When Parenthood is Like Solving a Mystery

One day, shortly after Daryl had allegedly mowed the yard, I noticed a large patch of uncut grass about 8 feet by 20 ringed completely by a strip that had been cut.

“Daryl,” I asked, “why didn’t you mow this?”

“I’m going to cut it with the weed-eater,” he said, a response that I found patently absurd.

I said as much. “That doesn’t make sense. It’d have taken you 1 minute tops to cut it with the lawn mower. It’ll take considerably longer than that with the weed-eater.”

“Not really,” he said in that droning teenager voice, this being the response I get every time I say something he disagrees with but won’t give reasons to support his position.

“Yes really,” I said. “Besides that, the weed-eater won’t cut it evenly. It won’t look as good. Always cut as much as you can with the lawn mower.”

“OK” – same monotonous drone.

“Did you see that patch of grass Daryl didn’t mow?” I asked my husband next time I saw him.

“I did,” he said. “I told him he should have mowed it.”

There wasn’t much we could do about it though because the lawnmower had returned to our friend’s house. Rats had chewed through our wiring harness so in a desperate pinch, we hauled hers out to our house.

About a week later, that friend was sitting at our dining room table.

“Did Daryl run over some telephone wire or something when he was mowing?” she asked.

My shoulders sagged as the pieces started to fall into place. “He didn’t say anything,” I said cautiously. “Why?”

“Well, we couldn’t get the blades to spin and when we got to looking under it, there was this telephone wire wrapped tight around the blades. I don’t see how he could have mowed with it like that.”

My husband and I stared at each other silently for an extended second or two before simultaneously calling out in a stern tone, “DARYL?!”

“What?” he asked as he sulked into the room.

“Did you run over something with the lawn mower?” I asked, now understanding why he had inexplicably stopped mowing before finishing a section he had obviously started.

“No.”

“Really? You just stopped mowing even though the mower was just fine.”

“Well, it started smoking…”

“It started smoking and you didn’t say anything to us?!”

“Well!” His tone got defensive. “I thought it was just out of gas.”

“Seriously, Daryl,” my husband said, “you are smarter than that. It doesn’t smoke when it runs out of gas. And you are supposed to tell us when it runs out of gas anyway.”

“This wasn’t our lawnmower, Daryl! We were borrowing it and you knew that! You have to tell us when something like this happens, especially if it isn’t ours.”

“Sorry…”

This scene played out again a few days later when we discovered that his recent abysmal weed-eating performance was due to there not being any thread in the weed-eater. Rather than telling us as much when we got home and questioned his completion of the task, he just kept repeating that he had weed-eated. Even though every tree and fence post and porch or sidewalk edge had tufts of grass surrounding them. Every. Single. One. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later when we set him to weed-eating again, that the truth was uncovered.

Seriously. I don’t know how they expect to get away with this stuff.

When They Are Them Instead of You

Much of parenthood is spent seeing yourself or your spouse in your children. There is something satisfying (or sometimes terrifying) about recognizing your idiosyncrasies in your progeny.

Well, of course they loves to read. We love to read. We’ve led by example and promoted a love of books their whole life.

The boy can’t find things to save his life! It’s like he’s blind. So much like his dad.

She’d argue with a brick wall. She gets that from you!

We often analyze our children and their behaviors by dissecting which aspects come from which one of us and what that means.

“Well, she’s driven to perfection like you are but then she’s got a healthy dose of me in her so she doesn’t quite apply herself as doggedly as you always did,” my husband once said of our daughter.

But sometimes – and these are the most fascinating and rewarding moments – sometimes they are all them. It’s one thing to do something with your child that you love too, indeed something that they probably love because you loved it first and instilled the same love in them. It’s a completely different thing to engage with your child in a love that was born and fostered completely within them.

I wonder sometimes if every parent gets to experience this or not. I did recently and I just sat there in awe as my 16 year old daughter did her thing. And what was this thing?

Makeup.

You might be rolling your eyes right now, but this isn’t trivial.

I basically don’t wear makeup. I haven’t worn foundation since I was a pimply teenager desperately trying to cover up my flaws. I wear mascara and a touch of blush. No eye shadow, no eye liner. I don’t pencil my eyebrows or really make any kind of effort at all. And I’m perfectly happy.

I never taught her anything concerning makeup. And truthfully, she often goes days without it as well. She doesn’t find it necessary. She just enjoys it – like makeup artist kind of enjoyment.

She follows various makeup artists on social media, reads articles, watches technique videos, and has stockpiled quite the collection of supplies, including many things I didn’t know existed. One evening, she looked at a dark blue eye shadow she had and – just for fun, she wasn’t going anywhere – turned her face into a credible impersonation of Mystique from X-Men. Just to see how it’d go.

She’s not afraid to try something. Just to see what happens. I was never like that. I had to know how it would go first. I know she gets this willingness to experiment from her dad, but the makeup interest – that’s all her. And it’s wonderful.

My husband recently planned a date night for us. As I got out of the shower, I thought of my daughter and her makeup. “Will you do my makeup for me?” I asked.

Her face lit up. “You want me to do your makeup?”

“Yes, I think that’d be fun.”

She soon took over my bathroom with more makeup than I’ve ever owned in my life. And she started talking about the various items and techniques she could use. She talked about something she could use instead of foundation that would fill the pores and give a smoother look without the heaviness of foundation.

She asked my preference on a couple of different highlighters that had different degrees of sparkle to them. When I looked at her blankly, she rubbed her finger in each and then smeared a streak on her inner forearm to demonstrate how they’d look. She talked about why she liked certain ones better than others and when was a good time for each.

She asked if there was anything I wanted covered up. (The dark bags under my old eyes please…). She talked about contour and highlight and what they do and where they go. Talked about sponges versus brushes. She gave me a double-ended mascara stick and explained that I was to brush the white stuff on first – which would elongate and separate my lashes, and then I could use the black end to cover the white. She explained why she was going to skip eyeliner. She filled in the thin parts of my eyebrows as we laughed about the change.

The whole time she talked and worked, I sat there and took it all in. This was not me. This was not her dad. This was her. All her. 100% her. And it was beautiful. Glorious. She found this, she loved this, she learned it and excels in it.

It didn’t matter one bit that I have no interest in makeup. That it will likely be years – if ever – before I sit again for 20 minutes while I or someone else does my makeup. I didn’t have to love it. She loved it and I loved that she loved it. I enjoyed it because I was spending time with my daughter in her element.

I truly can’t describe the incredible feeling that welled up inside me that evening. If you’ve never experienced the wonder that’s tinged with a bit of “where did this love come from?”, then I fear you’ve missed out on one of the best parts of parenthood.

Tag Team Parenting March 24, 2014

{Continuing my dig through my drafts… Curiously, this one is two years old and was apparently telling a story from a year before that. I think I must have started the draft on March 24, 2014 and then a couple of years ago, brushed it off. I didn’t want to lose track of how old it was so I put the original date in the title. I think I’ll leave it. I have no idea why it didn’t get published. Here it is unedited. Three years ago, Jane was 13, Daryl 10, and Hal 5.}

Our first evening after my husband returned home from his eight day trip was illustrative as to why having two of us is important.  It wasn’t as busy as many of our evenings are so was shaping up to be an easy night.  There was only one event: a two hour meeting at our church.

I worked right up until the last moment to pick up Hal and made it to the church just before the meeting started.  My husband had food waiting for us, which I ate as the presentation started.

The rest of the family made it home before I did.  When I walked through the door, Hal was calling out that he needed to go poop.  Jane was sitting motionless in a chair with her viola under her arm, staring at her music stand.  I asked if its sound quality was good from that position.  She didn’t respond.  There was a constant low wailing coming from somewhere in the house.

I went searching for the sound and found it in the form of Daryl, sitting on his brother’s bed, both hands clutching ears, crying a strange cry.  My husband entered the room and told him he’d get some Tylenol but Daryl needed to get ready for bed.  He then asked me to take Daryl’s temperature.

As I held the thermometer in place, my husband tried to coax Jane into playing the music on the stand.  Even from the end of the hall, I could hear her crying.  She snapped at me when I asked what was wrong and she was soon screaming (ironically) that everyone was too loud and her head hurt.

Once Daryl’s temperature was noted at being just under 100 degrees, I migrated to the bathroom, where Hal was ready for someone to wipe his bottom.  My husband told Jane to put her instrument away and went to retrieve medication for her.

I couldn’t help but think how differently the night would have been if there hadn’t been two of us.  Everything – except the viola practice – still would have gotten done but I would have been frazzled and exhausted.

Best Laid Plans

Just on the off chance that you are tone deaf to emotion and didn’t pick up on it in the last two posts, I’ve been kinda down of late. Monday was particularly bad. Tuesday wasn’t shaping up to be much better until I decided to throw caution (and responsibility) to the wind and leave work early to go run.

I was giddy with excitement as I walked to my car. I had great plans. I’d run outdoors for the first time in weeks. It was a beautiful day! And then I’d take a nice long shower before picking up the boys. Hal, from his friend’s house and Daryl, from basketball practice.

But plans – especially happy plans – almost never work out. Especially if you have kids. You never get to do what you want when you have kids.

Jane had left school early for a doctor’s appointment, which was not likely to interfere, I thought. How naive…

I finished my run to find Jane baking a cake (from scratch). The darling had decided to make a cake for the Angel Mom picking up Hal from school as a thank you. There was just one problem. She had forgotten to preheat the oven and now needed to leave before it was done.

“It’s just another 12 minutes, mom. Can you finish it? You just need to add cocoa and melt it all for the icing,” she said, gesturing to a saucepan already holding milk and butter. “Then once it’s all liquid, add the vanilla and half that bag of sugar.”

I was standing there bathed in sweat, looking forward to my shower, and was now, instead, going to stand in a hot kitchen.

“Ok,” I said.

“Thanks, Mommy!”

While I waited for the butter to melt, I checked my voicemail. Someone had called during my run. Turns out it was Daryl, who had had to borrow someone’s phone since his was sitting in a bag of rice at home.

“Mom. There’s no basketball practice.”

That was the entire message. And no way to call him back.

Now what?

I tried to hurry outside and wave Jane down but she didn’t see me. I called a friend but she had already picked up her son and was home.

Now what?

The cake still had 10 minutes to go. His message was a solid 15 minutes earlier. Nothing to it. He’d just have to wait until I was done icing the cake.

And I’d just have to wait on that shower too.

The best laid plans of mice and men, folks. Best laid plans.

Holding Court

Sometimes I get it right. Or maybe my kids are just in a more receptive mood. I don’t know. Sometimes it just all works out as it should.

I was taking my shower this morning when Hal came into the bathroom blubbering about something. He was holding his arm and speaking incoherently. When it became apparent that I wouldn’t be able to hear the story with water cascading around me, I turned it off.

As I coaxed the story out of him, my mind analyzed the subtle clues. Is the crying real or forced? Is he truly in pain or just mad? Or are his feelings just hurt? Deciding it was real, I worked on piecing together the story of how his brother had come to squeeze his arm so hard and dig his thumb into the muscle.

Working backward from the point of injury, I learned that Daryl had squeezed the arm in response to Hal telling him to shut up. Hal had told Daryl to shut up after Daryl told Hal to shut up. When asked why Daryl had told him to shut up, Hal became reticent to continue unraveling the full story. Ahhh, I thought. I’m getting somewhere now.

Hal was being too loud. When asked whether Daryl had previously asked him nicely to be quiet, Hal claimed no. That’s when Daryl, who had apparently been lurking just outside the door interjected with protest.

The court is now called to order.

The defendant sits on a chair next to the sink. The accuser sits across the room from him at a safe distance on the toilet. The judge stands in all her naked glory with water dripping from her now-getting-cold body inside the glass judge’s box.

Before she can begin her questions, the defendant attempts a counter-claim. “He shoved me really hard before coming in here.”

“This was after you squeezed his arm?” she asks.

“Yes.”

“OK, retaliation isn’t right but it was in response to you hurting him. Did you tell him to be quiet?”

“Yes your honor.” (So maybe I added the “your honor” bit, but wouldn’t it be nice?)

“Where was he when he was being too loud?”

“In our bedroom. And I could hear him all the way down in the kitchen.”

The accuser is, amazingly enough, waiting silently for the trial to progress.

“And where were you when you asked him to be quiet?”

“In our bedroom.”

“And did you invoke Charley?” (Our house guest sleeping in a room near the kitchen).

“What?”

“Did you tell Hal why he should be quiet?”

“Yes. I told him he might wake up Charley.”

“Hal?” Says the judge, turning to the toilet. “Did Daryl ask you to be quiet first?”

{Silence.}

“Did he ask you to be quiet?”

“Yes.”

“And did you hear why?”

“Yes.”

“And you didn’t do it.”

“No.”

The judge, noticing the cold soaking into her skin and the slimy soap still hanging out where the sun doesn’t shine, is ready to deliver the verdict.

“Ok, see? This is where it started. A member of the family – it doesn’t matter who – asked you to do something and gave you a good reason why and you ignored him. Do you see that?”

Hal nodded dejectedly.

“Now,” the judge says, turning her attention back to the defendant’s chair. “It’s never OK to respond with physical violence. You understand that, right? What are you supposed to do when he’s not doing what he’s supposed to do?”

{Silence.}

“Daryl, what are you supposed to do?”

“Come tell you or Daddy.”

“Right. And then I could have called him in here and talked to him.”

“But Hal,” the judge shifted her attention back to the accuser. “It started with you. It started when you disregarded another member of the family. If you had listened and responded appropriately, he never would have told you to shut up and then you wouldn’t have told him to shut up and then he wouldn’t have squeezed your arm. Do you see that?”

“Yes.”

“OK. I want you to apologize to your brother for ignoring him.”

“I’m sorry I ignored you Bubba.” (For the record, this was a very sincere apology.)

“It’s OK.”

“And now I want you to apologize to Hal for hurting him.”

“I’m sorry I hurt your arm.” (Another sincere apology.)

“It’s OK.”

“Now if you don’t mind, I’ve got soap in places I didn’t need it to stay so I’m going to resume my shower now.”

Court is adjourned.

How Did You Know?

Returned home late from a meeting last night and the kids were already in bed. But just barely, so I headed in to say goodnight.

First stop was the boys’ room. As the door opened, I saw a flurry of movement in the top bunk that ended with Hal flopping onto his belly with his elbows out and his hands resting under his chin as he looked at me.

“Goodnight Hal Monkey Bear,” I said as I climbed enough rungs of the ladder to reach him. Instead of going straight for the hug, which he wasn’t leaning over for anyway, I stuck my hand under his pillow.

He made a desperate noise and attempted to press his full seven year old weight onto the pillow. He deflated a bit when I extracted the 3DS.

“You know this is supposed to be in the living room on the charging desk,” I said before turning to his brother, who freely sat up from his bed for a hug.

Outside of their room, I turned into their sister’s. It was dark and there was no glow of a phone. Yet as I approached her bed to say goodnight, I could see that she was still holding it.

“You need to go to sleep, sweetheart. Put your phone away.”

“I know. I usually slide it up here,” she said, moving her phone up to the corner of the bed and sounding disoriented. “I don’t know why I hadn’t yet. I was falling asleep.”

“If you continue to have fatigue problems, we may get you an alarm clock and have you put your phone out on the charging desk so you don’t talk to people too late into the night.”

“I don’t! I’m always too tired.”

About then, her phone buzzed.

“Sounds like you are actively in a conversation right now.”

“Well, I was but then I fell asleep.”

Mmm-hmmm…

I then returned to the living room, where you might think this story ends. But you’d be wrong. I have three children, remember?

“I think we need to check for electronics more closely,” I said to my husband as I showed him the 3DS.

“Is Daryl’s iPod over on the desk?” he asked.

“I see his red case and it looks like something is in it.”

“He got a new case. You better go check.”

So I walked over to the desk where they are supposed to store and charge their electronics and picked up the case. Turning it over, I saw that there was indeed an iPod in it. But it seemed strange that he hadn’t plugged it in to charge. The boy may be irresponsible and forgetful about many things but charging his iPod isn’t one of them. Even more baffling was that it wouldn’t even power on.

I mentioned these discoveries to my husband who then asked to see it. After a brief examination, he confirmed my suspicions. “Go get his iPod from him.”

So I re-entered the boys’ room. Daryl’s hand slid slowly toward his hip and he looked up at me calmly.

I held out my hand. “Give me your iPod.”

The calm facade broke, replaced with an embarrassed and surprised smile. As he handed it to me, he asked, “How did you know?!”

Oh, son… How did we know? Maybe it was the old case the day you got a new one. Or the fact that it didn’t power on. And wasn’t plugged in. And didn’t actually fit the case since it was an even older iPod that you stashed in your old case as a decoy. Or maybe it’s your age. And the evidence of your siblings.

We were young once too. And devious as well. We might not have had portable electronics, but that doesn’t mean we never tried to pull one over on our parents. You are getting better at it. Your deceit is well thought out and your tells are subtle and easy to miss. But this night, at least, we weren’t too tired to catch them.

Saturday Special

We were getting a little disconnected as a family. Maybe not just a little. Jane actually dissolved into tears of frustration recently when trying to explain why it bothered her so much that we hadn’t woken her up from the couch when we got home.

“Don’t we eat dinner together as a family anymore?”

We actually had done that just a couple of days earlier but without her. As a high-schooler with a boyfriend, she’s home less than she used to be. But in her defense, she was home that particular evening and I had fixed myself a salad without waking her or her sleeping brother. “Fend for yourself” was becoming the norm.

The next night, we played games late into the night with friends and didn’t arrive home until after midnight. Needless to say, our Saturday got a late start. I eventually marveled that even the dog hadn’t stirred by 10:30 and went to rouse my clan as my husband set out to prepare a brunch feast.

When I woke Daryl and said, “Come on, Daryl! It’s lunchtime!” he asked how it could possibly be lunchtime. “What about breakfast?”

“Dude,” I said, “it’s 10:40. We slept through breakfast!”

We had a bumpy start through meal prep and consumption. Jane wanted to spend time with Hal but Hal didn’t want to share his drawing pad or his colored pencils. Daryl had woken in a sour mood and didn’t like having to hand wash some dishes, although he chose that task over making waffles.

After lunch though, all three kids sat down with their respective pads of paper at the dining room table and used Jane’s gel pens to draw or color. Jane asked if I wanted to join them but I declined. “I have too much I need to do,” I said.

But when I reached my room with the laundry hamper, I spied my grown-up coloring book. Sensing something special was happening, I grabbed it and joined the kids. Jane was playing music on a bluetooth speaker and everyone colored quietly and talked and laughed and complimented each other’s art.

Eventually, Daddy joined us at the table as he sorted the mail. Knowing that I really did have work to do, I put my book aside and began sorting papers as well. When Daryl tired of coloring, he started going through books on his shelves that he didn’t want anymore. He’d bring them to the table and we’d all make decisions on them together.

“We aren’t getting rid of any books! Mrs. Smith says you can’t have too many books,” Hal stated confidently.

“Mrs. Smith has never been to our house.”

It was wonderful. “We should do this on Saturdays more often,” Jane said. I agreed.

Later in the afternoon, she and her Dad left to take care of some shopping. I asked Hal if he wanted to go for a walk. He was very behind on his miles for a Kids’ Marathon the boys are participating in and the treadmill gets boring.

Soon, the two of us were walking the 3.2 mile loop that my husband and I run when we want a “short” run. Hal likes to talk and prattled away as we walked. He pointed out slyly that he was still in his pajamas. I suggested that maybe long flannel pants weren’t the best choice for walking on a warm Spring day.

We talked about the dogs we saw, the trash along the way, the sky, the trees, the grass, people’s yards, the cars going by, the bear he thought he might have seen in the woods.

“There aren’t bears here,” I said.

“Well, I saw something move in there!”

“I’m sure there was something there but it wasn’t a bear.”

“Maybe a squirrel,” he said.

“Or a cat.”

“A cat?! What would a cat be doing in the woods?”

I shrugged. “Exploring. Hunting mice. Or birds.”

“Do cats eat birds?” he asked.

“Yes. Or at least, they like to kill birds.”

The walk was long but there was a nice breeze and clouds blocked the sun most of the way. We passed by some pigs in pens. There was too much in the way for us to see them but we could sure smell them! Hal decided he was glad he didn’t live near them.

We talked about a car that was covered with a tarp but also under a carport. We discussed various reasons the car owner might do that. We peeked at a pond in the distance and discussed the “private property” sign on the fence and what it meant. We studied the trees that had grown up under the power lines and had their tops cut off. We remarked on all the ant mounds and how large some of them were.

“Why did God invent ants anyway?” he asked.

“Well,” I said. “They are very good at breaking up the soil so plants can grow.”

“We don’t need ants to do that! We can do that ourselves,” he said.

I pointed out a large field of tall grass at one point. The wind was blowing the grass in big lazy waves. “It looks like a big grass sea!” he said with delight.

We passed by a house that had some dilapidated out buildings. “Do chickens live in there?” he asked.

“It looks like chickens may have lived in there before,” I said. “But it looks too rundown now. I don’t think it’s in use.”

“Look!” he said as we passed by the end of the building. “That part is really falling apart! It looks like it got hit by a tornado or maybe a hurricane or something!”

“I think it’s just the passage of time. They didn’t make repairs over time and now it’s falling apart. Look over there,” I said, pointing to an even more unstable structure behind it. “That one’s really old.”

“I bet a tornado came through a really long time ago. Like in the old days. Back in 1977.”

“Hey!” I said. “I was three years old in 1977! Those aren’t the old days!”

He looked shocked. “Wow! You were three in 1977! Hey, Hannah told me the other day that her favorite number is three and that’s how old you were way back in 1937!”

Seventy seven!”

That started a game of “back in the old days, forward in the futurative days.” Hal would pretend he was an old man and say things like “back in the old days when I was three, we had a nice building for the chickens but back in… oops, I mean, forward in the futurative days when I was 52, it was worn down.”

He went through various topics. Like when a DVD just made sound, not pictures. I told him DVDs didn’t exist “in the old days.”

“Well, back in the old days, we just had a radio to listen to but forward in the futurative days, we have television.”

And so on and so on until he ran out of “old days” differences. That’s when he enlisted my help. I’d say the old days line and then he’d give the future one, sometimes restating my old days with his own twist, sometimes keeping it straight.

We compared phones on the wall to iPhones and film cameras to digital. He tried to claim that old days didn’t have cool sports cars like Camaros. I told him they had actually been very popular in the Seventies.

As we walked past a stranger mowing his yard with an obviously old push mower, Hal said, “Back in the old days, we just had a rundown old mower, but forward in the futurative days, we have a nice shiny one.” He pointed to the man. “I got that one from our friend there with the mower.”

I don’t spend a lot of one-on-one time with Hal. I’ve recently started working with him on his cello lessons, sitting and watching and paying full attention to him and his efforts rather than multi-tasking. But when I surprised him by showing up with Daddy at his Spring party the day before, he glanced up at me, showed no interest at all and rushed over to his dad to tell him what he had made. That stung. It stung a lot.

But then I got to spend 45 minutes walking with this wonderful little man we are raising. This quirky, oddball, inquisitive little man. And I was happy.

I honestly can’t say whether I enjoyed the family coloring party or the walk with Hal more. I just feel incredibly fortunate that I got to experience both. I didn’t get the big paper reduction project done that day, and quite frankly, I’m not sure how we’ll stay on schedule with our tidying plans, but I don’t care either.

This was special. And as Jane said, I want it to happen again.