On my first official day with Melanie and River, I learned some very interesting things. The learning didn’t stop at any point thereafter, but my first day is the last time I remember being actively surprised. I have a busy imagination and I grew up in a living circus, so I’m pretty difficult to shock.
Melanie and Tom do not believe in screens. There’s no television in the house, no computers allowed in communal space, and they seriously warned me that River is not to look at the screen of my cell phone. It’s a neat principle and they embrace it in the healthiest way possible, but it isn’t easy to enforce, especially because he is so curious. We’d often play music in the apartment, singing and dancing to everything under the sun. The kid can sing every word to Bob Marley and loves him some Hakuna Matata, but one day it struck me: this poor child has no idea who Simba is.
They apparently run a bit cold (which is bizarre given that they relocated from the midwest), and their apartment was kept in the mid 80’s AT ALL TIMES. This is a death sentence for me. I live for ceiling fans and mostly air conditioning, if that’s an option. Please, God, let it always be an option. Their sauna apartment living style makes me feel like I’m going to cry and explode and vomit; I don’t normally do any of these things very often, but when I get in their home, all bets are off. Melanie would often be wearing her North Face fleece coat inside the 84 degree hotbox, and I just really think that might be extraordinarily unhealthy.
You learn a lot about people when you do their laundry everyday. These people do laundry more often than anyone I have ever met – and I grew up with two sisters who played sports just like myself, and a father who worked in construction for 30 years. My family did a shitload of laundry. Their apartment complex had a laundry room, rather than in-unit amenities. I made more trips lugging baskets, hampers, oversized duffle bags, and sometimes miscellaneous items that probably didn’t belong in the washing machine to begin with (yoga mats, velour sheets, etc.) than I can tell you. Usually while dripping sweat from places I didn’t know I had. Twice, the handle of a hamper snapped off in my hand because it had been so severely overloaded that the poor unsuspecting plastic simply couldn’t take it anymore, and dirty underwear scattered everywhere. Both parents were fond of hot yoga – often while I was over watching River – and then would return from yoga and ask me to transport their dripping clothing to the laundry room. In hindsight, I’m now wondering if they thought the room was a normal temperature.
River was not allowed to eat any form of refined sugar or processed food, a principle I’m very much in support of. But once, Melanie brought him home organic strawberry almond milk from a fresh juicery and it was all a little too much. His very delicate system was apparently on overload and this mild-mannered, inquisitive toddler became a tiny, blonde Tasmanian devil in cargo shorts. Melanie pulled me aside with a very concerned expression just before she and Tom snuck away for the evening. She lowered her voice and whispered, serious as a heart attack, “Does River seem a little spazzy to you? I think I know what the problem here is. I just looked on their website and they put DATES in their strawberry milk!” I stared back at her with wide eyes, a tiny side smirk trying to sneak its way across the span of my face, my tell. I opened my mouth to respond and then closed it again, truly at a loss. It opened once more, this time involuntarily… “Oh no. Are you kidding?” It was the best I could do. Truthfully, I’m still a little bit concerned that Melanie perceived the problem as consumption of the dates, snuck in as a dishonest conspiracy by the friendly little juice company, rather than the fact that the 30 pound two year old chugged 16 ounces of liquid sugar in under two minutes like a champion food eating contestant defending his title. But that feels like a much bigger conversation than I’m ready to have. Until then…