Included–Or Not

 

It’s been a while since my kids were at an age where they were expected to invite the entire classroom to their birthday party, but a recent FB post got me thinking about those days. Because in a lot of ways, those days are still now. No, no one is going to publicly chastise my daughter, Clementine, when she doesn’t invite every member of her college class to her upcoming 20th birthday dinner, but the idea that she somehow should will still be there. Because no one wants to be considered a mean girl.

Don’t get me wrong: I read Queen Bees and Wannabees (the book that inspired Mean Girls) way back when Clementine was still in grade school, and I was just as terrified as every other mother at the thought of her entering the Halls of Judgement that are otherwise known as Middle School and turning into either a bully or a victim. But then, one day at the park, I noticed something. I noticed that some of the kids Clementine didn’t want to play with—or, as those kids’ mothers might call it, that she wanted to exclude—well, they were kind of weird. And not the good kind of weird either, but the creepy kind. And, on a few occasions, along with being the creepy kind of weird, they were also downright scary. And, perhaps most importantly, I noticed that by forcing Clementine to play with them I was essentially telling her to ignore that little voice inside of her head that was pointing out how creepy weird they really were. In other words, I was ordering her to ignore that little voice that that someday might just save her life.

You know the voice I’m talking about, the one that tells you, “Don’t let that guy buy you a drink,” or “Don’t take that shortcut through the alley,” or even “Don’t stay in this relationship for one more minute.” The voice that is not, in fact, our psychic sixth sense or a guardian angel, but rather the deepest, most primordial part of our brain recognizing that we are still prey and that there are predators out there and that, oh yeah, right about now is the time when we don’t need to think anymore we need to run. Yeah, that voice.

And I know that it might seem a giant stretch to get from “strange little seven year old at the park” to predator, but at least two of the kids Clementine didn’t want to play with when she was young are now in jail for violent crimes, so make of that what you will. (They were also, I might add, both boys—or rather, now, men.)

And therein lies my biggest problem with inclusivity. It seems to me that for the most part this is something that comes up far more frequently with little girls than little boys. And I don’t mean to imply that boys can’t be just as judgmental and clique-y as girls—they can—just that boys are less frequently told that their own personal choices aren’t valid. That they should put aside their preferences and doubts and just “be nice.”

Look, there is no good reason to ever shame someone for not belonging to your “clique,” whether your clique consists of all the top cheerleaders sitting at the table right in the middle of the cafeteria or all the most rabid SuperWhoLock fans sitting at the table in the corner. But there is also no good reason to be forced to include people you don’t want to include. You can be “nice,” and still not invite them to sit at your table. Or come to your birthday party.

That little voice inside your head will thank you. And, just maybe, it will still be around when the day comes that you really need it.

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The Peaceful Disquiet

 

Last night I was awoken by the dulcet tones of my children bickering in the kitchen.

This was not a new phenomenon. What was new, however, was the way I reacted to it. Rather than getting up and shooing them away (because I’ve learned the hard way that laying in bed and yelling at them is pointless—the yell without the glare has no real power), instead I lay there smiling to myself. Even when the argument carried over into my bedroom, and therefore within glaring range (there has never been a “no fly zone” when it comes to the airing of grievances in my family), I still reacted favorably. Why? Because listening to them argue with each other made me realize that they were both home, and safe, and I knew that when I finally settled the argument (“you’re both wrong”) and shooed them out the door, I would sleep much better for knowing that. And besides, I knew that if I could hear them arguing they couldn’t be getting into that much trouble.

What can I say? When it comes to my children, silence is not golden; silence is suspicious. And it always has been.

The only time they have ever felt the need to be quiet is when they are trying (usually unsuccessfully) to get away with something. Crashing, banging, and shouting? All good. Deathly silence? They’re in the middle of painting a catsup masterpiece on the wall. Or worse.

The same is even more true now that they are teenagers. Bursting through the front door in a cacophony of dropped backpacks, kicked off shoes and shouts of “I’m starving: do we have any food?” means there was a normal day at school. Slinking in and actually hanging up the backpack and putting away the shoes? Probably something bad happened, maybe even so bad that I should expect a phone call in my very near future.

But as much as I appreciate the fact that a noisy child is typically a guilt-free child, there is more to my love of a noisy house than that. There is also the feeling of contentment that comes from a house filled with noise, or rather, as I like to think of it, with life.

Think of all the times you’ve stood outside a house and heard the susurrus of conversations, the gentle clink of cutlery against china, and the sharp sound of the occasional laugh spilling out of an open window. There is just something comforting about it, whether you are a member of the party yourself who has just stepped outside for a breath of fresh air or a stranger passing by on your way to somewhere else. In the same way that the glow of a campfire still soothes something primordial in us, the sound of other people—especially other people enjoying themselves—quiets our deepest fears of being alone.

But wait a minute, you say—how can you liken listening to your children argue to listening to strangers have a good time? Well, for my children, arguing with each other is having a good time. At the very least it is comfortable, like the ratty old shirt you put on after a hard day at work.

Because the nice thing—and sometimes the awful thing—about families is that we don’t need to be polite. We don’t have to couch our complaints in compliments and platitudes, or even take the office route and hang up passive aggressive shaming notes. When we are displeased, we let each other know. Sometimes loudly. Almost always rudely. And, very frequently, in the middle of the kitchen in the middle of the night.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Uno is Coming

 

In my house, the Uno cards are kept in a special bag, one with the words, “Shut Your Whore Mouth,” written on the side. My friend Mari brought the bag back for me from a trip to Vegas, and while I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the use she originally imagined for it I can’t help but think that she (and all of Vegas) would be happy with where it ended up. After all, Vegas is a town known for cut-throat card games, and in my house, nothing gets more brutal than Uno.

Let’s start with the rules—or rather, the lack thereof. When we first started playing Uno as a family, one member of the family (who shall not be named, but his initials are D.A.D.) tried to insist that we play by the “rules.” The rest of us scoffed at him, first because we didn’t believe that Uno actually had rules, and then, after he went out and bought a new pack of cards just to get a copy of the rules, because the rules were dumb. Not all of the rules, mind you, just the one that says you can’t lay a “Draw Four” on someone if you have an alternate card to play. That rule just seemed like unnecessary interference into the Free Trade Free For All that is a healthy game of Uno. It’s a Nanny State rule in an otherwise Libertarian game. The whole point of Uno (I think) is that, one, it teaches children that the world is nothing but formlessness, chaos and void, and that the only order that exists is the order we impose upon it, and two, that life isn’t fair. Sometimes you get a “Draw Four” card slapped down on you over and over again for no other reason than the fact that your sister is sitting next to you and she is still angry that you took the last grape popsicle.

Which brings us to the second Uno “rule” that my family has chosen to disregard: it turns out that some people, apparently, insert their own rule into Uno decreeing that you never have to draw more than four cards at a time, no matter how rotten your luck is. The reasoning behind this rule is that making children suffer is upsetting for them. To which I answer, well, duh, of course it’s upsetting. That’s the whole point of Uno—to piss other people off. What, you thought it was a game of skill? It’s a game of schemes. A pack of Uno cards should be on the banners of at least half of the houses in Game of Thrones.

Which brings us to the final rule that my family regularly flouts: the “no cheating” rule. True, this isn’t an actual rule listed in the rulebook, and also true, most families don’t even feel the need to spell this one out (like the “no murder” rule, some things are just assumed), but in my family cheating is just considered another strategy.

Leave your cards visible? Expect to have your hand looked at. Hesitate for even a nanosecond to perhaps clear your throat or even breathe before you acknowledge your single card status? Expect to have shouts of “UNO!” rain down on you. And finally: get up to go the bathroom, take a phone call or engage in any “non-Uno” related matter and expect to find your hand liberally stuffed with extra cards upon your return. Smart enough to take your cards with you? Then expect to have the deck stacked against you when you get back. (Quickly stacking a deck is something we all learned to do in our Candyland days. If you never learned this then that means you either never had kids or are still playing the last game of Candyland you started. I hope for your sake it’s the former.)

Some families, I’m sure, pass on other, healthier traditions to their kids. They volunteer at the food bank for Thanksgiving, or adopt a stretch of highway to keep clean. And I’m sure the children in those families all grow up to be happy, healthy and productive members of society—benefits to mankind each and every one.

God help them if they ever sit down to play a “friendly” game of Uno with my kids.

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Fear

 

This is a column about being a parent, and being afraid.

As any parent can tell you, there are a lot of moments of sheer terror that come with the territory. There’s that moment of panic when your toddler nearly runs into the street. (Or the gorilla enclosure. Hey, I’m the parent of a child who once stuck his head inside the ball return at the bowling alley: trust me when I say I don’t judge.) Then there’s that heart-stopping five minutes when you can’t find your child at the department store. (Because apparently it’s fun to hide inside the sales rack while they lock all the doors and call your name. On Christmas Eve.) And, of course, there’s that terrifying few hours when every time you turn on the GPS in your child’s phone their dot shows up in jail. (Whose bright idea was it to put a coffee shop so close to the jail, anyway?) But this column isn’t about that kind of fear. No, despite the fact that there are stacks and stacks of examples of all the times when we are desperately afraid that something bad has happened to our children, this column is about the other kind of parental fear.

This column is about the fear that someday our children are going to do something bad to someone else. In other words, this is the Brock Turner column.

There’s a great line in A Bug’s Life when Hopper brushes off the new Queen’s excuses by saying, “First rule of leadership: everything is your fault.” That one line describes parenting perfectly. It doesn’t matter if it is factually true or not: in parenting, like literature, oftentimes the Truth is revealed in stories that are inherently not true at all.

Did Brock Turner’s parent’s bad parenting create the remorseless creature we saw in court? Did their neglect, or smothering, or cluelessness, or enabling make him into the predator he is? Maybe. It doesn’t really matter, though, because we already know in our parenting hearts that they are the ones to blame. They are the parents. We are the parents. Everything is our fault.

I used to think that my primary role as a parent was to protect my children from the world, to stand like a seawall between them and the constant buffeting of life, but as they have gotten older, and as they have become more capable of protecting themselves (or at least less likely to stick their heads into the bowling ball return), I have started to feel as if my primary role shouldn’t rather be to protect the world from them. Or rather, to help them to become the type of people the world doesn’t need to be protected from. The type of person who doesn’t throw their beer cans out the truck window, who realizes that the super cheap 3-pack of t-shirts comes with a price you can’t always see, and that the only thing as bad as being a bully is being the person who watches and does nothing.

Only time will tell whether or not my bad—or good—parenting has created the kind of person who attacks a helpless woman behind a dumpster, or the kind of person who jumps off of their bicycle to save them. Of course I hope for the latter, but if for some reason I have gotten the former, then I hope that I have the strength to let them get the punishment they—and I—deserve.

Because, whichever way it happens, it will most certainly all be my fault.

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Invisible Mountains

 

I’ve often joked about how my children have a “looking disorder.” How, if I ever really wanted to hide something from them, the best place for me to put it would be right out in plain sight, because the chances of them finding something when it is sitting in the middle of the kitchen table are roughly the same as the chances of them finding it hidden deep inside the heart of a forgotten Incan tomb. (Actually, they probably have a better chance of finding it in the Incan tomb—at least the video game version of an Incan tomb. This is because in video games it seems like the description of all important objects magically appear on the screen in front of you if you hover over the object long enough. Maybe that’s what my children are waiting for in real life: “Math Homework, due today” floating in bright yellow letters above the kitchen table.)

Still, as much as I’ve come to accept that their looking disorders are simply a part of who they are, I never before realized that this disorder included not just the objects they were actively “trying” to find (supposedly), but also objects that are part of their everyday landscape. Big objects. Really big objects. Like, literally, mountain-sized.

So literally, in fact, that my son, Clyde, who has lived his entire life at the foot of the tallest mountain in Arizona, has only just now noticed it was there.

It happened while we were waiting in line at the Dog Haus drive thru. Temporarily freed from the tyranny of the screen, Clyde was forced to look out the window to entertain himself. And that’s when he saw it.

“What’s that mountain?” he asked, clearly startled to have a 12,000 foot piece of landscape sneak up on him like that.

I glanced over just to make sure that a new mountain hadn’t, in fact, moved in while I was ordering. “Those are the San Francisco Peaks,” I said.

“Oh,” he replied. His disappointed tone revealed that he had just made the same mistake so many people do, and assumed that the “San Francisco” part of the name referred to the town a thousand or so miles to the west, making the Peaks closer to the Pacific Ocean than they were to Flagstaff. (The perils of having essentially the same group of people name so much of the Southwest.) “Can we go there someday?” he asked. His tone revealed that he was clearly resigned to hearing one of the many different parental versions of “we’ll see” in reply.

And I was prepared to give him one. Until I looked over at the mountains and realized how long it had been since I had really seen them. Which is how we ended up turning right, rather than left as we exited the Dog Haus.

Twenty minutes later we were parked next to an Aspen grove a thousand feet higher than we had been before. What had been a warmish day was now a little chilly. And the Peaks, instead of being an abstraction, were now very real—as real as the ground beneath our feet.

Clyde wandered through the grove for a bit (neither one of us was prepared for a real hike) and I sat and listened to the rattle and clack of the aspen leaves in the wind. It was calm, and peaceful, and an utterly different experience from the Dog Haus drive thru. When Clyde returned we got in the car and drove back down, talking as we went about what we had seen and when we could come back, this time to hike to top. The mood in the car was light and happy: you could even say that it was relieved.

And why shouldn’t it have been? After all, it’s always such a relief to find something that has been lost.

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Cee-Oh-Dee

 

Last week was a busy week at my house, so I didn’t get the chance to go grocery shopping. This meant that the only food available to the people who live in my house (or available to the people who live in my house and don’t have jobs, and therefore don’t have any money), was food that you had to cook. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that we were down to our last sack of beans and slab of hard tack; I’m saying that the only food available was things that required you to read the directions on the back of the box or can. In other words (actually, in my 14-year-old son Clyde’s words), there was nothing to eat.

By now both of my children have heard me tell the story of the toddler who survived on her own for a week by eating condiments often enough that they don’t complain directly to me about “starving” anymore, but rather just mutter bitterly under their breath about “no food” as they creep around the kitchen in the middle of the night. (Apparently teenagers have the same feeding habits as bedbugs. Which explains why they are just as welcome in fine hotels.) Of course, this is more true for my son, Clyde, than my daughter, Clementine, probably because, at 5’2”, Clementine has never really felt hunger the way her 5’10” (and counting) brother has. For her adolescence meant the addition of maybe twenty pounds and two inches; for him it looks to be more like a hundred pounds and a foot and a half. (I’ve seen werewolf movies with less brutal transformations.)

This is all just to say that when Clyde woke us up in the middle of the night last week to ask for cooking tips, we weren’t surprised. Or even upset. (It’s surprising what you can get used to.) What was surprising, though, and not just a little upsetting, was what Clyde was asking us, because his question revealed just how unacquainted with actual food he really is. And that’s on me.

His question? Holding out a box he had just mined from the freezer, he asked us plaintively, “How do you cook…cee-oh-dee?”

We squinted at him and his prize blearily for a second before my husband laughed and said, “Cod. It’s called cod. And it’s a fish.”

“So it’s meat?” Clyde asked hopefully.

I was going to start an explanation of Vatican II, and how interesting it is that something as seemingly immutable as the word of God can change over the years when my husband, apparently caring more for sleeping than philosophizing, cut me off with an abrupt, “Yes. And read the directions on the back of the box.”

Either the directions were written by a sadist, or Clyde didn’t actually read them, because the subsequent nuking that poor frozen fish was subjected to was brutal. The fish swimming in the waters off of Fukushima probably received less radiation. Of course, none of that deterred Clyde from eating it after it was “done.” Or from eating the next three boxes he pulled out of the freezer after that. (At least he eats what he hunts.)

Since that night I’ve had people explain to me that it is perfectly reasonable for a boy Clyde’s age to have only ever seen the letters “cee oh dee” used as a reference to the game, Call of Duty, but somehow, despite the game’s apparent massive popularity, that isn’t much of a comfort, seeing as how the fish we all call “cod” has been around a few thousand years longer. (Under that name, at least. I’m sure the fish itself has been around for several hundred thousand years. Only half of which have been spent in my freezer.)

I guess the only real lesson I can take from all of this is that, apparently, my teenage son can forage at least as well as a toddler. For my next experiment I think I’ll see which one does better with the sack of beans.

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Bathroom Blues

 

When I was younger, the issue du jour (for a brief time, at least) was “potty parity.” This was the idea that there should be enough bathrooms to satisfy everyone who wanted to use one, without causing undue hardship to one gender or another. This issue arose out of the fact that there was (and still is) frequently a long line for the women’s bathroom, while at the same time there is often none for the men’s, even at events where you would think there would be more men then women present, like football games. “Potty Parity” would have taken this fact into account when designing new venues, and planned for more women’s restrooms from the very beginning to balance the wait times out.

Although the idea of Potty Parity was heavily supported by women, the push for it, ironically, was started by men: specifically, men who felt uncomfortable after “their” bathroom had been invaded by women who had decided they weren’t going to wait in those long lines any more.

Flash forward twenty or so years. There’s still longer lines for the women’s room, but now the “issue du jour” is no longer women using the men’s room, but rather men using the women’s: specifically, transgendered men. (Although almost no one seems to have a problem with transgendered women using the men’s room, which is nice, I guess.)

Overlooking the fact that 1) why do you care who is in the stall next to you, as long as they will be a pal and pass you some toilet paper when you are out, and 2) if you are looking at the person’s junk standing next to you at the urinal, doesn’t that make you the pervert? there is still a much bigger issue that we are all missing in this battle of the bathrooms. One that has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not you have the “right” equipment or even how long it takes you to get that equipment out and use it. No, this is an issue that goes much deeper than such superficialities as that. This issue is: how do we pass a law requiring there to be two sets of bathrooms in the world, one for teenagers, and one for humans? Or if that’s not feasible, then how do we pass a law keeping teenagers out of bathrooms, period.

I don’t know about you, but I would rather face a veritable army of “men in dresses” (the supposed bugaboo of the new bathroom law proponents) than one single teenage girl reapplying her makeup and fixing her hair. (Not that you would ever see one single teenage girl in a bathroom. Or for that matter, anywhere.) The fumes from the hairspray alone are enough to cause hallucinations. And as for teenage boys—well, let’s just say that fumes are the problem in that scenario as well. (I think scientists should look into the deadly effects of combing Axe body spray and Taco Bell-inspired flatulence. I think it might be comparable to what happens when you mix ammonia and bleach.)

Of course, the real problem here isn’t the public bathrooms—it’s the private ones. Because as annoying as a gaggle of teenagers might be out in the wild, they are five times more annoying when held in captivity—i.e., your house. At least in public bathrooms there is no danger of electrocution because of all of the appliances plugged in and balanced around an overflowing sink. After all, make-up and Axe Body Spray have never actually killed anyone. I think. Which is why, when it comes to sharing a bathroom, I’d much rather have it look like the set of Rocky Horror than Final Destination.

To be honest, if there was a public bathroom within a quick trot of my house, I’d probably use it, regardless of what the little pictogram looked like on the door. As long as that pictogram wasn’t carrying a curling iron, a can of Axe, or a bag of Taco Bell.

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The More You Know

 

Today I failed as both a parent and as a human being.

No, I didn’t raise the next Unibomber. (Don’t let the hoodies fool you: my kids have absolutely zero idea how the postal service works. They don’t even know which side of the envelope to put the stamp on. If you have ever received an actual mailed letter or post card from either one of them, consider yourself lucky.) I also didn’t raise a child who is seriously considering voting for the man who promises to “make America great again.” (Although even that would be preferable to raising a child who wasn’t planning to vote at all. ) And finally, neither I or my children are the ones who keep sending George R.R. Martin all those Candy Crush invitations, thereby distracting him from finishing the next installment in Game of Thrones. No, I am something much, much worse.

I am the woman who raised a child who can’t tell the difference between AC/DC and Kiss.

This appalling state of affairs came to my attention as I was driving Clyde to school the other day and “Thunderstruck” came on the radio. I don’t know why, but halfway through the song I turned and asked Clyde if he knew who was playing the song we were listening to. He paused, cocked his head to the side, and then said, “Um, is it Kiss?” I nearly drove off the road.

I know, I know: there are a lot of people out there who have absolutely zero interest in classic rock, who couldn’t tell you the difference between the Scorpions and Air Supply, and they manage to get along just fine. (Probably.) And I’m not saying that my kids have to love classic rock, or even like it; I’m just saying that a basic understanding of it is necessary. Why? For the same reason it is necessary to know the difference between a Monet and a Picasso, even if you don’t “like” art. Or to recognize when an author is using a biblical theme, even if you’re not religious. There are just certain bits of knowledge that are cultural touchstones, and not knowing them will show you up as the worst kind of outsider.

That’s probably seems like a stretch, drawing a comparison between an inability to tell when someone is “getting the Led out” and sitting all alone at the lunch table of life, but it’s kind of true. As a species we are hard-wired to notice connections and similarities before we notice anything else, and one of the biggest connections we have is through music. Especially popular music.

Look at it this way. Am I an Elvis fan? No. But I can still tell the difference between Elvis and Buddy Holly, dammit.

At this point I’m not sure if I should have a musical intervention or just give it up as a lost cause—I must admit that I’m definitely leaning toward the latter. Not because I don’t think Clyde will ever be able to learn the difference between the Eagles and Supertramp, but because I don’t think I have it in me to go full on Jack Black “School of Rock” on him. And besides, it’s not like he’s entirely musically ignorant: he does know the difference between the Ramones and the Clash, at least.

Which is good: if he didn’t know at least his basic classic punk, then I think I I really would have to intervene.

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Run Boy, Run

 

I once saw a traffic control video of a guy running across a busy street. Somehow this guy, despite—or maybe because of—never once looking back to see the chaos behind him, managed to avoid being run over like six times. And not because of his mad parkour skills or anything like that, but rather because of some perfect combination of dumb luck and the driving skills/mercy of the people around him.

I was thinking about this guy the other day when I heard about the sentence that was passed down on the Virginia college student in North Korea—the kid who was caught trying to steal a propaganda poster off of the wall of his hotel. This kid (and yeah, as a mom I feel pretty secure in calling a 21 year-old man a “kid”) was sentenced to fifteen years hard labor. Let me repeat that. Fifteen years hard labor in North Korea. This is, for all intents and purposes, (and for people other than a Tom Hardy character), essentially a death sentence.

Death. For tearing down a poster. True, it was a poster that belonged to North Korea, and also true, in any country it would have been considered an incredibly stupid and disrespectful action, but I think that most everyone can agree that in this case the punishment in no way fit the crime. But then again, the punishment for being young and stupid very rarely ever does.

Some kids—most kids, really—are like the guy who ran across six lanes of traffic. They do amazingly stupid things and yet, somehow, they survive. Others find that their “youthful indiscretions” merit a death sentence. Why? It’s a question that torments every single parent.

If you have children, they will do something stupid. No, scratch that: they will do a lot of somethings stupid. That’s a given, and giving them the freedom to make those choices is one of the hardest things about parenting. Because there is absolutely no way to know what the results will be. Will your kid be the one who makes it across the street? Or the one who ends up sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor in North Korea?

It doesn’t help at all that some kids seem like they are blessed to be able to run across that busy street again and again without consequence, and others are struck down on their very first time. That’s because, in the end it hardly matters whether it happens the first time or the fiftieth—the aftermath will still leave you reeling.

I don’t know anything at all about the Virginia college student. I don’t know if he was raised to be thoughtful, careful and respectful and just had a momentary lapse of judgement, or if this was the latest in a long string of destructive “pranks” he has pulled in his short lifetime. I do know that his fate sent a chill down the spine of every parent who has raised a child who is now old enough to make their own decisions, and therefore old enough to fully pay the price for making their own mistakes.

The legal term for dying while doing something stupid is “death by misadventure.” This, I think, is one of those rare examples of the English language being truly evocative. Because “misadventure” implies nothing so much as an adventure gone wrong. In other words, “we were having the best time ever, right up until we weren’t.”

Right up until we got to that last lane of traffic.

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Shirt Tales

 

As a woman, I must admit that I’ve always been rather envious of men when it comes to clothes shopping. Not only do their styles tend to remain consistent over time, but the sizing always seems to make so much more sense. How much simpler must it be to buy a pair of pants marked “30/30” and know that the waist and the inseam will both measure thirty inches, than it is to grab a pair of “size 12s” off of the rack and find out the hard way that there can be as much as a four inch difference between those “size 12s” and the last pair of “size 12s” you bought somewhere else?

And don’t even get me started on bra shopping.

So yeah, I always thought that men had the better deal when it came to clothes. And then, of course, I went and had a son, and all that changed, because now I know first hand the hell that is shopping in the men’s department.

I’m sure some of you are shaking your heads at this and wondering what I’m talking about, because you also have sons, and you’re probably thinking, “Clothes shopping? Boys? These two things go together like peanut butter and mayonnaise.” And I know: for many parents their greatest dream is that one day their son will allow them to buy him new clothes—anything at all, really, just so long as he’ll stop wearing those ratty sweatpants and holey sneakers. And I feel your pain. I really do. (Mostly because I have ridden in a car with some of your boys, and the smell of those holey shoes could strip the paint off of a barn.) I myself, however, have a different problem. I have the curse of the “sharp-dressed man” boy. And as everyone knows, you can’t really be a sharp-dressed man without a nice dress shirt.

And this is where my troubles all began, because I haven’t got a single clue as to what the numbers on a man’s dress shirt are supposed to mean. For all I know they are like the “lucky” numbers you pull out of a fortune cookie, or the numbers you circle on a keno card after you finally get drunk enough in Vegas to try your hand at keno. (Seriously, I’ve had better luck playing keno than I have had buying dress shirts for Clyde—at least when I choose the wrong numbers in keno they still bring me free drinks. When I choose the wrong numbers in dress shirt buying all I get is the wrong size shirt.)

Of course, I’m sure it doesn’t help that every time I have to buy him a new dress shirt (which is every time he grows, or drinks a cup of coffee—don’t judge, I’m hoping the coffee will stunt his growth) I try to buy the cheapest shirt possible, so that not only am I staring at numbers that make absolutely no sense, I’m also doing it while up to my elbows in the bargain rack. (Or bin, depending on exactly how cheap I am being at the moment.)

Or at least that’s how it used to be. Last week my frustration finally overcame my cheapness and I found myself in a real department store (the kind where the employees are in possession of such things as a measuring tape), bound and determined to get Clyde a shirt that fits. Surprisingly, getting the shirt wasn’t nearly the ordeal I was afraid it was going to be, and I was so happy about that that I forget to check myself when the guy with the measuring tape said, “And do you need some t-shirts to wear underneath those new dress shirts?” Which was unfortunate, because the next thing you know we had an armful of plain white t-shirts that cost more than the licensed merch at a Madonna show, and suddenly I was $175 poorer.

Walking back to the car, pockets noticeably lighter, I found myself suddenly remembering what drove me to those bargain bins in the first place. And, come to think about it, what made the free drinks so appealing about keno as well.

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