G-mom: a woman, four days from her 41st birthday, who is just finishing her work week and her week on as a single-parent of her 15-year-old twins she shares custody of. It’s been stressful, which is normal, but the amount of stress she faced in the last 7 days was extensive. Her period is imminent. She’s tired and has cleared all of her previously scheduled plans for the weekend, with the exception of the sleepover with her two oldest grandsons, the seven-year-old and the four-year-old. Today is the seven-year-old’s birthday, which is the primary reason she’s gone ahead with the sleepover. Her adrenals are pretty much fried, which she’s pretty sure is not an actual thing actually proven by evidence-based science, but she uses it anyway.
The seven-year-old: G-mom’s oldest of her three grandsons, who was born to his mom, G-mom’s daughter, when she was 17. The seven-year-old is a red-haired, blue-eyed, smart, headstrong first grader who lives with his dad, his dad’s girlfriend, his four-year-old brother, his dad’s girlfriend’s two school-age children, and two small dogs, Zelda and Marcy, in a two bedroom apartment. The seven-year-old has been struggling for quite sometime with toileting, and he often has a stomach ache. Today is his 7th birthday.
The four-year-old: G-mom’s middle grandson, but the youngest of the two born to G-mom’s daughter and the dad of the seven- and four-year-old. He’s also the youngest child in the household. He’ll be five in June, and so will start kindergarten in the fall. The four-year-old is a red-haired, blue-eyed, slight boy, who G-mom used to think was the cutest child to ever be born on the planet. Then he started whining – about everything – and crying when he doesn’t get his way. Now G-mom thinks he’s the cutest child on the planet only when he is sleeping.
Dad’s girlfriend: G-mom has come to grow very fond of Dad’s girlfriend, a woman several years older than Dad, and not very many years younger than G-mom herself. Dad’s girlfriend has been involved, loving, and consistent over the last three years, when G-mom’s daughter slowly became unable to care for any of her three children or herself. Dad’s girlfriend, though, like any parent of four children under the age of 10 in a small apartment, can sometimes be at her wit’s end when G-mom arrives.
SCENE: INTERIOR OF THE SEVEN- AND FOUR-YEAR-OLD’S HOME
G-mom has arrived to pick the seven- and four-year-old up for the sleepover. The seven-year-old isn’t quite done getting dressed. The four-year-old is in tears. G-mom asks them both “come on, guys, get ready” several times before Dad’s girlfriend steps in.
“Boys, come on! Your G-mom has asked you to get going ten times. Let’s move it!” The four-year-old is still crying, taking great pains to make sure G-mom sees him. “I promise you he was not crying two minutes before you knocked,” Dad’s girlfriend says.
“I totally get it,” G-mom says. “Did he get a nap today?”
“You know, honestly, we had to skip his nap to get the pizza and cake for the seven-year-old’s birthday. He may be tired and ready for bed early.”
G-mom now notes the frosting around the mouth of the seven- and four-year-old and decides right then to cancel her previous plans to take the boys out for pizza, then to Fred Meyer to buy the seven-year-old whatever birthday gift for $20 or under he wants. She’s a little disappointed, as cruising the boys around the grocery store when she’s too burned out to entertain them is her go-to. She takes a deep breath in an attempt to regroup.
SCENE: INTERIOR OF G-MOM’S CAR
“Hey, guys, I think we should just go straight to my house and watch some TV and chill. What do you think?”
“Yeah. That sounds good. My belly doesn’t feel good. I feel like I can’t breathe,” says the seven-year-old, rolling down his window to let the cool air blow on his face.
“Oh, hey, guess what?” G-mom says to the seven-year-old. “Your mom called today and asked me to tell you happy birthday! She’s out of town. But she asked me if the card she sent you had come in the mail yet, and I told her no, but she said it should be here any day! That means when you visit me next week, you should have a birthday card from your mom!”
“Yay! I want a card from her. I miss her,” says the seven-year-old, still with his face in the wind.
This is only partly true, but mostly false. G-mom’s daughter did call today, but from jail, once again for missing court for a drug charge she faces from almost a year ago. She’s spent more time in jail for failure to appear than she might have for the original charge itself. She was in tears and so sorry that she was going to miss her son’s birthday again. She hasn’t seen her children in over a year, mostly because The Dad disallows it. She promised G-mom that she had a card for the seven-year-old and that she would get it to him when she gets out next week and would G-mom please, please tell the seven-year-old she loves him so much and she said happy birthday? Reluctantly, G-mom says yes. And now she’s fulfilled her promise.
“Oh, and guess what else. Tomorrow morning, after breakfast, we’ll go to Fred Meyer and you can pick out a gift for yourself for your birthday. You have a $20 budget.”
The seven-year-old is excited about this and he and G-mom spend the remainder of the ride discussing what amount and variety of items can be purchased from the local superstore for a budget of $20.
SCENE: INTERIOR OF G-MOM’S LIVING ROOM
“G-mom, I can’t eat dis bwanana because it’s old,” the four-year-old tells G-mom, as she sits coloring with him on the floor of the living room. “See? See? See? G-mom, see? It’s bwoken and old. See?”
G-mom looks up and sees the four-year-old holding a perfectly fine, not at all old banana, which has broken in half as the four-year-old removed it from its peel. It’s a little squished on top.
“It’s fine,” G-mom says. “You’ll be fine. Just eat it.”
“Nuh uh,” argues the four-year-old. “It’s old. See? See? See?”
G-mom attempts to ignore the four-year-old, but he will not rest until she sees that, by god, this banana is not only broken, but old! Finally, she stops coloring, removes the squished part of the banana, and hands the four-year-old the best of the two halves. “Now go throw the rest away,” she tells him.
He gives her what she’s come to recognize as his manipulative, ain’t-I-so-sweet look and says, “Will you, G-mom?”
“No way, man,” she tells him and goes back to coloring, pretending not even to notice that he’s forcing his lower lip to tremble at her refusal to do his bidding. Finally, he throws the broken, old bwanana away on his own.
The seven-year-old says his belly feels better and asks G-mom if they can go to Fred Meyer tonight, instead. The four-year-old has been talking and asking questions nearly nonstop for half an hour, so while it’s nearly time for bath and then bedtime, G-mom is happy to change up the scenery and distract the chatterbox. She says yes, they can go.
SCENE: INTERIOR OF FRED MEYER, THE LOCAL SUPERSTORE
G-mom and the boys spend a lot of time in the toy section, collecting various items of interest to the seven-year-old. His instructions are to keep track of the cost of each item so they can sit down when he’s done and go through different combinations until he’s hit his $20 limit, then they’ll put the rest back. The four-year-old continuously takes items off the shelf and runs up to his brother saying, “Look at dis! Don’t you want dis?” Each time, G-mom tells him to look with his eyes and not his hands. Soon, the four-year-old runs up with a toy for his brother to see, looks at G-mom with a naughty glint in his eye and confesses, “I looked with my hands.” G-mom announces it’s time to go.
The final toy selection has been made and G-mom and the boys are standing in line. The woman in front of them engages in conversation with the boys and entertains them for the long wait for the register. G-mom suspects this woman is drunk, but she does not care and is happy to have the heat off her. The woman keeps referring to G-mom as “your mom” when talking to the boys. Normally G-mom lets this go because she long ago got tired of the conversation, but she likes this nice maybe-drunk lady who is nice to her grandsons, and so she says, “I’m not their mom. I’m their grandma.” The woman stares at G-mom, mouth open, silent. G-mom is used to this reaction. She knows the question that is forming in the woman’s mind and the calculations she’s going through about whether it’s appropriate to ask. “I’ll be 41 on Tuesday,” G-mom says, smiling.
“Holy crap! I’m…babe, how old am I?” says the maybe-drunk woman to her partner, who is finally paying.
“43,” he says.
“Holy crap! I’m 43 and I have an 8 year old son! Wow.”
Usually, if this converstaion progresses to this point with a stranger, G-mom will deadpan, “Yeah. I was young when I had my daughter. I was only 12.” And then she’ll leave the conversation right there. Instead, she says to this kind, maybe-drunk woman, “I was 16 when I had their mom.” Now the woman and her partner have paid and high fives are given all around.
SCENE: INTERIOR OF G-MOM’S CAR
G-mom gives the boys a fried fruit pie she’s gotten for each of them and tells them they can eat it in the car as a special treat for the seven-year-old’s birthday. Midway through the short drive back to the house, the seven-year-old says, “I can’t eat my lemon pie, G-mom. It’s making my stomach feel bad.”
SCENE: INTERIOR OF G-MOM’S HOUSE
While playing with his new toys – cowboy gear, a Magic 8 Ball, and Silly String – the seven-year-old farts, but diarrhea comes out. Not a little, but a lot. It begins to drip down his leg and into his sock. He tells G-mom, “I pooped my pants.” G-mom is used to this because of the seven-year-old’s troubles with toileting, though she’s impatient with it by now.
She says, “Well, hurry up and get in the bathroom! Change of plans! No more toys tonight – you both have to take a shower.”
The four-year-old shouts, “Noooo!” and starts crying again. The seven-year-old shuffles slowly toward the bathroom like he’s holding a ticking bomb between his butt cheeks, dragging his feet the whole way. He gets in the bathroom and G-mom tells him where the disposable wet wipes she’s just bought from Fred Meyer are. She gets the four-year-old to be quiet and start getting undressed. As she collects the clothes that are being discarded onto the floor, G-mom notices a spot of poop on the linoleum. Then several spots on the carpet in the hallway. Then a long line of poop spots throughout the kitchen. She doesn’t see any in the living room, but maybe only because the living room carpet is the color of poop spots. She takes a deep breath and looks down at the clothes in her arms. The seven-year-old’s socks are covered in poop.
“Alright, both of you, in the shower right now!” G-mom yells, finally losing her cool. “I have to clean shit off everything!”
The boys get in the shower and there is a shriek of horror from the four-year-old as G-mom is piling the clothes in her arms and that she’s wearing into the washing machine. The shower was too cold. G-mom stomps into the bathroom, adjusts the temperature, then flies around the house scrubbing, and rinsing, and retching, and scrubbing. She’s sure she’s gotten all of it – except in the living room, of course, which she now feels can only be accessed in hazmat suits. She realizes she’s obviously going to need to steam clean her carpets. Immediately.
G-mom gets the boys out of the shower and orders them into the living room to get their pajamas out of their backpacks and onto their bodies as soon as possible. Once they’re out of the bathroom, G-mom takes the lid off her cat’s litterbox and places it in the hallway – a visual reminder to change his litter as soon as humanly possible, which cannot possibly be right now.
The four-year-old comes barreling around the corner from the kitchen with his shirt over his face for god knows what reason and trips on the cat box lid, falling face-first into it and busting his lip. Blood everywhere. Tons of tears.
A wet washrag is applied to the bloody lip of a crying four-year-old. Apologies are issued.
Bedtime is in G-mom’s sons’ beds, in their bedroom. For the love of all that’s holy – BED.
“Goodnight, both of you,” G-mom says. “Now go to bed. Right now!”
SCENE: INTERIOR OF G-MOM’S BEDROOM
G-mom gets in her own bed to collect herself for a few minutes.
The four-year-old comes into her room to ask her a question. She tells him to go to bed.
The seven-year-old comes into her room to complain that his Magic 8 Ball isn’t working. She shows him that he’s holding it wrong. She tells him to go to bed.
The four-year-old comes in to hang a picture on her wall. It won’t stick. He asks for help. G-mom tells him they’ll do it tomorrow but he continues to try to hang the picture. She tells him to leave. He leaves.
The seven-year-old comes into her room to ask her to shake the Magic 8 Ball for him. G-mom takes the Magic 8 Ball and shakes it for a second while the seven-year-old talks. She quits shaking it. The seven-year-old looks at her, clearly disappointed. “No, G-mom. You have to shake it the whole time I’m asking my question.” G-mom shakes the 8 Ball while the seven-year-old asks it if the four-year-old will ever stop talking.
G-mom shouts down the hall to the four-year-old, calling him by name, “Stop talking for the love of god!” The four-year-old yells back, “Okay, G-mom.” The seven-year-old goes to bed.
The four-year-old comes in with a different picture and attempts to hang it on G-mom’s wall. G-mom has no patience left. She addresses the four-year-old by first and middle name. She say, “Go to bed.” He attempts to talk and her, but she brusquely interrupts him, “I will listen to what you have to say after you go to bed and go to sleep and then wake up in the morning. Okay?” He looks disappointed and a bit stricken, but says, “Okay, G-mom” and goes to bed.
Silence. Sweet, glorious silence.
G-mom decide to write the last holy-shit-how-is-it-only four hours down in the format of a play, maybe, or something because putting experience into words soothes her. But she realizes she…is…now…exhausted…
SCENE: INTERIOR OF G-MOM’S BEDROOM, THE NEXT MORNING
G-mom is awoken by the seven-year-old tapping her. She opens her eyes. He says, “I’m awake now.”
“Go watch cartoons,” she says. He leaves and she gets out of bed. She looks down the hall at her son’s bed and sees the four-year-old fast asleep, mouth open. She thinks he’s the cutest child on the planet but she’s also very excited he’s still asleep.
The four-year-old gets up and is quiet for the first time since he was picked up the previous night.
The seven-year-old and G-mom put two puzzles together while the four-year-old repeatedly asks his brother if he can touch all the birthday stuff.
SCENE: EXTERIOR OF G-MOM’S HOUSE, BACKYARD
Everyone goes outside to play with bubbles and plants seeds. G-mom reminds the four-year-old repeatedly that his brother’s birthday toys aren’t his. The four-year-old finally concedes but takes the plastic holsters from the cap guns and uses them as 1) laser hands, 2) bazookas, 3) knives. G-mom pretends to be shot until she doesn’t want to be shot anymore, then she builds a laser, bazooka, and knife-proof force field around her, much to the confusion and ultimate frustration of the four-year-old.
The seven-year-old screams from the front yard, where he is, to the backyard, where the four-year-old and G-mom are, “G-MOM! I POOPED”
A whirlwind of yelling, reminding, showering, and more laundry.
SCENE: INTERIOR OF G-MOM’S LIVING ROOM
The four-year-old won’t leave the cap guns alone. He follows G-mom around repeatedly asking for help getting the belt on. G-mom tells him to go ask his brother until she’s frustrated and yells at him. The four-year-old asks his brother for help. The seven-year-old gets upset and demands his belt and guns back. The four-year-old cries. G-mom tells him to figure it out because she’s cleaning up poop. The seven-year-old says he doesn’t like what G-mom is saying and G-mom says she’s not mad but is stating a fact. She tells the seven-year-old he can’t have anymore dairy because the color of his poop ain’t right and there’s obviously something wrong with his belly. So she gives him Frosted Flakes with soy milk.
The seven year old says, “G-mom. Can I have cereal without soil milk? It tastes bad.” He hands G-mom the bowl and she quickly realizes she’s served her grandson with the sick belly spoiled soy milk. She gives him a bowl of dried Frosted Flakes and goes outside to stress smoke. Before she goes, she tells both boys, “I’m going to go outside in the backyard for seven minutes. Okay? Just stay inside for seven minutes.”
SCENE: EXTERIOR OF G-MOM’S HOUSE, BACKYARD
G-mom is outside smoking and she hears the four-year-old pounding through the house trying to find her, yelling, “G-moooooom!” G-mom ignores him. She’s pretty sure she’s developing a twitch in her left eye every time he says her name. She just wants to smoke a cigarette in peace. She thinks of a brilliant essay about being a single mom her friend Meg recent wrote. She thinks about her Essure coils nestled snug up in her Fallopian tubes, ensuring she can never get pregnant again. She’s thinking about these things when the backdoor opens and the four-year-old thrusts an envelope at her, smiling. The seven-year-old says brightly, “The mail came!”
“Please go back inside and wait for me to finish, okay?” They shut the door. G-mom looks down at the envelope and sees that it’s junk-mail from Planned Parenthood. She laughs, though she feels no joy, only absolute fatigue. Nicely played, universe, she thinks, and goes back inside to see if the laundry is done so that she can finally get the boys home.
SCENE: INTERIOR OF G-MOM’S BEDROOM
G-mom is alone in her bed trying to work up the energy to start on the list of poop-decontamination tasks she’s written on her dry-erase board. But then her cat emerges from wherever he’s been hiding since she showed up with her grandsons 18 hours ago. He hops up on the bed with her and curls into a warm, furry, purring ball against her belly. As she falls into a heavy sleep, she thinks, “I’ll clean it all up later.”