He does this thing often (because I guess he gets in trouble a lot?), but one incident really stands out.
Last winter we were getting ready to have new carpet installed in our basement. Unbeknownst to us, our hot water heater had been leaking for weeks and had completely trashed our floors. But that’s a story for a different day.
To prepare for the new carpet, my husband and I had to move all our furniture out of the way. Imagine our extreme displeasure when we pushed aside the couch and discovered that a sea of candy wrappers had been unceremoniously shoved underneath it.
I’m talking nearly 100 wrappers, friends. Wrap your head around that.
Because Owen has a well-documented candy addiction—and he likes to sit on that same basement couch to watch TV—he landed at the top of our suspect list. We confronted him about the wrappers, which we (correctly) considered to be an alarming sign of three things:
1. His laziness.
2. His sneakiness.
3. His sugar dependence.
We tried to explain all this to Owen, but instead of listening and apologizing, he appeared to brush off our reprimands. He did it in the most uncanny and maddening way. He did his thing.
“Owen,” I said, holding up two fistfuls of wrappers. “Do you understand that this is—”
“What?” he said, not unkindly.
“These candy wrappers,” I said. “They’re not—”
“What?” he said again.
“These wrappers!” I yelled, shaking the wrappers like pom pons. “They’re not OK!”
“Buddy,” my husband gamely tried. “Candy wrappers attract bugs. You need to throw them away in the—”
“What?” Owen said. He sounded genuinely puzzled. There was no trace of guilt or defeat anywhere in his voice.
At the same time, I noticed that Owen was failing to make eye contact. He was staring at my husband’s Adam’s apple.
“The bigger issue is all this candy you’re eating,” I said, waving my arms to make him look at me. “Where are you getting it? Where are you hiding it? It’s devious, and it’s not good for your teeth or your body. It’s upsetting on multiple levels because—”
“What?” Owen said. He gazed intently at a spot somewhere along my clavicle.
I threw my hands up in the air. My husband shook his head.
“How is this possible? How are you deflecting us?” I said. “You did something wrong and now you need to make—”
“What?” said Owen.
It honestly felt like I was trying to communicate with someone who was both vision- and hearing-impaired.
“I know you can hear us,” my husband shouted. He clamped his hands on Owen’s shoulders. He summarized the problem. He laid out the consequences of Owen’s actions.
“And in the future,” I added hurriedly, taking advantage of the captive audience, “we will impose a fine of one dollar for every candy wrapper we find in the basement.”
The room was silent.
“Owen?” I asked, feeling smug. “Do you understand?”
“What?” he said, one last time. Just for good measure.
As much as he drives me crazy, I wonder if Owen might be onto something.
Just like him, there are times when I don’t want to look life right in the eye. There are times when I feel frustrated or tired or backed into a corner or remorseful about choices I’ve made—and all I want to do is plug my ears and shut my eyes and be left alone with my feelings. Can you imagine the momentous sense of relief that would come from totally ignoring everyone?
The more I think about it, the more magical it seems.
If I could make myself immune to all the annoyances and aggravations around me just by asking an innocuous “What?” I’d probably do it all the time. Starting today:
Owen: Mom, I need clean socks for soccer. Did you do the laundry?
Owen: The laundry. Did you do it?
Me [keeping my eyes fixed on his left shoulder]: What?
Owen: I need clean socks for soccer, and a jersey too. They’ve been in the dirty laundry since last week and—
How easily it could go both ways, son. How easily it could go both ways.