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

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

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

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

She also warned my house would never be clean again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t smell yet,” he will say.

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

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

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

“No,” I sighed, not really sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The big dog promptly fell over and shuddered.

He giggled with glee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This did not comfort me at all.

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

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

 

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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.

Don’t Make Me Get My Mama (3/23/2016)

My earliest memories of my Mama convinced me being a mother was the closest thing to being either a superhero or a one-person Mafioso.

I can recall recounting something my first grade teacher (who hated me, by the way) had said to me on the way home; Mama turned that Monte Carlo around like something out of “Smokey and the Bandit” and hightailed it back to the school to confront the woman.

The evil woman was scared. I was amazed – Mama was a skinny little waif of a thing then but she was putting the fear of the devil in this hardened woman who looked like she was carved on Mount Rushmore.

A deep epiphany came over me that day. Mama, and not just Granny, was to be feared.

Even though that dreadful woman hated me, she pretty much gave me a wide berth after that, until one day she made another derogatory comment to me. Remembering the way she had reacted that fateful day, I narrowed my eyes and clenched my jaw.

“Don’t make me get my Mama,” I said.

It worked.

Over the course of the next several years, Mama became legendary – a parental “John Wick,” if you will, minus the artillery. Her weapons were her tongue, her big puffy red bouffant, and the fact she was right. And God forbid if anyone disparaged her Kitten. She went from a relatively reserved, quiet peace-loving lady who dared not offend a soul into a hellcat with claws.

When one high school science teacher, who seemed to take pride in how many of us failed his weekly quizzes, decided to point out one of my friend’s test scores in front of the class, my friend replied, “Don’t make me get Sudie’s Mama up here. I will.”

The teacher looked at him and laughed. “In case you forgot, you’re not her child.”

“Yeah, well, she will still come up here if I call her. Don’t make me call her.”

“Would she?” the teacher asked, directing the question to me.

I nodded. She would.

She did, too. I told her what the teacher did and the next morning, she was in the principal’s office, telling him making fun of a student in front of his peers was not conducive for learning and created a hostile educational environment. If it was wrong, it was wrong, and Mama couldn’t stand for injustice.

We had a new teacher the following semester.

Flash forward to my senior trip. Two friends and I had decided to go to Panama City. Mama was fully against this, saying we were too young to go out of state.

Granny, always on my side, snorted and said, “When you was her age, you was already married and divorced. Let the youngun’ go. She’s gotta live a little before life sucks the joy right out of her.”

The morning after we graduated, we hit the road, arriving at a hotel that took our money but didn’t give us a room.

Here we were; three girls completely out of our elements and miles away from home.

I pulled out the only thing I knew could work. I sidled up to the counter, looked that clerk in the eye and said, “Don’t make me call my Mama.”

One of my friends whispered, “I don’t think they know about your Mama here in PCB.”

“No, we don’t know about your Mama. And we don’t care. Your Mama can’t do anything,” the greasy man sneered.

And you know what? For the first time in my life, when I told Mama about it, Mama didn’t do anything.

When we went home two days later – because we realized we were too young to be miles and miles away from home without our mamas—I told Mama what happened. She pursed her lips together, her grey-green eyes flashed first with anger, then worry, and she nodded silently while I told her the horrors I had endured.

“I am so sorry,” she finally said when I finished.

“I got the name of the hotel and the name of the mean clerk for you,” I told her.

“I don’t need it,” she said. “You see, Kitten, you wanted to go off and be all grown. I thought you were far too young to go off with your friends without an adult. Had you maybe listened to me, and not gone, this wouldn’t have happened.”

The woman who lived to defend and protect her precious Kitten was not going to unleash her locusts in another state? What in the world was wrong with her?

“So, you aren’t going to do anything, Mama?”

“Not this time,” she said. “You wanted to be all grown and independent. Part of being grown means taking care of your own problems.”

Of course, since I have grown up, Mama will still launch an attack if anyone wrongs her only child. She has threatened to come up here on numerous occasions when I have told her of some injustices.

And I admit, there’s sometimes, I wish I could just let Mama handle some stuff.

As a parent myself, I am trying to teach my child how to handle his own issues. The other day, after exploring every possible option to get a game to save, he asked for the phone. “Who are you calling?” I asked.

“Their customer service department,” he said.

“Do you want – ”

“No, Mama, I got this. I’m 11, you know, I can take care of it.”

He scurried off to leave a message for tech support. They called back within 10 minutes.

“Wow,” I said. “That was quick! They must have excellent customer service.”

“Maybe. Or maybe it was what I said when I left my message.”

“What did you say?” I asked.

“I told them I had spent my money I saved up on this and needed to know how to make it work. But I think the kicker was, “Don’t make me get my Mama.””

The legend undoubtedly continues.

 

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.

Girls that breathe fire, and men who respect them

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What degree is that?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We do have to do better by our daughters.

We do that by teaching our sons better.

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.

If you see a well-dressed man, thank his mama

“Did your Daddy pick that out for you?” I asked Cole one morning as we were about to head out the door.

“Yes, ma’am,” he answered.

“Lamar!” I hollered. “He can’t wear that!”

“What’s wrong with it?” Lamar wanted to know. “It’s clean!”

“‘Clean’ is not the only prerequisite for clothing.”

Frustrated, I went to find Cole something that matched.

I try to make my child look nice and presentable – not like he is some ragamuffin who fell off a turnip truck. Just because it was Downy fresh didn’t mean it was appropriate.

“I don’t get why you worry about what he has on,” Lamar said as we headed to our destination – late, because I insisted on my child changing clothes. “He’s a little boy; folks don’t care what little boys have on.”

“I care,” I said. “And believe me. Other people notice.”

Believe me, other people definitely do. Once when Cole was around 4-years-old, Lamar took him to lunch, wearing a pair of boxer shorts and a t-shirt. While they were on their adventures, they ran into a lady Cole used to stay with. When she saw my child was out and about wearing his drawers as outer wear, she called me later to make sure I had not taken ill and needed a casserole.

Lamar has also given this child two different socks. Not just a short one and a tall one, we’re talking my child has worn one of my socks and one of his.

“No one sees what’s stuffed in a boot,” was Lamar’s reasoning.

“They sometimes have to take their shoes off in PE,” I tried explaining. “Do you want your son to be known as the one who wears ladies’ Halloween socks in February?”

Stripes with plaid.

Orange shirt with red shorts.

Inside out, backwards. As long as it was clean and covered what needed to be covered, Lamar would stick the child in it.

Sometimes, I don’t even think clean was really a priority, either.

“He wore that the other day,” I commented once, eyeing Cole’s attire as he ate breakfast.

“It’s clean,” Lamar replied.

A closer inspection revealed chocolate on the collar.

I sighed.

I think I put unrealistic fashion expectations on not just any man, but my husband.

He does not seem to worry about what he wears.

He told me once, I worry about that stuff enough for the both of us, which I don’t. I just think not looking like one dressed in the dark during an emergency evacuation is a reasonable, attainable goal.

Lamar blames me for always making us late, changing shoes, messing with my hair or finding the perfect earrings. But usually it is me trying to find my child clothes. A task that Lamar does in an effort to save me time, so I don’t have to do it. A vicious cycle.

Maybe guys are just different when it comes to clothes. You never hear men sitting around talking about whether or not low rise jeans made their muffin top worse, or if they hoped the Chevron pattern never went out because it hid their five-pound weight gain.

The only words I had ever heard my husband utter about clothes were: “This needs to be burned.”

He has cut the sleeves off long-sleeved shirts because he couldn’t find a short sleeved shirt. I didn’t notice until one evening as we were running errands, I asked what was wrong with the hem. He said nothing. He didn’t have to; he has cut up tons of his clothes. I have sworn one day, I was throwing away all of his clothes that had paint on them, or had been cut up in some Edward Scissorhands fashion.

“Then, I will just be going around naked,” he muttered.

Once my Uncle Bobby had to get my clothes ready for school. He put my chubby tater in a pair of corduroys and a striped shirt, which he forgot to take the iron off of and left the imprint on the back shoulder. I was such a train wreck, the children didn’t even make fun of me. Who puts a fat kid in vertical stripes and corduroys?

“Mama, why do you care about how we look when we go somewhere?” Cole wanted to know. “You won’t even run to the grocery store without your makeup and heels on.”

That was not true; I’ve been wearing flats here lately.

But they didn’t understand this whole “being presentable” concept.

For one thing, I don’t want us ending up on some “People of Walmart” Instagram account, with the caption: “Country come to town.”

I want my child to take pride in his appearance, which he does, but it shows that you respect yourself enough to take a few moments to pull together a simple outfit. You only get one chance to make a first impression – do you want that first impression to be you are on your way to a clown school audition?

“Baby, when you get older, you will be glad that I have taught you, this is important. On your first date, your first job interview. There will be tons of occasions you will be glad you understand it is important to look nice and care about what you are wearing.

It doesn’t have to be the trendiest, it doesn’t have to be the most expensive – just make sure it is clean, nice and looks well.”

Again, no stripes and plaids, I silently pleaded. You will give me a headache to look at it.

One day, he would get it.

And when he did, he could thank his mama.

Lessons learned from the mat

Lessons learned from the mat.

I knew Cole needed a sport this summer.

After being homeschooled and missing his peers, he needed the social interaction and the discipline of a sport.

I say that, and I am not a huge sports fan, despite that former life as a sports reporter.

I didn’t want him to play football – the equipment would likely weigh more than him, and honestly, I think it can be too rough.

Putting your baby in a bubble is frowned upon on a football field.

Lamar thankfully vetoed football, too.

He has a good arm for baseball, but I have seen people get hit with the ball.

“He may one day be the pitcher for the Braves, making millions of dollars – you could just sit, drink wine, and read all day,” Lamar tempted me.

“He could also get really hurt if he took a line drive to the cranium. No.”

He would probably do well in basketball, but he’s never really acted like he cared for it.

Cole asked if he could be a cyclist to which we both resoundingly said, “No.”

That didn’t leave a whole lot leftover.

“How about wrestling?” I asked. “Would you like to try wrestling?”

Cole eagerly agreed.

I am sure visions of John Cena and the other wrestlers on the WWE were flashing through his mind.

It was a far cry from body slams and smashing chairs, but Cole loved it.

Of course, I flinched every time I saw him crash to the mat. So I made sure he didn’t catch me watching him. I didn’t want to embarrass him with my worry face.

“Did you throw anyone out of the ring?” Mama wanted to know.

“No, Nennie – there’s not even a ring like that. It’s wrestling, not wrasslin,'” he explained.

The pronunciation makes a big difference, mind you.

While I was watching, but not trying to be conspicuous about it, Lamar was watching intently.

Mothers and fathers have different ideas about the areas where children need to be pushed.

I’ve always been more of an encourager, play to the strengths type of person. Lamar’s always had more patience than I did, being able to teach Cole how to tie shoes when I couldn’t.

But this was different.

This was sports.

“Be aggressive, be aggressive,” I heard Cole saying one night.

“Where did you get that?” I asked.

“Daddy told me I gotta get aggressive. So I am gonna be aggressive.”

I don’t like aggressiveness. At all. I sighed and told Lamar I didn’t.

“He’s got to get aggressive out there. Sports is channeled aggression,” I was told.

Maybe that’s why I don’t like sports.

I don’t like all the aggression and the ‘might makes right.’

Which is why I leaned towards wrestling, as it was a little fairer in that you competed in your weight class.

Still, I am not a fan of aggression.

“If there were prizes or something like that, Cole’s attitude would be different,” I said. “This is his social time and he wants to talk to someone his own age about boy stuff. If he saw it as a competition, he would probably react different.”

“He’s just gotta be more aggressive,” Lamar repeated. “Just watch him without worrying he’s getting hurt for a few minutes, you’ll see what I am talking about.”

I frowned, but I did it.

For a few moments, I watched Cole and the other child he was wrestling with and saw the differences between the two.

Cole, when in a hold, gave in.

The other boy would resist bridge and push away, fighting until he had Cole pinned.

“Wow,” I said.

My gentle, tenderhearted child would give in.

My shy, painfully quiet husband was just as tenderhearted – maybe more so – but Cole does have my mouth.

Lamar is the one who has fought against odds that were not in his favor. It translated to a competitive edge when on the bike, and it just helped him in general off the bike.

“He’s not aggressive at all, is he?”

Lamar shook his head.

“He gives in too quickly, he lets the other kid just take him down. He’s got to learn how to resist and push back.”

When the practice was over, Cole bounded up, red faced and needing water.

“How did I do?” he asked, gulping his Powerade.

“Great!” we said in unison.

“When we get home, I want to go over some moves with you,” Lamar said. “To help you.”

Cole was immediately worried.

“Did I do something wrong?”

“No,” Lamar said. “You did great. I just want you to get more aggressive, like we talked about.”

“I thought I was,” his face fell.

“Cole, I think Daddy is just saying, you’ve got to learn how to push back, to not give in. I want you to learn how to not give in so easily.”

“Why, Mama?”

“Because – it’s important, Cole. Maybe the most important thing you can learn.”

He shook his head, sweat dropping to the floor. “It’s just wrestling, Mama, it’s just wrestling.”

Just like in life, we can give in when things get tough. Or we can push back, wait until the opponent gives in or gives some leeway and turn the situation around in our favor.

That’s definitely something we all need to learn.

Sudie Crouch is an award winning humor columnist and author of the e-published novel, “The Dahlman Files: A Tony Dahlman Paranormal Mystery.”