Jack asked yesterday if his friend could come over. Mike looked at me to see if we had plans that would conflict with such a visit and I shrugged.
“Sure,” he said. “Nick can come by for a couple of hours.”
“Okay, um, could you put on some pants?”
“Wait, what? These aren’t okay?”
I hadn’t even realized Mike wasn’t wearing pants. It wasn’t like he was running around in tightie-whities. He had on some nondescript black, athletic undershorts that could have been bike pants or running shorts. But Jack, sensitive to the fact he was having company, had honed in on his dad wandering around the house in his underwear.
Good thing he noticed too. We already have the neighborhood hillbilly reputation because of our disheveled yard and the fact that we have a trailer parked out front four months of the year. We don’t need to also be the family that doesn’t wear pants.
Mike actually had a very practical reason for his casual garb on that Sunday morning. He does the laundry around here. Laundry used to be a team effort until he got frustrated by my approach. We used to gather and sort and start the laundry on Friday night, and get through about three loads by Sunday. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we’d pick at a basket or two a night, folding and hanging things up. Thursday someone would realize that a load of wet clothes had been left in the washing machine for who knows how long and needed to be washed again to get the musty smell out.
Most weeks our living room pretty much looked like a laundry bomb had gone off unless we were having company or something and hustled to pick things up. I’d try to get everything wrapped up by Thursday to start the process over on Friday, but sometimes laundry overlapped week to week.
Mike’s approach to solo laundry is so much more precise. He’s does this little weekly competition with himself to see if he can get everything done, sorted, washed, dried and folded in as little time as possible – every scrap of laundry in the house. I’ve seen his shoulders sag if someone happens to change in the middle of this process and shirt gets left out, or I dirty a dishrag or something.
He hadn’t realized this approach might give him the opportunity to embarrass his kid until that moment. That was icing on the cake.
“What?” He said, throwing up his hands. “You want me in pants now? What kind of people are you hanging with anyway, they want pants? Jeez.”
Jack didn’t even crack a smile. “Dad, please. Just … get dressed.”
Jack is actually fairly hard to embarrass. I’ve tried. In the fifth grade Jack would walk to school with a group of his friends and Colin. Up until then, I had walked the boys to school most days, but in the fifth grade they all decided they didn’t need parents and went together as a gang. This meant I could lounge around for a bit and read the whole paper in my bathrobe if I didn’t have a morning meeting. I work out of my living room, and if I don’t have a meeting with a client and feel like wearing yoga pants all day, that’s one of the perks. The whole working evenings and weekends thing is a downside, so don’t spend all day being jealous.
More than once, Jack’s friends arrived to pick him up for school when I was still in my fluffy, white robe and slippers: a perfect time to holler good-bye from the porch. Our house sits up on a little bit of a hill, and is tucked into a corner where the street curves, so the vantage is a little like that of a stage, which was awesome for those mornings I felt like belting out goodbyes like Barbara Streisand.
“Good bye people,” I’d yell at their backs after they were two or three houses down the street, which would inspire my channeling a scene from Funny Girl.
“People … people who need people … are the LUCKIEST PEEP-PULLL IN the world.”
The acoustics are really quite good from my porch.
Jack wasn’t phased by show tunes. This is probably because his friends are the kids most likely to get up on stage at a talent show to tell jokes while wearing a monkey costume. You get a little thick skinned when you have friends who draw attention like that.
Along about junior high, though, Jack started acting a little more his age; suddenly conscious about the way we behave and how that impacts him. Sure, we might be allowed to volunteer as chaperones as his school dance. No, we most definitely would not be allowed to have t-shirts printed with his picture and “Jack’s peeps” in big letters across the top. In fact, maybe it would be better if we came in separately, sequestered ourselves to the snack room, and left a full five minutes after he did. We could meet up in the parking lot across the street for the ride home.
Jack almost banned Mike from school grounds all together last year during registration. A couple of cute girls passed the two of them and said hi. Jack mumbled something in return.
“Jack, you gotta flash ‘em the finger gun,” Mike said. He drew out both hands to demonstrate and made a “chick-chick” sound.
“Then you say ‘Heee-llo ladies.’ Girls love that.”
“Dad, stop it,” Jack said.
I have to concur with Mike, the double finger-gun and a Barry White greeting are quite effective in picking up girls. It’s probably how we hooked up. I can’t remember. Regardless of how it started, I give Mike’s approach to the laundry a lot of the credit for our ability to maintain a healthy relationship. I’m sure he would credit my spot-on impression of Barbara from the front porch.
Thankfully the secret to a strong marriage doesn’t have a lot to do with pants.