At this stage of my life, I am not considering a career change unless it would be a restaurant critic who gets to eat for free all around town, a booking agent for a new Hawaiian bed and breakfast where a requirement is that I HAVE to stay on the island site, or of course President, because…well, you fill in the blank. I also might consider being a detective, as I have acquired a set of CSI like skills since becoming a mom.
Granted, I am not solving murders, and most of the time, no punishable crime has been committed, other than to offend my sensibilities or generational morals. Despite the fact I have never trained professionally, little eludes me when solving the many mysteries in my world. I just use the brain God gave me, my finely honed five senses, and a little common sense.
First, I have a pretty good sniffer. My once petite nose has grown to Karl Malden like proportions as I have aged, and the benefit is it works pretty well.
Colleagues and co-workers will say to me, “Do you smell that? What is it?” and a simple sniff allows me to supply an answer.
“The burner was left on too long under the coffee pot again,” I say, yawning, and not even looking up from the computer to see if I am right, because I am.
No blood hound from here to the Mason Dixon line can sniff out something better than I can. When my husband and I recently returned from a trip to the store, our daughter had been alone for approximately 40 minutes.
The smell hit us when we hit the door. “Oh, geez, what is that?” my husband gasped.
“It’s either nail polish remover or embalming fluid,” I say. She had not had enough time to plan anyone’s demise, and she isn’t into undertaking, so we deemed the smell safe.
To be fair, I have had a bit of practice with the old nose. When my daughter was younger, she would often read a book and try something she had read about. Her interpretation of what she had read sometimes produced amazing results. Other times it produced horrific smells.
“Mom, smell this,” she said, at about age 8. “I bet you cannot guess what three things I combined to make invisible ink.”
I was no closer than six inches from the container when I said, “Windex and milk—no wait, 2% milk to be exact, and lemon juice—not fresh lemons, the squeeze stuff.” She shrugged in resignation and walked away before I could even ask if the ink worked.
Some investigative work is done just by observations, as noted by a recent set of orange crumbs ground into the carpet of my car, impossible to vacuum out. I immediately compiled a list of prospects: Hot Cheetos, Goldfish, Cheez-Its, and as an outlier, the inside of a Butterfinger bar. Since my husband wouldn’t ever leave a Butterfinger bar uneaten, I know who owns the mess, and I call my daughter down for clean up on “aisle car.”
Just Tuesday, a red splotch appeared on my counter top, and it didn’t go away with my microfiber cloth and elbow grease. Like lightning, three possibilities flash through my mind: Kool-Aid, marker, blood. A little detective footwork shows me the Kool-Aid packs are still in the pantry and there is no sign of sugar spilled on the floor. No one has disturbed the first aid kit for a bandage and left its contents spread all over the bathroom counter, thus no blood. Deduction? The splotch is marker, no doubt the result of my daughter testing her school supplies that I paid approximately $6 million for last week.
Some of my skills would be really good on an FBI resume. I can decipher almost any handwriting and its owner at a glance. Here I have a distinct advantage, since I was a school teacher. A random note on the driveway? If there are no capital letters, I know it likely the work of my daughter or a friend, who seem to have no respect for proper nouns. A downhill slant to the letters? Probably my neighbor, a lefthander of an age.
I have a photographic memory for most handwriting as well. I can clearly visualize the handwriting of my 4th grade teacher, a former boss, and like all good Americans, John Hancock. I literally once interpreted my doctor’s handwriting for the pharmacist, who of course, called to verify the prescription with the doc. The pharmacy manager offered me a job on the spot, but I prefer to focus on things a little closer to home.
I am not a busy body, but as an amateur detective, I track habits of my neighbors like Gladys Kravits watched the Stephens’ family from Bewitched. One day last winter, I asked the lady next door how her husband was feeling. She answered that he was better--- then she stopped mid-sentence and asked how I even knew he was sick. I did not confess that I had not heard his ‘alarm clock’ truck start up in the driveway at 5:45 a.m. for his commute in the middle of the week, so I just assumed he was ill. I smiled mysteriously and just said, “Oh, I just knew.” She hasn’t stopped by for coffee lately, likely fearful of my supposed physic abilities or that I have a thing for her sickly hubby.
I mimic the actions of television show detectives if I have to dig a little deeper to solve a mystery. I am not above driving carpool just to pick up a sliver of a conversation to provide a clue. I will friend another mom on Facebook temporarily just to see if my daughter’s bad mood is the result of being slighted an invitation to a party or event. I have donned exam gloves and a flu mask to check out the dog’s poop if we fear he has devoured a Lego.
I play both good and bad cop in interviews with my niece, whose mom swears she never tells her anything, but who sings like a proverbial canary to me. “Are you having fun in college? I loved my sorority date parties,” I say.
“I love our date parties, too. We had one where we dressed like the 80’s,” she shares.
“Did you and your date both wear neon? Now that was an 80’s wardrobe staple,” I reply.
“Evan wouldn’t wear any neon except for sunglasses,” she laughs, and I have all I need. Not only did she have a date, his name is Evan, and I already don’t like him, ‘cause no self-respecting man would take a chance on being photographed in neon sunglasses. I hit up her Instagram, find the 80’s party, and there he is, Neon Sunglasses Man. I Google search his image, and I find he was captain of his school’s debate team and was a National Merit finalist. I like him a little better now.
Sometimes I have to be a little tougher with my niece to crack her. When she was little, I tell her, I thought she would never get in any trouble, because she was so sweet, but I guess I was wrong about all that. I shake my head and glare at her with just the right amount of irritation and no information whatsoever that she has actually done anything wrong at all.
“It wasn’t that big of a deal,” she says. “No one at the frat house even saw us tip over the pool, and we would have totally gotten away with it if Chloe hadn’t bragged to somebody.” Bam! Snared like a jungle animal, right into my net.
On very rare occasions, I have to combine my full set of skills for a diagnosis. Case in point, my husband’s best friend is at our house a lot, and on a recent trip he wore a jacket with a stain on the right cuff. In the entryway, out of what he thinks is my hearing range, my husband bet his friend $5 that I could guess the origin of the stain, and his friend took the bet.
“Honey, look at the stain on Pete’s jacket. What do you think it is?”
I step back into the family room to glare at them both before I make my pronouncement. I noticed the stain when I hung up his coat, deduced from the size that it wasn’t an actual spill but just a drip, and determined it must be dairy-based due to a crusty ring around the stain’s edge, formed between two to three days earlier.
“It’s Chik Fil A sauce,” I say, insulted not only that our friend has no faith in my abilities, but also that my husband only put $5 on that action. Pshaw. Beginner’s work.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.