I've discovered another side of myself. It happened suddenly one afternoon many years ago, as my children were climbing into our mammoth white, 15 passenger van, a vehicle my teenagers fondly referred to as "Moby Dick." It struck me as comical that all these kids climbing into the van were mine. I suddenly felt like a bus driver. In a nasally, Edith Bunker-like voice, I called out, "Move to the back of the bus."
Mary and Emma, then 4 and 5, squealed with delight, "Who are YOU?" they asked. For reasons that will forever remain unknown, Arnold Horseshack, of Welcome Back Kotter fame, was the first person who popped into mind. "I'm Mrs. Horseshack, a friend of your muth-uhs," I replied.
I then proceeded to give them nicknames, reserved for use only by their new friend. For the rest of that school year, Mrs. Horseshack put the younger kids on the bus most mornings. "Good-byyyye Elvis, Tina, Annie," she called out to the children who in "real life" were Ben, Mary, and Emma..
"Catch my kisses, Mrs. Horseshack!" they yelled from the end of the driveway, wildly waving their arms. "One for you and one for Mommy!"
Over the years, Mrs. Horseshack has frequently shown up at family occasions or milestones. When baby number eight was on the way, for instance, it was Mrs. Horseshack who broke the news, "I know a secret about your muth-uhhh!" she announced one evening at dinner. Though their eyes widened upon hearing the news, it wasn't until I, the real mom confirmed it that they actually believed me.
In truth, I'm like any other mom. I get stressed, I lose my temper; I sometimes even yell at my kids. I'm often in a hurry and don't always listen to what they have to say. And as I've mentioned before, playing is hard work for me. But these are not the traits I want my kids to remember when they reminisce about their childhood. Enter Mrs. Horseshack.
While the average mom might excel at running her house, Mrs. Horseshack is a pro at having fun. She chases kids around with the vacuum cleaner, playfully reminds them to use their manners at the table, makes spontaneous pit stops for doughnuts, and always, always makes them laugh. As the real mom, I have a bad habit of telling my children I'll play with them "in a minute", but somehow pretending to be this ebullient lady equips
me-- Mrs. Horseshack makes it happen.
Some of my kids had less affection for my alter ego. Teenagers at the time Tiger (a.k.a. Stanley) and Bethany (a.k.a. Eunice) as well as my then middle schooler, Matthew (Melvin), use to roll their eyes and beg me not to embarrass them in front of their friends. I wouldn't do that, I reassured them, and neither would Mrs. Horseshack, thank you very much.
Sometimes Mrs. Horseshack won't show up for long stretches of time. The summer our family relocated from Memphis to Vermont, (and our youngest was just 6-weeks-old), it took her months to catch up with us. I was simply too tired to be silly. But it wasn¹t until she finally reappeared that I realized how important it was that I interact with my kids in this way.
"Oh, Mrs. Horseshack, I love you! Where have you been?" my then 7-year-old Mary (alias Tina) said, a bit of pleading in her voice.
Mrs. Horseshack reassured her that she had been looking for them, and when she went to their old house, they were all gone. "And when did you move to Vermont anyway?" she asked. "You have to tell Mrs. Horseshack these things." Just like old friends, we picked up right where we¹d left off.
Sometimes my younger kids try to distract me when they have been mischievous or I,m in a foul mood. "Mrs. Horseshack?" they'll say, trying to call her to rescue them from real life and their grumpy mom.
"She is most certainly not here," I answer in my sternest voice. Other times, I¹ll find it in me to be silly only to be accused of being Mrs. Horseshack. "No, it's me," I say, reminding them that I was the person who created Mrs. Horseshack in the first place.
My alter ego has become such a part of our family that I wonder if sometimes I shouldn't set her a place at the table. After all, who knows how long this tradition will last. I wonder if my kids will outgrow her or if might she turn into Granny Horseshack someday?
It doesn't matter--as long as they remember that their mom went out of her way to introduce them to other side--the silly side---of me.