Of mothers & sons – and sometimes, daughters

“Mama, can I tell you something?”

This question is asked several times a day.

Usually, it is about one of his favorite shows.

He updates me on the latest episode or shows me clips of it.

Or he tells me about the latest gaming system he’s come across, or a new game.

Sometimes, he shows me what he is doing in his game and how it works.
He loves the graphics and it is common for him to ask me to watch him as he plays so I can see his progress.

Or, he wants to tell me about a song he just heard and ask what I think about it.

“Do you like it?” he asks.

“I liked this song a lot,” I tell him and point out which one and why.

I try not to be critical or negative because even though he’s a teenager now, he’s still in such a highly formative time. And kids get enough criticism and negativity without us bashing stuff when they are eager to share it with us.

“Wanna listen to another one?” he asks.

“Sure.”

He ends up playing me the whole CD.

Heavy metal was my way of rebelling just as rap and punk are his – a soft rebellion but a rebellion nonetheless. I know more about his music than I do mine.

Sometimes, he wants to see the video so we watch it on YouTube.

He always asks me first, knowing that YouTube may have stuff on there that’s not exactly appropriate.

“Do you want to know why I like this?” he asks.

“Tell me,” I say.

And you know what?

I sit and listen.

I watch.

I pay attention to what he’s sharing with me.

There were times I was growing up that Mama didn’t listen to me.

Or, she rolled her eyes and thought my interests were silly.

“You don’t need a new Mouse album,” she said.
“Ratt,” I corrected.

“Same difference.”

“How do you call this music? All the men you like are wearing makeup and have bigger hair than you!”

“You may love Prince but Elvis was and will always be King.”

“Are you watching another movie with Canoe Reeves?”

I spent 90 percent of my teenage years rolling my eyes and wishing my Mama would stop being so critical of everything I liked.

It got to the point I didn’t want to tell her anything I liked because she would make fun of it or be just downright snarky.

She still does it, to a degree.

“Why do you color your hair? I think that is so ridiculous. God gave you a perfectly fine color of hair and you should leave it alone.”

I say nothing. Arguing about why I like something is pointless.

Just like a few weeks ago, my son decided to cut his hair.

His hair, that he had grown out for a year because he wanted it to be like Joey Ramone’s.

When he decided he wanted to grow it out, he asked me what I thought.
“It’s your hair,” was my response.

When he wanted to cut it, I admit, I was sad to see it go. I loved it and thought it was pretty but as my son told me, a boy’s hair is not supposed to be pretty.

After he got it cut, he asked me what I thought.
“I like it,” I said.

“Honest?”

“Honest.” And I do.

It was his choice, his preference, his likes – not mine.

“Did you want to watch The Simpsons?” I ask.

“Really?”

I nod.

He sits next to me on the couch.
“Thank you for always taking an interest in what I like,” he says. “I know you don’t really like The Simpsons.”

“But you do, and that means I have an interest in it.”

As long as he is eager and excited to share what he is interested in with me, I am going to listen.

I am going to watch it or watch him play.

I am going to Google it to make sure it is appropriate and find out everything I can.

I will always listen to his music and allow him to have that freedom of expression with what he likes.

If he wants to share and tell me what’s important in his world, I am going to gladly be a part of it.

“You don’t have to watch this if you don’t want to,” he says.

Nope, I will. I know when my Mama was snarky about things, I quit sharing those details with her. It’s no fun having someone you love rip your stuff apart.

As long as it is important to him, it will be important to me.

“Always?” he asks.

Always.

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The Birthday Party Blues (7/27/2016)

My child is already making his birthday list, putting a corgi at the top followed by Pokemon cards and DS games.

His birthday is months away, mind you.

But, he starts early. Real early. And that’s OK. It’s my way of making up for never having him a real, official birthday party.

Just hearing about friend’s planning parties for their own children is usually enough to give me hives.

All the elaborate stuff that goes into it – jump-jumps, petting zoos, themes.

What happened to just cake and ice cream?

I’m not knocking those who do the big deal birthday parties at all; they are just not something I would do and didn’t even want when I was a kid.

Nope, even when I was a kid, birthday parties kind of freaked me out.

Who in the world ever thought running around a bunch of chairs, with balloons on them nonetheless, to fight with other kids in a game of “Musical Chairs” was fun?
It was terrifying.

For one thing, the sound of a balloon popping is terrifying. Particularly if under your tater. Running around a bunch of chairs is not fun either.

It made me feel like a real life Jack in the Box toy, which also scared the stew out of me, except instead of popping up, we were popping down.

Then there was usually a pin the tail on the donkey thing. Yeah, give kids something with basically a needle and blindfold them. It made me question all the rules of safety I had been cautioned about. I mean, what was next – running with scissors?

The worst though was my own birthday party one year.

I was so excited about having my friends come over, but Mama probably chained smoked two packs of Virginia Slims while she got everything ready.

And nothing made Mama more scared than seeing a car pull up for someone to drop their child off at the party and peel away.
Mama watched the car drive away in a panic.

“Does your Mama know when the party’s over?” she asked as the child made her way inside. “She knows to come back and get you, right? Right? Where did she go? Some place close?”

I didn’t know why Mama was so upset but I think she wanted to cry. She asked me who the kid was and I told her I didn’t know. She came in toting a gift though; she couldn’t be too bad.

She wanted to sit on the couch with the other moms, but she couldn’t.

She had to make sure everything went smoothly, meaning someone wasn’t sticking their fingers in the cake.

We played the games – no musical chairs with the balloons or pin the tail on the donkey. I can’t remember what we played but it definitely wasn’t that.

As we settled in for cake and ice cream, Mama was ready to breathe a sigh of relief. Everyone knew cake and ice cream meant the party was wrapping up.

Just as Mama was thinking she had survived, she found two kids jumping on her bed.

I’m not sure how she got them down but she did and she didn’t even scream.

Maybe it was because she knew the party was about to be over.

Soon, mamas were grabbing up coats and gathering their children, thanking Mama for the party. Knowing my Mama, she was ready for them all to leave so she could chain smoke for the next two hours.

We still didn’t know if that kid’s mama was coming back or not.

Eventually, she did. It was about an hour or two after the party ended but she finally came back.

We still don’t know who that kid was.

That was the last birthday party I had at home.

“Mama, can I have a birthday party – a real one? Not at school?” Cole asked me years ago.

He had had all his parties at school which meant I brought something to the school to celebrate. One year, I even took a piñata to day care then realized that was about as bad as the pin the tail on the donkey thing.

Multiple kids running around and needing to be watched and entertained, the dogs panicking and probably getting stuck under the bed while they hid, trying to make small talk with parents while I wanted to introvert…

“No. I think I am going to take a hard pass on that,” I said. “But, I will make it up to you. I promise.”

So he starts his birthday wish list in July.

He gets one really cool gift and some small other ones; I get to keep my sanity.

 

 

The Chocolate Concealment (6/8/2016)

Some of you may judge me for this. I know that ahead of time.

But, a few of you will understand.

And maybe you do this yourself from time to time.

It started a few years ago, when Cole was around 4.

I locked myself in the bathroom, hoping for privacy.

Cole, being part cat, tried to paw me out from under the door.

“What are you doing?” he wanted to know.

“Nothing!” I cried.

“I can see your feet! What are you doing?!”

He frantically started hitting the door. ‘Let me in!”

His howls were now becoming far too loud and would soon draw attention.

I had to do the unthinkable.

I had to let him in.

“What are you doing?” he asked again.

I swallowed. “Nothing.”

He sniffed the air then shot an accusatory glance at me. “I smell chocolate,” he declared.

I couldn’t hide it any longer.

I had hid in the one room with a lock to eat a candy bar.

A precious, precious candy bar.

Without sharing it with anyone else.

Cole readied himself to wail – what kind of horrible person hid to eat a candy bar and didn’t share with her child?

It wasn’t that I was necessarily hiding to keep it from Cole.

But maybe I was trying to hide it from someone else.

Like his father.

I quickly promised the child his own candy bar, or maybe a trip to Dairy Queen if he would keep it on the down low. He lowered his eyes and agreed, already plotting to get both.

Over the years, I found other hiding places but they have not been nearly as effective.

I thought my office would be ideal, in all of its cluttered confusion.

I successfully hid bags of Dove for a while, until my hiding spot was one day discovered.

When I reached under the carefully placed envelopes and magazines in the basket, the bag was empty.

Except for a few wrappers, evidence of the transgression that had occurred.

I gasped.

He had found my candy. And ate it.

How did he find my hiding space? How did he even know I had candy?

I asked all these questions aloud to the empty bag of Dove milk chocolate.

“I think he noticed you kept coming in here,” a voice answered.

It was Cole; not the bag.

“You kept getting up and walking in here for a few minutes. I think he wondered what you were doing.”

And, I foolishly didn’t hide the wrappers I put in the trash.

Had I really gotten so lackadaisical I didn’t cover up my tracks?

“I will have to find another hiding spot,” I said, sinking into my chair.

“He will keep looking until he finds it,” Cole whispered.

Much like Liam Neeson hunting down his daughter’s kidnappers in Taken, Lamar would sniff out every square of chocolate I had until it was no more. And he would eat it, shamelessly.

I have known for over 13 years now that I have to strategically hide chocolate from him. Lamar doesn’t know it but we almost broke up once over a Girl Scout cookie. Well, two actually. He came over one night – to eat leftover pizza—even though I told him I was near death and shivering on the couch. “I am just coming by to eat the pizza and watch some TV,” he promised. How romantic, I thought dryly as I hung up the phone. I snoozed on the couch while he ate the leftovers and watched some bicycling documentary on cable. Before he left, he had kissed my head and told me had already taken the evil beagle out and for me to lock my deadbolt.

The next morning, all I could think of was Thin Mints and Samosas – the fresh boxes I had bought on my way home and had been too sick to eat.

Surely, cookies and coffee would make me better.

There was one each left in the box.

Lamar was dangerously close to be permanently single that day.

After we married, he ate my birthday chocolate bar that our neighbor brought me.

I had hid it, too, mind you, tucked behind some condensed soup and other stuff that I knew he wouldn’t even give a second glance to. But he knew there was a chocolate bar in the house and he had to eat it.

Now, he was not only finding the stuff in the cabinets or pantry, he was brazenly coming into my office, rifling through the papers and stuff to find the chocolate.

I didn’t know what to do. Should I hide it in plain sight? Or maybe get one of those hollow books that people hide their valuables in?

“Mama!” Cole cried one day as he looked over the shelves in the pantry. His box of Little Debbies was gone, or rather, the empty box was sitting on the shelf.

“I put my name on them,” he said forlornly.

“Your daddy doesn’t pay attention to that,” I said, empathizing. “I don’t think he cares, either.” If he would eat a king size chocolate bar in a bright pink wrapper that read, “For you, Birthday Girl!” I don’t think a sticky note with the name “Cole” in permanent marker was going to stop him.

“You’ve got to start hiding food,” I said simply. “You need a hiding spot – one better than mine – and you need to hide your treats. Your daddy is worse than a bear.”

Little Debbies, root beer – anything Cole put back to enjoy later, like during one of his favorite shows, his father would find and eat.

A few weeks later, Cole found a small Coleman cooler at the store. It was just big enough for a six pack of Barq’s and some Strawberry Shortcake rolls.

It worked, too, for about two weeks. “Hey, this is a neat little cooler! What’s in it?” we heard his father say.

The other day I found a wrapper in the bathroom trash. I didn’t say a word, I just helped hide the evidence.

 

 

Snips, Snails, and Puppy Dog Tails (6/1/2016)

A dear, dear friend once gave me a check list of things to follow as the mother of a boy.

One, was to expect to never at any given time have enough food in the house. Even if I had just been to the grocery store, there would never be enough food to fill the vacuous black hole of a boy’s stomach.

She was right about that, as I feel like most days, all I do is feed him.

She also warned my house would never be clean again.

Heck, it hadn’t been clean before, so that didn’t really bother me.

Her next heeding was to always check his pockets because sometimes, living things may find shelter there. Especially if he is wearing pants with a lot of pockets.
“And you don’t want to find out the hard way that amphibians cannot survive a washing machine cycle,” she cautioned.

By the time Cole reached double digits on his age, I felt like I could breathe a sigh of relief.

He hadn’t stuffed a frog or anything else living in the pockets of his pants, leaving the critters to their natural habitats where he would study them each night, armed with a flashlight and a journal.

He wasn’t particularly fascinated with violent video games or movies as some of his peers had been. Sure, he liked his Nintendo DS but it was not an everyday toy.

He loves old cars, and has a definite opinion on what kind of car he was going to get when he could drive at age 30.

All in all, he has been a rarity of sorts, being well behaved, thinking on his own, and having his own opinions on things that sometimes rivaled my own.

So, when he my precious little lump of boyish charm decided he loathed baths, I was shocked.

This is the child that once used my whole brand new bottle of fragrant body wash in his bath – so he could “smell good for the ladies,” he declared. He was in pre-k at the time.

Just a year ago, I was buying him banana scented Minion body wash and now, I am arguing with him as to why he needs a shower every day.

“I don’t smell yet,” he will say.

“Cole, you don’t wait until you smell – you take a bath every day!”

“Well, I don’t do anything to get dirty,” he said.

“You shed dead skin daily, it’s mixed with oil, and dirt, and other stuff your body produces.”
This was science and instead of my child finding it gross, he exclaimed, “Cool!” and wonder if he could watch it happen.

“No,” I sighed, not really sure.

I could not relate to this new-found aversion to cleanliness. As a child, any time a bath was drawn, I would get in the tub, even when it wasn’t for me. I would beg to take a third, sometimes fourth bath as a child because I loved being clean.

But I was a little girl. A little girl who propped up on her stuffed animals and read them books all day while eating Little Debbies.

A little girl who never broke a sweat, and seldom went outdoors.

This is a little boy – a very busy, active, always outside little boy who sweats.

“But I don’t stink – yet,” he will say.

And that’s another thing: little boys seem to like noxious odors that can gag a 100-lb German shepherd.

Cole took his shoes off one night and wiggled his socked toes, pointing a foot at Ava.

The big dog promptly fell over and shuddered.

He giggled with glee.

“Cole, get in the shower before you get in bed,” I said.
“Never!” he cried.

He tells me he has a protective layer going on and when he takes a shower, it removes the barrier between him and the outer world, allowing germs and the like to go through his pores.

“Do you have any idea how long it takes to build up a good solid barrier?” he asked in all seriousness.

Bathing the 100-lb German shepherd is actually easier than finagling him to get a shower; and she will nearly kill you.

For Mother’s Day, my child gifted me with Mom coupons, telling me I could redeem them for showers. “Cole, you are supposed to take a shower every day,” I replied.

“Well, you only got two coupons for that, so not sure how that will work out.” The coupons were specifically for a “Scrub –a-Dub Hug,” which meant he’d get a shower and even hug me later instead of complain about the cruelty of water and soap.

I fuss, I beg, I plead, I bargain – boy, do I bargain – all to no avail.

“He’s a little boy,” his father says. “Little boys all go through that stage where they hate baths and they want to see how gross they can get.”

When would this stage end? How long would it last? He was enjoying being as icky and gross as he could get away with.

“Don’t worry,” Lamar said. “Once he gets interested in a girl – and I mean a real girl his own age – he will start caring if he has a bath or not.”

This did not comfort me at all.

The only way to get my little boy, all snips, snails, and puppy dog tails, to care about whether or not he was clean was if he was interested in a girl?

If only that checklist came with instructions on how to handle the heartache of little boys growing up, I would be better prepared.

 

That Mama’s Intuition (5/25/2016)

There was no getting past Mama.

The woman claimed she had eyes in the back of her head, which led me to dig furiously through her hair while she slept when I was a small child.

But Mama had a keen sense of when I was doing something I shouldn’t, was in trouble, or just all around in a pickle, often of my own doing.

I spent most of my earlier years wondering how my Mama knew what I was doing or more accurately, had done, outside of her presence.

And this was years, decades even, before we had the technology we have now.

No, Mama had her own GPS system that ran on what she called Mama ESP.

Once, when I was heading out with a friend, Mama cautioned us we better not be cruising with any boys, without looking up from her crossword puzzle.

“Oh, we won’t,” my friend replied.

A few hours later when we pulled back into the parking lot to pick up another friend’s car at the Winn-Dixie, there sat Mama, on the hood of her car, like a little skinny red-headed angry hood ornament, breathing fire from her Virginia Slim 120.

She tried to pull me from the backseat, the first of many occasions where she would try to pull me out of a moving vehicle.

“You lied!” she had screeched as she continued to try to pull me through the window. I am not entirely certain the window was even down but rather, she was executing something straight out of “The Matrix,” only about 20 years earlier.

I was embarrassed and more accurately, scared. I had been caught in a lie by the red-headed dragon herself. And I think she was going to do more than just put me on restriction or hide my phone.

Somehow, somehow, one of my friends saved me and used some Jedi mind trick to convince Mama to let me go home with her. I am still not sure how this happened, as Mama didn’t really like her, but the girl had pulled off a “This is not the droids you’re looking for” move with such aplomb, I would have thought she was Obi Wan Kenobi in the flesh.

When I got in my friend’s car, I looked at her and said, “I don’t know how you managed that, but thank you. You just spared the skin on my hinney.”

My friend shook her head, “I just don’t know how she knew where we were. It’s like she’s psychic or something.”

Or something.

I asked Mama the next day how she knew where I was. She was barely speaking to me and giving me the silent treatment which meant she scowled at me with disappointment most of the day.

“I have my ways,” was all she said.

“What ways?” I asked.

Was it smoke signals she sent out from her Virginia Slim?

Did they go to other chain smoking mothers to keep a lookout for daughters with rebellious attitudes, big hair, and too much makeup? And boyfriends who could be described pretty much the same way?

Whatever it was, she knew where to find me, and where I had been.

On a few occasions, this internal tracking system came in handy in circumstances that didn’t involve me being caught in a lie.

Once after going to a friend’s house to sit out by the pool, I suffered a pretty severe sunburn. I was miserable. I also may have had a slight case of sun poisoning. I managed to whimper my way through a late night run of “Pretty Woman” at the theater, but only because I was promised extra butter on my popcorn.

I wouldn’t dream of asking my friends to drive me 30 minutes back home; I had to be a trouper and tough it out. Besides, wasn’t this how you got a good base tan?

But all I wanted was my Mama.

She had never been to my friends’ house, and it was late; I couldn’t ask her to drive all the way out there after she had worked until 2 in the morning.

I was so busy whimpering I didn’t see the headlights of Mama’s car as they flooded the driveway at my friend’s house. Even though it was late, Mama drove out there to get me.
She gave me an emphatic gasp when she saw how burned I was. “Oh, dear,” she began. “I am so glad I came on to get you; you may need to go to the emergency room.”

“Did someone call you?” I asked.
Mama shook her head, gently leading me to the car. Everything hurt. I felt like I was overcooked and even my hair felt extra crispy.

“No,” she said.

“Then how did you know?….”

“A mother just knows,” she said.

She never told me how she knew, or how she found my friend’s house in the dark when she had never been there before. This was decades before cell phones with Siri and navigation, which even now, I am sure my now fluffy, slightly darker haired smoke-free dragon would mess up.

She took me home where it took me a week and a lot of vinegar baths from Granny to survive the burn.

I still don’t know how she figured all these things out.

Just the other day, I asked Cole something, very direct when I already knew the answer.

He gasped in horror. “How did you know that, Mama? Are you violating my privacy? I have rights you know!”

I hadn’t violated any rights.
I was a mother.

And some things, we just know.

I am my Mama’s mother’s granddaughter (5/11/2016)

I swore when I was a child – probably more a teenager, really, as they know everything – that I would never be like my Mama.

No, that skinny fire-breathing redhead was crazy.

She thought the silliest things were life-hazards, when riding in a Monte Carlo with her smoking and the windows rolled up was probably more hazardous to my health than me roller skating.

She was strict. More specifically, “controlling” was the word I used from age 15-23.

I thought her sole purpose was to make me a completely uncool spinster.

“Your mama is so nice,” my friends would say.

They would come over to talk to Mama about things they didn’t feel comfortable talking to their own mamas about.

This is the woman who would randomly show up at school in the middle of the day to peek in my class to make sure I was okay.

The woman who would point at me, then the floor, commanding me to come there so she could ask me if I had lunch money or not.

And my friends came over to ‘chill with my mom?’

“Why do my friends come over here and talk to you?” I asked her once bewildered.

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Is it so hard to imagine that I am maybe a nice person and they want to talk to me?”

What in the world did this woman possibly have to talk about?

Other than her heedings and warnings about everything being dangerous, including air, she didn’t have a lot to say.

“What do you say to them?” I asked.

Mama shrugged again. “Nothing really.”

I approached Granny with this dilemma.

“You wanna know why your friends come over here to talk to your Mama? It’s because she’s quiet. She actually listens to them,” the old gal said.

“She does what?”

“She listens.”

I reckon Mama has always done that. She is quite the good listener, especially if she is not injecting her listening with her words of warning.

“So my friends come over here because she listens? Don’t I listen?”

Granny shook her head.

“No, you too busy telling everyone what your opinion is like they care. They don’t want to know what you think of their boyfriends. Knowing you, you’ve already said it. They want someone that’ll listen to them and let them figure it out on their own.”

The old gal evidently missed the irony of her statement.

She spent a goodly portion of her time expressing her unrequested opinion on everyone along with her judgements. If Granny disagreed with what someone was doing, instead of trying to be a compassionate person as Mama does, she told them what she thought, holding nothing back.

And Mama was quiet. I think some folks may have thought she was aloof but she was really just more reserved and observant.

Granny, on the other hand, would not shut up.
“I’m shy and don’t feel comfortable talking to a bunch of strangers,” she said – an outright lie—out of the blue one day.

“I bet the greeter at Walmart wished that were true; you spent 15 minutes the other day discussing your hysterectomy with them.”

“They asked how I was, and I told them,” was her response.

Granny believing she was shy was almost comical. A bull in a China shop that had been poked with a fire was more subtle than this woman.

And she didn’t feel comfortable talking to strangers? She never met a stranger. She would go up and start talking to someone like she had known them for years.

I think when she worked in a sewing plant, she talked so much they had to move her away from one of her best friends. That didn’t work; she just started talking to whoever they moved her next to.

Mama was the quiet, compassionate empathizer and then there was Granny, the chatterbox full of judgements she felt needed to be shared.

Oh, sweet son of a biscuit eater.

I’m not like my Mama at all.

It’s worse. Much, much worse.

When All Else Fails (4/20/2016)

Do you know what having the title ‘mother’ means?

Don’t think it means you are adored and revered – let me stop you right there.

No, it means you are the one whose advice, warnings, and wisdom is completely disregarded.

Whatever comes out of your mouth is ignored, causes involuntarily eye-rolling, and may cause stomach upset.

It’s more harmful to your health than the newest pharmaceutical.

“Don’t do that, you are going to get hurt.”

I think I wake up saying that some mornings.

“But –”

“No. No buts, just do what I say.”

Of course, I don’t know anything. I mean, what could a mother possibly know?

I can see the impending accidents that can occur and despite having no working knowledge of physics, can ascertain at what speed and velocity something will ricochet through the air to make contact with one’s head.

Maybe that’s mother’s intuition but who knows? That’s just as ignored as everything else.

“What don’t you put that up to keep it safe?” I ask.

“It’s alright.”

The next day: “Oh, man…that’s ruined…”

Really?

“Mama…can you get me another one…”

Unfortunately, no; that was the last one.

“Oh, man….”

“Didn’t I tell you?….”

Just the beginning of this phrase causes the rest of what comes out of my mouth to be muted.

Don’t try finding sympathy in the company of your own mother. If she is anything like mine she can remember every time you ignored her heedings. Mine will even side with my child just to pour salt in the wound.

“You never listened to me so why should he listen to you?”

“Maybe because I am right?”

Mama sighs, an exasperated, slightly dramatic sigh. “I am usually right, too, you know.”

“So far it hasn’t happened.”

Of course, when I was younger, I never thought for one moment she could be right. She was far too full of rules: telling me what to wear, what time I needed to be home, to watch what I was doing, and not stay up late on a school night. “If you know something is due, make sure you do it when you get the assignment – not the night before it’s due.”

I ignored her then, and, yes, I ignore her now.

“Make sure….have you…did you?”

Her statements are all peppered with constant warnings and advice.

“I am an adult, you know. I can do this,” is my retort.

A few days later – sometimes, it’s not even days but hours, actually – I am on the phone with her, asking her how to fix it.

“Can I ask you something? Why didn’t you listen to me to begin with?” she will ask.

How can I tell her that I am not supposed to listen to her? I am pretty sure it is written somewhere that while a mother can be adored and cherished, she is not necessarily listened to.

“Did you ever listen to Granny?”

She didn’t respond.

Granny would give Mama many words of wisdom, none of which my mother would take.

“She’s just being bossy and controlling,” is how Mama described the advice.

In hindsight, however, Granny was right.

She was right about a lot of things, like wearing a slip, even if you think you don’t need one so everyone else won’t see all your glory; never buying cheap shoes; and always making sure you look presentable before you head out, lest you want to run into everyone you know in town.

She was right and, as much as I hate to admit it, Mama is right about a bunch of stuff, too.

Having a son does increase the validity of what I may say, but not by much. I can tell my child what to do or, more accurately, not to do, and he will listen in as much as he feels applies to him and what he wants to do at that given time.

Our conversation usually follows a rhythm of me telling him not to do something and him declaring he knows what he’s doing.

This is typically followed by a thud or the sound of something crashing. “I’m alright,” he will call out, not too convincingly.

“Didn’t I tell you?…”

“Yes, Mama, you did…”

I sigh as I survey the damage. Wood floors can create pretty immediate bruising.

Didn’t I just tell him not try to run-slide in socks?

Did he listen?

Of course not.

When all else fails, just do what your Mama told you.

Catching Santa (12/16/15)

My child had a plan.

It was an intricate plan, complete with several diagrams and involved string.

I watched him furiously make his plans one evening, drawing everything out, measuring distance and re-evaluating the steps needed.

I am guessing it was close to watching Einstein at work.

“What are you doing?” I finally asked when he began getting the Border collie involved.

“I’m working on a project,” was his reply.

He continued with his diagram, erasing and redrawing lines when he found something didn’t work.

The Border Collie wasn’t quite sure what was going on, but remained steadfast in the endeavor.

“Cole, you’ve got twine around Pumpkin. What are you doing?”

“I’m going to catch him,” he said.

“Catch who?” I asked.

“Santa.”

Oh, boy.

“Really? How are you going to do that?”

He stood up and surveyed the preliminary execution of his plans.

“Well, I am still working on it, but I am going to leave him a note saying there’s milk in the fridge, when he opens the fridge, it will trip this string, which is supposed to pull this down and take a picture,” he took a breath. “I’m trying to get this little camcorder to work, but not sure how I can when it only records for a few minutes. It needs to be running a while. As you can see, I am still working on this.”

“I see.”

He continued: “I am going to get proof Santa’s real, Mama. You know? I am going to get video and photographic evidence! He is real, right?”

Ah, so that’s what it was. I wondered when this day would come, I just never expected my child to come up with a plan involving video and fifth grade engineering to be involved.

“He is,” I answered. “But, he stops coming when you stop believing in him.”

“I know that,” Cole said softly. “I still believe Mama, but I hear a lot of other kids saying he’s not real. I want to prove them wrong.”

Being homeschooled, I am not quite sure which kids he is referring to, other than maybe something he heard before at school. He had started questioning then but wanted to believe so he didn’t pursue the issue when I told him Santa was very much real.

Now, it’s me wanting him to believe just a little bit longer, to hold on to that magic that we only get to have when we are children and can believe in Santa, the tooth fairy, and other things we lose in a less sparkly and too harshly real adulthood.

I wanted him to believe in the magic of a chubby elf bringing presents and spreading goodwill, instead of the scary world we live in, where our worst fears are becoming too real.

I wanted him to hold on to this last bit of childhood as long as he could.

I can’t remember when Santa stopped coming for me.

I had asked Mama if he was real, and her reply was the same as mine: “When you stop believing, he stops coming.” There was no declaration of not believing, no disavowing Santa, just one year, there was no Santa.

And from then on, things were so different.

My behavior – whether good or bad-didn’t determine my gifts. There was no, “You better behave if you want Santa to come.”

I had to behave because it was expected of someone my age. You know, that responsible behavior befitting someone Santa didn’t come visit anymore.

I missed those days, the sense of wonder, the feeling that somehow, miracles could and would happen. I tried to hold on to that feeling, but when you are an adult, it can be hard to cling to hope.

I wanted my child to hold on, and to believe as long as he could.

“You know, I think you may have some flaws in your plan,” I suggested.

He scratched his head. “How so?” He had even ran through a trial run with his dad acting as Santa.

“Well, for one thing, Santa is magic.”

“Yeah?”

“You can’t capture him on film. He won’t show up.”

Cole squinted his eyes as he pondered this. “You mean like a vampire or ghost?”

“Kinda. He won’t show up though. And, if he can see you when you are sleeping and watches you throughout the year, he knows you are plotting this right now. He may not come if he thinks you are questioning he is not real.”

“You’re killing my dreams, Mama!” Cole cried. “You’re killing my dreams!”

“I am not trying to kill your dreams; I am trying to make sure Santa brings you presents this year!”

He dropped his head. “It’s not that I don’t believe, Mama, I want to prove to everyone else he is real. I believe. I do. But not everyone else does.”

I kissed the top of his head, which now comes up to my chin. “And, sometimes, sweet boy, just the faith of one, can keep it alive for others.”

Santa is scheduled to arrive this year, but the string and cameras will be put away. It may be the last year he visits our home, but I am going to try to keep the spirit alive as long as I can.

The wisdom of a child by way of a jelly jar (12/2/2015)

It started with a jelly jar.

Not just any jelly jar, but those cute patterned ones that previously held some delectable concoction from my best friend’s kitchen.

I pulled the empty containers out from the fridge and placed them on the counter, asking Lamar to “please don’t throw them away.”

I said it twice. For emphasis.

Because, he is a male and doesn’t always listen.

He heard me because he replied: “Sara said she didn’t care if she got them back, she’s got plenty of jelly jars.”

“I know what she said,” I told him. “But, I want to keep these. So please, don’t throw them away.”

That was the third time I made my request.

Little jelly jars remind me of my childhood when Granny would save and re-use everything she could. And a little jelly jar, particularly one with a quilted pattern on the exterior and with the lid had many purposes. She could store buttons in there, use it as a juice glass, or even re-use it for her own jelly.

I was planning on making candles and gifting one back to Sara Jean, my partner in crime and grand jelly maker.

And, I just like them. I like little glass things and these were cute.

I went to find them one morning, thinking I would put them with my craft supplies for later and could not find them.

I checked the dish racks – no little cute jelly jars.

I did find seven straws, because it makes perfect sense to wash and re-use straws when you can get a pack of 2 million for a buck at the Dollar Tree. I am probably still using the first pack of straws I bought when Cole was 3.

But no cute little jelly jars.

I had asked him three times not to throw them out. Surely if the man will save a dingdang straw, he will save a jelly jar.

“Where are those jelly jars I asked you to save?” I asked him when he got home.

He didn’t answer at first, he just got a glass of water and drank it very, very slowly.

When he finished it, he got another.

“Lamar,” I began. “Where are those jelly jars?”

“What jelly jars?” he asked. “Did Doodle go out yet? She’s got that look like she wants to go. Doodle, do you need me to go out with you?”

He was not going to use her as a pittie-adorable shield.

“Lamar.”

“What?”

“My jars.”

“Did you want to save those?” he asked.

I swear, he pulled Doodle closer. An adorable chunky pup was not going to save him.

“You save straws and lids to yogurt containers – there’s no bottoms to the containers, but by golly, we’ve got 20 lids. But you threw away those cute jars I asked you to save?”

“I didn’t know…”

“You didn’t know! I told you – three times!”

The pittie mix sensing my upsetted-ness, sat down on his foot and pawed at me, as if asking me to spare her big human; he didn’t know any better.

Realizing it was futile, she went behind the couch to hide.

“I will find them,” he said.

But he did not. The jars were not found in the trash can inside and he even checked the garbage outside, not before looking in at me through the window to see if I was watching. I was.

“Are you really going to be mad at me over those jelly jars?” Lamar asked.

I said nothing. Silence speaks volumes.

“I had no idea you would want to keep those. Why did you want to keep them for anyway? Don’t you have enough glass jars?”

Still nothing. More volumes. He’d figure it out. Maybe.

“Don’t you have some other jelly jars somewhere?” He opened cabinets as if searching, knowing there was no jelly jars. Maybe he was praying the jelly jar fairy had put them there.

“Daddy, you don’t get it, do you?” Cole asked, not even looking up from his tablet.

“You gotta listen to your girl – heck, I know that, and I’m only 11. It’s not the jelly jars. It’s the fact that you didn’t listen to her. She asked you not to throw those jars away and you did. You didn’t listen. You gotta listen to your girl. I’m not married yet, I haven’t even been on a date yet with a girl but one day I will be and I will know, you gotta listen. You don’t, and you gonna be in big trouble, Daddy. Big trouble.”

Big trouble, the child said. And he was right on all counts.

Girls that breathe fire, and men who respect them

A recent open letter on the Internet has gone viral, in which an Atlanta mom revealed she was going to raise her daughters to believe they breathed fire.

It was in response to the recent revelation that Josh Duggar had cheated on his wife, Anna.

The mother talked about how she would raise her daughters to be empowered instead of repressed. She would teach them to stand up for themselves and be strong, independent women.

Mama may not have realized she was raising me to breathe fire, but she did. And she was a fire-breather herself, complete with the red hair and the Virginia Slim 120.

I was taught, rightly or wrongly, that my worth was not based on who I married. Or if I even married.

When I first entered college and was picking a major, someone commented: “Oh, so you are getting your M.R.S.”

“What degree is that?” I asked.

The lady looked at me and rolled her eyes, “You’re just here looking for a husband.”

No, not really. I was there to learn. I just hadn’t decided on a major yet.

I know some women who did do that though. I met a few women who told me they were raised to marry a doctor or a lawyer.

Unlike them, I was raised to be a doctor or lawyer. The fact that I am not either is one Mama reminds me of constantly.

Women are worth a lot more than just their career or education level though.

We forget we have any worth when we are repressed, suppressed and suffer abuse in any form. I think the verbal abuse can be one of the worst; being told repeatedly we are nothing, stupid, and worthless.

I have seen women suppressed to the point they lose their voice, their identity, their soul. While I fully believe that raising daughters to be strong women is important, we’re forgetting something else: How we raise our sons.

Do we raise our sons to perpetuate the male roles that can typically be more dominant or do we raise our sons to be kind and respectful towards women.

I’ve seen parents of other boys pushing their sons to use might, and force and criticizing them for being emotional.

I’ve heard my own husband tell Cole he had to be more aggressive, a point that caused me to shoot flames of my own.

“That is largely what is wrong with the world,” I stated emphatically. “This whole male aggression thing is out of hand, and Cole won’t be a part of it.”

I know he was inferring Cole needed to get more aggressive in sports; my child, however, is too kind and compassionate to be aggressive. I told this to Lamar, as well as pointing out that once Cole’s competitive streak kicked in, he would be fine in sports.

Aggressive and competitiveness are two different things and I’d rather my child be competitive.

It’s a matter of teaching boys that might doesn’t make right, that just because they are male, they are not superior, and that everyone should be treated with respect.

If all the mothers of boys were able to raise their sons to be kind and compassionate – free of any pressure to fit some antiquated alpha male stereotypes-they may empower the women in their life to be strong, independent and have high self-esteem.

It’s a matter of teaching our sons that women shouldn’t be called those derogatory terms they often are.

It’s showing boys how to respect girls, and if a girl says no, she means no; if a girl, or any person for that matter, feels insecure, how to give them confidence instead of taking advantage of the insecurity.

It’s a matter of treating others-everyone- with respect.

I think my child has a good grasp on this so far.

When we discussed the news one evening, and I simplified the events, Cole began his many, many questions. The one that stood out the most: “How would they feel if someone treated his daughter that way?”

I know I am raising my child to be gentle, to be loving, to be kind. One day, he will marry and have children, and I want him passing that on them.

I hope that whoever is raising his future wife is teaching her to be loving, supportive and to have a good heart.

I hope she will also be strong and independent, but if she’s not, I know my child has come from a long line of fire-breathing women and will encourage her to be a strong woman and help her feel confident. As long as he doesn’t tell her his Mama would do something a certain way, he’ll probably do great.

We do have to do better by our daughters.

We do that by teaching our sons better.