Boys are a strange phenomenon. Sometimes mothers have to observe them from a distance to understand their proclivities, like Jane Goodall watching chimps in the jungle. Jane eventually earned the privilege of picking bugs out of their fur, because they trusted her. But I don't want to groom my sons. I just want to understand them.

Every night in our house is the same, for we are creatures of habit. We do homework. We eat dinner. We watch television. We have a snack. Then I announce, "Ok, everybody up to bed, time for showers!"

Now, we have had the same routine for a number of years. It is a schedule which changes only slightly as a result of sports seasons with aberrantly timed practices.

But for the most part, this is it. Homework. Dinner. TV. Snack. Showers. Bed.

But every night when I announce that it's time to head upstairs, they look at me like I had just announced we were moving to Tangiers. Instead of an appropriate response like, "Let's go guys, she's been forcing us up those stairs for 12 years, we should just go without giving her a hard time," I get the following:

"What? What!!!!!? 8:30? No one in the whole seventh grade has to go up at 8:30! My friends make fun of me!" (My response: "So don't tell them.")

"OMG- I am not even tired!" (My response: "Well, I am.")

"One more show, pleeeeeease? It's a good one, where the guy with the thing finds a place that is really cool!" (My response: "Let me end the suspense. They would have gotten away with it if it wasn't for those meddling kids.")

This mutiny lasts only about twenty seconds, but it's long enough to make me raise my voice. This motivates them to slide, not rise, from the couch. They slide to the floor, crawl to the dog, nuzzle him for a few seconds, then crawl to the stairs like battle-weary soldiers on the beaches of Normandy. They crawl up the stairs, and collapse like a lump in front of the bathroom.

"Let's go!" I say.

"We're too tired," they answer.

And just five minutes before they had claimed to have enough energy to track the Swamp Monster with Shaggy and Velma.

I begin to track their movements. Clothes come off, and as they contemplate the hamper sitting 10 inches away from them, they take a step back and drop their clothes on the floor.

I am aghast and know that Bill Cosby was right. It can only be brain damage.

"How lazy are you guys?" I say. "You guys are unbelievable! What do you think I am, your maid? Now go back and pick your clothes up and place them in the hamper like civilized human beings!"

They have the audacity to look surprised and chastened.

"Oh, sorry Mom, we forgot." They bend, muttering under their breath something along the lines of, "don't have to yell, breaking my eardrums, scaring the dog..."

Time for showers. While one is in the shower, the others pretend to be productive.

They brush their teeth and flick water at the mirror.

They flex and check for body hair.

They wink at their reflections and say in their best Joey voice, "Yo, how YOU doin'..."

They peek around the shower curtain at the person showering, eliciting a "Mom, tell the perv to stop staring at me in the shower!"

In short, they do the opposite of what I ask them to do. I tell them to finish up, that no boys their age need 20 minute showers, that even I don't get 20 minute showers, and I'm the mother.

Like little wet seals, they head to the towel closet for new, dry fluffy towels, and they find me there, guarding it like the dragon guarding his treasure hoard.

"When you guys are millionaires," I lecture for the billionth time, "you can use a new towel every night of the week of every month of every year for all I care." They are now rolling their eyes. "Until then, we are a family that conserves energy; therefore, towels will be used more than once."

This produces a horrific raucous response.

"Ewwwwww, what if I wipe my face with a towel that he used to wipe his butt? Gross!!!"

The fact that each of them has an easily identifiable different colored towel is one that doesn't seem to register.

They move on. Used towels are inevitably wrapped around heads like turbans, around necks like capes, or used as snapping devices. To dry oneself off with said drying device and place on the appropriate hook seems not in their repertoire of toiletry tricks.

I've had enough of this nightly ritual. I'm tired, and want a glass of wine. I remind them to hang up towels on the rack. I admonish them for once again leaving the cap off the toothpaste, for leaving the toilet seat up and neglecting to flush the toilet. They are in bed now, and contained.

The requests come flooding in. Look at this bruise, Mom. Can I have a glass of water, Mom? What is this bump behind my ear, Mom?

As I inspect my youngest son's hair, I'm startled to realize something.

I'm grooming him.


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