Mallary and the ‘Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’

We all have those days, or weeks or months where everything seems to go wrong.

Alexander, one of my favorite childhood literary characters, said it best when he summed up his stroke of bad luck in the book “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”:

“I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”

I’ve been having one of those no good, very bad days. I’m not one to complain or post Facebook or Twitter status updates lamenting my woes, but sometimes it feels good to admit that, yes, I am having a crappy day.

Termites are to blame for much of the frustration. They’ve taken over my apartment and are swarming throughout it every night, making the place uninhabitable. It feels like an invasion, seeing as I can’t sleep in my own bed or do much of anything in my apartment.

After nights of couch surfing, I was fortunate enough to have a genuinely caring friend/colleague let me stay in her house until my apartment gets tented. There’s no official word as to when it will get tented; it could be as long as a couple of months from now.

Meanwhile, my last contact ripped on Saturday, and my optometrist’s office has been closed for the past two days, so I’ve been practically blind in one eye and haunted by a headache.

Then tonight while running, I got hit by a car. The car was stopped at a stoplight in front of me, so I started to cross the street, but the driver didn’t have his car blinker on and he decided to turn right. He plowed into me, causing me to fall to the ground and slide under the car.

My iPod went flying and so did my wherewithal to stand up for myself and ask for the young, tobacco-chewing driver’s information. I was shaken up and could only muster an “I’m OK” and a quick glance at his license plate before he sped away.

The situation could have been a lot worse; I was left with a deep cut and bruise on my knee, a messed-up toe and a (false sense of?) hope that I won’t wake up to find that the injuries are worse than I had anticipated.

The cut knee and toe remind me of an incident that happened when I was in the fourth grade. I was walking home from school and a teenage boy who was about three times my size ran into me with his bike and kept on riding down the street.

I was reading a book and walking, as I always did, when his wheels got tangled up in my legs. My book went flying, as did my Clarinet case. A broken mouthpiece and horn laid on the side of road. So much for all those times I tried to keep my Clarinet reed from breaking.

I looked down and started to cry as the nearby crossing guard who I knew well from my daily walks rushed over to me. She called a police officer, who drove me home. Mom, naturally, was stunned to see her little, blue-eyed girl pulling up to the house in a police car.

“What happened??” Mom asked from the front door, throwing her palms up toward the sky.

“I got run over by a bike,” I said, looking forlornly down at my knees. They were bloody and sticking out of the holes in my cranberry-colored spandex.

Like any little girl, I gave my mom a big hug and started to cry. Tonight I wish I could have done the same.

“Mal, are you OK?” she asked, her shoulder getting drenched. “No, it hurts, Mooommmm. He ran over me! And now my clarinet is broken. And the pages of my book are ripped!”

“The nerve,” my mom said, just a wee bit upset.

Mom ended up finding out who the teenager was. She staked herself outside of the middle school in the afternoons with me and waited for the boy on the bike to ride by. When I pointed him out, she went up to him and asked for his name and told him to apologize to me, which he did.

Then she wrote a letter to the principal demanding that biker boy pay us $10 so I could buy a new pair of cranberry-colored spandex. Mom was like that. She would have made a good reporter, with all of the questions she liked to ask and with her admirable audaciousness.

It’s times like these that I long for Mom. Bloody knees remind me not only of the hit-and-run bike incident but of the time I fell while riding a bike in downtown Holliston, where I grew up. I was 7 and had fallen on the corner of a sidewalk, which left me with a cut ankle. I still have the scar from that day, still remember the bandages Mom used to wrap my wound, and her snotty, wet shirt that caught my tears.

Now, the tears come less frequently, but the desire to be mothered remains. I want to have my Mom here to give me a hug when I fall, I want to ask her for advice about guys, I want to sit next to her and watch TV while eating mocha almond chip ice cream with chocolate sprinkles.

I’ve got my dad — 1,500 miles away — but still, as wonderful as he is, he’s not Mom. He doesn’t “get it” like other maternal figures in my life do. Instead of telling me how to treat my cut tonight, he asked if I was OK and then said, “How is your iPod?”

Mom wouldn’t have cared about the iPod; she would have “gotten it.” She is, after all, the one who introduced me to “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” It’s as though she was preparing me for those days when I got older — the ones where she wouldn’t be there to bandage my wounds or give me a great big bear hug.

Mom would have complained and gotten in a bad mood, too, if she had to deal with termites, ripped contacts and a cut-up knee and toe. But she’d also hope for a less crappy day tomorrow.

So long as there’s no gum in my hair when I wake up in the morning, or a skateboard that makes me trip and break my leg, I suppose I can consider it a far less terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Here’s to hoping.

Published by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

Mallary is a mom of two young kiddos -- Madelyn and Tucker. Mallary absolutely loves being a mom and often writes about the need to find harmony when juggling motherhood and work. Mallary is the Assistant Director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin, where she manages the Center's various programs related to distance learning, freedom of expression, and digital journalism. Previously, she was Executive Director of Images & Voices of Hope and Managing Editor of The Poynter Institute’s media news site, Mallary grew up outside of Boston and graduated from Providence College in Rhode Island. In 2015, she received a certificate in nonprofit management from Duke University. She now lives in beautiful Austin, Texas, with her kids, husband Troy and cat Clara. She's working on a memoir, slowly but surely. You can reach her at

6 thoughts on “Mallary and the ‘Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’

  1. That was so well-written. I’m not sure what to say to someone missing her Mom because there’s no one to fill that spot. But that’s a nice way to remember her. I don’t remember any books my Mom has ever read to me.

    I’m guessing today will be better, too. And gum-less.

    Love ya, Roomie! More cheering up when I get back.

    1. Thanks, roomie. I wasn’t sure what else to do after the running incident, so I just sat down and wrote. Writing always seems to help!

  2. Oh, Mallary! What a terrible day–and a terrible series of events. You are able to express things so eloquently that a really awful event (getting hit by a car) took on a sort of Proustian quality in your writing, with an added sense of urgency as well… I wish you were going to be in my creative non-fiction class next semester! I hope that this is the last of the no good, very bad days for a while. 😦

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