When We Were… Old


My son’s electric guitar teacher spreads joy and wisdom on a weekly basis. You go into a lesson with Shon feeling down about school or friends or a disaster on the athletic field, and it’s almost a guarantee that you will come out grinning and chewing gum, his prize for a strong week of practicing.

Shon has a philosophy that “it will work out somehow,” and it usually does. Last minute change of lesson time? Someone else will cancel for just the half hour you need. “See?” he says. “It always works out. I don’t know how, but it does.”

Today, when he walked my smiling son out after a session rocking out to Nirvana’s Teen Spirit, he said he was feeling old. He is starting to hear our generation’s theme songs translated to elevator music.

“I heard the Muzak version of Led Zeppelin in the grocery store! That is so wrong.”

I am still trying to hum a Muzak version of Whole Lotta Love, after Googling “Led Zeppelin songs”, with a picture of big-haired, shirtless men in my brain. Never my cup of tea, but I still cannot translate.

Are we really that old?

Of course, Shon seemed to brush it off as soon as he said it. On to the next middle school guitar player waiting to be freed from school-grind-boredom. It’s just me left freaking out. No joy for mom at guitar today.


Gettysburg Left an Impression

On July 3, 1863, Robert E. Lee’s command, a Confederate General named George Pickett attacked the Union center at Gettysburg with thousands of men. The fire from that many guns was seen for miles. But in a surprising turn of events, the Union Army stood its ground with most of Pickett’s soldiers surrendered, killed or wounded. A turning point in a war that seemed never-ending.

During the spring of 2015, my sixth grader visited the scene of that carnage, walking the grassy field where all those young men fought, reading the inscriptions on stone markers and monuments, looking for our last name on the lists of the dead.

At the same time, he was obsessed with Calvin and Hobbes, a favorite comic strip from my own childhood.

And from that merging of pathways in his brain, connected only by the moment in time, he has concocted a plan.

When we go to Buffalo this Christmas, with the expectation of much snow, he is preparing to build a reenactment of Pickett’s Charge out of snowmen.

And as he fills us in on this snowman battleground based in American history – how on the hill from the Buffalo farmhouse to the pond, he will post snow-artillerymen as if it were Cemetery Ridge, 1863 – I cannot help but admire his creativity, smarts and ceaseless energy.


When Confidence Was Cool

At what age does it become socially awkward to say aloud, “You know what I like best about myself?”

Fortunately, it still flies in second grade.

Only two days after moving up from the reading group for those struggling with phonics, and four days after scoring a basket in a YMCA basketball game, my little guy was feeling good.

“You know what I like best about myself?”


“That I’m really good at school and really good at sports.”

“I like that you have fun doing whatever you are doing, and you work really hard to get better at it.”

“Yep.” Big, huge smile.

Everything I Need to Know, I Learned in…

My thirteen year old son is the master of surprising conversations.

“Did you know that Neil DeGrasse Tyson still gets hate mail for saying Pluto isn’t a planet?”

Out of no where.

“He gets letters from second graders who are really pissed.”

Then he started listing Jupiter’s moons. Callisto, Europa, Themisto…

“Is that what makes a planet? Size and its own moons?” I asked.

He shrugged. “Venus might not have a moon. But Venus is like Hell.”

A moment of quiet. Then…

“So what was it like when you menstruated for the first time?”

Interesting segue. “I had no idea what to do.”

“But how did you feel? Did it make you sad you were leaving your childhood?”

“I didn’t realize I was.”

“Good thing it only happens once a month,” said Mister-Everything-I-Need-to-Know-I-Learned-in-Sixth-Grade-Science.

“Yes, but it lasts an entire week.”

“Are you serious?! That’s horrible!” Pause. “You must be glad you’ve had menopause then.”

“I haven’t, but you will know when I do. I’ll keep turning on the air conditioning.”

“Good. It’s ridiculous how you’re always cold.”



Dirty Knees and Grass Stains

A washcloth and my exfoliating lotion cannot cure my 6th grader’s dirty knees. Even after a long shower, the dirt remains – a souvenir from the best moment of his day. Recess.

Today, his knees are fluorescent green.

He dives for the football. Slides into first base. Beats his opponent to the soccer ball only by skidding into it. You see, when you fall, it looks more dramatic. Your effort gets recognized even when you get beat. Top 10 moves on SportsCenter.

So he sacrifices his body for the highlight reel in his mind, dirty grass-stained knees his badge of honor.

I ask him if his friends say anything – “No!” – and realize that he is not alone. There is a little gang of dirty knees proving their mettle in every field and schoolyard.

A Most Critical Review

I wrote a story about our dog, Star and an incident at the North Pole for my second grader. I thought he might want to illustrate it, since he likes to draw.

My older boys read it first. “Mom, this is good!”

But the second grader had major edits.

The premise is that our wild, clumsy, undisciplined Star causes Dasher to break his leg in a pick-up soccer game only seven days before Christmas. Star and her boy owner then must journey to find a substitute flying reindeer in time to save Christmas.

“But it wasn’t really Star’s fault! It was Dasher’s!”


“Dasher was the one who ran too fast and slid on the ice!”

“Good point,” I said.

“It’s not fair that everyone is mad!”

“You’re a very good editor.”

“Star wasn’t even a little bit naughty, Mom.”

“I definitely have to rewrite that part.”


Is he a natural editor, or has he had too many such playground debates? “It’s not my fault! It’s not fair! I wasn’t even that naughty!”

A Pirate in My Minivan

My car stinking of acetone nail polish remover, and my eight year old son weeping in the back, I realized yet again the complexities of parenting. When I first discovered his drawings a few hours before, I was enraged.

Black Sharpie artwork all over the third row seat. A mustached pirate in a big hat holding an A- paper on the leather headrest. A large A+ on the side of of the car. “You are awsom” and a smiley face just below on the plastic armrest. Two eye balls peering out from the back of the middle seat. How did I not feel those eyes watching for an entire week?

A Pirate in My CarAwsom

I wanted to cross out “awsom” and replace it with “dead.” Or correct his spelling.

There will be no trading-in the red minivan, but I am not alone. Other mothers have suffered the same misfortune, stuck with old minivans because of the sins of their children. They offered remedies. A few pointed out that his artistic message was at least positive. No bad words. No sad faces.

And here he was unrepentant, sobbing that I had erased something he had worked so hard on and that made him happy every time he got in the car. His own little sanctuary that lasted for a week.

And so I stared, wondering which parenting path to take, and eventually patch-working together a response, likely muddied by too much nail polish remover.