Sometimes, one small incident among parents and children quickly turns into family lore; it eventually ferments from an inside joke occasionally brought up to lovingly tease a son or daughter or mother or father into a story of larger proportions.
Take, for example, in my household, the Protractor Debacle. Though this occurred last year, I know it will long be remembered, especially now that the coronavirus has reframed the way we look at our daily lives.
Ask my son about it. Or wait, no, don’t ask my son, because he will likely deny it. Even as an underclassman in his high school, my son looked at academics as merely a sideline distraction from his full-time, nonpaying gig as an online gamer. When he put off a math assignment until very late one evening, he realized that these geometry problems required the use of a protractor.
“Well, where’s your protractor?” I asked.
So we began the, ahem, protracted hunt. (When I say “we,” however, I’m really referring to that famous trio: me, myself and I.) We searched backpacks, pencil holders, the school supply cabinet, junk drawers, sundry bookcases, the piano bench and other absurd places. No protractor.
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I jumped in the car to a nearby grocery store and hastily rifled through the shelves that held packs of paper and pens. No protractor. Then I headed to the local drugstore, certain that I would find success. I raced over to what used to be the school supply shelf, but at this point in the school year, who could blame a store for not being fully stocked up on protractors? However, I did find a compass for drawing circles. Really, a compass? But no luck on the protractor quest.
Finally, we turned to friends. In my mind, at this point, we verged well into the night, but exaggeration is half the fun of family lore. My son started calling nearby pals to see who had a spare protractor lying around. Hurrah, a dear friend up the street possessed the Holy Protractor Grail. Thank you, dear neighbor, who I’m certain always does her schoolwork well ahead of time.
So the homework assignment was finished, but the story lives on. Now when my son tells me that he does not have any homework that is due any time soon, I sometimes look over the top of my glasses and ask, “Is this going to turn into another protractor incident?”
But that story has not had enough time to be chiseled into the archives of Great Family Tales, where other stories hold places of honor. Take, for example, the Battle of the Hairbrush.
Years ago, when my daughter (now in college) was almost a teenager, she had already grown big enough to fit my shoes. And she was tall enough to wear some of my skirts and shirts. But sharing these items was not a problem because, frankly, she intensely disliked my taste in all fashion senses. She might have been caught dead wearing an article of my clothing, but certainly would not have been caught alive.
But one item of mine caused a much-too-long running tug-of-war between us, since before her age was even in the double digits. Amazingly, that item over which we fought and fumed and nearly disowned each other was a hairbrush. A cheap, plastic, green hairbrush. The handle had long before broken off. It even had its own nickname: Little Greenie.
We both have wavy shoulder-length hair, so a comb wouldn’t do for either of us. She had outgrown the sweet baby brushes she used as a small girl with golden hair. When she was about 7, she took over the job of brushing her hair out after bathtime, untangling the long golden waves. Around that time, I noticed that whenever I needed my hairbrush, it was not on my dresser.
Now, I’m not Holmes or Watson, but I had a strong suspicion of who took it.
Why didn’t I just buy her another hairbrush, you might ask? I did! I purchased several rounded hairbrushes, the fancy kind. I bought her another hairbrush that was the identical style of Little Greenie, except this one was black and silver. Oooh, shiny. And bigger. I thought this might keep her away from LG. But sooner or later (sooner, usually), these other hairbrushes would disappear, and I would find myself searching once again for the whereabouts of Little Greenie.
This went on for months and months, possibly years (remember, the joy of family legends is they grow into Zeus-size exaggeration). This was a daily routine of wondering which one of us would find — and get to use — Little Greenie before the other one confiscated it for herself.
“Where’s the hairbrush?” I would call from the bathroom. Answer: silence.
Of course, Little Greenie did not start out in that broken, reduced state. I can’t remember when the green hairbrush was originally purchased, but it had barely survived in the bathroom cabinet until all that remained was a few plastic bristles. But we each dug in our heels, determined to keep possession of this poor, overused hairbrush, which deserved to enter into retirement. Over time, though, as my daughter grew up and into high school, she eventually required more up-to-date hair care products. And I moved on, as well.
I can’t really say what happened to that hardworking hairbrush. Perhaps it is somewhere with my son’s protractor.