adventures from the homefront, COVID-19 edition, episode 8: wasting time

I’ve always disliked those “fun surveys” that circulate on Facebook. “Let’s have some fun! Answer the following 40 questions about yourself!” First street, places you’ve been, where you met your partner, kids’ names, pet names, on and on.

By the time normal people are done answering and publishing the survey, they’ve given the hacker who first unleashed the survey a mighty tool in figuring out their passwords and the answers to typical “verify this is you” questions. (Not normal people use passwords like “password1234” and “P1ssword” and “jQ48*4#9Jw;eskhcnx”.)

But one survey caught my eye yesterday.  “WITHOUT prompting… ask your child these questions and write EXACTLY what they say.”

I don’t know why it drew me in. The demand for rigorous reporting? I imagined a really bad teacher in a self-help class, shrieking these words at me. I found myself circling back to the “survey” in the evening, as I lay in bed wasting time and preparing emotionally for the “time for bed” storm. I started calling out the questions, and like zombies, my family leaned in – Anthony pottering about the house doing whatever he was doing, Nick fussing with the dogs and fidgeting on the bed next to me, and Jesse yelling answers from her own bedroom at the other end of the hall.

That girl. I don’t even know how she heard me asking the questions at first.  I was muttering them. How does she hear me whisper from 50 feet away, through bending hallways and half-closed doors, and know precisely what I’m saying? She could probably record my heart rate.  Of all the challenges she has going for her, can’t we trade in some of her unbelievable hearing for a little emotional resilience or impulse control? And at the same time, offer me some minimal privacy in conversations? Just a small swap of skill sets is all I’m asking.

I’m off topic.  Right. So I threw the questions out, and the three children answered.  This is how it went.

1. What is something I say a lot?

Anthony, rooting around in his closet: Good morning Nicholas I love you.

It seemed a little premature for sarcasm, but okay.

Nick: Time to boil the oil.

WTF Nick.  I have never said anything like that.  What does it even mean? It sounded wrong. He shrugged at me. Anthony offered assistance. “I think he means, time to lance the boil.”

Ah.  Yes.

Jesse, yelling from her bedroom: GO TO BED. EAT YOUR FOOD. WHY ARE YOU SO SELFISH.

Zoinks. Teenager.

2. What makes me happy?

Anthony, wandering into the bathroom carrying something: When someone else makes dinner.

Jesse:  I dunno, nothing.

Nick. When Jesse eats food or does not yell at you.

I think all three of them nailed it.

3. What makes me sad?

Anthony, wandering out of the bathroom and heading toward the bedroom door with a nervous laugh: This is a tricky one.

Nick: Jesse not eating and Jesse yelling.

He’s so binary and practical. I love that about Nick, but it seems a little simple, doesn’t it? The opposite of what makes me happy isn’t necessarily what makes me sad.  Or is it? Is he my little buddha? Am I about to have an epiphany??

Give me a second… no.

Jesse: Me.  Seeing dad slap a bunch of sour cream all over the place.

I’m deeply disturbed by the first part of Jesse’s answer, but that’s a huge topic and must be set aside.  I can explain the second part of Jesse’s answer.  Anthony thought this would be funny: empty a gone-bad container of sour cream into one hand over the sink, and then CLAP the other hand down as hard as he can.  Everyone else thought it was funny.  I saw the sour cream shrapnel and did not think it was funny.

4.  How tall am I?

Nick: two feet.

Anthony, bending over to pick something up off the floor: five feet.

Jesse: five feet something.

5.  What’s my favorite thing to do?

Nick: Being a lazy bum.

Anthony, leaning over the bed to pet a dog and move the blankets around aimlessly: home improvement projects.

Jesse: Drink.

Ooooh… Oh.  Shade. Kids throwing shade. But at least, not giving away password secrets.

6.  What’s my favorite food?

Anthony, lying on the bed with the dogs and Nick: That gross dessert.

What does that even mean? He could not describe it, name it, or identify any ingredients. He mumbled about it being something Korean. Then Nick weighed in.

Nick: Spam? What dad said.

And then the two of them went off about me loving fried spam, and shit on a shingle. And yes, I do love these things but they are not my favorite food. My girl came to my rescue with truth.

Jesse: kimchi.

7.  What is my favorite drink?

Jesse, without even a moment for reflection: Alcohol.


Anthony, starting to roll around with nervous energy on the bed: I would have to say basil bourbon smash.

Nick, in a rush of words and feeling sorry for me: I would also have to say alcohol, I’m sorry.

Don’t be sorry. Mommy drinks. I am keenly aware that alcoholism runs in both sides of my family, and I do try to keep tabs on it. But especially in times like this, a drink every night is helping me turn down the volume on everything. The only thing that surprises me a little is that the kids are so aware of it. 95% of the time, I wait until after they go to bed to have a drink. Huh.

8.  If I could go anywhere, where would it be?

Anthony, now jumping up off the bed and headed back into the hallway: away from here.

Hey! Okay, probably. But still…

Nick: To your mama.

Aw, yes, that much is true.  That is truly true.  I had to cancel my trip to California and I miss my mama so much.

Jesse: Hawaii or away from me.

Sigh.  Jesse’s morose teenage angst was starting to get to me by this point.  I had to control my impulse to start wheedling “waaa waaaa waaaaah.”

9.  Do you think you could live without me?

Jesse: Maybe.

Anthony, dancing in circles around the bedroom: [breaks into song, with the refrain from Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive.”]

(This is infinitely better than the time he told me, “without you, I am but a dung beetle without its dung.”)

Nick: Well, if it’s a miserable life then yes.

10.  How do I annoy you?

Jesse (impersonating me):  EAT YOUR FOOD.

Anthony, digging in his closet again and pulling something out: Don’t put your clothes away, or your jacket away when you come in the door. Or anything else.

Nick, struggling to think of anything at all: When you yell at Jesse I get mad, but not annoyed.

Oooh, thanks for the clarity, little boy. I will continue working on it.

11.  What is my favorite TV show?

Anthony, snickering as he kneels on the floor to get his face right next to a dog’s face:  MASH.

Nick: Dragonball Z.

Jesse: Dragonball.

WTF WTF WTF. No no no no no. Complete garbage. For the win! No password help for a hacker there.

12.  What is my favorite music to listen to?

Anthony, who’s back up and into the bathroom: Fleetwood Mac.

Nick: The sounds of our house.

Jess: Ultra instinct [the theme music for when Goku, the anime star of Dragonball stuff, powers up to some insane level]

I think they must have been tuning out by now, because these were not real answers. No. But I carried on relentlessly with the survey.

13. What is my job?

Nick: to do chores.

Sigh. Yeah.

Anthony, flossing his teeth: Financial and property management, and Human Resources.

Jesse:  I don’t know. To put up with four kids and be the only grownup.

14.  How old am I?

Jesse: 45.

Nick: 79.

Anthony, wandering out of our bathroom and into the other bathroom: Boomer.

15.  What’s my favorite color?

Anthony, now back in the room and in his closet again: Orange.

Nick: Orange.

Jesse: Orange.

Really? I didn’t know orange was my favorite color.  I will need to ponder this. Sometimes the ones we love know stuff about us that we don’t realize.

16.  How much do you love me?

Anthony, finally settling onto the bed with the rest of us, and I can’t tell if he’s being sarcastic or embarrassed but I know he means it: To the moon and back forever until the sunshine never shines anymore.

Nick: Secret.

Jesse:  Um, I dunno… like 10 out of 10.

Totally worth the 20 minutes to do the survey.


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