Sticks & Stones semantics

There have been a few words I have tried to eradicate from my child’s vocabulary.

Fat is one of them.

Retarded is another.

These are words that have bothered me for various reasons for a long time.

Fat is a word that taunted me as a child and is a word I have called myself, even in the times I was frighteningly skinny.

Retarded is a word that just shouldn’t be said.

There are other words that are just hurtful as well, and they all vary in their sting depending on their intent.

Does that mean bad words don’t sometimes fall out of my mouth for various reasons?
I’m not about to lie and say they don’t.

In moments of anger I have heatedly used hurtful epitaphs, not to anyone’s face mind you, but I have uttered them in furious outbursts, usually in the confines of my car or locked in the bathroom.

Not some of my finest moments.

Other words have floated around lately, words that I thought had been stricken from the vernacular, that created conversations as to the power, weight, and importance of words.

More importantly, the conversation focused on how some words can be used to hurt and are never okay, regardless of the relationship between the people using them.

And as I try to be vigilant about the words that are uttered and said about people, two words that I didn’t even think about have found themselves on my radar.

Dumb and stupid.

Being a parent makes one hyper-aware of the words that are said.

You expect the occasional swear word to slip out as a means of pushing the boundaries.

You wait for a teacher to send you a note saying your child repeated words that are unacceptable and she wonders where he heard them.

Dumb and stupid seem to be innocent words, uttered about things that are common and everyday.

“That’s so stupid,” I have muttered under my breath when I hear something I don’t agree with.

“How dumb,” has been whispered about instructions on the back of the pizza box.

It wasn’t until I heard the words come out of my child’s mouth that I realized how these words that seemed so benign to a degree could hurt.

He wasn’t even saying the words in a mean manner. But hearing him say them made me realize how hurtful they could be.

“Who was dumb?” I asked for clarification.

“Not who, Mama. What. And it was the rules. The rules are so dumb and stupid.”

I can understand feeling that way as a teenager. Rules do feel that way at times, even when we are adults, and we appreciate them.

“So, it wasn’t a person?”

He shook his head no.

“Why would that matter?” he asked sincerely.

It would matter for many reasons, I thought.

But I could see what was confusing. We say things – and people – are dumb and stupid all the time.

We do it to be funny, to be mean, to be hateful, and even when we are just irritated by them.

Mama has always taken offense when I have commented something she said was dumb or stupid.

“I am not stupid,” she said.
“I didn’t say you were,” I reply.

“You said my reaction was stupid; that’s the same thing.”
“No, it’s not.”

“Yes, it is.”
In my mind, it wasn’t but most of our communication is the other person’s perception of what we said. If we are belittling them or at least make them feel like we are making fun of them, odds are they won’t listen to us.

“I don’t like those words,” I told my child after thinking about some of the heavier implications.  

He was confused; they have been words he’s heard me say.

“Why?”

“Because calling someone dumb or stupid is not nice,” I said. “Someone can’t help that.”

“They can’t?” he asked.

“No, they can’t. Dumb traditionally speaks more to their intellect, or capacity to learn.  Not everyone learns at the same speed or level. So, I really don’t like that word at all.”

He understood that part.

“What about stupid?” he asked. “Is it the same?”

I took a deep breathe. In my mind, stupid was different. Stupid could mean someone was choosing to be ignorant despite the information that had been presented to them.

Stupid, I explained, had some application in certain circumstances as long as it was used to address an action or behavior and not a person.

He nodded.
“So, it is better to call someone’s actions stupid but not the person. And never dumb.”

“Right,” I said. “But it would just be better if we didn’t use it at all. We need to think about how we would feel if someone said that to us.”

Perhaps, if we did that, none of our words would have a hurtful sting.

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Love harder

When I became a mom, one of my dearest, life-long friends gave me some advice.

Whatever I did, do it out of love and it would be the best decision for my child.

Those words have guided me and been in my heart for the last 14 years, my frequent gauge as to what I did, how I reacted, and what I said.

Loving our children should be natural – I know it isn’t always for some. Not everyone is nurturing, or expressive with words; some show love in different ways. My Granny was not one who heaped praise or wasted words on endearments, but she loved in a different way.

Mama is the one who loves unconditionally and quietly, not making a big fuss or demanding.

So, love has different modes of delivery when you’re a parent and is cut from different cloth depending on the person.

But love is love and it is supposed to cover a multitude of sins.

It doesn’t always work that way though.

I have heard of people who have turned their backs on their children for various reasons.

Some of those reasons are painful reasons, too.

It is hard for me to imagine because I knew growing up, no matter what I did, no matter how wrong I was, nothing would have separated my Mama’s love from me.

Granny wouldn’t have stopped loving me either, but she would have fussed about whatever I did until Jesus returned.

Nothing I could have done would have made them stop loving me. Sure, they may have been disappointed, and I am sure Mama is still disappointed by some of my choices, but she never stopped loving me.

As a mother, I have said nothing would ever change my love for my child.

I couldn’t foresee there being anything that would make me stop loving him or forsake him.

But let me tell you something, you should never say make such presumptuous statements because you will have a doozy thrown at you to test you.

I had thought of every possible situation my teenager could throw my way and the very one I had not considered was the very one that came up.

I couldn’t grasp it. All the things I had taught my child were discarded and it felt like a personal attack on me since it was a topic I had so verbally expressed my opposition to.

Had he not listened to me?

Did he not care what I believed or thought on this subject?

I was told that it didn’t matter what I believed or thought, it was his beliefs and not mine. He was being tolerant of my beliefs and position, and expected a little tolerance in return.

I was devastated. I was not prepared for this.

I told Mama and she was shocked.

“Oh my,” she said. “Goodness.”

I sought solace in my dearest friends and one lovingly suggested that maybe this was his way of rebelling.

That made sense.

My way of rebelling was wearing Black Sabbath shirts and lots of eyeshadow. I still wear the eyeshadow but have long discarded just about anything related to Ozzy.

My music was the way to rebel against my Mama’s country music. The main thing she was vocal about was my music and her dislike for the loud, headbanging noise she said wasn’t fit for audio consumption.

Was this his way of rebelling against me in the one area that he knew would strike a chord?

“He is trying on different perspectives to find himself,” one friend said, “It’s his way of just seeing if this fits.”

What if it does? I wasn’t sure I could handle it.

“Then, that’s what he is. What does it change?”

It changes that he is not following my way, my path, and the presumption I had that he would be like me in this regard. It meant he was not living up to the expectations I had for his life and the things I had assumed for him.

“Are you going to love him any less?”

“No,” I said. “But I am hurt. Really, deeply hurt. And disappointed.”

“I get that,” she replied. “But he is learning. And maybe this is a time where you love him harder.”

It doesn’t matter what he did.

Just like it doesn’t matter what someone else we love has done that we deem to be a mistake, or some path we wouldn’t necessarily chose for them.

Sometimes, we have to let them make those mistakes and choices and just love them harder through it all.

Intrinsic grace

I have found one of the most challenging things about being a parent is when a child starts forming their own opinions outside of your own.

Free of your dogma, your point of view, your very strong position.

At least that is something I have encountered since my own child has hit his teen years.

It was so easy when he was younger.

His questions revolved around gentler topics, such as which Charlie Brown holiday special was the best or if cereal truly constituted a suitable dinner.

My answers were the Great Pumpkin and yes, absolutely.

When I stated my opinion on something, it was regarded with earnest respect and as gospel.

There was no hesitation, no question.

Just a cherubic little face, smiling up in adoration and agreement.

But suddenly, that changed.

His overnight deepening voice also brought a contrast that surprised me.

Out of the blue, he disagreed with me.

I was shocked.

Not because I want my child to just parrot what he’s heard me say over the years.

I knew people who did that; who merely regurgitated facts and beliefs they had heard their parents say, void of any real meaning.

I didn’t want that for Cole.
Or did I?

“How can you think something like that?” I asked one day.

“It’s not a thought, it’s a fact,” he argued. “I have researched it, Mama. Have you?”

I stopped in my tracks.

No, I had not researched it. I was going strictly by my gut reaction. Or was it my heart?

“You are responding emotionally to this and if you would take five minutes and do some educated research, you may see a different side of things. Don’t just believe what supports your opinion.”

What the what – who was this person? Was this really my child?

I did not like this turn of events.

Did I raise him to be a critical thinker? Yes, I had.

Did that mean I only wanted him to be a critical thinker if it aligned with what I thought?

I was starting to wonder.

I didn’t like this shift, and I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about some of his differing opinions.

The things he wanted to discuss and talk about were so different than what he had been interested in before and so vastly different that areas I felt comfortable talking about.

I expressed my concern to Mama one day, telling her how unsettled these changes, this growing up thing, had made me.

She listened quietly, letting me whine, vent, and question everything I had maybe done wrong.

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t know this child,” I finished.

“He’s fine,” she said gently. “You’re fine. He is growing up, Kitten.”

“But he is coming up with stuff that I don’t like!”

Mama laughed softly. “Oh, really?”

How could she find this amusing?

“Is any of it morally wrong or is it just not your opinion?” she asked.

My child is pretty moral; he has always had a good sense of right and wrong and been quick to point it out to anyone who was violating it.

“Let me tell you something,” she began. “Cole is his own person. He is going to have his own thoughts, ideas, likes and dislikes, and perspectives about things. Those may at times be totally different than yours. And that is okay.

Right now, he is forming his own point of view. You can guide him and re-direct him if he gets way off base, but you need to realize some of those may not be the same as yours. Let him find his way.”

I didn’t like this and said so.

“You really have no say in it,” she said. “I didn’t with you; Granny didn’t with me.”

“So, we raise children to grow up and be argumentative and contradictory?” I exclaimed.

“No. We raise them to think for themselves. And to stand up for what they believe in. Let that baby talk to you about everything he wants to. Don’t quiet him or silence him. It’s better for him to talk through these things with you than someone else who may really give him some bad information.”

“But some of the things he is saying –”
“Hush, Kitten,” she said. “It’s not about you. It’s about your child. He’s forming his view of the world and how you guide him and provide the grace for him to do so will stay with him for the rest of his life.”

I sighed, a heart-weary sigh.

In Mama’s gentle way, she had done just that as I was growing up, listening to me talk about the craziest of things, enduring my wild ideas, and my whimsical nonsense. And, especially tolerating my different opinions, my perspectives, the times I rebelled against any of her compassionate teachings. Those moments I wanted to be mean-spirited, hurtful, and as Granny decreed, “evil.” Mama listened and held the space for me to learn my own boundaries without swooping in to make me change.

She let me find my own way – and grow up in the process.

Sharing what I had been so graciously given was the least I could do.

d one of the most challenging things about being a parent is when a child starts forming their own opinions outside of your own.

Free of your dogma, your point of view, your very strong position.

At least that is something I have encountered since my own child has hit his teen years.

It was so easy when he was younger.

His questions revolved around gentler topics, such as which Charlie Brown holiday special was the best or if cereal truly constituted a suitable dinner.

My answers were the Great Pumpkin and yes, absolutely.

When I stated my opinion on something, it was regarded with earnest respect and as gospel.

There was no hesitation, no question.

Just a cherubic little face, smiling up in adoration and agreement.

But suddenly, that changed.

His overnight deepening voice also brought a contrast that surprised me.

Out of the blue, he disagreed with me.

I was shocked.

Not because I want my child to just parrot what he’s heard me say over the years.

I knew people who did that; who merely regurgitated facts and beliefs they had heard their parents say over the year, void of any real meaning.

I didn’t want that for Cole.
Or did I?

“How can you think something like that?” I asked one day.

“It’s not a thought, it’s a fact,” he argued. “I have researched it, Mama. Have you?”

I stopped in my tracks.

No, I had not researched it. I was going strictly by my gut reaction. Or was it my heart?

“You are responding emotionally to this and if you would take five minutes and do some educated research, you may see a different side of things. Don’t just believe what supports your opinion.”

What the what – who was this person? Was this really my child?

I did not like this turn of events.

Did I raise him to be a critical thinker? Yes, I had.

Did that mean I only wanted him to be a critical thinker if it aligned with what I thought?

I was starting to wonder.

I didn’t like this shift, and I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about some of his differing opinions.

The things he wanted to discuss and talk about were so different than what he had been interested in before and so vastly different than areas I felt comfortable talking about.

I expressed my concern to Mama one day, telling her how unsettled these changes, this growing up thing, had made me.

She listened quietly, letting me whine, vent, and question everything I had maybe done wrong.

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t know this child,” I finished.

“He’s fine,” she said gently. “You’re fine. He is growing up, Kitten.”

“But he is coming up with stuff that I don’t like!”

Mama laughed softly. “Oh, really?”

How could she find this amusing?

“Is any of it morally wrong or is it just not your opinion?” she asked.

My child is pretty moral; he has always had a good sense of right and wrong and been quick to point it out to anyone who was violating it.

“Let me tell you something,” she began. “Cole is his own person. He is going to have his own thoughts, ideas, likes and dislikes, and perspectives about things. Those may at times be totally different than yours. And that is okay.

Right now, he is forming his own point of view. You can guide him and re-direct him if he gets way off base, but you need to realize some of those may not be the same as yours. Let him find his way.”

I didn’t like this and said so.

“You really have no say in it,” she said. “I didn’t with you; Granny didn’t with me.”

“So, we raise children to grow up and be argumentative and contradictory?” I exclaimed.

“No. We raise them to think for themselves. And to stand up for what they believe in. Let that baby talk to you about everything he wants to. Don’t quiet him or silence him. It’s better for him to talk through these things with you than someone else who may really give him some bad information.”

“But some of the things he is saying –”
“Hush, Kitten,” she said. “It’s not about you. It’s about your child. He’s forming his view of the world and how you guide him and provide the grace for him to do so what will stay with him for the rest of his life.”

I sighed, a heart-weary sigh.

In Mama’s gentle way, she had done just that as I was growing up, listening to me talk about the craziest of things, enduring my wild ideas, and my whimsical nonsense. And, especially tolerating my different opinions, my perspectives, the times I rebelled against any of her compassionate teachings. Those moments I wanted to be mean-spirited, hurtful, and as Granny decreed, “evil.” Mama listened and held the space for me to learn my own boundaries without swooping in to make me change.

She let me find my own way – and grow up in the process.

Sharing what I had been so graciously given was the least I could do.

The Season of Sick

For four years, my house was a healthy place.

There was only an occasional allergy flare if I accidentally dusted or went outside when something was blooming.

Having a cold, flu, virus, or stomach bug was something we had gratefully avoided for a while.

At least, that is, until my child started school again.

The first week or so, he came down with something.

“He’s rebuilding his immune system,” I thought.

I didn’t know he was rebuilding mine as well.

A few days later, I came down with whatever crud he had.

Two weeks passed, and we were back at the doctor, getting swabbed for strep.

Of course, it came back positive and a round of antibiotics was prescribed, along with something for nausea because this strain also made one sick.

“It’s going around,” the doctor said. “This is the fifth case I have had this morning.”

“He hasn’t been sick in years,” I said. “He’s gone back to school and this is the second time I have been in here with him. The first month of school is not even over yet.”

The doctor just nodded and handed me the scripts.

By some small miracle, I didn’t get strep, but I have caught everything he else he has brought home.

And he has been sick just about every other week with some form of creepy crud.

The usual remedies that have been my tried and true methods have not even made a dent in these maladies.

Oscillococcinum, elderberry syrup, hot tea with lemon and honey – none of them yielded their usual results.

“We are going to need Granny’s home remedy,” I told Mama one day.

“Vicks all over the body?” she replied.

“No. Moonshine.”

As sick I have been the last few months, it seemed like a sensible cure.

At least it would knock me out for a few days.

Just when we would get through one round of illness, another one struck.

It has been a never-ending cycle of crud.

“I feel sick,” Cole said one evening.

“Don’t even start with that,” I said.

“I do though,” he protested.

I knew he did. I just wasn’t ready for yet another round of whatever throat, upper respiratory, stomach demon he was going to be fighting this time.

He somehow shook that one off, only to have it rebound the last week of school before Christmas break, right as he was taking finals.

“If I hadn’t missed any days of school, I wouldn’t have to take my finals,” he said, his head leaning against the window as I drove him to school.

“Well, you’ve been so sick, you haven’t had any choice but miss,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “You know who got to exempt? The kids that have come to school all sick and spreading their germs. That’s who. Because of them, I am sick and having to take these finals.”

I felt his pain. I have always been of the “if you’re sick, you stay home” camp and thought the whole perfect attendance thing was over-rated.

When I picked him up later that morning, he was looking forward to a few weeks to rest and recoup. And Taco Bell, his own cure-all method.

I thought surely a few weeks of rest and in his own familiar environment of germs would help he recover, and we could enjoy the holidays well and happy.

But the next morning, I woke with a tickle in the back of my throat.

“Oh, no. No, no,” I thought.

For the next 10 days, I was sick with whatever pestilence and plague my child had been fighting.

We sounded like a bunch of seals coughing 24 hours a day. There were days where all I did as sleep off and on as I watched Hallmark movies. I am not quite sure if I even showered as days ran together, only separated by the countdown to Christmas on the tv screen.

I went through tons and tons of stuff – cough drops, soup, tea, you name it – before finding solace in the old standby of Nyquil.

“It’s an OTC moonshine,” Mama declared as she sang its praises. “And it will help you rest, which will help you get well.”

I didn’t like taking it, but I didn’t like being sick either.

After what felt like an eternity, just a few days before the beginning of the year, we were back to our old cough-and-mucous free, feverless selves.

Then, Cole had to go back to school.

The first week was fine.

Maybe he has finally built his immune system back up, I thought. Maybe mine was as well.

Then, the second or third week, I had some tummy bug.

I went back home after taking Cole to school.

He was calling by 9:30. “Mom, I think I have what you have,” he said, sounding weak.

Just this week, he has missed yet another day.

It has been a vicious, awful cycle.

I am to the point I do not want to leave the house until all the bugs, viruses, flu strains, and everything else are over.

“Is mono contagious?” he asked the other day.

“Why?”

“This kid at school has it.”

“They were at school?” I asked. He nodded. “Where do they sit?”

“Right behind me.”

Of course they do.

The season of sick was evidently a long way from being over.

The Mama Daughter Dynamic

There are two things I have grappled with most of my life.

One: I have always had hair angst. If it is long, I want it short. If it is short, I can’t wait for it to grow out. And, I have always wanted bangs. That thick fringe that sets off your eyes or the side swept bangs that frame your face.

The second, and one that is most shocking, is I have always typically done the complete opposite of what my Mama has wanted me to do. Pretty much every big decision – from marrying the first husband to not going to law school– has been the polar opposite of what she has wanted and demanded of me.

Both – the bangs and the Mama – have given me fits throughout my life.

And the horror of both is that Mama has always tried to dictate what she thinks I should do with my hair.

There was nothing quite like going to the salon as a teenage girl, with dreams of how you wanted your hair only to have your mother standing behind the chair telling the stylist, “Just give her a perm. And she’s growing out her bangs, so don’t cut them again.”

“I don’t know why I can’t do what I want to my hair,” I would protest.

“Because I know better,” she said.

In a moment of desperation, I once cut my own bangs the night before going to a school competition at the state level.

I think I placed out of pity.

“Why did you do that to your hair?” she asked me.
“You wouldn’t let me get bangs. I needed bangs!”

“You didn’t need that!”

I had cut them so short and unevenly, they were a jagged line about an inch below my hairline and would curl up like corkscrew pasta. It was a wretched mess and there was no way to fix it.

Granny took me to get a pair of shoes.

“Shoes?” I asked. I never turned down shoes but thought it was an odd outing.

“There’s nothing we can do with your hair, but you may as well have some cute shoes as a consolation prize.”

Of course, this probably set me up with the belief that when all goes wrong, buy shoes.

Mama just used this as a multi-purpose example of what goes wrong when I don’t listen to her.

She never lets me live down anything, either, so for the longest anytime I didn’t heed her warnings, she would remind me: “Don’t let this be another cutting your own bangs incident.”

Mama has been quite outspoken and vocal about all my mistakes.

“I don’t know why you married your first husband,” she said one day. “I never could stand him.”
“Maybe if you had, I wouldn’t have,” I replied dryly.

Granny snorted at this comment. In all of her infinite wisdom, Granny never uttered one bad word about my first husband while we were dating or married. She waited until the divorce was final before she expressed her utter disdain of him.

“Well, Jean, you knew how we felt about her daddy, and you married him anyway. Reckon that’s the only thing the old gal got that was like you,” Granny stated.

Mama reminded me every chance she got about what a mistake I had made by marrying him. She recited every time she had warned me and had been right.

I did like I always had and tuned her out.

“You aren’t listening because you know I am right!” she would say.

She urged me to go to law school and I didn’t.

Every time I have complained about my career – or lack thereof – her immediate response has been: “Well, if you had gone on to law school like I told you, you would have had a better career. But you don’t listen to me. Even when I am telling you something that will help you.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” I asked. “You would have absolutely nothing to hold over my head.”

Granny once told me to not pay her any attention.

“She ain’t never listened to me so I don’t know why she expects you to listen to her,” she said. “Bobby listens to me; Cole will listen to you. That’s what a son does. But a daughter is made to not listen to her mother.”

Maybe she was right.

I was needing a change recently, tired of my chin length bangs and sent Mama a photo I found of the hair I wanted with soft, long bangs.

 “Cute!” she texted back.

I called her the day of the appointment. “What do you think about that cut I sent you?”

“I thought it was precious! You would look so pretty with your hair cut like that!”

“Really?” Did she see something different than the one I had sent?

“Absolutely.”

“You saw the photo of Emma Stone, right? With bangs?”

“I don’t know who Emma Stone is, but I saw the girl with the red hair and bangs and loved it. Are you getting your hair that color, too, or just the bangs?”

“Just the bangs.” What was going on? She always fussed about me coloring my hair.

“Well, it will look good on you. I can’t wait to see it.”

“So, you think I should get bangs?”

“It’s your hair. You should get what you want, and I think that will be adorable. So, if you want it, get it!”

I walked into the salon in shock. Had we finally, after 46 years of existence, turned a corner?

And then it hit me: she was reverse psychology-ing me.

Not only did she reverse psychology me; it worked.

I didn’t get the bangs I wanted, but I will.

Even if I have to cut them myself.

Ears Wide Shut

Listening is truly a lost art form it seems.

People just flat out no longer listen.

Instead, it feels more like people are only listening long enough to catch an opportunity to talk about themselves.

I find myself telling people things – important things – only for my words to be completely ignored.

Don’t even try to ask someone if they were listening. Odds are, they won’t hear that question either.

Listening is important.

You can pick up some pretty important information just from listening.

Case in point, a situation my child came to me about recently.

“You may hear from my teacher,” he began.

That’s never good, I thought. My experience had taught me teachers only called when something was wrong and usually, it was when the wrong-doing was on my behalf.

Instead of jumping right in with my questions, I decided this would be a good time to listen.

Mama always knew if she gave me the quiet treatment long enough, I would spill what she needed to know.

I thought I’d give her tactic a whirl instead of jumping in with my accusations and allegations.

“I made a zero on an assignment, but it counts as a test grade,” he continued after my silence.

“But it wasn’t my fault.”

I nodded slowly.

“Do you want to hear why it wasn’t my fault?” he asked.

“Sure.”

“Well, my teacher told us we had to grade our own assignments, but we had to do in pen. She told us we could not use pencil.”

“OK.”
“I had picked up a pencil in my left hand and had a pen in the right,” he went on. “It was just out of habit. Really. I always have a pencil that I am bouncing. But she came by and picked up my test and gave me a zero. Just because I had a pencil in my hand – and it is not even the hand I write with!”

Now, I could understand his disappointment and frustration at getting the zero. I would have been devastated.

But that was not where his frustration was coming from.

The first point of contention was the teacher was one of his favorites.

She has known him most of his life and in Cole’s opinion, knew he wouldn’t cheat.

His second issue – and the one he was the most vocal about – was that she did not let him explain.

“I wasn’t using the pencil to grade my assignment. I was just bouncing it. Like I said, it wasn’t even in the hand I write with. It was not fair.”

“It didn’t have to be fair,” I said. “She said not to use a pencil.”

“I wasn’t!” he argued. “You aren’t listening to me. I had the pencil in my left hand – I am right handed! I couldn’t change the answer with my left hand.”
“She didn’t know that,” I said.

“She would have known had she let me explain.”

“She didn’t have to let you explain. She said no pencil. You had a pencil. End of story.”

“Did you hear what I said? I said, I had the pencil in my left hand. Not my right. I was not using it. Only bouncing it.”

“Did you hear what your teacher said? She said no pencil. She is a teacher. Not a cop. Not a judge. She is not there to hear your argument or for you to state your case. She told you if you used a pencil, you got a zero. She walked by and saw a pencil in your hand. So, it made sense to conclude you were going to use it. I don’t blame her and stand by her zero.”

I think at that moment, I lost a lot of mom points with my child.

I had always been the first to rush in with the cavalry to defend and protect him.

I had always stood up for him.

But this time, I didn’t. Instead, I told him the teacher was right.

I wasn’t going to call her, nor was I going to email her, asking her to let him explain.

I was going to let him learn this hard lesson.

He had heard his teacher say one thing – not to grade the paper with a pen – and thought he could go do another, as long as he wasn’t grading it.

Her instruction was implied.

It wasn’t spelled out explicitly, but it was more of a subtle understanding: just don’t pick up a pencil, because it will look like you are changing your answer.

And sometimes, those subtle understandings are the hardest to discern. Especially when we are only listening for what we want to hear.

A Santa-less Christmas

A Santa-less Christmas

Spoiler alert: the following may cause some to doubt the existence of a certain yearly visitor who travels by sleigh and eats all your cookies.

Now, you’ve been warned.

No one warned me, though.

But suddenly, there was no mention of Santa.

The potential threat of telling my child Santa knew when he was sleeping, when he was awake, when he’d been bad or good no longer carried the weight it once had.

Maybe I should have known when my child stated that was “creepy” one year that something was changing.

In his younger years, I had a list to give Santa before the Halloween candy was gone.

Once, he found the note in the floorboard of my car, where it had fallen out of my bag. He was maybe four at the time and worried if he would get presents or not.

“But you didn’t mail it,” he said forlornly. “How will Santa know what I want?”

 “The magic of Christmas,” I said. “He knows already; he’s been watching, remember?”
Cole accepted this as truth, thinking there was indeed a Santa-vision screen in the North Pole, keeping the jolly old elf up to date on what everyone wanted.

One year, he wrote his list and gave it to the Santa on the square, not saying a word to anyone about what he wanted.

“What are we going to do?” I whispered to Lamar.

“I have no idea,” he said. “He said he was only telling the Big Guy what he wanted and no body else.”

When December 25th rolled around, Cole surveyed his loot and shook his head.
“Santa’s slipping; he didn’t get anything I asked for.”

We never knew what the child requested, but I think this may have been the beginning of the end.

“What happens to kids if they stop believing in Santa?” he asked randomly one summer.

It was 190 degrees and my hair was sweating. Why was my child worried about Christmas?

“They get underwear,” I told him.

“Oh,” was all he said.

A few days later, he brought the conversation back up.
“So, you really get underwear if you stop believing in Santa?” he asked.

“Yes.”

He nodded, slowly, thinking this through. He was wrestling with a decision or a plot and didn’t like the outcome of either.

“I think I will believe a little bit more,” he said.

Christmas came and went, and he seemed to still enjoy the moments of suspended disbelief, but I wondered if it was true or just for my sake.

Was it selfish for me to want him to continue to believe a little bit longer?

For him to be caught up in the magic of Christmas and the hope that miracles can and do exist – was it wrong for me to want him to hold on to that?

“Do you still believe?” he asked me one day a couple of years later.

“In what?”

“Santa.”

The question had caught me off guard as it was yet again, no where near Christmas.

I thought sincerely about his question, knowing this was it. This was probably when he was giving up the world of make-believe.

“Yes, I do,” I said.

“You really believe in Santa?”

“Yeah.”

He eyed me cautiously. “They say Santa was a real person that went around throwing toys in the windows of poor peoples homes, so their children could have Christmas,” he said. “But he doesn’t do that now, does he?”

“Maybe not him personally,” I said,choosing my words carefully. “But maybe it is someone carrying on the tradition. And I believe in the hope and magic of the season, where people do good for other people. I think that is what Santa,or Saint Nick, was supposed to be about.”

He considered this for a moment.

“If I stop believing, am I going to get underwear this year?” he asked.

“Maybe.”

He nodded.
And just like that, a few years ago, we shifted from talk of Santa to the practicality of present buying. Gone are the days of writing letters to Santa or leaving out milk and cookies, with carrots for the reindeer. It made me sad to think the days of magic and make-believe were behind us.

“What are you getting the baby for Christmas?” Mama asked.
Even though he is 14, he is and will always be, the baby.

“He needs a computer,” I said. “And underwear. Lots and lots of underwear.”

A matter of miscommunication

Frantic.

That is one word to describe how I felt, yet it did not do the emotions rushing through my body justice.

I was wrought with outright fear and anxiety.

My child was not where he said he would be.

Or more succinctly, where I thought he would be.

When I last saw him, I asked him who was with him; he told me he was going one place, so I thought he was with his friends.

When I went to round him up, he was not there. I asked another parent – she had not seen him, but told me where her kids were.

Since my child is always in search of food, I thought it was quite possible he had been scrounging for a rogue granola bar or leftover Halloween candy.

I found his bookbag outside my office, so I took it to my car before going off to find him.

“I better go back through the building; he may be looking for me,” I thought.

I got to where I thought he would be and where he should be; only, he wasn’t there.

I took a deep breath.

Surely he was in the building somewhere, I just didn’t see him yet.

I walked around the top floor looking for him. Nowhere.

On the lower level, I found one of his friends and asked her if she knew where he was.

He had told her he was going where I was the last time she saw him.

And that was when he told me he was going with them.

Anger was the new emotion coursing through my body.

Had he lied to me?

I made my way through the building in a frenzied pace, hoping I would find him.

He was nowhere.

I headed back to another building to see if he was there, anger, fear, anxiety and worry brewing.

My heart was in my throat; was he OK? where was he?

And again…had my child lied? If so, why?

I thought I caught a glimpse of him as I walked back up the hill and called his name.

No response.
Was it not him?

I kept waiting for him to catch sight of me and come running but nothing.

The few yards I had to walk seemed to take an eternity until I got up to the building and finally saw him coming around the other side.

“There you are,” he said, “I have been looking for you.”

I was immediately relieved, grateful and wanted to sob I was so happy to see him. But, in true fashion, I did what all the women in my family do when scared out of our wits.

I yelled at him. Or more accurately, screamed. Irish banshee, soul rendering screams.

All the way home.

I am not even sure what I said, other than, “Where were you and what were you thinking?”

I am sure it was much worse than that because I was in an anxiety fever fit.

I had been looking for him for 20 minutes and every imaginable horror that could happen to my child had raced through my mind.

When I saw he was safe and sound, I unleashed locusts on his little mop top self.

After we got home, I continued my rant.

“You just need to calm down,” Lamar said.

Even though I have no empirical evidence to support this claim, I am pretty sure saying that to a hysterical woman has only proved to worsen the situation.

I texted Mama to let her know I was home, because even though I am nearly 46 years old, she wants to know I am safe. Wanting to know your child’s whereabouts, no matter how old and grown they were, was never more tacit than at this moment.

“Home –too exhausted and upset to talk. Talk later.”

“What’s wrong? Are you OK?” was her immediate response.

“Just really upset and don’t want to rehash.”

So she did what any mother would do – even this mama.

She called.

“What’s wrong?” she repeated her question.

I briefed her on the events of the last 40 minutes.

“Bottom line, if he had just been where I told him to be – which was with me – to begin with, this would not have happened. I have let him have too much freedom.”

She was quiet. Unusually quiet. Normally, Mama is the one who defends Cole, her only grandchild, no matter what and things that would have gotten me whoopings for days, she waves away and tells me to let it slide.

This time, she wasn’t so quick to defend.

“Put Cole on the phone,” she said sternly.

I handed him the phone.

He quietly talked to his grandmother for 15 minutes before handing the phone back to me.

“We have discussed what happened,” Mama began. “It was a matter of miscommunication, but, we came up with some ways to avoid it in the future.”

“There won’t be any future incidents,” I said. I was being irrational I know, but I was still shaking.

“You can’t do that, Kitten,” she said quietly. “You can’t do that with him, no more than I could do that with you when you were his age. He is a good kid. Remember that. A good kid. But still a kid. And sometimes, you have to give him chances, even if it means he messes up.”

“How are you so calm about this?” I asked.

“Because,” she began, “I know how that feels. Oh, how I know that feels. It’s an awful feeling. But, he thought you heard him tell you where he was going and you didn’t. It was, as I said before, just a miscommunication. That’s all.”

Mama did something Granny in all of her infinite, omnipotent power and wisdom had never been able to do.

Mama was somehow on both of our sides.

 

The legend of Piggie

“What do you mean, you don’t eat bacon?”

I am asked this quite frequently.

No bacon, no barbeque, no pork products of any kind.

People don’t get it.

“Did you have a pig as a pet or something?”

Well, kind of.

We did have pigs when I was growing up.

I thought they were our pets but had a harsh reality one morning.

That was enough to make me not eat sausage or ham for a while.

But the real reason we don’t eat bacon is because of one plush little pig.

Piggie.

Piggie Two should get some credit as well, but it was Piggie Prime who started the absolute non-pork stance.

“A toy pig, and not a real pig?” is the next question.

He may be a toy pig, but he was a big part of my child’s younger years and is still Crouch canon.

I had to explain how Piggie came into our life.

We had ventured to the grocery store one Friday evening, along with scores of other people.

While I shopped and tried to decide what we would want to eat over the coming week, I realized Lamar had taken Cole to another aisle to entertain him.

This was a common occurrence. I go into the trenches of the store while my husband and child wander off like two beagles on the scent of something.

After a solid thirty minutes of wading through dozens of middle-of-the-aisle talkers, holding prayer meetings and high school reunions between the Fruity Pebbles and Raisin Bran, I had managed to make my way to the checkout line.

As I tossed my items on the belt, the wails of a small child rose over the normal noise of the store.

“Did you find everything OK?” the cashier asked.

I nodded, hearing the screams grow louder. Was this child being beaten?

“Paper or plastic?” the cashier asked.

“Plastic,” I answered, hearing the wails intensify.

The cashier didn’t seem to pay it any attention; of course, working in any type of retail can numb you to certain things.

“Do you hear that?” I asked.

She nodded, punching in the code for my tomatoes. “Yeah, kids hate being dragged in here on Fridays when their mamas get off work.”

“That poor child,” I began. “They sound miserable! What kind of parent does that to a child?  They are horrible, terrible people for putting that baby through that.”

The screams grew closer as it sounded like the child was nearing the front of the store. I turned to see who the offending parent was and shut my mouth.

There went my husband, toting my red-in-the-face, wailing child under his arm like a football out the door.

Of course, since I had brought the whole scene to the cashier’s attention, she was watching too. “That father’s got his hands full with that one,” she said.

I instantly felt a need to defend my child, who normally was so well-behaved and never pitched a fit.

“I have a feeling it was the father’s fault,” I began. “But some people! My word!”

I had mustered all the righteous indignation I could and paid for my groceries and hurried out the door to the car.

I got in the front seat and turned to look at my child, his face red and covered in tears as he tried to catch his breath.

“What in the world is wrong?” I asked.

Cole couldn’t even speak, he was crying so hard. I looked at his father for answers.

“He wanted some toy and had this meltdown over it,” was his response.

“A toy?”

Cole was not the type of child to have a meltdown over a toy. He did beg for celery once in the store, which I have yet to figure out, but he was not one to pitch a fit over a toy.

Lamar nodded. “I am not paying $10 for a stupid stuffed animal.”

“It – wasn’t – a – stupid – stuffed – amiminal,” I heard Cole say from the back seat, his voice catching with every word. “It – was – a – pig!”

“A pig?” I asked gently.

Cole nodded, sucking on his bottom lip. “A pig,” he repeated slowly, his breath finally regaining normalcy. “And Mama, I need it. Please. I asked Daddy for it and he threw it down the aisle!” At the thought of this, the sobs returned.

I glanced at Lamar. “You threw the toy down the aisle?”

“He was grabbing at it and it was too much. I am not paying that much for a toy! That’s crazy!”

Cole wailed. “Mama – I – need – that – pig! I – don’t – know – why – but – I – do!”

I knew two things. Once upon a time, a little girl fell in love with a lavender plush bunny on sight at the five and dime store and she turned down a pair of shoes for them. The bunny somehow spoke to her heart more than those glitter jelly sandals with the ankle strap and she loved that bunny for decades. She still missed that bunny and wondered what happened to it when she grew up, hoping like the Velveteen bunny, her love had made it real.

The second, and the most important thing, was my child never acted like this. So, something must be special about this pig.

“You need that pig?” I asked. He nodded.

“Then let’s go get it.”

He did end up needing that pig. In many ways and on many occasions. Piggie has been his faithful friend, and a part of the family now for well over a decade. And for me, he is a loving reminder of when my son, now a teenager, was small and a plush pig was the grandest thing in the world.

“You still have the Pigs, right?” he asked one day, knowing I am now the Keeper of the Piggies.

I affirmed that I did.

I still have the pigs. And always, always will.

 

Edge of fourteen

My child’s teenage years have given me lessons I did not expect.

For one, I had no idea that most of my time would be spent feeding an ever-growing human being who apparently was never full.

I need a GoFund Me just to cover my grocery bill.

He can eat vast amounts of food and still be hungry.

At the same time he professes to be near starvation, he does not want anything that is currently in the pantry or fridge.

“There’s plenty to eat,” I will tell him, running down a list that includes pasta and burritos among the possibilities.

He shakes his head. Dairy Queen and Taco Bell were not offered so he may very well starve.

Thankfully, the child gets hungry; otherwise, I wonder if he would have a reason to emerge from playing Fortnite.

Besides the constant feedings, teenage years have brought some angst, more on my part than his.

Gone are the days where it seems like I am the center of his world.

He has pulled back just ever so slightly, finding independence, forming his own opinions that sometimes differ from mine.

He’s growing up.

I am glad to see him making these steps even if it feels like I am having my heart torn out at the same time.

I still remember the little boy who wanted to be walked to his class while holding my hand, giving a kiss in the center of my palm to “take with me.”

The little boy who never wanted me out of his sight.

To me, in my heart, he will always be that little boy with the blonde hair and cherubic cheeks that called his mama his “sweet girl” and loved me more than he did Piggie.

But now, he is a young man, and doesn’t need Mama quite as much.

It has been a hard transition.

My pastor asked me just a little over a week ago how school was going. I told her he was in 8th grade; she gave me a sympathetic sigh that only mamas can understand.

“8th grade is tough,” she said. “But Cole is a good kid.”

I agreed. He is.

Overall, he is a great kid. That’s not saying he’s perfect; he can be moody and mouthy at times. But, considering how moody and mouthy I was at his age, he is practically a saint.

When I was 13, I heard my own Mama mutter, “This is why animals eat their young” more times than I can count.

I pushed every boundary button with her I could and somehow both of us survived even though in retrospect, I admit I was a total brat.

And now, I am extremely cognizant of how parenting can be one of the most painful things we do.

We lose sleep, sacrifice things we need for things they want.

We change our lives for a tiny, little person and literally move mountains that need to be moved to give them everything to make their life better.

And after years of nurturing, loving and sacrificing, they become teenagers who no longer need us quite like they did before.

It feels like your heart has been yanked out of your chest and tap danced on.

I think the feeling unneeded is what hurts worse than anything.

Thirteen has been the year he has pushed away from me, the year I started to feel obsolete. As he creeps closer to the edge of fourteen, I have feared he will pull away even more.

Will he just get to where he doesn’t need me at all?

“Boys always love and need their mom,” my pastor promised, giving me a squeeze.

I hoped she was right; it didn’t feel that way sometimes.

Feeling this ache prompted me to make sure my own Mama felt like she was still needed and appreciated.

“Boys do always love their mom,” she said. “I’d like to think daughters do, too.”

“They do,” I said.

“Just remember, Kitten, it’s good to always let folks know you appreciate them. Even if it is your dear old mama. Or your child. Maybe Cole feels like you think he has changed so much since he’s become a teenager, he doesn’t know how to talk to you anymore.”

Was that it? Surely not. I mean, what does my Mama know about a teenager suddenly acting like they don’t need their parents?

As I thought all of this over, I realized it had been an hour since my child had ate, so I made him a sandwich just the way he liked it and took it to him while he played his video game.

“How did you know I was starving?” he asked, taking the plate.

“Just thought you may be hungry,” I said, retreating from the room but not before I overheard him talking to his friend online.

“Man, my mom just brought me a sandwich. Gimme a second, I gotta eat. She makes the best sandwiches. Yeah. My mom is amazing.”

Maybe everyone was right; boys do always love their moms. And maybe I don’t have to wait until he fully grows up to learn that.