House Hunting Adventures with an Angry Teenage Boy

My husband says that leaving Colorado is like Frodo Baggins leaving the Shire. Our outdoorsy, wholesome, lovely life here. A house filled with introverted teenage boys who hang with their parents on weekends – skiing, watching Big Bang Theory together, talking football or politics around the firepit.

Our 16-year-old is the most reluctant to leave. For a month on hearing the news, he barely spoke. So, we decided that I should bring him to Fort Lauderdale on a house-hunting trip. Drive by the school options. Try to get a little buy-in.

Our plane landed on Friday night. Two clerks working the Avis Rental Car desk looked out sleepily at a long line of renters.

An overweight woman in tight white jeans, high-heeled shiny red shoes and boobs that overflowed from her matching red t-shirt. “I’m a Preferred Member!” She spike-heel-wobbled back and forth between the clerks and the line. “I’m Preferred! I shouldn’t have to wait!”

But it’s COVID. And the line didn’t like the fact that she was distracting the sloths at the counter.

She twice announced to her captive audience that she was going to convince “one of the lovely people in the garage” to help her. Twice she returned. “But I’m Preferred.”

A pretty woman quiet ahead of us while her boyfriend in dreadlocks wheeled their suitcases in and out of the garage, returning frequently followed by the smell of marijuana.

“And we thought the Preferred Member lady was entertaining,” my son grumbled. 

Two friends destined for a Miami party. Loud. One disappearing again and again, each time returning drunker. Sloppier. Louder.

“Epic,” said the teetotaling teenager at my side.

“A disaster,” I thought.

“Interesting t-shirt,” inquired another line resident of the guy behind us, who loudly explained that it commemorates his friend, a cop, who was shot and killed last week. Had a young daughter.

“Is he going to start a riot at Avis?” my son whispered just days after protests erupted across the country.

The lady finally releasing us from the garage in our car, pointing to the two drunk girls speeding ahead of us, “What just happened there?”

We didn’t say, “You just let a drunk driver take one of your cars.”

Finally, at 10:30, arrival at the hotel. Blaring music. Partygoers everywhere. No one but us wearing COVID masks.

“Two years ‘til college….” 

A total backfire. I went to sleep defeated.

But the rest of the weekend was lovely. We walked the beach and a nearby state park. We ate quesadillas on the ocean-view patios of great restaurants. We saw houses we liked. He talked. He joked. His old self.

Then the last house. An over-the-top kind of home. Beautiful. Half-mile from a private beach. But…

“The seller has it rented, and the renters still aren’t out,” the agent said as she opened the front door, revealing the bachelorette party from the previous night.

“Epic,” said you-know-who, this time with a wry smile.

Bikinis hanging on doorknobs. Clothes strewn across the floors. A colorful card game left on the pool table. Each card a different colored penis. I don’t even know how to explain the sex toys left on the kitchen counter.

“Nice house, mom” said you-know-who.

Two years ‘til college might just fly by.

Define “Stress” on the Day of the AP Chemistry Exam

Our junior took the AP Chem Test today. At the far end of our dining room table. Online over the same 50 minutes as the rest of the world, due to COVID. I imagined millions of teenagers biting their nails. Chewing erasers. Twitching. Sweating. Desperately taking deep, calming breaths.

He spent the hours prior to the test “just chilling.” Loved the class. Never complained about the difficulty or workload. Never worried that he didn’t have an A. Logged on 30 minutes before launch. Followed me around the house for the countdown.

It’s Recycling Day too. The dog barked as the trucks drove up and down the streets of our neighborhood. The rest of us stayed quiet.

I asked if he was nervous.

“Only a little.” he paused, considering.

“But it’s not like a Packers’ game day kind of nervous.”

That’s much worse.

Week 6 of Shelter in Place

Our daily walks around the neighborhood are still lovely, and the boys remain in good spirits. We are apparently settling a big dispute today with a “chocolate milk” blind taste test. King Soopers half gallon (perfect) versus full gallon (they water it down). Fairlife (an after-taste). Horizon Organic (too chocolatey). TrueMoo (the dark horse).

And sheltering in place with mom is getting a little…. well…

This morning, I received a joke from a friend that said “Congratulations, you’ve survived April… Welcome to Level 5 of Jumanji.”

Haven’t seen the movie. So I asked the kids to explain.

“Mom,” said our 17-year-old, “if your brain were a city, the humor section would be the city’s DMV.”

You know it’s bad when all three boys laugh.

Then, very slowly, with the sleepiest look on his face, and flattest tone to his voice, he asked, “Name?”

Evolution and Another Dog Walk During COVID-19

“If all the humans die, which animal do you think would take our place?”

We looked at our unlikely dog trotting ahead of us, sniffing the air, ever-hopeful for a… Bunny? Squirrel? 

“The strongest or the smartest?” continued the 6th grader, knowing the bunny wins every time.

Some conversations last the entire 3-mile loop around the neighborhood. Some return at the dinner table.

Would it be different on each continent? Would the strong win first, then a weaker but smarter species evolve to overtake the strong? Or could the strong one evolve to be smarter? Would the next phase of evolution follow the same pattern as before? Would the next “humans” be like us? Would they look like an animal we already know?

Another doubting glance in the direction of our sweet, old dog.

Walking with My 17-year-old During COVID-19

It was only in the first week of school closure that he realized how hard his Dad was working at the hospital. So, he started setting his alarm for 5am, just beating Dad to the kitchen to make him coffee. Three weeks later, our early morning teenager is still brewing – a treat for me too.

He joins me almost every day on long walks with the dog. I have learned everything a mom needs to know about the more than 100-year history of the Green Bay Packers. How woven the team’s history is with that of the country. Pearl Harbor, Gerald Ford. And… “Remember that game in 2017? We were driving back from the mountains, listening on the radio, and we got home just in time to see…”

I remember the drive, but not the play.

“How do you not remember that?!”

Every day, a minute or so into the walk, he says, “Look at Star’s ears!” Her right ear flops, while the perky left remains alert. “Isn’t she the cutest?!”

And yesterday, there was construction on the road we usually start off on. We were half-way down the block in another direction, when he stopped. “Wait, why are we going this way?” He doesn’t like change, he said. Star had tugged uncertainly too, so we corrected our path.

He grows impatient when I let the dog sniff too long at a fencepost until I remind him that he has nowhere he needs to be. “True,” he shrugs. “So anyway, the players heard about Pearl Harbor in the middle of the game, and they had to keep playing knowing it was happening. That must have been….”

By evening, you would think a 17-year-old might tire of his parents. But he is the first to wander out to the firepit and listen to his Dad talk about the latest in the world of COVID-19. Inform him that Mom doesn’t remember that amazing play in 2017. 

And when the whole family heads upstairs to watch “Big Bang Theory” together, all of his 6-foot, 200-pound self climbs onto our bed to watch.

Now in week three of school closure, remote learning. My return to nagging. “Did you send the email to…?” “Did you do your…?” That desire to hit him over the head with the coffee pot when he rolls his eyes late afternoon, Chemistry still to do, that Statistics project looming.

Great Gatsby Plot Breakdown

As a teenager, I kept the Journals of F. Scott Fitzgerald by my bed. If I couldn’t sleep, I reread and memorized his phrases. So, when my high school sophomore – a passionate reader – flipped out when reading his summer AP Seminar assignment, I was shocked. I mean, what’s not to like about The Great Gatsby?

“Another lame party at the mansion, Jay? No wonder Daisy doesn’t come! They’re boring!”

What?!

“Oooh, you’re Daisy’s cousin? How about you invite her over, and I’ll just happen to stop by, and say remember when we were 17…” 

Don’t all teenage readers worship Fitzgerald?

“No one really cares that Tom is cheating on her except Nick, and he’s a loser.”

It’s a commentary on the 1920s.

“A decade of losers then.”

Great American novel torn to pieces at the kitchen counter for two straight days. I may have to reread Gatsby to like it again.

Kidnapping Plot on the Grand Canyon

I learned a lot about my eleven-year-old son this summer. The youngest member of a 25-person rafting trip through the Grand Canyon, led by four guides.

I had worried he was too small for whitewater. Silly mom.

The first to ride at the front of the boat. To take the big waves. Yelling at the river to bring it on.

On the trails with the nimble teenagers. What cliff? What slippery edge?

Launcher of river battles. The first to fire the water gun at the other boat.

Pulling his weight in the fire-line to unload and set up camp.

The other boat was filled with adults. Surprised when he stormed it to steal their weapons as we pushed off from the narrow beach. A little guy with a war cry.

The record-breaker swimming the rapids. “One more time?” as everyone else followed the guides’ call back to the boats.

The first to jump off waterfalls. To drive the raft.

A calming guide to “put your foot there” for the adults trying the jump he’d already done ten times.

An adventurer. Fun. A leader. A warrior. At home in the raging waters.

The other boat plotted to kidnap him. They envied his spirit. Wanted him for themselves. Named him MVB, most valuable boater.

I am so grateful for his week in the sun. 

If You Were a Monarch

“If you were a monarch, what would your portrait pose be?” 

Sometimes it takes my brain a minute to confirm that yes, that’s the out-of-the-blue question I just heard.

So our sixteen year old positioned into his own pose. Feet crossed. Arm resting on the back of a stool. Chin raised. Very royal.

He looked at me expectantly. Grabbed his phone and pulled up Louis XVI in a lavish cloak. Tweaked his own pose. “This is my favorite.”

“Ummmm…..”

“Elizabeth and Victoria have good ones….” he suggested.

His Dad didn’t miss a beat. “Sword raised. On a horse.” 

A Trip to the Bank

I brought our 16-year-old to get a cashier’s check to pay the auto repair shop for damage he inflicted on his car. When we walked inside the bank, he whispered, “This is so nice!”

It’s a regular bank branch. Large. Corporate looking. Nothing fancy. Muted elevator music. 

Still half-way across the room, a friendly teller called out, “How can I help you?”

The only other teller disappeared. The chairs opposite the financial experts who get their own desks were all empty.

I thought how absolutely bored they must be. The teller. The financial expert. 9 to 5. The white sound of air conditioning. An occasional customer. Then back to the quiet in that big room.

The smiling teller handed us the check.

Then with a last sweeping look, my son sighed, “What a nice place to work. It’s so peaceful.”

“All the World’s a Stage”

Yesterday, when our son came from backstage after the 5thgrade performance of Hello Shakespeare, he beamed. A look of joyful pride I’d never seen in him before. Not ever.

And grinning ear-to-ear, he hugged me as if his emotion was too great not to share.

It’s been a tough school year. Academically. Mostly socially. Many days, he comes home quiet. Goes to his room to draw maps or write in his journal. 

I keep thinking that he just needs to feel good at something. Some positive feedback coming from the universe.

Then yesterday, he was a natural Will Shakespeare. A fun-loving ham. As the curtain closed, and the other kids headed off stage, he remained, tossing his bowler hat in the air, smiling at the audience, soaking it in, drawing the moment out a few more seconds.

The happiest, I think, he has ever been.

At least for a day, he found his world’s the stage.