Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Eye Of The Storm

Pink eye. My son Ethan had pink eye. I knew the second he entered my bedroom and demanded I make him a bowl of Trader Joe’s Leapin’ Lemurs cereal he had it. His bloodshot right eye looked swollen and a small glob of greenish mucus rested in the corner of the eye close to his nose.

It is a well known fact that at my child’s school, pink eye is treated with the same scorched-Earth policy I’m certain the CDC reserves for an Ebola outbreak. Once identified with the shameful condition, your child is immediately quarantined from the ‘normal’ population and is confined to a trailer-like ‘holding area.’ The offending child’s work surface, pencils, crayons, and cubbyhole are then sanitized with the zeal and determination an atomic worker reserves for mopping up spilled plutonium.
The neglectful parent is telephoned and the ‘seriously ill’ child discharged to their custody. I’m convinced that peasants dying from plague in the middle ages were treated with more deference and civility then my 1st grader would be were I to send him to school in his present condition.

“You better take him to the doctor.” My husband George suggested already dressed for work, and downing his repugnant peanut butter, banana and low-fat vanilla yogurt breakfast smoothie as he headed out the front door. “They won’t let him in class with Pink Eye – it’s contagious you know.”

“Is that your final diagnosis, doctor?” I responded sarcastically as he passed.


“What do you mean I have to take him?” I called.

My husband George, the former stay-at-home dad who had recently returned to his highly paid, soul-sapping career in film production was half way down our front steps and stopped suddenly. He turned, and with a knowing grin on his face replied “It is now your responsibility to take our child to doctor appointments. Those joyful, primary care responsibilities that used to mine, are now yours." He bounded down the remaining steps, hopped into the 'mom car' SUV I bought him and gunned the engine. As he pulled away, I could see his reflection in the rear view mirror -his knowing grin had turned into full-fledged laugh riot. The prick.

Our son Ethan joined me on the landing and witnessed George gleefully zoom off. "Get dressed. We have to go to the doctor." I said to Ethan wearily.
He peered at me now with the same sad expression usually reserved for those frightening Margaret Keane 'Big Eye' paintings. A single tear fell from his puffy, red rimmed eye.

"I don't need to go to the doctor."

"Yes, you do."

"No really, Dad - I don't need to go to the doctor. I just rubbed my eye funny."

"You're going to the doctor."

"I really don't want to go."

"I insist."

"I'm not going."

There comes a point in almost every negotiation with one's child where you start to feel like the United Nations. My son Ethan had become like the regimes of Iran or North Korea whose defiant, nationalist ideology cause them to shrug off the demands of Washington. On the other hand, I had become like The Bush Doctrine personified - I was far more likely to use
preemptive force, rather than negotiation, to counter threats from his weapons of mass destruction which in this case consisted mainly of tears, whining, and a stubborn and steadfast resolve to piss me off.

"GET DRESSED NOW!" I barked. "It's not my fault you have Pink Eye. NOW MOVE IT!" Like Iran or North Korea, my son slowly and begrudgingly complied, but I suspected that whatever superficial demands he met, I would suffer grave consequences due to the cache of weapons he stored in bunkers deep underground.

As we drove to the doctor, Ethan sat in the back of my car and cried softly.

"Ethan, what's wrong?" I asked. "Why are you crying?"

"I miss papa." He said miserably.

"I miss him, too." I replied.

He paused, and then launched a carefully planned, 'surgical strike' attack of his own.
"I like him better than you, you know." he said provocatively.

"That doesn't surprise me." I countered.

Ethan paused a moment and seeing that this minor attack was not achieving the 'shock and awe' effect that he desired, my son trotted out the big guns. "I wish you would die so that papa and I could be happy."

I should have been decimated, blown-to-bits by my son's 'carry a big stick' assault, but for some reason it just made me laugh inside. I have no doubt that in the event of my premature death, George would find a new husband and stepfather for Ethan at once. Immediately after the pomp and circumstance of my funeral service and the emotional theatrics of my Shiva, George would be introduced to a rakishly handsome man named Geoffri (nobody in LA ever spells their name normally) - Geoff to his friends. By an astonishing coincidence, Geoff would be a respected professor of French film at George's Alma Mater UCLA. Known for his authoritative manner and winning ways Geoff is popular with both students, faculty and the alumni. George and Geoff, or G&G as they would come to be known, would host lively 'salons' in the home of the first Mrs. De Winter better known as 'Tod, the dead guy." The invited guests, the intellectual glitterati of Los Angeles (an oxymoron) would sedately and meditatively discuss the films of Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer, and Jacque Rivette. My former son Ethan, who would be sitting on Geoff's lap and hanging on every word, would shed a tear when Geoff expressed his profound sadness that
the French New Wave filmmakers were originally rejected by Hollywood due to their self-conscious rejection of classical cinematic form and their spirit of youthful iconoclasm.

"Daddy Geoff, I feel your pain." Ethan would say bravely.

"Ne vous inquiétez pas, mon amour, papa va bien." Daddy Geoff would say lovingly.

"Je suis tellement heureuse." Ethan would respond with a giggle. Daddy Geoff was adamant that if Ethan were truly to understand the French Avaunt Garde, it was imperative for him to speak fluent French.

"Enough of that you two." George would say playfully. "Ethan it's off to bed now."

"Bonne nuit Papa et Daddy Geoff.
Je t'aime!"

As Ethan scampers off to bed, George perches himself on the arm of the expensive Donghia sofa paid for by his former, dead lover (What's his name?) and places a protective arm around a weary Geoff. George frets that Geoff had yet again exhausted himself with his intellectual pursuits. They had better head out to their sprawling, life insurance-paid-for horse farm in Ojai for some much needed R&R.

After chasing Ethan around the doctors office, pinning him to an examining table and prying his eye open with my bare hands, Ethan's pediatrician and I were able to treat his 'affliction.' Feeling that I had been too 'enemy combatant' in my approach, I extended an olive branch and offered Ethan a Slurpee at 7-11.

"That would be great, thanks, dad."

"No problem."

As we got out of the car, Ethan glanced up at me and said "Dad, You know I don't really want you to die, right?"

"Of course."

As we traversed our way hand-in-hand through a filthy Hollywood 7-11 parking lot, I realized that formal hostilities between my son and I had officially come to an end. The battlefield theater closed and the troops sent home. I was tempted to claim victory loudly, but in that moment remembered Aristotle's famous quote 'We make war so that we may live in peace.' I walked next to my son in contented silence.

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