“Things I Say to My Children,”

A Memoir by Kristen Fealy

“Never hand me any art projects while I am on the toilet. Wait until you hear a flush and my hands are dry. Just don’t open the door. Don’t. When you are older you will be glad I asked you to do this.”

“Don’t touch your brother and/or sister.” I mean it. No touching. Do. Not. Do. That. No sloppy pushing and shoving in the back seat of the car when I am driving, listening to directions from the Oracle (i.e., the iPhone or my GPS). Not in your rooms where the wrestling leads to screaming and a crash which makes whatever I have been cooking fall on the floor in the kitchen because I am startled. Which always makes me yell, “What just happened?” Followed by my perennial favorite, “I don’t care who started it.”

“Stop saying stop.” Please don’t yell stop at each other in that extra long whiney way like stooooooooooawwwwwp. This is a sound that sets off car alarms, it makes wild dogs bark, and it makes seemingly docile gorillas at the Bronx Zoo eat their own fecal matter. In short, it is the sound of hell. I told the children again they are not allowed to use the word “Stop” at all on Mother’s Day. It was Mother’s Day on the day I made my announcement. The older one, the one who made me a mother, said, “Mom, stop backwards is spelled pots”

“Don’t say that either,” I said. “It is MY day.”

I have three semi-human children. I try to remind them that my husband and I are from a long line of humans, we are not related to raccoons at all. We do not dig through trash, or eat trash, or sleep in trash. We have graduate degrees. We, in theory, are educated, which does not technically make us smart about child rearing, as we have learned.

My two male raccoons have no problem with their own filth. None. My human child, my daughter, and I look at them and wonder, what happened? They can be just like the furry vermin who sort through garbage in our trash cans, leaving us plastic bread bags on the roof of our garage. My boys do the exact same thing with dirty socks. Why are there dirty socks on the kitchen counter next to the dinner platters or on my foyer table next to my keys or next to the remote control? Why are their socks under my pillow?

When my 11-year-old and 8-year-old boys come home from football practice, they say they don’t need to shower. I wonder if there is some kind of olfactory issue. Do they not smell themselves? Why do they content themselves to lie on freshly folded laundry on the couch when I am trying to put it away, while they are sweaty and stinky? Why do they eat food off the floor? Why do they sleep with old crunched-up plastic water bottles in bed for a whole week?

My 8-year-old daughter is not perfect. She has a filthy mouth. She often forgets to brush in the way where the orthodontist starts talking to me about the goop on her teeth to the point where I almost wretch. He hands us postcards with titles like “What happens to your teeth when you don’t brush with braces.” The before and after photos are a horror. The before photos show a perfectly wonderful tween mouth with freshly sprouted grown-up teeth that are bumpy on the bottom, newly cut through the gums. The after-braces photos show brown, deep holes on the teeth. Goop has eaten away at the enamel in the photo. I plead to her, “Please brush, no one will ever kiss you with brown holes, no one.” This one seems to register. I hope.

A singular expression has been repeated to me by my children’s educators over the years. Usually this is said during the first few weeks of school when someone who is in charge stands up to give a speech. They always say “Repetition is the heart of education.” They never say how many repetitions. A hundred thousand? One million? I think it must be a billion and only then you might get a result when they graduate from college — and even then you might find yourself saying, “Stop chewing with your mouth open,” at graduation dinner.

Though what no one tells you is the surprise you feel when love washes over you after repeating yourself all day. They say they love you. You say, “That’s a lie, I have been yelling at you all day.” They say, “I know, Mommy, you’re the best.” This usually happens after a 7-Eleven Slurpee pit stop.

Kristen Fealy was a national news correspondent at the Fox News Channel before becoming a mother. She has a master’s degree in journalism from New York University, and recently studied fiction writing with Julia Glass at the Southampton Writers Conference. She is working on a novel.