In second grade, I wasn’t permitted to use adult scissors, so I improvised with a pair of safety scissors, the small sort with padded grips and a rounded wide tip stored beside my construction paper and rubber cement. I gathered a tight handful of all her bangs and began to clip away. I couldn’t accomplish the task in one swift motion as I’d thought. So I hacked away, standing on my tippy-toes, putting some elbow grease into it, a furled tongue and a stitched brow.
"There," I said quite pleased that I’d made it all the way through. And we both stared at her reflection in the mirror, then back down at the wad of hair in the palm of my hand, each of us nodding silently. Job well done. This was Janene Jaeger, the neighbor whose bangs I cut off, so close to her skull that the remaining hair looked like a mustache for her forehead.
Earlier that week we were playing Monkey in The Middle with my mother. I guess we didn’t have a third child to join us at that age. The object of the game, everyone knew, was to keep whatever object you happened to have away from the clutches of the designated "monkey." We were cliche and used a ball. Who’s really going to fight you for a ball? A kickball at that. And we wouldn’t even be kicking it. It would be an underhanded toss, the kind where you crouch down low, as if you’re bowling with two hands, then use your upward momentum to fling it high into the air, watching it brush the leaves of an old Maple tree. It was as if we were playing SPUD.
My mother and Janene tossed the ball using both hands outstretched above their heads. After watching for a while, I lunged forward, stepping in front of Janene at the last moment, snatching the ball away.
"Your turn!" I cheered, happy I was no longer stuck in the middle. After several rounds of a breezy game of catch with my mother, Janene stormed off, taking large deliberate steps, huffing, her hands balled into fists. My mother and I stood for a moment, wondering if that’d just happened. Did she just leave? Who does that?
"What a sore loser," my mother said. It was the first time I’d heard the term, and it didn’t need further explanation. I knew exactly what she meant. Janene was a sore loser, which I later learned was synonymous with a spoilsport. A word I loved to repeat while running around the house and crawling beneath the dining room table.
"Stephanie, it’s time for dinner," my mother would call out.
"SPOILSPORT. SPOILSPORT. SPOILSPORT."
"No, we’re having shrimp."
"Don’t be such a SORE LOSER!" I’d shout, getting close to my mother’s face, reenacting our afternoon. "You big SPOILSPORT!" I was delighted with my new words. And I kind of like the fact that my mother felt completely at ease calling my friends names behind their backs. It’s kind of awesome in a "you’re not setting a good example" way. And those are my favorite memories, the ones where my mother was just being herself. Where she didn’t concern herself with following rules. I love that I didn’t have an uptight neurotic mother who did everything just so. I’m totally going to do a handful of things "wrong," and I can’t wait, even if it makes monkeys out of my kids once they reach middle school, or middle age. I just hope they skip the whole mustache forehead look.