Mule, Not Mewl

The Man I Married taps his toothbrush three items on the edge of the sink when he’s done brushing his teeth.

So does my son, the Little Monster.

Score one for nurture.

The Man I Married often repeats things, especially punchlines, three times. So did his grandmother.

The Little Monster? I wish he stopped at three times.

The Man I Married’s mother often said that when MIM was a baby he was inoculated with a phonograph needle. When he was outside playing with a group of kids, she never had to check on him, because she just listened for the constant sound of his voice that was louder than any of the others.

A psychiatrist we once visited said that the Little Monster basically has an iPod attached to his brain, broadcasting every single thought (typical of the ADHD child). LM wakes up every morning in mid-sentence, his eyes and mouth wide open at the same time to cheerfully and energetically greet the day. His vocal cords are like Popeye’s biceps on spinach.

Score one for nature.

The Man I Married’s father said that he had to hit MIM over the head with a 2×4 to get his attention. And that he was like a mule.

Ditto the Little Monster.

Nature again.

Now wait a gosh darned minute. We skated around the ole biology connection here, so I thought I’d been handed a Get Out of Inherited Annoying Traits From Your Spouse Free card.

Nope. I don’t know how it happened, but they are two peas in a pod. Both singing (not so bad) and passing gas (not so good) the livelong day.

And although the annoyance factor has been multiplied by two, it’s the most adorable thing in the world.

What did the Little Monster “inherit” from me, I suppose?

If the mule thing wasn’t already taken, I’d cop to that one. My father often insists that my mother’s side of the family is stubborn.

The Little Monster is SO stubborn that I can believe that it’s a trait that’s been squared in him on the nurture side on top of nature’s deep roots.

And that’s why we made it as a family, I suppose, just a trio of mules who dug our hooves in and refused to call it quits on each other even when the going got tough.  

We met the Little Monster exactly four years ago today, when he was just shy of his sixth birthday. When DSHS convened a meeting to decide whether MIM and I would be a good fit as the Little Monster’s forever family, LM’s social worker voiced her concern that I didn’t talk enough. Right. Maybe it’s because I couldn’t get a word in edgewise while MIM b.s.’d the room full of nurturing women. He’d done the same thing with our first landlord when trying to convince him to rent a house to us, though we were both unemployed and many other people were competing for the bungalow. MIM waxed poetic about being an injured veteran and pretended interest in water valve shutoffs and lawn care; we got the house. As we did the Little Monster. I’ve learned when to shut up and let MIM work the room.

As if my not talking enough would be a problem in this braying family.

MIM kept from rolling his eyes at the social worker’s suggestion that I was more of a mewler than a mule. (My father cannot roll his eyes. I hope the Little Monster takes after my side of the family on that one.)

MIM knows that when the cat’s got my tongue, I have other ways of communicating, such as throwing a potato at him (that was 24 years ago, and now I am wiser and would throw something soft like a tomato, which would effectively yet silently express my displeasure yet not break the dining room window like the potato did when MIM ducked and it sailed over his head—he concedes that the potato throw was warranted by what he said to provoke it).

I can’t say that I make as much noise—or as much mess—as my two guys, but I can get up a pretty good hee haw when those two get me laughing. Or when I’m yelling at them to pipe down. Or when I’m proving to them with gusto that I know all of the words to O Canada (and Canadians don’t put the “h” in their “oh” because they are anti-“silent h” as well as anti-gun?). Or when I’m saying today, thunderous as an atomic bomb, “Happy Anniversary to my little nuclear family!”

To us and to you, our friends and family who helped us to become a forever family, please join me for a hearty Mazeltov!, loud as a Malotov cocktail.

The Strangler Fig: Stories by Jennifer D. Munro
Now on Kindle at

Six sensual, darkly fantastic tales that reimagine classics such as Dorian Gray, Helen of Troy, and The Yellow Wallpaper. The Erotica Writer’s Husband & Other Stories author turns to a darker eros with her new collection of haunting and magical tales, which have appeared in various fantasy, horror, and literary anthologies.

Cover image courtesy of Rhonda “Shellbelle” Renee © 2009,

The Lingo of Bluff-Tough Love

When you adopt an older child, you not only get the child himself, but you inherit the language of the families he’s lived with prior to yours. Thus, the Little Monster entered our home three years ago with not only a startling storehouse of profanity but with an altogether unfamiliar lexicon.

Such as, “I need to go Number Two.”

Number Two? What makes that particular job Number Two? Why second fiddle? Second best? Because, admit it, Number Two feels pretty good. Number Two feels A Number One. My dog illustrates the feeling when she takes one of her petite dumps and then races around the yard, feeling light and free and unfettered, no longer weighed down by life! We should all do the same, except it would be difficult, not to mention unseemly, to dash around the house with our pants around our ankles.

LM didn’t learn Number Two from us, in fact he’s never heard it uttered from my lips, but over three years later it’s still his euphemism of choice.

He might as well be speaking a Spanish word, it’s so culturally unfamiliar to me. It gives me pause. What would I have called it had I been the one cleaning it from his diapers and subsequently potty-training him? I come from a no-nonsense family and I probably would have called it what it was, albeit a G-rated version. My family on the maternal side is more linguistically than numerically inclined, so we always used an abbreviation, although I didn’t know it was an abbreviation nor what it stood for until I was an adult. I suppose I thought a Be Em referred to a puzzling existential epiphany one might experience while on the can. In the same way, I never knew why my Dad was always including Adam when he whistled every morning, “Up and At ‘Em!” I thought maybe it was a biblical saying, although that would have been the extent of religion in our household.

I grew up with a different lexicon than the one I can use with the Little Monster. I don’t use words like puka, pau, ono, kapu, and akamai, because for some reason when I lapse into the pidgin of my Hawaii childhood, I also lapse into an intertwined offensive sense of humor (what is now called cultural incompetency during long training sessions at academic institutions) and also nobody would understand what the hell I’m saying. “You going come stay or what?” Huh? Although it strikes me now that when I tell the Little Monster to do something, his slow-motion cooperation while doing seven other things along the way is the living embodiment of “going come stay.”

Besides the cultural language, there’s an entire family code that I can’t use. My mother, Tutu (Hawaiian for Grandma), recently reminded me that she often said to me and my brothers, “Do that one more time and I’m going to be wiping you off the wall.” She could say this because we knew it would never happen. It was code for “I’m serious.” And it was funny. And it worked.

Because he’s akamai, the Little Monster has indeed learned some of my family’s jargon. One day I said to him, “That’s your last warning.”

“I know,” he sighed. “I’m in the doghouse. I’m on thin ice. I’m in hot water. I’d better turn it around. I’m this close,” and he held up his thumb and forefinger. If he’d come from a different family, he would have added, “Yadda yadda yadda.” He has not yet perfected the eye roll that comes from my husband’s side of the family, but that will come with puberty, I’m sure. But all of the rest is mortifyingly from ineffectual me. To him these things are far from a last warning: they’re a running joke. Clearly I’m doing him no favors.

When my mom said, “Do that one more time and I’m going to be wiping you off the wall,” hooee! we knew she meant business. We got our okoles moving before we got the flyswatter.

Recently Tutu almost made the same threat to the Little Monster but caught herself in time. I actually saw her bite her tongue. Because it wouldn’t be funny with the Little Monster. Because he knows it could happen.

An acquaintance recently told me that he tells his little girl that if she doesn’t stop whatever it is she’s doing, he’s going to sell her to the gypsies. I didn’t know one could say “gypsy” anymore, but it wouldn’t have the same ring to say, “I’m going to fair-trade you to the Roma.” Regardless, neither would work for a child who’s been passed around already to too many families.

Tutu used to say, “Get in the car right now or I’m leaving without you.” And once or twice she did, leaving me and my brother in a vast parking lot. We thought it was a great adventure and pretended to be Hansel and Gretel, leaving a trail of popcorn. Because we knew she’d be back in her cherry red VW Beetle, which she was, burning rubber with steam pouring from her ears. Far from teaching us a lesson, she’d reinforced what we already knew: we were always safe even when we were pains in the ass. Tell the Little Monster I’m leaving him behind? Or actually leave him behind? Natch. Again, he’s been there and done that.

How about threatening bed without dinner, the tried and true method of Maurice Sendak? No can do. Not only been there done that but illegal to skip meals for foster kids, you’ll be happy to know. Now that I can legally do it doesn’t mean I will.

So we struggle to come up with a replacement code for “I’m serious. I mean it. I really, really mean it. This is your last warning. Don’t make me count. Three, two…”

So, for instance, “If you don’t start remembering to flush Number Two, I’m going to…”

To what?

Nothing, that’s what.

That’s the underlying message he needs to hear behind everything we say.

Nothing’s going to happen, no matter what you do. You will be fed, and you will be kept safe, and you won’t be sold (although if a really good price is offered and you are being a little turd that day and the deal would fund my one-way plane ticket to Costa Rica and a modest retirement, it might give me pause, just for a second. Or two).


I would really, really like it if you flushed.

I mean it.

We have of course had to devise some creative consequences for the Little Monster, and I had to grow a pair to start enforcing them when a parent coach at Harborview pretty much called me a pathetic wimp for my lack of follow-through. “That child has got your number,” she said. That would be Number Two, to be exact, which is how I was allowing myself to be treated.

We’ve also come up with some family code that works pretty well, but it’s a family secret. If anyone outside of the family learned it, I’d have to sell them to the department that conducts the trials and writes the manual for Prevention of Cultural Incompetencies and Way Too Many Syllables in An Era in Which You Can’t Make Fun of Any Group Unless You’re In It and Even Then You’re Playing With Fire, Bucko.

I will, you know. I mean it. Just watch me. Three, two…

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Twelve humorous stories about sex and the sexes. These sensual yet comic stories offer a fresh take on literary erotic fiction, as if Anaïs Nin and Erma Bombeck met at the library to spin tales of laughter and the libido. Collected from the pages of Best American Erotica, Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, Best Women’s Erotica, Best of Literary Mama, Clean Sheets, Zyzzyva, and others.

Searching for Middle Ground

Although enduring multiple miscarriages over a decade wasn’t easy, I feel no sense of loss about a biological child as we finally finalize the adoption of the Little Monster. If my first pregnancy had carried to term, I would have a seventeen-year-old right now. That’s a mind-blowing thought, but it’s as mind-blowing as the notion that I might wake up tomorrow next to Jon Bon Jovi (the glare off of his teeth would quickly snap me out of that pleasant reverie) or Michael Chabon (who is so potent he caused an infertile woman to conceive simply by standing next to her at a Jewish prayer service*, so at this point in my life I don’t even want to read one of his books within eight miles of a dusty menorah). 

Since my phantom high-schooler and the others that followed are all beyond the realm of reality, their absence is not even a concept that I can grasp, much less grieve over. I can’t imagine anyone other than the Little Monster hollering “Momster!” all the livelong day.

But I felt a sense of loss not only that I hadn’t been able to name my child, but that the Little Monster would be taking my husband’s last name, which I myself had never done. The name suits him, and they are quite the pair, two peas in a pod, and I had no politicized or feminist feelings about matrilineal versus patrilineal surnames for him; I’m no bra-burner, because frankly they cost too damn much. But I did feel a low-grade sorrow that none of the Little Monster’s names were for me or from me or of me, and that we didn’t have a certain FAMILY STAMP OF APPROVAL that a shared name would give us.

He would keep his first name, which I have always loved, and after nine years is an ingrained part of his identity. I assumed he would keep his middle name, too, which was a plain name I wasn’t crazy about. I’m not sure why I took it as a given for three years that his middle name should be kept. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted his middle name to change, too. I mulled it over for days, and one day it came to me, the perfect middle name:


It was obvious once I thought of it.

The middle name that the Man I Married acquired when his dad adopted him. The middle name of MIM’s father, and grandfather, and for all I know great-grandfather.

And it was my great-grandfather’s last name as well—actually, his adopted name also. He boarded a ship in the late 1800s as Manuel Lopes but disembarked that ship in Hawaii as Robert Thomas, to avoid discrimination against the Portuguese. My grandmother was Frances Elizabeth Thomas.

My brother is named Thomas.

As was my cousin Tommy, killed by a drunk driver before he could shuck the diminutive form of his name. I have sometimes thought that the Little Monster resembles Tommy.

The name would unify us as a family. A middle name that would provide middle-ground.

I adored the idea of Thomas as his middle name. I felt married to his having that name the minute I thought of it.

Which terrified me.

What if he didn’t like it? What if he wanted to keep the middle name he already had (though for the most part he had trouble remembering it)? Would I be able to let Thomas go? Surely he had the right to make his own choice. Or did I have the right to name him, knowing that he was too young to fully understand the significance?

I refrained from bringing it up to him. I would be crushed if he didn’t like it, and then I would be faced with a moral decision. Obviously I would have to accept his decision, but I didn’t want to if he said no.

One day he and I took a gloriously nippy and clear December walk. Late autumn leaves crunched underfoot. I took a deep breath and broached the subject.

I explained that there was a name that was from both sides of the family, a name that I adored. I built up the suspense for both of us as I talked about great-grandfathers and brothers and cousins and uncles who all shared the name.

“What is it?” he finally butted in to ask.

“Thomas. Your dad’s middle name,” I said again in a rush. Please please please please please, I thought. “It could be your middle name, too. If you wanted.”

He beamed as if we’d stepped into the end of a rainbow. “Really? Thomas would be my middle name?”

“You would be…” I pronounced his full name, first, middle and last. “Would you like that?”

“Yes,” he said. He smiled the way he smiles on Christmas mornings when he discovers what Santa has left for him.

“I am so happy,” I told him. “So very, very happy.”

At the therapist’s office a few weeks later, as we prepared the Little Monster for what to expect at the adoption court, the therapist once again brought the topic around to the Little Monster’s new full name and its significance as his being a part of a forever family. We had discussed its import several times. “What’s your middle name?” he asked the Little Monster to repeat.

The Little Monster thought hard. “Uhh, George?”


*Read Waiting for Daisy.