Tick…Talk…

I don’t know about other teenage boys. So far, I only have the one. But I find the one I have to be a little lacking in the communication department. Trying to carry on a conversation with him is often less fruitful than talking to an infant. At least the infant makes eye contact, coos in a way that seems responsive, and maybe drools on you a bit. This guy, he just looks somewhere past your shoulder or toward the floor and shrugs. Mumbles in a way that could be words or could just be him clearing his throat. Waits quietly for you to release him.

That’s what makes the talkative times so unbelievable and special. I drink them in and try to store them up, in the hopes the maternal high will hold me over until the next time. It’s what makes me willing to talk about literally anything, just to keep the conversation going. I’ll talk NFL, NBA, rap stars, internet personalities, high school drama, Modern Warfare. Literally anything. Or, at least, I’ll ask questions and sit back and bask in the flood of words coming out of his mouth, hoping each question will keep the hole in the breached dam open just a little bit longer.

I had one of those nights recently. I came home from work late. Very late. It was almost 8:00 in the evening. Daryl was in his bedroom, I think. I’m not sure because he was walking toward me just as soon as I entered the house. He was already talking before I had set down all of my belongings. He had a big smile on his face.

“I’m moving up to varsity,” he said.

“This week?” I asked.

“No. For the playoffs. I’ll finish the season on JV this week.”

“Oh. That’s not a surprise, right? I thought the whole starting team was moving up for the playoffs.”

“No.” He was obviously pleased. “Only about 7 of us moved up.” He rattled off some names. I started preparing a salad for my late dinner. I asked questions about the names he didn’t mention. We talked about who moved up and who didn’t and why we thought that was and whether he was likely to actually play.

“They said they might put us in for special teams some. And maybe a play or two. Maybe.”

I sat down next to my husband to eat my salad. I expected our son to wander off but he kept standing at the corner of the table, shifting his weight and flipping his hair back, and talking. Talking, talking, talking.

It was, simply put, glorious.

By the next night, we were back to our regularly scheduled programming. He didn’t look up from the PS4 when I walked in the door. He didn’t say hello. I wondered if he even noticed I was home. When I spoke to him, he’d quickly mute his microphone so his friends wouldn’t hear me, then he’d nod or give a one-syllable reply before resuming the online conversation about the game.

I was busy working on a project later in the evening when my husband walked up and said, “Did Daryl tell you about getting pulled over today?”

“By a cop?!” I asked, shocked. How, exactly, does a newly-minted sixteen year old fail to mention that?

“Yes,” my husband smiled. When I asked if he freaked out, he responded, “Thelma said he did.”

“Wait, Thelma?” Apparently a friend happened to be driving by and saw it. She said he looked really worried. It was during the school day. He was returning to the high school from a class at the middle school and had two other students with him. It was a legitimate trip for legitimate reasons, but having more than one passenger is technically against state law. I would have expected him to be terrified!

He didn’t get a ticket – just a warning for his brake lights not working. But still. I would have expected getting pulled over to rank up there with making varsity on newsworthy events. But then, I’m not a teenage boy.

I got his attention later that evening. He muted his mic. I asked him to come talk to me when he finished that round. “You aren’t in trouble,” I reassured the lad who was not the least bit concerned about what I wanted. The mic was already released; his attention had never left the screen.

A few minutes later he came into the bedroom, where I was propped up against pillows, writing this blog post. He paused at the corner of the bed, glanced at me, and rubbed his right arm with his left hand while he waited for me to speak.

“Is there anything you forgot to tell me about today?”

I got a brief confused glance and a mumbled “I don’t think so.”

“Nothing out of the ordinary happened in your day?” There was a brief pause.

“Oh, do you mean the brake light?” he asked.

“You getting pulled over. Yes. That’s what I’m talking about.”

He shrugged. “I wasn’t worried about it. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong.”

“That’s not what the bystander said.”

“What?”

“Someone saw it. They said you looked freaked out.”

“I wasn’t. I told Brian and Aaron that it was probably a taillight or something.”

“You were away from school during school hours with more than one passenger and you weren’t worried at all?”

“No.” Shrug. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Ok.”

Silence.

“Just for the record, this is the kind of thing I expect to hear about.”

A single nod.

“Anything else happen today that I should know about?”

A single head shake.

“Bomb threat? Lock-down? Teacher had a heart attack and you had to use the defibrillator on them?”

Slight smile, amused huff, more pronounced head shake followed by a “no.”

And that was it. He was back to his game and I was back to my blog. Wondering what makes him tick and when the cat would release his tongue again. And could I hold over until then. Ticktock… Ticktock… Tick… Talk…

Not Just a Ball Player

{For all my followers that got the first part of this in an email last night, my apologies! While attempting to execute a ctrl-i on my laptop to turn off the italics, my finger slipped and WordPress interpreted whatever I did as a desire to publish immediately. Oops.}

I had a favorite professor in college. I loved the way he taught, the way he managed his classroom. I loved his sense of humor, his outlook. I loved how I never felt odd or unwanted or unequal or lacking as a woman in a heavily male-dominated field of study.

He was special to me. I worked as his teaching assistant for the basic class that all engineering majors had to take. I sat in his office and talked about my future, about the world, about his past. His was the office I ran to, closing the door and bursting into tears, when an insensitive professor made a harsh comment about a personal decision I had to make as I neared graduation. He was important enough that I stayed in contact for several years after I graduated.

I don’t know for sure but I’m fairly certain he has since passed away. I lost contact at some point and don’t think about him much anymore. He’s mostly relegated to those moments in time when folks tell funny college stories to each other – he provided plenty of great fodder for such interaction.

But I’ve been thinking of him a lot today. And not really in a good way, which is something I’ve been wrestling with and is why I’m writing for the first time in weeks. Months? Too long.

Earlier this week, I was scrolling through Facebook’s friend suggestions. I don’t add new friends often. This scrolling is something I do when I’m bored and rarely results in me clicking “add.” There were few people I recognized, mostly because I had recently added 4 people who all attend the same large church. Facebook was now convinced that I might know everyone at said church. So this scrolling activity was a guessing game as to which of the new candidate friends likely went to that church.

Then I came across a guy I graduated from High School with. That’s rare too. Despite it being a very large class, I’m either already friends with people, already rejected them for whatever reason, or they aren’t on Facebook. But this guy hadn’t been suggested before – that I recall. I barely knew him; I’d say really that I just knew of him. But I remembered him being a fun guy and, especially in today’s climate, I was interested in adding a fun person to my feed. He accepted the request and the next day, I saw this:

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And that’s what got me thinking back to my old professor. You see, I know a few tall people who never had an interest in playing basketball. They are annoyed by people either assuming they do or asking if they do and expressing regret when they answer no. As white folk, though, it never appears as though the asker expects basketball to be their entire identity – just something that surely they did while working through their education.

What’s this got to do with my professor? It’s a hazy memory. It’s actually taken me a little while to decide whether I was present for the interaction or he just related it to me (I’ve settled on the latter). You see, there was a young black man in the class I was working with. He came to my study sessions and it became very evident to me that his math skills were not up to snuff for the class or, indeed, most of the engineering program.

I went to talk to the professor about it. It seemed to me that he needed some remedial math before trying to press through the program. My professor seemed to have a different perspective – one that made me uncomfortable, although I didn’t have the words or awareness to call it what it was.

He had had a conversation with the student. He had taken the man’s large hands in his and turned them over and said, “You see these hands? These are large hands. They are made for holding a basketball.” That’s the only part I remember verbatim. The rest is just an impression – he gave a comparison of the professor’s strengths (intellect that made him good at engineering) vs. the student’s (physical strengths that made him good at “ball” as the meme above put it).

While I was uncomfortable at the time and felt he shouldn’t have shared those thoughts with the guy, I hadn’t really let it reflect poorly on my image of the professor. He was just misguided and maybe had a blind spot. Now I see it for what it was. Racist.

You can quibble and say that he might have said the same thing to a tall white man who wasn’t good at math, but I have my doubts. Strong doubts. See my comments about my tall white friends above. Instead of considering that the student might have come from a school district that had not adequately prepared him, he deemed him “not smart enough.” His size and – I firmly believe – skin color painted him an athlete. Period. At no point did the professor show any interest in learning about his hopes and dreams. Why was he in the engineering program? What did he want out of life? What did he need to get there?

So now I wonder – what happened to that guy? Without some help, he wasn’t going to get through the engineering program. Not when he didn’t know how to solve two basic equations with two unknowns. I’m convinced that anyone can learn math though. What many can’t overcome is discouragement. Was he the kind of person that would take comments like that and feed it into his determination? Or was he the kind that would feel crushed and defeated and think, “Who am I to think I could become anything more than I am right now?”

White people seem to have a hard time reconciling racism in people we love and respect. We tend to only label it when it’s big and obvious: angry white men yelling “Jews will not replace us” through the glow of their tiki torches. And shockingly, not even then sometimes.

We want to explain away the day-to-day examples. We want to believe it doesn’t exist – that we are “post racial” in this country. (Anyone who still believes that now is seriously sticking their head in the sand.) I’d like to think that if you could grade a white person on their attitudes about race, I’d be above average, but what does that matter? Why should that be “good enough”? How can I even measure that?

With regard to my professor, I sometimes think, “Well, he was a really old guy. He came from a different time.” And while that might explain it, it should not excuse it. But I also don’t think one flaw in a person should spoil the whole. As a country, we are trying to come to terms with the fact that so many of our “great” Founding Fathers owned slaves.  We somehow have to hold in balance that their ideas and dedication formed this country and they deserve to be revered for that while at the same time they “owned” other human beings and they shouldn’t get a pass on that failing. (Yes, they were a product of their time but other people in that time fought to end slavery, so even then, many people knew it was wrong.) Some of us want to cling to the greatness while ignoring the slavery while others want to dismiss the greatness because of it. Is there room to do both?

We can change. Both our country and the individuals in it. I remember back in 1999. My great-grandmother was 99 years old and living in a nursing home. My mom (or one of my aunts?) was visiting her when one of the nursing assistants came in. As she left, my great-grandmother said, “That {N word} nurse is pretty good.” There was a brief pause. “They don’t like to be called that anymore, do they?” My mom responded, “They never liked being called that, grandma.” Great-grandma nodded thoughtfully. Even at that age, beset with dementia, wondering why God hadn’t called her home yet, she was learning and changing. Surely we all can too?

My thoughts on this topic are all muddled and in some cases contradictory. I know we have to do better and that includes me. There aren’t any easy answers, but the first pivotal step for white folks is to quit thinking we know it all. We don’t know the black (or brown) experience in this country. We are arrogant fools to tell them they are wrong about what they observe with their own eyes, what they experience in their own skin. We need to listen and watch and learn and grow and THINK. It’s not just the tiki-torch wielding bigots. It’s even more so all the little assumptions and slights made by each and every one of us every day.

The Hailstorm That Wasn’t

It was to be the largest hailstorm in recent memory. Much worse and more widespread than the one a few weeks earlier that had destroyed so much property. Baseball sized, no grapefruit sized! As so often happens, though, it didn’t materialize. It nevertheless destroyed my car more thoroughly than if it had.

The day before, I overheard a coworker telling people they needed to come to work early so they could leave early and get home before the hail started. He can be a little bit excitable so I discounted his comments. The morning of the great storm-to-be, it was all over the TV’s at the gym. They ran videos of the hail damage from the earlier storm. I began to take note.

At home, we discussed the weather. According to my husband, the hail was likely coming around 6:00, not the 3:00 my coworker had been putting forward the day before. Still, I had a voice lesson at the church at 6:00; I wouldn’t be home until closer to 7:00. I was worried about my pretty little green Prius.

I knew it was only mine temporarily. In theory, Jane was to buy it from us once she got out of debt and saved up the money. But her debt meant it would likely be months before that happened, and I really liked driving that car. I kept it clean and uncluttered. I didn’t have to get a key out to unlock it or drive it. My phone connected to bluetooth, allowing me to answer the phone safely while driving. I smiled every time I saw it and I really didn’t want it covered in dents or the windshield smashed. After all, we had paid cash for it and chosen to carry only liability insurance.

So I began to analyze the situation. I had initially thought I’d park it under our carport and drive the truck. But then my husband stated his intentions to drive the truck to choir that evening. Since he’d leave home for the church before I got back from the church, whichever of us drove the truck, the other would be in a Prius at the church during hail prime time.

I cast my mind about for a vehicle that could accept hail damage more acceptably and landed on Jane’s van. It was old and beat up. It had weathered several minor accidents already, sporting a shattered mirror, missing antenna, a missing chunk of back bumper, and a few other dents and scratches. Hail damage would not diminish the appearance of the vehicle. Plus, its windows were more vertical than those of a Prius, making them less susceptible to shattering under falling grapefruits.

I proposed an exchange with Jane. I didn’t figure it’d be a problem since she loved driving my car. She was remarkably resistant, mostly because she didn’t understand why. So I explained that I wanted my car under the carport when the storm hit. She eventually agreed and then I told her, “Oh, yeah, and it’s almost out of gas so you’ll have to fill up first thing when you leave the house.” Which she did, to our amusement later.

At work that day, there were printouts all over the place about the pending bad weather. People left early. I got texts from the school district about whether they were or were not adapting various plans due to the weather. I learned from my husband that choir had been canceled – after it had been moved on top of my voice lesson, which was also canceled.

All of that meant that I was leaving work earlier than planned – around 5:00, tasked with picking up my husband’s prescription and our middle child from a school event. On my way to my daughter’s van, I got a text from her laughing about how she had wandered the parking lot for 10 minutes looking for her car. “I see it!” I responded, “I’ll bring it to you.”

I was in a good mood. Our evening had unexpectedly freed up. We’d all be home and tucked away safely in the house before 6:00. We could look through the photos from our family and Jane’s senior photo shoots and make our final selections. And we might even have time to get yet another Marvel movie watched – maybe Civil War or Guardians of the Galaxy – in preparation for watching End Game that weekend. Life was good. I even imagined my cute little green Prius parked safely under the carport.

Then my phone rang. I answered it only to hear Jane’s voice moaning, “Mommy, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry, Mommy. I’m so sorry. Oh, Mommy, I’m so sorry.” Eventually she stammered it out. She had gotten in a wreck in my car.

The details were unclear. I didn’t understand why my car wasn’t under the carport. I didn’t understand why she was where she was. I was caught between believing/hoping it wasn’t that bad to knowing it must be. I told her to call her dad. I, after all, was on a tight schedule to get the boy picked up in time.

A minute or two later, my husband called and suggested I go to the wreck since I was already in town. He’d take care of the errands I was on. So I headed up the access road where she said she was. I started scanning for the vehicle. Was it still in the road? Or had she been able to pull into a parking lot? Oh, please let the damage be minimal. Oh, shoot, we don’t have comprehensive and collision. Images of me approaching a car with visible damage every day at work flashed into my head. Oh, please let it not be her fault. If it’s not her fault, we can get it repaired. Oh, please let it not be her fault.

And then I saw it. It was in the middle lane, cars moving slowly around it on either side. Its back was pristine but I could see debris in front of it. Her fault, then. My heart sank. But where was the other car? Was she still in the car? I pulled into the nearest parking lot and called her. Confusion reigned. She was in “the red truck.” Which red truck? There were two. Whose red truck? Why was she there? Where’s the other car? Did they leave?

Eventually it all sorted out. It was raining. She had misjudged the line of cars in front of her and how slowly they were moving. The other car had driven into a nearby gas station after the wreck. The truck belonged to a volunteer firefighter who had unlocked it for her to sit in and then gone to the gas station to check on the people in the other vehicle. He talked to me briefly before donning his jacket with reflective tape to go direct traffic until the police arrived.

Jane was stunned and kept repeating how sorry she was. “Why was I even in your car?” she asked. “I should have been in my van.”

So here we are now. The car is a total loss. The money spent to purchase it essentially a very expensive 4 month lease. Our insurance will go up. We’ll need to pay the tow company that towed my pretty little green Prius away. Our plans for our upcoming next driver to have a vehicle will have to change. I’m back in the truck. Jane’s prospects for getting out of her van into a more fuel efficient vehicle are bleak. All because we thought it was going to hail.

The evening didn’t go as I had envisioned. We were all still safely home and I was very grateful for that – it could have been much worse. We still looked at the pictures although we were all more subdued than joyful. Instead of watching a movie, my husband and I sat and talked at length about what to do next. Then we talked with Jane about our decisions.

I thought I was handling it well. I wasn’t dwelling on what-ifs. I was just accepting it. It had happened, there was nothing I could do about it. My car was gone, but my daughter was ok. I was ok.

But I didn’t sleep well that night. I woke up in a funk. Maybe my imagined acceptance was actually avoidance. I finally cried just a little bit as my husband held me. My pretty little green Prius. But my pretty little child is more important. Her mental and emotional state after, so much more important. The fact that she wasn’t hurt – more important. I’m still going to miss my car though.

(Don’t) Follow the White Rabbit

Sometimes I think I’m slipping. Now, don’t try to give me reassurance. Once you hear this tale, you might just agree with me.

I was heading to work. I wasn’t late but I was still hurrying. I needed to get there as soon as possible. I tossed my lunch into my lunch bag and then remembered my jacket was in my bedroom. I hung the bag by the door, where it resides every night. I knew I was taking a risk – my lunch had been left hanging there many times before. But I was just going for my jacket. Surely…

I shrugged into the jacket as I headed back to the front door. There, I grabbed my purse and a folder I needed after work that I had deliberately left by my purse so it wouldn’t be forgotten. And then I slipped out the door and headed to the car. Without my lunch.

This isn’t what has me wondering about my sanity though. If that were an indication, I’ve been losing it for years. Besides, I would remember the lunch before making it all the way to work.

Reaching the car, I sat down and placed my purse and the folder in the passenger seat. I adjusted the seat forward a bit and then the mirrors. I tried to call Jane but the car’s bluetooth was connected to her phone rather than my own. I hadn’t realized the car’s range extended to her bedroom. I sat at the end of the driveway and mucked with the bluetooth settings until I was able to call her and pass on some piece of information or ask some question that I can’t recall now.

About halfway to work was when I realized I didn’t have my lunch. I called my husband in frustration. I had a meeting that morning that I still needed to prepare for. I didn’t have time to return home.

“I can bring it to you,” he said helpfully.

“But I’m in meetings all morning,” I responded. “Just forget it,” I sulked. “Just put it back in the fridge. I’ll just go hungry today.” Which was silly – we have a cafeteria.

“I can put it in an insulated bag and leave it in your car,” he said. “Oh, but wait. I don’t have a key to your car.”

“I’ll leave it unlocked for you,” I said, relieved that I’d get to eat my planned lunch after all. “And then you can lock it after you put the food in there.”

It was a deal. (Imagined) disaster averted. I finished the drive to work without incident.

Once there, I parked the car, gathered my purse, and opened the driver’s door. I glanced down as I did so and noticed an empty Coca-Cola can in the cup-holder of the door.

I’m going to have to talk to Jane about leaving crap like that in my car, I thought to myself. Something felt off, but I couldn’t think what. The important thing was that I get into work and prepare for the meeting. I locked the door and began the walk in, texting the location of the car to my husband.

Several parking aisles later, as I finished up the text, I realized I had locked the door. Idiot, I thought to myself, turning around to go unlock it. The kinder, gentler part of my brain complimented me for remembering it was locked before it was too late.

There was a problem though. When I got back to the aisle I knew I had parked in, my car was not there. I scanned the handful of cars. None of them was mine. I focused in more closely to the exact spot I thought I had parked in. There sat, not a sea-foam green Prius, which is what I drive, but a rich dark blue Prius.

The puzzle pieces all fell into place. I was looking at my husband’s car. I shouldn’t have had to adjust my seats or my mirrors if I had been in my car. I shouldn’t have had to connect my phone to the bluetooth. I should have noticed both the different exterior and interior colors. I should have noticed how much dustier and more cluttered the car was. I should have remembered, when I gazed at the Coke can, that my daughter can’t stand Coca Cola. She’s a Dr. Pepper girl, through and through. My husband, on the other hand… And, I realized incredulously, I should have noticed the large wooden rabbit with chipped and faded white paint that he keeps on the dash, right in front of the steering wheel. But I hadn’t. None of that had sunk in.

I turned back toward the building. No need to unlock the car now. So I called him.

“I just made your life a whole lot more difficult,” I said, not amused at all. “But at least you can get into the car to leave my lunch.” After a brief pause, I finished with disdain dripping from my voice, “I drove your car to work.”

Now, my husband has a joyous, life-filled belly laugh. This laugh burst through my phone and continued for – I swear – a good thirty seconds. I imagined he was having to wipe tears from his eyes.

“That’s OK,” he finally said. “I can just drive the truck.”

“I’m really getting worried about my mental stability,” I said. It had only been a few days since my daughter had surprised me (on his behalf) with three roses in a wide mouthed vase one morning. At the time I had thought, but not stated, that they looked rather forlorn – just three lone roses sagging to their respective edges of the vase. One for each kid.

That evening, when I came home from work, I commented on the baby’s breath and greenery now in the vase. The arrangement looked lovely.

“Where did you get the baby’s breath?” I had asked her.

“I haven’t touched those since last night,” she said.

“That other stuff wasn’t in the vase this morning,” I tried.

She looked at me like I was crazy. “I’m telling you mom, that stuff was there. I haven’t touched it.”

My mind was blown, but not nearly as blown as realizing I had managed to drive the wrong vehicle to work. Same make and model, but still. The wrong car.

In response to my stated concern, my husband said, still chuckling just a bit, “I think you’ve got a lot of miles left in you yet, babe.”

“Seriously, honey. My brain is kind of our livelihood. If it goes, we are in trouble.”

I told my story to some coworkers, who kindly told me they hadn’t noticed any problem in the meeting. So maybe it’s just what everyone else seems to think – I’ve been going at it too hard for too long in too many different areas of my life. I’m exhausted and it’s starting to show.

Maybe that’s it. But we all have our most deep-seated fears and I know what mine is. It’s the fear of losing my mind. Losing my grip on reality. Not being able to trust what my brain tells me. I know there are probably worse fates, but that’s the one that makes all the blood drain out of my face. Even worse knowing that, if it happens, I probably won’t even see it coming.

I’m still a little stunned. I remember taking a situational awareness test in a training class once. We were instructed to count how many times the people in the video passed the basketball to each other. While they passed the ball, a person in a gorilla suit jumped into the circle, waved its arms around, and then jumped out. I was one of the very few people in the class who had even noticed the gorilla. Everyone else was so focused on counting the passes that they had tuned everything else out. I now understand their disbelief when showed the video again. I now understand why some insisted the second video was different from what they watched the first time.

I can tell you one thing though. Whether I’m losing my mind or not, it’s one dang funny story to tell!

Happy Friday!

I was sitting on my bed reading a book before bedtime when Jane approached, purse on arm and keys in hand.

“Amy left her earbuds in my car. She’s getting ready to go to the gym so I’m going to run them in to her.”

“Why doesn’t she come out here to get them?” I asked.

“It’s not a big deal, mom.”

“Yes it is. It doesn’t make sense. She forgot them in your car, she should come out here and get them.

“Really, mom,  I don’t mind. It’s really not a big deal.”

“You are spending your gas money! You are going to spend 20-30 minutes on the road. Just so Amy can have her earbuds. It doesn’t make sense.”

“Mom, it’s fine! Amy drives me around town all the time. I just leave my car at school. It’s fine. I don’t mind.”

“Ok, whatever,” I said, realizing that this wasn’t a hill I needed to die on even if it made no sense to me.

I heard her come back in the house some time later, thought I heard her messing around at the other end of the house for a bit, and then finally she went to her room. I got up some time later to tell Daryl something in the living room. As I headed down the hall, I encountered a chair that I had asked her to return to the dining room earlier in the evening. I cracked open her door and wryly thanked her for putting it away.

“I’ll take care of it, mom.”

“No, that’s ok. I’ve got it,” I said, closing the door and then picking up the chair as I went down the hall.

“Mom! I said I’ve got it!”

“It’s really not a big deal,” I called back, trying to remove the irritation that must have been in my voice the first time. She obviously thought I was mad at her, which I wasn’t.

“MOM!! Please! I said I’d take care of it!!”

Confused, I tried to soothe her. “Honey, I’m not mad at you. I’m going that way anyway. It’s really not a problem.”

MOM!!” She sounded like she was about to cry. “PLEASE don’t go to the dining room! I said I’d take care of the chair.”

“Ok,” I said, frustrated. “I’ve just set it down in the living room. Make sure you come take care of it.”

“Thank you. I will!” Relief. And fatigue.

After talking to Daryl, I passed back by her door and decided to open it again.

“Why can’t I go in the dining room?” I asked.

“You just can’t mom. Don’t worry about it.”

“What is it?”

“Just. Mom, it’s not a big deal. I just didn’t want you to go in there.” Her head was in her hands. She looked defeated.

“If it’s not a big deal, then why can’t I go in there?” Strangely, while I was getting a little frustrated, I wasn’t particularly suspicious nor angry.

“I just really didn’t want you to.”

We went a few more rounds of “why” followed by variations of “just because.”

“Is whatever I’m not supposed to see going to upset me?” I finally asked. Uncharacteristically, I was easily setting aside my curiosity and letting it go.

“No,” she said – dejected.

“Ok, then. I won’t go down there.”

“Thank you.”

“Good night sweetheart.”

“Good night mommy.”

I had forgotten the entire exchange by morning. As Hal and I prepared to head to school, I entered the dining room. And saw a vase with three red roses – one for each kid. And a note that said “Happy Friday!”

My husband wanted to treat me for Friday – a recently resurrected habit of his from our high school days – but was out of town. He had enlisted our eldest to help and it had nearly killed her.

“I’m a terrible liar,” she said. “I made up that story about Amy so I could go buy the flowers. And I didn’t want you to go in there because I had already set them up and Daddy had said it was really important that I didn’t let you see them before Friday.”

I’m not the kind of person that thinks God spends much time meddling in tiny, insignificant day-to-day matters. But looking back, my willingness to let it go – ME! Let it go! – seems a bit like a God thing.

The Last Bean

Ok, before I tell this story, there’s a few things you need to know about me.

I’m a little obsessive in strange ways. I analyze aspects of my life that the average person would not realize were worthy of analysis. And when I’m eating, it’s really important that the last bite be the absolute best bite possible.

That last fact is why I often eat the tip off the pizza slice and then turn it around and eat the crust next, working my way toward the best, cheesiest, topping-laden bite to consume last. It’s why I get stressed when my children ask me for a bite of something when I’ve already honed it down to the best part. And it’s what brought me to this moment with my jelly beans.

I had poured some Jelly Belly jelly beans into a baggie to take on a road trip recently. While sitting at work, drudging through some less than gripping Ethics training videos, it occurred to me that the baggie was still in my purse. Pulling it out, I saw that there were 40 jelly beans or less.

As I started eating them, I noted that the concentration of red jelly beans was high and I knew why. I can’t stand cinnamon candy. I mean, like bite into it, spit it out into the trash can, scrub my tongue, gulp some water level hatred. And the problem with Jelly Bellies is that you really can’t tell the difference between cherry (yum!) and cinnamon. In fact, on the road trip, I had handed off all uncertain red ones to my husband and learned later that I only had 50% accuracy.

Eyeing the bag, I realized I had a decision to make. Either take a chance with the red beans or throw them out. I pulled them all out of the bag and lined them up between me and my keyboard. If I could only group them into two red variations, I thought, then I could taste one from each and know which were cinnamon.

The problem was – once they were all lined up, I realized that they all looked exactly the same. I could detect no difference! I tried rearranging them to see if I could see a difference, but no. I picked one up and tried to sniff it but got no hint. Taking a bold chance, I popped it in my mouth. And smiled. It was cherry! Yay! So did that mean they all were?

I wasn’t sure. And the quantity of other colors was getting low. It was time to determine which should be my last. The buttered popcorn ones were long gone. So were the red apple. I picked up a dark maroon one thinking that if it were Dr. Pepper, it’d be the perfect last. Unless it was actually Tootsie Roll. That wouldn’t be a good finish.

So then I pulled out some tan ones. If they were caramel apple, great! Peanut butter? Meh. Pink with blue and red splotches? Not going out on bubble gum, no. I sat there, reading the ethics video and sorting the beans into candidate groups. The last bean out of the bag was green. Green is safe. Nothing to write home about but enjoyable.

As I ate some jelly beans, I’d rotate in a red one. Every time: cherry. Nine red jelly beans. The first seven were all cherry. I was loving it! Maybe…maybe… You know, cherry would be a nice jelly bean to go out on. But cinnamon? Man, do I risk it?

While trying to decide on the red beans, I accidentally ate the Dr. Pepper one. And the caramel apples. I was down to the green and the two reds. Ok, I decided, I’ll eat another red. If it’s cherry, they all are. That’s why they all look exactly the same.

Unless… the warning voice whispered in the back of my head…How horrible will it be if the last one is cinnamon? What are the odds, I responded. Eight red beans eaten at random and the last one is the one bean out of hundreds that I absolutely would hate to end on?

I ate the next to last red one. It was cherry. I decided to be brave and eat the green one next.

And then I ate the last red one. The last bean.

Cinnamon.

Seriously.

I actually laughed. And swallowed the bean. It seemed the universe was telling me to get over it.

Oh, yeah? When I was your age…

Hal has yet another loose tooth. It seemed pretty loose to me so when he walked in pushing on his lip near the tooth, I suggested that my husband take a look at it. Hal jerked away and shook his head.

“I’m not going to pull it,” he said. Then, after wiggling the tooth, he added, “Yeah, I’d say it needs another day or two.”

“Are you sure? Felt like it was ready to come out to me,” I responded.

“No,” he said, looking at Hal. “I’m more of the wait until it’s ready to fall out kind of person. Your mom is the rip it out kind of person.”

“You think I’m the rip it out kind of person?! Let me tell you…”

I then launched into the tale of my first two pulled teeth. These were stories I’ve told many times before and it dismayed me to realize that I didn’t remember for sure which was the first tooth and which was the second.

“So I was out shopping with Mimi. And Aunt May. And Aunt Susan was probably there. And Grandma Lucky and my GREAT grandma.”

Hal’s eyes were wide with wonder.

“And we were all in a dressing room together. It was a big dressing room.”

I was playing with my tooth and my great grandma asked to see it. My mom, who was very big on yanking teeth {this part now makes me think that this must have been my second tooth because how else would I know this?} warned her off and said, “Oh, grandma, no. It’s not ready yet.”

“I’ll see about that,” she said.

At this point, back in my dining room, I held up seven fingers – all on my left hand and only the pinky and ring finger on the right. “Now, my great grandmother,” I told Hal, “only had seven fingers.”

He looked over at his dad, who confirmed it with a solemn nod. Hal’s eyes went even wider.

“I can’t remember whether she used those two fingers this time or not but they were like pincers. She could grab hold of this skin under your arm {I demonstrated} and lead you wherever she wanted you to go.”

Hal scooted closer to his dad.

“Anyway, I just remember her reaching into my mouth and yanking that tooth out and saying, ‘Looks ready to me!’ I clearly remember looking at myself in the dressing room mirror, staring at the blood running down my face and all the commotion that caused in the dressing room.”

Hal was now standing partially behind his dad.

“Now, the second tooth,” I continued. “I lost that one on the Fourth of July. I know that because it was almost time to go to the big fireworks display in town and my mom insisted that we weren’t going until that tooth came out.

“I pleaded my case but she pinned me against the kitchen cabinets, reached in, and yanked out the tooth! It slipped from her fingers and fell onto my tongue. She said sharply, ‘Stick out your tongue!’ and I did and she plucked it off my tongue and we went to the fireworks display.”

Hal, now standing fully behind his seated dad and ducking down behind him, whispered in a small voice, “I’m glad I wasn’t you.”

I smiled. I didn’t have a rough childhood – definitely not. But my children are definitely softer than they would have been had they been me. Between my great grandma, grandparents, and my mom, not a lot of crap was put up with. Let’s just say they all had a perspective that you needed to be tough.

Oh, one last thing? Before I was two sentences into writing this story, Hal entered the room with his hand cupped in front of him. “Looks like today was the day after all,” he said, holding the tooth.

Affirmation. I was right!