Living Room Moon

“Why did you leave the moon rock where the baby could get it?”

Clifford stared at the floor with tears welling in his eyes. He didn’t let them fall because he was nine and had swallowed the ‘men don’t cry’ crap his father had been feeding him. Clifford’s ‘moon rock’ was a gray rock fleck in a plastic display box. Martin the two year old had opened the box and the fleck disappeared between the couch cushions. We’d searched for several hours but the couch held too many playground pebbles, dust bunnies, and smashed cheerios to identify the missing rock. The look on Clifford’s face should have stopped me. But oh no. I kept talking.

“It’s your own fault you’re sad. You would still have the rock if you’d been more careful and thought ahead. You never think ahead to what might happen.”

Then I stomped off into the kitchen so I didn’t have to see my son’s tears fall. Sometimes you look back on a moment in your parenting and wish you could throttle yourself. But I couldn’t deal with Clifford’s sadness on this one.

I grabbed cheese-encrusted plates and milk-smudged glasses from the table and countertops and started shoving them into the dishwasher. A long time ago, I would paint when I was upset, and I’d gotten pretty good. But now I rage cleaned. It was more efficient.

I’d used all $50 I had for Clifford’s birthday to buy the moon rock because I couldn’t afford the $1,000 for space camp, which is what he really wanted. But I raise three kids on $12.50 an hour plus benefits and child support. The moon rock might not even be real. It could have been a fleck of sand from a gravel parking lot and I got hoodwinked. But I paid $50 to believe it was genuine Moon so Clifford could too.

Once I started the dishwasher, I filled the sink to wash the pots and pans. Clifford had been so happy to open that rock. “Wow!” he’d said. “A real piece of the Moon!” His face had been beaming. It was like the fleck was even better than space camp.

Then I noticed the living room was quiet. I perked up my ears, offhandedly worrying that Clifford might take out his anger on Martin. That would be unlike him, but I’d never seen Clifford so distraught. I turned off the water and scrubbed a pan with charred-on pancake bits.

“It’s in there somewhere,” 5 year old Vera was saying.

“Yeah, I’ll never find it. It must have cost mom a fortune.” Clifford sounded so sad.

“At least you know where it is,” Vera said.


“It’s in the couch. Right there. Moon rock. Most people don’t know where to find a moon rock, but you do.”

Then the living room was quiet for a long moment. Then I saw Vera make a trail of cheerios past the kitchen door down the hallway. Martin followed, squatting to pick up each one and put it in his mouth. I snorted. The kids had their ways of entertaining themselves.


Over the next couple of days, Vera kept looking between the couch cushions. She’d occasionally hold up a pebble or a dirt chip and ask Clifford if it was the Moon rock. He would shake his head and get more sullen. Vera’s optimism was grating on him. And me.

“Let’s just vacuum the couch and we can forget about the moon rock!” I said. I grabbed the dust buster from the hall closet and started toward the couch.

“Noooooo!” Vera wailed. “It’s a moon couch now! If you vacuum it up, it’ll just be a boring couch again!”

Vera always resisted cleaning or decluttering of any kind. We were so alike.

“We have to vacuum. It’s going to attract vermin.”

“Those are aliens!” Vera wailed. “And they need food!”


I shoved the dust buster back into the closet. Clifford’s stilts and two big umbrellas fell out. I shoved those back in and slammed the door. They’d fall out on whoever opened the closet next.

Clifford and I continued to be moody. Vera and Martin matched our ‘down’ with their own cheerful ‘up.’ I put on Finding Dory again so I didn’t have to engage with the kids. Martin got bored when the squid attacked and started bouncing on the couch.

“No jumping on the couch.” I said.

But I didn’t get up to stop him. From somewhere in the back of my brain, a parenting book I’d read started chiding me. I was failing to be consistent. I would train my children to ignore my rules and my words. An effective parent means what they say and follows through.

“He’s bouncing on the moon, mom.” Vera said.

Clifford turned to look at Martin.

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s the moon now. Martin’s just moon walking.”

Then Clifford got up and started jumping on the couch too. Don’t jump on the couch was a rule. Clifford was way too big to jump on it. He could break it. The couch had cost $1,000 when it was new and the kids’ father and I were still married and buying nice things to impress guests. Why stop them? The couch was old now. Stained and infested with dirt, pebbles, and cereal. And a piece of the Moon, too.

Vera joined in and I let it happen. The kids giggled and bounced for about ten minutes until Vera and Martin knocked heads and started crying. I told you so went through my head, but I kept my mouth shut this time and fetched an ice pack.


Over the next two days, the kids would get home from school and start playing with the couch. Clifford covered cardboard boxes in aluminum foil and set them up over the arm rests.

“Moon base!” he explained.

Martin crawled in and out of the boxes and asked for his goldfish crackers to be served inside them. My pantyhose were conscripted and filled with paper towel rolls and strung between the boxes.

“The moon base needs an air tank,” Clifford explained.

I never liked pantyhose anyway. But the couch was collecting more and more toys, cracker crumbs, and detritus that looked like dirty laundry and trash—but was actually vital to the survival of the moon colony, if you asked the children. Everywhere there were paper snips from the earth-viewing window they’d hot glued to the moon base boxes. The cushions got ripped during the bouncing. The kids staged a ‘space walk’ and Clifford used a needle and thread to repair the ‘leak.’ The couch was getting pretty gross.

Then their father came Friday night to pick them up for his weekend.

“Hey,” he said to Clifford, “the living room’s a wreck. Doesn’t your mother ever clean?”

Clifford shrugged, but Vera said “Nope!” I’m sure my ex didn’t hear the pride and happiness in her voice on that subject.

“Nothing’s changed since I lived with her then, ha! Ha! Look at that couch. It was so expensive and now it’s all ripped up.”

“It’s not a couch,” Vera said automatically. A knee-jerk reaction after a week and a half of defending the moon base from my cleaning efforts.

“Yeah,” Clifford said. “It’s the Moon.”

“Cliff, you don’t have to pretend for your sister. She hasn’t grown out of that stuff, but you have. Let’s get your things. I’ve got a big birthday party planned.”

The kids scurried to get their luggage, but Vera stopped.

“Mom, you’ll leave the moon base up, right?” she asked.

I saw Clifford down the hall stop and wait for my answer.

“It’ll stay up,” I said.

Their father shook his head and wrinkled his nose in disgust. But Clifford grinned at me before popping into his room for his suitcase. The kids waved to me as they wheeled their luggage out the door. The car pulled away and I was alone.

Good to my word, I left the Moon Base where it was. In fact, I didn’t tidy up at all. I opened the closet instead. After I picked up the stilts and umbrellas again, I got out my long-neglected paints and brushes.


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