Not 14 Minutes

It was time for Hal to take a shower.

“Are you watching a video or playing a game?” I asked.

“Watching a video,” he replied.

“How much time is left?”

He clicked on the screen and studied it for a minute. “It’s… It’s… not…” He hesitated.

“How much time is left?” I asked again.

“Fourteen minutes.”

“Ok, I’m going to make a deal with you. It’s almost bedtime. You hurry into the bathroom and take a shower. Be quick but make it a good one. Make sure you scrub your armpits and use soap. Take a good quick shower and then brush your teeth and I’ll let you stay up to watch the rest of your video.”

A few minutes later, I heard him talking to his older brother about what was happening in Fortnite at that moment.

“Hal! I said to hustle! You aren’t going to get to finish watching your video.”

A couple of minutes later, he still wasn’t in the bathroom.

“I’m serious,” I said, approaching him from down the hall. “You are using up all of your video time. It’s already your bedtime and you are wanting me to let you stay up for another fifteen minutes after taking your shower.”

“No! No! Not fifteen minutes!” he protested.

Inside my head where he couldn’t see, I rolled my eyes.

“Ok,” I said, barely holding onto my patience. “Fourteen minutes. It’s essentially the same thing, Hal.”

“No! It’s not fourteen minutes!”

Now confused, I said, “You told me it was fourteen minutes.”

“No! I said ‘not fourteen minutes’.”

I waited for him to say more, but he just stared back at me like that cleared up everything.

“What? How is that useful information, Hal? ‘Not fourteen minutes’ tells me absolutely nothing. ‘Not fourteen minutes’ could mean ten seconds, or ten minutes, or fifty minutes, or forty-eight hours. Why would you tell me ‘not fourteen minutes’?”

Jane giggled from her adjacent room.

“Well, you know, you look at a video and think, ‘that looks like it’s fourteen minutes,’ but it’s not.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You know, it shows that the video is fourteen minutes long but you’ve already watched some of it so you don’t have fourteen minutes left.”

“Ok,” I said, finally understanding where he was coming from but not regaining my patience. “That’s when you look to the left and see how much time has already passed. What did that number say?”

“Nine minutes.”

“Ok, then that means you have five minutes left. Now that would be useful information. Hurry up and take your shower and I’ll let you finish it.”

I stopped by Jane’s room after. She looked up from her homework and said, “I just have not ten minutes left on this, mom. Not ten minutes. Ok?”

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The Battle of the Poop

There are small things and there are big things in parenthood. Good and bad. My hope is that in old age, it’s the good that shine the brightest. But there are times in the day-to-day that the bad grab hold and demand your attention. Or your irritation, at least.

Take, for example, the morning after my sweet daughter left for Europe. I entered my shower thinking that, despite the cold weather and long pants I would wear, maybe I’d shave. Only… my razor was missing.

That’s weird, I thought. Did I take it out for some reason? I glanced over at the counter and it wasn’t there. When I got out, I checked my overnight bag from a recent trip. It wasn’t there either, which didn’t surprise me since I knew I hadn’t packed it. You know, winter weather and long pants and all. My mind drifted to my daughter. Surely she didn’t take it with her? She has her own and likes it better.

I asked the menfolk of my household if they knew where it was. They all just shook their heads, looked at me odd for asking, and went about their days. Which I ultimately did as well, thinking about the missing razor only in the mornings as my eyes lit upon its empty holder during my shower. Just one of the minor irritations of being a parent and thus, not the master of my own stuff.

That is, until I found myself in the children’s bathroom early one morning with my eyes watering and a bandanna wrapped tightly around my face. It was then, in such a miserable state, that I saw my wayward razor sitting in their shower. She must have “borrowed” it, I thought to myself, backing out to the relative safety of the hallway. Hers was probably already packed. I bet she planned to return it when done. They always plan, but never do.

The thoughts were a delay tactic, I knew, and eventually I resumed my odious task – one of the larger and much more objectionable irritations of parenthood.

I had managed to forget about this task until that morning when I had opened the door to see which boy had gotten up without my knowing, and been greeted not by an indignant child unhappy about the door opening, but instead by a smell so strong that I quickly shut the door. And remembered.

It was late the night before. The boys and I were staying up a little late because it was Spring Break so why not? But finally, I had admonished Hal, the youngest, to use the bathroom, brush his teeth, and get ready for bed.

He had returned quickly with his nose scrunched up and a small, nervous smile on his face. With a little giggle, he said, “The toilet is clogged!”

“When did that happen?” I asked, my eyes heavy with sleep and my shoulders now sagging. I looked around the room.

“It wasn’t me,” said Daryl, only momentarily diverting his attention from Fort Nite on the PS4 to me.

“Well it wasn’t me!” claimed Hal, a little too defensively and definitely too cheerfully.

“It didn’t just clog itself,” I muttered and headed into the bathroom.

“It really stinks in there!” Hal called out helpfully.

I lifted the toilet lid and what greeted me was of a magnitude unbelievable. With a certain amount of wishful thinking, I pushed the “big flush” button on our high efficiency toilet. It didn’t flush. Instead, I gagged and choked and covered my mouth as I watched through watery eyes all the brown chunky water, a log surely too big to have exited my young child’s rump, and reams of toilet paper swirl dangerously close to the rim.

I closed the toilet lid. I hurried from the room. I shut the door. Not my proudest moment, but it had been a long week. A tiring one.  Nearly a full work week covered over just three days, on the tail end of a 62 hour work week, and a long trip to take my husband to the airport very early that morning. Despite a couple of short naps that day, I was not ready to fight the battle of the poop. In my exhausted state, I declared it a task that could wait for morning.

And morning had come. And with it the fresh state of forgetfulness… until I had opened that door. I tried another hopeful flush. I gagged again. I left the room. Again. But this time to plan because even the most irresponsible of parents can surely not leave a toilet full of sh*t to stink up a room and eventually the entire house.

I found a box and a stick. The toilet paper, I had decided, needed to exit the bowl via the hole at the top instead of the hole at the bottom. I found a bandanna and wrapped it securely around my face. I entered the boys’ room. They looked up and did not bat an eye that their mother approached like a bandit robbing a stage coach.

“I have a task for you,” I said to Hal. “Get your shoes on. I’m going to be transferring some of the contents of the toilet into a box and then I want you to carry the box out to the burn pile. Do you want a bandanna to cover your nose?”

He nodded. Quietly. Like he wished there was a way out of this task but perhaps knowing that if his dad was home, it’d likely be Hal, and not his loving mother, who would be manually unclogging the toilet. He didn’t have the worst task and he knew it.

It was when I entered the room again with stick and box in hand that I noticed the razor. It struck me that if I didn’t have children, I wouldn’t have a clogged toilet and my razor would be where it should be.

Of course, I’d also be at work because what would be so special about Spring Break then? I’m all the richer, and wiser, and kinder, and more patient, for having children. But there are moments – like when I’m standing in a stinking room looking at my stolen razor through watering eyes – when I feel the price paid for those no-longer-little bundles of joy.

Who Rules the Universe?

I came across this story in the Facebook flashback feature last night. Of course, I failed to screenshot it before going to bed so I’m not sure when it happened. I’m guessing Daryl was maybe 7 or 8 and Jane 10 or 11. Anyway, it’s one of those funny tales that get forgotten by an aging momma and it brought a smile to my face.

Let’s set the stage. A group of kids are sitting on the steps leading up to the chancel area at the front of the sanctuary. The pastor is sitting with them and hoping to guide them to something insightful about the day’s scripture reading. I think most experienced pastors are always a little nervous about what the children might say in these moments.

One of the other children announced, “Darth Vader rules the universe!”

A pastor, sitting in his sanctuary in front of his congregation, can’t let that statement go unchallenged, of course, so he said, “Ok, wait. Who rules the universe?” He even emphasized the word ‘who’ in a leading way that should have had kids yelling “Jesus!” since that’s usually a safe answer during the children’s sermon.

Instead, Jane yelled, “The rebels do!!”

The pastor lost control of the room at that point with the congregation laughing too loudly for him to continue. The great irony in this moment was that my younger, usually less on the point, and huge Star Wars fan son, Daryl, was the one to return the focus to the topic at hand by answering “God.”

The Train Station

My beautifully talented daughter asked me recently if I wanted to read an essay she had written for school. I said yes and she handed me a couple sheets of paper. I was soon breathless as I savored some of the most beautiful writing I had ever read. That is not maternal hyperbole, nor is it false modesty when I say it’s better than anything I could write. I prefer to write the meat of the story and rarely do I spend enough time creating such vivid imagery.

There are storytellers – I count myself as an amateur one. Brandon Sanderson is an extremely talented and successful one. But then there are people who write poetry in prose. Whose words are so beautifully selected and placed with each other that it feels like you are doing more than reading a story – you are actually viewing a painting or intricate tapestry. I love many authors but put few in this category. Patrick Rothfuss is the only one that comes readily to mind. This essay evoked a similar reaction from me.

I hope I haven’t now oversold her story. With her permission, I am posting it below:

 

I thanked the ticket master as I clutched my ticket and walked further into the train station, busy with throngs of people coming or going. The walls seemed alive with the echoes of laughter, arguments, and guitar playing, both long gone and currently reverberating. Its skin crawled with scribbled declarations of love and sprayed-on masterpieces, the tiles desperately in need of a good washing. The grimy fluorescent lights above seemed to flicker erratically in time with my heart, creating an effect almost like I was at a party. All around me, people hurried, their lives obviously much more important than mine; my body became a tiny rowboat, lost in the stormy bustle, jostled from side to side by the waves of people. Eager to gain a short reprieve, I stepped onto an empty platform, feeling weary. It was then I happened to glance up and across the tracks. Exactly opposite me stood a girl whose countenance appeared to mirror my own. It seemed as if she too felt a disconnect from the hordes of people passing by. The noise of the crowded station faded away as we stared at each other for a brief second that seemed to last an eternity. Her eyes looked like they understood my annoyance with and simultaneous longing for all the people constantly streaming through the area, so deep and wise I tried not to fall into them. Suddenly, I wanted to meet this girl, take her to coffee, and become her best friend; the one person who seemed to instantly know me to my core. Just as I raised my hand to give a small wave, she opened her mouth, as if about to say something. A train came roaring through. When it had passed, the girl was no longer there. My hand fell limply to my side, the magical moment gone. The lights returned to their dull flickering, and the noise of the crowd came rushing back with sudden ferocity. My heart burned as if branded by a cattle iron. I wasn’t sure quite why, but I was almost certain I had just missed something very important. All around me, mothers, brothers, and children continued to carry about their business like nothing had happened. In fact, nothing had actually happened. However, nobody except myself seemed to care about the importance of that missed interaction with the girl across the train station. As my train came roaring into the platform, I had to wonder if this other girl, seemingly great in her compassion, would miss that opportunity for interaction with me. As I wondered, my hand pulled my phone out of my pocket, slipping my earbuds into place, and my life became much more important than anyone else’s.

You Have an Uncle?

My children and I were sitting around the dinner table last night, having a rare, slow evening. I asked them what they were looking forward to the most about summertime. After a bit of animated response, Daryl asked, “Are we going anywhere this summer?”

“Denver,” I said, reminding them of our annual trip to visit my husband’s family.

“Anywhere else?”

“Well…,” I said, “If your sister doesn’t get that wild card spot to Globals in Knoxville, we were talking about going to North Carolina.” I said it in a tone that hinted I was annoyed with her possible wild card berth.

“Oh, my!” she exclaimed in false excitement. “North Carolina!! Oh, my goodness! I’ve always wanted to go to North Carolina. It’s just so exciting!! I’ll totally give up Globals for that! I mean, come on. It’s North Carolina!”

I rolled my eyes but otherwise ignored her.

“What’s in North Carolina?” Daryl asked.

“My uncle.”

“You have an uncle? I didn’t know you had an uncle.”

“Yes, my Uncle Matt and his wife and their daughter Anna and her husband and their kids. Here,” I said, showing him a picture off of Facebook.

“He looks just like Grandpa Ted!”

“Wow!” injected Jane. “They must be related!”

“They are brothers,” I said.

“Well, I didn’t know! I’ve never met him before.”

“Yes, you have,” I said. “You’ve been to his house even. You just don’t remember it. You were pretty small.”

“I don’t like visiting family I don’t know very well,” Daryl said quietly. “It’s uncomfortable.”

“Yeah,” said Jane, who then started in with a loud and energetic voice tinged with that homey sweetness that older family members often use: “‘Oh, sweetheart! You are looking so good! My goodness, I haven’t seen you since you were THIS tall. You sure have grown! I remember when you could barely walk. How old are you now? Are you in High School yet? I bet you’ve got all the girls lined up waiting for you, don’t you! Quite the ladies’ man, I’m sure.’ See?” she asked, dropping the fake voice and turning to me, “I’m ready to be an old family member. I’ve got this down.”

I hate to say this, but she’s kinda right. The older we get, the more obnoxious we seem to get when we see people, especially young people, that we haven’t seen for awhile. But having had the occasional “Oh, wow! You look just like your mother!” or “I can’t believe how much you’ve grown up!” slip out of my mouth unplanned, I’ve gotta say, she doesn’t have to fake it. By the time she gets there, she’ll be doing it too.

I just hope that I can continue to stop it after the first sentence and not go on with the annoying attempts to relate and sound cool. Thing is, kids are so aloof that it seems to me to not be a very comfortable event from the other side either.

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.

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.