It amazes me the amount of damage to simple cotton and polyester that a little boy can do. I mean, I started noticing how my son, the silly, funny little guy, would jump onto the ground, slide on his knees, skid in the grass not matter what his pants or his knees looked like. I am constantly amazed he doesn’t have rug burn or scars on his knees, but like I was at the age of 8, he’s got joints of cast iron, it seems.
That doesn’t mean his stomach is, though. So on Friday morning, after spending the entire night up with Sam throwing up, I stayed home to take care of him. By noon, Noah had a 100 degree fever and was at the school office. The Friday catching up on a lack of sleep and cleaning after Sam took a nap was no longer feasible.
The weekend led to some of that catching up. You see, those holy knees were in all but a single pair of uniform pants. One pair, too big, and kindly donated to us by another family. I know I shouldn’t complain about having to buy uniforms if I pay to put my kids in a Catholic school, but there’s a reason for it. I put Abbi all the way through a private education. We did it in Texas until the Fall of our last year, the year we moved. We couldn’t afford the massive, insane cost the parish priest foisted on the parishoners. We had Italian marble statues of the apostles lining the driveway up to the church, but we didn’t have a gymnasium. We didn’t get much of a break for our tuition if you had more than one student, but he drove a Mustang every day.
So when we moved to California I expected more of the same. Instead, we found a far better, far more welcoming situation. The cost for us to have four kids, if we were active in the parish, was far less. The pastor had a reputation from some of being a bit of a curmudgeon. I found him to be funny, surly, and right up my alley. When Andrea was sick in the hospital, he came to us. (Beckoned, yes, by a family friend, but he came nonetheless) What I thought was a formal ceremony where he said her name but didn’t seem to be as friendly or outgoing so I assumed he didn’t recognize her or me. We hadn’t been active for some time and he probably knew our children better than me.
But after the sacrament he walked up, put his hand on my shoulder and handed me a slip of paper. “If you need anything, call me this is my cell phone number.” That alone would have been enough for me. But then he added “I’ll make sure we keep an eye on Noah, Sam and Hannah at the school as well. They’ll be in good hands, you just be here with your wife.”
I’m not trying to convert you. I’m no missionary, I’m not a man of God or a convert or born again. It meant a lot to me that he remembered and thought enough to say something, and evidently it did to Andrea, too. You see, that morning, the doctors had told me that even though they had been the ones to sedate her to put in the breathing tube, they couldn’t wake her back up. Nothing worked. They weren’t sure what to do but they didn’t know if she was really hearing them or what. When the Monsignor did the anointing and then I said the prayers along with him, then had the conversation about the kids and talked with each other her eyes flickered. Her hands moved and squeezed mine. I make no assertions, maybe it was the anointing, maybe it was just hearing my voice, or maybe it was the realization her kids were still here and needing her that woke her up, but wake her up it did.
The reason I tell you this is because it’s this scenario – this particular situation that makes me push and save and scrimp in order to keep the kids in the school. Andrea wanted them to go to this school. She saw this school on the hill and immediately said it was the place for her. We put the kids in here because she had a public school education and she wanted a private one, something she thought she’d needed. There is a contingent that says I should have kept my oldest in the private high school as well, that was insanely important to Andrea as well, but I cannot afford it. (It actually costs more than sending her to college would and I’m now a single-income family, so reality has to set in at some point) The decision was that she got through grade and middle school so her siblings would as well.
So here’s where the holy pants come in. While I pay for the school, we started the year with literally 4-6 pairs of pants for each boy. It was amazing. By this week I had 1. A singular pair of unholy pants, a tribute to durability, you might think, but no. A tribute to the fact they’re too big and didn’t fit. So we went to the store to buy new pants, 2 for each boy. When they looked and saw how much money the pants were per pair the boys were stunned.
“It costs that much for one pair of pants?”
“Yeah, what did you think, Sam,” was my response.
“Wow. No wonder you yelled at us when we ripped the knees!”
I took a bit of pride to realize they finally saw the damage they were doing. That, and the fact that we’d had so many accidents, vomit, shoes and trips on the bathroom rugs that we needed those as well. I’d been through the whole store, bought the boys their clothes and realized I needed the new rugs. I got one for the toilet only to realize that it didn’t match the rest of the stuff. So I got ones for the bath and shower. Then I heard Andrea in the back of my head – it won’t match, we need the towels to match! Inexplicably I was at the checkout aisle with towels, hand towels, rugs and carpets that went together. I was scratching my head when I got to the house. I put the stuff all out and found myself lecturing the kids:
“We have plenty of towels. Do NOT use the ones here! These go with the rugs, they’re not for drying off, so don’t!”
I suddenly realized that I was doing what I’d poked so much fun at Andrea for: towels you can’t use.
“What good are towels if you’re not supposed to use them?” was always my interrogative to her.
“Beside, what do you dry your hands on if you can’t use these towels? It makes NO sense!”
I was like a man possessed. I stood there with towels, striped and solid, decorating my own bathroom. I had, in one day, in one fell swoop, already duplicated my wife’s mantras. I yelled about the laundry and holy knees. I bought towels you can’t use! (But I have to admit, I bought towels I couldn’t use, but it was far better than before. You see, Andrea had a thing for leopard spots at one time. I just couldn’t bring myself to continue living in my own bathroom with leopard spotted towels.)
It is by no means a symbol of anything. I don’t try to convert my Muslim, Protestant, Hindu or even atheist friends.
It’s simply that, for the first time in more than 10 months, I heard her. I felt my wife’s presence, and finally, inexplicably, among the holy knees and towels you can’t use, I found comfort. I also got it all on clearance, so I know she’d be happy!