Essay by L. Vira Calotes-Golem, PhD, as provided by Ash Krafton
Illustration by Justine McGreevy
I don’t know why such a big deal is made over women who successfully manage both a family and a career. Lots of us do it without a second thought.
Maybe it’s all about quality. After all, a great job doesn’t feel like work. It’s more like a paying hobby. Go to work and have fun doing the things you love, right? I guess I do have an advantage in that I’m lucky enough to work from home.
Then again, getting a zoning permit to build a mad scientist’s laboratory is such a bear. I mean, they don’t even have the right forms for it, let alone the right people to sign them.
What’s the big deal, anyway? I don’t understand why people are so judgmental. I pay taxes, don’t I? I don’t add to pollution or squander natural resources. And when was the last time the neighborhood dogs disappeared overnight? (Not that it could ever be traced back to me, but anyways.)
I tried doing things their way but eventually, I learned it was easier just to convert the garage (and the basement and the attic) into my workspaces. I can animate corpses and get the laundry done and still get the kids off the bus every day. It’s important to our family for me to be home for them, just as important as it is for me to be able to pursue my individuality and to single-handedly twist the laws of biochemistry to satisfy my nefarious whims.
Managing career and family–for some of us, it’s wickedly easy.
I guess it’s unfair of me to take all the credit for my success. Being a working mom isn’t a solitary sport–it takes a great team. My husband is everything I dreamed a perfect man could be–patient, affectionate, supportive, strong …
Okay, strong is a bit of an understatement. However, most other golems I’ve had the dubious pleasure of encountering have a tendency to smash first and ask questions later. Joe’s strength is more of a quiet reserve. He’s not Mr. Social and some days he could be as stubborn as a rock but there is no denying his fortitude and radiant warmth … especially on spring days when he deanimates outside in the yard.
“Mom.” The screen door banged shut and the tell-tale thump of a book bag hitting the kitchen table told me the kids were home from school.
I glanced at my watch. Early again. I guess the bus driver changed the route. That was sweet of her, I thought. I know the kids like to get home as soon as possible.
“Down here,” I called. “In the laundry room.”
My son yelled down the steps. “Dad’s covered in snakes again.”
His sister, Enyo, came down and sulked into the laundry room where I folded jeans and aprons. “And Loki won’t let me near them.”
“They’re poisonous, you dolt!” Loki’s voice took on a trill of exasperation. “Those brown ones are copperheads!”
Enyo shrugged, that eleven-year-old universal sign of disregard. “Daddy doesn’t care.”
“Your father is a brick sometimes,” I said. “You’re not. Poison will kill you.”
“Slowly?” Enyo tented her fingers and smiled, hope glittering in her dark eyes.
“Not funny.” I dropped a canvas apron onto a stack of folded clothes and reached into the dryer for another. “Stay away from the snakes. Homework?”
She grumbled and turned on her heel, heading back to the steps.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll take that as a yes.”
A peculiar sizzling sound from the next room took my attention. I dropped the laundry back into the basket and hurried into my lab. The dark room was illuminated only by the glare of computer monitors, a lightning chamber, and a beaker that glowed with a pearly lavender substance.
“Crap.” I huffed out my breath. “The ecto fizzled out. Again.”
Enyo stole up beside me, homework forgotten. “I’m sorry, Mom. How close did you get this time?”
I pouted. “I saw a face in it this morning.”
She slid her arm around my waist and gave me a hug. “Don’t worry. It’ll work next time.”
“I hope so. I’m running out of essence and I can’t get another séance for at least a month.” I squeezed her shoulders. “Let me just flush this batch. I’ll start another one later.”
I lifted the beaker off the spin plate and watched the ooze swirl to a sluggish stop. “Rats. That looks like a hand. See?”
She peered into the container and tapped the side with her fingernail. “Cool. Can I reconstruct a ghost of my own?”
“Course not,” I said. “You need a license to do that.”
She crossed her arms. “But I’m almost twelve. You treat me like a baby.”
“No, I don’t treat you like a baby.” I carried the beaker to the sink and poured the ectoplasm into the drain, rinsing the glass with water and an ammonia chaser. It kept the sewer pipes from going paranormal. Who said I wasn’t environmentally friendly? “I just don’t need another call from Children and Youth.”
She stomped out of the room, her only reply being more grumbles. Oh, well. She’ll live.
Once upstairs again, I found Loki standing near the window snapping pictures with his cell phone. “Oh, man. Dad’s not going to believe this.”
“What’s that, sweetie?”
“There’s a big hawk or something on him and I think it just pooped.”
“Well, don’t just sit there, taking pictures.” I set the laundry basket down and hurried outside to the front yard, clapping my hands. “Shoo! Go on!”
The bird cocked its head at me before leaping and flapping away, snake in talons. Sure enough, it had left a present on the stone pile that was sometimes my husband. Clucking my tongue, I shook my head. “Joe, wake up.”
I tugged off the dish towel that was perpetually on my shoulder and wiped the mess away. The stone, toasty warm from the May afternoon sunlight, remained motionless.
I resisted the urge to climb on top. Those snakes had all the luck. Being cold-blooded had many advantages but, cripes, when my hands got cold, they stayed cold.
It looked like he shut down again. That’s the trouble with golems. You had to keep at them.
I took off my necklace, a key on a chain. Stooping, I circled the stone, peering at the cracks. Once I figured out which end was up, I circled around to the other side. The key portal was half hidden by grass.
Good. Yard work could keep him busy today.
I pushed in the key and twisted it until it clicked. “Joziakreth. Show me truth.”
The ground began to tremble and I backed away, still unsure of which way he’d unfold. The first moments of reanimation were rather dicey. Having his key made things a little easier, helping him gain focus a lot quicker than a cold start, but still. I didn’t want to take chances. I’d been golem-slapped before. It leaves a mark.
Stone scraped against stone as the boulder reshaped itself, heaving inward and upward until a man-shaped pillar stood in front of me. It groaned, an earthy sound, then coughed and cleared his throat. “Ahem. Wife.”
“Ahem, yourself. Here.” I held out the towel. “Really? Nude in the front yard?”
He took it but frowned at the smear of bird doo that soiled it.
“So hold it the other way.” I parked one hand on my hip and shook a finger at him. “Get in before Mrs. Harper complains again. Her grandson is visiting this afternoon. You know he likes to play in the yard.”
Joe hunched his shoulders a bit before he turned to lumber inside. He grumbled something unintelligible as he dragged his feet across the porch and fumbled with the handle of the door. Great. No mistaking where Enyo got it from.
I brushed my hands on the thighs of my pants and took a glance across the street. Empty yard. No angry complaining from neighbors. Good sign, right there.
Another disaster averted. Just call me Super Mom.
I always believed a balance existed somewhere. It had to exist. Otherwise, the earth would tip off its axis and we’d all go floating off into space to explode as galaxies cart-wheeled by, unheeding our stupid, unbalanced plight. Balance kept planets in orbit and gravity pulling in the right direction and, ultimately, houses in order.
Not at my house. Here, chaos reigned, and I don’t mean the fun kind.
I mean the chaos that was borne of children lacking discernable attention spans and well-meaning husbands who were sometimes inanimate objects. The chaos of shedding German Shepherds in a house with wall-to-wall carpeting. The chaos of a sink full of dishes, a mound so high you’d swear it was developing consciousness. (As if that could happen. Pshaw. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast was full of glaring inaccuracies.)
My children–I love them, really I do–are untrained animals. They are poster children for December 21, 2012. Apocalypse now. In the parlor, in fact.
I guess they are no worse than any other children on the planet. They are not, after all, golems or mad scientists. They are just kids. Messy, noisy, stinky little beasts who sometimes wear clothes and speak intelligibly.
I’ve tried all sorts of approaches. I tried living by example. I tried chore charts and allowances and incentives. I tried begging and screaming. I tried threatening torture but my husband insists you can’t threaten anyone with a good time.
Everything failed. It was time for a new philosophy. I turned to the Internet and the universe of mommy blogs for help. When in doubt, seek out people as desperate as yourself and compare notes, right? At the very worst, we all go down together.
Recently I came across a blog that talked about this neat-sounding parenting program that promised a calmer home life. Even though it warned it would take serious time and effort–two things my hectic days do not allow me to squander–I decided that, in the long run, things would be much easier for everyone.
Basically, you give a child a routine, you make it clear what you expect them to do, you praise the daylights out of them with each fragment of cooperation, and you do something called “reflecting their feelings.”
(We should probably tread lightly with Enyo on that last part. There is a very good reason why we named her after the Goddess of Destruction. Destroyer of cities, that’s my sweet girl.)
The philosophy was scientifically sound and quite logical. Being scientific and logical myself, I figured it might be the magic bullet I was looking for. (Since finding the last magic bullet that rid me of our pesky werewolf problem. But I digress.)
Up until now, the routine was: kids home from school, nag about homework, nag about messes, nag about the Jersey Devil getting loose again (always the other guy’s fault), getting dinner on, nagging about everyone eating all their vegetables. I’d love a little help from the husband but he’s not much of an eater himself so it would be hypocritical of him to co-nag with me.
Evening was free time, which meant everyone did what they wanted while I moved from room to room, nagging individuals about whatever was at hand before moving onto the getting-ready-for-bed nag sequence, all the while finishing dishes and checking the internet for orders and Ebay auctions going off. I have a business to run, after all.
After dinner, I started a new batch of ecto. Hopefully, I could get a positive result with this run. The color changed as soon as I hooked up the current–very promising–so I took it as a good harbinger. Satisfied with myself, I went upstairs and called a family meeting and made everyone assemble in the parlor.
“I want to discuss chores.” I looked around at my family. They were still conscious. Good. We proceed. “Housework.”
“You do a great job, Mom.” My son smiled his darling toothy smile at me.
Enyo jabbed an elbow into his side with a hiss. “Suck up.”
“I appreciate your compliments.” I frowned at Enyo. “But there is a definite lack of balance in our duties here.”
Joe was as still as a statue. I guess he was worried if he moved, I’d realize he was animate and ask him to help out.
“There is going to be a change around here going forward.” I laid out the routine going forward, step by step, and asked if there were any questions.
“That’s what we do already,” Enyo said.
“But without my nagging. See the difference? You’ll do your homework without me nagging. You’ll put your clothes away without me nagging. Less nagging means more quiet.”
Joe finally spoke up. “Wife is right. More quiet is good.”
“Daddy …” Enyo crawled up unto his lap and tried to tickle him. “You love to hear our cheerful voices.”
Joe seized her right ankle and dangled her upside down. “Children good but could be better.”
“What!” Loki pulled a slingshot out of his back pocket and readied a missile. He kept a pocketful of paper “footballs” for such a purpose. Joe had shown him how to make them after we decided ball bearings were not good toys.
At least we had a semblance of a grip on our parenting skills.
Enyo shrieked when a missile hit her in the leg. Joe swung her side to side, a human shield against the inevitable barrage. Under normal circumstances I’d laugh.
Right now, however, I felt defeated. I watched my family battle it out for a while before throwing in the towel. A buzzer sounded downstairs. Oh, goody. The dryer. Towels were done.
Enyo followed me down to the laundry room.
“Mommy, why are you being so …” She chewed her lip, looking as if she couldn’t find the right word. “Weird?”
“Because.” I sat down, pressing my hands together between my knees. “I get so tired sometimes. I feel like I am the only one who is working around here.”
“That’s different. Daddy gets up, goes out on a mercenary quest, and comes home. I’m always home and I’m always working. I take care of you guys, I clean and cook, I run a custom zombie business …” I shrugged. “I’m always doing something. And most of the time, if I don’t nag, you would all lie around the house like bumps on a log.”
“You make bumps on a log sound bad.”
“When they aren’t toxic fungus, they are bad. When was the last time you did chores without me telling you to?”
She wrinkled her nose. “I have chores?”
“See?” I pushed up to my feet with a sigh.
“I take care of my things.”
“No, I take care of your things. You just play with them and leave them lay when you’re done.”
“Not always. Sometimes they crawl back to their dens.”
“And your dolls?”
“My dolls are just toys, Mom. They can’t crawl.” She frowned a minute before tapping her lower lip with her finger. “Yet.”
“Well, until they do, they have to be picked up and put away. I have to work the lab, honey. Daddy’s quests don’t always bring home a treasure, you know. Gold is trading too high these days and there are only so many people willing to buy gil on Ebay.”
“Why don’t you grow a garden to raise food? That would save money.”
“Number one, gardening is hard work. Do I look like a farmer? Heck, no. Second, think about it. Would you seriously want to eat anything I raise out of the dirt?”
She grinned. “Heck, no, Mom. That’s horrifying.”
“Right.” I handed her a stack of folded towels and gave her a playful push toward the door. “So we’re clear. We all have to work if we want food on the table that won’t crawl off our plates and strangle us where we sit.”
Then again, there might be a market for something like that. I’d have to Google it later on.
The next day, I decided to proceed full-steam with Operation Family Will Cooperate Even If It Kills Most Of Them. I created a spreadsheet and hung it on the refrigerator. I uncovered the kids’ cluttered desks to create an attractive workspace for homework. And I vowed–a blood oath, actually, which I hadn’t done in a dog’s age–I WOULD NOT NAG.
I would make, instead, helpful suggestions.
Kids came home, dumped their book bags on the floor, and bee-lined to the PlayStation for a round of Black Ops. I cleared my throat and called them to the kitchen for a snack. Now, that, they heard.
Loki skidded to a stop next to me, his sister close behind. “What kind of snack?”
“I lied. Here’s the routine chart. Get back in here, Enyo.”
She spun on her heel and slinked back, wearing a look of utter disgust.
“Now,” I said. “This is what we’re going to do. Every school day. No question. No deviance. And in return, I promise no nagging.”
“Yeah, right,” Enyo said. “You’re genetically programmed to nag.”
“Stop distracting me. Homework first, then chores, then free time.” I crossed my arms. “I can’t do everything around here and I don’t want to waste what little extra time I have with chasing after you.”
I scooped each of them up in a hug. “We’ll be happier, I promise.”
“We’d be happier if we could use one of your zombies to do our work for us.”
“That’s illegal. Besides which, that’s impractical. People won’t buy a used zombie. Now, go. You have three minutes until the homework slot. If you have to go to the bathroom, go now.”
“Really? You time-slotted our bathroom breaks?”
Okay, maybe I was going a bit overboard but, hey. It gave us room to fail a little bit and still win. The mad sciences were all about fail-safes and back-up protocols. Sometimes, it was hard to separate the woman and the career.
I spent the next three days making helpful suggestions. Several. Then, I bit my tongue, backed off, and kept to myself. It was maddening. On day one the dishes got half-washed before Enyo lost interest and snuck off to find her laptop. Loki was marginally better, but the kid is deliberate and careful (read: slow poke.)
He was absolutely horrible at completing tasks on time and, as a result, ran over into free time. That resulted in extreme frustration and a disturbing muffled boom emanating from his bedroom when he stomped off to get ready for bed.
But I did not nag. I smiled, a forced twist of lips, and gently reminded my dear children that it was time to move on to the next step in the daily routine. On day three, the dishes were washed completely and I spent ten minutes praising and hugging and making the child squirm under the strange show of celebration. I cheered Loki on through the last of his math homework as he finished almost on schedule.
The next week, the kids started their chores without a word. I actually got an extra half-hour to myself down in the lab before I had to come up and break up a loud argument over who got to play with the PS3 first.
By the time the teeth-pajamas-bed sequence rolled around, I was exhausted from all the miserable holding-back. Routines sucked. However, if we were going to be a happy family, we had to stick with it.
Even if it meant–ugh–more gentle smiles and helpful suggestions.
I was a mad scientist, dammit. My passions fueled my imagination, my drive to create things that should not exist and my desire to one day rule large parts of the planet. Sometimes the passions spilled over in the form of nagging and yelling. It was difficult to hold it all back.
“Wife.” My husband watched TV late that night after the kids went to bed. “What is wrong with your face?”
I glanced over at Joe. “What kind of question is that?”
“Your face is lopsided. Mouth is crooked. What …” He rumbled as he searched for the right word. “What expression is that?”
Sometimes I forgot golems didn’t use facial expressions to display their feelings. Joe loved me so much he’d learned what my faces meant. This one was a new one for him, I suppose. It was a new one for me, too.
“I’m anxious,” I admitted. “I feel like I have to sit on my hands.”
“No sit on hands. Sit on bottom.”
“It’s a figure of speech, hon.”
“Will that strange expression go away if you sit on hands?” Puzzlement changed his voice and I couldn’t help but smile.
“No. The expression will go away when I figure out how to get the kids to cooperate without me wanting to scream them in the right direction.”
“It is natural order of things. Sometimes not good to interfere with nature.”
I nodded. He was right. Sometimes, it wasn’t good to interfere with nature. However, it was something I did on a daily basis to get the things I wanted. This was just one more thing.
The whole routine thing lumbered on with halting unsure steps. Sometimes, homework got done. Sometimes, I had to redirect (see how mature my vocabulary is becoming?) a child to their desk or to the vacuum cleaner. Most of the time, I hovered, my need to nag building and building and threatening to blow.
I ran to the lab a few times to burn off the extra energy, drawing schematics for a new device that would ultimately be named something that ended in -inator or spending time out in the garage tinkering with a new zombie. I made a vow I would not nag. The least I could do is get something productive done with all this ventable passion.
This might work, I thought. Then Thursday happened.
Thursday started bad. Enyo was not happy about being made to gain consciousness and even unhappier about being made to forsake her supine position. Too bad. We all have our trials. I once faced a mob of villagers holding pitchforks and torches. She could drag her behind out of bed and go to school.
Apparently, things didn’t get any better at school. She came home with a black cloud over her head that actually rained on the carpet before I found and dispelled it. Damn things were worse than dogs.
She took things out on her brother, of course, and our carefully constructed routine went right out the window. I separated them and they yelled from room to room at each other. I sent them to their rooms. Thinking they were busy with homework, I stuck my head in and found her on her laptop, playing Webkinz.
Cute animals and constructive games? Hell to the no. Not in this house.
I blew it. The scream came out in a long, unbroken shriek of frustration and I yelled. I yelled about the state of her room, the unmade bed, the sloppy drawers, the homework lying forgotten in the other room. I slapped the wall and made things inside rattle and scurry away. Loki crept down the hall to see what the ruckus was about and I started on him. I yelled and I stomped and they stared at me in shock and awe.
And they smiled.
Wait. Not cowering in fear and restitution? Smiling?
“Wow.” Enyo was the first to speak. “That was awesome.”
I looked at her as if she had two heads. “Really? The yelling is awesome? Is this what you want? Me nagging and screaming and acting like a complete monster?”
“You’re not a monster,” she said. “You’re our mom. And we love you.”
Loki ran to me and strangled my waist in a hug. “Thank God you’re back.”
“What?” I was confused. “I don’t–”
“Please, Mommy,” he said, looking up at me with wide eyes. “Don’t do that again.”
I was on the verge of tears. “I told you. I hate yelling.”
“Not that, the other stuff. The weird smiles and nicety stuff.”
“Wait a second.” I sat down of the bed and looked hard at them. “You mean, you guys didn’t like when I wasn’t yelling?”
Enyo whooshed out a breath. “Oh, Mom, it was so creepy. I thought you were possessed again.”
“Are you really our mom again?” Loki reached up and put his hand on my cheek. “Cause I missed her.”
What could I say to that? I opened my arms and drew them to me in a tight hug. I guess sometimes, nature will prevail, even if we don’t want it to. The scientist in me was hugely disappointed but, right now, the mom was relieved and terribly happy again.
Later, the kids did their homework–without my having to remind them, thank you–and were staving off a chore or two before supper. Cosmic balance, I guess. I poked my head into the parlor. “Anyone seen your father?”
Loki didn’t even look up from his video game. “Outside doing the yard.”
Thank goodness for my husband. At least someone was doing what they were supposed to be doing.
“Honey?” I called as I stepped out onto the porch. “Don’t forget, the belladonna needs to be cut back before the deer get at it again. It really messes with their eyesight.”
However, the lawn mower stood abandoned on the side walk. I couldn’t hear the weed whacker, either. Intrigued, I went to look for him.
I found him in the side yard, deanimated again. I noticed he had his ass-end pointing its unmistakable stony crack at the neighbor’s house.
Sigh. Men are impossible.
Instead of summoning him, I just draped my wet dish towel over his rear and went back inside. He’s lucky I didn’t leave a target. I’m sure that hawk was still around somewhere.
Late that night, I crawled into bed and snuggled up to my still-warm husband, laying my head on his chest. He wrapped his arms around me, pulling me to him in a warm, cocoon-like embrace. Ahhh. No indigestion tonight. I loved spring evenings.
Dishes were done, laundry was clean, another flesh golem was on its way to a new owner. Kids were asleep, house was in order, and my PayPal account was as stretched full as my gastro-intestinal tract. Boy, I was beat. I uttered a contented sigh and felt the heat seep into my body, causing lazy tingles of happy to float like motes through my skin.
“Good day today, wife?”
“Hmm-mmm.” I snuggled closer. “I guess.”
“You worked hard. Good work.”
“Yeah.” I pressed a kiss to his bare chest, feeling it rumble when he breathed. The vibrations were soothing. I guessed it was the reason why the kids always fell asleep in their car seats when they were little. “Work was hard and good.”
“Good wife. Good mom. Good work.”
I smiled and drifted off to sleep. All three words–wife, mom, work–were the same to me.
And all three were, indeed, good.
Dr. Calotes-Golem completed her doctoral studies at the University of Romania and performed her Fellowship at Frankenstein’s Institute for Undead Advancement in Budapest. She has earned the Mary Shelly Distinction for Inspirational Women Scientists in 2009 and has finaled in the International Zombie Awards for the past four years. She’s a member of AZS, TZS, and the United Golem Association Women’s Auxiliary. She resides in Northeast Pennsylvania with her family, their German Shepherd Dog, and whatever she can animate in the garage.
Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer whose work has appeared in Absent Willow Review, Expanded Horizons, and Silver Blade. Ms. Krafton resides in the heart of the Pennsylvania coal region, where she keeps the book jacket for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter in a frame over her desk. Visit www.ash-krafton.blogspot.com for news about her debut urban fantasy novel, Bleeding Hearts: Book One of the Demimonde (Pink Narcissus Press, 2012)
Justine McGreevy is a slowly recovering perfectionist, writer, and artist. She creates realities to make our own seem slightly less terrifying. Her work can be viewed at http://www.behance.net/Fickle_Muse and you can follow her on Twitter @Fickle_Muse.