We were at piano lessons on Wednesday. My kids take them back-to-back from Teacher Brittany, who is twenty-something and darling, with tattoos of piano notes on her arm and a working knowledge of everything sung by Adele.
While Child #1 was learning Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Child #2 and I sat doing homework on the futon couch. "Mom," he said leaning over. "I really have to use the bathroom."
I escorted him upstairs, returned to the futon and then waited. For a really long time. Finally I went back upstairs to check on him. The door was open and, as I watched, he picked up Teacher Brittany's bathroom items, a hairbrush, contact lens solution, a pair of earrings and added them to the assortment he'd already assembled in front of a small 8 x 10 mirror.
He motioned me into the bathroom and pointed at the mirror which, for him, was eye-level. "Look mom," he said.
I looked at the mirror and saw it was stenciled with a familiar saying with a twist. "Objects in mirror are BETTER than they appear."
He smiled and pointed at the row of objects he'd put together. "I'm waiting for all these things to get better!"
So, of course, I laughed at his little boy literallness. But later that night I started thinking about it again and it made me wonder about the ways the rest of us are literalists.
The holiday season is upon us with stores blasting Christmas carols that tell us to be of good cheer. But are we? Is the expectation we will be endlessly joyful during the month of December any less literal than lining things up in front of a mirror and waiting for them to get better?
What about women's magazines?
They give us airbrushed images of the female form alongside workout regimes and recipes for cookies. The message; we can look that way, if we work out hard, but it's still fine to eat cookies.
Are we dejected when we follow their glossy advice and don't end up looking like a cover model? When things, in the mirror of our self-esteem, are actually worse than they appear?
Maybe the trick is to recognize our literal tendencies and use them sparingly, like accessories. A shiny patent leather belief that volunteering has the power to change the world; make objects in the mirror better than they appear. And the ability to know when to leave that zebra-striped backpack of commercially packaged literal thinking at home.