The Playmobil pirate and an Ernie figurine are playing together in the tub. The pirate’s legs are bent at ninety degrees, and he’s gently flipping underwater somersaults with the touch of her fingers on his toes. Ernie is perched in a bright yellow plastic boat, watching the pirate’s antics in the water. She is carrying on a constant stream of dialogue between the two while I floss my teeth at the mirror.
Ernie: Pirate, you must stop flipping.
Pirate: I’m allowed to flip.
Ernie: I don’t want you to flip anymore, you are splashing water into my boat.
Pirate: I’m still flipping.
Ernie: I’m using my nice words. (Growling in a most decidedly un-nice way.) Stop flipping.
Pirate: You need to talk to my supervisor.
M and I are reading books to her before she heads off to bed. Somewhere in the conversation around these books, she uses the word “Absolutely”. It rolls right off her tongue, despite the multiple syllables. Her dad laughs at it, and asks her how she can say a word like “absolutely” so clearly when she still pronounces lemonade, “lemo-lade”. She shrugs her shoulders, cocks her right eyebrow just like I do and says “It’s absolutely lemo-lade.” And so it is.
I’m vacuuming her room, and the method I employ for this task is to first pull the furniture to the center of the room, vacuum the perimeter, and then push everything back to the wall and vacuum the rest of the floor. Some of the smaller items like her desk chair and her rocking chair are stacked onto the window seat, but this day she is sorting all the unshelved books into piles and she asks me not to disturb them. I cannot really follow how she is arranging them, but there is most certainly a method to her madness, and she frequently backs up to survey her progress. I think maybe she is trying to create four different stacks of books that perfectly align in height, but then I think that maybe she is organizing them by color. It was probably by genre; I have a bad habit of consistent underestimation on her behalf.
The vacuum is fired up and I circle the island of furniture which causes her to scramble quickly onto the window seat. She is barefoot, and each little foot is wedged between two stacks of books. The quickness of her movements causes them to start to slide, and the sound of her carefully arranged piles crashing to the wood floors below is louder than my vacuum, and I quickly turn to look, expecting to see her in a heap. I turn the sound off and she is standing there with feet still spread apart, hands on hips, looking at the mess below.
“Unbelievable,” she mutters. “Unbelievable. There goes all my organizing, in a pile on the floor.”
Did you grow up with a Reader’s Digest on the end table in the living room or on the back of the toilet? Did you read the “Drama in Real Life” story first, and then flip to the “Life in These United States” and “Humor in Uniform” and “All in a Day’s Work”? I used to read those funny little paragraphs and marvel at how everyone seemed to be living these little three-to-four sentence snippets of hilarity, especially in the upper Midwest and Florida (those states seemed to have the most frequent submissions). As I got older, I started to wonder if any of those stories were actually true, or if they were shaped by each writer into funnier paragraphs for the minuscule submission fee that the magazine would pay them for their entry. I mentioned this to my parents last weekend – how we managed to give birth to a child that could fill a monthly column of these humorous snippets. I could be a rich lady if they’d let me enter them all. Perhaps I already am.