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.

The Battle of the Dying Ducks

I was cleaning house. Jane was working on Biology homework. The boys were entertaining themselves quietly in the living room. My husband was resting in the living room. The dog was sleeping. It was a quiet afternoon.

As part of the cleaning process, I had asked Daryl to help me move a sheet of plywood left over from a recent remodeling project from one side of the hallway to the other. This would allow me to then put the scraps of door frame and baseboard into the hot water heater closet. It also happened to block Jane into her room. Which she didn’t mind.

While I worked on moving the wood and sweeping, Daryl decided to practice his bassoon reed. As a sixth grader, he’s in his first year of band. He received his instrument this past week and, as all woodwind instrumentalists do, has to start by playing just the mouthpiece – for bassoons, that’s the reed.

Jane says it sounds like a dying duck.

She’s not wrong.

As he stood in his room, right next to hers, honking an increasingly longer duck death song, she begged me to close his door. I did, but first encouraged him to stand in his closet, which shares a wall with her room. I even moved the clothes so he could lean in close to the wall. And then he began honking as loud as he could as close to the wall as he could get.

Jane, who was sitting on her bed against that wall exclaimed, “He’s getting even louder!”

I smiled and said, “I suggested he practice in his closet so it’d be quieter for everyone.”

She glared at me.

And then she said, “Fine. I’ll show you guys what it would have been like if I had been in band in sixth grade.” (She took private lessons and joined the band a year late).

With that, she got out the headpiece of her flute and began blasting away at it. I must admit that the flute headpiece is a more palatable sound than the bassoon reed but the two together was quite a racket.

I found the situation hilarious – the two of them trying to blast each other. So I recorded it. I started outside his door and then migrated to her open door, blocked on the bottom half by the plywood. The video began to shake because I was laughing at what I saw. She was inches from the wall, facing it and blowing as loud as she could.

Eventually, she turned, saw me filming her and yelled (good naturedly – with a smile): “Go Away!”

I walked away laughing as I composed the Facebook post to go with the video.

Jane apparently decided it was as good a time as any to cease Biology homework and move to flute practice instead. But first she needed to tune. (At least, I think that’s what she was up to).

Since Daryl was standing outside her room, she handed him her phone with the tuning app on it and said, “Here hold this.”

She meant for him to hold it up where she could see it but he shrugged and walked away with it. Jane, trapped behind the plywood began to shriek for him to come back. He ignored her. I dropped to the living room floor, laughing. My husband looked at us with furrowed brow and asked what was going on.

I gasped for breath and tried to tell him. But Jane was still demanding her phone back and then she started yelling (again, in a mock angry voice), “I hate you guys! I hate all of you! Give me my phone back!” Each time I started to explain, she’d yell and I’d double over again.

Daryl walked toward her and she got even more aggitated. “Did you just FaceTime Brent?! Seriously?! Did you just FaceTime him? Oh my gosh! You did! I can’t believe you did that! Give me my phone! Give me my phone! I hate all of you!!”

Daryl gave her her phone back. She ended the FaceTime call. I dried my eyes. My husband gave up on getting the scoop.

Man, it was a fun afternoon.

The Summer of 1989

I didn’t plan on posting anything today, and indeed there will be thousands upon thousands of blogs about Robin Williams today.  If there were not already thousands before I even roused from bed this morning.  I don’t have anything profound or significant to say about him or depression or suicide or even life.  I have no expectation to rise anywhere near the top or even any level of significance in the mass mourning of a great man.

What I do have is a fond memory from my pre-driving teenage years and since this memory involved him and resurfaced because of his death and because this blog is called mybrightspots and the memory is definitely a bright spot in my life, I will share that tale.

It was the summer of 1989.  I would be heading into tenth grade in the fall.  My best friend invited my mother and I to join her and her mother to watch Dead Poets Society at the theater.  I asked my mother if she wanted to go and was befuddled by her response.  There was no “Oh, I’d love to, but…”, no hesitation nor consideration.  Just a strange look on her face followed by, “No, that’s ok.  You guys have fun.”

My mother loved this friend and loved the friend’s mother as well.  She loved Robin Williams.  I couldn’t interpret the look on her face.  I couldn’t understand why she wanted to spend that Saturday afternoon cleaning house and doing laundry instead of watching this movie with these people.  I shrugged.  Oh, well.

I don’t recall if we went on opening day or if we just arrived late or what.  All I know is that when we walked into the theater, it was immediately obvious that we would not be sitting together.  I have never been in a more full theater in my life.  We found two seats near the back and I think my friend’s mother had my friend and I sit there before she wandered off to find her own seat.  I have a faint memory of guilt that mother and daughter did not sit together but relief that I was not cast out on my own.  I also remember thinking maybe it was best my mother hadn’t come.  Where would she have sat?

The movie was incredible.  Inspiring.  Moving.  Heart-breaking.  To this day, it remains one of my favorites.  And it’s at the top of my list of Robin Williams movies I want Jane to see this week.  My husband and I were up late last night, cruising IMDB and to bring to mind all of his works that we loved.  I have this deep desire to show my children this wonderful actor, to help them understand what the world has lost.  Popeye for Hal.  Jumanji and Mrs. Doubtfire for Daryl.  Dead Poets Society and maybe Good Will Hunting for Jane. Maybe not The World According To Garp just yet. It feels important.  This honoring and remembering and educating.

Back to 1989, though.  I came home on an adrenaline rush.  I could barely contain my excitement as I burst into the house.  “Mom!” I exclaimed.  “Man, you should have been there!  That was awesome!”

The strange expression on her face from earlier was back but intensified.  “I’m glad you enjoyed it,” she said, in a mildly disconnected and certainly not enthusiastic way.

“You’ve got to go see it, mom!  That was the best movie ever!  Robin Williams was wonderful!”

“It was a movie?” she asked.

Now it was my turn to be confused.

“Um… yeeeessss…?  What did you think it was?”

“I thought you were going to some group that was going to sit around and listen to people read poems written by dead guys.  I couldn’t figure out why you wanted to go, but more power to you.”

It took awhile for the laughter to die down.

And even though Robin Williams is gone, it’ll take awhile for the laughter he left me with to die down.  If it ever does.

Rest in Peace, you talented, flawed, and wonderful man.

Mediocre Mommy

Hal brought home a sheet of paper from school recently with a series of boxes that had an English word, its Spanish equivalent, and then his artistic representation of the idea behind the words.

I was impressed with a number of the pictures – the school house had no fewer than 20 windows on it, for example. But the best, by far, was his picture of family.

We all had necks and five fingers, an improvement over older drawings, although we appeared to have no arms, our hands sprouting directly out of our sleeveless shirts. We were also bald, and the family was comprised of three members instead of five. But one of us had some wicked heels on our shoes.


I asked him who was whom while his siblings began to argue over who was left out. He explained that he didn’t have time to draw his Bubba and apparently had no intention of drawing Sissy. The one in heels turned out to be me, despite the fact that I very rarely wear them. The small guy with no feet at all was Hal, the other person was Daddy.

Daryl, who was standing too far away to see the assignments announced his assessment on who was whom. “Daddy is the big one and Mommy is the mediocre one…”

He cut off as Daddy and Jane burst out laughing and I expressed feigned indignation.

“I think you meant the medium one, Buddy,” my husband said as he got his laughter under control.

“No, I mean mediocre.”

More laughter.

“Doesn’t it mean average? Like, the middle one?”

“No, not quite, honey,” I said. “It’s got a more negative connotation than ‘average’. Here, let’s look it up in the dictionary.”

A Fairly Typical School Day Morning

My morning started at 5:00 with a young fussy boy walking into my room, tearfully announcing, “I don’t like the storm snoring”, and then crawling into my arms, most likely with the hope of staying in our bed.

It didn’t make sense. For one, it wasn’t storming outside. Not at all. I comforted and reassured him and then carried him back to his room. His silent room. I still have no idea what noise prompted him to think that an imaginary storm was snoring.

I was next awakened at 6:15 by an alarm going off across the hall. I never know whether Daryl will pop right up and take his shower or wait for me to come rouse him, then arguing with me on whether it’s his day to take a shower. Today was a good day; he rushed to get ahead of his sister in the shower.

Hal, as usual, was not going to get up without encouragement. So I entered his room with a cheery voice and gently pulled his blanket off him. He smiled and I rubbed his belly while he stretched.

Suddenly, he cried out, “I am peeing in my tajamas again!”

What?! Sure enough, he had, right then, fully awake, wet his bed. It was past time to enlist additional parental support. I still needed to take my shower, after all. I flipped the light on in our room, and Daddy joined the fun while I got in the shower.

Once dressed, I asked him if he was picking up the kids from school. He usually does but he was firing the kiln and sometimes that changes things. When he answered in the affirmative, I explained that that was good because “if you want me to pick them up on kiln firing days, you have to let me know ahead of time so I can put in extra time earlier in the week.”

Something got missed in the communication. He looked at me like I was from Mars. I gave him a similar look in return. We had one of those “what’s wrong with you”, “nothing, what’s wrong with you” kind of spousal conversations before I went around the corner to brush my teeth, feeling agitated by the interaction.

Enter Jane, just slightly behind schedule. She announced “It’s 7:10 and I’m ready to go!” I knew that I could now expect regular updates every minute until Daddy and the kids were out the door. She would soon announce “It’s 7:11 and I’m ready to go!”

This time, she further muttered under her breath, “It’s going to be 7:20 again before we get out of here. Just like always.”

Holding my toothbrush, I walked back into the room to tell her, “You know, your brother wet his bed which forced him to take an unplanned shower. That’s going to run you guys behind. Crazy enough, you will still get to school on time if you leave at 7:20, so I wouldn’t sweat it.”

I got an exasperated teenager reply that fed my earlier agitation. This resulted in my muttering my own retort, “Wow, looks like I’m good at crossing people this morning. Can’t seem to make anyone happy.”

Right then, Hal came up the hall, wearing a shirt that was too small, needed to be ironed, and didn’t match his pants. I told him he needed to change shirts and reached forward to help him take it off. The reaction was predictable. He screamed and tried to jerk it back down.

“Honey, it’s too small. Go pick another one.” He headed down the hall shirtless and wailing that he wanted to wear that one. I called after him, “You have 400 other shirts. Pick another one that you love dearly and put it on.”

My husband began to laugh in the living room. Then I heard him address the older two, “Oh, come on. You know you want to laugh. That was funny. Both of you sitting there trying to act like you aren’t listening. Trying to fight back the urge to laugh. One of you sulking because we haven’t left yet.”

Then he called out to me, teasing, “You trying to cross everyone in the family today? Did you get Hal too?”

“I sure did! That just leaves Daryl. Hey, Daryl, what can I do to upset you this morning? Come on, give me something!”

Shortly after that, we decided that I could drop Hal off at the preschool so that Jane wouldn’t have an aneurysm. This, of course, caused Hal to have one because he wanted to ride with Daddy.

Still, I got him to the bathroom to brush his teeth, but then accidentally slipped the brush out of his mouth, leaving a path of toothpaste suds on his cheek. He seemed to find that funny so then I brushed his face: both cheeks and upper lip, commenting the whole time about how messy I was.

Crisis was averted and we were able to enjoy our trip into town. I don’t usually take any of the kids to school. Hal doesn’t usually wet his bed. My husband and I don’t usually bicker, even mildly. But there is always something going on. Hal can be relied on to pick something inappropriate to wear. You can count on Jane to get anxious about leaving on time. Then you can add in some sort of unexpected drama, just to keep it interesting. Yes, it was definitely a typical school day morning at our house.