“This was the makings of my boys’ first joint effort in observational humor at my expense. They know I would never take them to school in my robe. They’re just laying the bait for each other.”
When my brother and I were younger, we built the crux of our relationship on a shared love of observational humor. Being that we were just kids, the “observational” part of the equation was limited to our home and anywhere we ended up after time spent in the back seat of a white and orange Pinto. Being that our home contained our parents, as did the driver’s seat of said orange and white Pinto, the “humor” part of the equation always seemed to require that Mom or Dad unwittingly participate in the punchline. Sorry Mom and Dad.
We got lots and lots of mileage out of the comings and goings, sayings and doings of our parents.
Lots of mileage.
One thing I particularly remember my brother and I “observing” and “humoring” over, was my mom and her blue robe. Ahhhh, the blue robe. Terry cloth. Hem just above the knee. Wrap-around with a karate-belt tie. White piping along the inside edges. Well-worn and after a while, slightly faded. In the early and mid-1980’s, that robe was her weekend morning uniform. It was also her between-outfits stand-in. If it was evening and Mom had the robe on (she never wore it to bed), we knew a sitter was coming; she was obviously in the process of “getting ready.”
More often than not, though, the robe made its appearance on Saturday or Sunday morning.
My brother and I, sitting at the kitchen table, would lock eyes immediately upon seeing “the robe” come around the corner. We used mental telepathy and lots of creative body language to lob a series of inside jokes back-and-forth, until one of us would inevitably dissolve into laughter. You must remember, we were pretty young, so it didn’t take much to get us going:
Frayed terry cloth revealing long, loose ovals of thread? Funny.
Uneven karate-belt tie, one end long and almost touching an ankle, the other end short, just a stub sticking up from the waist belt? Funny.
A smudge of toothpaste on the collar? Double-funny.
“Pillow head” and faint sheet marks on forehead — completely “morning robe”-related? Hysterical.
Again, we were young. It didn’t take much.
Fast-forward roughly 28 years.
Now a parent myself with two boys ages 9 and 7, I am beginning to feel a target developing on my own back. My boys, their eyes taking in my every move before meeting each other’s knowing gaze, seem to be collecting arrows for their quivers. Ammo for their arsenal. Fodder for their own comedy routines. Someday very, very soon, what I say and how I say it, what I do and how I (foolishly, I’m sure) do it, will perhaps be the one tie that binds them through difficult “tween” years when brothers seem hard pressed to find anything to not shove, punch, and fight over. At least there’s always good old mom, ready to take one for the team. There have already been some practice sessions. Oddly enough, the first one that really stood out to me involved….a robe.
It was a school morning, and I was manning my post in front of the stove, one hand grasping the frying pan handle, one hand wielding a spatula, trying to negotiate some stubborn pancakes from cooked side to raw side. I remember the heat was too high, and the cakes were stuck. I was frazzled, as I usually am on school mornings. When will I ever learn to start the whole “getting ready” process earlier?
My boys were also manning their posts: Each “sitting” in their assigned spot, if sitting may be defined in the loosest of terms possible. One foot flat on the seat of the chair, one foot flat on the floor — imagine the legs of a marathon runner before the starting shot — their inability to sit properly did not escape my mental checklist of “all things annoying” that morning.
Poor sitting habits, added to the ruined pancakes, added to the lateness of the hour, added to the smell of last night’s dinner rotting on old cold dirty dishes still sitting in the sink, equaled irritability to the nth degree. Plus, I was now sweating slightly above the lip — I was standing over a hot stove after all — a bit flustered. I reached in my pocket for a hair band, and wound what was some major bed head into a more contained rat’s nest. Oh, and I was wearing a heavy terry cloth robe. I think we can all see where this is going.
Whipping my head around toward the boys, I was prepared to bark orders about eating fast and no goofing around. But the words halted — I was slightly taken aback by the expression on each child’s face. They were staring at me. Like, purposeful staring, the way people do when they are taking in a “scene,” trying to decide what to make of it. They also looked sort of amused, but in a disgusted way. Like when you see someone burp the alphabet or turn their eyelids inside out.
Older son was the first to comment.
“What?” I said, not very patiently
“Uh…..you look kind of. Um….weird.”
Second son pipes up, “Yeah, Mom. You look weird. You need some make-up.”
Older son then offers, “No, it’s not that. I think it’s….well….you look a little sweaty. Your face is maybe greasy or something.”
Older son continues, “Yeah, that’s it. And your hair is crazy. And, you know, your robe. Are you taking us to school like that?”
I am now catching on that these are not the ramblings of innocent child-observers just saying what comes to mind. This was the makings of my boys’ first joint effort in observational humor at my expense. They know I would never take them to school in my robe. They’re just laying the bait for each other.
I finally speak up, loudly, and say,”[Older son’s name] you’re being ridiculous. What do you mean, ‘taking you to school like this?’ Turn around and eat your breakfast.”
Second son, his eyes now glowing with the anticipation of carrying this thing to the hilt, looks at his brother and says, “Her ROBE. It’s weird. Look how puffy it is. Her big fat robe. Ha, ha, ha.”
Older son, now laughing too, adds, “Yeah, Mom. That robe is not good. It looks weird. You’re kind of freaking us (ahhh, they’re an “us” now, a team formed around a common target) out. ”
“Did you see — she has a coffee stain on her robe,” shouts older son, now in hysterics.
“Where? Where? I wanna see….let me see it!” screams younger son.
“Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! Turn around, Mom! Ha, ha, ha, ha!” laughs everyone — even the pancakes — except for me.
I stand there in my apparently “dumb-looking” robe, with a spatula and a sweaty upper lip. I turn to catch a glimpse of my mother’s face — the reflection staring back at me on the microwave door. I am still. I absorb the shock of the realization…..
Paybacks are Hell.
Okay, moms out there: Have your kids ever “robed” you? And on the flip side, anyone else take a particular interest (along with siblings) in finding the humor in your parents? Is it a bonding ritual? A coping mechanism (like, if we find a way to laugh, then we won’t cry)? Thoughts?