As Little As Possible

While I love my children dearly, sometimes I wish they had an interest in doing more than the bare minimum to get by. Many parents will probably laugh and say that this is perfectly normal, that my children are not unusual. That’s probably true but this minimalist approach to tasks has manifested itself in some crazy ways in the Bright Spots household.

First, there’s Daryl and the yard work. He’s responsible for mowing and weed-eating. The mowing he accomplishes reasonably well – it’s a riding mower. The weed-eating, on the other hand, is another story. After he claims to have finished, we will stand in the yard, looking at the tall grass along the edge of the sidewalk, driveway, house and other buildings, along the fence, around the mailbox and telephone pole and swing set and wonder what, exactly, he cut with that whirling string.

Around the trees, he’ll explain. The trees, at this point, still have visibly taller wisps of grass around them too.

There is a grass covered ramp leading up to one of our buildings and a ledge along the front. The grass along the ledge had topped six feet and the grass on the ramp was knee high. So one weekend we told him he absolutely had to weed-eat and he especially needed to make sure he got the ramp.

We came home to a ramp basically knocked down but the tall grass on either side still present. When asked, he claimed that was an area he gets with the mower. Of course, when he mows, he claims it’s grass he gets with the weed-eater. And if it was mowed grass, it wouldn’t be so much taller than all the other mowed grass.

“Daryl,” I said. “Every single piece of grass on this property has to get cut. Every time. By either the mower or the weed-eater. By you. Every blade of grass. Every. Single. Time.”

He looked at me like I was crazy.

Then there’s laundry. I had a load of “whites” dumped out on our bed. That load has towels, my husband’s undershirts, and Hal’s white socks. I asked the boys to please go fold the towels.

When I returned home, the towels had indeed been folded. But not the 2 dish towels, 1 washcloth, and 2 hand towels. And the towels still sat on our bed even though every single time I ask them to fold the towels, I then ask them to put them away in their bathroom. And Hal’s socks were strewn all across my bed. Even though he knows he’s responsible for matching up his socks and putting them away.

I mean, I guess I should have said, “Please fold the towels – and that includes towels of all sizes and all destinations so don’t forget the washcloths and dish towels. Make sure you put them all away when you are done too. And, oh, Hal, go ahead and take care of your socks.”

But quite frankly, that’s exhausting. And I’ve tried that before and I think they zone out and I get no more work out of them then when I just say “fold the towels.”

Curious about just how far this apathy goes, I set their stack of towels just outside their bathroom door. Would any of the three children pick up the stack, walk the three feet to the bathroom cabinet and put them away? It’s been a few days. You tell me.

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Opening Night

And while we are on the topic of opening weekend movies, the fam went en masse to see Infinity War on opening night. There were a few highlights of the experience plus some insight into my two oldest children that I’d like to share.

First off, I’m not going to go into any real detail about the movie, so you are basically spoiler safe. At the same time, the movie’s been out like a month, so if you haven’t seen it yet, I find it hard to believe that it’s all that important to you. I’m not going to be as careful as I might have been if I had written it that week as I had planned.

First, the theater was packed – just like you’d expect for the first showing in town. Everyone was excited. My husband was running late so I went out to the ticket taker, gave him the ticket, and described my husband before heading back to the theater.

The trailers had already started so I carefully snuck back to my seat. Something was bothering me about the trailer though. It seemed to be staying on that scene too long – a crazy alien guy walking through a sea of dead and dying people, giving some grand speech.

I leaned over to Jane and asked, “What movie is this for?”

“This isn’t a trailer,” she responded. “There were no trailers. This is the movie.”

I was shocked! The whole reason I didn’t wait in the lobby for my husband was because I absolutely despise missing even the first minutes of a movie. But OK. That shock paled in comparison to the ones to come.

The crowd behaved just like you would expect an Opening Night crowd to behave. Lots of oohs and ahhs and cheering and shocked gasps and cries of horror and laughter and clapping. I was missing some of the dialogue because of it, but the energy was palpable and made it all worth it.

At one point, a bearded man dressed in all black came on the screen. The theater erupted in cheering. I was confused. I couldn’t think of who the person was. How could this nondescript person be this many people’s favorite? So, I leaned back over to Jane.

Who is that?” I whispered.

She stared at me for a moment and then laughed. She got her brother’s attention. “Daryl! Daryl! Mom just asked who Captain America was!” He leaned over to stare at me incredulously before shaking his head and turning back to the movie.

Whatever.

As I’m sure practically everyone has heard, the ending was a shocker. Actually, multiple shockers. Shocker after shocker after shocker. I sat there kind of numb thinking, I can’t believe they are doing this to their fans. I mean, Marvel fans are so devoted!

People were exclaiming in dismay. I could hear people crying. My son – insight #1 – was laughing. He was looking around the theater with a certain amount of superiority on his face, laughing at everyone there. He’s jaded enough to know that the dead people weren’t going to stay dead.

As the credits rolled, a friend came down to sit next to me. We talked about the movie and the ending and watched the credits, anticipating, like everyone else, the end credit scene(s). Well, almost everyone else. I think 5-10 people got up and left at the end. Who does that? I mean, really. You came to Opening Night of a Marvel moving and you aren’t staying through the end? Are you that dense? Or were you that mad at the ending? It made no sense.

As we talked, we saw that the end of the credits were rolling toward the top. The excited chatter that had filled the theater as soon as the last scene ended died abruptly. You would have thought the audience was an orchestra and the conductor had just circled his arm to stop the music.

Everyone waited. Silently. The last words disappeared from the top of the screen. The screen was blank. The theater was deadly quiet. And then… more words appeared at the bottom and began to scroll up.

Psych!

I chuckled. They really were messing with their fans. The friend and I began to theorize that they were actually going to stick it to everyone by going with no end credit scenes. In a Marvel movie. We were wrong – there was a scene, but that pregnant pause in the credits? I think that was my favorite part of the entire experience.

It was as we walked to the parking lot that I had insight #2 about my children. They were complaining – vociferously! – about the crowd.

“Why couldn’t they have been QUIET? Sheesh! I couldn’t even hear the characters talking!”

“I know! I kept missing stuff. OK. We get it. We don’t need you to clap when your favorite character comes on screen.” (I wondered if either noticed when I clapped enthusiastically for Black Panther).

“And that one girl? Did you hear her scream?!”

“Yeah. That was crazy. I mean, who even likes Ironman that much? Chill out – it’s just a movie!”

“Like remember when we went to Star Wars? And that text and the music started at the beginning? Everyone went wild. I just don’t get it. I wish they’d just shut up.”

“Um, guys,” I tried. “That’s the way opening night is. People get into it. That’s the whole reason for going. It’s an experience. It’s different than what you get any other night.”

“Well, I don’t like it.” The other one agreed.

“Then you need to not demand that we go on opening night – because that is always what you are going to get,” I said.

“No, I’m still going to go then. I just wish people would be quiet.”

*sigh*

Who knew my kids were such killjoys?

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 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.

Alexa

Our family might be getting a little bit obsessed with Alexa. We came to consider her part of the family when Jane received an Echo Dot as a school reward and offered to sell it to us cheap. We liked it enough that we bought a battery base so we could move it from room to room.

I quickly came to hate the battery base because people were not returning the Echo Dot to the kitchen, leaving me to wander the house calling for Alexa like a lovelorn fool, hoping for an answer. So when Prime Day rolled around, we bought a few more.

Now there’s a Dot in the bedroom named Betty (get it? Bed-ty?) and one in “the big room” named Bigelow. The one with the battery base is moving to my husband’s studio although right now it’s still in the Kitchen with the name Kitty, which will become the name of the one that will ultimately reside in the kitchen but still sits in its box right now. I guess I should let my husband name the one in his studio, but I’m partial to Stuart or Studebaker.

The names don’t mean much. It’s just more fun and instructive when accessing them via the Alexa app than “Your Echo Dot”, “Your Second Echo Dot” and so on. The wake words for all of them are still Alexa, although the one in the studio will answer to Computer, which really catches my husband’s fancy. I imagine he’ll speak to it in the stilted voice of Scotty from Star Trek.

Anyway, there was some discussion about whether the Echo Dots were far enough apart to allow them to all have the same wake word. I’m lazy enough that I want to just talk to Alexa whatever room I’m in and expect a response. I don’t want to remember that I need to call her Echo or Amazon or Computer in one room and something else in another. My children are quickly showing me the flaws in this desire.

The boys were recently participating in their Alexa song ritual where one of them tells her to play a song and soon after she starts playing it, the other one calls her name and requests a different song. Or she doesn’t know the song and so they start arguing over who can better construct the name of the song so she can find it. It tends to be very frenetic and loud.

Jane and her boyfriend were in the kitchen while this was going on and Jane soon banished the boys to their room. Their room is across from mine, where I stood folding clothes. I was perplexed at hearing Alexa’s name coming from their room but soon realized that they had taken Kitty with them and Hal was trying to get her to play a song.

Daryl felt he knew better how to do it so kept telling Hal to let him try. Hal got louder, trying to talk over him. Daryl would suggest they just look it up on YouTube on his phone. Hal kept trying.

Before long, Hal was running up and down the hallway loudly yelling “Alexa, play blahblahblah by the blahblahs” while his brother gave chase, triggering the other Echo Dots as they went.

Betty triggered on his request as he ran away so in the bedroom, Alexa announced, “Playing Hello by Adele.” Through Bigelow, she said she didn’t understand the request. And all the while, with Hello as background music, Hal continued his desperate attempts to get his song.

He had a wild look in his eyes as I grabbed him by both arms in the hallway. “You need to stop,” I said. “You’ve gotten Alexa all worked up. You can’t run from room to room calling out her name.” But once he was stationary, he was an easier target for his brother and the argument soon escalated to the point that I rescued Kitty and returned her to the kitchen.

All was then quiet on the Alexa front. Until…

A storm came in the night and knocked out our power. When it didn’t come back right away, my husband disconnected the wi-fi router hoping to spare it any damage from a storm-induced power surge. Three hours later, when the power came back on, Alexa felt it was necessary to loudly proclaim to me that she was sorry but she couldn’t connect to the internet. I had been asleep up until that point and after lay awake for hours.

At that moment, I was really not sure if Betty would be allowed to stay in the bedroom. She’s on probation right now.

What A Wonderful World

The worship service took place in the shade, facing the lazy river and the multi-colored rock cliff behind it. The light breeze made the Texas evening heat bearable. So did the beautiful surroundings, both geographical and human.

We sat on the third of four rows. People we are very fond of but see only once a year filled the other seats. A group of them had just stood before us and delivered an energetic and moving reading of a portion of Genesis. They ranged from young children to the middle-aged to those long retired. We mix seamlessly here. It’s always magical.

To conclude the time together, the worship leader played a song to emphasize her message. As soon as the song began, the teens behind us began stirring.

“That’s from Shrek!” one said excitedly.

“No, it’s from Toy Story.”

“Madagascar.”

“No, I’m telling you – it’s Shrek.”

“Remember? It was playing while they floated in the boxes in the ocean.”

Their voices tumbled over each other, everyone talking at once but still hearing each other too. Jane and I looked at each other and smiled as the song continued on.

My husband turned his head to the side and stage whispered out of the corner of his mouth, “It’s from Louie Armstrong!” The kids all laughed and then settled down to listen. I closed my eyes to take it all in.

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

The teens behind me were giggling. Just ever so softly. Not irreverently or disrespectfully, but they were obviously enjoying something. I opened my eyes to see what they were seeing. I didn’t see it right away but when the view collided with the words of the song, it didn’t matter. The images around me were so much better than those in my head.

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you

And that’s when I saw him. One of the youngest members of the conference – a boy not quite school aged. A boy we had watched grow a little bigger over the last several years. He was running in giant, lazy, looping circles in the grassy space between us and the river. As he looped closer to the front row where his parents sat, he’d lift his arms out to his sides and dip toward them like a plane banking on a turn.

And then he’d be off again. Not in a hurry, not making a scene, just moving to the music. And it was beautiful.

I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world

As the last notes faded away and the boy fell into his dad’s open arms, my husband summed up what had just happened.

“That was the most beautiful liturgical dance I’ve ever seen.”

And so it was.

The readers had practiced their lines several times and they did an outstanding job. But it was the carefree expression of the music delivered by a child that carried the day. Truly, you just need to leave room for the wonderful to happen and it will. The question is, will your eyes be open to see it?

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.