If you didn't already know, I have three brothers. Mark is the baby of the family and nine years younger than I am.
That means that when I was in high school, he was juuuuust a teensie bit older than Nick is now. Throughout my high school years he was that little brother that thought everything I did was the coolest thing ever.
(Unlike the other two - they thought I was über dorky and hella lame, respectively.)
But Mark looked up to me, and not just because I was tall. As far back as he could ever remember I had a job, and therefore my own money and could buy cool things like Surf Style jackets and Snapple and Pearl Jam cassettes.
As any littlest brother will do, he asked a 156,000 questions a day, many with no real answers. And as any of my friends will tell you -- if you ask me a question like that I will make up an answer. If nothing else, it saves my sanity. I do it with my kids now.
"MOM! Where is that firetruck going?"
"To buy new socks - its a sock emergency."
"MOM! How come that house is purple?!?"
"Magic houses are always purple."
"MOM! Why is that guy bald?"
"Cuz his kids asked him so many questions all his hair fell out." (This has gotten me more understanding smiles than I'm sure any other answer could ever provoke.)
And I did it with Mark. I'm sure one day he was on question 155,999 when he asked, "Where did you get THAT?!?" and I simply replied, "The Cool Stuff Store."
For YEARS Mark really believed there was a place called The Cool Stuff Store.
He seriously, without a doubt believed me, and I never let up on the joke. Soft drinks, fast food, shoes, clothes - all of it came from The Cool Stuff Store. I often wondered if he pictured this Cool Stuff Store as some behemoth general store, with old split-open barrels lined up along the front counter, brimming with Hypercolor shirts, costume jewelry, and McDonald's fries.
I'd come home with something that Mom didn't buy and he'd ask, "Where'd you get that? The Cool Stuff Store?"
I never once laughed and he never once questioned my validity.
When I was 20 I bought a red Dodge Shadow convertible. Mark was 11 that day I drove it home to show the fam, proud to have a cool car, and one that wasn't a complete beater.
"WHOA!" I remember him saying, as he, the other two boys and my Mom came out to see it parked in front of the house. "Where did you GET that?!?"
I looked up at him, smiled slowly, realizing the answer was on his lips.
"Ohhhhh...wait. I KNOW." It was as if a light bulb had come on. "The Cool Stuff Store?" I could see in his eyes that suddenly he was too old to believe my line of crap. He knew none of it was true - that there had never been such a place - this mystical, awe inspiring place he had conjured.
I never did explain or apologize to Mark for that, but hopefully he knows that I was just coping with a pesky little brother that might otherwise have driven me crazy.
But I'm seeing parallels. Not only is my oldest son the same age Mark was when we first imagined up The Cool Stuff Store, but he looks quite a bit like my brother as well. (The skinny muppet arms and legs really help to make the connection.)
And, as I've said, I make up these silly answers when I might otherwise want to scream that I cannot take any more damned questions or feel as though I'm about to bleed from my eyes. And its only natural that every parent talk about eyes in the back of their heads, right?
Nick calls them my "back eyes". He talks about how, when he's older, he'll get back eyes too. He tells his brother all about them - about how Mommy can use her back eyes to see when he's picking his nose or when he's trying to sneak another cookie after I've said no more, so he'd better be good.
I let him believe I really do have back eyes. I mean, what's the harm? If he doesn't already, he'll realize that there really aren't eyeballs hiding under my hair. (What?!? So I might have told him that, too.)
But after all these years of staying straight-faced through the jokes, Nick got me.
We were riding in the car, on our way to God-knows-where and he wanted to show me his most awesome air guitar skills.
"MOM! LOOK! WILL'S PLAYING DRUMS AND I'M PLAYING GUITAR! MOOOOM! YOU HAVE TO SEE! MOOOOOM! LOOOOOOOK!
"Nicholas, you know I can't turn around and look at you. I'm driving."
"Mom - that's easy. Just use your back eyes."
I almost drove off the damned road!