Martial family arts:
reptile research
and shooting the moon

by KJ Hannah Greenberg


A small set of feet connected to legs, torso and wildly swinging arms articulate themselves down the staircase. Banshee-like yelps filter forward in an otherwise poltergeist-free house. The kids have realized that Daddy is home.

Daddy’s arrival is often heralded with less spectacular notice. Most nights, he receives an “Oh hi, when did you get home?” or has to seek out the even less magnificent “pa-leease tell brother to get off of my homework” or the yet less wonderful “oh, you’re home. I need a box of cookies; I’m snack sponsor tomorrow. I need a piece of pink posterboard for yesterday’s science project, too, and Mom won’t take me ‘cause of something about enabling behavior or natural consequences or whatever, but you’ll go to the store, right? Oh and yah, I also I have to be at karate in ten minutes. Mrs Ralph called to say she can’t drive. Would you sign my social studies test? I know, I know, I forgot to change the litter. Let’s just get in the car. Pa-leease!”

However, in the case of familial dispute, Daddy’s advent is a much more proclaimed happening. During such occasions, Daddy is instantly upgraded from ‘Chief Bedtime Bard and Official Tuck-er-in-er’, endorsed past ‘Professional Bicycle Repair Meister and Splinter Expert Extraordinaire’,  lauded beyond ‘Extreme Nouggies Keeper’ all of the way to ‘Supreme Justice of the Family Appellate Court’.

When the residents in the land feel that their freedoms have been compromised, their rights violated or their privileges otherwise rebuked, they evoke their civic defender. As one, they call out “Dadddddddy!” No floodlight needed. Should the heinous Mommy-monster insist that the floors be visible in the rooms, that coats be worn during snowfall or that the dwellers of the realm treat each other with a modicum of respect (somehow aiming a spitball at a sister’s brow or accidentally, on purpose, tripping a brother does not count), then the fair citizens clamour for their protector.

The evening in question, after said villainous female parent charged said innocents with sloppy sanitation and with incomplete homework, they stormed the daddy, remonstrating all the while against my appellation of their deeds as a recalcitrant sort of labelling.

Namely, the smaller family members conjectured that there is no crime in irregularly swept dining room floors or in stained dining room tables. They put forth that little that bits of rice cake, too many sticky noodles, a photo that was supposed to have gone to school with an assignment, a stray piece of hamburger, a few mutilated paper napkins and a food-savvy cat, all of which remained disregarded under the table, constitute no obstruction.

Similarly, my brood saw no ill in leaving the dining surface gilded in ketchup and boysenberry (and to think that those love-loves had spurned my portobello-celery soup in favour of a pickle relish-horseradish-jam concoction of their own making). All they could focus on was the computer time they thought that they were missing.

“We need to access the internet for a school assignment on rare and exotic edible plants and trees, Mommy.”
 “Yah, we do.”
 “All of us; the little ones need to see how it’s done.”
Via homepages for wrap-around skirts and for baseball trading cards?
 “We doooooooo!””

We don’t. They don’t. My youngest can independently navigate to his favourite product-endorsement page and can autonomously waste, I mean ‘invest’ time in the eye-hand coordination exercises proffered therein. In my esteem, the second oldest needed to straighten his dresser’s drawers more than to straighten his personal directories. Further, I knew that the biggest was asked only to determine the number of grams of protein found in five common foods, not to pontificate on the propagation of jujubes in the east and dioscorea vines in the west. As for my second youngest, she was only diverted from dangling her older sister’s eyeglasses from the top of a light fixture because she wanted to make mischief with the computer mouse. 

Moreso, that night, after the evening meal, the state of ground zero ie, of the diningroom, was the least of my dictatorial disappointments. That catastrophe was a mere cautionary tale relative to the real reason why I had forbidden screen time.

It was also not the case that I was distraught because of a behavioural notice that I had received from one of the children’s schools that day (though my chiropractor thinks my chronic bruxism correlates to these mailings), nor was it the case that I was upset because those young things had yet, again, put into play their habitualized manner of answering our phone (the example below proffers only innocence).

“Let the machine get it.”
 “I got it.”
 “It’s my turn. Move off.”
 “Let the machine get it.”
 “That’s okay Mom. I got it. Hello?”
 “Machine. Don’t pick up. In bathroom.”
 “Move over. Give me.”
 “Naany-naany boo-boo. Got here first.
 “Hello. Who? Let’s see if she’s talking to anybody. What was your name? Give me that. It’s mine. I’m telling Mommy. Mommmmmy! Who’s this? Hello? Hello? Mommmmmy, someone called for you.”
 “Da know.”
 “Not sure.”
 “Machine. Next time, let the machine get it.”

Rather, I had a grudge against my kids because of their pilferage and neglect of my office supplies. It was not only the staples (afterall, I am more resilient than the average hamster) that I found on the sun porch under the wicker chairs, on my office floor, in the basket where the cats sleep (how did they get in there?), and under the breakfast counter that incensed me, but it was the trail of staples blazed throughout our abode in combination with the dearth of them in my staple gun that made me mad.

According to reliable social scientists, Mommys’ clothes, food, professional materials, and other artifacts are carved up by their young because of their young’s need to possess objects imbued with the energy of their primary nurturer. My scarves, for instance, became the webs of imaginary spiders, the sashes for daring pirates, the elements of savvy teenage attire, and security blankets for many a tearful face.

My hats have paraded their empowerment features, on diminutive heads, during holidays, at schools plays, and, occasionally, in the course of community worship. My fuzzy slippers, if left unattended, too, tend to disappear. Usually, those comforting footers move toward the computer (“okay, maybe we didn’t have to really look up the sugar content of amlakis and kaphals, but we dooo need to write a report on the mating habits of anoles and of komodo dragons, though not necessarily together”), surreptitiously slid into the bathroom, or get kicked under the couch.

As for my food, it is common lore that children under seventeen never eat what they take or take what they eat. If they take chicken and I take eggs, we know which comes first. If they reach for two helpings, I bring an empty plate to the table. If they ask for well done and I want medium, I eat the carbonized portion, and so forth.

Office supplies, too, represent a category in which Mommy’s holdings are coveted. What is it about the germs I lend to my pencil sharpeners that magics them into fonts of healing? My scissors, tape, and correction fluid reside in the children’s rooms rather than in my desk. For instance, during one of my recent scavenger hunts, otherwise known as a ‘room check’, I discovered, in a single bureau drawer: a zip bag full of dead bugs (collected to determine grams of protein?), a half dozen empty water bottles, a few chewed pencil stubs (the local litigants claim that while lead presents a safety hazard, the more typically found stick of pigment, graphite, does not), several days’ worth of missing homework conveniently wadded into two differently sized balls, girls’, boys’ and Mommy’s dressy socks, one of Daddy’s baseball hats, line drawings of space creatures with swords, four blunt-edged scissors and my long missing calculator.

I also located, in the same mound, two rolls of clear tape that my kin had claimed were irredeemably lost, a table of graph paper that the same kin had claimed had been ‘used up’ and a thank-you letter that a dear friend had apparently never received. Fairies and gnomes indeed! Our house is not populated by that sort of little people.

Hence, earlier that day, during the ‘getting-out-of-the-house-you-made-me-did-not-late-for-school-rush’ it was reasonable for me to deny my charges access to my stapler. Analogously, later that same day, when I found out that my offspring had disregarded and absconded with my ‘better-not-tell-I’ll-kill-you-or hide-a-worm-in your-locker-you owe-me for-making your-oatmeal-both-of-you-stop-I don’t-want-to be-late-for-school’ implement, I was fuming.

I believe that any parent in her right mind would have retaliated. Being of a wrong mind and of a questionable body, I no more than added to the wee folks’ afterschool constraints; there would be baths for everyone and there would be no extra curricular reading until I was satisfied that all spelling assignments were complete.  At the time, I felt that stating that the table had to be cleaned and that the floor had to be swept, before the children were permitted to abandon the dining room, would have been redundant. The children, however, had felt otherwise and had thus routed Daddy.

Daddy, for his part, would have preferred hugs and dinner. As aforementioned, he tolerates the off errands that seem like clockwork and abides requests that have little to do with immediacies. Daddy’s wisdom long ago determined that beneficent rule gains more than does its opposite (except in the case in which one of our cats refused to cuddle with my husband).

Arms spread like some great prophet imparting divination, my husband proceeded to set order where there was none. The children pandered on, hoping to ingratiate themselves sufficiently to necessitate a counter ruling. They generally trust their father’s adjudications. It is their experience that sometimes the whereabouts of a borrowed vessel of glue or of packet of rubber bands goes unnoticed when they succeed in enveloping Daddy in grander distractions.

For his part, Daddy slowly opened his mouth, revealing teeth between his moustache and beard. He remained ever confident, knowing that his domestic dynasty, time and again: praises him for the finest of bread-free meatballs, never fails to acclaim him for his middle of the night plumbing rescues, and is sustained, in no small part, on the resolve with which he rehearses math and land-based languages. It is Daddy, he knows, who liberates groceries from the minivan in conditions of rain, of sleet and of snow, and who does so without a cute or protective uniform.

It is Daddy, he knows, whom captures, relays, and releases our furry relatives from visits to the dreaded animal doctor. It is Daddy, he knows, whom swats the creepy crawlies that dare to creepy crawly into our stronghold. Therefore, Daddy addressed his erstwhile (somewhat) rapt followers from a self-appointed position of household hero. Except for the youngster who was surreptitiously trying to pick her nose and the older one whom had meanwhile made a paper airplane out of a vocabulary sheet, Daddy had their attention.

Daddy extended his decree, nodding throughout to each child. After delivering his word, Daddy hurried to his basement workshop for a stiff dose of a poorly written, contemporary novel.  Quaffing such swill of means, motives and opportunities consistently seems to replenish him. Chapters later, after the computer had long been turned off and neither lizards with keeled scale ridges nor fruits grown in the Andes have been completely researched, our champion re-emerged to kiss foreheads and to help with the dishes. Carefully, he perused his precinct. He would have remained below had the autobiography that also rested on his desk been less than mediocre.

Upon surfacing, my husband smiled beatifically. One of our scallywags lay sprawled on the couch. Another was rummaging through the bags from the already unloaded car. A third could be heard singing in the shower. A forth pouted, accompanied by the dustbuster, in time out; the floor had yet to meet my standard. 

Sensing his mood, I suggested to him that he and I investigate the relative merits of meddlers, viburnums, may haws, and sorbuses. Perhaps, I whispered in his ear, we could concoct an aperitif from rowanberries and pomegranates.

My man smiled in my direction. He turned off that rascally electronic workhorse that had been the keystone to our children and my quarrels. Sometimes, he replied, skinks have no legs at all.


© KJ Hannah Greenberg
Buy KJ Hannah Greenberg’s new book

“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*

I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.

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* Gloria Steinem