Today was D Day. That is shorthand for Departure Day. Today was the day Joe and I began our trek back to Whitman College so he can begin his first full year. It’s a 16-plus hour drive that we break down into two travel days. Today we headed to Boise. It is my third time this year making this 1,100-mile trek. But I love road trips, and time with Thing 1 is at the top of my list of favorite things.
I won’t lie. I cried a little last night. It’s the weirdest sensation to be so happy for someone and excited to hear how their college experience and life unfolds and at the same time be sad for your loss of their daily presence. I could not be any prouder of or happier for Joe. And I am proud of any action I took that helped him achieve his goal of being college ready and getting accepted to a quality, respected institution of higher learning. But, I will miss him tons.
The other day, during another short pre-departure cry, I told my husband that sometimes parenting hurts so much that I think maybe it would have been easier if I’d never had children. But that is just silly because my sons have been the single greatest joy of my life. I would have missed out on all that love, laughter, and learning if I hadn’t been their mother. They are everything to me, and I would not take back one single moment of the life I have led because of them. Not even the ones that made me cry.
Today during the drive I recalled this story. When Joe was about 7, he had a plethora of Webkinz stuffies. One day he came to me with his stuffed rhinoceros. He pointed out a tiny hole in one of the seams on his furry, light blue body. He was visibly sad. I told him I could fix that small hole and he would be fine. Joe, reflecting on how the hole came about, said “I think I must have loved him too much.” As I was discussing this story with Joe and got weepy again. I told him that this is hard because I guess I love him too much. He told me it is all good and I don’t need to cry because he’s not really going anywhere.
This time, I guess, it was his turn to sew up a hole in the thing he loves.
We have two sons who were born three weeks less than two years apart. We have been fortunate. Our sons have been best buddies from Luke’s arrival. I don’t know how. People used to ask how often they fought. The answer was almost never. They like the many of the same things, but they are not alike in personality so they balance each other out. This is not to say that they don’t bicker, debate, tease, or torture one another. It’s just that it’s never been mean spirited. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They look out for each other. They love each other even when they are acting like jerks.
They are 20 and 18 now, which means they are legally grown. And yet their conversations often sound like the ones they’ve had forever. They love to argue about nothing. They have argued about nothing for as long as they’ve been brothers. Tonight in the car on the way home from In-n-Out, they were arguing about burger toppings. Luke, the purest, said the best burger was the basic one, just meat and bun. Joe’s burger choice, Luke said, was too complicated. Joe thought this stance was insane. A burger with pickles is NOT complicated. So, he began hazing Luke about a burger without pickles. The guys despise anything made with vinegar, but for some reason Joe’s vinegar aversion stops at pickles. Luke finds them disgusting. But, Joe has ADHD and that gives him a superhuman focus when he is invested. He was invested in arguing about pickles.
“What is wrong with pickles?” he prodded.
“I don’t want your vinegar cucumber chips,” Luke snapped.
And they were off. Bickering about nothing after a previous argument that was also about nothing…again.
Joe goes back in college in Washington in two weeks. Although I chided them in the car about their constant arguments about nothing, I will miss hearing them. Don’t tell my sons, but those arguments make my heart smile even as they make my mouth grumble. I think it’s because I know that no matter how old they get or how their lives change and grow, they will continue to get together, make each other laugh, drive us crazy, and squabble passionately about pointless things. That’s just what they do. It’s a gift.
I don’t know that Luke will ever like pickles, though. This argument might come up again.
I was sitting on the back deck today as a hummingbird blew past me on the way to our feeder. I love watching them, so I was grateful when we finally got this feeder up and less than an hour later we had a visitor. I gazed at this speedy creature, mesmerized by its grace and fluidity as its wings fluttered at 53 beats per second, and then it whizzed past me again. It was gone. I realized then what a hummingbird reminds me of. A hummingbird is basically a teenage boy. He’s invisible most of the time. You can’t find him when you are looking for him. But when you put food out, he shows up, blowing past you as if you are of no concern. He devours what you offer. And then the teenage boy, like the hummingbird with its belly full, is gone again. But don’t worry. He always needs food, and as long you provide it you will occasionally catch a glimpse of him, no matter how ephemeral it might be.
It’s laundry day. Well…actually, every day is laundry day, but today I finally decided to toss a couple loads into the washer. As I collected the boys’ hamper, I noticed that Joe had thrown a couple of his jackets in. I hate it when he does that. Sometimes the hamper is replete with clean clothes he tried on but decided not to wear. While I’m grateful that he’s finally learned to put his clothes into a hamper after thirteen years, he now puts everything in there. He often puts his shoes in there. His shoes. It’s much easier to toss everything into the bin than to put it away, right? It keeps the floor clean and then he doesn’t have to listen to me complain about that too. It’s genius, actually. A simple, expedient filing system that gets me off his back, at least for the present moment. And Joe is 100% in the present moment all the time.
Frustrated by the discovery of the jackets, I confronted him.
“Joe…why are these coats in here?”
“I wore them,” he said with typical teenage attitude, eyeing me like I am a moron for not realizing that dirty clothes go in the hamper.
“You can wear a jacket more than once before it needs to be washed. Unless it’s got a stain or it stinks, you should just hang it up to wear again,” I informed him.
He appeared uninterested.
“Every time you do this, it’s more work for me. I know we’ve talked about this before,” I said with the usual tone of parental disappointment that is meant to encourage enough self-reflection and remorse to induce self-awakening and, hopefully, an apology. If you’re wondering if it ever works, the answer is no.
“I know,” he admitted.
“Well, then, why do you keep doing it?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t mean to do it. It just happens on accident all the time.”
And, there it is. A succinct description of exactly what ADHD is. Joe’s ADHD includes impulsivity, inattention to detail, and inability to focus. So many times when he was younger I would repeatedly scold him for the same behaviors. Once, before we’d diagnosed his ADHD, I asked him why he kept chewing on his shirts even though we had discussed ad nauseam that he needed to stop doing it. He said he didn’t know why he did it. He knew it was wrong, but he simply couldn’t help it. That explanation was mind numbing. Here was a kid who was obviously intelligent, who could repeat minutiae about different dinosaurs from different epochs, remembering the dates they existed and statistics about their size and weight, but there he stood telling me he didn’t know why he kept gnawing his clothing like he was a goat. As a parent, it frustrated the living hell out of me. How could he be so smart yet so unaware at the same time?
When we had Joe evaluated for ADHD, the psychiatrists at Children’s Hospital explained to me that the frontal lobe of Joe’s brain simply doesn’t work the way mine does, ultimately leading to his greater difficulty in choosing between good and bad actions. As a child, if I was punished for something one time, the frontal lobe of my brain would remind me of that event and help me make better choices the next time I encountered a similar situation. Joe’s frontal lobe, however, simply isn’t as active as mine. The doctors explained that it is as if there is a little man in there whose job is to help him make good choices but that little man continually falls asleep on the job. It wasn’t until much later, when Joe better understood himself and his brain, that he was able to admit that his inability to stop negative behaviors when he knew they were wrong frustrated the living hell out of him too. We’ve spent the years since his diagnosis working to understand how we can help Joe and what we simply need to accept is part of his make up. It’s a work in progress.
I’m laughing now thinking about the question I posed to Joe earlier. I know how he works. I just needed to remind him again and move on. He will eventually stop putting clean clothes in the hamper, just like he eventually started putting dirty ones in there. It’s merely going to take a lot of patience and a lot of repetition. Six years into my understanding of this ADHD world, I am still making silly parenting mistakes with Joe.
You’ve got to wonder when the little man in my frontal lobe started taking so many naps.
Some curious things happen in our house. Random things. Bizarre things. Things I never would have imagined would occur in the world I occupied before giving birth. These things are enough to give a mother pause. Tonight I walked into our downstairs bathroom and found cupcake frosting stuck to the side of the toilet bowl. Yes. Frosting. That sweet, creamy, confection of the gods. The horror! Frosting is the best part of a cupcake and should never be jettisoned for any reason on any occasion. Ever. And, discovering frosting in the toilet is not simply peculiar. It’s borderline sacrilegious. If one were to dispose of extraneous frosting (and I doubt such a thing exists), a logical resting place for it (aside from my belly) is a kitchen waste receptacle. Questions raced through my mind. How could this happen? Why would anyone get rid of frosting? Why would they throw it in the toilet instead of a trash can? Which of my traitorous compadres would perpetrate such a heinous act? And who the heck said anyone could have a cupcake 30 minutes before dinner? Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch is boss), but the game was afoot. I had a mystery to solve.
After taking a few photos to document the crime scene, I began examining the evidence. The frosting was no doubt from the Halloween-themed cupcakes my dad and his wife brought over yesterday. Each small cake was decked with orange, purple, and black frosting, which was topped off with a plastic ring in the shape of a mummy, a green monster of Frankenstein, a jack-o-lantern, or a friendly ghost. I dug through the wastebasket and uncovered the cupcake wrapper. A ghost ring rested next to it, its circular boo-mouth expressed shock but, since dead men tell no tales, remained silent. The cupcake had been yellow cake. I made a mental note. It took no time to ascertain that the frosting had been eliminated due to its tell-tale, raven-black color. As we had discovered on Sunday when we were all suddenly sporting black, sugary mustaches, that ebony frosting can be a bugger to get off your skin, teeth, and tongue. The culprit, sneaking a snack before dinner, would be wise to avoid a bakery-begot beard. Sidestepping it was a sneaky stroke of genius. Obviously, this was the work of a seasoned cupcake crook. I determined that the cupcake wrapper was slightly stiff. The crime had been committed more than 20 minutes ago. I flashed back to my whereabouts during that time frame. I’d been upstairs purchasing Halloween costumes online. I’d given the guilty party an open window with no supervision. I noted that next to the wrapper sat a discarded Stonyfield yogurt tube. Very interesting. I left the bathroom and went in search of suspects to question.
Steve had been out photographing autumn during the cupcake-ingestion time frame, but I approached him with the evidence to see if he would give something away. He, of course, denied culpability, and I was inclined to believe him because he was the only one who avoided the sweet treats the day before. He couldn’t get past the black frosting. It freaked him out. I made him stick out his tongue anyway so I could check for frosting residue. That test came back negative.
I next approached Joe because he was the one who originally had asked me for a cupcake after returning home from school and, well, with his ADHD he’s got some pretty steep impulse-control issues. Joe is also a notoriously incompetent liar (his nickname from me is Saran Wrap because he’s just that transparent). If he’d done it, I’d know immediately and could move on to more important work, like starting dinner. He told me it hadn’t been him. I made him stick out his tongue as physical evidence just in case. No dye. I was inclined to buy his innocence story anyway because he is a chocolate cake guy. He only digs into the yellow cake once the chocolate is gone, and there were chocolate cupcakes on the counter to be had.
I walked downstairs to corner Luke. To be honest, I really suspected it was Luke anyway. I began my interrogation.
“Hey Luke…did you have a cupcake today? I found black frosting in the toilet downstairs,” I said, stating the facts right up front.
“No,” he replied, looking a bit concerned.
“If you did, you’d best come clean. I’m looking for the truth here and, if I find out later that you did it and you’ve lied to me, you will lose your iPad privileges.” I was speaking as gently as possible, but giving him that don’t-mess-with-momma look that usually instills fear.
“I didn’t do it.” he insisted with a slight growl. The suspect was becoming rather agitated. “Why does everyone think I did it?”
“Let me tell you why I think it was you,” I grilled on. “1) It was a yellow cupcake and you’re the only other person in this house who eats yellow cupcakes beside me, and I know I didn’t eat it. 2) I saw you go into that bathroom this afternoon after school. 3) There was a yogurt wrapper in the trash along with the cupcake wrapper, and you’re the only one who eats that yogurt. Are you positive you don’t want to be honest with me right now and save yourself?”
“I didn’t do it!” he barked, now with a definite, defensive posture and willful stubbornness.
“Well…for someone who didn’t commit the crime, you sure are reacting violently to the accusation, sweetie.”
“ARGH!!!!” he yelled out in frustration and ran up the stairs and away from me, indignant and annoyed. I guess I had twisted the knife a bit too far.
I returned to the bathroom, wiped the frosting (which was leaching dark-blue dye into the toilet water) from the bowl, washed my hands, and vowed to put the mystery behind me.
When we sat down to eat dinner twenty minutes later, though, I couldn’t help myself. I brought it up again. I prodded, shared my knowledge of the crime scene, and asked for a confession. I guaranteed freedom from impunity. I just wanted to know who tried to flush the stupid frosting and why they decided to flush it rather than leaving it in a trash can. It was driving me nuts. I always catch the criminal. Despite my perfect record for ferreting out the miscreant in our home-based mysteries, no one caved. There was no teary-eyed confession to be had. My perfect record was dashed. Dammit. I began wondering if they had made a blood-brother pact to carry the secret to their graves simply to best me, to pull one over on their crazy mother. Well, they’re about to learn that I refuse to give up. I am smarter than they are. They’re no match for my brains. They’ve fallen victim to one of the classic blunders. The first, of course, is never get involved in a land war in Asia. But only slightly less well-known is never go in against your mother when frosting has been wasted.
They may think I’ve given up. They may think this is behind us. But someday I will get the truth, probably on my death bed…and then I will most likely laugh out loud hysterically and keel over just like Vizzini.
The other night, my sister stayed with our sons so hubby and I could attend a theater performance. Now that our boys are older, we get out quite a bit more than we used to. Usually, though, we are gone just for a couple of hours and remain completely accessible by text, phone, or Facetime. Our sons often avoid talking to us when we’re out for short periods of time. They’re too busy enjoying their Xbox or iPads without complaints about too much screen time. When we got to the theater, I turned off my phone, completely comfortable knowing the boys were in my sister’s capable hands, and settled in to enjoy an uninterrupted bit of culture.
After the play was over, I checked my phone just in case. There were four texts and a few notifications on my blog. Two of the texts were from my sister. Apparently Luke’s stomach gave him some trouble so he sacrificed most of his dinner to the toilet. “Too much food” was his excuse. (It’s taken me years, but I’ve gotten my children mostly trained to throw up for other people and not me.) Not surprisingly, the last two texts were from Joe inquiring when we would be home. It takes about three hours’ worth of time before our sons finally notice we’re missing. Once we pass the three-hour mark, Joe begins badgering us relentlessly via any electronic means possible. I expected that on the drive we would receive at least 5 additional text messages (it turned out to be 6) and possibly a request for a Facetime chat. It was nearly 11, and we’d been gone for about 6 hours already. He was tired and stubbornly refusing to fall asleep until we were there. We made a hasty exit and headed home.
I decided to check my blog comments in the car. Turns out one of the comments was on my Contact page. It was from Joe. It simply read, “Hi Mom,” which really cracked me up because this was a new and completely unanticipated way for him to contact me in my absence. My sons have known about my web page for years, but neither of them has ever really shown much of an interest in it. They just know that I write, often about them. I had told them what it was called, and Joe simply looked it up. I was shocked that he’d remembered the title and gotten a wild hair to check on it. This was a first.
When we finally got home, I checked on Luke. He was feeling better and having a snack to make up for his lost dinner. My sister had already crashed out for the night. I found Joe sitting on his bunk bed with his iPad.
“I saw your comment on my blog page,” I said.
“Yeah. I was reading it tonight,” he replied.
“I didn’t know you read my blog.”
“I just started,” he said. “I read the one about Safety Dad when Dad and Mr. Jeff went snowshoeing on Mt. Evans.”
My mind thought back to when I wrote that. It had to have been one of the first entries on this blog. He’d started in the archives. He was working his way through them. My heart was full.
“You’re a good writer, Mom. Some of those are pretty funny.”
I couldn’t decide what to be happier about…the knowledge that my son had actively sought out something I had written or the notion that he had actually appreciated it and me.
Yesterday I caught him going through my blog again. This time he asked me how he could put a comment on one, so I showed him. I know he’s reading them trying to find posts written about him or his brother. Sooner or later, he’s going to find a couple that I am sure he will protest. He is a teenager and having a mom who is a writer can leave you feeling a bit exposed. When that happens, I’ll show him a couple posts where I embarrassed myself and prove that no one, not even me, escapes the occasional embarrassment. Then I’ll use the opportunity to teach him about poetic license and the First Amendment. In the meantime, I am so honored that he is using his free time to find out more about what I do.
I often say that I write for myself. And this is absolutely true. I use my web page to keep myself accountable. If I know I need to publish something, it diminishes my myriad excuses for not writing. I never started out writing with a plan to build an actual readership. I never truly figured anyone would read it. I simply shared it so I would have the impetus to continue writing. Every single time someone follows my blog, I feel like I’ve won the lottery. I never felt my blog was important until this weekend. With my readership increased by this one special person, I feel almost famous.
A couple of weeks ago, I decided I could no longer live with our basement. We had it finished eight years ago when the boys were small, and our big dream was to get the train table out of our family room. At the time, we had no practical idea about what the space would be used for other than glorified, out-of-sight toy storage and therefore we had the contractor paint the whole space a muted and incredibly boring white, reasoning that white would keep the area bright. Over time and with much abuse by boys, the white walls became foul. For years, I’ve avoided the basement altogether, only occasionally going down there to pick up trash, throw out broken toys, and vacuum up dead spiders. That was all I could handle.
Then I decided it was time to face my fears. The boys are growing up. The train table is gone. It was time for the basement to be a livable space for all of us. I needed to paint. We had to begin by cleaning the pit. I dragged the boys downstairs with me and my black, yard-size, plastic trash bags. We got to work. It was bad. Now, I’ve never wanted to be the Clean Police. I prefer to pick other battles with my sons. And I believe a boy should have someplace that isn’t subject to relentless, maternal scrutiny. (Besides, like a drill sergeant who loves surprise inspections, I prefer scrutiny on random occasions when it is unexpected.) As we continued around the room, though, I did voice my concern about their slovenliness. They reminded me that they do pick up when I ask them. I suggested that perhaps they can be more proactive about taking responsibility for the space when I don’t ask. Shockingly radical idea, I know.
I requested help moving the futon away from the wall. It had been in a bed position since Luke’s sleepover birthday party at the end of May. No. I had not gone down there since the party. I left the clean up to them. They’re old enough to handle that, right? Then summer hit and life got chaotic. We were training for the Inca Trail, and the state of our hideous basement was nowhere in the vicinity of my mind. Don’t judge. As we pulled the futon bed away from the wall, I saw something stuck there. I took one step closer to investigate and realized it was half of a chocolate chip cookie. A chocolate chip cookie. Stuck to the wall. For how long, I was not sure. Oddly enough, my first thought was not, “I am the world’s worst housekeeper.” Instead it was, “How is it sticking there?” I was concerned with the physics of the situation. I actually wondered if it had frosting or something that had adhered it to the wall. My next thought was that it was reasonably disgusting that a cookie stuck to the wall for who knows how long had no mold on it whatsoever. My children had ingested those. I shuddered at what a horrible person I am for feeding that “food” to my offspring. Certainly that should qualify as child abuse.
As I stood there with my mouth agape, staring incredulously at that stupid cookie, the boys started doing the math.
“When did we have cookies down here?” Luke asked.
“I don’t know. You know you’re not supposed to bring food down here,” I answered. “When was the last time I bought cookies?” I puzzled. “I never buy cookies.”
Joe, whose 13-year-old mind can’t remember to come home wearing two shoes, replied,”I think it was Luke’s birthday party.”
Now I started doing the math. Luke’s 11th birthday party was on May 23rd. Oh holy hell.
“That cookie has been on the wall for over three months!” I gasped. “You guys!”
“We didn’t know it was there,” came the rejoinder.
“Well…you should have,” I replied, peeling its overly preserved remains from the wall. “Look,” I said as I showed the cookie to them. “It still looks edible. Want a bite?”
They declined. Later on, though, curiously enough, both kids asked if we could get cookies for dessert.
Sometimes I think back to the days before I had kids, days when I never would have found a half of a cookie stuck to my wall. I think about those days, when my house was always clean and there were no random, inexplicable scuff marks high on the walls and no Legos in my vacuum canister. There were days when I was not afraid to enter any room in my house for fear of what terror might lurk pressed up against the wall behind a piece of furniture. Once upon a time, my house looked good enough for company…all the time. Then I had boys, and my house went to the dogs. Funny thing is it has never felt more like home than it does now. If you come over and find something stuck to the walls, try not to notice it. We’re busy living here.
The other day I was talking to my sister about Joe and how he’s growing up. I told her that he’s now texting his friends from his iPad. Personally, I find the whole thing reasonably amusing. Joe is not exactly the world’s greatest speller and when he texts me I often have a hard time deciphering what he’s trying to say. I imagine the process is even more difficult for a 5th grader who has less experience with the English language and with Joe’s spelling missteps than I do. My sister is more of a worrier than I am, so her mind immediately went worst-case-scenario on me.
“Who does he text?” she inquired.
“A few of his classmates,” I replied.
“Boys or girls?”
“Some of both, I think.”
“What do they talk about?” she wondered.
“I don’t know,” I answered, surprised at the question.
“Well, don’t you read his texts?”
I have to admit this threw me. Honestly, the thought never occurred to me to infringe upon Joe’s privacy. Maybe it’s naive of me, but I simply don’t see my nearly 12 year old son becoming involved in anything nefarious or sordid via text messaging at this point. First off, he’s barely one step off thinking girls have cooties. Secondly, when Joe texts me he sends me little emoticons of elephants (my favorite animal) and chickens (which he labels as “Kauai Super Chicken). Lastly, he’s the most forthright kid on earth. On the few occasions he’s been dishonest, overcome with self-inflicted, internal, gut-wrenching guilt he has confessed before I even suspected he had lied. And why would I have to read his messages when he tells me what he and his friends talk about all the time?
“No. I don’t read his texts. I have no reason to,” I said confidently, certain that my boy was sweet as seventy pounds of pure cane sugar.
“Well, don’t you want to know what’s going on with him?” she chided.
“Ummm….honestly, no. I don’t really need to read about who has a crush on whom and what episode of My Little Pony has them cracking up.”
“Huh,” my sister replied, somewhat judgmentally. “I’d just want to know more about his life, I guess.”
“Well,” I said, “I guess that I want him to know that we trust him and because I have no reason not to I’m going to let him have some privacy.”
The conversation ended there and we moved onto another subject to avoid a potential argument. But after our call I started to wonder if I was being too idealistic in my approach to Joe’s texting. I mean, I suppose he could be having conversations I might not approve of. He is getting older. They did just have “the talk” at school. He’s a shy, sensitive kid, but those are sometimes the ones you have to watch out for the most. After discussing it with hubby, we decided to take a quick look at the last texts Joe sent. The conversation was with a female classmate and it went exactly like this:
Friend: What are you talking about?
Joe: The realm of gondor
Joe: Middle Earth
Joe: Next to the realm of mordor where mt doom is where the ring was forged
Friend: Is this the lord of the rings?
Joe: Yes. It’s ausome (sic)
Upon reading this little tidbit, I wanted to run to my sister and tell her that I was right. I have nothing to worry about with Joe and his text messaging…at least not yet. He is just a sweet, innocent kid who deserves some trust. But I didn’t do that. Truth is I felt dirty and downright shameful for not sticking with my original instinct. I had been right to trust him in this instance and knowing that I’d violated his right to a private conversation with a friend when I had no cause for suspicion made me feel lower than a downward-facing mole on an express elevator to Hell. (And although I would not hesitate to do some snooping on my son if I did ever suspect something was seriously amiss, I have no plans to make a regular habit out of sticking my nose where it does not belong.) I still feel rotten about it. And that’s certainly not anything to call up my sister and brag about.
If there’s a plus side to this whole experience, though, it’s this…given the substance of this conversation between Joe and a female classmate, I doubt he’s going to be having any unseemly conversations with members of the opposite sex for quite some time. Unless Joe happens upon a preteen girl who obsesses more about The Lord of the Rings, sharks,and Marvel superheroes than she does about make up and the cutest member of One Direction, I likely won’t have to check his texts for at least a few more years.
“Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” ~Mother Teresa
I remember when I was in grade school, on February 13th we would decorate boxes that we would use to collect Valentine’s Day cards from our classmates the next day. With red, pink, and white construction paper, tiny scissors with blunted tips, and the ubiquitous Elmer’s glue we would craft works of art to hold the innocent and sweet messages heralded by Snoopy, Scooby Do, the Pink Panther, and the Hulk and delivered by our sugar-enhanced classmates. In 6th grade, our teacher, let us play our 45’s on the record player while we worked on the boxes, and Cheap Trick belted out “I Want You To Want Me” while I cut hearts out of square pieces of paper that were folded in half and then affixed them to the shoebox before me. Those were the good old days (emphasis on old).
Last year, despite my cynical disdain for this heart-shaped holiday, I made the choice to participate in my sons’ Valentine’s Day parties at school. When I arrived, I noticed that on the desks of children in the classroom were all manner of decorated boxes, bags, tins, and pails. On my sons’ desks were plastic grocery bags from Safeway. Sad, but true. I hadn’t realized that many schools no longer used classroom time for artistic pursuits like heart-covered boxes for valentines. And so, my sons were given plastic bags by their teachers because their mother had failed to provide them with lovingly festooned containers in which they could collect and bring home their cards and candy. In that moment, I imagined myself in a tattered ball gown holding a dozen wilted roses, a tiara missing its rhinestones perched clumsily on my wild-haired head, and a white sash emblazoned with the words “World’s Worst Mother” running diagonally down my front. Loser with a capital L. I was a sullied angel fallen from the heavenly sky of stay-at-home mothers.
This year, I determined, would be different. My sons would not be doomed to a plastic-bag fate. Yesterday, at 9:30 after I dropped my boys at school and acquired an appropriately caffeinated beverage, I locked myself in my office/craft room with two small shipping boxes, cardstock, duct tape, adhesives, scissors, google eyes, and some slowly atrophying creative skills. I first pondered what might not embarrass them too fully at their advanced ages of 9 and 11. My original plan was simply to cover the cardboard boxes with paper and duct tape (they are future men, after all) and then carve a hole in them. So far, so good. Then, realizing that my usual cut-out hearts might not be “cool” enough as enhancements for a boy’s box, I tried to envision what might be a more appropriate fit for my guys. Joe’s box theme came to me immediately. Joe loves sharks. In our house, he is Sharkboy. Sharkboy’s box would need teeth. Luke’s box was a bit trickier. Luke is our cuddly kid, friendly and open-hearted, not unlike a small and slightly less furry Golden Retriever. I wanted to make him a dog box that would represent his personality, but feared he might find it too girly or babyish. Ultimately, with not one more suitable creative thought, I went for it.
I spent two hours measuring, cutting, gluing, taping, coloring, and wrapping those plain cardboard boxes. Considering my lack of forethought to materials acquisition, I did okay with what I found around the house. The boxes, while not representative of the kind of creative work of which I am truly capable, are much better than a plastic grocery bag because they were created from my heart and are filled with my love. As much as I can be contained, I am housed in those boxes.
The boys were satisfied with my little surprise. Joe confessed that he was hoping he would have time to make his own box, but then admitted that the Minecraft box he had pictured in his head would be nowhere near as nice as the shark I had created. Plus, he said, he did not want me to have gone through all that effort for him for nothing, even though I assured him that my reward was in making the box and not at all tied up in whether he actually used it or not. I appreciated that he acknowledged my effort, though. Luke loved his doggy box so much he said he wanted first to use it to deliver valentines to his classmates before allowing it to receive valentines from them. Then he said he wanted to keep it in his bedroom after his party was over. If he does this, I assume that dog, like our own dog Ruby, will ingest a lot of Legos.
I may never do great things in my life on a grand scale. I will not cure cancer or design a mode of transportation that will put humans into the farthest reaches of space. I will not stop global warming or solve world hunger. I may never write the great American novel or make a million dollars. And, we all know I’m certainly no Mother Teresa. But, after yesterday’s creative bent, I was reminded that at least I can do small things with great love. It’s those little things that will comprise the balance of my life and hopefully prove that I was worth my carbon matter while I existed here on Earth. And, who knows? Maybe the two small things I helped to create 9 and 11 years ago and have loved dutifully in my own small way ever since will someday do a truly great thing and there will be a miniscule part of me in it somewhere. I think that would count.
I’ve been on a domestic binge of sorts this week. I’ve been trying new recipes and actually cleaning my house. Wait. That sounds worse than it should. I do cook for my family and clean my house. I’m simply not June Cleaver. Life is too short to waste it cleaning. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not as if we live in squalor. Most people who come here would report that the house is mostly picked up and neat. I clean bathrooms and the kitchen. Dishes are done several times a day. I vacuum regularly. Dusting I do less often because I despise it, but I still do it. What I don’t do on a regular basis is pick up in areas that are not my problem. This means the basement, which is merely a huge Lego storage room with a small area carved out for Wii and Xbox matches, and the boys’ rooms don’t get much attention from me. You know that old saying that cleaning the house while the kids still live there is like shoveling snow in a blizzard? I subscribe to that school of thought. I just close the doors, and it’s out-of-sight-out-of-mind for me. Let the snow pile up.
While looking for something in Luke’s room earlier in the week, though, I had to come to terms with the fact that it was time for an intervention. When a single shoe goes missing from a pair that was worn this very day, it’s time to take action. So, for the past two days, I’ve been gathering and redistributing Legos, locating missing glassware from the kitchen, and throwing out broken toys. Yesterday I attacked the basement. Today I cleaned the boys’ homework room and their bedroom. In Luke’s bunk, I found three books, a couple Lego magazines, an entire set of clothing (jeans, two t-shirts, underwear, and a pair of socks), assorted Lego pieces, and about 15 stuffed animals. Luke’s bed also had seven (yes, seven) blankets on it. Luke sleeps like a rat in its nest, curled into a little ball amongst things he has gathered.
As I was moving items and returning them to their rightful places, I kept discovering things long since lost…Joe’s rubber fish that he got out of the prize box at the dentist’s office when he was 2 and has treasured ever since, a ribbon from Joe’s entry in the regional science fair, and a couple stuffed animals previously owned by my grandmother. While stacking things neatly into a closet, on a top shelf I discovered a camcorder box for the old video camera we used when the boys were young. I pulled it down out of curiosity and lo-and-behold there were about 10 recorded video cassettes. Eureka!
I wanted to watch the videos so badly but the recorder was out of batteries and the charger was also missing in the chaos of our haphazardly organized home. I spent about an hour rummaging through every power cord hiding space to no avail. (As I was doing this, it occurred to me that we have at least twice the amount of crap we actually need or use. It’s not quite an episode of Hoarders…yet. There’s a whole other blog in there, I’m sure, if I could just dig through enough junk to find it.) I finally gave up for a while and then I remembered where it might be. I ran to my office, which is also a room with a regularly closed door, and there it was under the Christmas wrap that I still haven’t put away.
So, tonight after dinner, we sat and watched the videos as a family. The boys’ first few years are on those tapes. Birthdays and Christmases, Joe’s first trip to the beach, our trip to Alaska, Joe’s first time crawling, and Luke’s first smiles…all captured and now waiting to become digital media. There we found our beloved dogs, Buddy and Machiah, who now wait for us on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. There is a snippet of video of my grandmother holding an infant Luke, a precious moment I was so grateful to relive and that made Luke tear up. And, even as sobering as it was to hear my youngest tell me repeatedly how young I look in the videos, I loved every minute we spent tonight showing our boys their infant and toddler selves, creating a new memory of the time Mom found all the videos.
It got me to thinking about the transitory nature of life on Earth and how time truly does fly. Our sons are growing up too quickly. We originally put the video camera down so we would spend more time living in the moment than watching it on a tiny screen. I don’t regret that decision, but it wouldn’t hurt for us to record a few memories of our family these days for posterity. Watching your life backwards on video certainly opens up some perspective. But, the greatest lesson I took away from today is that it might be a good idea for me to clean the house more often. If it’s true that cleanliness is next to godliness, I may be screwed.