“I’m hungry,” my son, Nate, announced, with the piteous, pleading look I refer to as his “starving Albanian orphan” imitation. I reminded my 4-year-old that he and his visiting friend, Zachary, had eaten banana-nut muffins 30 minutes ago. Supper would be on the table soon.
“But I want pretzels! I’m hungry,” he wailed. Then he drew himself up. “And besides” — he shot me the triumphant look of a lawyer about to clinch his case for the jury — “Mama, I am a growing boy.”
I checked the chicken in the oven and rolled my eyes. Nate had acquired this phrase from my mother, a woman who in her day had frowned on most between-meal snacks. In her house you got a hearty breakfast of oatmeal, a sandwich on homemade bread in your lunchbox (while you yearned for your classmates’ store-bought white), and a dinner with the requisite protein-vegetable-starch combo. You wouldn’t have caught the mom I remembered handing out banana muffins an hour before dinner. No, ma'am.
Grandmotherhood has wrought a surprising transformation. These days, Nate has only to show up at her door a few blocks away and the former kitchen Puritan eagerly offers my son cookies, juice or his very favorite snack, toast with honey. “He’s a growing boy,” my mom says, smiling indulgently as my boy digs in. If I bring up her formerly strict ways, she brushes the reminder aside. “I’m a grandma now. I don’t have to worry about any of that.”
Nate looked at me expectantly. “If you’re so hungry, you can eat one of these carrot sticks,” I told him, pointing to the cutting board.
He frowned, as I knew he would. “I’m not hungry for carrots,” he grumped. “I’m hungry for pretzels! I'm a growing boy!"
“What you’re growing is annoying,” I muttered. “Carrot. Take it or leave it. And don’t leave Zachary all by himself to play.”
Nate scrunched up his face at me. “You belong in the Bad Mama Jail,” he declared. “With no snacks at all.”
I snorted as he stomped out of the kitchen. If denying pretzels before dinner was a criminal offense, I was facing the slammer, for sure. Giggles from the living room reassured me. The two boys had clearly returned to their play — a scenario involving a stuffed alligator, the couch cushions, and some plastic containers — and seemed happy enough. I poured myself a well-deserved glass of wine and basted the chicken.
Fifteen minutes later, a knock interrupted my dinner preparations. Opening the door, I gazed in consternation at the burly police officer outside. My stomach lurched. My husband, a bike commuter, was on his way home. What if — ? In the second before the officer spoke, my mind conjured up a vivid scenario involving a crazed truck driver and a bleak future of lonely widowhood.
“Afternoon, ma’am,” the cop said, grimly. “Is everything all right?”
“Uh…yes?” The bike crash scenario vanished. This man didn't didn't look like someone about to deliver sad news. He looked annoyed.
“We received a 911 call from this address,” the officer continued. “Sounded like kids, but we couldn’t get through to check. They must’ve left the phone off the hook.”
“Oh, my gosh, I’m so sorry, I had no idea,” I stammered, mortified.
“It happens,” the cop assured me. “But you should tell your kids not to play around with 911.”
My eyes narrowed. Nate. That little stinker. He’d actually called the law on me! “Why don’t you tell them yourself?” I suggested, calling the boys to the front door. This would show the little pipsqueak.
Zachary’s face lit up at the sight of a real, live police officer. Nate gave one wary glance, cast his eyes to the floor, and refused to budge during the ensuing lecture. It took no Sherlock Holmes to detect the culprit in this shenanigan.
After the officer left, I delivered my own lecture. But I kept it short. Nate had learned a vivid lesson about being careful what he wished for. As for me, I’d gained new insight into the wily — and literal — mind of my 4-year-old. A place where mothers like me deserve to end up in jail. With no snacks.
Kate Haas publishes Miranda, a zine about motherhood and other adventures. Her writing has appeared in Salon; Brain, Child; Babble; and the Toronto Star. A former Peace Corps volunteer and high school English teacher, she is currently a freelance editor in Portland, Oregon, where she lives with her family. Read more about Kate at katehaas.com.