Mr. Owl, why do they keep making brown Tootsie Pops?

Remember this guy?

“Mr. Owl, how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?”

Wise

When you have to say “I don’t know,” but you want to appear wise about your own ignorance.

Mr. Owl is almost as old as I am. The Tootsie Pops he’s selling are older. Tootsie Pops were my favorite lollipop in those days. My boys seem to enjoy them as much as I did.

In all the years I’ve been eating Tootsie Pops, one thing has never changed: the chocolate ones (wrapped in the brown paper) are horrible.

All the other flavors are delightful, but the brown ones just plain suck. Even the texture is off-putting. The worst part is the brown always seem to be the most plentiful color in the bag.

study in brown

How did an orange one survive this long?

This is a photo of our candy bowl. It could have been a photo of any waning stash of Tootsie Pops from my childhood. The other colors disappear but the brown ones just sit there forever. Eight kids grew up in my house. We competed like wolves for treats. The brown ones collected dust.

Today, the tradition continues. Big Man is our most avid fan of Tootsie Pops. Whenever I see him with one, I tell him he shouldn’t be eating that color. “The [insert non-brown color] ones are for me,” I say. “I bought the brown ones especially for you. Those are the ones you should eat.”

He laughs like that’s the most ridiculous thing ever mentioned to him. “No. The brown ones are yours,” he answers. “You have to eat them.”

For a long time, I wouldn’t buy bags of Tootsie Pops simply because I feared my house would become full of uneaten brown ones and I’d have to move my family to a place with more storage.

But the orange ones won’t stop calling my name.

I stave off temptation as long as I can, but between me and a bag of Tootsie Pops I’m the biggest sucker.

Why do they keep filling the bags with the awful brown ones?

The world may never know.

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Summer vacation is where the heart is

With two weeks of school left, the boys’ minds are in summer vacation mode already. Nobody wants to go to bed at night, nobody wants to get up in the morning, nobody wants to get dressed, and certainly nobody wants to go to school. The boys learned a lot at school this year. I don’t know where they learned how to phone it in, but that’s one life skill they seem to have down.

“Hello. Nursery School? I’ll be working from home today. Just pile the macaroni on my paper plate next to the glue and I’ll get to it first chance I get.”

Big Brother has a project due in a week. He hasn’t started it because maybe school will get over for the year without anybody noticing his wasn’t done. And once he moves on to middle school, they can’t touch him. The statute of limitations for fourth grade ends at the elementary school door.

Now that the weather has turned nice, it’s hard enough to corral all these open range rustlers into the house at bedtime, let alone get them into their beds. When you do get them all herded inside, they’re sweaty and grimy. Baths are nobody’s favorite, but a bath is five minutes that can be stretched into 20 when a boy needs to stall bedtime. Being clean is a small price to pay for that.

These boys have never owned a sense of urgency about getting ready for school in the morning, and the waning school year has lifted them to new heights of lethargy. Nobody’s in a hurry to get out of their pajamas, and when they do, Buster and Big Man would rather run around throwing underwear at each other than put on clothes.

Do they care that helping Mommy overcome all their morning tomfoolery puts extra pressure on me to get to work on time? Short answer: no. Long answer: not in the least. This morning I told them they were going to make me late.

“And then you’ll get fired,” Buster replied.* “And that will be good for you ‘cause then you’ll get to stay home all day with us.”

I could ride bikes all summer long with the kids.

I don’t know what Buster thinks he’s going to be doing at home all day when school’s still in session, but I think he’d learn quick enough he doesn’t want to spend his summer in the company of a ne’er-do-well who can’t hold a job. Clearly, he hasn’t thought about where he’s going to get a summer’s worth of popsicles when the gravy train stops rolling.

If I keep working, I will definitely miss out on lots of fun this summer. There will be the incessant fighting over bikes, scooters, and video game controllers. Being there for all those precious moments would put the cherry on top of unemployment. We could probably even afford metaphor cherries. They’re a dime a dozen with my blogger discount.

I’m going to try to make it through these last days of school without fulfilling Buster’s prophesy about getting fired, but this is only because I don’t know what’s good for me.

*You just earned yourself a summer reading program, my friend.

One man’s coffee . . .

The other night, Big Man saw me pouring hot water into a mug. “Are you making coffee?” He asked.

“No. I’m making tea.”

“Oh,” he said. “I want some coffee with strawberries in it.”

I made a face. “Strawberry coffee? That sounds horrible.”

“It sounds good,” he insisted.

“How do you know? You don’t even know what coffee tastes like.”

“Yes, I do.”

“How? You’ve never had coffee.”

“Yes I have.”

“When?”

“At Andrew’s house. His mom gave it to me.”

“No. She didn’t give you coffee.”

“Yes she did. We went out to play in the snow and then we came back in the house and she gave us coffee because we were cold.”

“She wouldn’t give little kids coffee.”

“She did. She gave all the kids coffee. She put it in cup just like that.” He pointed at my mug. “And we all drank coffee.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. With marshmallows on top.”

Swiss miss coffee

We don’t have any, but some of the fancy preschoolers have coffee that comes with the marshmallows already in it.

What lies beneath

In matters of the heart, our boys are all boy. When it comes to demonstrating emotions toward each other, that demonstration usually takes the form of a punch or a blind-side tackle. Sure, they play and joke together, but when one inspires a deep feeling within another, that feeling is generally somewhere between annoyance and anger.

That’s what makes it so much extra soft and fuzzy when the moon turns blue and they show some genuine warmth for each other.

Last weekend was Big Brother’s league basketball tournament. This was the biggest tournament of the year, and he had been looking forward to it. The Thursday before the tournament, Big Brother got sick. We thought he’d be better in time, but when he woke Saturday morning it became clear he wouldn’t be able to play.

He and I were both disappointed. As he sat in his pajamas, coming to terms with disappointment and his physical discomforts, Buster took me by the arm and whispered into my ear. “Can you make him stay upstairs and you come downstairs with me?”

Big Brother didn’t look like he was going downstairs in the next few minutes, so I just went down with Buster. “Can you get me paper and a pencil?” Buster asked, leading me toward the drawing paper the boys use to make birthday cards for their friends’ parties.

I got him a piece of paper and a crayon, because crayons are better than pencils for Hallmark occasions. He sat at the dining room table and folded the paper into card form. Looking up at me, he said, “I need help with the words.”

I nodded. “What do you want to say?”

He told me his thoughts and I spelled the words for him. He wrote the letters as I dictated.

 

The best cards are made of crayon on paper.

All the words were his. Only the spelling was mine, except for the word “BAeTter” where he kind of got ahead of me. It didn’t matter. The meaning was clear.

A mouthful for a boy to say to his brother.

Big Brother came downstairs. Buster made me stand guard so Big Brother wouldn’t come into the dining room. When Buster was finally done with the illustrations, he handed the card to Big Brother with the understated, brotherly tenderness that comes with the single word: “Here.” “Here” is the most caring word in a boy’s lexicon when it accompanies a hand bearing a heartfelt gift.

Big Brother read the card. He didn’t know how to react. At last, the brotherly instinct took over. His face brightened just a bit. “That’s really nice,” he told Buster. He put the card down on the coffee table and life went back to normal.

Everything that needed to be done or said was done and said. The exchange lasted a brief instant, and that was exactly the right length for it. If it had gone longer, it would have turned fake.

This was real, and it had to be allowed to sink down underneath, where brothers keep it.