The Quiet Game

As we sat down for our Christmas meal at home, just the five of us, Hal announced we were going to play the quiet game. He did this in a very loud voice.

Daryl responded by stating that he wasn’t playing. Hal triumphantly announced in an even louder voice, “Bubba is out! He talked!”

“So you are out too!” Jane said.

“Oh! Sissy is out!”

“So are you! You talked!” she protested.

“No, I was just announcing who was out. I get to do that. I’m letting everyone know when people are out.”

“But it’s obvious when people are out, Hal. We can all hear them speak,” I said. “We don’t need you to tell us.”

“Ok, ok. We’re starting over. Quiet game! Starting now!”

“Whatever…” muttered Jane.

“Sissy is out!” Hal yelled, pointing accusingly at his sister.

“So are you!” she said.

“Ok, let’s start over. We’re starting over everyone.”

“You can’t just keep starting over every time you get out, Hal.”

“Well, we are starting over.”

“Daddy, can you pass me the butter?” Daryl asked.

“Bubba is out,” whispered Hal. Then he looked around at us as we all stifled laughs and I pointed a silent finger at him. “No, it’s ok to whisper. This is the quiet game where you get to whisper.”

Before long, and after several more restarts and declarations of the acceptability of whispering or whatever non-silent activity Hal was engaged in, Daryl and Daddy had both spoken and Hal’s whisper soon rose to an arguably non-whisper hyperactive level. Everyone was holding their sides and trying not to fall off their chair from laughing. I looked at Jane and made a silent congratulatory hand motion that caught Hal’s eye.

“Mommy is out!”

“She didn’t speak,” Daryl said.

“She’s still out! I win!”

“You spoke. You are out,” I said.

“Well, you spoke too. Ok, let’s start over!”

“No, Jane won.”

“No, we are starting over. This time it’s ok to talk.”

“What?!”

“This is the quiet game where you get to talk as loud as you want.”

I stared incredulously and silently at my husband, who returned the look until he dissolved into laughter as Hal and then Daryl began to sing and make nonsense noises at the top of their lungs. The quiet game sure has changed since I was a kid.

Scribbled Names

As we passed out presents at my grandmother’s house last night, she called me over to tell me there were some envelopes behind the tree that needed to be handed out. I was very familiar with the envelopes. She has been giving everyone a Christmas card with cash in it for as far back as I can remember. Just like her mother before her.

I reached behind the tree and grabbed the little packet of envelopes. I slipped the rubber band off and pulled the first one off the top to hand to the recipient. As I looked down at the second envelope, I suddenly felt that I was looking at my great grandmother’s envelopes, not my grandmother’s. What had always struck me about great grandma’s envelopes was the shaky script our names were written in.

These envelopes looked just like those. I have watched my grandma age over the last few years. She falls. It takes her longer to recover from illnesses. She doesn’t argue her way as much. She sits more, travels less. Mentally, she’s the same as always. Physically, she’s entered a new stage of life. And while I’ve seen it, I haven’t faced it. Not until last night when I looked at those envelopes and realized she was now her mother and I am now mine. Life moves inexorably forward. Whether I like it or not. Whether I’m ready for it or not. Whether I accept it or not. I wonder if anyone noticed the tears in my eyes as I handed them their envelope with their scribbled name on the front.

Bad Words

At the big family Christmas gathering this year, the kids once again congregated at a single table. All but Jane, that is, she having decided to work on her grown-up skills and sit with her parents at a different table.

This meant the table consisted of 10 year old Daryl, my 10 year old niece, her 8 year old brother, 5 year old Hal, and my cousin’s 2 or 3 year old boy, who seemed to be in awe of his cousins. In such a scenario, a kid like Hal is bound to get hyper and try to show off. He has to demonstrate that he belongs with the “older” crowd and try his best to impress the “baby”.

After a few minutes at the table, the three oldest swarmed our table, each talking over the others in an attempt to let us know what horrible sin Hal had committed. Daryl’s voice finally won out and he explained that Hal had said S-E-X.

Hal looked up from the table, and drunk with the shocked attention he was receiving, asked, “What? Sex?”

My two aunts at my table looked up at me with wide eyes. My uncle grinned. A cousin stifled a laugh. My brother looked my way.

“Hal,” I said, “Come here.”

I just love those moments where you get to parent in full view of all the people who watched you grow up. Will she keep her cool? Will she be stern enough? What kind of parent is she anyway? Let’s all watch and see.

He came over to the table and I gave him a hug, leaning close in to his ear. “Honey, I know that you are trying to impress your cousins. I get that. But you simply can’t say words like that. You don’t understand what they mean. So I need you to keep those words in your head instead of letting them come out of your mouth, ok?”

He nodded solemnly and began to shuffle back to his table. As he progressed, the shuffle became a walk and then a trot. He bounced into his chair and called out triumphantly, “I’M SAYING BAD WORDS IN MY HEAD!!”

Beer and Grinch Poop

On the way home from our Christmas Eve service tonight, my husband asked the kids what they were going to set out for Santa tonight. We only have one “believer”, but the other two are good at playing along.

“Cookies!” called out Jane.

“Milk!” called out Hal.

“Beer!” called out Jane, recalling a time we had set out a beer for Santa and he had consumed it.

“No!” said Hal. “Santa doesn’t drink beer!”

“Yes he does,” she responded.

“No he doesn’t!”

“Yes he does,” she said again.

Just as I was about to suggest to Jane that maybe it was the G-version Santa visiting us this year instead of the PG-13 one, Hal announced in an annoyed and exasperated tone, “Just because he has a beerd doesn’t mean he drinks beer! Geez, Sissy!”

Everyone laughed and then fell to silence. We drove a little ways farther down the road until Daddy asked, “Why don’t you each set out a different Rice Krispy treat?”

Now, I considered this sneaky indeed. Yesterday, they made regular Rice Krispy treats, plus some chocolate ones and some green ones made with Key Lime marshmallows. He told them they needed to be saved for Christmas day yet he’d been covertly eating the chocolate ones ever since. Now he was fishing for a sanctioned opportunity to consume three more.

They fell for it.

“I’ll set out the chocolate one!” called out Daryl.

“I’ll put out the plain,” said Jane.

“I’ll put out the Grinch Poop one!” finished Hal.

Midnight Antics

There are a couple of things that are guaranteed if you need to get up earlier than usual. The first is that something will keep you from getting to bed as early as you planned. That happened to me last night.

The second is that something will wake you up in the middle of the night. That happened last night too. If you are lucky, it’s just the dog barking or a wrong number phone call and you are able to quickly return to sleep. Slightly less lucky and you’ll be comforting a crying child. Really unlucky and you’ll be comforting that child while they throw up at the toilet or stripping sheets off a bed that he or she peed in.

The truly cursed will have a night like mine. Sometime shortly after 1:00 in the morning, I was awakened by my husband asking me if I remembered the concoction we had used the last time Rose, our dog, had been sprayed by a skunk. My sleep-addled mind initially thought that’s all he wanted – my recollection. It wasn’t forthcoming. The smell soon traveled from ground zero through the entire house to accost my nostrils in our bedroom.

I soon woke up enough to realize that I wasn’t going to be able to give him the magic ingredients and then roll over to return to sleep while he dealt with the dog. As we gathered the hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and Dawn dish soap and looked – unsuccessfully – for some rubber or latex gloves, I suggested that we could surely more easily find a bullet and take care of the problem for good. I wasn’t talking about the skunk.

Before long, I had put some Crocs on over my warm footed pajamas and added a jacket. My husband had donned a gallon sized ziploc bag on one hand, held in place by a hair rubber band. We went outside and the dog ran to us. He sternly ordered her to sit before she could jump on either of us and slipped a leash around her neck. I shined a flashlight on her face so we could attempt to determine where she had been hit.

Can I just make an aside here? If you are writing a how-to on deskunking a dog, don’t bother saying something like If your dog got sprayed in the face…. Of course she got sprayed in the face! She got sprayed because she’s curious and was cornering the thing. Probably hoping to kill it like she did the last one. Are there any dogs that get sprayed anywhere other than the face?

Anyway, back to my tale. This scenario is not conducive to positive marital interaction. Even if you’ve been married for as long as we have. My husband wasn’t sure about putting the concoction on her face so suggested we spray her down with the hose first. It’s winter. In Texas, yes, but it’s still winter. It’s cold out there!

But, ok. I got out the hose and squeezed the trigger at the end. The nozzle, which I couldn’t see, was set to jet spray. He snapped that that wouldn’t work. I snapped that I realized that. He paused, then said he was sorry. A couple of rotations of the nozzle and some more sharply worded remarks later, I was spraying the dog. And him. Because it’s not possible to spray a squirming dog without hitting at least the arms and legs of the person keeping short rein on the leash. Especially when it’s dark and you are trying to do it while holding a flashlight in your other hand. And your spraying hand has gone numb because it’s wet too.

We then got into a discussion of whether to use the concoction. I insisted that the web sources had said to use a washcloth and just be careful around the eyes. He held the shivering dog while I returned to the house for a washcloth. As I stepped back outside, he asked if we should wake up Jane for a third pair of hands.

“I think that would be a disaster,” I said. “You aren’t being very civil.” I had attempted to choose my words carefully so as not to escalate the tension but my clipped manner of speaking gave me away.

“It’s hard to be civil when you are drenched and cold,” he returned in similar tone.

I held the leash while he lathered the dog and then I returned to the house for my cell phone so we could gauge how much time was passing.

“The online resources said 15 to 45 minutes,” I said. “Do you want to tie her out here so we can go back inside or do you want to stay out here with her?”

“I don’t think we are going to be able to wait 45 minutes,” he said as I began to untie the rope for the tire swing that he had pointed out to me.

“It’s the most effective the longer you leave it on,” I replied.

“I think it’s too cold to leave her out here wet that long.”

“Are you really that concerned about the comfort of the dog right now?”

“It’s not her comfort I’m thinking of. She has less body mass than I do and I’m frozen. We might return to an icicle on a leash.”

“And would that be such a terrible thing?” I asked. I’m not particularly charitable in the middle of the night.

After maybe 10 or 15 minutes, he decided he couldn’t smell anything on her anymore so we rinsed her off and then washed her again with dog shampoo. I dried her off and kept her still while he replaced the blanket in her crate with a towel – just in case she still had any oil on her.

As I felt her shiver and spoke soothing words to her, I began to feel some sympathy for her. Not a lot, but a little.

After she was secure in her crate, my husband tried to hand me the leash to take back outside with the towel. As I reached for the part he was holding, he pulled it higher. We played this keep-away game several times before I reached for the dangling loop as he kindly – not the least bit snappishly – explained that he was trying to hand me the part that hadn’t touched the dog.

We had found our manners. We began to joke with each other and plan for storing supplies for next time. Because let’s face it, there will be a next time. There was no hint of the animosity on display earlier in the night.

He had his bedside light on when I crawled into bed beside him. I looked up and noticed a large chunk of greenery on the ceiling fan. It looked like someone had tied a shrub to the fan. There wasn’t a lot of light and I couldn’t see very well, but it’s Christmas and he had helped cut up a fallen tree earlier in the day.

“Why is there mistletoe hanging on our ceiling fan?”

He beamed a huge smile and announced that he had put it there.

The fan is over the foot of the bed, not the head. I said, “Huh. Good thing I’m not under it.” And then rolled away from him, pulling the covers securely to my neck.

“What?!” he asked in feigned indignation.

I rolled back over and smiled as I rested my arm on his chest. “Perhaps you shouldn’t wake me up in the middle of the night to help with something you clearly should have been able to handle by yourself.”

“Oh, ok. What about when you wake me to kill the mouse that got caught by the trap but didn’t die?”

“You didn’t get up to help me that night. You made me stay up listening to the thing die a slow agonizing death. This wasn’t life and death yet I still got up and helped. You didn’t. Who’s the better spouse?”

We smiled. We kissed beneath the mistletoe. Well, just slightly west of the mistletoe. I reset my alarm for later in the morning. And then I lay awake for at least an hour and a half, waiting for sleep to reclaim me.

Always Stay Little

Sometimes Hal can really make life difficult. Like when he hollers for me to come wipe his bottom right after I finally sit down for a rest. Or when he’s wiggling and making noise right next to me as I try to record his sister’s band concert. Or when he opens something I was planning to return to the store. Or when he scribbles his special sanskrit on the wall in Sharpie, carefully hidden behind the recliner.

But small little moments like tonight make it all worthwhile. He needed to go to the bathroom but the hall bathroom was occupied by his sister and the master bath by his father. Neither was likely to free up soon. “And I don’t want to go to the pooseum,” he said.

The pooseum is what we call the little half bath at the end of the laundry room. My husband has pottery on display in there – hence it’s the museum where people go poo. Go ahead and groan, I know you want to.

It is a small room with no windows. It has a large utility sink instead of your standard bathroom one. It is also where we tend to store cleaning supplies and some other miscellaneous stuff. And, as I already said, it’s at the end of the laundry room, which is at the far end of the house. In other words, it’s a room carefully designed to make a five year old intensely uncomfortable, even scared.

“Tell you what, I’ll go with you,” I said.

“And you’ll stay in the room with me?”

“Yes,” I said, as I reached down to him. “Here. I’ll even carry you.”

I don’t know if he didn’t give the usual springboard help with his legs or what, but he was noticeably more difficult to pick up. “Gosh,” I said, “You sure are getting heavy!”

His face fell and he looked incredibly sad. I’ve made the remark before so I was puzzled by his changed demeanor. In a sullen voice, he said, “I don’t want to get too big for you to pick up.”

“Well, honey, you are going to some day.”

He hugged me tight and continued to look sad.

“But it’ll still be a little while. I bet I can still hold you for awhile longer.”

He buried his face in my neck.

“Hey, look at me,” I said. He looked up as I told him, “You know what? When you finally get too big for me to hold, I’ll be really sad but I bet you won’t be. I bet you’ll be excited to be a big boy.”

He looked me in the eye and said, “I wish I could always stay little so you can hold me.”

My heart melted.

Oh, little boy. It is my fervent wish that you will always feel that way. Even once I have to sit down to hold you in my lap. Even once you are the one cradling me in your big arms. I hope you still stretch your arms back behind your back and tell me you love me “thiiiiiiiis much!” I hope some part of you still wishes you were the little boy in his mother’s arms. I hope you still tell me you love me “all the way to heaven.” But if you don’t, I’ll always remember tonight when you desperately wanted to stay in my arms forever.

My Basketball Hero

Daryl expressed a strong interest in playing basketball this year. We’ve always avoided the sport because it starts during the Christmas season, which always seems so hectic. This year has been even crazier than most, and maybe out of a sense that it really couldn’t be any worse, we agreed to let him play.

The first time that I had to drop him off at practice, the assistant coach introduced himself and then commented on my son.

“He’s quite a scholar. Yes, he is. That one’s definitely a scholar. Just need to get some sports under his belt to get him nice and well rounded.”

So what you are trying to tell me, I thought but didn’t say, is that my son is a terrible basketball player. What I did say was “Yes, he is a very smart young man. He’s really excited about playing basketball this year. It’s his first time to play.”

His team had their first game yesterday. They only have five, maybe six, players but for their first game, they were down even further – to the minimum needed to play: four. The other team had seven. I was expecting slaughter.

Daryl was obviously uncertain what to do. I could see him hesitate as play shifted quickly. But he hustled and got into the mix. Even getting a rebound early in the game and immediately sending it back up for an attempted basket. Fortunately, he missed. It wasn’t his team’s basket.

His coaches didn’t get upset. They yelled in a supportive way to only score at the other end and talked him through it at the next time out. At half time, they made sure he understood that the sides had switched, but by then he had it.

Despite being short-handed, his team was winning easily. Two of the boys were strong players and dominated the court. Daryl still got his hands on the ball though, proving himself reliable at pulling down rebounds and then quickly shooting if on his end of the court, or passing to a more capable dribbler if not.

He even scored four points and assisted on several others. The first time he scored, my heart melted when he turned as soon as the ball swooshed to see if I had seen him.

The coolest thing about watching him play was to watch him running across the court and his face suddenly burst into a magnificent smile, as if he suddenly thought to himself, “I can’t believe I’m actually playing in a basketball game! This is the best thing in the world!” He looked like the happiest boy ever.

And because of that, I am the happiest mom ever. I’ve never been a basketball fan. I don’t know the rules, don’t recognize the referee’s calls, can’t usually tell when someone does something wrong. But for that boy, you’ll find me on the sidelines yelling and cheering and fighting back tears. Cuz that’s my kid out there loving what he’s doing.