The Christmas Pony

There was one thing that was always on the top of my Christmas list for several years that I never got: a pony.

Granny put her foot down adamantly about that pony.

“Where you think we’re gonna put a pony? What are you going to do with a pony? Do you have any idea how much it costs to feed and take care of a horse?” she asked.

“Not a horse. Pony,” I reminded her.

“You know a pony is the puppy version of a horse, don’t you?”

“I don’t want a full-grown horse, I want to get it as a pony.”

I never got the pony, of course. And that is fine.

The pony was the ultimate bargaining chip, my bluff.

I could be quite convincing to everyone that I wanted a pony.

I overheard Granny and Pop discussing it, with my grandfather saying he had already put out feelers to find me one.

“She’ll want it inside, Bob. I ain’t gonna have a pony in this house. And you know she will. That crazy child will be a-saying she’s gotta cuddle it and sleep with it.”

My uncle was the one who should have been worried; it would have been him who had to feed it.

I would ask daily about the pony.

The kicker was me writing P-O-N-Y in great big letters across the top of my Christmas list every year.

“Why don’t you put some other things on there you’d like, too?” Mama suggested.

“All I want is a pony.  If I can’t have a pony, I don’t want anything.”

“Well, humor Santa and put some other stuff on there in case he can’t carry a pony on his sleigh.”

So, I did.

I put all the things I really wanted.

The Lite-Brite, all the Little House on the Prairie books, Jordache jeans, an Atari, and all the other gifts I wanted, way more than a pony.

I knew there was no way I would get a pony and while I love horses, they terrify me.

Mama was so grateful to see I had something more reasonable on my Christmas list that she got me everything.

Granny, however, caught on after a few years.

“Don’t you even start with this pony mess this year, littl’ un,” she said. “I know your game.”

“What game, Granny? Monopoly?”

She gave me a hard glare through her glasses. “Not Monopoly. Sudie’s pony game. You start around November wanting a pony and carry on and carry on. You know good and well we ain’t getting you a pony, but you also know we’ll feel bad enough about it to get you everything else.”

How did she figure this out? What kind of grandmotherly voodoo powers did she have?

I denied this fact and effectively launched the pony request once again, until the following year, Granny had me declare at the dinner table I had given up on the pony. Or else.

“You try this again and there won’t be nothing on your list under the tree. It will be footy pajamas and underwear.”

The thought of footy pajamas and underwear was enough to make me stop asking for the pony. No kid wants to go back to school after the break and tell their friends they got that for Christmas.

Given my shopping procrastination, I start asking Cole for his list around the beginning of November.

This year, the only thing he mentioned was a Playstation 4 Slim Golden Version.

“That’s all I want, Mama,” he said.

I thought one video console couldn’t be that bad.

Could it?
“Six hundred dollars!” I exclaimed when I saw the price. For one video game console? Was this console able to communicate with the Space Station?

I thought that was excessive but at the same time, felt bad. It was the only thing he wants.

“Is there anything else you would like?” I asked.
He thoughtfully pondered this for a moment. “Hmmm…no, not really. I think I have everything else I want. That’s it.”

I wasn’t exactly sure how I would pull that off. We try to not focus on the price or the gifts but on the meaning of the season.
Still, I stressed and agonized over this.
I looked around online for cheaper ones.

Nope.

“I can’t wait to play the Playstation 4,” Cole said every day. “Thank you so much for getting it for me.”

I cringed inside.

“Cole, what if they are sold out?”

“Oh, they are priced where they won’t be. Don’t worry about that, Mama.”

I groaned.

A few days later, Cole handed me a list.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Just in case they are sold out, Mama. Or you can’t find one or you think it’s too expensive. You know, there’s a lot of reasons why you may not be able to get one for me.”

Sweet, sweet son of a biscuit eater.

My child had beat me at my own game.

His pony was just in the form of a Playstation 4.

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Better to beg forgiveness than ask permission

Cole wants a corgi.

He saw one on a television show recently and fell in love with their squatty little bodies immediately.

He made a horrible mistake however. He asked his father if he could get one.

“No.”

The only time his father says this word is when it involves bringing home another pup as Lamar is usually the care-giver and the scooper of the yard.

Had Cole asked if they could ride their bikes sans helmets down the side of a waterfall or set something on fire, Lamar would have eagerly agreed.

But this time, Cole asked for a pup and Lamar shut him down.

A battle has ensued for weeks now, with Cole trying to convince his father why he needs a corgi.

Lamar, however, is unyielding.

Cole is even trying to convince him by telling him the merits of the pups.
“They are herding dogs,” Cole begins. “You love herding dogs.”

“I prefer German shepherds,” Lamar replied.
“But, but, but—”

Cole stops his sentence short realizing his father is not budging.

Taking his laptop and a pen, he sat at the table, furiously punching at the keyboard, then scribbling on his paper. Shortly afterwards, he stood in front of his father with an essay he had drafted to present his case.

I was impressed – the child had not only researched the breed but prepared a good argument for the corgi case.

Lamar sighed but still refused to budge.

“What am I gonna do?” Cole asked me later. “He’s not gonna let me get a corgi, is he?”

Cole was so upset he called in his reinforcements, the one ally he has no matter what, and the only one who will stand up to his parents: Nennie.

And Nennie, of course, thought the child deserved a corgi and was quite beside herself to hear her only grandchild had been told no.

“Is something wrong with Lamar?” she asked me. “He said no.”

Not just to Cole, she added but about a dog.

“Mama, have you met Lamar? He always says “no” anytime I or Cole say we are going to get anything. If I say, “Let’s get a dog,” he automatically says no. I just have to show up with one.”

Then it hit me.

That’s how I had brought home the last two; I just ceremoniously showed up, toting a puppy. It’s pretty much what I did with Mama when I was growing up any time a stray cat wandered into the yard.

A habit I picked up from my uncle, who still brings in every stray he can.

When my uncle came home with another dog one day, Granny fussed.

This was not unusual, the old gal fussed about everything. But she particularly liked to fuss about anything that had to be fed.

My gentle, quiet uncle ignored her.

A few years later, I found a kitten, all tiny and covered in fleas. We immediately took it to the vet.

While we waited, I looked at my uncle and whispered, “Is Granny gonna be mad at us?”

My uncle laughed. “Probably.”

Of course she would be — she was breathing, so she was mad about something.

“What are we gonna do?” I asked.

“Well, if we ask her, we know what she’s gonna say, right?”

I nodded.

I think Granny held the copyright on “No.”

“So, it’s better if we just take the kitten on home and ride it out. She’ll get over it in a couple of days or find something else to get mad about. Eventually, she’ll forgive us.”

He was right. She was furious at first but thankfully, her sister Bonnie ticked her off about something else and she had a new rant to focus on.

I wasn’t sure how my uncle knew this would happen. Then, I realized: he learned it from the old gal herself.

I had outgrown my tiny closet and sorely needed a place to put my clothes. I was a teenage girl – clothes were an obsession. I had found an armoire that was perfect but expensive so no one would buy it for me.

Mama’s sensible suggestion was to put my clothes in the drawers when she left them folded on my bed.

I thought that was insane.

These were peplum skirts, cropped jackets, Bedazzled sweaters, and other high-fashion horrors.

I couldn’t put them in drawers.

Mama’s other not-so-sensible suggestion was to weed out my clothes; there were only 7 days in the week, I couldn’t possibly need 17 pairs of jeans.

Granny told me she would come up with a solution.

“Don’t you worry about it,” she told me when I asked what she was going to do.

The following day, my Pop had a message to call a contractor. Being a roofer who worked with most of the contractors in our town, Pop called him back, thinking it was about a house he needed to cover.

When he got off the phone he bounded down the hallway looking for my grandmother.

“Helen, did you call and ask about quotes to add on to the house?” he demanded.

Granny didn’t even look up from the biscuits she was making. “I did.”

“What in the dickens were you thinking?” he asked.

“I was thinking that Sue needed a better way to hang her clothes up. And since no one wants to get her something suitable, I figured we’d just go ahead and add on to her room there and get her a closet and her own bathroom, too.”

The next day, my armoire arrived from the furniture store.

“Would you have really added on to my room if he hadn’t bought it for me?” I asked.

The old gal gave me an opossum-eating briars grin and said, “Yes, I would have.”

“What if he had a fit?”

The smile grew bigger.

“Well, Shug, it’s better to ask forgiveness than it is to ask permission any day.”

As long as he asked, the answer Cole would get would be no.

But maybe asking forgiveness would at least get him the dog.

 

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.

God Bless the Child Who’s Got His Own (11/11/2015)

The last few weeks, I have been participating in a daily gratitude exercise.

I think I am grateful for what I have in my life but I am not going to lie – this exercise is sometimes a challenge.

Don’t get me wrong: I am immensely grateful for everything I have in my life. I have gentle, daily reminders of grace, but there are times I struggle with those feelings of want.

Our cabin is far too small and cramped. I want a bigger, newer house. I want to have more than one bathroom, for many reasons but the most selfish is so I can put on my makeup without someone knocking on the door telling me to hurry up.

I think of how my car is old and was used when I bought it. It’s small and it wasn’t the car of my choice– but it was what I could afford.

I think of all the things I want, and don’t have.

In other words, I am more focused on what I don’t want than what I do.

And I let petty little occurrences completely steal my joy.

I get disappointed about something and it ruins my day.

Again, it’s not because I am not grateful, because I am.

But I think I have that Depression-consciousness that came from Granny, who was grateful for what she had but also was scared to talk much about having anything out of fear of jinxing herself.

She was thankful once for getting some money and then turned around and had an unexpected expense come up. She just sighed and said she never could have what she wanted.

My uncle Bobby, ever believing he’s going to hit a jackpot, won $160 on a lottery ticket one day and gave half to his favorite – and only – niece. I was going to go to Ulta, to the bookstore, and maybe even the shoe store. I could stretch that money to the inth degree.

The next day, my car battery was dead and needed to be replaced.

I was deflated.

“Story of my life, old gal,” Granny said. “I get some unexpected money, and unexpected bill comes up. I can’t get ahead.”

Of course, that didn’t help; I had always been told Granny and I were just alike.

“Maybe consider it a blessing you had that money to begin with,” Mama said to balance out Granny’s negative spin. “Maybe that’s why Bobby was led to give it to you – to pay for that battery.”

Perhaps, but it was a huge disappointment to me. I had been so excited and was looking forward to going shopping with some ‘mad money.’

Flash forward through the rest of my adult life and just like Granny, I was thankful and grateful but had an underlying sense of fear of losing what little I had.

“I worried about my GPA in college, I made good grades, and I am not scared to work hard; I don’t know why I am not a flippin’ millionaire, Mama,” I cried one day.

She didn’t know what to tell me, other than she wasn’t sure either. She wondered herself.

“Granny and Pop worked hard, too, Kitten,” she said softly.

I knew what she meant. They worked hard, too, and neither were close to being a millionaire.

“Remember what Barry told you about Granny though? Maybe that is how we are supposed to live.” Mama was referring to how a family friend who had known Granny all his life described her, saying, “She was not wealthy by earthly means, but you never knew it the way she loved. She loved generously and deeply.”

True. If the old gal wasn’t wanting to shoot you, she loved you.

There was no in-between.

“I know, Mama,” I said, still wallowing in the deep pool of self-mire. “I just thought for sure, I would be a millionaire by now, given how hard I work.”

I was in one of those funks that neither Mama nor chocolate could pull me from.

These funks come and go over the years, too.
After a few years of not being able to get Cole nearly what he wanted for Christmas, I have started shopping a little bit earlier, even if he sees it.

“Why are you starting so early?” he asked me a few weeks ago as ghosts and goblins were still on display.

“Because, baby,” was my reply.

My child is able to pick up on my moods and sensed there was something deeper. “Why, Mama? Are you OK?”

“Yes,” I assured him, seeing his worried face. “I just, I-” I searched for words.
“Last year I waited almost too late to get your stuff and everything was almost gone — that was a huge disappointment for you. And there’s been a few years your gifts were not that great.”

There had been a few years, his gifts were pretty lean and skimpy to be truthful.

“I just want to be able to get you stuff you want and like, is all. If I was rich, I could get you everything but since I am not, I am getting you a little bit as I can.”

He looked up at me, his face wrinkled in only the confusion pure childlike innocence can invoke. “Oh, sweet girl,” he said. “Don’t you see how rich we are? We have a house, we have three dogs who love us, we have a car, a van, and I have tons of toys. I’ve never not liked anything I got at Christmas – each year has been perfect and the best Christmas ever.

We have food to eat, clothes to wear, and a roof over our heads. If we went and asked people in other countries, they would think we were millionaires! But don’t you see how rich we really are? We’ve just got to be thankful for it…”

And, just like that, my heart was full.

Sweet victory

There comes a point in every child’s life when they have a very startling reality revealed.

It has nothing to do with where babies come from, either.

It’s the harsh truth that – as much as it pains me to say this – I am not perfect.

Cole made it almost 11 years before the illusion he had of me, his mother, being perfect and flawless was shattered.

Realizing Mama is not perfect is more devastating than other truths we find out in childhood. I remember the day I realized my own Mama wasn’t.

I was only four, but it was life changing nonetheless.

Granny was far from perfect but she considered herself a limited edition, so her flaws were part of what made her unique.

That, and she’d just as soon slap you silly if you told her otherwise.

But my son thought I hung the moon and the stars and was right about everything.

If I said it, it was gospel. He believed what I told him – he knew I wouldn’t lie to him and if he heard me utter anything to his daddy, he took it as truth.

Mama could tell him something and he would tell me he wasn’t so sure.

“Nennie said she has scorpions that fly. Do you believe her?”

I shook my head.

“She thinks everything is a scorpion. And she thinks everything flies. She is also fairly certain one of their cats is trying to kill her.”

She may not be far off on the cat.

Since the first time I realized Mama was not perfect, I have learned to accept that sometimes, Mama was wrong.

Sure, she was right about somethings – the ex, for one – but some things she was horribly wrong about.

Like that Lancome powder she keeps trying to give me that makes you all shimmery.

No one, unless you’re an extra in a show with vampires, needs to shimmer that much.

Just like she was wrong in the ‘80s when she wore parachute pants with high heels.

So while I love my Mama, I am very aware that she is not perfect.

My child, however, was still living in the fairy tale of me being perfect.

“My Mama said if you do that, it will explode and your brain will melt,” I heard him saying on the phone one day. “And she’s the smartest person I know, so yeah, I wouldn’t do it. Your brain will ooze out your eyeballs.”

As long as I was instilling fear into the elementary crowd and avoiding impending explosions, I was doing my job. And, they believed me.

I was still perfect. I was still right.

Being right was kind of my thing with Cole.

I told him if he touched the gas heater, he would get burned.

“What did I tell you?” I asked. “See – I was right! I am always right!”

I cautioned him on various and sundry other things, all ending with me being right.

“How do you always know what is going to happen?” Cole asked after another brilliant example of my omnipotence.

“Because I am always, always right.”

Oh, oh, oh, how those words can come up and bite you in the tater when you least expect them or want them to.

We were out running errands when we decided we needed to run through a drive thru for ice cream.

I was happy to see coupons for free ice cream in the dash. And Lamar gets on to me about not cleaning out my trash when I exit the van – I just saved a few bucks by being lazy.

See how right I was?

I gave our order and told the clerk we had coupons for the ice cream but not the smoothie.

When she gave the total, it was a lot more than just a smoothie.

“Something’s not right,” I said. “That’s too much.”

“Maybe Daddy got a bigger smoothie?” Cole suggested.

“No,” I said. “I think they are overcharging us. They overcharge you in the drive thru.” The scene from the “Lethal Weapon” movie with Joe Pesci played through my head.

“Leo Getz was right,” I muttered.

“Mama, they are not doing it on purpose, it was just a misunderstanding.”

“Oh, no, it wasn’t,” I said convinced.

“Mama-“

Lamar cut him off.

“Cole, don’t question your Mama about money; she can take a glance at a buggy and tell you how much it will be. If she’s saying they messed up, she’s right.”

“I am just saying it was a mistake. They aren’t doing it on purpose,” he said. “You think they are doing some horrible crime against you personally. They are probably a very nice person. And it is a simple mistake.”

How dare this child attempt to reason with me.

Lamar drew a sharp intake of air.

“Cole, I am sure it is not a mistake. I am right – just you watch.”

My child didn’t miss a beat. Where do you think he gets his dogged stubbornness and relentlessness from?

“It’s going to be an honest mistake – and they are going to be a nice person — and I am going to be the one who’s right. Not you.”

Lamar shook his head.

“He’s just a child; remember that.”

I turned around in my seat and looked at my precious monkey in the back of the van.

“What?”

He lifted his chin.

“I’m going to be right.”

“We’ll see.”

I don’t want to get into specifics. It was not only an honest mistake, but, the young lady told us she’d see us Sunday at church. I felt like a heel.

“How’s your ice cream?” Lamar asked.

“Delicious,” Cole said. “It tastes like victory.”

The little stinker was right. And we all knew it.

Sour lessons and sweet victory.

You’re only as good as your word, so mean what you say

When you give someone your word, it’s a pretty big deal.

Long before our society became so litigious, people made business deals based on verbal agreements. Pop sealed many deals to do roofs with a handshake and his word of when it would be done.

I’ve tried to uphold that standard, but often times, it can be tricky.

Our emotions get the best of us and we make a promise that we intend to keep, but don’t.

We mean what we say, when we say it. But the value of the intention fades as time goes by.

Sometimes, it can be a big thing – a marriage vow forsaken.

Sometimes, it may seem little, but those little things can often have a bigger impact.

And sometimes, it is those promises made to those little folks in our lives that mean the most.

There’s times I have promised things, like one particular Ben 10 Monster Lab, where apparently you can create your own monsters, and been unable to keep my promise.

Failing to keep my word was not intentional by any means – it was a special promotional item that just unfortunately, ran out.

This fact did not diminish the disappointment of a then 8-year-old.

“I’m so sorry,” I apologized. “I’ll make it up to you.”

‘Cause we all know, the best way to make up for a broken promise is to counter with another promise.

He nodded. “It’s OK,” he assured me. But I could tell by his voice the disappointment still stung.

He found something else he wanted and we promised it.

To be more accurate, we promised him Santa was going to bring it.

Santa didn’t bring it, though; and when Santa’s little helper ran into Walmart on Christmas Eve, they were out.

“Maybe Santa will bring it next year,” Cole said, disappointed yet again.

The guilt was palpable.

Twice, I had let him down.

Yes, it was just ‘things,’ but I had told him I would get them.

“He won’t even remember what he asked for,” Lamar said. “He will outgrow those things and move on to something else.”

But, he didn’t forget. Cole’s memory is better than mine and he never, not ever, forgets anything.

However, he doesn’t dwell on it or stew over it, leaving the disappointment behind.

Even if the disappointment came from a broken promise.

As I finished my thesis a few months ago, I found myself with less time than ever before.

“Mama, can we play?”

“Later,” I said.

“When’s later?” he demanded.

“Later,” I emphasized.

But later to a child is an eternity.

Hours passed; he approached me again.

“Is now later?”

“Not yet.”
He sighed.

A heart-heavy sigh, dropped his head, and walked away.

When he approached again, I was too tired to play.

My eyes were tired, my brain hurt. I was mentally and physically exhausted.

“I’m so sorry,” I began, seeing the pleading in his eyes.

He dropped his head again. “I understand…”

We repeated this for several weeks.

“All I want is for you to spend some time with me,” he said.

“Cole, we spend time together all the time. I work from home, you’re homeschooled – we spend all of our time together.”

He shook his head.

“It’s not the same. You’re focused on what you’re doing and not me. All I want is for you to play with me.”

“Let me get through this thesis, and we will play. I promise.”

But for Cole, “get through this thesis” meant the minute I turned in my paper, I was supposed to play.

He sat up with me until midnight the night before it was due.

I re-read it, checked my citations, and chapters, looked for spelling errors and made sure everything was perfect. I uploaded the document and hit submit.

“Yay!” he squealed. “Now, we can play!”

“Cole! It’s midnight. It’s time to go to bed, not play time.”

His smile turned sour.

“I waited till you got through so we could play. You said to let you get through this paper, and we’d play.”

Bless his heart, he takes things very literally, like his mother.

“Tomorrow, after I finish work, we’ll play.”

“When will that be?”

“I don’t know.”

He looked at the floor, possibly fighting back tears.

“But we will play tomorrow?”

“We will. Promise. Just let me get through everything I have to do first.”

6 p.m. came and went, and I had finished my regular work and moved on to another project.

“Are you done?” he asked.

“Not yet,” I replied.

But again, when I finished I was too tired to play Pokemon, Battleship or Crazy Bones.

Too tired to do anything but fall asleep.

It was Cole who woke me when he moved my laptop off my lap.

“I’m so sorry,” I began.

“I know,” he said. “And you’ll play with me tomorrow. I know, Mama. It’s same promise you made before.”

That reality slapped me awake.

I had been promising to play with him and hadn’t, thinking I could put him off and put him off until some later date.
A later date when I supposedly would have everything done, a day when he will probably have children of his own and not have time for me.

The next morning, I took out an index card and listed out my priorities. I knew I needed to go over the list with Cole when he woke.

“What’s this?” he asked, looking at the card.

“This is the important things I need to do,” I said. “They are top priority and have to be done, first and foremost. So I need you to understand how important these are, OK?”

He wrinkled his head in confusion.

“But, Mama, this says ‘play Pokemon,’ ‘go putt-putting,’ ‘go to our park,’ and stuff like that.”

“Yup. We are going to do all of those. And this time, I mean it.”

And so far, I have kept my word.

Becoming a manly man (5/27/2015)

In this family, anytime I am asked to smell something, I proceed with caution.

Usually, it’s Lamar asking me if his cycling jersey is too funky to wear. His queries of Cole have been met in the past with outbursts of tears whilst fleeing.

But the other day, Cole came up to me and said: “Smell me,” as he stuck his tiny little underarm in my face.

My nose immediately recoiled in horror.

“Sweet baby Jesus,” I cried. “What did you roll in?”

“Nothin’,” he declared. “That’s all me, Mama!”

“Eww,” I said. “Then you need to get a shower. Did you not shower yesterday?”

“I did. But I have been playing and worked up a nice funk.”

My child had a funk and he was proud of it.

When did this happen?

Just the other day he was still smelling all cuddly fresh like Downy and Dove soap.

And now, he had that little boy smell that could turn into a bigger boy aroma of stink.

“That’s nothing,” he said, proudly. “Look!”

He leaned closer to me so I could see above his upper lip a light dusting of blonde hair coming in at the corners of his mouth.

“I’m getting a moustache,” he announced. “I had to go trim it back a little while ago.”

“When did this happen?” I asked.

“I am a manly man!” he exclaimed, striking the pose of an Olympian.

A manly man? He was 10!

How could this be?

I still saw my precious baby every time I saw him. But noticed the roundness of his face had been replaced by soft angles. His frame had filled out and grown lanky. And now, he was getting the pre-pubescent hint of peach fuzz and B.O.

“A manly man?” I asked.

“A manly man!” he repeated, throwing his arms into another pose, laughing at his own humor.

“Well, Mr. Manly Man, it may be time you start wearing some deodorant.”

“I don’t have any!” he said, running off to find his father. “Hey, Poppa, smell this!”

He was delighted in his new found odor, continuing to cry “manly man!” at every opportunity.

When night came, that manly man looked at his mama and said, “You still gonna come talk to me until I fall asleep, right?”

I smiled. Of course I would. I wasn’t sure how much longer he would let me do that.

“Mama, do I need to use Poppa’s deodorant?” he asked as he was falling asleep.

“No, you need your own deodorant. That’s personal hygiene stuff and shouldn’t be shared.”

He nodded, his eyes heavy. “Will you take me tomorrow to get some?”

I told him I would. He nodded again.

“Mama,” he began.

“Yes?”

“Your baby is growing up…” and he fell asleep.

The next morning, he emerged from his room, and greeted me with a hug. I held him a little bit tighter and longer than normal.

Midway through the hug, I felt his arms give me an extra tight squeeze.

“Can’t you stay my baby just a little bit longer?” I whispered.

He glanced up at me in earnest. “I want to, I really, really do.”

Later that afternoon we went to the store. Lamar had wandered off to aisles unknown so led Cole to the toiletries.

“Let’s get you some deodorant,” I told him.

“You remembered!” he exclaimed.

Of course I remembered.

I also remember how when I was just a little bit older than him, I had wished boys had known about deodorant. So I wanted him to be diligent in his personal care.

I saw his eyes glance at the men’s soaps and body washes. I had just bought him some children’s body wash a few days earlier. Apparently bubble gum scented stuff didn’t cover manly man smells.

“Do you want some new body wash, too?”

He nodded.

“I want some Old Spice body wash,” he said. “It’s manly.”

At least it wasn’t anything made by Axe. I was praying I could steer him away from those noxious products. His manly man funk smelled better than they did.

I put the bottle in the buggy and we turned down the next aisle, which happened to have baby products.

“I used to get your stuff here,” I said more to myself than Cole.

He eyed the body wash with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on it. He had outgrown “Cars” but I don’t think anyone outgrows the Turtles. I still like the Turtles.

“Look!” he exclaimed, picking up a bottle shaped like a minion from Despicable Me. “It’s minion body wash!”

“How cute!” I said. And it was banana scented – a welcome change from the bubble gum and nauseating berry-scents.

His eyes glanced to the left, then to the right, before he reached into the buggy and removed the Old Spice bottle. I gave him a quizzical look.

He smiled, replacing it with the bright yellow minion with its’ holographic eye. “Maybe I don’t need to go all manly man all at once,” he said.

The full manly man evolution will happen eventually. But I’m glad he decided to stay a little boy just a little bit longer-for both of us.

http://www.dawsonnews.com/section/30/article/16462/

In defense of not having a free range child (5/6/2015)

Parenting is hard work. You always feel like you are messing up and someone – usually a person who doesn’t know the difference between a zygote and a pygmy goat – is always full of advice and criticism as to the quality of job you are doing.

Even other parents are critical, starting with whether or not you breastfed, what kind of diaper you used, and God forbid you let your child use a binkie. You were setting them up for a lifetime of dependency.

My tendency was to not listen so much to the noise and let it go around me, filtering what was useful and discarding what wasn’t.

Criticisms, depending on who they come from, were filed away appropriately.

Probably the biggest criticism I receive, and probably always will, is that I tend to be overprotective.

I have been told I need to loosen up, cut the umbilical cord and let my child experience childhood.

I can shrug it off because I know I am doing my main job-and that’s keeping my child safe.

So hearing about the new ‘free range child’ movement makes me, well, nervous.

There’s all kinds of stories about how children are walking home by themselves, being allowed to ride public transit unaccompanied – things that would probably make my anxiety level increase and I’m an adult.

“They call them free range kids,” Lamar said. “I was probably a free range kid. I would wait for the sun to come up, get on my bike and be gone all day. My Mama probably didn’t know where I was.”

But the ‘60s were different than today, or at least that’s how it seems.

You didn’t turn on the news or pull up Facebook to find your feed full of missing children – or worse.

Just as my husband was running wild and free, I was fairly sheltered, and didn’t spend the night away from home until I was 11.

Even then, it was a church group at a lady’s house my mama grew up with, and I am pretty sure she slept in her car in the driveway.

Mama knew even then, there were scary things out there and her job was to keep me safe because I was a child.

Sure, she let me do some things – she dropped me off at the Athens Skate Inn when I was 13, she let me go to other overnight events, she let me cruise the Piggly Wiggly and Rec parking lot on just about every Friday and Saturday night, even though she questioned my direction in life for finding it to be entertaining.

But again, things were different then.

I couldn’t imagine dropping my child off at a skating rink by himself. It wouldn’t happen.

I can’t understand how some parents can take their parental responsibility so lightly and act like children – children, mind you, as in 12 and younger -are supposed to be able to take care of themselves.

“I would never dream of letting Cole do some of the things I did,” Lamar said.

I shudder at some of the tales he has told me, like a bus ride by himself to see his father when he was five.

They say the free range movement is supposed to help these children become more independent and teach them coping skills, so they can become more self-sustaining adults.

Remember how I said everyone’s got their own opinion about parenting? Well, here’s mine.

That’s a crock of something.

It’s the parents’ job to give our children tools to learn how to cope, help them make good choices and equip them to be independent.

When they are children, they are scared and not able to make certain decisions – it’s our job to help guide them. And while guiding them, we are supposed to keep them safe.

Not throw them to the wolves, almost literally, and say: “Hey, you are a free range child and I don’t want to be perceived as a helicopter mom, so good luck to you!”

They are children; not chickens.

They are children; not a marketing label to tell people why your chicken is better and justify the higher price.

Proponents of the free range children movement claim other parents are preventing children from growing up.

I disagree.

I think we are doing our job and making sure they do just that. But apparently, trying to protect your child makes you crazy nowadays.

“You’ve got to let your child experience childhood and be a little boy,” someone told me one day.

I’m not saying for every little bump or bruise he gets I freak out and whisk him to the emergency room.

I am cautious, but not fanatical.

He gets dirty.

He runs and falls down.

He plays on things at the playground that make my head spin.

But my child has very, very firm boundaries and limitations. And I think like most children, he likes knowing those boundaries are there, because within that enclosed range, he knows he is safe, secure, protected and loved.

And that is really the best way to make sure children will become self-sufficient adults.

http://www.dawsonnews.com/section/30/article/16396/

The Young Entrepreneur (4/22/2015)

My earliest job was before I even started kindergarten, with my Pop teaching me how to write so I could hand write his invoices. I was paid a whole dollar a week and I am sure the weekly trips to the store for candy were included in my wages.

By the time I had graduated high school, my resume was quite lengthy.

My jobs had ranged from working in retail — where I lied about my age and bought so many clothes that Mama somehow still had to give me money — to being such a terrible waitress, the owner of the restaurant actually paid me when I told her I was quitting and told me not to worry about working a notice.

There was a brief stint as a cashier at the Piggly Wiggly one summer, where I am not even sure if I worked long enough to get paid. It had nothing to do with my work ethic and everything to do with the fact my friend, who was my ride, ceremoniously quit one day.

Lamar’s early work history was as lengthy as mine, but far more dangerous. He lied about his age, too, when he was 15, but it was to hang steel not hanging dresses at Cato.

Given the fact we both had our share of yucky jobs, one of the things we have preached to Cole is to figure out a career path early on.

Mine may have been straighter had I listened to Mama. Don’t tell her that; I am still getting law school brochures I never requested.

Lamar tells Cole to always use his brain and not his back. Cole listens intently to his father’s advice, nodding his affirmation that he will use his brain.

“Follow your bliss and you never work a day in your life,” is my advice.

“Where did your bliss get you?” Cole asked.

Good grief, I muttered under my breath.

Why does this child have to analyze everything?

So far, I am waiting for my bliss to find a clear path but it hasn’t happened.

I lied and told Cole bliss is also the journey and the experience that can lead you to several other great opportunities.

He soaked that all in until he said: “So, what you’re saying is, you haven’t found bliss yet, right?”

Not yet.

The last few weeks, Cole had been trying to decide between a basketball hoop and a new bike. After he broke down the price with his allowance, he announced he would be 12 before he got either one. “I need more allowance,” he said.

“You can always do more stuff around here,” I offered. “If you want to do some more chores, we don’t mind giving you more allowance.”

“How much more?” he asked.

“Well, it depends on what you do.”

“What will I need to do to get about $100?” he asked sincerely.

That would be a lot of dishes, dusting and other miscellaneous duties he would have to do. And I would need a part time job to pay him for the extra chores.

“I need a job,” he stated.

Off to his room he went.

After a while, he emerged, sign in hand which stated: “The Pig Shack Is Open For Business – With Prices so Low, Pigs go Mad.”

The Pig Shack has had many variations over the years – it began a few years ago as a café, where Cole posted a menu of peanut butter sandwiches and lemonade, but soon realized restaurants were tricky ventures. And we were out of peanut butter and lemonade.

The next incarnation of The Pig Shack was a thrift store, where Cole offered his toys, Pokemon cards and other assorted items for sale. The kicker was, he wanted us to pay for them and then give them back to him afterwards.

The Pig Shack had a good run as a friendship bracelet store a few summers ago, when those plastic band bracelets were in style.

I told Cole he was following the trend but the coupons he gave us for free products ate heavily into any profit. And those plastic bands were not cheap and guess who the supplier was?

The Pig Shack has even been an art museum, where Cole would display his art work.

“Are you re-opening The Pig Shack?” I asked, giving a nod to the sign.

“Kind of,” he replied. “I think I have a solid slogan, I just need to build on this concept.”

“What did you have in mind?”

Cole stood in front of me, poised to deliver a speech.

“I think I am ready to open up The Pig Shack for investors. My biggest problem in the past has been not having enough fundage to support my efforts. I can’t do it on my allowance alone, and let’s face it, Mama, The Pig Shack could have a worldwide fan base – if I had the right backing.

“So, I am hoping you and Daddy will invest in The Pig Shack and help me expand into maybe a bigger area. You know, beyond home. And I think I will need some marketing and advertising, so I will need a budget for that. I also need more merchandise to sell, which takes money.

So, I am opening up The Pig Shack for investors.”

Where he came up with this, I do not know. But I was impressed.

“What will my percentage of the business be?” I asked.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, if I give you money, how much of The Pig Shack will be mine?”

He hadn’t thought about this. He wanted money; not people to have their fingers in his pie.

“I thought you would just give me money….” he began.

“I understand what you thought, but, if you have investors, they need something in return.”

He considered this. “What’s it called if I just take your money?”

“It’s called ‘being a child.'”

“Then let’s stick with that for now,” he said. “I can begin my corporate expansion after I finish being a child.”

Like other great entrepreneurs before him, my child had a goal in mind; he just needed to find someone to put up the money for him first.

http://www.dawsonnews.com/section/30/article/16352/