Cole was never comfortable in his Crocs. He was resentful as his mother shoved his chubby, over-filled Twinkie of a foot once again in the drab olive and puce colored footwear he desperately despised. This was Cole’s 9th pair of Crocs. Being in the third grade and something of a target, he was able to lose quite a few pairs to class bullies. But by the 4th replacement pair, he knew he had to up his game; imagining new and inventive ways to explain coming home with bare feet. The story he was most proud of dreaming up was that he had to give his Crocs to a dangerous gang that came from the rough part of town on account they were “cursing real bad and wore gang colors, you know….um…like red, mommy.” Cole told his mother they stole kid’s Crocs and sold them for drugs. Cole called it the “Crocs for Crack” problem that plagued his school. He didn’t know what crack was, but he imagined it was probably similar to Pop Rocks. His mother said she didn’t believe him; but secretly Cole imagined she did.
“Stop wiggling Cole. I need time to go get your Bento box I packed” his mother begged.
“I’m not!” Cole insisted.
Cole’s mother went through a lot of effort to make his lunch. She explained to Cole in painstaking detail that his lunch was gluten-free, sugar free, locally sourced, organic, fair trade, was carbon footprint neutral, and to never trade it for anyone else’s lunch. Cole traded most days for his friend’s Twinkie and bologna sandwich. Cole thought this was not only a fair trade, but a great trade. And his mother liked fair trade things, so Cole thought it would probably be OK.
“Why do I have to put your Crocs on? I really want you to just slip them on the way you’re supposed to, Cole. Stop curling your toes. And drink your kale smoothie. Please, just hold still” undoubtedly, Cole’s mother did have a great deal of patience.
Cole couldn’t help but to wiggle and curl his toes. His entire body was protesting, something deep within him which he had no name for, but which he only felt on a subconscious level. Were his mommy’s and daddy’s childhoods like his? Did they know about global warming and the importance of avoiding gluten? He wondered. He kicked. He flinched. It was a deep stirring in Cole that he was unable to control. It was a rebellion which he was unable to name with his limited 8 year old vocabulary. He felt remorse as he kicked the warm cup of kale smoothie off the bedside table his mother had him drink every morning, but it couldn’t be avoided. It was just a muscle spasm, after all.
Cole’s mother froze, her eyes becoming big as the tacky rims on a gas guzzling Hummers she so vehemently despised. She took a long, asthmatic like, howling gasp and began:
“Oh…oh…Cole…Cole. I need a moment. Breathe…you know we don’t embrace anger as a means of communication, Cole. And I’m not yelling….I’m not, but mommy is very, very sad you kicked your Kale smoothie over. Are you smiling? COLE! It’s like you don’t care about your health at all. I don’t know how you’re carrying that extra baby fat, still. How? I feed you nothing but organic, whole food. When are you going to realize the importance of health? You’re already 8- time to start taking your health seriously. I’m sorry I yelled. I need to go meditate, no…wait, there’s no time right now. I’m really going to need extra time in my Zen garden today for meditation. I have to find Rosalina to clean this up…”
Cole secretly wished his mommy yelled more. He’d seen another mother from his class really lay into his classmate, Jason. They were from some place called New Jersey; and Cole loved how they laughed, yelled, and brought cupcakes to class even though it always caused such a panic among all the mothers. As a point, Cole loved when anyone brought cupcakes to class, or when he got to go to a birthday party with sweets. He always hid in the bathroom and ate as much sugar as he could hide in the pockets of his hemp woven, fair trade, patch-work windbreaker from Nepal. He hated his own birthday “party.” His mother stuck some candles in the veggie platter and called it a “veggie cake.” Cole had an angry birthday that year. He also had whooping cough for his entire birthday month. His mother reassured him, explaining very thoughtfully why it’s better to cough for a month than to get vaccinated. Cole had no idea why, but his mother seemed pretty animated about the whole thing. He couldn’t hear most of what she said though, because he was coughing the entire time.
As Cole sat waiting for his mother to return, he thought about Jason’s mom. For some reason the other mothers seemed to not like Jason’s mom, Mrs. Casarino very much, but Cole thought she was the greatest. She always smiled and gave him a big hug. He never heard Mrs. Casarino talk like his mother’s friends about the importance of loving everyone and peace, but he didn’t see his, or any of his mother’s friends smile and hug each other the way Mrs. Casarino did either. This confused Cole greatly. His mother and her friends always seemed so stressed and sad- like the drab olive and puce colored crocs he was forced to wear. Cole wanted the light up Disney shoes that Mrs. Casarino bought her son. His mother explained to him that Disney was an evil corporation that’s anti-semitic; which made him think about ants in cement. He guessed people probably shouldn’t put ants in cement. Decidedly, Cole had no idea what that had to do with cool light up shoes. Also, Jason always got Chex for breakfast, not a kale smoothie, like he did. Cole’s mother told him that Chex are simply not a food she would tolerate in her house. Cole didn’t know why. Something about a GeeAMoh. He didn’t know what a GeeAMoh was but he hated it. He hated it a lot. Cole’s mother entered the room looking horrified. Cole had managed to kick off his shoe again. She went about shoving his foot in the shoe.
“Cole! Stop kicking!” his mother winced.
“I’m not!” he protested.
He didn’t realize he kicked again. He was thinking about the GeeAMoh monsters and imagined kicking them away from his legs. He thought it was probably a small monster that lived in cereal and they were probably there to get the prizes that sometimes came in the boxes. He guessed his mother was just protecting him, but why did protection have to taste like a glass of lukewarm sadness? “A kale smoothie. Every day? Why do I feel like I’m being punished?” he thought.
“Toxic” by Britney Spears started playing. It was his mother’s ironic ring tone. He wasn’t sure what “ironic” meant but every time his mother said, “Don’t you just LOVE my ironic ring tone?” His mother’s friends laughed like crazy.
“Hi, Aurora. Ugh, I’m having the worst morning. Worst. “Seriously need red wine instead of coffee today” bad. How are you? Yes? What’s going on? Uh huh…It’s whose birthday today? Jason’s? Oh boy. Ohhhh boy. Oh my god, no, I didn’t hear that. I’ll make sure and send Cole in with some dried pineapple and make sure he eats that when the other kids have cupcakes. He loves those. Have to run…OK, see you at yoga later.”
Cole hated dried pineapple chunks and resented them ever since his class took a field trip to Legoland and all the other kids got an ice cream and he had to have warm pineapple chunks out of his mother’s Tumi backpack. He ran away to buy an ice cream that day, but before he could take a bite his mother found him cowering behind the Lego Empire State Building in Lego New York. Cole imagined his mother looked like Godzilla snatching his ice cream from him among all the tall Lego buildings. He swore later to his friends he even saw her sharp, green scales for a split second. Cole’s mother handed his ice cream to Jason, but his mother said no- Jason already had one and that was enough. This was the first time he ever saw Mrs. Casarino look sad. Cole guessed his mother thought the GeeAMohs and red dye number 5 would give him cancer that very afternoon. But if that was true, he wondered why Jason wasn’t already dead.
Cole’s mother stood in the doorway. She was carefully placing his Bento box in his backpack and then slipped it on his shoulders. She looked pensive and her brow was furrowed once again, indicating that she was about to tell Cole something very important that he probably won’t understand anyway.
“It’s Jason’s birthday today. I do not want you eating one of those cupcakes. Do you understand? They’ll make you sick. I want you to only have the pineapple chunks I’m sending in with you as a special treat. So much sugar in that family. It’s really, really scary. I can’t imagine what Jason eats on a daily basis. I mean, yes, we do have a bit more money than they do, but still, make smart choices. Wow…I bet Mrs. Cassarino’s “zen garden” is a landlocked mobility scooter and 12 pack of yoo-hoo.”
Cole’s mother laughed at her own rather mean joke as Cole stood wiggling in his recycled organic fiber shorts that cost 125 bucks, shifting the weight of the Bento box lunch from shoulder to shoulder. Cole hated the shorts. They were itchy and looked like curry after it’s puked up. And he knew what curry puke looked like. They had Indian food every week and it almost always gave him diarrhea, except that one time he puked all over his dad’s Indonesian, handmade drums. He began pulling at his shorts. His mother noticed and hurried her pace in getting out the door.
“Let’s get you to the bus stop” his mother announced, with a less than subtle mix of urgency and relief.
They walked for two blocks in silence to the stop. As they entered the bus, they saw Jason sitting there with the cupcakes next to him. Cole’s mother grimaced. She thought about this being a teachable moment and what she could say to drive the point of health into Cole’s young head.
She whispered into Cole’s ear, “Cole- Jason doesn’t know any better, it’s not his fault. He probably eats junk all the time and when he grows up he might be very sick…or even worse (she leaned down to make punctuate her point) obese.” She gave him a sensitive look and a big hug. Cole’s mother was proud of this succinct warning. For once, she felt she might have penetrated his obstinate mind. Cole was thinking about Twinkies.
As he got on the school bus, he saw Jason with several boxes of cupcakes next to him. Cole was painfully excited and knew that if he snuck one now; he could have a cupcake in the morning and one at lunch. He unzipped his backpack and removed the dried pineapple chunks. Cole methodically stuffed them in the rigid crease of the unyielding hard plastic bus seats; sending the pineapple chunks to the bottomless abyss of a food grave where he suspected they’ve always belonged. He slowly opened the cupcake box, savoring the sweetness that immediately wafted from the box. Cole closed his eyes and imagined that each little molecule of smell was pinpoint sized cupcake entering his nose. He stared for a moment at the rainbow colored chunk of heaven in his hand. He took a bite and for just a moment, all of the GeeAMohs, drab Crocs, and thoughts of global warming disappeared…just sweet, sweet sugar. “I can’t wait to live by myself and have sugar every day”, he thought.
“Jason- do you wanna eat one now too?”
“Nah, I don’t really like sweets that much. They’re OK, I guess. I’m pretty sick of them, actually. If you want, you can have mine too.” Jason went back to the book he was reading.
Cole felt in the very core of his being that a terrible wrong had been righted; that he won this battle and no one could take away his sweet victory and replace it with the bitter taste of a kale smoothie. He was purely happy as he took another bite of this- the cupcake of freedom. He began swinging his stumpy little legs with utter abandon, enjoying each bite. He savored the sweetness in his mouth, slowly, deliberately- taking the time to suck out every sprinkle that became lodged in his loose tooth before greedily taking another bite. Yes, Cole knew the taste of justice- cupcakes from Jason’s mom. He sat content on the bus after swallowing the last bite of sugar-coated bliss and noticed the wretched Crocs at the end of his two bratwurst-like legs. Cole looked down sullenly and thought, “Sadly, the makers of Crocs will never be brought to justice.”