Hal Learns Mimi’s Storied Past

Hal and I were sitting in the front pew next to each other, each with an ashen cross on our foreheads. The rest of the two congregations that had joined together for Ash Wednesday were lined up the center aisle, progressing forward for the Imposition of Ashes.

We saw someone he knows best from outside of church in the line and I asked if he had noticed her. He had. “Does she go to that church?” he asked, motioning to the other pastor.

I laughed and said that no, she went to ours but she hadn’t been on Sundays that much lately (and when she is there, he’s usually too busy running around to notice her anyway).

“She doesn’t come on Sunday but came on Ash Wednesday?!

“Everyone has their own lives and their own complications. People stop coming to church regularly for different reasons. Sometimes they have scheduling conflicts or they fall out of the habit or they are struggling with something. Mimi stopped going to church for years because she was mad at the church.”

I realized right after the words were out of my mouth that I had stepped into dangerous territory.

“Why was she mad at the church?”

“Well, it had to do with Grandpa.”

Hal, not understanding the difference between a local church and the greater denominational structure that I was referring to, looked up at me shocked.

“Mimi used to go to Grandpa’s church?!”

“Um, well, yes. You know they were married, right?”

“What?!! I didn’t know that!”

“They are my mom and dad!” I responded, equally surprised but also amused.

“I know that, but I didn’t know they were married.”

“Ok, so do you know that Poppy and Grandma were married?” I asked, referring to my husband’s parents.

“Yes,” he responded. No recognition was in his voice on the lack of symmetry in his understanding of his grandparents. To be clear, I don’t think the distinction in his mind was that they had perhaps been an unmarried couple. He had just never put together that my parents must have been together at some point in the past. Yet he somehow came to that conclusion for the other set. It was strange and quite humorous.

“Well Mimi and Grandpa divorced when I was 5 and Mimi stopped going to church for a long time. She started going back when Papa…” I paused as a whole flood of emotions washed over me.

My mom started going back to church when my step-dad was diagnosed with cancer. He announced one day that they were going to church and she said ok and off they went, becoming weekly attendees and involved congregants in almost no time. The church-involved Mimi is the only Mimi Hal knows.

But Papa Bill…Hal doesn’t know him at all. He died three years before Hal was born. By the time Hal was born, my mom had fallen in love again and moved out of my childhood home. Hal knew none of that.

“Well,” I picked up again. “Mimi remarried after the divorce. She was married to Papa Bill. You don’t know him because he died from cancer before you were born.”

He nodded quietly. That was a lot of information to absorb suddenly like that. Not only had Mimi been married to Grandpa, but she had been married to someone else before the only man that Hal has ever thought of as Mimi’s husband.

We don’t make it to Ash Wednesday service every year. We try to make it a priority but it doesn’t always work out. Hal doesn’t recall having ever attended before, although I know he has. I can’t help but think that this one was memorable enough to be retained.

Roger That

As we walked toward the Start Line for the Cowtown 5K in Fort Worth, TX, our eleven-year-old son Hal asked his dad a question.

“What is Captain America’s first name?”

“His name is Steve. Steve Rogers.”

“Oh.” There was a slight pause. “Ok, then is Will Mr. Rogers’ first name?”

“No,” my husband said with a laugh. “Mr. Rogers’ first name was Fred.”

Another pause was followed by an exasperated huff and the final question. The one he apparently should have led with: “Then who is Will Rogers?”

“He was a cowboy humorist and newspaper columnist from Oklahoma,” we said.

And I suddenly understood where his questions were coming from. We were passing in front of the Will Rogers Memorial building and Hal was trying to put together who that was.

I’m impressed that he thought of two different famous Rogers folks and amused that he thought someone might name a building after Captain America. Then again, why not?

 

Underwear Where?

It was time for Hal to get ready for school. I woke him up a few minutes later than normal and told him to get moving. Then I took care of a few things in the kitchen and returned to his room. Opening the door, I saw him still in his bed, petting the dog.

“Hal, you really need to get up and take your shower!”

“Okaay!” he said as he climbed past the dog.

I then brushed my teeth and gathered my clothes to prepare for my own shower. He still hadn’t left his room. This time when I opened his door, he was standing on the edge of his bed, leaning over the rail of the top bunk.

“Hal! Come on!”

“I am!!”

“No you are not. The shower is not on the top bunk! What are you doing?”

“I’m getting some underwear!”

Do what? I watched as he slowly moved the foot of a very large stuffed dog and picked up a pair of clean underwear. I glanced over at his dresser and back to the bed.

“Do you mean to say you are putting your laundry up there on the top bunk instead of in your drawers?”

“Yes.”

“Seriously?”

I can’t even. Now I know why the hamper has been returned so promptly to the laundry room every weekend. I thought he was just throwing the clothes into the drawers without folding them. I hoped he at least sorted them into the right drawers, but I was guessing he just tossed them all mish-mashed into the most empty one. But, no. He can’t even be bothered with that. He’s literally just lifting the hamper over his head and dumping them onto the top bunk. Oh, and positioning the stuffed animal to hide the evidence. Wow.

Calling Mom

We were eating dinner at a local fast food establishment recently. A family of five has unique challenges at fast food restaurants since the tables tend to be bolted to the floor and arranged for groups of 2-4.

This particular location is even worse because the choices are small booths or round tables that tightly fit four. The round tables are impossible for five people. They do happen to not be bolted to the floor, allowing them to be moved side-by-side. But have you ever tried to group around, essentially, the infinity symbol? Or two-thirds of a snowman? It doesn’t work particularly well.

Our usual choice is to add a chair from one of the round tables to the end of a booth. Once the four booth sitters are in, the chair sitter can squeeze in at the end. No one ever wants the chair which means it’s usually me sitting there. As a result, I’m usually trying to figure out where to place my purse.

One time, I chose to put my purse on the table against the wall, directly across the length of the table from me. My phone was in my purse and still on “silent” from our time at church.

As we ate, Hal kept looking at me and grinning expectantly. I returned the look quizzically. He’d fumble around under the table and grin at me again. I decided to ignore him.

Finally, he asked, “Mom, where’s your phone?”

“It’s in my purse in front of you, why?”

He glanced at my purse and looked confused. About then, we all heard a distinctive voice say, “Hello? Hello?”

It was my mother-in law. Speaking from my husband’s smart watch strapped to Hal’s wrist. And then all the pieces fell into place.

Hal had his dad’s watch, from which he could make calls for the phone still in his dad’s pocket. He had thought it’d be funny to call me. Probably hoped it would confuse me since my husband, sitting next to me, was clearly not making a phone call.

I was not confused, but he sure was! It was an easy mistake for an eleven-year-old to make. A man does not store his wife’s number under the name “Mom.” If you call “Mom,” you are going to get, well, his mom – not yours. Which is exactly what happened.

Poor kid went from playing a prank on mom to talking to grandma on the phone while mom and dad and siblings laughed.

Staring Contest

Hal entered the dining room with a blue towel wrapped tightly around his hips, hair wet from his shower. He stared at me intently and asked, with a small enigmatic smile on his clean face, “Do my eyes look red?”

I glanced at his eyes, not sure whether I was to look at his eyeballs or the surrounding skin. I thought that maybe – maybe – the rims of his eyes, especially along the bottom might have been red. “Yeah, little bit, looks like,” I said.

He smiled and turned to his dad, who nodded. He turned back slightly to take in both of us and said, with humor in his voice, “I was having a staring contest.” He paused for dramatic effect, just long enough for me to wonder with whom. He answered that question when he resumed, “With myself in the mirror and my eyes were starting to sting.” Again he paused, looking back and forth between his patient audience members. I had time to imagine him leaning into the mirror, straining to keep his eyes open, tears forming, and then he dropped the punchline with a wide smile, “until we both blinked. At the same time.”

We both barked out a laugh, which made his smile engulf his face. The last part of the evening had been like that – Hal telling a good joke. Hal laughing freely when we gently poked fun at him. The usual strident arguing, defensive posturing, and quick, overblown outrage we have become accustomed to were all missing. Hopefully this means he is growing up. The witty personality underneath is quite a delight.

When Pants Plans Go Awry

Daryl wasn’t the only Bright Spots household member with big sartorial plans for the first day of school. And while his outfit planning made for a great comedy display, the other was more tragedy.

Hal eagerly exited bed on the first day of school and threw on one of his favorite T-shirts (chosen, incidentally, to brag about his big brother going to DI Global Finals this year – Daryl has no idea how much his little brother looks up to him) plus the running pants with the bright orange stripes down the sides and his new “sock style” sneakers. As he hurried past me, I stopped him. “Whoa, come here – step into the light.”

I then proceeded to point out to him that in addition to the sizable hole in one knee, the pants were noticeably too short for him. This is a common problem for my fourth grade beanpole who has easily topped five foot but isn’t any bigger around than his small classmates. Pants are almost always too short – either that, or way too wide around the waist.

“Why don’t you put on some jeans instead?” I asked.

He returned a few minutes later wearing jeans and a very sour expression. “It looks awful!” he declared as he flopped onto my bed. I glanced at his sister and shrugged. He looked like a little boy wearing jeans, a T-shirt, and sneakers – the classic American kid.

“It looks fine,” I said. “What’s wrong with it?”

He gestured to his legs and feet with exaggerated disgust and with the general air that I must be stupid if I can’t see it. “They don’t look right with these shoes!” he cried before throwing himself back on the bed.

“What’s wrong with the jeans?” asked Jane. “They look fine.”

More rapid, frustrated gesturing before he sputtered, “They are too THICK!”

“Too think?” I asked, confused. “They are jeans. They are the thickness of jeans. It doesn’t look bad.”

“No! No! They are too THICK!!”

He was rapidly losing control so I headed to his room to look for alternatives while his sister tried to discern what he meant. Eventually she got out of him that “thick” really meant “wide.” He didn’t like the straight-leg jeans, preferring the tapered style of sweats he usually wears.

“So you want some skinny jeans?” she asked. I cringed as she said that, already knowing the answer.

“No!! I don’t like skinny jeans! They hurt behind my knees when I sit down!”

I called him in to his room to try on some other running pants I found. “I’m concerned they are too short like the others,” I said. “But if you want to try them, here.”

He tried them on and sure enough, they were too short. He insisted they were fine.

“Honey,” I tried. “I don’t want the other kids to make fun of you for wearing pants that are too short. That’s like one of the big things that gets pointed out. They really are too short. Let’s try to find something else.”

“Too short? Too short? Why would Mimi buy me pants if they are too short??!!”

“Well, they probably weren’t too short when she bought them.”

“No, I mean Mimi bought me two pairs of these. Two. Why would she buy two different sizes?”

“I don’t understand what you mean.”

“The others aren’t too short. Why would these be too short? Huh?!”

“I don’t know. Maybe those are too short too…”

“NO!! They aren’t!”

“Ok,” I soothed, as I looked in the hamper. Extracting the pair he had worn the day before, I continued, “Are these the ones that fit?”

“Yes.”

“Ok, well, these are 14-16’s. The ones you are wearing are 10-12’s – no wonder they are too short.”

After a discussion on whether the pair from the hamper were too dirty – me explaining that he wore them to church and then just around the house, he’d be fine – he changed into his fourth pair of pants for the morning and the crisis was resolved. Such drama on the first day of school!

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!