Episode 1/24/05 -Silly String Theory in Action
Welcome back to part two of the Hammond/Howard parental exchange. Last week was a study in obsession, fear and loneliness, capped off with the occasional mortal hyperbole. If you missed it,you can find all the juicy detail in my previous recap. Take a look around you, folks. These people live all around us. *adjusting foil hat nervously*
How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Change the Vacuum Bag Before I Count the Ways
While the Chattanoogans sleep, Mia wakes to find herself in a horrendous pit of filth known as the Howard guest bedroom. Mia emotes to the camera about “filthy people” and her moral stand against them. Only one thing can fix her wagon. She doesn’t care how early it is, she needs a good vacuuming!
Once the rug is freshened, Mia feels empowered enough to share her plans with the Howard family. It’s a new day, and she is laying down the law. From now on, the family must operate by her rules, and guess what? All 673 of those rules pertain to cleaning. The family cheerfully gets to work, but Grandma Sue wants to make sure that America knows they’re not dirty. And that she doesn’t take kindly to people calling her family dirty.
The next sixty seconds are a montage of cleaning. Pretty exciting stuff, especially when Mia is seen combing the outside fringe of the rug so that it lies exactly straight. I’m not sure the rug in the Oval Office gets such fussy treatment. Bob’s a bright guy, so he knows why Mia is ordering them around like Mr. Clean on Ritalin - Mia thinks the Howards are dirty, filthy people. In her own private conversation with the camera, Mia pontificates on cleanliness. It doesn’t hurt to “clean up once in a while and not always be dirty.” I agree; I would just put a little more time between those five-times-daily vacuum sessions. I’m starting to wonder if someone switched the brains between Mia and her little orange cat. Constant cleaning? Fascinated by bugs on the wall? Disliking dog poo? Would impose their will on others if given the chance? Check on all counts.
Speaking of dog poop, the cleaning session is going well, but the camera catches the little furry rascal getting in a quick poop on the carpet, right behind where Grandma Sue has been put to work polishing furniture on her knees. Mia walks in, and the resulting firestorm must have been too shocking for prime time television, as the cameras (thankfully) pull out.
Who Doesn’t Smile at Silly String?
At the Hammonds, Angie has been unnerved by the quiet, non-communicative children living silently in their sterile enviroment. What can she do to break Mia’s hold on the children, who are so scared of soiling the rug they have never walked in the house with shoes on, much less eaten a slice of cold pizza on the living room couch? That’s easy, plan a “happy party”!
Angie, husband Tim, and his children, Bria and Caleb, head off to find party supplies. Angie makes conversation to get the kids pumped up, but Bria is rolling her eyes in the back seat. “Are you going to smile tonight?” Angie asks Bria, and she replies truthfully, “I don’t smile very much.” Give me a minute here...a nine-year-old girl who describes herself as someone who doesn’t smile very much? That speaks volumes about the environment she lives in, perfectly arranged rug fringe or not. “There’s no joy here - no real happiness,” Angie tells us.
Armfuls of streamers, balloons, and silly string later, they are ready to head home and decorate. Angie tells the kids that she has a game planned, but won’t reveal any details. Bria tells the camera that it makes her nervous that Angie is keeping the party activities secret. Most nine-year-olds would be afraid that only vegetables and tomato juice are going to be served instead of chips and punch. Bria is likely worried that the party-goers will drop a few crumbs and fail to eradicate them immediately.
Back at home, Angie cheerfully invites the kids to start decorating. On cue, Bria plugs in the vaccuum and gets to work. Angie puts up streamers, which Bria is certain will rip paint off the wall. She tells Angie it’s ugly, but tells the camera that she’s worried she’ll be blamed for the minuscule damage to the wall incurred by the clutterish streamers. Well, surely her mom couldn’t hold her responsible for something the guest mother insisted on, could she?
Angie makes sure everyone is on board with the happy party by putting a sign out to greet the guests. She welcomes them, and invites them to leave their shoes on. The good ole’ Trading Spouses editors show the sign with the screechy theme from Pschyo playing to accentuate the craziness of violating Mia’s rule number one. No one is welcome in her home if they wear shoes. Even Santa leaves his boots on the roof.
Happy Happy Joy Joy
What’s a happy party without Twister? Not to worry, Twister has been provided for happy party fun. Angie has baked a round smiley face cake, and somewhere Mia is gasping to see her home filled with germ-hosting balloons, streamers, and happy face signs. Welcome to the happy party. I just bet you’re smiling!
As the guests arrive, Bria sits in a quiet corner and stares at floor, or more specifically, at all the shoes, crumbs, and coke cans balanced precariously on the rug. Angie tells us that the invited guests (including both grandmothers) seemed tense at first, no strangers to Mia’s rules and regulations. Bria looks alternately glum, bored and nervous.
But along comes an icebreaker, in the form of a mischievous imp named Tristan. He sizes up the party, and sees the cans of silly string arranged on a table for guests to peruse. The next thing we know several pre-teen boys are shooting each other with silly string in the living room. Bria tells them to stop, but the strings are flying fast and furious. Angie has joined in, and we’re treated to a flashback of Mia’s voice: “If your floor is dirty and filthy, that says a lot about you as a person.” Bria watches the others, flinching and looking nauseated at the disorder.
But wait...could it be? Yes, a Trading Spouses miracle! When all the partygoers are spraying each other like mad, Bria picks up a can and finds her inner silly. Yes, she sprays string like a natural. Mia’s mom emotes that there’s no way the kids would have done something like play with silly string if Mia were supervising the festivities. She doesn’t make it sound like it’s a bad thing, either, especially when she cackles wildly at the thought of Mia seeing the footage on television.
The party spills outside, and Angie hands everyone bowls of jello. The guests have all donned garbage bag ponchos, and I can’t help but wonder what it all means...they’re not going to...oh yes they are! They are chucking jello at each other with wild abandon. Bria (who by now is singing “Don’t worry, be happy” as she runs around) is lustily pitching the jello along with the rest of the guests, much to her father’s surprise and delight. The girl who described herself as someone who doesn’t smile much is beaming, laughing, and chasing a friend while screaming, “Who’s your daddy? Who’s your mama?” Tim is thrilled to see his kids having a blast, and young Caleb tells us that he will remember the party for the rest of his life.
While the party rages in Minnesota, the Tennessee crowd is passing a quiet evening. Mia fiercely swats flies in the kitchen. After a bit, wanders off and finds Bob and Kyle playing with toy soldiers. Unbeknownst to the Howards, Mia is virulently against war toys and she hits 7.0 on the her personal richter scale. She doesn’t say anything yet, but watches the play battle unfold with a disturbed expression on her face. Privately, she tells us that encouraging boys to play with guns teaches them that war is okay; soon they will be mentally disturbed, and will spend their teen years shooting up their classmates. Slow down there, Mia; I don’t allow my preschooler to play with toy guns either, but I don’t think all kids who do will grow up to be twisted psychopaths. For the moment, Mia is content to look sour and say nothing, but she mutters ominously about “deciding how to deal with it” as she leaves the room. We’ll leave her be for the moment.
String Sans Silly
It’s the day after the happy party, and it looks like everyone just left the mess to deal with later. Silly string is everywhere; the floors, the walls, the couches, the ceiling (!). When Angie gets up to make breakfast, Bria is already up and vacuuming. Mia may make the rules in the Hammond household, but Bria is more than willing to comply. There’s a deep streak of clean in Bria, much like her mom.
But Tim comments that he’s never seen his daughter quite so manic about the cleaning. Bria confesses to the camera that she is nervous that her mom will get mad at her if she finds out what went on at the party. On and on she cleans fretfully, hoping to erase every trace of silly string. I feel like the helium balloons that are drooping on the floor in the party aftermath. Angie finds Bria’s “panicky” reaction depressing.
In Tennessee, Mia reflects on Bob and Kyle playing together with toy soldiers. She knows that the Howards have a family member (Bob’s son-in-law) serving in Iraq, and there’s a Bush-Cheney campaign sign in the yard, so she knows they won’t agree with her political opinions. And perhaps Mia would have left the situation at that.
But while Mia is in the kitchen, you know, cleaning, she watches Kyle playing in the yard through the kitchen window. Soon Kyle scampers in and asks for the salt shaker. Mia hands it to him, but asks what he wants it for. It’s so he can put salt on a worm he found and make it die. “I like killin’ things!” he tells her. “Die, baby, die!”
For the first time, I feel a twinge of admiration for Mia, because even though Kyle shows her the worm he’s got in his fist while they are standing in the kitchen, Mia swallows her distaste and follows Kyle out to talk about animal cruelty. You know she wanted to scrub that kitchen with bleach immediately just knowing the worm had been in the same airspace as the family’s food supply. Instead, she asks Kyle why he would kill the worm if it’s never hurt or bothered him. Soon she’s learned that Kyle learned the salt trick from his dad, which adds fuel to the fire. She considers Candy, who had her eye shot out with a BB gun, leaving her with a prosthetic eye. Coincidence, or a family prone to violence?
What follows is an angry, tense confrontation between Bob and Mia, joined at the end by Candy. Mia is appalled that Bob lets Kyle kill worms, telling him that you get out of your children what you put into them. (I thought that was computers.) Bob tells her that he doesn’t equate worms with people, and that playing with guns will not make Kyle grow up to be a terrorist. Mia wants to know the logic behind teaching a child to shoot a bad man; won’t they get a little older and the first time they encounter someone mean to them, they’ll look to a gun to solve their problems?
The conversation gets even more uncomfortable when Mia brings up the family member serving overseas, wanting to know what they will tell Kyle if he is killed in Iraq. Bob is visibly angry, and tells Mia that she’s stepping on “personal ground” she knows nothing about. He adds that his son-in-law signed up voluntarily, which took a lot of courage; she’s turning his act of courage around and denigrating it.
Not surprisingly, it’s an unsatisfactory conversation for all parties, and the heaviest conversation I’ve seen on Trading Spouses yet. Any sympathy I felt for Mia and the salted worms is long gone, as she could have kept from bringing the prospect of a killed loved one into her argument. On second thought, the only sympathy I ever had was for the worms. Salt Mia all you want, Kyle.
Mia describes the fight thus: she gave her opinion on the war, and Bob went ballistic on her. Further, she feels like she’s been disrespected, and considered walking out on the entire Trading Spouses experience. No one criticizes the Mia.
Bob tells us that he was hurt by Mia’s callousness, especially when he remembers that his son-in-law Adam is protecting Mia, preserving her freedom. The corollary to that sentence, not voiced by Bob , is this: and she doesn’t for one second feel any gratitude for his service.
Grandma Sue tries to break the tension by telling Mia that she likes her, despite having a different opinion from her. Bob chimes in, apologizing for “going off a little bit.” Mia thanks him primly, never swiveling her head even an inch to make eye contact with anyone. And if you were expecting an apology from Mia for evoking what must be a real and painful fear for Bob, don’t hold your breath.
Meanwhile, in Minnesota, Caleb is sad at Angie’s impending departure, telling her the party was the most fun he’s ever had. Bria also confesses that she had fun and felt like she had made a friend in Angie. Tim is especially thoughtful, and feels like Angie reminded him that getting dirty and having fun are an important part of childhood. Angie leaves, saying she’ll always be wondering how they are doing.
In Tennessee, Bob awakens Kyle early to make sure he gets up to tell Mia goodbye. The family needs closure, and watching her scoot out the door will help avoid nightmares of Mia lurking around every corner, toilet brush in hand. Bob has learned a lot about Mia from the experience. He suspects she had a preconceived notion that she was going to be living with a bunch of hillbillies, and that she never gave the Howards a chance. Oddly, minutes away from leaving, Mia tickles Kyle and giggles a little. Bob say it’s a side of Mia they haven't seen before.
Mia tells them that she enjoyed getting to know all of them, and thanked them for having her there in their home. Bob says he’s enjoyed the experience. Kyle, swept up in the moment, gives Mia a hug. Mia gets teary-eyed, and gives Grandma Sue a huge hug. Grandma Sue says that she likes Mia, but she was shocked at the tearful hug, since she never saw Mia display emotion before then. Even Candy gets a goodbye hug in just before Mia gets in the cab. Candy tells us that it was the best moment of Mia's stay for her. That could be taken a couple of ways, you notice.
I wish they would tell us something about the exotic locales selected for the bi-weekly mom meet. Tonight’s tableau will take place in the grandiose living room of a castle-like building decorated in what looks to be Scandinavian antiques. Oof da.
The moms meet and greet each other. Soon the polite laughter fails, and Angie launches in to a description of Mia’s home being quiet, organized and clean. “Thank you,” Mia smiles. Angie says she might not want to thank her yet.
Angie tells Mia that her friends and family gave her the impression that Mia is uptight. She advises her to allow the kids to have fun more often instead of being responsible for adult chores like keeping the house clean, you know, “stuff like that.” Stuff exactly like that. Angie further says that several of the houseguests commented they were uncomfortable coming over to Mia’s house normally because they feel unwelcome.
Mia counters that she takes a lot of pride in her cleaning, and when interrupted by Angie to ask if she doesn’t go overboard on the cleaning, firmly states that she doesn’t think so. Mia is starting to look very annoyed, and she tells us (later) that she’s proud of being a clean freak. Back with Angie, she tells her the Howard house was not clean and filled with insects. Angie counters that people come to her home and feel comfortable, and Mia can’t believe that Angie doesn’t see anything wrong with (as she sees it) living in dirt. “She truly doesn’t care about her home,” she concludes. Angie is hurt by her comments, and sums up Mia by saying she doesn’t expect the Hammonds to change, now that she’s met Mia. Mia thinks Mia is always right, Angie notes.
Both women leave hurt by the other’s comments, and amazed at the other’s point of view. Thankfully, they are both on the way home. Angie is greeted lovingly by her happy family. Mia is happy to be back in her “peaceful” home, but it’s not long before Mia notices silly string on the ceiling and the homecoming is soured. Tim explains about the happy party, and Mia snaps back that what, do they want her to give happy parties now? Soon Bria is tattling about the shoes in the house, and Mia is livid. She launches into a lecture about her rules and “disrespect.” Glad to have you back on your throne, O Mighty Mia.
Check Schedule C For More Information
The Howards are shocked at the twist (of course) and worried (of course) about Mia spending their hard-earned (I don’t think that’s an overstatement) cash. Mia directed them to spend the money as follows:
- $20,000 for a down payment on a home
- $5,000 for Angie, for the used vehicle of her choice
- $4,000 For Angie to go to Cosmetology school
- $1,000 to be put in a college fund for Kyle
- $1,000 for Candi to go to college
- $4,000 for the Howard family to visit the Hammonds in Minnesota and go skiing (met with shocked stares; Bob says they can always stay in a hotel if it gets too “opinionated” at Mia’s)
- $500 for Grandma Sue
- $500 for Sue to “get her own place”
- $500 for Angie to spend as she likes
- $500 for Bob to spend as he likes
- $4000 for Sue to buy a used car
- $400 for Candi to use on spring break
- $300 for Kyle to buy a go cart and helmet
- $100 for Kyle to spend on a Build-A-Bear
- $100 for Kyle to use on a lab set
- $4,000 for Candi to buy a used car - (“She even specified what kind of car,” Angie notes incredulously.)
- $350 for Pappy’s surgery (bringing Grandma Sue to tears; she’s so thankful Mia remembered Pappy and his unnamed ailment)
This is only a partial list, since apparently Mia divvied up the bounty with great detail, down to several items worth $50 apiece. Angie makes the comment that her detailed list is all part of keeping control. Bob says they could have kept the money as long as he got Angie back. The Howards are thrilled to have Angie home, as she was genuinely missed. Angie leaves us with the thought that the relationships we have are what we should hold onto.
How did the Hammonds fare? Angie divided their money as follows:
- $10,000 to go towards bills to alleviate family stress
- $10,000 for a vacation to Orlando to see Mickey Mouse (Bria’s face lights up with excitement)
- $5,000 to be spent on entertainment equipment for the family room
- $15,000 for a motorcycle for Tim (who smiles, then wipes it clean off his face when he realizes it might not be a great time to gloat)
Mia is angry (once again) that Angie left money for frivolous pursuits, while her choices were to enrich and embiggen the Howards’ lives. Tim reacts to the list by biting his lips in order to contain his barely hidden grin. He just got fifteen gees for a motorcycle, people. That buys a pretty nice hog!
Mia complains that she spread the money out, and Angie gave almost half of the money to Tim. “I put a lot of thought into it” she repeats more than once. Tim tells her that she’s overreacting, and we can see the dark clouds spreading across Mia’s face. Soon she gets up to find the vacuum, prompting Tim to comment that he hoped she could make it through the evening without having to clean. Mia launches into her usual “I make the rules” speech, and Tim stops her before she can gather too much steam. He reminds her that it’s his house too, and to stop disrespecting him. From the expression on Mia’s face, hearing her husband halt her rampage is a new experience. As for Tim, he can at least go to work in the morning without all his co-workers making that bullwhip sound.
As expected, Mia spends the evening making her environment perfect: spacing out the decorative candles with precision, rearranging pillows just so. As long as your floor is clean, no one can question your worth as a person.
Next week, expect something a little different - a traded mom who senses a supernatural presence in the house. It looks like she called in a few psychics to back her up. They’ve got ghost-busting equipment and everything. Cool!
When the smoke cleared out of Gettysburg many a mother wept
For many a good boy died there, sure, and the air smelt just like death. - Steve Earle
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