“He’s a little boy,” is the logic my husband gives me for just about everything our child does.
This was his response to Cole deciding he only wanted to wear one shirt, day in and day out.
The same shirt.
“When I was a little boy, I did that,” Lamar said. “I had certain things I liked to wear all the time.”
Yeah, when I was a little girl, I did, too. They were called shoes.
“He has to wear something other than that one shirt,” was my response.
It was ignored by everyone male in my house.
Now, that one shirt was not just any one shirt, mind you.
It was the Steven Universe shirt.
A simple shirt by design, a red tee with a big yellow star in the middle.
The day it arrived, he took it out of the package and put it on, not heeding my normal rule of washing everything first.
And there it stayed for God knows how long.
“Cole, let me wash it,” I would say on a daily basis.
“I don’t want to take it off,” he would tell me. “I love it, Mama. I had wanted this for so long.”
“It’s got to be washed,” I said. “It has pizza stains; when’s the last time you had pizza?”
He was not happy but he acquiesced.
The sacred shirt was washed.
And even though it was supposed to be pre-shrunk, it shrank.
“Oh no!” he wailed. “It’s ruined!”
Oh, dang. Now he’d never let me wash anything ever again.
He ran to his tablet to Google how to un-shrink shrunken clothes.
“Fabric softener,” he said between breathes. “Spray fabric softener on it to release the fibers.”
So we did. “Let’s pull it,” I suggested.
“If it works on control tops, it will work on a shirt.”
So we sprayed it some more and I took one end and he the other and we gently pulled.
“It’s still not as long as it was originally,” he said. He knew this because he had another Steven
Universe shirt that came at the same time but was saving; he had compared the two when he got them and now had the red one on top, seeing the less than a millimeter difference.
“It will be OK,” I told him.
He frowned and slipped the shirt back on.
“It’s not going back in the dryer again. Ever,” he declared.
I returned to my daily begging to let me wash it; he refused.
The child will even put it on after he takes a shower.
“Cole!” I exclaimed. “Put on a clean shirt! That’s disgusting that you put that shirt back on!”
He sticks his chin out defiantly.
“No, it’s not. My shirt is clean. I don’t do anything to get dirty – I really don’t even need a shower. I haven’t even been outside this summer because I am scared of Zika!”
I sighed. I was in the midst of a battle I had zero strategy to fight.
I finally managed to wrestle the shirt from him one evening and promised I would hand wash it and let it air dry. And I did, putting it in the tub with a Tide pack and getting on my knees to wash it.
I suddenly had a very astute appreciation for the modern conveniences of washers and dryers.
Hours later, I heard him bemoan that somehow, it still shrunk.
“That’s not possible!” I said.
He leveled a disappointing stare at me. “Well, it is. I’m never washing my lucky shirt again.”
How had this shirt somehow become lucky? I wondered.
“He’s a little boy, you just don’t understand because you are a mama,” Lamar said. “Little boys have lucky shirts, don’t like taking showers, and like gross things. He will change soon enough.”
I wasn’t sure about that; his father was in his 50s and hadn’t evolved that much.
I wasn’t going to fuss with him.
I just knew that shirt needed to be washed and on a regular basis.
Granted, I knew his fear. I had a lovely long, white Ralph Lauren sundress one summer that made me look thin even though it had pockets. I probably would have worn it on my wedding day, I loved it so much. I didn’t even wear it that often, because, well…it was white. Me and white clothes are a recipe for disaster and usually mean I spilled everything permanent on it.
But one day, I asked Mama to wash it.
Mama, the grand poobha of laundry. The woman cannot cook to save her life – or ours – but she can make everything smell April fresh and soft and fluffy.
My dress mysteriously disappeared and Mama even tried to gaslight me into believing I had never had a white sundress.
“I don’t recall such a dress,” she said through her Virginia Slim fog.
“Are you sure? You fussed about paying $80 for a dress I could only wear a few months out of the year.”
She didn’t even flinch.
“I fuss about a lot of your overpriced clothes,” she said. “You always like those hoity toity things.”
“Uh-huh. Well, you washed it about three weeks ago and I haven’t seen it since.”
One day, I found it, or what remained of it rather, under the kitchen sink.
It was in tatters, knotted together.
Mama had put bleach in the laundry, thinking it would help keep the brightness of the white but instead, it had eaten through the fibers and turned it into what looked like a giant cat toy.
The fact it was in a bag, shoved in a bucket in the very back and covered with a cutting board was proof the crazy redhead had hid her crime.
I sat in the kitchen floor and cried, and this time it wasn’t because I thought my Mama was trying to poison me with her cooking.
I recounted this story to my own child, hoping he would know I understood where he was coming from and that I would take care of his shirt.
I believed that one day he would trust me to wash his favorite lucky shirt again.
Finally, finally, he peeled off the shirt and handed it to me.
“It’s time,” he said solemnly.
Into the tub it went, with another Tide pack. I had to scrub stains of things out that were unidentifiable, ground in and possibly organic in nature.
I didn’t ask.
When you finally get to wash the sacred shirt, you do so free of judgment -and questions, because somethings, you just don’t want to know.
But the sacred, lucky shirt was clean.
At least for a little while.