The sign on the door read: Pick up 3 items to dress like a cow and get FREE food at Chik-Fil-A! Wear a hat: get a free sandwich - Entire outfit: free COMBO!
"Cool," I said, and opened the door.
I signed The Dude out of day camp and picked up a cardboard cow hat, half of what looked like a sandwich board scrawled with "Eat Mor Chikin" and a slick of stickers. One of the camp counselors explained that the stickers could go on a T-shirt, and all together The Dude would get a free meal the next day, the same day the whole camp would spend at Pump It Up, a facility in Mt. Juliet filled with those huge inflatables for bouncing, jarring teeth, stepping on body extremities and eventual vomiting, in my experience.
"So," I said, herding him into the car, "tomorrow you dress like a cow and bounce around in overpriced rubber apparatus, that about right?"
"Sounds right," he agreed.
Unsure of anything related to the clothing or costuming of small children, I called my stepmother to see where to buy plain white T shirts. Turns out they are sold by the pack at Wal-Mart, Target, etc.
$50 later, we get the shirts and head home. This morning I lay out a plain white Hanes T and D gets to work with the stickers. We decorate a hat, we paste black stickers on his shorts. He is all cow'd up, mooing all the way to camp.
When we pull up to the building, we see a girl in the obligatory bright yellow T shirt of Field Trip day. I frown. Glancing in the mirror, I see D is frowning. I get out of the car, round the trunk, eyeing the window. More yellow-clad kids. I curse beneath my breath.
D hops out of the car, takes one look at the building and snatches the cow hat off his head, pushes it at me.
"They're wearing yellow," he says.
I swallow. "Yeah. Maybe... maybe we should have packed your field trip shirt as your extra shirt in your backpack."
He tosses a scowl over his shoulder as he climbs the stairs to the front door. "Yeah. Maybe, mom."
Inside is a sea of yellow. My heart thuds, and D walks into the room, awash in the sunshine of field trip shirts, a white beacon in spotted shorts sifting through the kids. Dejectedly, I hang his backpack on the coatrack on one wall.
"Yeah," one counselor says, moving toward me, "they're not actually going to eat at Chik-Fil-A today."
Because this is a church-based camp and school, I reign myself in. "Then why did the note say for him to dress like a cow?"
D, his back glaring white among his yellow friends, casts another look over his shoulder which, if they could kill, would have nailed him for matricide.
"Some of the parents thought that," the dewy-faced counselor said.
I bare my teeth at her. "And yet none of the other kids are dressed like a cow."
"I know," she showed me her braces. "It was a misunderstanding."
I squeezed the bridge of my nose between two fingers, glad to have job where it's okay to have these things happen: I can drive the 20 minutes back home, grab the yellow field trip shirt and pack a lunch, and drive the 20 minutes back and hopefully be back in time to catch them before they leave for the field trip.
When I return, with literally minutes to spare, D is on the playground, his white T shirt filthy and missing its bovine black spots. I offer the Marvel Comics 3D lunch bag and yellow shirt, which he refuses to take.
I lean toward him, ignoring the camp counselor who has accompanied him to the playground gate. "You want to change now, sweetie? You can just change and I'll -"
"No," he says firmly without meeting my eye. "Later."
I shrug and back away. "Okay... well then, have a good day, sorry about the cow thing."
He raises his face and moos at me. "From the only cow in the yard," he says, smiles, and runs away.