Chemical warfare

My daughter strikes back

In early 2018, fed up with a boy in her class, my daughter engaged in chemical warfare. She was 6 at the time and her little life had just fallen apart. I had moved out of the house. And she didn’t understand what any of it meant.

And then, on top of all of that, there was a boy in her class who was bugging her. For now, we will call him Taylor and it’s clearly not his real name. My daughter is a rule follower. She invented toe-ing the line. If there is no line, she will create one. In pre-school she once refused to go to class one day because she said the teachers had yelled at her. Not understanding how that was possible, I called to ask what had happened. It turns out, some other kids in class had been purposefully putting toys in the wrong bins. Those kids had been reprimanded. My daughter overheard the reprimand and took it personally. “I can’t do anyfing wight!” she had wailed.

What I am trying to tell you is that to make her snap, well you have to really be trying. And honestly, the whole year, I’d been telling her just to fight back with this kid. Enough was enough. He’d shoved his hand up her shirt at one point. But she refused to even call him mean, because she insisted she had to do the right thing.

I’m not sure what made her break. Maybe it was one thing, that I cannot remember and I’ll learn later when she’s 23 and we are drinking wine and arguing over memories. Or maybe it was everything. The whole horrible year. Her life not in control. Maybe it was the one thing she could do to reassert herself. I don’t know.

What I do know is one afternoon, I picked her up from school and she pulled a small jar out of her backpack. I often save tiny bottles and little jars for her, because they are adorable and she likes them and uses them for her American Girl doll, which is also my American Girl doll that I handed down to her. This jar was one of those jars, but it was filled with what looked like gray and white down.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Cat hair,” she said.

“Why do you have a jar of cat hair?”

“Taylor is allergic to cats,” she said.

I kept driving.

“Do you want to tell me what happened?”

I couldn’t see her face. But I assumed it was resolute. Her still baby cheeks firm with righteousness. What happened was this. Taylor is allergic to cats. She had brought the jar to threaten him and maybe even put some on his desk. She told me her friend had explained that sometimes people can get seriously sick from allergies, so she never put any on his desk. But she did wave it in his face.

“I said to him, ‘Taylor don’t mess with me, I have cat hair!’” She explained.

“What did Taylor say?”

“He was scared enough,” she said.

There was a moment. A frantic moment when I had not idea what to say or what to do. Here she was fighting back, exactly like she needed to. But also it was dangerous and I didn’t know the extent of Taylor’s allergies (I learned later, not fatal, but still. Also, she didn’t know allergies could be fatal otherwise she never would have). I was so impressed, but also really worried.

“I don’t think we should do that again,” I said.

“I know mom, I don’t think I will need to.” Is what she told me.

This year, Taylor hasn’t bugged her at all.

I don’t tell many of my kids stories anymore. We are at the age when their stories are their stories, not mine. And maybe I might have been wrong to write so much about them in the beginning. I hope they can forgive me, I was lonely and they are exceptional. But I worry a lot about my kids. Like every parent. But I remember that moment, with the jar and about that little girl with the glasses that slip down her nose and the resolute cheeks and I think we are going to be okay.


Speaking of which…I’m dragging those delightful jerks with me to the Texas Book Festival. Here are the places I will be! I would LOVE TO MEET YOU! I have had a really good run of luck and have only met the best and nicest and smartest and most earnest people on my book stops. This is my last big stop before I take a break and gear up for BOOK NUMBER TWO OUT NEXT YEAR PLEASE KILL ME @($@%(*)@!%*

SATURDAY

PANEL: 11:15 AM - 12:00 PM

Faith and Feminism: Staying True to Self and Spirit

Capitol Extension Room E2.012 (1100 Congress Avenue)

BOOK SIGNING: 12:15PM Main Signing Tent presented by Texas Monthly.

SUNDAY

PANEL:  12:00 pm - 12:45 pm

Read. Think. Act. Exploring the Vital Role of University Press Publishing

Capitol Extension Room 1.016

1100 Congress Avenue, Austin TX

BOOK SIGNING: 4:15 PM Main Signing Tent presented by Texas Monthly.

Barring that. You can find me writing hot garbage for my local newspaper. Here is a bit of something I wrote after attending a “stop the madness” rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

“Abby’s constituents don’t want this,” yelled Kaufmann. Meanwhile, across the street over 70 of Abby’s constituents held up signs saying “Impeach Trump!” It was a five to one ratio.

A protester who didn’t want to be identified told me she’s just upset that everyone else is upset. She’s mad the Democrats are mad. “But are you mad the president violated the constitution?” I asked. “You are missing the point,” she told me. She gestured to the protesters protesting her protest. “They are full of hate,” she said. “In Minneapolis protesters burned hats, in Des Moines a protester shouted over an elected official. It’s madness.” But what about Giuliani, I asked. What about the president? She turned to walk away. “You’re fake news,” she told me.

It’s the collapse of a dying star — logic folding in on itself. Anger over anger. Outrage over outrage. A demand to impeach over impeachment. Madness over madness. No mention of the thing itself.