Last Wednesday morning, before our son left for his three-day adventure at Outdoor Lab, we unpacked and repacked his gear bag a final time. I wanted to make sure that he knew where everything was and to verify again against the packing checklist provided by the camp that he had everything he needed. I also secretly hoped it would increase the chance that he would come home with everything that was originally packed in the bag. The probability that Joe would come home sans at least one item was high. This is the kid who has famously come home wearing only one shoe. One shoe. Don’t even ask. But hope springs eternal, and I am always optimistic that the kid might just surprise me someday. And I like to set him up for success, so we discussed the bag, its contents, and my expectations.
“Listen,” I said, “The only things in this bag that I really care about are your ski socks. I mean, I’d prefer you come home with everything, but the ski socks are at the top of my list of items I’d like to see returned on Friday, okay?”
To be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure why I was telling him about the socks. They weren’t the most expensive item he was packing or the most important. I suppose I was thinking about the plans we had to ski early on Saturday morning and simply hoping to avoid a last-minute, Friday-night trip to REI before closing to replace yet another pair of ski socks.
“Okay,” he replied, messing with the flashlight he was packing.
“I was thinking that one sure way to make sure the ski socks make it home is if you wait to wear them until Friday. Then they will be on your feet when you return. Just keep them in your bag and wear them Friday.”
“Okay,” he answered again, clearly listening to me with a quarter of his left ear only. Teenage boys can be such great listeners and even more impressive conversationalists.
Having given him what I envisioned were adequate tools and preparation, I sent him off to Outdoor Lab with relative peace of mind.
Friday afternoon when he arrived back from camp, exhausted and disheveled, the first thing he said to me before even getting into the car with his gear was, “I’m not sure I have both of my ski socks.”
I glared at him.
“I mean, I think they both might be in the bag, but I only remember for sure seeing one of them.”
“You’d better hope they are both there,” I said.
“I’ll check while we’re waiting for Luke,” he said as he began rifling through his belongings in the back of the car.
Of course, there were not two socks. Why would there be? It had been my only request. If you say you want something, you’re about 100% certain to miss out on that exact thing. Call it Murphy’s Law. Call it a jinx upon yourself. Whatever. I’d set myself up for certain disappointment when I made that request. You’d think by now I would know better than to verbalize anything like wishes.
Now, I’d like to say that I was totally zen about the revelation of the missing sock. I’d like to say that I took it in stride, like a patient, understanding, and loving mother. I’d like to say that my yoga training reminded me to take a deep breath and have the presence of mind to realize it’s just a damn sock. I’d like to say those things. I can’t. Truth is that, after I too checked the bag to substantiate the missing sock, I went the teensiest bit ballistic. Let’s just say that my response was less Buddha-esque and more Godzilla destroying Tokyo. I’m not proud of it, but after 46 years I’ve had to admit that I am actually human and capable of a great deal of ill-advised moves. This was one of those times.
After my little meltdown, I left Joe to sit in his corner and stew while I retreated to mine. I’m sure he was mentally shoving dirty socks in my mouth while I sat indignant, annoyed, and pouting. It was the principle of the thing, right? Sure. It was one sock, but these kids have cost us a fortune with the vortex they’ve created into which one sock from each pair of socks they own continually seems to disappear. As I took some deep breaths and let go of some of my righteous indignation, perspective began to creep in. It was a sock. What was I doing? Why did I care so much about it? I tried to ascertain what the loss of one, grey, Smartwool, shark-emblazoned sock represented because clearly it went way more than wool deep with me.
I walked to Joe’s room, knocked, and waited to be invited in. I sat down and told him my truth.
“You see, Joe, the thing is that part of my job as Mom is keeping things in this house together for our family. I’m Chief Equipment Manager. I’ve spent fourteen years doing things like making sure each deck of cards has 52 members, each DVD and video game is in its case, and each person has enough basics like socks, underwear, and pants without holes. It sounds crazy, but someone has to do it. Every time a sock goes missing, it’s like someone’s chipping away at my efficacy as household manager. At the end of the day, when you take off two socks and toss them aside because you don’t care and can’t be bothered to put them together into the hamper, I feel like there’s no respect for how hard I work to keep us all together and functioning. I’m sure it doesn’t make any sense to you. It is just a sock, but somehow it’s more than that to me. I am sorry for yelling at you, though. I overreacted.”
He looked at me thoughtfully and apologized too.
I’m not sure he completely understood what I was getting at, but he was making an effort. He might be a little more careful with his belongings…at least for a few days while the memory of my tirade is still fresh in his mind and the loss of two week’s worth of his allowance to buy a new pair of $20 ski socks is still stinging a bit.
A wise friend of mine has taught me that most of the time when we lose our shit over a little thing, like a sock, for example, there’s a gremlin hiding there. The gremlin is a much more dangerous but largely unacknowledged beast that takes that little thing and through the magic of mind-trickery and shadow puppetry turns it into deceptively larger but illusionary creature. My gremlins often creep out when I feel undervalued, invisible, and inadequate. This sock monster was a perfect illustration of how much work I have yet to do on combatting and ultimately containing my gremlins. Sooner or later, I hope I will learn not to give my gremlins water, feed them after midnight, or expose them to light.