Beware: The pitfalls of the O.F.

After several years of parenting, you learn to filter.

You can tell the difference between “Mom!” – Translation: “I’m kinda bored and want you to come entertain me” and “Mom!” – Translation: “Secondo is about to cut her finger off.”

One girl and her crayon

You develop an ability to expertly sift through statements like, “My stomach hurts,” to decode for either, “I don’t want to eat this healthy food you’ve presented me” or “I’m about to barf all over the backseat of the car” and act accordingly. This is an acquired skill.

Through trial and many errors, your filtering becomes more precise. While you can spring into action in a nano-second should something justify that response, parents also choose to ignore or stall the insignificant, avoidable and silly requests, comments and statements from your kids.

Once you start feeling confident at your ability to sift and filter, react and ignore, you realize there are times when you fall into the embarrassing trap of the O.F. – the over-filter.

It’s a laughably (hopefully) humbling event.

Since the beginning of the calendar year, Prima has mentioned about a handful of times that she needs new crayons at school.

“Mom, I need new crayons,” she would say.

“Prima, use the crayons you have, for now,” I would answer sometimes. Other times, I’d say, “Oh, uh-huh, sure, yes, we’ll get you more crayons,” then file that tidbit errand at the bottom of a bottomless list of “things to do” and promptly forget all about it.

Sometimes, I was incredulous the perfectly good 64 pack box of back-to-school crayons we had purchased at the beginning of the year had suddenly disappeared after only 6 months of use. Sometimes I was distracted. Mostly, I was just distracted and busy.

Fast forward to this morning; Prima, my early riser, was up and dressed an hour and a half before school, before the entire house could wipe sleep out of our crusty eyes.

She had eaten breakfast and packed her backpack before Mr. Bailey was even out of bed. This left her with plenty of time to realize that she had found herself a solution to her crayon dilemma.

While I was digging through her closet for a missing soccer cleat, she asked me, “Mom, can I bring those crayons I got at tutoring to school?”

Me, on frenzied morning routine overload: “No, no toys at school.”

“But, Mom, I’m going to use them. And I need new crayons.”

Me, half-listening, exasperated, “Where is your soccer shoe?! Sure, bring the crayons. This room is a disaster zone, Prima!”

She was so excited about the crayons, which I did not understand. She told me on the way to school how her backpack was heavy because of the crayons. She was so pleased about them.

Me, rushing to get her to school on time, coffee in hand: “Oh really, huh, that’s funny.”

Later on, running errands after I had picked her up from school, she persisted.

“Hey Mom, it was great having my new crayons at school today,” Prima said.

“Oh, really, good, good, I’m glad it worked out,” I said.

“Yeah, my crayons were so bad, all the kids in my class let me borrow their crayons.”

Me, now paying attention, “Oh really?”

“Yeah! Luckily, the boy who sits next to me has, like, a billion crayons and he let me borrow his all the time. Here, look at them, I brought the old ones home,” she said, and handed me a folded sheet of white paper, stapled along the sides and surprising light.

In it, my stunned eyes beheld the most pitiful assembly of a half a dozen worn, tattered, broken, bruised and dirty crayon scraps and nubs, missing most of their paper shells and barely graspable.

Prima's rag-tag lot of crayon stubs

“These were your only crayons!?” I shouted, the full weight of her justified need and shameful embarrassment flowing through my now burning face into my cracking voice.

“Yep. See, I told you,” she said calmly.

“Oh, my goodness, Prima, I’m so sorry!” I said, humiliated laughter rushing out in front of what should have been tears of guilty shame and regret.

My mind’s eye filled with images of her opening up her pencil case at school for, what, every other activity in second grade, and sighing as she set to work with this disgraceful rag-tag lot of pitiful crayons. Oh, the shame!

Then, the topper, said over my now nearly crying cackles,

“I kept telling you, ‘Mom, I need crayons,’ and you kept saying, ‘No, just use the crayons you have,’” she tells me, perfectly matter-of-fact and totally right, imitation spot on me.

Oh, shit. O.F.