I am a fanatical researcher. I almost never make a purchase without first reading countless reviews. Whenever an illness creeps up, I delve deep into WebMD (which I do not recommend because I can promise you will become convinced that your sore throat is really some rare form of vocal cord cancer) for answers. With every stage of childhood, I read article after article about parenting styles, developmental milestones, and what behavior is to be expected at particular ages.
When I was hysterical because I was sure that my four-year-old was a sociopath, I found a book that assured me it was perfectly normal for my pre-schooler to suggest dismembering his sister and putting the parts out with the trash on garbage day — in individual bags. When a bully found her way into our lives, I was overwhelmed by the multi-media resources available to me as a parent, as well as for my child, to help resolve the situation. When they began going places without me, I found oodles of support for my conversations about drugs, alcohol, and making good life choices.
Yet, in all of these volumes of books, each of these internet links, and every supportive article, I have yet to see anyone mention at what developmental stage children will learn to not leave an empty toilet paper roll in the holder. Or a jar of salsa in the fridge that is no more than stained with the remnants of tomatoes. Or maybe one-quarter of a teaspoon of milk in the half gallon container so that my first cup of morning coffee goes from being a lifeline to being the cause of She-Hulk coming to life in our kitchen.
I had hoped that once I stopped helping them in the bathroom, they would understand the tremendous importance of toilet paper and then comprehend that there must be at least three rolls within reach, at all times. And if that failed, I had hoped a sensible conversation, followed by the assignment to remedy the situation, with any and all who left a cardboard tube where they should not, would have served as a thorough and thoughtful lesson. But still, I regularly open the cabinet for something, only to find that the spot for the backup paper is as vacant as the stare I get when I screech, “Who is the toilet paper scumbag??”
Then there’s the food. Not only did I just find the aforementioned salsa jar, its glass bottom barely dotted with cilantro, but it’s not the first time. Or even the second. One time, I left it there — just to see how long they could go before they asked for more salsa. Because when they came calling, looking for a new jar, I would be prepared with my motherly speech, gently chiding them for their irresponsibility and also maybe laying on a guilt trip as thick as that layer of fuzzy mold that eventually grew in the jar. Because no one ever asked for more. Like a native New Yorker ignoring a homeless person, they sidestepped the biosphere that was now thriving in our fridge. It seems my offspring would rather swear off food forever than clean out the jar and put it in the recycling can.
Mind you, there is always more salsa. I shop in warehouses. Salsa only comes in a two-pack of gallon jugs. But hell hath no fury like an over-tired mother when someone opens a new jar while the old one lingers in perpetuity behind the anchovies. And anyway, this is not about food. We are never lacking for nourishment in our house — ever. Also, I have not one time ever yelled at a child for finishing a food item. As a matter of fact, that’s pretty much why I buy it in the first place. If I wanted a science experiment, I would ask my husband to ferment something.
No, this is about being teenagers who have never needed to maintain a household, keep inventory of food stocks, buy their own food, or wonder if God will strike them down if they throw out the moldy salsa jar instead of recycling it because the mold is definitely staring at them in a threatening way. This is about underdeveloped brains (the frontal lobe doesn’t finish up until they’re about 25 to 28 years old — I tell myself that to make me feel better) that cannot possibly imagine the massive burden of responsibility that comes with finishing a food, followed by the concept of dealing with the empty container and THEN going into the cabinet for a new one. It’s almost as bad as putting laundry IN the hamper instead of on it.
The University of Rochester Medical Center explains the whole frontal lobe thing with a lot more science and a lot less snarkiness if you’re into that sort of thing. But even they don’t talk about the toilet paper thing. I may threaten to make my whole family read this article about 30 interesting ways to store toilet paper from ritely.com. The sheer horror of the idea may be enough to further my cause.
I do not usually compose material that lends itself to plot twists. My writing style is pretty straightforward. However, in discussion with my husband about this week’s topic, I answered his question, “What did you write about this week?” by silently opening my refrigerator, pulling out the empty salsa container, and holding it high.
Before I could say a word or explain any further, he started in with a litany of, “I can explain, and, It’s not my fault.” This was met by my dawning horror that I had been about to publicly blame my children for crimes that really fell squarely at the feet of their father. I contemplated how to handle this. Should I rewrite the entire blog? I had already submitted it to my publisher when the startling revelation came to light. No, I decided to leave it as-is and give my children the well-deserved public exoneration due to them. Because God knows what else I have blamed them for that was really their father’s misdeed. Clearly, that fully developed frontal lobe thing doesn’t apply to everyone at equal times.
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