By JM Randolph, the Accidental Stepmom
A couple of years ago I made a New Year’s resolution to finish The Norton Anthology of Literature By Women, a heavy-duty tome that despite its name is packed full of enjoyable reading. I’m still working on it. In my reading, I discovered that many 19th-century female authors developed mysterious ailments that kept them largely confined to their (solitary) bedrooms with the occasional outdoor excursion “for air.” These unidentifiable psychosomatic ailments got them out of household tasks and gave them time to write. Most of the literature by women from this time comes from authors who had at least a period of such an illness.
Have you heard the term “winter recess”? It’s an East Coast creation: a random week off from school in February, guaranteed to be the worst weather week of the year. If you don’t have plans to leave for warmer climes, you’re going to be trapped inside the whole week with your kids.
One winter recess, I got one of those 19th-century female problems: I pulled a calf muscle. There was nothing mysterious about it, and it made me realize that every other time in my life I’ve used the term “pulled muscle,” I have used it incorrectly. It felt like my muscle had become a rope that pulled taut and jumped off the bone, then shot nails and razor blades throughout my leg. I couldn't walk at all for twenty-four hours, and then walked with great difficulty for the next 10 days. How did I pull it, you ask? Yoga? Running? Kickboxing? I leaned over and picked up some papers for recycling.
Therefore, a dark and dismal tone was already set at the start of this winter recess. While I complain that I’m trapped in the house with the kids, remember that they are also trapped with me. About halfway through the week they wanted to escape so badly that they voluntarily shoveled the entire driveway and scraped off the van, then came back inside and begged me to take them to Target.
“We don’t even have to buy anything!” they said. “Please?”
The 10-year-old said, “I’ll buy Sour Patch Kids with my own money and share them with you!”
Thankfully, it was my left calf so I could drive.
We spent two hours in Target and everybody got a treat. I used the cart as a walker. It was remarkably effective. We stopped for Subway on the way home. Somehow they made me believe I'd come up with that idea all on my own.
After the aeons that it took for me to limp slowly to the entrance, the 12-year-old pointed out a handwritten sign on the door: No Credit Card Today, Cash Only and asked, "Is that a problem?" Of course it was, because any time I get any actual cash, one of the six other people in my house needs it for something.
We all went out and got back in the van. They moved bags, retrieved drinks, fastened seat belts and resumed eating candy before I was even halfway there.
15-year-old: Can we road trip to another Subway?
Me: I guess I'll go to the bank.
12-year-old: Wait, I have cash!
Me: How much?
They exchanged a meaningful glance.
15-year-old: Well, between the two of us we have, like $70.
They should be taking me out to dinner.
I turned the car off.
I panic at Subway—about getting the orders wrong, about other customers coming in when we're in the middle of a six- or seven-sandwich order and holding up the line. This day we had three people behind us by the time they were on the second sandwich. I apologized as we left with our order to go. It was now 45 minutes since we'd first pulled up in front.
Back in the van, I began the task of doing the math with the 15-year-old.
Me: So I owe you $30.
15-year-old: Except I owe you $20 for the makeup at Target.
Me: I already owed you $25 for babysitting, so...
15-year-old: We'll take that money and add it to the other money...
Me: We need a sheet. Or a ledger.
8-year-old: What's a ledger?
Me: It's a sheet.
8-year-old: Why do you need bedsheets to pay us our allowance?
15-year-old: Can I just state for the record that I love this family?
You can only imagine how much that statement means to me, especially coming from the one we affectionately refer to as our Violet from The Incredibles. Some mothers treasure first words, first steps, first days of school; I missed all that. I treasure every moment a teenager forgets to hate being part of a family.
JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand and custodial stepmom of five. She lives in New Jersey with her family and blogs at accidentalstepmom.com.