Ben is home sick today.
Of course, it is a day when I had a meeting planned. No one ever stays home sick on a day I’m at home.
I’ll start the painting in the back room and do the meeting via conference call. At least I won't have to put on a suit.
He’s not sick sick- you know, throwing up, fever sick. He’s I need a mental health day sick. When he came down and asked to watch TV, moments after I sent the others to school, I said, if you can watch TV, you could go to school.
He retreated to his room. Not that healthy.
A little while later I stopped into his room. I know what it’s like to need a mental health day. I just took one last week. I’m not backing down about the TV but I also don’t need to be mean.
Want a magazine? I have to go to the store to get some bread.
You’re going out like that? He asks. Even on his deathbed he’s going to see what everyone is wearing and send him or her out to change.
You see, we’ve had this conversation before. It’s not so much about what I’m wearing- a paint spattered old shirt and jeans equally covered with the reminder of each room I’ve done in the house so far- it’s the pony tail.
My hair is long enough for a ponytail. When I am painting, I pull it back into one. Might not seem like a big deal but to Ben, it’s embarrassing. Two weeks ago, I was going out to breakfast with him to the Knotty Pine. Afterwards, I was going to paint. I pulled my hair back into a ponytail, put on my spattered clothes, and went to get Ben.
MOM. You are NOT going like that.
The Knotty Pine is a small diner a couple blocks away. Not a fancy, yuppie diner but a real diner. Eggs, cracked vinyl seats, grease coated wallpaper.
Uh, yes I am.
MOM! It’s EMBARRASING.
You cannot wear a ponytail.
Mind you, I have about three inches of hair sticking out of the ponytail and it’s not like I’m wearing some rainbow tie with it.
Your hair… it …It just doesn’t work, Mom. Don’t do it.
Ben, we’re going to the Knotty Pine. I’m not taking a shower; I’m not doing my hair. Too bad, so sad.
Fine, he sniffed indignantly, embarrass yourself.
I put on a baseball cap.
MUCH better, he said.
Just a few minutes ago, I walked into his room with his People Magazine.
Oh, Mom… he said, weakly. Not even a hat?
Nope, I said and tossed the magazine on his bed.
My friend Margaret, the Martha Stewart of parenting, said I was doing my job by embarrassing the boy.
I can remember my mother insisting on going to the grocery store in a green, velour sweat suit, circa 1978. I thought I was going to die. Some things, like utter embarrassment over your mother’s appearance, never change.
Margaret did add I really was too old for a ponytail.
Even at the Knotty Pine.
And just like my mother? I did it anyway.