The Start of Us

Teenagers are goofy creatures. When I was in high school, note passing was serious business. Sometimes I think more communication took place in missives passed in the halls or across the classroom aisles than during lunch or after school.

I passed notes with several people. One was my best friend’s (recently ex-)boyfriend, who also happened to be my (recently ex-)boyfriend’s best friend. Got that? Like I said, goofy. We were in Latin club together and had come to enjoy each other’s company.

I had begun to “like” him but he was already dating someone else. I liked him enough that I resolved to just be his friend if I couldn’t be more than that. Lucky for me, the girlfriend broke up with him.

One day, shortly before Halloween, he asked me – in a note, of course – who I “liked”. I listed three names. First names only. One was his.

He wrote back, “So tell me more about this ‘Daryl’ guy.”

I don’t remember exactly how I responded. I suspect I was worried about being rejected, despite the undeniable signals I was getting from him. So I’m sure I paid him some compliments and also made some little jibes, enough that I wouldn’t be too embarrassed if he wasn’t interested.

He wrote back, “What would your answer be if I asked you to go with me?” I guess I wasn’t the only one that was uncertain about the path forward.

My mom had some really old books on a shelf in the living room. One of them was a ladies’ etiquette guide from the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. I found the proper response to a gentleman who has requested permission to court and decided to use it. After all, that’s basically what he was doing.

Then, on Halloween day, 1990, he popped the question. Via a passed note. “Will you go with me?” I wrote “yes.”

And thus was the start of us.

We have other anniversaries. There’s the day he asked me to marry him, and then the day nearly 10 months later when we told people we were engaged. And, of course, our wedding day. Halloween, though, was and always will be our first anniversary. The day the two of us officially started down the path that has led us to where we are now. Still in love. And still goofy.

Before I Die

Jane has an interesting grammatical quirk. It pops up enough that I have made it my mission to correct it. It was on display at dinner tonight.

Daryl’s graded spelling test was sitting on the table. Jane and I were enjoying a quiet dinner together while the boys and their dad were at a Cub Scout event. She remarked on the test.

“I see he got an a hundred.”

“An a hundred?”

Laughing nervously, she corrected herself, “He got a hundred.”

“I’m going to beat this out of you if it’s the last thing I do.”

“It will be the last thing you do.”

“Oh, ho! Are you saying you plan to kill me as soon as you actually say it correctly?”

She started to squirm as the implication sunk in. “No. But when you are on your deathbed, I will come to see you and I will say, ‘Look, mom, I got a hundred on my college paper’…”

She trailed off as she saw my incredulous expression and began to consider that perhaps college was not that far into the future.

“…I mean… on my… on my… retirement paper… Yeah, that’s it. And then you will say, ‘Oh, you finally got it right my sweet dear!’ and then…” She let her head fall back with her eyes shut and her mouth gaping open.

I suppose I could be content on my deathbed if the only remaining regret in my life was that I had never succeeded in stopping my daughter from saying “an a hundred.” I don’t think I’d even need her to come lie about a retirement test to find peace.

I Am Your Father

We were in our bedroom, not yet ready to face the day. The boys were in their room across the hall. We could hear their conversation easily through the open doors.

Hal: “Bubba, look at this.”
Daryl: “I don’t care.”
Hal: “You can’t say ‘I don’t care’. That’s a bad word.”
Daryl: “It is not a bad word. Besides, it’s two words.”
Hal: “Well you can’t say ‘I don’t care’ to me. You don’t have your big red bouncy ball anymore.”
Daryl: “You aren’t my father or my mother. You can’t take my bouncy ball away from me.”
Hal: “Yes I can.”
Daryl: “No. You can’t.”
Hal: “I am your father.”
Daryl: “No. You aren’t.”

Then Daryl walked into our bedroom with the big red bouncy ball under his arm. “Hal told me to look at something and I said ‘I don’t care’ and he said that’s a bad word and then he took my bouncy ball and said I couldn’t have it and I told him he couldn’t do that.”

I suppressed a smile as I looked up at him from my position under the blankets, wrapped in my husband’s arms. My husband responded, “He can’t take your ball away from you.”

Satisfied, Daryl began to leave the room.

His father called to him, “Daryl?”

Daryl turned back.

“‘I don’t care’ is three words, not two.”

Daryl looked puzzled at first. Then I could see him counting in his head.

“Oh. Right.”

How to Win Friends and Influence People

Jane was telling me about her day at school. They were reviewing problems in math class. When no one else answered a question, she would raise her hand.

On one such occasion, a boy started to harass her: “Well, there’s Jane with her hand in the air. Thinks she’s so smart and knows all the answers.”

She responded, with a fair amount of sass, “Yes, I do know the answers and I’m happy I know the answers, because that means I’ll pass the test and advance to the next grade and then graduate and be able to get a job!”

She claimed that that shut him right up! I didn’t bother to point out that it probably hadn’t endeared herself to him. I don’t think she cares.

In some ways, she is so much like I was. She loves to do extra problems and can’t stand to not raise her hand when she knows the answer. I was painfully aware of how unpopular those desires were and very much wanted to not be made fun of. As a result, I tried not to make a scene. My daughter, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to care what lower performing students think of her and appears to think it’s her civic duty to chastise them to do better.

A couple of weeks ago, again in math class, the teacher assigned the odd problems for homework. Jane raised her hand and asked if she could do the evens too. People groaned and said, “Jaa-aane! Stop it. You’re going to end up making us all do extra!”

Again, her response was considerably less than charitable: “Well, maybe you should be doing more problems. Maybe if you tried a little harder you’d get better grades. I like doing math.”

On the one hand, I’m very proud that she’s not afraid to speak her mind. I am happy that she is unashamed of being smart and enjoying school. On the other hand, I’m glad she’s not a boy. If she were, I think she might get beaten up a few times before she learned when to hold her tongue.

Mice and a Moth

My children are not the most responsible pet owners. This is not a problem with the dog, nor the cat before her, because we are reasonably responsible and can compensate. The situation is quite different when we either did not want the animal or were unaware of its existence.

About a week after the conclusion of her fourth grade year, Jane brought me a paper sack with a moth in it. Apparently the moth had been in its cocoon on the last day of TAG (talented and gifted) a couple of weeks earlier. How long it had been out of its cocoon yet trapped in a sack in her room, I have no idea.

This most recent summer, my son became the proud owner of two field mice. My husband and a colleague were firing the wood kiln when they saw a mouse. The other man caught it and put it in a bucket. Daryl was so entertained by it, that when another one appeared, it was caught and placed in the bucket as well.

I came home from work to be greeted by a young boy grinning from ear to ear and showing me his new “pets”. After confirming that the pets would reside in the bucket outside, I paid them no further heed.

A day or two later, I was sitting on a bench outside and I noticed a large brown jewelry box next to me. It was the velvet kind that hinges open on one end that a necklace freshly purchased from a jeweler would be in. As I reached toward it, my husband said, “that’s a double mouse coffin.”

“What did you just call it?”

“It’s a double mouse coffin. Daryl wanted to keep those two mice so we drilled holes in the lid of the bucket so they could breath. But he left the bucket in front of the porch and it rained and they drowned.”

“Oh. So why hasn’t the coffin been buried?”

This question got the mice buried by Daryl and his grandpa near a tree. When Daryl talked about making a tombstone, his grandpa suggested that they instead let the mice be “anonymouse”. Ba-dum-dum.

Unexpected Crayon Performance

When Jane was very young, she tried to color on some white paper with a white crayon. Predictably, she looked up and announced, “This one is broken!”

Years later, at a Pizza Hut, Daryl was coloring on the kids’ menu with a blue crayon. I could tell he was getting increasingly agitated and began to bear down harder and harder. I hadn’t noticed that the section of the menu he was coloring was printed yellow and I couldn’t fathom what the problem was. Suddenly, he threw the crayon down in disgust and exclaimed, “WHY does it keep coloring GREEN?!!”

Sometimes it’s hard to remember what it is like to be a child. What you understand may be limited to a small sampling of life, but you expect to be able to rely on the information you have mastered. It must be terribly upsetting when reality doesn’t hold up. Hal has yet to be mystified by unexpected crayon performance, but give him time. Those crayons have some nasty tricks up their sleeves.

My Sister is So Dumb

Jane once wanted to fix “One Eyed Willies” for breakfast. This is toast with a hole torn out of the middle and an egg cooked inside. She rattled off the steps to me as she remembered them.

I clarified, “You need to put butter on the toast so the bread won’t stick to the pan.”

Jane: “Right. The top or the bottom?”

Turning to Daryl, I asked, “Daryl, if you wanted to keep the bread from sticking to the pan, would you want to butter the top or the bottom?”

Daryl looked very derisively at his sister and responded, “The top.”

Rules are Made to be Broken

Last year, the Easter Bunny brought us a big double lane Slip and Slide with a shallow pool at the end. As is often the case with new toys, it actually took us a couple of months to get it out.

The box stated that it is not for children under 5, which ruled out Hal, who was 2 at the time. Nor Adults. Nor children over 12 years of age, over 5 feet tall, or over 100 pounds. The last two restrictions ruled out 10 year old Jane. Perhaps the Easter Bunny should have read the box while at Wal-Mart. Whoever knew Slip and Slide was such a restrictive toy?

Daryl was quite amused at being the only legal slip and slider: “Sissy, if we were a family that always followed the rules, I would be the only one playing on the Slip and Slide tonight.”

“Good thing we don’t always follow the rules,” she responded.

Mommy Kisses – Cheek or Crown?

I am not the kind of mother whose feelings get hurt when her children say things like “I hate you” or “I don’t want you to be my mommy anymore.” I respond with “You might hate me but I still love you” or “Tough luck cuz you’re stuck with me!” Raising my two boys has necessitated being impervious to these comments.

We recently attended a Rangers baseball game. Hal was sitting next to me. Out of the blue, he said, “Mommy, I don’t want you anymore.”

“You don’t? I still want you.”

“Well, I don’t want you.”

I looked down the row. There were 3 or 4 empty seats before the next people, who happened to be our pastor and his wife. “Well, ok, if you don’t want me anymore, I guess you could go down there and see if they will take you in.”

Hal looked at them. “No, I don’t want to go with them.”

“Well you have to go with someone. You’ll like them. They are really nice people and I bet they’d take you home with them. You should go ask.”

He studied them with some apprehension, as if they might jump up and snag him. “No, I don’t want to ask them. I don’t want to go with them.”

“I guess you have a choice. It’s me or them. You have to have someone.”

He pondered briefly before saying, “I choose you.”

“Great! I’m so happy. I really like you.”

I have learned, however, that I do have my limits. While I can handle the individual barbs here and there, I am incredibly vulnerable to the long term snub. One of these has been slowly eating away at me for over a year.

Hal does not like me to kiss him on the cheek. He wipes them off his face every single time I kiss him. In the beginning, he would be very ostentatious about it, loudly declaring, “Yuk!” and wiping them off with a smile. I thought he was being cute or attempting to provoke me.

Time went on. The wipes became less showy but still happened. After awhile, it started to bug me. Why does he wipe my kisses off? Doesn’t he love me? I decided to let him know that it bothered me. “Hal, it really hurts my feelings when you wipe my kisses off like that.”

“Well,” he said, tilting his head down, “You can kiss me on my head.”

But I didn’t want to kiss his hairy little head. I wanted to kiss his plump little cheek. While trying to process this rejection, I thought of blogs I read in which parents would insist that children should have power over their own bodies. If they don’t want to hug or kiss a family member, you shouldn’t make them. How can they have the nerve to reject truly wrong physical contact if you force them to accept any unwanted contact?

With a deep mental sigh, I decided to comply with his request. I began to kiss the top of his head. I felt sad every time I did it. Every once in awhile, I’d forget and kiss his cheek. He’d walk away silently and wipe it off just as he went out of sight. The confusing part was that he never seemed upset. He wasn’t angry. He wasn’t walking away because of the kiss. But he’d wipe it off all the same. It didn’t make sense. He still told me he loved me. He still kissed me on the lips and hugged me tight. But cheek kisses were always wiped off.

Finally, one morning while we cuddled with Daddy, he dipped his head to me and said, “Mommy, you can kiss me on my head.”

“No, dear, I don’t feel like kissing you on your head.”

Daddy asked, “Hal? Why won’t you let Mommy kiss you on the cheek? Don’t you know how much that hurts her feelings?”

“Well, she can kiss me on the head.”

“But you let me kiss you on the cheek. You don’t wipe them off or make me kiss you on your head.”

“Well, Mommy’s kisses are wet.”

“I don’t think he knows what he’s talking about,” my husband said.

I thought otherwise. “Hal, if I wipe my mouth dry, can I kiss you on the cheek?”

“Yes.”

“Ok.” I very carefully wiped my already-dry lips across my fingers and leaned in. He smiled nervously. I kissed his cheek. He paused, smiled, and did not wipe it off. I tried again. No wipe. Later that day, he approached me. I carefully wiped my lips dry and kissed him on the cheek. He slowly raised his hand toward his face. I held it gently at his chin and said, “That kiss was dry. Wasn’t it?” He smiled and nodded, then lowered his hand.

That was yesterday. I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit. What made him think my kisses were so wet that he couldn’t stand them to be on his cheek? I don’t wear lipstick or lick my lips regularly. My lips, and thus my kisses, should be no more moist than my husband’s. I thought back further and further into Hal’s brief childhood. I began to remember times when I would exuberantly kiss him with lips puckered way out: those would definitely have been wet kisses. They were in the minority of my Mommy kisses but he had apparently become concerned enough that all kisses were assumed wet and thus undesired. And then it became habit.

The revelation fascinated me. It was a simple preference poorly articulated. We are on the slow road to resuming normal kissing relations. Just now, I hugged him and kissed his cheek. He couldn’t raise his hands to his face because of the hug but he tried. “Now… that was a dry kiss!” I chided. He laughed and said, “I want another dry kiss!” I happily complied. And he happily accepted.