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Springtime Fresh Ankle Robots Mean Love

About seven weeks ago, Ryley asked if he could join his school’s robotics team. We said okay. He was excited and went to a day-long kick-off event. They picked up supplies and learned the specific tasks their robot had to perform. While he was gone, I went shopping. It was a typical trip to Target where I had my list and somehow, mysteriously, bizarrely, other items end up in the cart.

As I exited the baby food aisle, I saw blue socks with stocky, serious robots. They were hanging on an endcap in the Men’s department. Without debate, I tossed them into the cart. I’d give them to Ryley as a goofy little gift marking his new activity. When we were all together that evening, I remembered the socks and dug them out of a bag. He looked at them and said, “This is because I’m on the robotics team, right?” Suddenly, I felt like maybe they were too obvious and juvenile. He’s almost 15, not 5.

And then, I forgot all about them. I have about 461 socks to wash. I don’t look for certain pairs to come through my queue. The only person with truly interesting socks is Beatrix. In the sea of black and white cotton tubes, her socks are the very bright spots. Yesterday, I was doing laundry. I fold clothes straight out of the dryer. It’s such a grab bag. One dive might see me surface with Spongebob undies, the next I’ll burst to the surface with a Build-a-Bear pajama top. I snagged some flannel pajama bottoms afflicted with the scourge of static cling. The robot sock was stuck to a leg like a barnacle. I peeled it free. It took me a few seconds to remember it was Ryley’s. He walked through the room a minute later and I waved it at him.

“This is yours, right?”

“Yeah. I wore them on Saturday.”


That was the day his team had its first big robotics competition. Some of the kids and I watched. It was fun and very, very tense, especially when Ryley was directly involved in the robot’s performance. We watched as his team made the semifinals, then finals. They ended up coming in third place, which astonished everyone. They were a rookie team and one of the smallest groups. Because they placed so well, they were invited to regionals.

Danke, Herr Roboter

I found the other sock and folded them together. Lucky socks, I declared. I don’t think they bring supernatural help or influence outcomes. They don’t provide protection or good fortune. But he wore them on a big day—one of the biggest he’s ever had—and I only found out because I’m the one who makes them smell springtime fresh. Temporarily.

A lot of communication with teenagers occurs in moments when nobody says a word. I buy some robot socks. Then I feel foolish. He wears them on a very big day. I wash them. I return them. Maybe this will repeat, maybe it won’t. He claims when they travel to regionals, he’s packing the socks. But I hope he does’t just keep them for the biggest of the big days. I hope he wears them when he simply wants robots on his ankles, because.

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