Wish You Were Here: From Chickenpox to Slivovitz and Back Again

photo: Pixabay

When I was two my mother threw out her back. It was winter and the days were long and cold and apparently very itchy, since I was home for several weeks with chickenpox.

My mom likes to recall that there wasn’t one square inch of me that wasn’t covered in pox or one square foot of our house that wasn’t littered with laundry or drowning in dirty dishes.

To complicate matters, my grandfather was visiting from Budapest and while what in-law isn’t synonymous with helpful, he evidently spent the majority of his waking hours shaving at the kitchen table, talking to himself (in Hungarian) and drinking voluminous quantities of something called slivovitz while allegedly serenading anyone in earshot with Toreador from Carmen.

My memories of him are fleeting (but fond) — arguably more fond than my mother’s staycation with a sick toddler that February and March of 1983. Highlights from this trip included not only all-day excursions to the laundromat and her first longing for a dishwasher but distracting and placating a pock covered toddler whose sole purpose undoubtedly was to ensure her mother never sat down but stood in the center of the kitchen floor, slightly bent at the waist (ergo, the sciatica situation), awaiting her next demand.

I had many.

Eventually, of course, I recovered from my childhood, I mean chickenpox and my mother recovered from my grandfather’s singing but I literally think about this little slice of life, like, all the time, especially because I’ve recently come to the conclusion that my kids (like, I’m sure, many other children) think that their mother exists solely to serve them.

I’m not talking about just meals here, of which there are many … I mean, to the point I think I’d be better off going to work full time just so I could hire a caterer or a chef or sous chef or maybe a waitress or busser or a dishwasher or garbage girl … am I forgetting anyone while I stand here, ready and waiting with “grapes,” “cut-up grapes,” “not-cut-up grapes,” “cut-up grapes with not cut up strawberries but with sugar,” or sorry, no, “without sugar and with a glass of milk,” “whole milk,” “no milk, he/she would rather have apple juice,” no, “cider,” “slivovitz,” no “you know, that fizzy cider that we get sometimes on New Year’s” (even though it’s March)?

And why is it exactly that the minute one of them asks me for something, they all ask me for something? Is there some little alarm that goes off, some little bell that signals them to see how far they can push mom before she takes her keys, her purse, nothing else; drives to some remote village and pretends to have amnesia just so she can hear herself think for more than a minute and 45 seconds at a time?

If you have children under the age of 35, I don’t have to tell you that the shower is the next best thing to faking your own memory loss slash doing that thing that Cher did in Mermaids when she just closed her eyes, pointed to a random location on a map and started over.

Sidebar: not for anything but it’s really hard to start over where you are.

I’m profound. Thank you. You can hold your applause. I’m getting in the shower anyway and not just to experience what I can only compare to the slow trickle of kinked garden hose or my own rendition of Bizet’s classic but to listen to my younger daughter as she describes in detail why one should never eat strawberries because she saw this thing on TikTok about how, “If you soak strawberries in saltwater … um, worms come out … yeah, like actual worms, or not actual worms but larvae. Is that the same thing as worms? Anyway, you have to watch it because you can actually see the worms coming out in the strawberries and slithering through the water and you know, I think I’m just going to throw all the strawberries out. Oh! And do you know why they call chickenpox ‘chickenpox’? Because the pox looks like chickpeas and I saw this video about how you should never eat raw chickpeas because it does weird stuff to your intestines and mom … are you singing? Mom? You know, you shouldn’t try to sing and shave at the same time because I watched this thing about …”

“Towel!” My husband shouts from the bathroom down the hall clearly a second too late because we have a runner and the runner has a head full of shampoo apparently and now the remote village that is my shower has suddenly been hijacked by my 2-year-old and why is it that kids have this intense aversion to getting their hair rinsed?

It was quite the scene. My husband hoisting him into the shower with me, him screaming, my younger daughter, clearly oblivious to the whole cacophony of chaos, attempting to screen the (very intense) intestinal confessional of a woman who clearly ingested one too many chickpeas and, “Why are you letting her watch this?” my older daughter asked, because, why have three people in the bathroom with you when you can have four or more. Yes, here came the cat, obviously still emaciated from the six bowls of dry food she’d inhaled earlier, yowling on like that poor woman with her lamentable legumes.

Listen, it could always be worse I guess, right? I mean it’s not like we have chickenpox.

Jon takes Junior from the shower and lets him “air dry” like a golden retriever. “Hey, Les …does he look like he has a rash? What are all these little spots?”

Columnist Lesley Kirschner grew up quiet, in the woods, and devoid of siblings so her hobbies quickly became reading, writing, and talking to inanimate objects. She also spent a considerable amount of time doing voice-overs for her dolls and watching too much daytime television–channel 3, sometimes channel 8, if the weather was good and the antenna wasn’t acting up. She was in attendance at school, graduated from a very much not notable college not worth mentioning, and was transplanted to Wilton with her husband, Ambler Farm‘s Farmer Jonathan and their (baby makes) three children almost a decade ago. Although she never quite found her calling in life, other than perhaps the doll voice-overs, which in hindsight were eerily convincing, she’s happy to try her hand at writing and is thankful for the support and community she found on Facebook’s Buy Nothing Wilton. Lesley realizes while this is all very exciting, she’s not winning a Pulitzer so she’ll wrap it up and be quiet. She’s had a lot of practice.