Daryl, (Never) On His Own

Daryl recently attended a summer camp out of state with a friend. His dad told him to be sure to send us a picture every day.

By the end of the first day, there was no picture. No surprise.

“Where is today’s picture?” I asked in a text. “How was it?”

He responded the next day with this:

That was it. No text, no nothing. What a punk. I said as much in the conversation that ensued.

(My husband responded first. I was calling my son a punk, not my spouse.)

That was Day 2 and the entirety of the conversation. Notice he left me hanging.

Day 3 brought more silence and no picture. I gave up. You honestly shouldn’t expect much out of a thirteen year old boy.

And then, nearly 48 hours after I asked my questions, he responded, “Yeah, it was cold and sometimes scary.”

Then… then… he sent a picture! Unprompted! And it wasn’t of his feet in socks he’d probably been wearing for several days. It was an honest-to-goodness quality picture of a creek surrounded by trees from a hike he had gone on.

He topped it off by carrying on a conversation with his dad about the hike and what he had purchased as gifts for his siblings. When his dad told him he loved him, Daryl responded, “I love you too.” And that’s when I knew.

The boy was ready to come home.

He’s typically an aloof child and not very expressive of his emotions. But one of the best things about him going on a trip like this is the quality of hug I get when he returns.

He actually hugs back instead of waiting patiently for me to finish and he’ll stay in the hug as long as I want. For minutes even. I sometimes wonder if he’s just being tolerant of his mother. My husband is pretty sure that he does it because he needs the hugs too. Which makes me all sorts of warm and happy inside.

Dressing for the Dance

Daryl’s middle school has an end-of-year dance. A couple of days before the dance this year, he asked a girl at school to be his girlfriend. And then he asked her to the dance. The night before the dance, Daryl was rummaging through his clothing, looking for something to wear.

“Do you know where my Easter clothes are?” he asked me.

“I thought you hated your Easter clothes.”

“I do, but it’s a Hawaiian themed dance and we are supposed to wear Hawaiian shirts or bright colored clothes.”

His Easter clothes certainly would fit the bill. He didn’t want to go with me when I shopped for Easter clothing, telling me instead to “just pick something out for me. I don’t care.”

He cared once I got home. I had purchased a pair of bright turquoise blue shorts on clearance and a sorta-bright pastel yellow shirt. He was horrified! But now? Now he was looking for those hideous clothes. But they weren’t even the best choice he had.

“You should wear your Hawaiian shirt,” I said, pulling a dark blue and white flowered shirt out of his closet. A much more sartorially accomplished friend of Jane’s had handed it down to Daryl a couple of years earlier and Daryl had never worn it.

“I’m not wearing that.” He said it in his serious, no-nonsense voice, which I groaned at and then ignored.

“Seriously, Daryl, that shirt is perfect. It’s a Hawaiian dance and this is a Hawaiian shirt. It doesn’t get any better than that. Here, try it on.” I slipped it off the hanger and handed it to him.

He tried it on. I could tell it was right on the edge of being too small for him but he looked good and I said so. He headed to our bathroom to check it out and I followed. As soon as he could see himself in the mirror, he wrinkled up his nose in disgust and said, “No way!”

“Oh, come on!” I tried. But, no, the Hawaiian shirt would not be worn. He found his Easter clothes soon thereafter and tried to get me to iron them. I pointed out that the Hawaiian shirt didn’t need to be ironed. He pleaded. I told him I was exhausted (I was) and that he could iron them himself. He said he didn’t know how. I said it was a good time to learn. He didn’t iron them but also didn’t switch to the Hawaiian shirt.

The next day, on the drive home from work, I thought about the clothes that still needed to be ironed. Since I was in the car with the bluetooth connection to my phone, I called.

“Get the ironing board and iron out so we can iron those clothes as soon as I get home,” I said.

“Oh, I don’t need to. I took care of it.”

“Really?” I asked in shock. “You ironed your clothes?” He must really like this girl, I thought to myself.

“No,” he said, “I’m not wearing those.” And this is where it got really good. I mean, really, really good.

“I’m wearing the Hawaiian shirt.”

My eyes went as big as saucers.

“Sally wants to match and she’s wearing blue so I’m going to wear that.”

A belly laugh began to work its way up to my throat. I forcefully shoved it back down and in the most neutral voice I could muster, said, “That’s wonderful dear. I’m glad you worked it out. I love you.” At this point, I was in severe danger of making it obvious I was laughing at the situation. “Good-bye,” I said, reaching quickly for the little red “hang up” button on my console.

And then I laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed. Tears rolled down my face. Mom couldn’t have threatened or rewarded him enough to get him to walk among his peers in that shirt. But a pretty young girl just had to say she wanted to match.

The hilarity continued when I got home and a hyper thirteen year old boy showed me how he had shaved. He fixed his hair (again and then again). He brushed his teeth. He took the toothpaste with him to freshen up after dinner. He checked his hair in the car’s mirror. In short, he acted like a completely different boy than I had been living with all this time.

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.