I have a temper.

Do you know how I know?  Last night, I actually heard myself making the follow statement to my daughter:

“I want you to know that when I get mad like that I’m really not mad at you, I just need to yell at whoever’s closest to me.  And I hope you know that I really don’t want to move into my own nice clean apartment so the rest of you can stay in the house and live like pigs.”

My daughter just smiled and said, “Um…okay?”  I’m not sure if that meant she was already over it or scarred for life.  (I’m crossing my fingers for already-over-it.)

What is it with me and my temper?  I hate it (hate it…hate it…HATE IT!!!)  It’s one of my worst flaws, besides my indecisiveness and, obviously, my cankles.  I have struggled with my short fuse since I was a child; I have early memories of raging at my older brother through his closed bedroom door when he stole several of the fat pink peppermint candies I’d bought with my own money at the gas station.  In a fit of righteous indignation, I hurled the entire bag of them against the door and screamed, “Fine, have them all!” (It was a pretty big bag of peppermint candies; how many did I need?  Apparently gluttony is another of my flaws.)  I can also recall, during my young(ish) years, frequently slamming the door and throwing myself on my bed, yelling and weeping over the latest injustice my mother had inflicted on me.  She used to blame my temper on my “artistic temperment,” which ticked me off even more.  First of all, I wasn’t an artist.  And second of all, I…did…not…HAVE…A…BAD…TEMPER!!!  (I protested her diagnoses by throwing myself on my bed even harder and yelling even louder.)  And I think my flare-ups hit their max on a brutally hot summer day when I was about ten years old.  My parents were at work and my younger sister and I were wrapping up another one of our eight-hour fights.  I pulled out a butcher knife–a big one, not kidding–from the knife block and held it squarely in my upright hand.  I told her that if I wouldn’t get in so much trouble, I’d use it.  (It’s not as bad as it sounds, my faithfuls.  I was standing way across the kitchen and she just rolled her eyes and said, “Whatever” and walked out, the little brat.)  Yeah.  I have a temper.

What can I do about my temper?  Like any truly immature person, I always feel bad and apologize afterward.  I tell my family, “I’m sorry, I’ll work on my temper.”  But when I lose it again the next day, my credibility is somewhat shot.  It’s in the throes of my frustration, not after, that I need my grown-up-ness.  But in the throes of my frustration, my grown-up-ness fizzles like flat pop from a faulty fountain (speaking of frustration…)  Now, lest you are worried, you should know that my temper tantrums no longer include butcher knives or peppermint candies.  But I can get snippy/snappy/nasty with the kids on pretty short notice, usually when I’m tired or stressed.  They are quick to forgive, but I feel terrible for hours, lying awake and wondering how many years will go by before, at a Thanksgiving dinner with their brand-new spouses, they pipe up and say, “Hey Mom, remember when you called us pigs and threatened to move out because someone left a gum wrapper on the mousepad?”  How will I explain to them that I threatened to move out because my middle daughter had strep throat and was crying and throwing up and I didn’t know if I should take her to the E.R. tonight or wait until morning to take her to her regular doctor and the printer was broken (again) so I couldn’t print out an important tax document we needed tomorrow and my older daughter couldn’t print her homework for tomorrow and the house was a wreck (again) and I felt like I was coming down with my daughter’s strep throat and I’d just spent the last four hours in the van (again) driving kids everywhere and getting nothing done and the dog was on her fourth diaper of the day which was no picnic for me and nine million other church/school/work/house/friend/things were nagging the back of my mind and somehow it all goes back to being my husband’s fault for being out of town (again) and thus unable to make Adulthood go away for me, which he should know by now is a stipulation of his husbandhood?  Will all of that explain why, when I saw that gum wrapper on the mousepad, I just exploded?

I don’t think so.  But it really doesn’t matter.  Because someday my children will have children of their own, and they’ll finally understand what a gum wrapper on a mousepad can do to a mother on a ledge.  And they’ll either laugh at the memories of their Mad Mom or remain scarred for life.

I’m crossing my fingers for the laughing.

Far from trivial.

Last night, sleep would not come.  I took a melatonin. I turned on the fan. Growing desperate, I even started reading the Old Testament.  But I was anxious and awake, and in the wee hours of the morning I finally realized that I would not rest until I admitted to my faithfuls the real reason I quit blogging over the summer.  I told you I had been too busy, but that is not entirely true.  The truth is, I quit blogging this summer for one reason and one reason only:  to work on my Trivial Pursuit Skillz.  I use a capital S for Skillz and a z to finish it off because I believe skills of the Trivial Pursuit variety deserve a sassier title than your everyday ho-hum skills of, say, conducting a symphony or performing heart surgery.  In my family, Trivial Pursuit Skillz are the currency used for purchasing power, prestige and (most importantly) bragging rights over your fellow citizen.  In my family, forget becoming valedictorian or making the basket at the buzzer.  The real question is:  can you win at Triv?  Can you prove that you know absolutely everything about absolutely nothing?  This summer, I was reminded of what that answer is, and has always been, for me:  um, no.

In July, my younger sister came to visit and every night that she was here, we four siblings and our parents sat around the Trivial Pursuit board, revisiting the ritual of our childhood.  I’ve always considered myself a somewhat well-read, relatively aware person, but alas:  I stink at this game.  Playing Trivial Pursuit with my family is almost as bad as playing Settlers of Catan with my husband, except that with my family, I can’t pout and make them sleep on the couch.  (I tried that once with my father.  It was awkward for both of us.)

I don’t know politics (they’re all Cold War questions–I’m too young), sports (I’m too disinterested), or even pop culture (I’m too geeky.)  I don’t really know geography (too ignorant) and to be honest, I don’t even know what Science and Nature is.  (I don’t think anybody knows.  If you know, will you tell me?)  In fact, it turns out that despite my feeble attempts at reading and writing, I really don’t know much about anything at all.  But I believe myself to be  a hardworking, proactive person, so what I want to know is this:  Where is my representation on the Triv board?  Where are the questions to reflect my talents and interests?  Where is the category for reading Anita Shreve novels?  Or pinning pound cakes on my This Looks Yumalicious! board?  Where is the category for finally learning how to operate my thermostat, or repainting my hallway, or completing an entire month’s worth of grocery shopping–at Winco, no less–at eleven o’clock on a Saturday night?  Where is the category for diapering my dog and singing at my scout meeting and napping with my sick daughter on the couch?  (It was a selfless act.  Really.)

Where, I ask the Great Triv Board in the Sky, is the category for moms?

I know that sounds a bit sexist, suggesting that we mothers possess only menial skills rather than the intellectual capacity that a game like Trivial Pursuit requires.  I didn’t mean it that way, honest.  I just meant that, lately, it’s easier for my fingers to physically punch the keys on this keyboard than it is for my brain to create the ideas to be punched.  If only I could punch someone else’s ideas; I’d be so good at it.  Wait, there’s a word for that:  plagiarism.  Where is the category for plagiarism?  When is it my turn?

Well, it was my turn, quite often.  And it usually ended in a wrong answer.  Where is the category for wrong answers?  Oh yeah.  That’s every category for me.

So rather than posting about my galactical Trivial Pursuit failures, I spent the rest of the summer trolling through the internet, brushing up on my latin etymology, the global positioning of volcanoes, and the history of the NBA.  Come autumn, my house was a mess and my kids were ignored, but–not to brag or anything–I could tell you everything you needed to know about Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972.

美好的一天, 我忠实的

(Good day, my faithful)

But I won’t tuck in the shirt. Do you hear me? I refuse to tuck in the shirt.

Last week, I attended my first Cub Scout Roundtable Meeting.  I have been a Cub Scout leader for two years, but have just recently learned that I am supposed to be attending these monthly meetings wherein all the local leaders join their khaki-clad forces.  (I don’t know…maybe someone told me about these meetings awhile back, but I was probably too busy focusing on the spiritual needs of our boys to put it on the calendar.  You know.)  Anyway.

So Thursday night I showed up,  sat down, and watched as a delighted middle-aged woman began to dance and sing, leading the council members (me!) in a rousing rendition of Old MacDonald Had a Farm.  She wore a yellow scout shirt, a blue neckerchief, a highly positioned belt with a supershiny buckle, and a Grin for the Ages.  She had her audience intensely engaged, laughing and singing loudly, producing the animal noises assigned to their sections.  My section had been assigned The Pig.  Oinking in my turn, I took a good look around me and thought, “How did I get here?”

Well, I’ll tell you how I got here.  And as a cautionary tale, I’ll tell you how, one day,  you’ll get here.  Don’t assume yourself immune, my faith.  I was once where you are now.

It will start with an assignment to be a Cub Scout Leader, probably through your church, which means that no way in-the-bad-place can you say no.  Having never worked in scouts, you’ll take the assignment with apprehension.  See, you’ve been around, you’ve seen a few things, and you know full well what can happen to mothers who start out normal–hot, even–and then go the way of All Things Scouting.  But being the pleasant and accommodating person you are, you’ll agree to help out and you’ll decide that your fate will be different.  Unlike any other scout leader in the history of scout leaders, you will find a way to do it and still be cool.  Because you, my friend, have cool enough to spare.  It will take more than a khaki-colored-collared shirt to suck it all out of you.

You’ll begin meeting with your co-leaders and planning activities for the boys.  In the beginning your ambitions are simple:  flag ceremonies, uniform inspections, an occasional skit in which you do not have to participate, merely oversee.  But as the months roll slowly by, the game begins to change.  Soon you find yourself in charge of what you once considered distant and peculiar events: a Pinewood Derby here, a Blue and Gold Banquet there, Cub Scout Day Camp everywhere.  You try to keep your faculties about you, but find yourself gradually immersed in heated conversations about popcorn sales and online training and which leaders’ manual–out of the nine hundred leaders’ manuals available–will catapult your den meetings to superscout status.

You’ll become a regular at The Dollar Tree, always pushing through the front door with clenched teeth and sweaty palms, hoping against all hope that they’ll have the puffy paint pens you promised to bring to the bike rodeo, which starts in ten minutes.  You’ll create your own account with orientaltrading.com–the very store whose catalog covers have ever provoked your rage–and spend an unseemly amount of money on fifty child-sized sombreros for next month’s Cinco de Mayo dinner.

Despite this flurry of productivity by the sweat of your own brow, you’ll maintain that, through it all,  you’ve managed to keep one foot out of the mire.  You haven’t changed, you’re simply doing your duty.  You’ll almost believe it, too, until one dark and unforeseen weeknight when you’ll find yourself standing in the front of the boys on a makeshift stage wearing old jeans, white shoes, and a khaki-colored-collared shirt, leading fifteen boys and thirty parents in a booming rendition of On Top of Spaghetti. Nobody will know the words and a pianist is out of the question, so you’ll stand and sing alone–you, who can not sing a note to save your life.  To gloss over the awkwardness, you’ll began shouting the words instead of singing them, then resort to full-on screaming when forty-five blank stares becomes too much too bear.  You’ll then make a desperate attempt to laugh at yourself (really loud!) hoping that will dilute the shame.  Instead, you will now be screaming and psuedo-dancing across the floor, laughing (really loud!) between verses, proving to everyone how “comfortable” you are with yourself.

But through it all, you’ll tell everyone you know, loudly and repeatedly, that you are doing all of this out of obligation–nothing more!  You’ll roll your eyes every time the subject of scouts comes up and emphasize to outsiders that you have no personal investment in this assignment.  It will become very important that people understand this.  You’ll tell your friends, over and over again, that you are still normal.  Cool, even.  Yes, very cool.  You’ll say it at church.  You’ll say it at book club.  You’ll say it at Wal-Mart.  You’ll say it, alone and aloud, in your dusty minivan on the way to Roundtable.  “This is only temporary. This is not who I am.  I am better than this.”  You’ll say it, you’ll believe it, it’s true.  It’s true.

And then you’ll find yourself obediently oinking for a woman who looks exactly the way you did at pack meeting last Tuesday.  She catches your eye and smiles at you just like the serpent did to Eve; you can almost hear her whisper:  You’re mine, lady.  All mine.  You’ll be trapped in her gaze while reciting the scout motto and striking the salute.  You’ll know, of course, that she’s right.  In this life, there are places that we go from which we never can return.

And that, my friend, is how you’ll get here.