Pants on Fire, Don’t tell Mom

May 7, 2021


My son just told me a story about the time he was a little boy and attempted to construct a circuit using a few batteries, paper clips, tin foil and other thing-a-ma-jigs he found around the house. The experiment was unsuccessful, so he shoved the items into his pocket along with a few pieces of candy.  


After playing outside, he smelled smoke, looked down, and saw that his pants were on fire. 


Jumping around for a moment, he realized his only option was to strip out of his smoldering britches, stomp on them, and run around free and easy for a few minutes before making his way back home. 


He never told me about this hot pants experience until we sat upstairs at Big Bad Breakfast in Homewood, celebrating his 25th birthday (thank you, I agree, I can’t believe I have a 25-year-old either).  It’s almost as if he thought, “I’ll hide these pants in the bottom of my closet and not tell Mom about it until I’m an old man — at least 25.”

The statute of limitations on childhood adventures never expires. Decades later, you can still frighten your mother with tales of mischief, mayhem, moonshine, madness and motors, long after the wake of real terror has calmed.  

There’s no expiration date on a mother’s capacity for shock. Years come and go, but if you discover one of them was in danger 20 years earlier, you feel faint, as if it happened right in front of you that very moment. 

Mothers all over the world feel protective of their children. Some are overprotective, which usually pushes their offspring in the opposite direction, and they become thrill-seekers. If the waiver for Big Bubba’s Bodacious Bungee Jumping asked, “Does your mother know you are doing this?” 9 out of 10 would check the box that says, “no way. I’m crazy enough to jump, but not crazy enough to tell mom.”

Then, there are the mothers who go soaring, gliding, jumping and diving with their children. Perhaps the grandmothers in these families inspired full-family danger. It’s always convenient to blame a previous generation for sparks of wildness. 

A 45 year old friend was relaying a story of how he and his friends raced their cars on a dirt road one night when they were only 15 and 16 years old. They thought the tall cornfields on either side of the road shielded them, yet suddenly, the farmer appeared at the end of the road with a shotgun. Just as we gasped and wanted to know more, a woman stood behind our friend and cleared her throat as only a mother could do. Our friend was busted and turned bright red. It didn’t matter that 30 years had passed. His mother’s disapproval was still stinging. The rest of us choked down our laughter, fearful she would call our parents as well. 

How long does it take for our children to “come clean” and more importantly, do we really want them to tell us everything? If I learned about the burning pants when my son turned 25, what will his confession be at 30?  Being kept in the dark may not be such a bad thing after all.  


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