“Hey Carrie,” I say. “Wanna make ten bucks?”
“For doing what?” she asks.
“For finding my cell phone.”
“Where is it?” she asks.
“I don’t know, but I’ve got a ten-dollar bill for whoever finds it. Tell your brother.”
She yells Wiiil-yuuum! over her shoulder, then turns back to me.
“I found it last time,” she says. “Remember? It was in the car under your umbrella.”
“I didn’t get ten dollars that time,” she says.
“Because I didn’t offer you ten dollars that time,” I say. “I am offering it to you this time.”
“Will you give me ten dollars for last time, though?”
“That’s not fair!”
“You’re burning daylight, sister. I am liable to find it myself before you finish whining.”
“Oh, I’m going to find it,” she says.
It is around this time that William walks into the room. Carrie explains to him about the bounty.
“Mom lost her phone.”
“Again?” he asks.
“Yeah, again. Whoever finds it gets ten dollars, and I’m going to find it!”
Carrie frantically runs from one end of the playroom to the other. Enthusiastic, if wildly ineffective, this girl. She darts into the kitchen, knocking chairs this way and that.
“Where is your phone?” William asks.
“If I knew I would have already gotten it myself. I remember having it after work yesterday, so I know it is around here somewhere.”
“Aw man, he is going to find it!” Carrie says. “I found it last time, and I didn’t get anything! This is so unfair!”
And let me reiterate that the phone, at this point, is still missing.
Carrie continues to slam and pound about the playroom and kitchen. William snuggles up to me. In a soft, sweet (affected) voice, he tells me of his plans to refuse the reward.
“I don’t even want the ten dollars,” he says. He brushes a lock of stray hair from my face. “If I win, I will give the money to Carrie. She wants it more than me. I am just going to look for the phone because I want to help you.”
But of course he wants the ten dollars. I know he is lying. Sucking up. Manipulating us all, somehow or other. He is trying to spin the situation so that when he finds the phone, he will not only collect the reward, but he will do so to appease our begging.
Please, baby, he wants me to say. You earned it!
And he can shuffle over to me, all chubby cheeks and false modesty, and say, “Well gee, if you insist.” And his sister will give him two thumbs up, or maybe a dramatically slow round of applause, for his efforts. That is his fantasy for how this will play out. It is clear to me. But motherhood is complicated, and I manage to both see right through and fall into the trap he sets for me.
Carrie searches for my phone in the snack cabinet. I tell her it is a ridiculous place to look. She insists that there is a real possibility that the phone may be hiding in and among our processed food. She points out that I polished off the barbecue chips yesterday. That I had eaten “tons” of them. I guess she though I may have just tossed the phone into the cupboard during some sort of carb-loaded frenzy. Anyway, she looks. No phone. (And no more barbecue chips.)
William walks outside. He returns seconds later, phone in hand. It had been in the car. Under my umbrella. Again.
“Here mom,” he says. He is beaming.
“Thank you so much!” I say. I scoop him into my arms. Congratulate him on winning the money.
“No really,” he says. “Give it to Carrie. She wants it more.”
He nuzzles my neck. I squeeze him tightly, then set him down.
“You sure, buddy?” I ask.
“Yeah, beacuse… You know what – I mean, I guess I could keep it if you want me to,” he says.
“Okay, baby,” I say. He did earn it, after all.