Do you know what I discovered this week? It is easier to go crazy than I thought. All it takes are a few people to check their good character at the door when interacting with you as a trusting human being and “BAM!” there you have it—their actions have the ability to tip you over the edge, and before you know it, you’re nuttier than a fruit cake. Recently I started hearing voices in my head and thought I might be losing my mind when I couldn’t stop a familiar tune from my children’s childhood from coursing through my brain on a nonstop loop:
I am slowly going crazy
Crazy going slowly am I
(Repeat, faster each time!)
That incessant children’s song from Sharon, Lois & Bram’s “The Elephant Show,” the popular children’s’ entertainers from 1980, popped into my head about a week ago at the intersection of one house selling, one house buying, one blog neglecting, one yearly physical taking, and one book launching. At two o’clock in the morning, during a sleepless night of tossing and turning at the overwhelming magnitude of it all, this song became my unwelcome mantra.
The next day my six-year-old grandson called and asked if I would engage in a treasure hunt to help find his favorite toys the next time I came to visit. Apparently, they had all gone missing. Feeling like I was walking into a trap, I cautiously asked him what had happened to his favorite toys.
BABY-BOY: “She” took them from me and hid them in places where I can’t find them (how does she do that?), and she says I can’t get them back until Jesus returns.
MEMA: I take it that the “she” is your mommy—my daughter? Why did she take away your toys? “She” must have had a reason?
BABY-BOY: There’s never a reason, Mema! She just likes to torture me, that’s all. I told you and Grandpa before that you have no idea what this woman does to me when you’re not around.
MEMA: Ha! I think I remember your mother saying the same thing about me when she was your age. I think it was either her or your aunt who angrily said to me (with fists firmly planted on hips) when I confiscated their toys for misbehaving one day, “Does our father know what goes on around this place when he’s not here? Does he know how you treat us? ‘Cause we’re gonna’ tell him as soon as he gets home and boy will you be in trouble.”
BABY-BOY: What did you say, Mema?
MEMA: I told your mother and her sister to knock themselves out—tell the entire neighborhood if they wanted to—and then I took two more toys away for sassing me!
BABY-BOY: Oh, Man!
MEMA: Put your mother on the phone, please.
Cartoon used by permission: Larry Wright, www.cagleCartoons.com
MEMA: You heard?
SHE: Yeah, I heard, and I hope you realize your grandson is full of crap.
MEMA: Well, I had your back—I took your side of things, Mommy. But just between you and me, whatever my precious boy did, it can’t be all that bad that you would confiscate his toys until the end of time, Honey. Isn’t that a little bit excessive? Don’t forget that the punishment has to fit the crime.
SHE: Oh, please! Who is this woman talking to me, and what have you done with my mother? You invented tough love. If I had done what your grandson did, you would have not only banished all my toys to the fiery abyss, but you would have torn up my behind, and Dad would have supported your decision and spanked me again when he got home.
MEMA: Surely, you exaggerate. What did my angel do?
SHE: When I went to volunteer at his school last week, a gaggle of 5-year-olds were lined up in the hallway in front of the principal who looked as if he was going to have an apoplectic fit. Bags of potato chips, candy bars, and packages of cookies were stuffed in their underpants, up their coat sleeves, under their hats, and down their shirts and blouses. A select group of kindergarteners who participate in the afterschool program had “bumped” off the snack cart in the kindergarten room and were acting as mules to transfer and distribute their contraband to the attendees in the afterschool session.
Cartoonist: Hank Ketcham (March 14, 1920 – June 1, 2001)
MEMA: What does that have to do with my precious grandson? He is six years old (my little cherub) and in first grade. Was he in the line up? Does Principal Chen have any evidence against him? I would demand proof. You know how hard it is out there for a Black man. Whitey’s always tryin’ to keep the Black man down.
SHE: Oh, for God’s sake, Mother. Principal Chen is Chinese! You are incorrigible. Our little terror was nowhere to be found near the scene of the crime. He’s much too slick to get caught. But someone squealed. I think it was your grandson’s arch nemesis—the little redheaded girl who tattles on everybody and who thinks she’s the boss of the universe. Once the “intel” came in, it soon became apparent under intense interrogation by Principal Chen that their ring leader—the one who had organized the robbery, the one who had handpicked the gang, the one who had devised the hiding places, the one who had the primary motive—was none other than your grandson. And to make matters worse, he was skimming off the top. He was getting a payout of two bags of chips, one candy bar, and a bag of cookies once his “gang” crossed over the state line from the kindergarten class to the afterschool program in the gym.
MEMA: Ha! I love it—reminds me of you when you were that age. (Payback is a bitch, ain’t it?) Hee, hee . . . that’s my boy! He’s an entrepreneurial genius, don’t you think?
SHE: Mother!! Cut it out! This is not funny! Stop being a starry-eyed grandmother and become the mother that would have torn up my chubby ass over this type of misbehavior. In fact, if you think losing his toys “forever” is excessive, wait until you hear part two of the punishment. He is going to use his money that he was saving for more Legos and games to restock the snack cart. “If you fuck up, you need to own up”—isn’t that what you used to tell me?
MEMA: Well, I didn’t say it quite like that . . . but you’re right, Honey. I’ll be serious. How did the “just barely out of diapers gang” get caught? And why did baby-boy organize a raid on the Kindergarten snack cart? He knows better than to steal other people’s shit.
SHE: First of all, he didn’t fess up right away. He lied which made the crime more egregious. I had to threaten to cancel a decade of Christmases before he finally admitted his involvement. He says that the after-school teacher never gives them enough snacks, and they are all starving when they arrive at 4:00. He asked the teacher to give them extra snacks, but the teacher refused, so your grandson took matters into his own hands. The only problem is that he and his “gang of kindergarten misfits” did not think through their life of crime. No one stopped to think that maybe—just maybe—their bodies making crunching sounds as they walked to the gym or looking like they’d gained twenty pounds in their five-year-old mid-sections and in their arms would be noticed by the passing adults. And absolutely none of these “hoodlums in training” thought through what would happen to the contraband when they started playing basketball. Packages of cookies, chips, and candy started leaking out of the bottom of pants, exploding out of tops of shirts, and flying out from under hats as the kids got caught up in playing. I was so upset when I found out my son—YOUR GRANDSON—was the ring leader, I almost had a heart attack. When I asked him what possessed him to do such a thing, he said: “I don’t know. I guess I must have forgotten to take my good character to school that day.”
Cartoonist Bill Waterson—Calvin and Hobbes
In the meantime, I am discovering that one can run into adults—people who should know better—who forget to take their “good character” to school, work, church, and play in our everyday lives, and it can drive the recipient of their misguided choices f’ing crazy. This week I had a realtor show my house, leave the door wide open with the key in the lock and the lock box open and then left and went on her merry way. She did not leave a card behind, so if I had been burglarized or vandalized (I had a premonition to return home early—thank God!), I would not have known who had left my home so vulnerable. Fortunately, I’m not an idiot, and with a little Google snooping I found out everything about where she worked and who she worked for. I waited three days to see if she would “own her fuck-up” and apologize to my husband and me personally once I had notified our agent about this person’s unprofessional and disturbing behavior. (Apparently, she brought her baby along to show my house, had to change the kid’s diaper, and got distracted.) It took me writing to her superiors and demanding she be kept from entering my home ever again to get a personal written apology from her through my agent. (UPDATE: I met the agent who went out of her way to make amends for her actions. She is a lovely woman; she found her character and profusely repented; we hugged, I forgave, and all is well. This is the way the world should work.)
On another front, I had a doctor lie to me by telling me that I couldn’t request a copy of my medical records when I move, when all it took was a 10-second Google search to discover that it is against the HIPPA law for a doctor to deny a patient access to their records.
And then there are the riots in Baltimore. I get the grief and the anger, but the people looting weren’t the friends and relatives at the funeral of Freddie Gray who pleaded for peace in his memory. The hard-working people who live and work in those neighborhoods are seeing their homes and businesses destroyed by lowlifes who can’t even spell the word “character,” let alone possess any.
People who leave home without their good character make life so exhausting and cause all good people everywhere to go absolutely cray-cray—“Crazy going slowly am I—6-5-4-3-2-1 switch.” (Repeat, faster each time!)
INSPIRATIONAL QUOTES ON GOOD CHARACTER
“As a parent, you have to figure out how to shape your kid’s character. You want to have human beings who learn about good character. You have to be able to see your child with clarity, see the good side and the bad side of them, and work on the bad side and make them better so they fulfill their potential.”—Joan Cusack
“Good character is not formed in a week or a month. It is created little by little, day by day. Protracted and patient effort is needed to develop good character.”—Heraclitus
“The notion that public service requires men and women of good character now seems quaint.”—Elliott Abrams
“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”—John Wooden
QUOTES COURTESY www.brainyquote.com
GUESS WHAT’S GOING ON WITH MY SECOND BOOK, FLEEING OZ?
FLEEING OZ LAUNCH DATE—MID-MAY!
A PEEK AT THE EARLY MARKETING SCRIPT FOR FLEEING OZ:
“From her early days as an African-American girl living on a cult-like communal farm with a bunch of white kids, to her final escape from organized religion right before Barack Obama’s election in 2008, Tomczyk tells her story with grace. Far from cruel or mocking, Tomczyk resists the temptation to do unto others as they have done unto her, choosing instead to use humor where others might use hate.
“An edgy coming-of-age tale about a baby boomer who wants to follow God without getting crushed by God’s people in the process, Fleeing Oz will cause anyone who’s ever struggled with faith, doubt, and disillusionment to stand up and say ‘amen.’”
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