Last night the kids were maniacally jolly as they cleaned up after supper. They were ricocheting around the kitchen, scrubbing and pinging off of each other. It was NOT quiet but they were operating just under the reprimand threshold. They were silly and sarcastic with each other - all five of them dishing back what they were served - all the while loading dishes, wiping counters, and sweeping floors. The three adults (and the two dogs) retreated to the library which is connected to the kitchen by an open doorway as well as a window-like pass-thru above the sink. In short, we could hear everything but couldn't be seen. Often this is an ideal set up. Every once in a while, it means the adults miss a key element to a situation.
As the kids finished up their chores they trickled into the library one by one. Mayhem, being in charge of trash and recycling, was one of the last to finish. The normal rattling and rustling sounds I heard from the kitchen in no way prepared me for Mayhem's appearance. He walked through the library with trash bags in hand and his (abundant) hair sticking straight up off the top of his head. We are talking a 10-inch long, crazy, white boy 'fro. There was a moment of utter silence, then everybody gabbled at once. "What happened?" "What did you do?" "Your hair!"
Mayhem's face was bright red and his voice choked as he said something about needing to remember to be careful around wall sockets - but he could not maintain when he saw my panicked face. He burst out laughing. He hadn't gotten even partway electrocuted. He had made his bushy hair stand on end by rubbing a trash bag on his head*. Ha ha ha. Not only did he get laughs for looking ridiculous but he scored on mom. The kids think "getting" me like that is absolutely hilarious. Last night they thought it was so funny that it spurred them to reminisce about past successes in pushing the mama juuuuust far enough. They brought up the time Chaos gave Mayhem a swirlie. That memorable incident happened on a day they were being weird and push, push, pushing me. They weren't being "bad" or breaking any actual rules but they had hovered and interrupted, been rambunctious and loud. Some days using every mama tool in my kit just barely covers it, you know? The kids know to a scarily exact degree how hesitant I am to waste my mama credit on minor infractions. They know this, in large part, because they have repeatedly conducted experiments to find out precisely where the line is between pranks that will "only" earn them extra chores and behavior which will result in restriction (or worse). Bet couldn't believe the swirlie. She said to them, "I can't believe y'all did that! What if she hadn't laughed?!" and she made a mock serious "oooooh" face to indicate the trouble they would have been in. Chaos said, "We'd already had to do all our laundry, pick up our rooms, clean the kitchen ("And the bathroom," reminded the Princessa), and walk around the block!" ("Yeah, twice," added Mayhem.) "What else could she have made us do? It was a joke and we had nothing to lose!" Bet mouthed to me across the room, "What's he going to do? Sue you?" Spot on! That day I had played all of my (minor suit) cards and the kids had totally called my "bluff", winning the hand. Although the look on their faces last spring and the look on Mayhem's face last night, when for a split second they had to wonder, "Oh crap, what if this joke is too far?" tells me that we're still squarely in the midst of healthy limit testing and I still (for a few more short years) do hold the trump cards.
*You may think - as did I - that rubbing a plastic bag on one's head is a strange and random thing to do (especially when one has been told all one's life by one's worry wart mom not to put plastic bags over one's head). I asked him why. Was he trying to make his hair stick up? Did he know that would happen? And why a garbage bag? His answer, "I had no idea what would happen. That's why I did it, mom. To find out. It's called an experiment." Ahhh. You know, even as a middle schooler, I did NOT look at things and wonder what would happen if I hit them with a hammer, put them in the microwave, or rubbed them on the top of my head. Linus says that's because I'm not a boy. You think?