Well, it finally happened. My son, Clyde, just asked me if I would be willing to take fifty percent of the things I was about to say and just…not. Considering the fact that we have known each other for sixteen years now (his whole life), the truth is in that taking sixteen years to finally say this to me he has actually set a new record—no one else has ever made it past ten. (And even then that ten year mark was set by his sister, Clementine—most adults only make it three or four years before they make this request.)
The incident that caused Clyde to break his streak involved me going to his high school Open House, a refused handshake, and some pus. Okay, here’s the whole story. As it happens so often in Flagstaff (especially among us clumsy people), I slipped on some cinders and ended up getting some of them lodged in the palm of my hand. Deep. They weren’t really painful—more annoying than anything, but I kept my eye on them nonetheless, watching for signs of infection. (To be clear, I was watching not out of fear of infection, but rather hope: I knew that the only way I would be able to dislodge those deeply set cinders would be to squeeze them out on a wave of pus. What? Go to the doctor? For cinders in my hand? Okay Mrs. Munchausen.)
Anyway, the night of the Open House the Blessed Event finally occurred, and I was able to get the last, deepest cinder out of my hand. Being the thoughtful sort, and knowing that other people generally don’t like to touch another person’s pus, I decided to decline all handshakes that came my way that night. Also, so as not to appear rude and standoffish, I accompanied each decline with a regretful, “Sorry, I can’t shake your hand right now: I just squeezed a bunch of pus out of mine.”
True, in retrospect the added “Want to see?” was probably a bit much, but that last cinder had been percolating in there for well over a week, and I was feeling giddy with triumph.
All of this made perfect sense to me. And no sense at all to Clyde. Hence his request to just…not.
Of course, what Clyde (and everyone else) doesn’t understand is that I am already editing out half of my comments. Heck, truth be told I’m editing out more like seventy-five percent. And at that Open House? Closer to ninety for sure. I was like the Terminator at that Open House, scrolling down a list of comments in my mind until I got to the “appropriate” one. Clyde had no idea how many comments about the color and texture of the pus I kept to myself, nor how many comments reminiscing about how, “this one time, I got a splinter—more like a miniature stake, actually—to shoot halfway across the room.” And it probably hadn’t even occurred to him the number of stigmata jokes I graciously kept to myself, all out of respect for him.
Fortunately, thanks to Clementine, I know that there is still hope for him to one day be able to recognize my true tongue-biting skills. After all, she was the one who was appalled by the things I said out loud when she was ten, and yet now, at the age of twenty, often finds herself biting her own tongue just as hard. (Although she is not entirely happy about this: whenever she tells me about trying hard not to say something—and failing—she says, “Oh my God—I think I’m turning into you.”)
So, if the pattern holds true, Clyde should be reaching this same epiphany by the time he is thirty. At which point it won’t really matter what I say anymore, because by then I should be old enough that I can finally play my “senile old lady” card.
I can hardly wait. In fact, maybe I won’t. Open Houses will never be the same again.