A matter of miscommunication


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

I was wrought with outright fear and anxiety.

My child was not where he said he would be.

Or more succinctly, where I thought he would be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I took a deep breath.

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

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

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

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

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

Anger was the new emotion coursing through my body.

Had he lied to me?

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

He was nowhere.

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

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

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

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

No response.
Was it not him?

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

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

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

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

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

All the way home.

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

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

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

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

After we got home, I continued my rant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She called.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I handed him the phone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mama was somehow on both of our sides.


Edge of fourteen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s growing up.

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

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

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

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

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

It has been a hard transition.

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

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

I agreed. He is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They do,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


It all comes out in the wash

“He’s a little boy,” is the logic my husband gives me for just about everything our child does.
This was his response to Cole deciding he only wanted to wear one shirt, day in and day out.
The same shirt.
Every day.
“When I was a little boy, I did that,” Lamar said. “I had certain things I liked to wear all the time.”
Yeah, when I was a little girl, I did, too. They were called shoes.
“He has to wear something other than that one shirt,” was my response.
It was ignored by everyone male in my house.
Now, that one shirt was not just any one shirt, mind you.
It was the Steven Universe shirt.
A simple shirt by design, a red tee with a big yellow star in the middle.
The day it arrived, he took it out of the package and put it on, not heeding my normal rule of washing everything first.
And there it stayed for God knows how long.
“Cole, let me wash it,” I would say on a daily basis.
“I don’t want to take it off,” he would tell me. “I love it, Mama. I had wanted this for so long.”
“It’s got to be washed,” I said. “It has pizza stains; when’s the last time you had pizza?”
He was not happy but he acquiesced.
The sacred shirt was washed.
And even though it was supposed to be pre-shrunk, it shrank.
“Oh no!” he wailed. “It’s ruined!”
Oh, dang. Now he’d never let me wash anything ever again.
He ran to his tablet to Google how to un-shrink shrunken clothes.
“Fabric softener,” he said between breathes. “Spray fabric softener on it to release the fibers.”
So we did. “Let’s pull it,” I suggested.
“Pull it?”
“If it works on control tops, it will work on a shirt.”
So we sprayed it some more and I took one end and he the other and we gently pulled.
It helped.
“It’s still not as long as it was originally,” he said. He knew this because he had another Steven
Universe shirt that came at the same time but was saving; he had compared the two when he got them and now had the red one on top, seeing the less than a millimeter difference.
“It will be OK,” I told him.
He frowned and slipped the shirt back on.
“It’s not going back in the dryer again. Ever,” he declared.
I returned to my daily begging to let me wash it; he refused.
The child will even put it on after he takes a shower.
“Cole!” I exclaimed. “Put on a clean shirt! That’s disgusting that you put that shirt back on!”
He sticks his chin out defiantly.
“No, it’s not. My shirt is clean. I don’t do anything to get dirty – I really don’t even need a shower. I haven’t even been outside this summer because I am scared of Zika!”
I sighed. I was in the midst of a battle I had zero strategy to fight.
I finally managed to wrestle the shirt from him one evening and promised I would hand wash it and let it air dry. And I did, putting it in the tub with a Tide pack and getting on my knees to wash it.
I suddenly had a very astute appreciation for the modern conveniences of washers and dryers.

Hours later, I heard him bemoan that somehow, it still shrunk.
“That’s not possible!” I said.
He leveled a disappointing stare at me. “Well, it is. I’m never washing my lucky shirt again.”
How had this shirt somehow become lucky? I wondered.
“He’s a little boy, you just don’t understand because you are a mama,” Lamar said. “Little boys have lucky shirts, don’t like taking showers, and like gross things. He will change soon enough.”
I wasn’t sure about that; his father was in his 50s and hadn’t evolved that much.
I wasn’t going to fuss with him.
I just knew that shirt needed to be washed and on a regular basis.
Granted, I knew his fear. I had a lovely long, white Ralph Lauren sundress one summer that made me look thin even though it had pockets. I probably would have worn it on my wedding day, I loved it so much. I didn’t even wear it that often, because, well…it was white. Me and white clothes are a recipe for disaster and usually mean I spilled everything permanent on it.
But one day, I asked Mama to wash it.
Mama, the grand poobha of laundry. The woman cannot cook to save her life – or ours – but she can make everything smell April fresh and soft and fluffy.
My dress mysteriously disappeared and Mama even tried to gaslight me into believing I had never had a white sundress.
“I don’t recall such a dress,” she said through her Virginia Slim fog.
“Are you sure? You fussed about paying $80 for a dress I could only wear a few months out of the year.”
She didn’t even flinch.
“I fuss about a lot of your overpriced clothes,” she said. “You always like those hoity toity things.”
“Uh-huh. Well, you washed it about three weeks ago and I haven’t seen it since.”
One day, I found it, or what remained of it rather, under the kitchen sink.
It was in tatters, knotted together.
Mama had put bleach in the laundry, thinking it would help keep the brightness of the white but instead, it had eaten through the fibers and turned it into what looked like a giant cat toy.
The fact it was in a bag, shoved in a bucket in the very back and covered with a cutting board was proof the crazy redhead had hid her crime.
I sat in the kitchen floor and cried, and this time it wasn’t because I thought my Mama was trying to poison me with her cooking.
I recounted this story to my own child, hoping he would know I understood where he was coming from and that I would take care of his shirt.
I believed that one day he would trust me to wash his favorite lucky shirt again.
Finally, finally, he peeled off the shirt and handed it to me.
“It’s time,” he said solemnly.
Into the tub it went, with another Tide pack. I had to scrub stains of things out that were unidentifiable, ground in and possibly organic in nature.
I didn’t ask.
When you finally get to wash the sacred shirt, you do so free of judgment -and questions, because somethings, you just don’t want to know.
But the sacred, lucky shirt was clean.
At least for a little while.

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.


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.

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.

Raising men, not boys (9/18/2013)


I am the first to admit I am a wee bit overprotective. I admit I probably cramp my child’s style and am far more of a worry wart than necessary.

I say that, then realize you can never be too protective of your child.

“Why can’t I do … ” he will ask.

“Because I said so,” is my answer. “I’m the boss, applesauce.”

This is not a good answer for Cole.

It wasn’t a good answer for me when I was a child and that’s what Mama told me. Except Mama left off any rhyme to soften the blow; she usually informed me very matter of a fact she was calling the shots.

I thought she was terribly strict and must have hated me. Surely, she gave birth to me because she wanted to torture some defenseless child.

I wasn’t allowed to do about 85 percent of the things my friends did. I wasn’t allowed to go to places by myself. I wasn’t allowed to spend the night if Mama didn’t know the family – and we’re not talking from the PTA here, we’re talking “know them since birth” type deals. She probably ran background checks on my Sunday school teachers, just to be safe.

“You can’t smother that boy his whole life,” a friend informed me once.

Said friend was a former Marine and probably found me to be quite silly in the things I refused to let Cole do. No probably about it really, I know he did.

And before I continue, let me rephrase that because said friend would remind me there’s no such thing as a former Marine – he was still a Marine.

“I’m his mother, I can smother him as long I want to. And I am not smothering him. I am protecting him.”

Said Marine friend shook his head.

“You are smothering him. Do you want him to be a boy or a man when he grows up? You keep this nonsense up, you are going to have a grown up boy when he’s 40.”

I wasn’t quite sure what he meant at the time, but it dawned on me later.

Some men are accused of being … well … boys. We know the ones – heck, I think at some point, I dated a few a long, long, long time ago.

But Cole was not going to be that way.

He was responsible. He apologized when he needed to, he picked up after himself and he actually begged to wash dishes. I have to say, I think I have a pretty great kid, even though I don’t think I have a lot to do with that. Most of the time, he is correcting me more than I am correcting him.

I knew how I wanted him to be when he was grown. I want him to be successful, happy and well-respected. Did I want him to still be crazy about his mama? Of course. Did I want him to be a perpetual child? No.

But I do think boys sometimes have it a little tougher than girls do in some regards. They are told they have to be tough, they have to like cars, guns and hunting – when maybe, they don’t. Some are told they aren’t supposed to cry or show any emotion when I know some men are far more compassionate than I am.

I think the men I have admired the most were those who didn’t give a diddle about what society told them they were supposed to be, but were themselves.

People like my grandfather, who worked in construction during the week but come Sunday was the prettiest man in church. He also didn’t care who saw him get emotional, whether he was upset about something concerning me or Georgia Tech beating the Dawgs. No one would have questioned his manliness.

But maybe that’s it. Somewhere along the way, we all forgot that boys, men, those males of our species are people too. They aren’t super humans who have no feelings.

It’s such a delicate, precarious balance this business of raising boys. I’ve tried to remember that. I’ve told Cole to always be considerate, to think of how someone else would feel, to think of consequences, to make good decisions, even when I wasn’t there. Especially when I wasn’t there.

As Mama would tell me when I was younger: “Don’t do anything you would be embarrassed to have to explain to me or the police later.”

That kind of gave me a pretty good parameter of what I should or shouldn’t do.

I think for the most part, what I have said has stuck. He’s doing pretty good so far and has a good sense of self. And so far, he comes to me when he has worries, concerns or questions.

Like the other day. He was worried. One of his friends no longer liked the same thing he did. Did this mean the friendship was over? I smiled and told him no and explained friends could like different things; it was perfectly fine.

He was relieved. They had known each other since they were 2. He didn’t want to lose a good friend over something so inconsequential – his words not mine.

It’s tough work, this raising men and not boys.