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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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.

Icy Hot…

My kids are resourceful and self-sufficient, often to a fault. Like this past Saturday.

Hal had taken the dog out on a leash and ended up falling on the gravel driveway when she took off suddenly. He had a mild scrape on his arm, noticeable but not much blood. He pointed it out to me and I said, “Yep. Looks like it hurts.”

Maybe I should have done more but honestly, it wasn’t that bad. And we were busy trying to get some important outdoor work taken care of before the thunderstorms arrived. But he’s nine and nine-year-olds need injuries to be worthy of medical treatment.

So when I later called to him and tasked him with moving some slender yet long pieces of wood, he arrived holding a wet paper towel against his lower forearm. He fussed, saying, “How? How? I can’t. I can’t. How am I supposed to do this?” For emphasis, he waved his elbows around to demonstrate neither hand was available.

“Put the paper towel away so you can use both hands. It’s not that bad,” I responded, glancing up at the darkening skies and pretending I didn’t feel little raindrops.

He did as he was told and then I lost track of him as I went about other tasks. Sometime later, I found myself on one side of the tractor, my husband sitting on it, and Hal and his brother on the other side. Hal had one of those extra-large Band-Aids on his arm but was still holding on to it, wincing and taking in sharp breaths. He seemed to be in even worse shape than before.

“What’s wrong with you?” his daddy asked.

“He scraped his arm on the driveway earlier. It wasn’t a bad scrape though,” I said.

“Well it hurts!” Hal said, “And now it really hurts even worse since I put some Icy Hot on it.”

There was a moment’s pause while we both processed what he had just said.

“Why did you put Icy Hot on it?” we asked. “You don’t put Icy Hot on wounds like that!”

“Yes you do! Icy to dull the pain and hot to relax it away,” he said with complete sincerity.

“That’s for your muscles!” my husband exclaimed, rubbing his bicep and shoulder in demonstration.

“Well I didn’t know!”

“Go wash it off, sweetheart. Wash it off quickly.”

My husband then turned his head to me. We locked eyes, each struggling between incredulity and humor.

Let me rewind to a couple of nights before real quick. Hal had melted down over the quantity of strawberry we expected to be consumed if he put them on his plate. He felt he was done if half the strawberry was consumed. We explained that he should eat all the red parts or he was wasting the fruit. The reaction was so strong and visceral that his siblings had openly laughed as he left the table. Their laughter had been contagious such that even as I struggled to not, I was dissolving into laughter as well. My husband had glared at us all, shamed us for laughing at him, and made us see it from little Hal’s perspective.

Ok, back to the tractor and the same little boy using Icy Hot on his scrape. My husband mouthed wow and we both started the parental silent laugh. That’s the one where the situation is hopelessly funny but it’s best if you don’t laugh. The same laugh I had failed to master with the strawberry incident. I looked to the ground to keep myself in check.

And that’s when I heard it. My husband has a full, loud laugh. When he really lets loose, it’s something to behold. I’m fairly certain that laugh followed Hal all the way back into the house.

Poor kid. Seriously though – funny enough that he had put that ointment on his wound. But knowing the product’s slogan and reciting it back to us put it all over the top.

The Ongoing Saga of the Tooth Fairy

There was such a long break since the last activation of the Tooth Fairy in our house that I had almost forgotten the agony and stress that went with it. And then Hal showed me a bloody molar that I extracted for him one evening.

I don’t know if Hal still believes in the Tooth Fairy or if he knows it’s me. But he remembers the ritual. Basically. He put the tooth in a Ziploc bag (easier for me to find than a loose tooth) and put it on the bed. His brother’s bed, actually, which his brother (understandably) found odd. But I think Hal knew that the Tooth Fairy would never find it on his own bed, covered as it is by copious stuffed animals, blankets, books, toys, the real live dog that somehow picks out a place to sleep on it, and a large box that Hal prefers to sleep in.

I suggested we move the tooth to the dresser so his brother didn’t knock it off the bed and tucked him in. An hour or more later, when ready to pass out myself, I opened the door expecting an easy exchange of tooth-in-bag with coins-in-bag. But something about the air in the room made me hesitate. I walked over to the bed and peered into the box perched on the top bunk. No one was moving but I could see the bright glare of his Kindle Fire poorly blocked behind a raised leg.

I did the whole disappointed mommy shtick and took the device from him. He rolled over, pulling the blanket over his head in embarrassment and sorrow at getting caught. I then carefully placed the coins on the dresser, grabbed the tooth, and exited. I smiled a bit at the irony that arguably the least stressful tooth exchange had occurred while the child was awake.

But it left me wondering. What exactly was he thinking when he stayed up late on the night he lost a tooth? Here are my theories:

  1. He had already forgotten that his tooth lay waiting on the dresser.
  2.  He still believes in the Tooth Fairy and assumed that she would wait until he was asleep, no matter how late that might be.
  3. He knows it’s me and hoped the Fire would keep him awake until he caught me in the act but he either thought the box would adequately hide him or he failed to consider better hiding the screen.

Whichever it is, the Tooth Fairy is one of those Catch-22 situations. No one talks about Fight Club. You can’t ask if they still believe because that would be tacit admission that she doesn’t exist. And they are reluctant to tell you they don’t believe out of fear that you will stop giving them money for something as worthless as an old tooth. So we keep pretending. Or at least, that’s what I’m doing. I’m not sure what he’s doing. I haven’t asked.

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.

When The Mommy Taxi Runs Behind

This is how a Monday morning can go when a nine year old lives in the house.

I was running behind. It had been a very long weekend and I was reluctant to go to work. Or even get out of bed. But out of bed I must because being late isn’t a viable option for the third grade. His taxi must still run on time even if the taxi driver is out of gas.

This meant that when I stepped out of the shower and saw that it was 7:15 – the tail end of my 7:00-7:15 window for departure, I turned on the turbo thrusters. I quickly wrapped the towel around my torso and sought out the child.

“Hal,” I said in a brisk tone, looking approvingly at his completed state of dress, “Mommy is running behind. I need you to make sure you are completely ready to go because when I’m ready, we’ve got to fly out of here. Ok?”

“Ok.”

I then turned back to my bathroom where I put on my clothes, deodorant, makeup, hair cream, jewelry, and glasses before grabbing my cell phone off the charger and heading down the hall less than five minutes later.

Hal, on the other hand, went to the living room, lay down on the couch, and tried to start up the new video game he had on his laptop computer.

I flew through the living room calling out, “Ok, I just need to grab my lunch. It won’t take any time. We need to go or you’ll be late to school!”

I then grabbed my already-prepared lunch items and headed to the front door with them. He looked up from his laptop and said, “Mommy, something is wrong. I don’t have Subnautica or Steam anymore. It’s asking if I want to buy it!”

Standing by the front door, dropping the food into a tote bag, I responded, “Well, we’ll have to look at it this evening. We need to go now so you aren’t late. Come on! Close the laptop!”

He closed the laptop and slid off the couch. Then he walked unhurriedly into the dining room and looked at an unopened bag of French bread on the table. Without any sense of the urgency I was exhibiting by the front door, he pointed to the bread and asked, “Can I get some of this to eat?”

“No! I told you to make sure you were ready to go so we wouldn’t be late! That includes eating breakfast. We need to go NOW.”

“I just want to take some with me.”

“No! We. Are. Going. To. Be. Late. You should have thought of that earlier.”

“It would just take a minute for me to open the bag and tear off some bread,” he muttered tearfully as he picked up his backpack and headed toward me.

“True. And that’s a minute you should have taken earlier instead of trying to play a game on the computer!

This is the disconnect between parent and child. The child can’t believe the parent won’t let him take a minute to grab some food on his way out the door. The parent can’t believe the child ignored all the indicators that he needed to take care of business sooner.

And no amount of pointing to the clock in the car and discussing the situation closes that gap in perspective. Instead, the child sits in the backseat staring angrily at the back of the parent’s head while the parent oscillates back and forth between incredulity at the child’s cluelessness and guilt at making him skip breakfast.

Home Sweet Box

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“I want to sleep in my box tonight.”

“You are not sleeping in your box tonight.”

“But why not?!”

“It’s a school night! You can’t sleep in your box on a school night!”

“Being a school night makes no difference. I can sleep in my box.”

“But it won’t be comfortable. You won’t get a good night’s sleep.”

“Yes, I will. My box is wonderful. It’s so comfortable. It’s my new home!”

The box had arrived at our house the day before with my husband’s replacement recliner in it. It had sat in the back of the truck with the tailgate down, pulled right up to the front door of the house. The recliner had been removed from it and the box had remained in the truck bed. Hal had gone to work decorating it with Crayola marker rugs, pictures, refrigerator, bed, and many other more difficult to discern items.

He had been concerned about the fate of the box when he saw Sunday morning that the truck was gone. After I assured him the box was on the porch, he had leaped with excitement and crawled in to play until time for church. It was now the afternoon and I was preparing to leave the house.

“If you are going to sleep in the box,” I said, “it needs to come in the house.”

“NOOOOooooooo!! I want to sleep in it out here!”

“What?! No! You can’t sleep in it out here!” I said, slightly shocked. A glance at the twinkle in my husband’s eye made it clear I’d get no help from him.

“Why not?!”

“Because you wouldn’t be sleeping behind a locked door.”

“I want to sleep out here,” he insisted.

“Maybe I could sleep out here with him,” my husband suggested.

“Yes!!!”

With a sigh, I muttered, “whatever” before climbing in the car to head out.

Hal then passed the afternoon, at least in part, attempting to watch the first episode of the first season of Stranger Things. He was motivated to give it a shot because of the Stranger Things themed game he had downloaded onto his tablet. From what I hear, he didn’t get very far before he deemed it too scary. Something we had already told him.

That night, as we walked from the dark church through the dark parking lot to head home, he told his dad, “I hope the Demogorgon doesn’t come tonight.”

“Well, if he does, I guess he’ll get you first.”

“What?! Why?!”

“Because you are sleeping outside. Remember?”

“Oh. Yeah. I changed my mind about that.”