A couple of things--
- As soon as you get home, make sure you feed your brother. Don’t give him anything with too much sugar in it or we’ll be dealing with him all night. I know he thinks he can handle a few cookies or one of those chocolate bars you sell for school, but we both know it doesn’t take much for him to turn into a Tasmanian devil.
- Lock all the doors. That should have been #1. Make sure every single door is locked, even the one on top so that you can’t get in even if you have a key. I know you have to stand on a chair to lock the top one, but I’m okay with you standing on a chair to do that as long as you put the chair back when you’re done.
- Your birthday gift came in from Grandma Jeanne so make sure you write her a ‘Thank you’ note. You’re ten-years-old now. Double digits. I know you’re short for your age, but that doesn’t mean you can keep thinking like a kid. There are things adults are expected to do and the sooner you learn to do those things, the better off you’ll be. I was already working at Grandpa’s store when I was your age putting away tools and helping people find the right kind of paint. He didn’t even pay me for it. I know you might not feel lucky all the time, but just remember that your mom was spending three hours a day in a hardware store after school and you get to come right home and focus on things like your homework and being a good student. I’m not saying you have a perfect life. Nobody does. So you have to find the things in life that you don’t mind so much and learn to enjoy them as best you can.
- If the landlord comes by, do not let him in the house. If he asks if we got a cat, you tell him ‘No.’ I know it’s wrong to lie, but if you’re lying to a potato, it’s not so bad. Our landlord is a potato. He may look like a man, but trust me when I tell you, some men are just potatoes wearing pants. If he asks about the rent, tell him--through the door, remember, do not let him in--that your mother is working double shifts at two different jobs to try and get back on track, but that even when everybody’s hiring, a high school drop-out is still bottom of the barrel. Especially one with a bad attitude, and there’s no pretending I don’t have a bad attitude since we both know I do. That’s why I tell you all the time to try and roll your eyes less, because it’s one thing to think people are stupid and another to let them know that’s what you’re thinking.
- Only call me at work if there’s an emergency. Your brother having one of his episodes is not an emergency. You’ve seen me handle those so I know you know what to do. Just put him in the bathtub and run the shower. I know he hates getting his clothes wet, but it’s the only way to calm him down. If I came running home every time he was having a fit, I’d never be able to hold down a job. If there is an emergency--like somebody breaking into the house or the power going out or something--you have to pretend to be a customer when you call. If I don’t answer, say that Liana was helping you before when you came in to buy a present for your mom and you just need to ask her a question. I know that’s another lie, but I work with nothing but potatoes, so it doesn’t matter. Whoever answers the phone is going to be a potato. I promise. If I answer, make sure it’s me first by saying ‘Hi, it’s Carly.’ Just in case.
- If your Dad calls, go in the drawer next to my bedroom and pull out the piece of paper I have in there with the number on it. Read him the number exactly. Get it exactly right. Make sure you tell him you love him even though he doesn’t deserve to hear it. He’s the reason you have great teeth, and that’s not nothing. If you had my teeth, you’d need braces, and I can’t afford braces, so I’d probably just let you go through life looking like a bad fence on a nice lawn. Other than getting that piece of paper, I do not want you going in my bedroom. Not even to put some of that perfume of mine on that you like so much. I told you I’ll buy that for you when you turn fourteen. I know that patience isn’t a virtue of the young, but none of us have much to look forward to lately, so try looking at it that way. Oh, and if your Dad calls, be sure to listen hard for a woman’s voice in the background. If you hear one, I want you to tell me how old you think the woman might be or if you think she sounds smart or pretty. You do that and I might buy you that perfume when you’re thirteen. We’ll see.
- I know this situation might get frustrating so I am allowing you to use one bad word a day anytime you feel overwhelmed. It cannot be within earshot of your brother. You are not allowed to use it at school under any circumstances. While I don’t care what the word is, try and use one that isn’t derogatory towards women. I don’t know want to know if you end up taking me up on this offer, but consider it a private agreement between you and me. Every mother ought to have at least one understanding with their daughter and this will be ours. (If I can give you some advice based on personal experience, screaming the “F” word into a pillow can be very satisfying. That’s the last thing I’m going to say on the matter.)
- Underneath the hutch is a little envelope with twenty dollars in it just in case you want to order a pizza. You can order a pizza once a week, so really think about when you want to do that. You might think you want to order a pizza on Monday instead of having the leftover turkey chili in the fridge, but that means you’ll have to go all week not having pizza and you know you’re going to want it more on Friday when the week is up. Everything in life revolves around budgets, Carly. You budget your temptation just like you do your money, and if you don’t have any money, you gotta budget everything else even more. Good that you learn that now.
- I want your homework done and on the table for me to check when I get home. Your brother’s better be right next to it. I’m not saying I’ll be able to know whether or not you got anything right, because the math they have you doing these days looks like a ransom note to me, but I’ll at least be able to tell if you two gave it a good effort. Bedtime is still nine pm for you and eight for your brother. If you need to bribe him at any point, offer to let him stay up until eight fifteen. He’ll hold up the world for that extra fifteen minutes. I have no idea why. Men are strange. Even the little ones. At least he’s not a potato. When you say your prayers before bed, be sure and say a prayer for me. You’re innocent, so your prayers go further. That’s just science.
- I love you like crazy. I’m sorry things aren’t great. If I keep working the way I am, I’m bound to get promoted to assistant manager somewhere and then we can move into a better apartment and maybe get cable. You don’t make any trouble for me and I appreciate that. I know a lot of this isn’t fair, but at this point, I wouldn’t know what fair looked like if it was standing right in front of me with a name tag on. You and your brother are my two emeralds. The best part of my day is coming home to see you both sleeping safely in bed even when you leave the tv and all the lights on and I know the electric bill is going to be sky high. It’s because you feel better with the lights on. I get that. I used to sleep with the lights on too. I like knowing that you think lights are all you need to keep you protected in this world. If that were true, I’d let you turn on every light from here to the moon. One by one. Until darkness looked like somebody you haven’t seen in a long, long time.