The Cell Phone Challenge that Disrupted Dinner

My boys have been clamoring for cell phones for two years now. I believe that eighth grade is the appropriate time to get one. They are in fifth and sixth.

Recently however, when my husband realized he was going to want to upgrade to the iPhone 6 as soon as it came out, he concocted the Cell Phone Challenge for our oldest son, who lacks stamina, to get in shape.

The challenge was that if our 6th grader could complete the app called Couch to 5K by embracing the 9-week process and finally running a 5K in 30 minutes, he would get the phone that held the app.

He was not eager. So I agreed to do it with him.

We are in week two and run three times a week. One day, he is furious and whiny. The next, he admits that he likes these runs because we get to talk.

But drama came in the guise of his fifth grade brother, with skinny legs and arms and the stamina of a horse. “If I run a 5K, can I get a cell phone?”

Too easy a task for him. So, believing that a challenge is good for all concerned, and added muscle might benefit the wily and wiry boy, my husband promised that if he could do 100 good sit-ups and 100 good push-ups in half an hour, he too would earn the prize.

We both thought this task impossible, until… dinner, Friday evening, week one of the Cell Phone Challenge.

“I’m bored of training,” said the fifth grader. “Can I just do it now?”

And so began a series of 10 sit-ups, then 10 push-ups with brief rests in-between. If the push-up was weak, he had to do it again. Much shouting. A few victory laps around the dining room table as he closed in on his goal.

“I am getting that phone!”

We assumed it would take too long and his skinny arms would betray him.

Then with six minutes to spare, and his big brother in tears of envy, he completed the challenge. A florescent green cell phone is now his.

He is the one who really wanted one. He showed his mettle, his arms in pain for two days after. Set him a goal, he will go for it. If there’s something he wants, he will do what it takes to get it. He is all will.

After an initial meltdown, his older brother seems content to go slow. And he will, in the end, get more out of it if he sticks with it. For the process. The alone time with mom. The knowledge that he powered through to do something that was really hard for him.

And we learned what a strong will can achieve before clearing the dishes.

Attack of the Vacation Beasts

It is a good thing that all went well in March 2013, while on safari in South Africa. I have bad luck with vacation animals, and that was the only recent trip where the beasts were not on the attack even when our jeep got stuck a few yards from an alpha lion and his fiercer looking ladies.


On other trips, however, there were the all-night partying roosters who never learned to wait for sunrise.

The pack of chickens, led by Geraldine, who chased me through the barn, pecking at my calves because I had not brought them grapes.

The toad that made our dog vomit five times after going after “frog’s legs” for an appetizer.

The crazy swans who swarmed every time we went near the water, sending the kids into high-decibel shrieks and the Puritans in neighboring lake homes wishing we had never come.

And now, falling asleep each night, is it the swans or the frogs honking?

I miss our dog. She may roam the halls, nails clicking on hardwood floors like an alarm clock we do not need to set, but she sleeps through the night and doesn’t bite when she is hungry.


I Hate Your Hair!

At the end of a summer exposed to sunshine and chlorine, I finally went to get my haircut, hide the grays and return to my non-bleached-out self. My stylist went a little darker than expected.

An hour later, I ran into a friend who exclaimed, “I love your hair! It makes your skin look so creamy!”

My sister, who had taken my boys to a movie, was next, “Oh my god, I love it, love it! You look younger.”

Then the three boys walked in the door behind her, and I got hit with a single-file barrage of honesty only becoming in children.

“What did you do to your hair? You look weird!”

“I liked it better before.”

“Much better.”

And then from the smiling six year old, “I hate it!”

Apparently, we need to work on that fine line between honesty and kindness before I release them back to their schoolmates.

Developmentally Inappropriate Reading

I was at a small get-together with some sixth grade moms last week, and we were debating whether a school-required book our kids are reading is age-appropriate. We have all read the book so we can guide our children through some issues it raises in case their teachers focus on other things.

As we were talking about those issues (i.e. cocaine use, neglectful parents, violence from older brothers, and bad decisions with no consequences), I realized that the extra assignment I had given my fifth and sixth grade sons this summer might be more intense and grown-up than the book we were discussing.

We got a subscription to USA Today, because I decided they should start reading the newspaper, and the writing is less sophisticated than the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, which my husband and I read. Plus, the kids would get drawn in by the sports section.

What a summer of developmentally inappropriate news… for any age!

This really hit home when my eleven year old walked into the kitchen, which at the time was filled with six snacking boys (his brothers and friends, age 6-10) and addressed them in a stream of consciousness:

“Wow, lots of plane crashes lately. How many people do you think have died? And that war in the Ukraine. Do you think it could start World War Three? I mean, really, did you see they bombed a school in Gaza? What’s the world coming to?!”

Six little ice cream covered faces just stared at him. Wide eyes. Still-chubby cheeks. And now heads filled with real-life stories they may not have been ready to hear.

The sad thing is… the truth can be far worse than fiction.

Short Shorts and Sunglasses

On a recent summer trip with our kids, we took the gondola up to the top of a mountain, where summertime fun includes guided hikes with amazing views, a climbing wall, hula-hoops, a sandbox and bungee trampoline.

The lines were longer than I had hoped, but it left time for observation.

Once I had absorbed the beauty of sky and trees and mountaintop wildflowers, I began watching some of the other families and groups enjoying their vacations.

There were a few clusters of girls that grabbed my attention.

First, two girls, probably 13, and their proud Dad watching a four year old sister bounce in pigtails and a pink dress on the bungee trampoline. Their shorts were so short that a good portion of their bare butts were visible to all.

There was another group of girls waiting right behind my guys. They were probably 12 or 13 too, laughing loudly, enjoying their time together. Pretty girls with long hair, their shorts almost as obscenely short.

My eleven year old was watching them. At first, I assumed they were just too noisy for his taste. Too wild. Too close to his age. Making him uncomfortable. Then, with him still watching, I wondered if he was noticing their shorts.

He is growing up. He will eventually notice.

And as we took the gondola back down the mountainside an hour later, he turned to me, “Did you see those girls in line?”


“Well, they had really expensive sunglasses.”

Was that boy code? “Did you see their butts, or what?!”

Or are we only at “how does he know what expensive sunglasses look like?”

A Coke and a Smile

More than a decade ago, I worked in the Dean’s office of a high school for boys. The school did not have a nurse, so for minor medical pains, I filled the role. At the time, my now-husband was in medical school, and he used to laugh at my medical solutions on the fly.

They almost always involved a can of Coke.

A high school student would arrive looking weepy or holding his stomach or complaining of a headache. I would let him stay to chat. He almost always accepted my offer to get him a Coke.

That’s when I knew the kid was okay.

So when the coke and chat were done, I sent him back to class smiling, usually bragging to his friends that he had had a soda in the Dean’s office.

Coca-Cola – Band-Aid for the high school set.

As a mom, I have learned a new “medical solution” that seems to work just as well. Whenever one of my boys complains of stomachaches, headaches or general anxiety that won’t allow him to fall asleep at night, I offer to get a wet washcloth to place over his eyes or on his forehead.

Seconds after the washcloth touches his skin… sleep. It doesn’t matter which kid. It doesn’t matter why he is struggling to sleep. It works every time.

I am beginning to understand that the aches and pains of growing up most often just require a brief moment of acknowledgement.

Traffic Jam with the Kids

On Sunday, the boys and I were driving home from Aspen to Denver. After a winter of weekend ski lessons, we are used to the hour traffic jam caused by accidents or winter weather. We even sat one Friday on the mountain highway, closed for hours due to a police chase and shooting.

So leave it to the authorities to conduct unexpected tunnel blasting in July. Another “hour plus” delay. Importantly in our car, another “hour plus” before the kids would see the dog.

I expected a disaster of bad moods, whining and bathroom breaks. Instead, my ten year old rolled down the window and shouted at our fellow travelers.

“I hate this! Drive, people!”

When that elicited minor laughter from his brothers, “Santa, where are you! Save us!”

More laughter.

“Where is the Easter Bunny when you need him? EATER BUNNY!!!!”

What would the Easter Bunny do?

Followed by chanting, “WE HATE THIS! HEY! WE HATE THIS! HEY!”

Grateful for laughing kids in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I had to join them. “NOT AS MUCH AS ME! NOT AS MIUCH AS ME!”

And so it went, interspersed with shouts for the Easter Bunny, until we detoured past the tunnel and picked up speed.