Sometimes the world is a pretty dirty place

Our oldest son turned 30 this month, a fact that seems highly improbable to me since I am still permanently 12 in my head. How can that chunky little baby we brought home from the hospital just a few months ago now be entering his third decade?

I still remember the anxiety of being a new mom. I was the kind of mom who called the doctor almost every time Joe sneezed, coughed or didn’t look “right.” Our pediatrician was endlessly patient as she assured me over and over that he was completely normal.

“Honestly,” she said one day after I’d called because he’d napped longer than usual and I wasn’t sure if I should wake him up or not, “all first babies should be thrown out and their mothers with them. It’s the only way anyone will stay sane.”

Well, I guess she wasn’t endlessly patient.

As Joe got older, I became somewhat less neurotic by passing many of my neurosis onto my children, like my neurotic need to overreact under the most minor of circumstances. Joe displayed that trait when he was around three. I’d given him a chocolate chip cookie (homemade because I did that kind of thing back then. I also used cloth diapers that I washed myself and didn’t have a glass of my beloved white wine for ten years. Yes, I was almost a saint.) and he accidentally dropped it on the ground.

“Don’t eat that,” Saint Mommy said, “it’s dirty now.”

Joe’s face instantly screwed up and tears squeezed out of his eyes. “It’s dirty! The cookie is dirty!”

“I’ll get you another one,” I said.

“NO! Cookies are dirty! All cookies are DIRTY!”

From that moment on and for several years to come, whenever something didn’t go the way Joe wanted it to, it became “dirty.” His toy trains were dirty when they derailed. The slide at the park was dirty when someone else was on it. His younger brother Hank was constantly unspeakably dirty.

It took a while, but Joe stopped seeing things as “dirty” by the time he entered kindergarten. The term, however, became part of our Mark’s and my vocabulary as we began calling things we didn’t like dirty too, such as a bad night’s sleep, working on the weekends and anything baked with lima beans. The possibilities were endless.

The years passed and Joe is now a grown-up person, living his own life in Minneapolis with a lovely girlfriend, a job he likes and health insurance. This mom’s heart is happy, but I occasionally wondered what he remembered about his childhood. Did he recall the home baked cookies and cloth diapers? Doubtful. Did he remember the present we got for him for his first birthday? Of course not. How about when he called everything dirty? I didn’t think so. So what did he remember? I decided to ask him on his birthday. I was clearly looking for an ego stroke, because let’s face it, as the kids grow older there are a whole lot less obvious gold stars for the mommies, even the most saintly ones.

“What do I remember? I remember not having a care in the world. I remember not having to pay bills or go to work,” Joe said.

“But specifically,” I insisted. “Do you remember those cute overalls I used to dress you in? Do you remember how we took walks to the park every day and how you loved to throw rocks in the lake? Do you remember the Christmas lights we put up in your bedroom as night lights?”

Joe looked thoughtful. “Not really.”

“Do you remember the time that cookie fell on the ground and you called it dirty?”

“No. But I do remember the time Hank and I were playing with our light sabers in the living room and knocked your glass of wine over and you sent us to bed. And that time we took a vacation in Duluth and I wanted Burger King and Hank wanted Taco Bell and Dad said he wasn’t a taxi service. Then there was the time–”

“Never mind! Let’s eat your birthday cake.”

Who knew a walk down Memory Lane could be so dirty?


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