When a man becomes a father, great transformations take place: First, he sheds his rough and careless exterior like a snake sheds its insensitive, inconsiderate, scaly skin, and becomes a new man: tender and thoughtful, but still scaly if you rub him the wrong way. Second, he learns to control the gag reflex. Third, he learns to put clothing on an infant imitating a ten-pound Raggedy Ann doll.
In my case, even more amazingly, I learned and the ability to coach my children on their daily fashion choices. Now mind you, there is room to improve. I'm no Calvin Klein, but I have been able to steer my kids away from potentially hazardous clashing, such as a pink tutu with brown cowboy boots; or simply impractical choices for the event, such as an 18-month old going to church wearing her mother's brazier like a hat: one cup on top and the other, Rapunzel-like, trailing down the back. This would be totally embarrassing, because hats are not worn to church anymore.
Lately the stakes have increased as I help my 14-year old son get ready for Seminary. For those of you not familiar with Mormon Seminary, which is, I assume, both of you, this is a religious education class held at six in the morning on school days. The primary function of this class is to stretch the faith of Mormon high school students by encouraging them to accomplish something difficult - for instance to attend a class at six in the morning on school days.
Chad loves Seminary. I can tell, because he gets there less than thirty-minutes late every day with only five or ten minutes of threats required, and does the assigned reading two out of three days, when Mom has time to threaten him. Sarcasm aside, this is actually a big accomplishment for a kid who has been home-schooled through eighth grade, and is used to sleeping ten hours a day and getting up after 9:00 am.
This is how the routine goes:
First, Mom puts breakfast on the table for Chad. This could be corn flakes, eggs, leftover tomato soup, or cat food; the menu doesn't matter at all because he will not be conscious. The important thing is to have FOOD. Then she goes to his room every minute for seven minutes and says motherly things like: "Chad, it's time to get up." "Breakfast is ready." "Let's go! Lets go!" And the heavy artillery: "If you miss Seminary you won’t get a ride to football.”
One time my wife put me in charge of getting Chad out of bed. It took me only about ten seconds, but there was a problem: I forgot about gravity. Now I had a 190-lb Raggedy Andy doll sitting on the floor against the bed; head flopped to the left; golden retriever licking his face. Yipes. How could I have been so stupid?! I yelled for help. “Wendy! Bring the camera, quick!”
She came in, looked at me with her hands on her hips and that special wrinkle between her eyebrows. Then she turned her attention to our son and said, “Chad! You wanna walk to football?”
Eventually the dead will arise and stagger to the table. You remember those cute pictures of your little boy asleep in his ice cream on his first birthday? We do that every morning, in super-size. After breakfast, we guard all the beds in the house, because, with his eyes closed, he can sense an empty bed. “m jus lie down fr one min . . .” and he will slip into a bed and back into slumber. This is the only point where people will start to lose patience, because as he gets into your bed he’ll get tomato soup on your pillow.
If Chad is particularly late getting started, I get my chance to employ my fashion sense, working without a net (no Garanimals). While he’s in the shower, I will go get him some clothes to wear for the day. I will choose something “sassy” (a shirt) and something “classic” (jeans). I may get them from his closet, or, if the path is hazardous, I will pick something off the floor and give it the sniff test. It matters not what I bring because this is the stage that he actually wakes up.
Chad was never fashion conscious before this school year started. I think somehow at high school he must have discovered Girls. Because before Girls existed, he would wear his pajamas 24/7, and comb his hair once a week. Now, he showers twice a day, takes ten minutes on his hair, and is extremely choosy about his wardrobe. “Dad, that doesn’t match!” And off he will go to sort through the choices himself. If he asks for my contribution, it will not be my opinion, but something concrete. “Dad, I need a clean white undershirt.” I tried once to fudge on the cleanliness, but was rejected because the other shirt he would be wearing was going to be open, not buttoned.
David, my brother-in-law, went through a phase like this – and he’s still going through it. When he was a kid and his mom told him to go put on a clean shirt, he would do just that – but not remove the dirty one. One spring when they went swimming and he took off his clothes they found shirts that had been missing since Christmas. At family gatherings they’ll tell his wife all about this, and she thinks those stories are “Cute!” because she has never seen a hair out of place on his head. He became a duke of fashion, landed the girl, and kept impressing her from then on. Smart guy.
So Chad is way ahead of me on this, and I’m sure Wendy is pleased. As for myself, there was a time I straightened up and got a good wardrobe. But it only lasted for one day, because after the wedding I had to return the tux.
Some snake skins shed more quickly than others.