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Erin Mohr

photo of Erin reading©2012


My mom hearts Michelle Obama. Her parenting skills, her fashion sense, her law degree, everything about her. So, when she read in some magazine that the president sits down with his family for dinner every night to talk about their days, she made our family dinners as sacred as a cow in Calcutta.  My mother envisioned a presidential dinner during which we share our roses and thorns (or, our successes and challenges) from our day, just like the Obamas. Except at our house, it is more the time where we can misunderstand each other and get into the same old arguments.

“Amelia, can you do that in your head?” my mother wearily asked.

“What?” I sniffed, “What should I do in my head?”

“Be annoyed. Just, be annoyed in your head. I’m tired of watching you roll your eyes all the time and act so perturbed. Just try keeping some of that in your head,” my mother scolded.

“So, just to be clear, you would like me to roll my eyes back in my head?” I asked. “Should I also drool a little to make the seizure more realistic?” The minute the words were out of my mouth I was both pleased with my comeback and bracing myself for the mother-fury that was likely to be unleashed. Thirteen-year-olds should be raised by someone other than our parents, since it seems biologically impossible to not irk each other daily. I often suspect my parents feel the same way, although it seems dicey to bring up the subject. Maybe I’ll make it my thorn.

The nostrils of my mother’s face flared and she shot a look across the table.

“I would like,” my mother measured, “to have a nice meal. Can we do that?

“Sure,” I replied, “we can do that.” I gave her a fake smile that showed her I would do what she said, but I didn’t really like it.

For the next thirteen minutes, as counted by the microwave clock, I chewed each bite 27 times, smiled every three and a half minutes, and reminded myself six times to keep my line of vision parallel to my mother’s hair. I was forced to lock my eyes to the cobwebs on the ceiling when my father asked if I thought “that Justin Blebber kid was cute.” I was exhausted by the end of the meal.

“Can-I-please-go-to-my-room-thanks,” I said as I bolted from the table. I exhaled as I left the kitchen and headed towards my room. It’s not that I try to be troublesome and ornery; it’s just that parents are a little clueless. Once, a woman in the grocery store told my mom that I was “a helpful young man” for helping her load groceries in her car.

“That was nice to hear,” my mother cooed.

“She called me a young man,” I pointed out. I don’t even look like a boy. I mean, I paint my toenails!

“But she said you were helpful,” she replied, “Parents never get to hear nice things about their children.”

“I’m not a young man,” I countered, “You brought me home from the hospital and changed my diapers and potty-trained me so you must know that by now.”

My mother stared at me blankly and said, “I love you too, Amelia,” then pushed the grocery cart around me.
I was appalled. “She calls me a dude and now you’ve announced that you love me! Why don’t you just send a bullet through my social life and end it for good!”

See, that is one thing I’d like to explain to parents. If I’m freaking out about something, which happens a lot, granted, I’d like them to freak out along with me. My mom and dad almost never do that. Although, my mom will occasionally offer sage advice from her past, and my dad will try to distract me with tidbits from pop culture.

“Did you know Alanis Morrisette has a twin?” he asked me once when I was agonizing over how to arrange my collection of glittery gel ink rollers. You never know when you’ll need a purple-silver pen with bronze flecks.

“Dad, twins are not that special, there are like three sets in my grade,” I replied, “I have a real problem here with my pens!” The response I’d been looking for was sympathy or concern for my struggles.

From dinner, I went straight to my room and did a quick visual to make sure everything was in its place. In addition to my Blebber-curious, compliment-impoverished parents, I have a 9-year-old brother. My parents call him Edward, but I prefer Ward, as in, “if you touch my stuff you will become a ward of the state.” Ward likes to move my stuff. I’m not sure if he prefers to be yelled at routinely, or if he is a budding kleptomaniac. Either way, I think my parents ought to be more concerned.

Everything seemed to be in its place, and not two seconds later, Ward appeared in the doorway.

“Wanna see a new magic trick?” he asked. Ward has a new magic set he got for his birthday and he was slowly mastering the cards tricks. “It’s not a card trick,” he added.

“Sure, amaze me oh Wardgician.” I replied, rolling my eyes only marginally.

He went over to my pen collection and selected one of my favorites: The green one with rainbow glitter.

“What are you doing!?” I leapt up, “Don’t touch those!” I scrambled around my desk and charged towards him.

“Now you see it!” He squealed. He hurtled towards the door, artfully dodging my panicked fingers. “Now you don’t!” he proudly laughed just as the tips of my fingers skimmed his t-shirt. I howled out the door after him, since I’ve learned that there is no use running after him.

“MMMMOOOOOMMM!” I screeched. The screech gets attention the fastest. The regular yell of frustration has long lost its power to bring forth my mother fast enough.

“I didn’t do it!” Ward sang out. “She is crazy!”

“You bet I’m crazy!” I cried, “He touched my pen! The green one!” I could feel the anger stretch the skin of my chest and arms, as I waved them wildly.

My mother appeared at the top of the stairs. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “I’m not sure I even want to know,” she started. “This doesn’t sound like a real problem.”

“Well, he took my stuff,” I whined, but I could tell she wasn’t interested in getting involved. Ward was already hiding in his room, but I knew he was listening to our conversation.

“Amelia,” my mother said, “this is not my problem and you are certainly capable of solving it yourself. If you want to screech like a barn owl, I will have to ask you to do so outside of the range of my hearing.” When she was really annoyed, my mother started to sound like a scolding librarian, with her fancy vocabulary and her pursed lips. The only thing missing was a tightly-coiled bun on top of her head.

“WHATEVER!” I stomped off into my room. I wish I could properly slam the door, but it gets stuck on the carpet at the edge and the “whoosh” sound it makes is not very satisfying. I stomped over to my bed and flopped down.

“You know what is satisfying,” I mumbled to myself, “revenge!” I spent the next few minutes writing in my journal and planning ways to torture Ward. Categories of appropriate torment included making him eat weird foods, like slugs, destroying his favorite toys, like his rocket set, and hanging him upside down by his toes from the tree in the backyard. When plotting revenge, the first problem is getting the resources together. Purchasing slugs would involve asking for a ride to the pet store, which my mother would find suspicious. Plus, Ward will eat anything, probably including slugs. Toe-hanging from a tree is a nice visual, but pretty impractical. The rocket destruction was plausible because the materials are readily available, as he leaves his toys everywhere. Plus, it’s a rocket, so it wouldn’t be too suspicious if it suddenly exploded. That was a definite possibility.  

The second consideration for revenge is that the revengee must know that the act is an act of revenge. Ward might not connect the rocket explosion with my explosion earlier, so I had to be more obvious.

I continued doodling in my journal, angry sharp doodles that looked like daggers and lightning bolts, when I gradually realized what would really tweak Ward. He hates the dark, like makes-him-cry-like-a-toddler-and-whine-like-a-baby hates the dark. The hallway in our second floor looks like a runway at night with all the nightlights my parents have installed to indulge in his complex. If I could trick him into a dark place and hold him there until he apologized, that would remind him what the hierarchy is supposed to be around here.

The next morning, I smiled sweetly at Ward, helped my dad with the breakfast dishes, and generally tried not to draw attention to myself too much. I was pretty tired by lunch, but the thought of Ward pleading forgiveness, even if it was coerced, kept me going.

By late afternoon, the stage was set and I was ready to put my plan in motion. The closet in my bedroom can be seen from the hallway. Normally, I keep all my doors and drawers closed, to ward off Ward, but I kept the closet and bedroom doors open, so he would be lured into the trap. Just inside the closet threshold I placed a few inviting morsels that I knew Ward would be unable to resist: a purple gel ink roller that I knew he liked, my itouch, a king sized candy bar, and, just for good measure, my journal.

The last component of revenge is patience. I couldn’t call Ward into the trap; I had to wait for him to happen upon it. Since he is always snooping around the perimeter of my room, I didn’t have to wait long. I positioned myself behind my open bedroom door, where I could see him enter, but unless he turned around and looked behind the door, he couldn’t see me. While I was waiting, I congratulated myself on how beautiful the plan was. The mound of bait looked so tempting that I knew for sure he would investigate. I was so preoccupied commending myself, I almost didn’t see Ward pop his head into the room. My whole body tensed and I tried to regulate my breathing and my movements. I channelled a tiger hiding in the grasses, waiting for his prey to be too far to turn back.

Like a rabbit, he snuck towards the open door, almost sniffing as he went. He furtively looked around while stealing towards the bait pile. When he got to the door, he reached out then paused. His hand could not decide which treasure to take first. He inched closer and started crouching down while his shoulders relaxed and his defenses released. Heartbeats slammed against my chest and threatened to leap out of my mouth, but I willed them to calm; the time was not yet right. Slowly and surely, Ward inched closer and closer until he was seated in the closet, looking at the contents of my itouch with the journal in his right hand.

A few moments later, I heard the rip of the wrapper coming off the candy bar. Without talking, I pushed closed the bedroom door and silently charged towards the closet. Ward was not aware of me until it was far too late. He had the first bite of candy in his mouth and his eyes bulged in surprise.

“Waa . . . ,” he said. The bar dropped from his mouth and he turned to scramble to his feet. At that moment, I slammed the closet door.

“What do you have to say now!” I said through the door.

“Amelia, let me out! Let me out!” Ward hollered.

“Maybe next week, if you’re lucky,” I gritted through my teeth.

“It’s dark in here, let me out!” He yelped.

“Where is my pen, twerp!”

“What pen?”

“Don’t play games; my green gel ink roller!”

“Let me out! I’ll tell you if you let me out!”

Just as his voice turned from whine to full throttle panic, the phone rang.

“You’re going to have to think a little bit about why you’re in there and what you can do to get yourself out.” I growled.

I pushed the chair from my desk under the door handle and answered the phone on the fourth ring. On the other end was my best friend Rebecca.

“Did you hear?” she asked, “about Luke?” I winced a little; Rebecca is obsessed with Luke and I knew this was going to be a long conversation.

“I didn’t hear,” I said with as much supportive enthusiasm as I could muster, “what happened?”

“Luke went on a date with Emma!” She screeched, “Can you believe it? What do you think this means?”

“Well, probably nothing,” I said.

“Probably nothing? Or definitely nothing?” she asked.

“Oh, definitely nothing, he had to go out with her to be polite.”

“I know, he is really considerate,” she sighed, “Do you know where they went?”

“Where?” I prompted.

“They went to the mall. What do you think that means?

We spent the next hour dissecting the date and how it meant absolutely nothing. I assured her that Luke was not dating Rebecca but had simply gone on a date with her and that he was still single.

“Maybe he wants to practice dating with someone who he isn’t serious about.” I said. “Then in case he makes a mistake, he’ll learn from it.” I knew she didn’t totally believe me, but I could tell I’d said the right thing. We talked about school for a while, until my dad came home from work.

“Hey Amelia, how’s things?” My dad asked. He was carrying a grocery bag with dinner ingredients, so I slowly backed out of the kitchen in case he wanted help.

“Fine dad, see ya!” I called as I scampered away. I went to the TV room and heard my mom come home a few minutes later. They started clanging around the kitchen, so I figured it was safe to stay in the TV room.  I read a magazine for a while and then switched on the TV. I was getting ready to paint my toenails when mom appeared in the doorway.

“Dinner’s ready!” she announced. I stretched myself off the couch and ambled towards the tasty smells coming from the kitchen.

“Hmm, smells good,” I said as I sat down at the table. My dad scooped a helping of casserole onto my plate.

“Thanks, Amelia, it’s a new recipe, and I hope it’s a keeper.” My dad replied. I picked up my fork and started digging in.

“Edward!” my mom called up the stairs, “It’s time for dinner!”

I froze with a fork halfway to my open mouth. Slowly, I put my fork back down and started backing my chair away from the table.

“Um, I forgot something in my room,” I said as calmly as possible while panic was rising in my chest.

“Where are you going?” my mom demanded, “This is dinnertime. We don’t leave the table at dinnertime.”

“I have a prop for roses and thorns,” I lied, “I’ll be right back.” My mother’s brow was furrowed and she didn’t look pleased, but she let me go.

I pretended to casually walk out of the kitchen and when I got to the stairs, took them two at a time to my room.

“Ward!” I hissed, “Are you here?” I rushed over to my closet and flung open the door. Ward was sitting on the floor with an empty candy wrapper by his side, using the flashlight app on my itouch to read my journal.

“You brat!” I whisper shouted, “What are you doing?”

“This is very informative reading,” Ward said, “I’m thinking about starting a blog.”

“I’m going to hang you by your toenails!” I screeched, “and then send you on a rocket to a cold, dark planet!” I was furious. 

“No, you’re not,” he said, looking up at me, “because if you do, I’ll tell mom how you locked me in your closet and left me to starve.”

“Starve? Hardly! You ate a whole candy bar!” I said, pointing at the empty wrapper.

“Well, then I’m pretty sure mom will be mad that you ruined my appetite for dinner,” he said. He had me there. There was no way I was going to be able to tattle on him without implicating myself. The best I could hope for was that he would keep to himself the secrets he’d learned.

“Put the journal down,” I commanded, “and walk slowly out of the closet.

“Hmm, I thought I might share a few pages at dinner,” he said, “it might liven up roses and thorns.”

“I will freeze your clothes and smash your video games if you ever so much as mention this journal again,” I threatened, in my most menacing, bossy-sister voice.

“We’ll see about that,” Ward replied, tossing the journal on my bed as he sauntered out the door.
At the dinner table, Ward plopped down and started serving himself casserole and salad.

“Where have you been?” mom asked, “We called you twice.”

“I was really into a book I was reading,” Ward said as he looked at me. I glared at him and stabbed a lettuce leaf with my fork.

“I’m glad you’re reading for a change,” mom smiled at him.

“Edward, is that your rose for the day?” dad asked.

“Yes, it’s a very exciting story,” he replied, “I can’t wait to get back to it.”

“And your thorn?” my mom asked. Ward looked at me with a smirk on his face.

“Well, Amelia . . .” he started, but I cut him off. I couldn’t let him finish that sentence, so I took drastic measures to derail the meal.

“Gee,” I rolled my eyes and groaned, “Ward reads a book and we’re giving him an award?” I looked at my mother with the appropriate amount of adolescent disgust and I saw that she had taken the bait.

“Amelia, please don’t call your brother Ward. That isn’t his name and it’s disrespectful besides,” she scolded me.

“Well, I just don’t see what the big deal is about,” I continued, picking up steam, “I mean I read all the time and this one,” I pointed at Ward, “picks up a book and we’re patting him on the back and giving out medals? That seems like a double standard!” I was so worked up, I was starting to believe myself.

“Amelia,” my mother sighed, “could we please have a nice meal?” I looked around the table at my family.

“Sure mom, we can do that.” I said and smiled, this time for real.