLDED LIKE NINE MILLION SOCKS FOR YOU.”

It didn’t matter.  The masses of socks were gone forever.

And yea, did the children weep and wail and gnash their teeth.

And, if you listen very carefully, you can hear their toes shivering.

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PSA: Do not hire these children. At least not as party-planners.

Fun fact: I turn forty on Saturday. I am ridiculously excited about it.

Really, it’s kind of silly for me to be excited at all, given that I’ve been telling people that I’m forty for the last eight years. I figured, at thirty-two, with three kids and a dog and a minivan and a house and a community garden plot, that it didn’t matter what age I told people I was. They’d hear forty no matter what I said. So I thought I’d just beat them to the punch. So one would think, given that situation, that my upcoming foray into forty would seem somewhat anticlimactic. But one would think wrong.

I am crazy-thrilled to be forty. I want to give forty a big, wet kiss. I want to take it places and buy it pretty baubles and romance its panties off. I want to take forty home and introduce her to Mother. I want to eat forty chocolates and drink forty sips of wine and run forty miles and catch forty winks and dream forty dreams.

And yet, I’ve made no plans. Because I stink at making plans. So I put it to my kids. This was our conversation:

ME: So. It’s my birthday on Saturday.

THE KIDS: It is? But we’re not ready!

ME: There’s nothing to be ready about. We’re just going to hang out.

CORDELIA: Mom. What do you want for your birthday? And don’t say socks.

ME: Socks.

CORDELIA: MOM!

(All I ever want is socks. Wool stripey socks. And I never get them.)

ME: But we should do something fun. What should we do?

LEO: I know! Skyzone!

(Do you guys know Skyzone? It’s a huge concrete bunker filled with trampolines, and Leo wants to live there. Here’s a picture:

ME: We are not going to Skyzone.

LEO: Is that because you hate fun?

ELLA: We have to do something that mom likes to do.

CORDELIA: What does mom like to do?

LEO: Grocery shop?

CORDELIA: LET’S GO GROCERY SHOPPING!

ME: We are not going grocery shopping.

ELLA: Are you going to make us clean?

CORDELIA: I hate cleaning.

ELLA: It’s decided. No cleaning on birthdays.

LEO: Mom. I got it. The water park. It’s perfect.

ME: Nah.

LEO: WHY NOT?

ME: Too much man-sweat and back-tats.

LEO: I don’t even know what that means. You’re not making sense.

ELLA: You guys are terrible at this game.

CORDELIA: WE CAN GO TO THE CRAFT STORE AND YOU CAN BUY US THINGS!

LEO: That’s not as fun as a trampoline.

ELLA: Everything is more fun than a trampoline.

CORDELIA: Let’s go to the Mall of America! And shop!

LEO AND ELLA: MOM HATES THE MALL OF AMERICA AND SHOPPING.

ELLA: And probably America. Mom is a communist.

ME: I prefer “pinko”.

LEO: Mom. Just tell us.

And so I considered.

ME: I know. Let’s go to the book store. And then the sock store. How’s that?

My children shook their heads slowly, long-suffering expressions marring their beautiful faces.

ELLA: Oh, mom.

CORDELIA: Poor, poor mom.

LEO: You really stink at having a birthday.

But they are wrong. I am rocking this thing already.

If those boys would stand still for five minutes, they’d write a damn good novel.

Leo and his friends are careening up and down the stairs, a cloud of knees and elbows and supposedly-brushed teeth and glinting blonde hair. They are making engine sounds and laser sounds and sounds of exploding nebulae (which, being a big dork, I did have to explain to them do not make a sound in the vacuum of space, and they looked at me with blank eyes and continued with the swan-songs of doomed stars) and six-shooters and race cars and TNT disasters in abandoned silver mines.

They run down, and someone yells, “I’m Pete Petowski and the world will be mine in forty seven seconds MINE I TELL YOU!”

They run up and yell, “BEWARE THE POWER OF MR. JIBBLYKINS!”

And, “I do so have cyborg eyes.”

And, “I’d rather go the the dentist than kiss a girl.”

They run down and someone asks, “If you kill a zombie and then infect it with a new zombie virus is it a half-zombie or a double-zombie?”

And, “Can zombies be pirates? Can they go in space?”

They run up and yell, “I ALREADY GOT YOU WITH MY LASERS. YOU ARE SO OUT!”

Only to be returned with, “Well, I used my laser-blockers. So.”

And as the game continues, I catch little bits as they float down the stairs.

“We each get sixteen superpowers. I call having the power to beat every superpower. Which one do you want?”

“Which would be better: an outerspace circus in space, or an underwater circus with squids and octupuses and sharks?” “Or both?” “You’re right. Both.”

“Oooo! Zombie fingers!”

“Okay, fine. We all speak fluent Wolf.”

“Toe jam is just the nice way of saying toe poop. No one likes to believe that their toes can poop, but they do all the time.

“They sent an army of miniature cyborgs hiding in cereal boxes. The attack will happen at breakfast!”

“I don’t need any weapons. My fingernails were implanted with lasers when I was a baby. That’s what everyone does on my planet.”

“No matter what, I have a second brain.”

“You’re right. Your farts really are grosser than mine.”

“Baby dinosaur? Well, of course.”

“Donuts ARE TOO dinner food.”

“It doesn’t matter if we guard our ice castle with polar bear armies or not. NO ONE CARES IF WE TAKE OVER THE ARCTIC CIRCLE.”

“We have to stop Dr. Nimblenuts and his atomic EXPLODING ANTS!”

“You’re right. A penguin army would be awesome.”

“Is there such thing as chocolate salsa?”

“Let’s say we were separated from our families and raised on a remote island by ninja spiders.”

“My boots have levitation upgrades, but they’re on the fritz. That’s why this leg can’t come off the ceiling.”

“You can too build a space ship from bottle caps. My dad told me.”

“Fine. I’m King. You’re President and you’re Supreme Ruler. And I’m also the Pope.”

“It is not a dumb game at all, Ella. We’re whales. Flying whales. In space. What’s dumb about that?”

“Well, on this planet people’s butts are on their heads.” “Actually, our planet is the only one where people’s butts are, you know. Where butts go.”

“It would totally be good if everything was flavored like raspberries. Raspberry cereal. Raspberry milk. Raspberry bacon. Raspberry pizza. Raspberries. They’re delicious!”

 

I’m sitting here, trying to finish my Sasquatch story. Instead I’ve been listening to these kids for the last hour. It’s more entertaining than the teevee.

What’s distracting you from your writing today?

 

My kid is made of rubber. Or titanium. Or self-healing plastics.

Tonight, as the sun set and the light waned and the sky leaked orange and gold all over the lake and the whole world shone, Leo and I walked back from his Tae Kwan Do class. Or I walked. Leo rode his scooter. It was a beautiful evening – warm and breezy and lousy with birds. Dry leave skittered across the park as the shadows deepened and darkness spread around us. Leo zoomed ahead, a brilliant flash of white in his uniform, his brand-new orange belt (and oh! he is so proud!) glowing in the growing dim.

“Be careful,” I called.

“I’m always careful,” he called back through the swirl of leaves.

That was a lie, of course.

And we talked about the gathering birds, and their plans for migration and southern skies. And we talked about other animals that migrate – whales specifically.

“I would like my best friend to be a whale,” Leo said.

I told him that sounded like a fine idea.

“I would like my best friend to be a whale AND I would like to be able to speak Whale.”

I told him that it probably wouldn’t be too hard to learn how to speak Whale, provided he studied very hard and practiced every day.

“I would like my best friend to be a whale AND I would like to be able to speak Whale AND I would like my whale best friend to be able to fly.”

“A flying whale?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “A flying whale IN SPACE.”

“A flying whale in space?”

“Yes. That I can talk to.”

“That’s a tall order,” I said.

He shrugged. “When things are hard, you just have to work harder,” he said. Then he whizzed away, his uniform glowing in the dark.

And I thought about this. There is a purity – a marvelous purity -in the association of action and consequence that little kids possess. For them, cause and effect are simple, straightforward and unambiguous. I do a thing, and it bears a result; end of story. When I do a good thing, the result is good. When I do a bad thing the result is bad. When I work very hard at something, the result is something very cool that not many people achieve.

Like a flying whale best friend in space, for example.

And I’d like to tell him the world works that way. I wanted him to live in that kind of a world. Hell, I wanted to live in that kind of a world. I wanted to tell him that if he worked very hard he really will have a flying whale best friend in space. I WANT that to be true.

“Be careful,” I called as he hit the turn and flew down the hill, the autumn-bright trees crowding their limbs together, making it hard to see. “Be careful, honey!”

Because he thinks that careful people can’t get hurt. Because he believes in the power of his own body.

And I didn’t see him fall right away. It happened fast, and it was dark. I called out. I reminded him that there are bumps and ridges in the path. I told him that the world was dark and the road was dark and that things will trip us up that we will never see and that even careful people get hurt sometimes.

He didn’t listen.

And he fell.

A flash of white against the dark torsos of the slim trees.

A glowing riot of arms and legs, pinwheeling against the sky.

And the boy flew, feet over kettle, over his scooter and onto the ground.

And oh! My baby!

And oh! Your arms!

And oh! Your legs!

And oh! Your neck!

And oh! my baby, my baby, my baby!

He made no sound.

“LEO!” I shouted. And ran over the dry, dry leaves.

Leo leaped to his feet. He looked at me. His crooked teeth flashed in the dark – a disembodied grin.

“That….was…..SO AWESOME!”

He picked up his scooter and ran back up the hill. “I’m TOTALLY doing that again!”

You see? This is why we can’t have nice things.

https://kellybarnhill.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/squirreltinpeanutbutter_kal78.jpg?w=300

My son, home from school and starving, went into the kitchen to get himself a snack. He opened the cupboards, pulled out our gigantic container of peanut butter (I buy it by the barrel), grabbed a bowl and sat down at the table. He started unscrewing the lid.

“Young man,” I said. Leo stopped, unaware that he was being watched. “Just what do you think you’re doing?”

Leo pulled the lid off the peanut butter and laid it on the table. He leaned over the open top and breathed in the scent of it. He smiled. “I love peanut butter.”

“And?”

“I wanted a snack.”

“I see peanut butter and I see a bowl,” I said. “Aren’t you missing something?”

Leo stared at me.

I stared back.

WHAT?” he said, exasperated.

“This is not how we eat peanut butter,” I said primly.

“FINE,” he said, stomping over to the silverware drawer. “I’ll use a stupid spoon.

“Well-” I began.

“Crazy moms and their crazy spoons,” Leo muttered.

“Actually, I meant-” I said.

“When EVERYBODY knows that peanut butter tastes better with fingers.”

Then he shoved a heaping tablespoon – actually, it was so heaping that it was closer to a third of a cup – of peanut butter into his mouth and rolled his eyes at me.

“THERE,” he garbled. “HAPPY NOW?”

Gas

This morning, while reading to my kids as we waited for the carpool, I had a sudden realization: I was sweating my brains out. When I checked the thermostat, I had another startling realization: someone had turned the heat up to 78 degrees (my house had hit 73 at that point). (Normally we keep it at 65.)

“WHO,” I roared, “TURNED THE HEAT UP TO 78?”

“Hee hee hee,” my eight year old giggled nervously, “ha, ha, ha.” She raised her hand. “Well,” she said. “I was cold.”

“Do you not understand what a waste that is?” I said. “Not just the money (though it’s expensive to heat a house) but it wastes energy. Do you have any idea how much gas we use to raise the temperature that high?”

My son sniggered.

He slapped his hand on his face.

He sniggered again.

“Gas,” he said.

He fell on the floor in a fit of the giggles.

“You said gas,” he snorted.

My daughter started laughing too. “Mom needs gas,” she said.

Leo howled, laughing so hard that –

RRRRRRRIIIIIIPPPPPP

It was, in truth, a glorious fart.

“I think I just gave you some extra gas,” he said, wiping the tears from his eyes. “Want some more?”