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.

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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!

Hal on Wheels

Earlier this spring, Hal taught himself to ride a bike. It was pretty cool. Our family, sans Jane, had joined a group from our church on a trip to a boys’ home and school. Our mission that day was to scrape paint on a large shed and then paint it.

It was extremely cold so we ended up just scraping paint. There were quite a few of us and scraping paint is… let’s just say… fairly boring and monotonous. And it was cold. So young Hal lost interest quickly.

He began exploring the area around the shed and found a cluster of old bicycles that we had cleared out behind the shed so we could reach the back wall. These bikes had seen better days. They were small, heavily worn, and had been left sitting out in the weather for who knows how long. Most of the wheels were no longer fully inflated.

None of this deterred Hal. He picked a bike and began trying to ride it. He started by walking it to a road on the top of a gently sloping hill and simply coasting down. Then he pedaled down a narrow busted up sidewalk. He was thrilled!

Fast forward to this weekend. After spending a couple of months with a not-quite-as-old hand-me-down from his brother and proving he could take care of both the bike and the newly purchased helmet, we bought him a shiny new bike.

We also committed to go riding with him Saturday morning. So very early on Saturday, we got two adult-sized bikes out of our storage building. One was basically serviceable. The other needed a new tube in the back wheel. After a quick stop at Wal-Mart to get a new tube, we headed to a local park.

This park has a very large fenced playground with covered picnic tables and a nearby pavilion and plenty of sidewalks for walking. We hurried to the pavilion to attempt to repair my bike – and to get out of the rain.

Yes, it was raining. In brief bursts. This did not deter my husband, although Hal and I were less certain.

It turned out that the air pump we had did not work so the tire was a no-go. I ended up jogging while Hal and his dad rode around. Near the end of our brief morning, I saw them – Dad riding slowly, Hal pushing his bike and crying. He had fallen and scraped his knee, but here’s the kicker. While he had indeed fallen a couple of times while riding his bike, he hadn’t hurt himself those times.

No, the scraped knee wasn’t a biking injury. He grew frustrated that he couldn’t make sharp enough turns for the area they were in so he threw down his bike in anger and stomped off. Remember I said it had been raining? Well, as he stomped around a nearby building, he stepped onto a wet metal plate that was protecting some conduit. His left leg went flying and down he went.

Once I learned the story, I asked why he wasn’t riding his bike. “It seems like you are much safer riding than walking,” I explained.

The little tantrum and its painful consequences aside, Hal had fun. He did get back on his bike after that. All in all, the morning was a success. Once I have two functional tires, I’ll be joining them. And hoping to God that my weak and long dormant biking skills don’t give me a wound to match.

Cookie Salesman Extraordinaire

Hal wanted to buy a video game.

He didn’t have any money.

So, he hatched a plan.

Under his dad’s tutelage, he made a batch of “Real Cool Cookies” (no bake cookies with oats, chocolate, and peanut butter). Once they cooled, his sister showed him how he could put four on a piece of plastic wrap, pull up the wrap, and tie it with a blue ribbon.

His plan was to take the cookies to church and sell them. His initial thought for pricing was a bit high – sky high, actually. I suggested that four cookies for a dollar would be good, knowing that, more than likely, when his church family saw his initiative, they’d tell him to keep the change.

His sister insisted that no one was going to buy cookies from him if it was just for a video game. I said they would. “He’s a cute nine year old, after all.”

“He’s not that cute,” she said.

“Maybe not to you.”

The next morning, he headed to church with his little box of cookies and a post-it note stuck to the outside that said simply “$1”.

He sold a couple before the service but really hit his stride after. Sure enough, people were overpaying him for the cookies or giving him money but refusing cookies.

Jane stared in shock, shaking her head.

“Damn! Daryl and I were doing it wrong all that time,” she said. “We just waited and saved up our allowance. Who knew that you could make this much money just by making some cookies? Hey! I need to buy a car. Do you think I could sell cookies?”

“You aren’t a cute nine year old,” I said.

“I’ve got it. I’ll have Arabella sell the cookies.” Arabella is her boyfriend’s two year old niece. “I sell cookies. I save for toy,” she said in a little girl voice. “Of course, it’s like a $6,000 toy but…”

“I think you’d have a hard time convincing people that Arabella made the cookies,” I said.

Jane watched him stuffing money into his little Ziploc bag labeled “cookie money” and said, “Hey, there’s a two dollar Sissy tax. I helped you with those ribbons, you know. It’s my patented design for packaging baked goods.”

To her surprise, a few minutes later, he handed her a dollar and said it was for the Sissy tax. He might be a budding entrepreneur but he’s also about as gullible as they come.

Still, he sold out of cookies and had to start turning buyers away. He had managed to make $18 and his dad had pre-bought a dozen, leaving him with just enough money to buy his game. Mission accomplished.

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?”

Parenthood Summed Up In One Evening

Last night perfectly summed up what day-to-day parenting really is. It’s not staring at a peacefully sleeping newborn. It’s not watching your kid hit the winning home run. It’s not celebrating your kid making first chair, making the team, winning the tournament, or a getting a perfect grade. It’s not watching your kid making friends at the park or learning to read. Those are the mountain-top moments. The Zen moments. The times that idealize parenthood and sell it to those without as an attractive proposition.

No, day-to-day parenting is a grind. Pure and simple.

Parenthood is working all evening to clean your bathroom while supervising your children cleaning theirs. It’s seeing the gleaming white porcelain of clean toilets, glistening floors, mold-free showers, and thinking about which bottle of wine you will open in a few minutes to sip luxuriously while reading your book – a guilt-free relaxation after great accomplishment.

Parenthood is then hearing a sound in the bathroom, followed by “Mom!” Opening the door and seeing that your youngest, who had eaten way too many cookies that evening, had emptied his stomach. And not just into the toilet bowl. Vomit all over that gleaming white porcelain, all down the sides, all over that freshly mopped floor.

Parenthood is wiping his poor mouth before retreating into the hallway to gag and collect your wits and wonder why, why, why tonight while the parent who can deal with this without upchucking himself is not home?! It’s cleaning up the vomit while your vision of a glass of wine fades away.

But it’s also having your heart go out to the poor little boy who looks up from his crouched position with dripping mouth and miserable little eyes and says, “I just cleaned this toilet!”

Parenthood is rough. But sometimes childhood is rougher.