Matt Archbold graduated from Saint Joseph’s University in 1995. He is a former journalist who left the newspaper business to raise his five children. He writes for the Creative Minority Report.
I’m going to explain this in chronological order. It’s the only way. I could go back and forth thematically but it’s best just to tell it like it happened.
Last week I woke with a start. I realized like I do every week that I forgot to take out the garbage. So I woke the four girls and the boy by dashing into the room, turning on the lights, yelling at the girls, and pulling blankets off the boy and throwing them across the room because that’s the only way he’ll get up.
They weren’t scared because they get this fire drill wake up call once a week (on Garbage day) so they know not to panic. I raced down the stairs, ran outside into the driveway in my bare feet and stepped into ... I’m still not sure whether it was the remains of my wife’s Chinese Food or soup slop, but it didn’t feel nice underfoot. I looked up and my driveway looked like the morning after a frat party. Garbage everywhere.
Nooo! I didn’t know how the squirrels had gotten into the garbage can because (clever me) I’d put a large stone on the lid to prevent them from opening it. But it turns out that the squirrels had gnawed through the lid (clever squirrels) and tossed all the garbage around. Ugh.
So I ran around picking things up until my arms were filled with garbage. I opened the lid with my elbow and ... WOW!!!! Squirrel jumps out of the can right past me and onto the fence. I practically vacated myself (not really) and screamed like a girl (really) and dropped all the garbage back onto the driveway.
I put all the trash into another can and emptied the broken can into it, as well. I put the broken and useless can at the curb with nothing in it and left the lid open thinking that the garbage men would understand to take the half eaten can away as garbage.
I went back in the house and the three girls were standing in the middle of the playroom, still in their pajamas, like zombies. The three of them gathered in the middle of the room and stared at each other for 10 minutes.
“Uh guys,” I said.
“Have you brushed your teeth, combed your hair, gotten your uniforms, had breakfast. Anything?”
I think one of them managed a blink. For 10 minutes they had just stood in the middle of the room because. I got them all Pop Tarts and threw their clothes at them. I cleverly noticed that the boy wasn’t counted among the zombies, so I ran upstairs to find him in his blanket on the floor, fast asleep. I ripped the blanket off and tossed it back onto his bed and practically dragged him down the stairs and shoved a Pop Tart in his sleepy face (which, in case you weren’t sure, is actually a choking hazard).
I dropped the gang at school just on time and the three-year-old and I came back home just in time to see the garbage truck pulling away. I saw the half-eaten can still there. I’m not sure what the garbage men thought I’d put it down there for, but they didn’t take it. The three-year-old and I dragged our cans back up the driveway.
Anyway, the kids have their final exams this week. This is easily the toughest week of the year for me. We take our grades pretty seriously here. Hey, with five kids there better be some scholarships, and none of my kids can dunk, so academics is king.
Everything was going well in our studying, but my nine-year-old couldn’t remember a list that consisted of “Ordinary Time, Christmas, Advent, Lent, Holy Thursday, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost.” She put all sorts of things in there—the Assumption, the Trinity, Mary. After hours of studying for her religion final, this was the only thing that she couldn’t get in her head, so we tried one of those mnemonic devices. “OCALHEAP,” I said and listed it out. I told her if she could just remember the word OCALHEAP, she’d have the first letter of each and it would be easy.
So yeah, I had her chanting quietly so as not to disturb the other kids, “OCALHEAP! OCALHEAP! Rah Rah Rah!” And she’d do it with a smile and then when I asked her 10 minutes later about the list she’d say, “Opie something Rah Rah” or “Oklahoma?”
Dr. Mnemonics, call your office for a beatdown. But I’m not one to give up. I dig in. I start her chanting loudly OCALHEAP OCALHEAP Rah Rah Rah. Now, all the kids think this is great. Chanting is much better than studying, so they’re all getting into the OCALHEAP shuffle. It’s suddenly like Lord of the Flies in the playroom. They’re chanting, grunting, and marching around. We are all OCALHEAPed up.
And then the miracle. After dinner I calmly ask my nine-year-old if she remembered the word and she said it right. OCALHEAP. And she even remembered what each letter stood for. This sets off a new series of chants at the table. We were pumped. As I slept. I’m sure the word continuously chanted in my head. (It still does.)
So this morning I woke up and my first thought was ... I forgot to take out the garbage. Darn it. I ran up the stairs, flicked on the lights, and pulled blankets off. Before I ran out to the driveway I threw some waffles into the toaster.
I dashed outside and this time I brought some tape and a marker and I taped the paper to the edible can and I wrote a note to the garbage man. “Dear Sir, This can is garbage.”
Wait. That’ll definitely insult the garbage man, right? So I continued. “The actual can itself is garbage. It’s been eaten by squirrels so I’m trying to throw it out. Please.”
I come back in and miracle of miracles, my kids aren’t zombies. They’re marching around the dining room table, eating waffles and chanting the OCALHEAP song. Funny but now we’re waaaaay late. I’m brushing hair in a hurry, and that always ends badly. My eight-year-old practically collapsed screaming, “You’re brushing my eeeeeeaaaaarrs!!!” There was talk of a call to the police if I tried to brush anyone’s teeth.
The kids rushed into the van and the three-year-old with the worst case of bedhead since Yahoo Serious was behind them wearing a Batman shirt, underwear and Spongebob crocs. Uh-oh. I really didn’t have time to get her dressed and I figure it’s not like anyone’s going to see her, so I threw her in the van. My 11-year-old laughed at me. I started the van and asked if everyone was buckled. The three-year-old is now intent on buckling herself, so she took an extra two minutes of banging the metal against the plastic until finally ... we all heard the merciful click! Hooray! Vroom!
I dropped the kids off, and literally the last thing I said to my nine-year-old is ... OCALHEAP! The morning prayer was starting as they ran in, so I got them there kind of on time. I did my job!
The three-year-old and I raced back from dropping the kids off to see if I could catch the garbage man and as we pulled into the neighborhood. There it was. Oh what a vision! The garbage truck was two doors down from my house, so I sped around the block and pulled into the driveway. I didn’t even pull all the way up the driveway. I stopped the van, put it in park, took out the keys and walked to the end of the driveway where the man was taking the cans. (Five kids make a lot of garbage.)
He looked at my half-eaten can, opened the lid, closed it, bypassed the note completely, and started jogging back to the truck.
“Excuse me. Sir. Excuse me.” He turned around. “That can is garbage.”
He nodded at me.
“I mean, it’s no good. It no longer holds trash.”
He said that was because he took the trash. And he’s starting to look at me like I’m a little crazy. I couldn’t help but think I should’ve prepared better for this conversation.
“I want you to take the can,” I summed up. “Please.”
The guy says matter-of-factly but politely that he took the trash. And then I see his eyes widen as he looks behind me and I hear a whoosh. It’s the van door. And there’s the three-year-old with the worst case of bedhead in a Batman shirt, underpants, and bare feet tottering out of the van looking like a kidnap victim. She’s got her hands on her hips saying, “Dude, you forgot all about me!” I take a step towards her and ...
Vrooom. The garbage truck pulled away. The three-year-old and I dragged the empty cans back up the driveway. She said, “I can unbuckle myself all by myself Dad.” I told her I noticed and was impressed. I asked her what she did with her Spongebob crocs and she said she didn’t know.
In the afternoon, we picked up the girls. My nine-year-old was all smiles. She said she did great on her Religion test. And OCALHEAP wasn’t on the test. My 11-year-old laughed.