Dinner with Teenagers

When you first have children, you look at them and think how absolutely beautiful they are. You want to hold them, smell them, make them laugh. But as they grow into teenagers, you start to see who they might become with their own set of passions and beliefs. And you see the day when you will learn from them.

They are suddenly interesting. Sometimes more interesting than your colleagues or friends because they are willing to talk about anything, pushing the envelope on your thinking without being afraid that they might offend you. Wondering about things you might not have thought to wonder about. Not knowing any better than to ask the questions you’re not supposed to ask “in good company.”

“Can I try a sip of that?”

Tonight, sitting around the fire pit, the conversation with our thirteen year old morphed from what happened at school today to whether a college education is important and if there is a difference is between Stanford or Harvard or Princeton and a school no one’s heard of. We discussed the education of the last few generations in our families. Left the old country before high school was done and worked as a bus driver. First to go to college. Focused on a premiere college because that was your guarantee of a better life. And now here we are, calling college an expensive IQ test and almost expecting it to implode before our children’s children think about applying.

A week or two ago, we talked about both sides of the abortion issue. Mom and dad, do you guys agree on this one? The black, white and gray of a complex, emotional issue.

And for the last two weeks, our fourteen year old lectured us at dinner on the complex and resilient history of Germany. We helped him strategize about how to win WWII in his-school assigned role as the leader of the evil Axis. How did you get Germany?

Then when we are tired of academic banter, the teens catch their breath, readying themselves for the next argument about the NFL Draft, because a night doesn’t go by in April without analyzing every move made by our favorite Packers, Falcons, Broncos and Chiefs this year and for the last ten years.

Because that’s fun at dinner too.

The Puberty Excuse

Please note: The nine year old, no matter what he says, is a master chore-avoider. But yes, teenage brothers can be disappointing.

His big brother is being a jerk, so he storms up the beach and sits in the chair next to mine with his arms crossed in anger. “He is such a teenager!”

“That’s no excuse to be mean,” I say, as witness.

“I know! If he doesn’t want to play basketball, he says he’s too tired, because he’s in puberty,” a good mimic. “When he doesn’t want to play football with us, he uses the puberty excuse again.”

As if “the puberty excuse” is a real term everyone uses.

“When you make us switch the laundry, we fold everything wondering where he is, calling his name, and he doesn’t come help. All he has to do is load the dirty stuff, but noooooo. And when we’re all done, we find him watching some dumb YouTube video in his room, and he looks up and says, ‘I can’t help it. I’m in puberty.’”

The nine year old marches off, still ranting, “It drives me crazy.”

When He Grows Up, He Will Be…

Yesterday, as our family walked through the airport, I realized something had changed. Our oldest, who usually moves a step slower than the rest of us, was walking ahead of his younger brothers and me. He wasn’t whispering to me at the back of the line “I’m tired” or “I hate airports.” I wasn’t whispering back, “keep up with Dad”, because….

…he was walking at a fast clip with Dad.

Father and son moved through the airport together, stride for stride, in lively conversation, making each other laugh. Two peas in a pod.

They share a goofy humor tinged occasionally with wit and old soul. They compete over technology purchases and know-how. Our son has adopted his father’s odd mix of political opinions, peppered with a splattering of mismatched ideas of his own.

Over the last fourteen years, I have often thought that they are happy with each other, so non-judgmental, because they are nothing alike. I was wrong. Watching their backs, their easy comfort in each other’s presence, I caught a glimpse of the adult he is becoming.

Like father, like son.

It’s Puberty, Mom

On Saturday night, my fourteen year old son was tugging gently at his hair when I peeked into his room to say goodnight, something he has done since infancy to soothe himself. It’s a sign that he is deep in thought, worried, chewing on something that happened that day or the day before.

I asked what was up.

“I’m socially awkward.”

On Friday, the last of his eighth grade class found out where they got into high school. Although he has known since Thanksgiving, it must have hit him suddenly that change is coming. I received two phone calls and an email from his teachers that day saying he was distracted, and could I please have him finish his assignments over the weekend.

… so the hair tugging on Saturday made sense.

“And no one thinks I’m funny.”

I held back a laugh. He is funny. Maybe just not 8th grade boy funny.

On Monday afternoon, I received a request from him for a free workout app. This from a kid who dreads exercise.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“I’m feeling self-conscious.”

I approved the download, and he did a workout before dinner, bragging about the number of squats and sit-ups he did. Then before bed, “Can you start waking me up early?”

“Really?”

“I want to work out, and I should shower before school. And can I try a fried egg for breakfast? I hear they’re really good for you.”

“I’m proud of you,” I hugged him.

“It’s puberty, mom. It sucks.”

Serious, Seriously?

On Monday, my son’s Spanish teacher emailed me to let me know that he was upset. He had forgotten about a quiz scheduled for that day, even though it was posted on her website and announced in class.

On Tuesday, he went to Freshman Registration Night at the high school he plans to attend next year. His schedule is going to be really tough. So while his teacher had recommended Spanish III, I suggested taking Spanish II, so he isn’t slammed from all sides.

Nope. “I should take Spanish III.”

“I don’t know,” I shook my head, imagining another four years of nagging and checking up on him.

“Mom, it’s time I took school seriously.”

Well, you can’t argue with that… until an hour later when I received a late-night, bail-out email from his Social Studies teacher, saying that he “probably knows this, and has yet to start… but please remind him to…”

“Aw man, I forgot!”

He didn’t even remember that it was his turn to bring snack today. How can you be a serious student when you can’t even remember snack?!

Slow Dancing in Middle School

Friday: 9:00 p.m. I walk into the middle school, 80s-themed dance to pick up my guys. My I-don’t-talk-to-girls seventh grader is hidden in a clump of other seventh graders wearing neon. I can’t see who he is dancing with, but one of the teacher-chaperones reports over the music that while he may not talk to girls, he does dance with them.

In a small crowd of eighth graders, I see mine slow dancing, his hands on her hips, her hands on his shoulders. Lots of sunshine between them (had they been dancing outside). Step. Step. Step. Eyes darting around the room. Barely talking even though they have been good friends since kindergarten.

As one of the girls supposedly reported to her mom later, what happened to those six weeks of Cotillion? Should I give my guys some direction, or enjoy their awkwardness for another year?

At least they were willing to talk after.

Post-Dance with the Seventh Grader

“Who did you dance with?”

“Can’t remember.” Then he listed three different girls. “But seriously, mom, middle school dances? I don’t think they should have them. A lot of kids aren’t ready.” He described a classmate who stood in the corner all night with his GoPro filming for his YouTube channel. “And a bunch of my friends didn’t even go.”

“But did you have fun?”

“It wasn’t bad.”

Post-Dance with the Eighth Grader

“The girls were dressed weird.” While the boys all chose their shabbiest, I-am-not-trying-to-impress-you clothes, the more spirited girls were in theme – 80s Footloose style.

“And the seventh graders slow dance wrong. It drove me crazy!” I barely stifled a guffaw. “You’re supposed to put your hands on their hips, not their shoulders.”

As I was saying, a little guidance before the graduation dance may be in order. A spin. A graceful twirl. A slow tango through the crowd.