When They Are Them Instead of You

Much of parenthood is spent seeing yourself or your spouse in your children. There is something satisfying (or sometimes terrifying) about recognizing your idiosyncrasies in your progeny.

Well, of course they loves to read. We love to read. We’ve led by example and promoted a love of books their whole life.

The boy can’t find things to save his life! It’s like he’s blind. So much like his dad.

She’d argue with a brick wall. She gets that from you!

We often analyze our children and their behaviors by dissecting which aspects come from which one of us and what that means.

“Well, she’s driven to perfection like you are but then she’s got a healthy dose of me in her so she doesn’t quite apply herself as doggedly as you always did,” my husband once said of our daughter.

But sometimes – and these are the most fascinating and rewarding moments – sometimes they are all them. It’s one thing to do something with your child that you love too, indeed something that they probably love because you loved it first and instilled the same love in them. It’s a completely different thing to engage with your child in a love that was born and fostered completely within them.

I wonder sometimes if every parent gets to experience this or not. I did recently and I just sat there in awe as my 16 year old daughter did her thing. And what was this thing?

Makeup.

You might be rolling your eyes right now, but this isn’t trivial.

I basically don’t wear makeup. I haven’t worn foundation since I was a pimply teenager desperately trying to cover up my flaws. I wear mascara and a touch of blush. No eye shadow, no eye liner. I don’t pencil my eyebrows or really make any kind of effort at all. And I’m perfectly happy.

I never taught her anything concerning makeup. And truthfully, she often goes days without it as well. She doesn’t find it necessary. She just enjoys it – like makeup artist kind of enjoyment.

She follows various makeup artists on social media, reads articles, watches technique videos, and has stockpiled quite the collection of supplies, including many things I didn’t know existed. One evening, she looked at a dark blue eye shadow she had and – just for fun, she wasn’t going anywhere – turned her face into a credible impersonation of Mystique from X-Men. Just to see how it’d go.

She’s not afraid to try something. Just to see what happens. I was never like that. I had to know how it would go first. I know she gets this willingness to experiment from her dad, but the makeup interest – that’s all her. And it’s wonderful.

My husband recently planned a date night for us. As I got out of the shower, I thought of my daughter and her makeup. “Will you do my makeup for me?” I asked.

Her face lit up. “You want me to do your makeup?”

“Yes, I think that’d be fun.”

She soon took over my bathroom with more makeup than I’ve ever owned in my life. And she started talking about the various items and techniques she could use. She talked about something she could use instead of foundation that would fill the pores and give a smoother look without the heaviness of foundation.

She asked my preference on a couple of different highlighters that had different degrees of sparkle to them. When I looked at her blankly, she rubbed her finger in each and then smeared a streak on her inner forearm to demonstrate how they’d look. She talked about why she liked certain ones better than others and when was a good time for each.

She asked if there was anything I wanted covered up. (The dark bags under my old eyes please…). She talked about contour and highlight and what they do and where they go. Talked about sponges versus brushes. She gave me a double-ended mascara stick and explained that I was to brush the white stuff on first – which would elongate and separate my lashes, and then I could use the black end to cover the white. She explained why she was going to skip eyeliner. She filled in the thin parts of my eyebrows as we laughed about the change.

The whole time she talked and worked, I sat there and took it all in. This was not me. This was not her dad. This was her. All her. 100% her. And it was beautiful. Glorious. She found this, she loved this, she learned it and excels in it.

It didn’t matter one bit that I have no interest in makeup. That it will likely be years – if ever – before I sit again for 20 minutes while I or someone else does my makeup. I didn’t have to love it. She loved it and I loved that she loved it. I enjoyed it because I was spending time with my daughter in her element.

I truly can’t describe the incredible feeling that welled up inside me that evening. If you’ve never experienced the wonder that’s tinged with a bit of “where did this love come from?”, then I fear you’ve missed out on one of the best parts of parenthood.

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Teenage Boy

Teenage boy.

Really, that’s all I need to write and so many of you nod your heads and think, yeah, I know. But maybe it’s more fun to give you the details of my latest encounter with teenage boy in the wild.

Daryl had a track meet.

It happened to be in a town not too far away so my husband took on Hal’s soccer practice so I could go watch Daryl run. He was to run in the 800 and then the anchor leg for the 4×400. I was particularly excited to see him run the relay.

So off I headed about 30 minutes down the road from home, found a parking spot (which was fairly fortunate), paid my entrance fee, and sat down by myself in a crowd full of strangers to wait.

Not too long after I got there, they called for the 7th grade boys 800. About 6:15, I watched the very large group of mostly gangly, awkward looking boys line up at the start line. The first thing I noticed was that Daryl was not wearing the new, specialized, spikes-included, long-distance running shoes we had bought him. Why wasn’t he wearing the shoes? Why had we bought the shoes if he wasn’t going to wear them?

And then the race began. He fell behind pretty quickly. This doesn’t look good, I thought to myself. By the time he came around on the second pass, only four boys were behind him. To his credit, he still kicked it into gear and ran his heart out to the finish line. But he certainly didn’t look like a kid who had finished 4th the first time he had run this race.

He didn’t come up into the stands to see me – even though I had texted my exact location to him. I asked if he was OK. How did he feel about the race? “Had a cramp” was his response. Ok, when is the 4×400? “Soon, I think.”

I know now that there are just a small handful of variations of track meet schedules. And the 4×400 is not that soon after the 800.

I watched the 100m dashes. I watched the 110 hurdles. I watched the 200 races and the 300 hurdles. I watched all of these for 7th and 8th grade girls and 7th and 8th grade boys. All the while, hoping to hear first call for the 4×400. It didn’t come. My butt was numb. My phone was nearly dead. No one to talk to and not enough juice to lose myself in a game.

So I watched a small slice of the 400s from my car as I charged my phone. And I knew that the 4×400 couldn’t be anywhere near the 400.

Back in the stadium, they made the first call for the 7th grade girls’ 1600. I cried.

I mean, not literally, on the outside, tears streaming down my face, but on the inside, yes. I was going to have to sit through four 1600’s first? And then essentially two more with the girls’ 4×400’s?

“I think the 4×400 is last,” my son texted me.

“Yes, I figured that out,” I said. “Why don’t you go ahead and come get your note so you can ride home with me?”

“But it’s the last race.”

“Yes, but it’s still faster for you to ride home with me than ride the bus. Come here.”

That’s when he stopped talking to me. Convenient.

About 9:15, he showed up in the stands. Limping.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I hurt my ankle. Nate is taking my spot in the relay so we can go ahead and go home.”

Three hours. I had sat there for three hours!

“When did you hurt your ankle?”

“During the 800.”

Three hours. I had sat there for three hours.

“Why did you wait so long to decide you couldn’t run?”

“I kept hoping it’d start feeling better.”

Did I mention how butt-numbing bleachers are?

“Did you ice it?” I asked.

“No.”

“Did you tell your coaches?”

“I didn’t know where they were.”

Three hours. I sat and waited for three hours while the boy merely hoped his ankle would feel better and did absolutely nothing to enhance his chances that it would. And said nothing to me as we texted back and forth. Three hours.

That’s when I noticed he was wearing the new track shoes. The ones he hadn’t worn when actually racing – he was wearing them now.

“Why didn’t you wear those during the 800?” I asked, pointing. He shrugged.

“It was a longer distance.”

“They are long distance shoes.”

Shrug.

As we began the drive home, he told me, “Coach had me do the high jump!”

“What?” I asked. “Why didn’t you tell me? When did you know?”

“It was earlier in the meet. I figured you couldn’t be here anyway. Coach said he saw me play basketball and knew I could jump.”

“But the motion is completely different,” I countered. “Had you ever practiced the high jump?”

“No.”

“Which coach said he’d seen you play basketball?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know. He told you in person, didn’t he? Which coach was it?”

“I don’t know. They look the same.”

I’m surprised I didn’t run off the road at this point. I had previously met one of the coaches and knew he was black.

“Daryl! You do realize that that’s the most stereotypical racist thing you could say? ‘They all look alike’? I mean seriously.”

“I didn’t say they all look alike. I said these two guys do. They are about the same height and sometimes they wear glasses and they are both bald.”

“I can’t believe you. You see these guys every day and you don’t know who is who.”

Shrug.

(To be fair to him, he joined athletics part way through the year so he missed introductions. I’m guessing he can distinguish these two guys from each other but doesn’t have a good handle on which one is Coach X and which is Coach Y. At least, that’s what I’m hoping.)

Conversation continued on for a few more minutes before his face became lost in the glow of his phone and I stared at the dark road ahead of me and pondered what I could have done with those three hours. What he could have done with those three hours.

Like maybe finish the major science project due the next day that he had thoughtfully tried to complete the day before but couldn’t because he had forgotten to bring home the rubric? The project that he had been given days or weeks before? The project that he would now have to stay up even later to complete?

I also thought about how sorely disappointed I was to not see him take the baton and run. How that three hours and the additional 30+ minutes that I likely would have waited would have been all ok if it meant I’d see him run.

But I didn’t. I waited ignorantly for an ankle I didn’t know was injured, didn’t know wasn’t being treated, didn’t know wasn’t known by the coaches. Because. Teenage boy.

When You Talk and They Only Hear the Teacher from Peanuts

Children are impressive creatures. And not always in a good way. I’m surprised by how much they continue to surprise me.

My husband and I were preparing to leave the house. I searched out the boys and found them huddled on Daryl’s bed, Daryl playing a game on his phone and Hal on his Kindle Fire.

“Boys, listen to me,” I said to get their attention. They glanced up quickly and then looked back at their screens.

“Daryl, I want you to put this basket of laundry in the washing machine. Are you listening?”

A brief nod.

“And then I want you to move it to the dryer when you can. There are clothes in the dryer. I want you to dump them on my bed. Do NOT leave them in a hamper – they are delicates, okay?”

He looked up and nodded.

“I also want you to fold your laundry that is in the green hamper at the end of the couch. Okay?”

He nodded.

“Both of you. I mean it. If that laundry isn’t folded when we get back, you are both losing your electronics for the rest of the day. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” said one, looking up.

“Yes,” said the other.

“Don’t put it off. Don’t think you can just do it later because you’ll get busy and distracted. Go ahead and do it soon. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

When we returned a couple of hours later, the first thing I saw was two boys sprawled on the couch watching TV. The second thing I saw was the Kindle Fire in Hal’s hands. The third thing I saw was the green hamper still full of clothes at the end of the couch.

“Give me your electronics. Right now – hand them over. And turn off the TV. Now!”

“How much is left in the episode,” my husband asked as he passed through.

I ignored him and picked up the green hamper and shook it in the general direction of the boys.

“I told you. I told you I’d take away your electronics if you didn’t get this laundry folded.”

“Oh,” said my now clued-in husband who walked on.

“Did you put the other laundry in the washing machine like I told you to?” I asked as I headed toward their room to find out.

“There wasn’t any laundry in our hamper!” protested Daryl.

“That’s because it was all in the white hamper in your room,” I said as Daryl continued with, “and we did fold the laundry. I didn’t know about that hamper!”

The pieces all fell into place as I heard his words and saw the empty hamper in the center of their room.

“Did you fold the laundry in that hamper?!” I asked incredulously.

“Yes.”

“But that was the DIRTY laundry! Seriously, guys?! Did you put all the dirty laundry away in your drawers?”

“We didn’t know! You didn’t say!”

“I most certainly did! And you didn’t notice any of those clothes were dirty? So where are the clothes that belonged to…”

My husband called from our room as intuition led me to head that way, “So what are all of these clothes?”

“They’re dirty!” I exclaimed.

“You told me to put your clothes on your bed,” tried a defeated Daryl.

“The clean clothes from the dryer!”

“You didn’t say…”

“Yes I did.” And I proceeded to recount my original instructions as Daryl looked on in confusion and Hal looked like he was going to cry.

“I didn’t hear all that,” Daryl said.

“Yeah, I picked up on that. How could you not notice that any of this was dirty? The clothes on our bed stink to high heaven!”

“That’s because they are workout clothes,” laughed my husband.

My initial anger abated and I started to see the humor and need for grace in the situation. Daryl and Hal were both ill, Hal very much so. They had nevertheless attempted to follow what they thought my instructions were and had put away some laundry.

“Listen guys,” I said, taking a more conciliatory tone and hugging Hal. “I won’t stick to the punishment if you will get all your dirty clothes out of the drawers and put them back in this hamper and fold the clothes in the green hamper.”

“You tried to do what I said,” I added, laughing.

Then I turned to the closet, where a pair of dress pants were hung very neatly. They were hung so neatly that you would have thought I had done it. Hal never hung his pants so well. But this time he had. He had very nicely hung up the pair of pants he had vomited on the night before.

“Hal, you even hung up your vomit pants, buddy?”

“Well, I thought you had washed them,” he said as I looked at all the obvious spots along the front.

No, dear, I don’t think you thought at all. You or your brother – the entire time we were gone. Bless your little hearts. I think I’ll blame it on the fever.

Tag Team Parenting March 24, 2014

{Continuing my dig through my drafts… Curiously, this one is two years old and was apparently telling a story from a year before that. I think I must have started the draft on March 24, 2014 and then a couple of years ago, brushed it off. I didn’t want to lose track of how old it was so I put the original date in the title. I think I’ll leave it. I have no idea why it didn’t get published. Here it is unedited. Three years ago, Jane was 13, Daryl 10, and Hal 5.}

Our first evening after my husband returned home from his eight day trip was illustrative as to why having two of us is important.  It wasn’t as busy as many of our evenings are so was shaping up to be an easy night.  There was only one event: a two hour meeting at our church.

I worked right up until the last moment to pick up Hal and made it to the church just before the meeting started.  My husband had food waiting for us, which I ate as the presentation started.

The rest of the family made it home before I did.  When I walked through the door, Hal was calling out that he needed to go poop.  Jane was sitting motionless in a chair with her viola under her arm, staring at her music stand.  I asked if its sound quality was good from that position.  She didn’t respond.  There was a constant low wailing coming from somewhere in the house.

I went searching for the sound and found it in the form of Daryl, sitting on his brother’s bed, both hands clutching ears, crying a strange cry.  My husband entered the room and told him he’d get some Tylenol but Daryl needed to get ready for bed.  He then asked me to take Daryl’s temperature.

As I held the thermometer in place, my husband tried to coax Jane into playing the music on the stand.  Even from the end of the hall, I could hear her crying.  She snapped at me when I asked what was wrong and she was soon screaming (ironically) that everyone was too loud and her head hurt.

Once Daryl’s temperature was noted at being just under 100 degrees, I migrated to the bathroom, where Hal was ready for someone to wipe his bottom.  My husband told Jane to put her instrument away and went to retrieve medication for her.

I couldn’t help but think how differently the night would have been if there hadn’t been two of us.  Everything – except the viola practice – still would have gotten done but I would have been frazzled and exhausted.

Iron Man

{I just found this post in my drafts folder. I guess I wanted to add more to it or add some commentary or something. But I think I’m going to let it go as is. Because sometimes kids just don’t make sense and there’s no point in doing more than just putting it out there and letting people scratch their heads. Or laugh. Or both.}

Sitting at a traffic light in front of a thrift store, Hal gazed out our window into the store’s window and announced, “Hey, mom! They have an Iron Man costume in there. We should get that for me to wear for Halloween.”

“Nope,” I said. “Not gonna happen. Your daddy hates Iron Man.”

“Yeah, I know,” he said. “I do too. But it’d still be cool to dress up like him.”

 

Best Laid Plans

Just on the off chance that you are tone deaf to emotion and didn’t pick up on it in the last two posts, I’ve been kinda down of late. Monday was particularly bad. Tuesday wasn’t shaping up to be much better until I decided to throw caution (and responsibility) to the wind and leave work early to go run.

I was giddy with excitement as I walked to my car. I had great plans. I’d run outdoors for the first time in weeks. It was a beautiful day! And then I’d take a nice long shower before picking up the boys. Hal, from his friend’s house and Daryl, from basketball practice.

But plans – especially happy plans – almost never work out. Especially if you have kids. You never get to do what you want when you have kids.

Jane had left school early for a doctor’s appointment, which was not likely to interfere, I thought. How naive…

I finished my run to find Jane baking a cake (from scratch). The darling had decided to make a cake for the Angel Mom picking up Hal from school as a thank you. There was just one problem. She had forgotten to preheat the oven and now needed to leave before it was done.

“It’s just another 12 minutes, mom. Can you finish it? You just need to add cocoa and melt it all for the icing,” she said, gesturing to a saucepan already holding milk and butter. “Then once it’s all liquid, add the vanilla and half that bag of sugar.”

I was standing there bathed in sweat, looking forward to my shower, and was now, instead, going to stand in a hot kitchen.

“Ok,” I said.

“Thanks, Mommy!”

While I waited for the butter to melt, I checked my voicemail. Someone had called during my run. Turns out it was Daryl, who had had to borrow someone’s phone since his was sitting in a bag of rice at home.

“Mom. There’s no basketball practice.”

That was the entire message. And no way to call him back.

Now what?

I tried to hurry outside and wave Jane down but she didn’t see me. I called a friend but she had already picked up her son and was home.

Now what?

The cake still had 10 minutes to go. His message was a solid 15 minutes earlier. Nothing to it. He’d just have to wait until I was done icing the cake.

And I’d just have to wait on that shower too.

The best laid plans of mice and men, folks. Best laid plans.

Holding Court

Sometimes I get it right. Or maybe my kids are just in a more receptive mood. I don’t know. Sometimes it just all works out as it should.

I was taking my shower this morning when Hal came into the bathroom blubbering about something. He was holding his arm and speaking incoherently. When it became apparent that I wouldn’t be able to hear the story with water cascading around me, I turned it off.

As I coaxed the story out of him, my mind analyzed the subtle clues. Is the crying real or forced? Is he truly in pain or just mad? Or are his feelings just hurt? Deciding it was real, I worked on piecing together the story of how his brother had come to squeeze his arm so hard and dig his thumb into the muscle.

Working backward from the point of injury, I learned that Daryl had squeezed the arm in response to Hal telling him to shut up. Hal had told Daryl to shut up after Daryl told Hal to shut up. When asked why Daryl had told him to shut up, Hal became reticent to continue unraveling the full story. Ahhh, I thought. I’m getting somewhere now.

Hal was being too loud. When asked whether Daryl had previously asked him nicely to be quiet, Hal claimed no. That’s when Daryl, who had apparently been lurking just outside the door interjected with protest.

The court is now called to order.

The defendant sits on a chair next to the sink. The accuser sits across the room from him at a safe distance on the toilet. The judge stands in all her naked glory with water dripping from her now-getting-cold body inside the glass judge’s box.

Before she can begin her questions, the defendant attempts a counter-claim. “He shoved me really hard before coming in here.”

“This was after you squeezed his arm?” she asks.

“Yes.”

“OK, retaliation isn’t right but it was in response to you hurting him. Did you tell him to be quiet?”

“Yes your honor.” (So maybe I added the “your honor” bit, but wouldn’t it be nice?)

“Where was he when he was being too loud?”

“In our bedroom. And I could hear him all the way down in the kitchen.”

The accuser is, amazingly enough, waiting silently for the trial to progress.

“And where were you when you asked him to be quiet?”

“In our bedroom.”

“And did you invoke Charley?” (Our house guest sleeping in a room near the kitchen).

“What?”

“Did you tell Hal why he should be quiet?”

“Yes. I told him he might wake up Charley.”

“Hal?” Says the judge, turning to the toilet. “Did Daryl ask you to be quiet first?”

{Silence.}

“Did he ask you to be quiet?”

“Yes.”

“And did you hear why?”

“Yes.”

“And you didn’t do it.”

“No.”

The judge, noticing the cold soaking into her skin and the slimy soap still hanging out where the sun doesn’t shine, is ready to deliver the verdict.

“Ok, see? This is where it started. A member of the family – it doesn’t matter who – asked you to do something and gave you a good reason why and you ignored him. Do you see that?”

Hal nodded dejectedly.

“Now,” the judge says, turning her attention back to the defendant’s chair. “It’s never OK to respond with physical violence. You understand that, right? What are you supposed to do when he’s not doing what he’s supposed to do?”

{Silence.}

“Daryl, what are you supposed to do?”

“Come tell you or Daddy.”

“Right. And then I could have called him in here and talked to him.”

“But Hal,” the judge shifted her attention back to the accuser. “It started with you. It started when you disregarded another member of the family. If you had listened and responded appropriately, he never would have told you to shut up and then you wouldn’t have told him to shut up and then he wouldn’t have squeezed your arm. Do you see that?”

“Yes.”

“OK. I want you to apologize to your brother for ignoring him.”

“I’m sorry I ignored you Bubba.” (For the record, this was a very sincere apology.)

“It’s OK.”

“And now I want you to apologize to Hal for hurting him.”

“I’m sorry I hurt your arm.” (Another sincere apology.)

“It’s OK.”

“Now if you don’t mind, I’ve got soap in places I didn’t need it to stay so I’m going to resume my shower now.”

Court is adjourned.