I’m sorry with a side of tacos

I’ve had many battles with my kids in our 24 and 21 years together. Two stand out, probably because there is photographic evidence.

In the fall of 2010, we went to Austin to see Clyde’s alma mater (the Texas Longhorns) play my alma mater (the Baylor Bears). I’d been a huge football fan when I was a kid, reengaged during my years at Baylor, then had neither the time nor the interest when the kids were young. But they were Longhorn fans from the time their wee little hands could do a proper hook ’em.

My ability to go from “did Baylor play today?” to super fan is now legendary at our house. And it started on this October day in Austin.

I was there because my husband and boys wanted to be there. And I love a good fall football game. Then Baylor started winning. And the muscle memory kicked in. Oh yes, I remember loving football! I remember collecting the pencils for all the professional teams in middle school! I remember watching the Dallas Cowboy games every Sunday with my mom. I remember crying and MAKING A POSTER MEMORIAL when Roger Staubach retired.

RGIII? You don’t say? Which number is he, I asked my uber fan sons. I went from learning the name of Baylor’s future Heisman winner to being that obnoxious fan who talks smack to the other side in real time and close proximity. And the other side was my family. Specifically, 10-year-old Sawyer.

Baylor hadn’t won in Austin since 1991. I didn’t remember that at the time, but I went in with zero expectation of our winning. I had no idea we were good. It all turned around pretty quickly in the second half of the game and we won 30-22. I hooted and hollered in the faces of my three Longhorn fans the entire way.

Left: Sawyer as the game started, full of hope and football love.
Right: Sawyer hating me, RGIII, and the Baylor Bears.

While I thought I had a PhD in this sweet boy, I’d missed how much this game — EVERY game — meant to him. Eleven years later, he’s still like this, but this was the first time I saw this face. Anger. Disappointment. Disgust. Life Will Never Be The Same. Also I Hate You Mom.

OK so maybe this was just a one-sided fight. But I remember realizing at some point as we walked down the bleachers and he wouldn’t look at me that I had to make it right. I remember Clyde’s bafflement at my bafflement.

I gave him space. I hugged him when he’d had enough of it. And I told him I was sorry for relishing in his team’s loss. Baylor and UT would play again. Both sides would win again. But I — and they — would always be respectful. Smack can be talked a different day. Nobody wants to see that face again.

A few years before this, in the fall of 2006, we were going across town to have family photos made. My recollection of the details of this day are fuzzier, both because it was further back in time and Google can’t help me fill in the missing pieces.

I remember it was a school day. It was rush hour. I had the boys and was meeting Clyde and the photographer at a park.

Never trust Christmas card photo smiles.

Don’t we look happy? Sawyer is 6 here, Noah is 9. We are color coordinated. The lighting is perfect. I’m sure the Christmas card was lovely.

Rewind 30 minutes from this shot: I kicked Noah out of our car in rush hour in the middle of Dallas (in my defense, he was being an asshole and it was a slow-moving cross-town street). I don’t know what he was doing but he was fresh off a day of school, likely hadn’t had enough downtime or food or both, and I likely wasn’t at my best trying to get these photos checked off. I’m also sure he had comments about what he was wearing. And the words just flew out of my mouth: “Get. Out!” It felt so satisfying, I would do it again another time or two before he got his driver’s license, but this was the first.

You should’ve seen their faces. Neither had any idea this was a possibility. I could tell by the traffic and timing of red light down the street that we’d be moving more slowly than Noah could walk, so it wasn’t like CPS needed to get involved. And within a few minutes, he got back in the car and we sat in silence.

When we got the park, he ratted me out within seconds of seeing Clyde. He announced he was NOT sitting or standing anywhere near me for ANY photo. Sweet Clyde smiled and remained calm until we could sort it all out after the photos. God bless the not-stay-at-home spouses who walk into the household war fresh off a day at the office with zero intel and hold it together.

And then at some point, after I gave him some space, I hugged him and said I was sorry for kicking him out of the car. And we talked about what he’d done wrong and what I’d done wrong. And we were fine.

This family photo makes me laugh every time I see it. Noah on one side, me on the other. It’s a reminder of how appearances tell you nothing about family dynamics and that the four of us have recovered from every battle.

We’ve had much bigger fights than these two. Much more serious. Much more dramatic. Sometimes I have worried how we’d come back to each other. But “how” is my first thought when my anger subsides even a little.

I recently had a fight with one of the boys that lasted a few days. Nothing was right with the world while I was mad at him and he was mad at me. As usual with fighting, the “alwayses” and the “nevers” flew freely around my brain and mouth. I knew they wouldn’t last, but I wasn’t sure how they would end.

They ended after we’d each had some space, when he brought me tacos for lunch, got us each a glass of water, and told me about his day. Then, just before he was heading out, he said he was sorry. And I hugged him and said I was sorry.

As it is and always will be. With tacos. Which I think is a genius addition.


About Dawn McMullan

Dawn McMullan is a freelance writer/editor in Dallas, Texas. Her two sons are now 21 and 24, Sawyer in college and Noah starting his post-college career, and both interrupted empty nesting during the pandemic. Dawn helps run a non-profit in Eastern Congo and is senior editor at the International News Media Association.
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