How Old Does My Daughter Think I Am?

While looking at the new dinosaur exhibit at our local amusement park, my daughter could not contain her excitement.

“Mommy, these dinosaurs lived millions of years ago, like way back in the 1970s!”

This, my friends is why some species eat their young.

I’d like to say that this is the only time my daughter has unwittingly taken a shot at my age, but it isn’t. One morning when I was brushing my daughter’s hair I felt a bit nostalgic for the 80s so I pulled all her hair into a side ponytail just to see what she thought of it.

Her eyes got big and her mouth contorted in horror as she said, “Oh my gosh, Mommy, now I look like someone from the 1960s!”

Exactly how old does my daughter think I am?! I’m not old—my formative years were in the 80s, my hell-raising years were in the 90s—hell, I was a kid when grunge was cool. That’s not old. But as hard as I try, my daughter still seems to believe that I must come from a time that predates the wheel and Doritos.

One day as we sat at the table coloring pictures, my daughter put down her crayon and asked me, “What colors were around when you were a kid?”

“Honey, trees have always been green and the sky has always been blue, no matter how old you think I am,” I said and kept coloring diligently on my Dora the Explorer picture.

“No, what color crayons did they have when you were a kid?” she asked with absolute curiosity.

I looked at her and thought for a moment. My Crayola box had just about all the same colors as hers—I clearly remember burnt sienna and cadet blue—but I know my daughter will never believe that answer. So I quickly came up with a better answer for her.

“Well, way back when I was a kid, before we had those new-fangled iPads and such, our crayons boxes had just one color—black,” I said in my best toothless, old woman voice.

My daughter was enthralled. “Just black?”

“If I wanted to color the sky, I colored it black. If I wanted to color the ocean, I colored it black,” I said and glanced at my daughter.

“Until one day, a new color crayon was invented. Everyone rushed to the toy store to buy the new color,” I said and coughed because imitating a toothless old woman is hard on the throat.

“What color was it?” she asked with barely contained excitement.

“Gray,” I told her, trying not to laugh.

“Did you buy it?” she asked with wide eyes.

“I sure did, cost me four chickens and donkey. But you know what I discovered?” I said and waited for her to respond.

“What?” she gasped.

“Gray is just another name for really light black,” I said.

“Did you ever get your donkey back?” my daughter asked with concern.

“No, but I could color one heck of a picture of him with that new gray crayon!” I said and started laughing. My daughter processed the story for a moment longer, then began laughing hysterically.

Then I realized, I don’t care how old my daughter thinks I am. There’s no better sound in the world than my daughter laughing so hard she has work to catch her breath as she says, “Mommy, you’re so funny!”

Funny and old—I’ll take it.

Real Cowgirls Wear Red

The summer before I started kindergarten, my mother bought me a cowgirl outfit. A real cowgirl outfit—cowgirl hat, leather skirt and vest, boots with spurs, and two six-shooters slung low on my hips. The best part? Every bit of that wild west ensemble was red—not bright red but deep, menacing red like a sunset before a storm. That outfit made me feel like the sheriff of a dusty lawless town and I moseyed around in it all summer long with my spurs clanging and my fingers itching to draw those six-shooters.

My mother somehow managed to convince me to leave the cowgirl outfit at home when kindergarten started. I’m pretty sure she used a subtle threat to ban Sesame Street during breakfast and even cowgirls have priorities so I hung up my spurs and headed to school.

I loved school, even without spurs, and I wore my red hat and boots everyday when I got home. Life was good. And then my teacher made my life even better.

“Remember, next week is Halloween. We are having a party and you can wear your costumes!” she said excitedly.

My five-year-old mind reeled. A kindergarten Halloween party could mean just one thing—my red cowgirl outfit was going to school!

The day of the party arrived and I was all decked out in my cowgirl finest. I even dusted off my boots. My mom frisked me before taking me to school, insisting that I leave the spurs and the six-shooters at home. I shook off the small defeat and reveled in the glory of wearing an entirely red cowgirl outfit to school.

I got to school and the first thing on my to-do list was painting. I doubled up on the smocks that day, not wanting to risk getting paint on my leather vest or skirt. I immersed myself in Impressionism until the curly-headed blonde girl at the easel next to me interrupted my artistic flow.

“What are you dressed as?” she asked with a nasally laugh.

“I’m a cowgirl,” I said proudly and thought maybe this girl could stand to watch a Clint Eastwood movie or two.

“That isn’t what cowgirls wear,” she said as she waved a paintbrush in my general direction.

My ears felt hot and I was sure my face had to be the same color as my boots. Did this curly-headed little girl wearing her pajamas and carrying a pacifier really just dare to question my cowgirl outfit? Before I could stop myself, I shoved my paintbrush into the pink paint and then swiped the brush back and forth over the girl’s face.

I got my paint privileges revoked that day and was relegated to playing with trucks for the rest of the week. It was totally worth it.

Later, it was story time and we all gathered on the rug. After an hour of playing with trucks, I was ready to listen to a good book. I smoothed out my cowgirl skirt and waited politely. I glanced to my right and there was the curly-headed girl, a little worse for wear because of the painting episode. I smiled, secure in the knowledge that nothing bad can happen within the sanctity of the story rug.

But then something bad happened.

The curly-headed girl leaned over to me and whispered, “Real cowgirls don’t wear red.”

I felt myself heat up again and my fists clenched involuntarily. No one disparages my red cowgirl outfit twice in one day. I hauled back my arm and let my fist land right between her shoulder blades. She let out a pained breath and then said, “You hit me! I might die now!”

Being five and not knowing the telltale signs of imminent death, I watched for obvious things like bleeding from the eyes and uncontrollable diarrhea. Nothing.

The curly-headed girl was just fine and learned a very valuable lesson that day: real cowgirls do wear red.

House Mania

I usually have the market cornered on crazy in my house. I’m the nut and my husband is the calm, rational one who doesn’t talk to inanimate objects at all. He will simply never understand why I talk to basil as I chop it and I will never understand why he doesn’t talk to the toilet while he unclogs it.

But there are rare, glorious times when my husband’s kind of crazy surfaces and gives my everyday crazy a run for its money. I relish these special times when the vein on my husband’s forehead pops out and people give him that look that seems to say, Maybe if we walk by quickly and don’t make eye contact, the crazy person won’t talk to us. It’s a look I know well.

The current cause of my husband’s insanity? We are building a house. No small task, as we have learned but we made it much less stressful by finding an amazing builder—an incredibly nice guy who builds beautiful homes. When we met to discuss the house, we met at his home where our daughter had a ball playing with his kids. His wife is just as nice and every time I talk to her I have to fight the urge to say, “Please be my best friend!” (Through lots of inward reflection and costly therapy I have learned that this particular statement is creepy and off-putting, but one day she will be my best friend.)

For me, knowing that the building of our house is in meticulous hands is all I need. Call me when the house is done.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy for my husband. Although he knows that our builder is constructing the perfect house, my husband has a difficult time not being in control. That’s when the vein on his forehead makes its appearance. It’s like he has been stricken with some kind of house mania, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to have him medicated before it’s all over.

He goes to the house site everyday and agonizes over something.

“I used some leftovers pieces of 2x4s, rusted nails, and a Big Gulp cup someone left behind to measure out where our bed should go in the master bedroom. Good thing I have the dimensions of a king size bed committed to memory.”

“I counted how many footsteps it was across the living room today. We are definitely going to need a bigger TV. Tomorrow I’m going to map out how to get by all the windows without the neighbors seeing me in my underwear.”

“I’ve been thinking a lot about home security. How do you feel about a moat, honey?”

My husband also has a list about fourteen pages long of all the things he wants in the new house.

“I want a theater screen and a pool with a waterfall and an indoor habitat for spider monkeys. Maybe eventually get one of those transporters like on Star Trek, you know, once the technology is perfected.”

He constantly asks me to come up with things I want in the new house.

“What about a crystal chandelier? How about a vodka tasting room? Or maybe we could build you a room to dedicate to your banjo lessons?”

“There is one thing I want,” I said.

He almost jumped out of his seat with excitement, “What is it?”

“I want to be able to plug in my hair dryer and flat iron into the same outlet,” I said plainly.

“An outlet? That’s it?” he said with a disappointed sigh. “So no banjo room? Well, that will leave more room for the monkeys,” he said and slipped back into the grip of house mania.

I can’t really blame him for the mania, though. It may technically just be wood, concrete, and steel, but it is so much more to us. It’s not just a house and it’s so much more than a home. I know that when my husband sees this new house, he sees an extension of his family—the three of us moving across the country away from every bit of family we have. Making a go of it in a new state by ourselves. We have made friends here, but it still ends up just the three of us most of the time (you’d be amazed how fast the party and dinner invitations stop rolling in once you’ve had to cancel a few times because you don’t have a babysitter).

No, more often than not, it’s the three of us at our holiday dinner table—or at the hospital cafeteria, depending on my husband’s schedule. Our wedding anniversaries are always nice and quaint—me, my husband, and our daughter. But always being together has made us a solid team—we’re inseparable. The three of us are the reason my husband agonizes over the new house—because he’s not just building us a house. He’s building us a place to feel safe and happy and loved. He’s building us a dream.

I still may have him medicated though.