My son Grant — the middle one, the 8-year-old — doesn’t have any tags in his shirts; he hasn’t since he was 2 years old. They have been ripped away, surgically removed or, for the stubborn ones when Grant can’t find help or scissors, bitten off.
Grant, whom I have written about before, has sensory issues. They aren’t major — a lot of parents have it considerably worse. But the seams in certain socks drive him crazy, the way pants fit, the stiffness of dress shirts and the tags — my sweet goodness, the tags! — all make him squirm and itch and fight. Trying to buy him clothes is like marching through a minefield — you want to avoid any and all triggers and are hoping to simply get out alive.
As he’s grown older (he turns 9 in a couple of weeks), he’s gotten tremendously better. He’ll wear jeans now (reluctantly); he doesn’t abandon his school uniform for his pajamas the minute he bolts through the door; we don’t even have to fight with him anymore about not wearing sweatpants to Mass.
And as I’ve grown older, I’ve gotten tremendously better, too. My beautiful and devout wife has always been considerably calmer (regarding this issue) than me. I used to fight constantly with him about his wardrobe choices. My anger over the course of the argument would evolve from asking nicely to bartering to flat-out demanding. It went a little like this: “Seriously, buddy, just wear the shirt”; “If you wear the shirt, you’ll get to ____” (insert one of the following: get a treat, pick out a toy, not be spanked, go to Disneyland, buy a car, a snake, whatever you want); and eventually it turned into: “OK, now it’s not about the shirt, it’s about not listening to me when I tell you to WEAR THE SHIRT.”
But I’ve learned that in most situations, nobody (but me) cares what he’s wearing. I’d rather have him pleasant in a sweatshirt than acting like he’s Linda Blair in “The Exorcist” in a button-down, because getting him to wear clothes he doesn’t want to wear is like putting a straightjacket on a cat.
So we’ve come to an accord: He’ll wear khakis and a collared shirt for a few hours on Sundays and I won’t scream at him (about his clothes, anyway) for the rest of the week.
Late last month, I was recalling all these fights we used to have, about the tags and the pants and the shirts, about the seams in his socks and “it’s too itchy!” Last month, you see, he was decked out: crisp white shirt with the tag fully intact, black tie clipped onto his stiff collar, black dress pants with a belt — no elastic waist! — and brand-new black dress shoes. He put on his outfit carefully, proudly and without a fight.
Flanked by his mother on his left and me on his right, he stood with his classmates in a long line that spilled from the narthex — the boys in their white shirts and ties, some in miniature suits, others in tiny blazers, and the girls all in white, with veils or tiaras placed atop their perfect, pulled-up hair. They looked like 40 little angels.
Our amazing, sweet, funny, ornery boy had been waiting years for his first Communion. When he was little (fine, littler), as we knelt in our pew in preparation for the Eucharist one Sunday morning, he turned to his mom and sister and asked, in all seriousness, “When do I get to join the white cookie party?”
Leading up to the big day, he had asked all the usual questions: What does it taste like, is it really Jesus’ body (and isn’t that kind of weird?), etc. As a class, they had practiced the procedures. He was fully prepared. As we made the short walk up the main aisle and approached the priest, I watched Grant. He appeared nervous. His normal smirk was replaced by a look of concentration as he tried to remember when to bow and how to hold his hands. He did great — meaning, he didn’t fumble the host — and made the sign of the cross on his way back to the pew.
After pictures, our large family got together to celebrate. Like the 50-pound tornado he is, Grant tore through his cake and cards and gifts, leaving only a path of crumbs and envelopes and gift bags in his wake. When we got home and he settled down from the sugar high, we asked him about the day he — and we — would never forget. His eyes squinted, and he smiled. “It was the best day ever. I got money, I got presents, and I got Jesus!”
By this time, he was in his pajamas, having ditched his dress clothes for sweats hours ago at the party. But he kept them on longer than we thought, surpassing our expectations — like he always does.
Scott Warden is the associate editor of OSV Newsweekly. Follow him on Twitter @Scott_OSV.
For more of Scott's Confessions of a Catholic Dad, click here.