In Confession

My 13-year-old son went to Confession last week for the first time at school with limited prep or warning. I remember mine, sitting across from our family’s favorite priest in his office.  I’d been preparing for weeks in CCD. We talked about my family and friends and school. Then he asked….

“Do you take care of your little sisters? Get along with them?”

Yes, I smiled. So far, so good.

“Do you listen to your parents?”

Of course, but… is there a trick question?

“Are you nice to you friends?” Check.

“Listen to your teachers?” Check.

At 9 or 10, I was clearly lacking in both mischief and creativity. I left his office relieved, but greatly disappointed.

So, given this teenage boy’s proclivity for misadventure, combined with a wear-it-on-your-sleeve approach to feelings, I would have loved to be a fly on the wall. But….

“It was a little awkward since I had no idea what I was supposed to do.”

Then….

“I made something up about hiding the remote when I got mad at my brothers…”

… hundreds of times, if truth be told. 

That 43-34 Victory Really Hurt

The NFL season has officially begun. The determination Thursday afternoon to get everything done in time for that night’s Chiefs win was awesome. The boys’ banter grew louder Sunday morning, their complaints about homework and remote learning and chores silenced by the anticipation of football season… here at last.

Yet soon after midnight on this first Sunday, our 17-year-old stood at the edge of our bed. “Mom?” he whispered just loud enough to wake me and with that edge in his voice that warns of late-night tears. 

He had been so proud earlier as his Green Bay Packer team racked up the points. Giddy with the return of the game, the possibilities of a new season, a healthy Aaron Rodgers, a better-than-ever Davante Adams. A 43-34 win!

He had enthusiastically embraced Dad’s decree that this particular die-hard fan had to celebrate every time the Packers scored with the number of sit-ups and push-ups reflected on the scoreboard. Who knew it would be….

The first seven were easy. The next fourteen not too bad. He grinned through it. 43-34! He boasted about the team even as his arms tired.

But later, with the house dark and the sound of his own cheers fading over the cruelty of a sleepless night, this six-foot-one teenager was desperate for help.

“Mom,” he whispered again, “My arms hurt so bad, I can’t sleep.”

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.

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.”

Exam Anxiety…. or Not?

“Mom,” he said on Wednesday when I called to make sure our 16-year-old was home safely, “you’re going to be sooooo mad at me.”

My heart skipped a beat. “What happened?”

“Well, my APUSH teacher doesn’t believe in giving an exam after you take the AP Test, so…”

Oh no.

“…he always gives it early, and….”

Not again.

“I forgot. It was on Monday.”

All those high school stress dreams flashed through my head. Showing up on exam day having not studied. Never having shown up to class. Can’t find the classroom. Wearing only underwear. “You forgot an exam?”

Seriously? 

“It was fine.”

“Fine?!”

“I got an A.”

His brother, hearing the story later, looked at him like he had two heads. And horns. “You forgot you had an exam? How does that happen?”

Apparently, this teenager missed the memo about his “anxiety-ridden” generation… oh, yeah, the one about the exam too.

It’s Time to Do the Puzzle

.Last night, the family attended a Boxing Day Junkanoo, a colorful, musical street parade in the Bahamas. At 9:00 p.m., just as the floats approached where we stood against a white fence, and the horns and drums and flashing lights with them, my 87-year-old father-in-law suddenly didn’t look good. Didn’t feel good. 

My husband ran to get the golf cart. I ducked through the crowd in the opposite direction, across the street, looking for someone selling water though I had no money. I returned just ahead of the first float.

But what struck me most about the evening took place once we are all back in the quiet of the house. Grandpa was fine and resting in bed. That day, he had walked two-miles on the beach, spent another hour sitting in the sun, shared in the wine at dinner, then joined us in the Junkanoo crowd. He just needed rest. But we remained concerned, a little on edge, adrenaline still high from what had looked like an emergency.

And in that moment of what-do-we-do-now, our sixteen-year-old shined. It might sound silly to notice it as an important moment to anyone who has not watched him grow up. But…

He walked over to the puzzle, its edges completed by the rest of us earlier in the day while he played Clash of the Clans on his phone. He has never enjoyed puzzles. Not sure he has ever worked on one. But he saw that, despite the late hour, Grandma wasn’t ready for bed. 

“Well, Grandma,” he offered, “I think it’s time to do the puzzle.”

He did it so gracefully, so easily that no one but me noticed what he’d done. He is becoming such a sweet, good man.

She sat down opposite him, and they got to work, him chatting to her mostly, and celebrating each connection until she grew tired and said goodnight.

A 16 Year Old Gets His Driver’s License

When most sixteen-year-old kids walk out of the driving test with their new license, they can’t stop smiling. They know that they just earned themselves a new level of freedom…. and for some, a car.

“You’re a good, safe driver. You passed!” said the nice lady with the clipboard at the DMV.

We both grinned.

But his smile was much bigger when she asked, “Would you like to preregister to vote?”

It was fun to see for a mom who used to love politics.

A week before, he hounded me to fill out my mail-in ballot and read out loud from various websites as I considered each candidate and ballot issue.

A few nights later, he stayed up late watching the mid-term election results slowly roll in. I was surprised by how much he knew about the candidates from each state (not just ours), and how, when he didn’t know, he looked them up.

“Do you know your Party affiliation?” the nice lady at the DMV asked.

It was fun to see for a mom who used to love politics… even though…

He couldn’t contain his glee, “Should I really pick my Party, Mom?”

I guess, at least for now, we’ll just cancel each other out.

“I get to vote in the next election!”

But he’s reminded me what it feels like to love politics.

His First AP Test

He’s a freshman taking AP Human Geography. It’s his lowest grade entering exams. But when I dropped him off this morning to take his first AP Test, I gave him a high-five, “You’ve got this!”

Keeping our fingers crossed…

5 Days To Go: He begins re-reading his text book. A few hours, face serious, with the book open.

“Can I take a break?”

“Nope.”

“I’m soooo tired.”

“Focus.”

“You’re soooo mean!”

4 Days To Go: Same thing. Book open. Occasionally shouting out interesting facts. Then, Dad starts quizzing him.

Not good. Blank stares. Lots of “we didn’t learn that” and “wait… I know this… don’t say anything…” then “why can’t I remember?!”

Time to intervene.

3 Days To Go: I find an AP Human Geography Quizlet online. More than 900 terms. Multiple ways to test himself. “This is your life for the next three days. Go!”

“Can I take a break?”

“Nope.”

“A snack?”

“Focus.”

“You’re soooo mean!”

2 Days To Go: Amazon Prime delivers AP Human Geography flashcards. Quizlet by day. Flashcards with Mom by night.

“Can I go to bed?”

“10 more.”

“You’re soooo mean!”

1 Day To Go: Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. And then… “We did that one last night!” and “Ohhhhhh, nailed it!”

And then, finally headed to bed… “I’m really looking forward to the test tomorrow. I think I enjoy reaching mental capacity.”

Another Day at the Museum

Yesterday, with no school on a Friday, my high school freshman asked if I would take him to the Museum of Nature and Science. As we were walking out the door, his friend texted that he too was home. So, he joined. It has long been a favorite place for both of them.

Over the years, I’ve stood in the center of the Space Odyssey watching as they journeyed from earth to mars and the moon – early on, donning astronaut costumes in the toddler dress-up area. I’ve followed their eyes skyward to count dinosaur bones hanging from the ceiling. Held my son’s hand – smaller then – when he was too scared to enter the dimly lit mine shaft to see sparkling gems and minerals.

Most fun was always Expedition Health, where they tested their height and arm span, knowledge of nutrition, and their resting and target heart rates. I remember them being barely tall enough to climb on the bikes for that. There, they have donned lab coats, goggles and plastic gloves to run numerous DNA experiments over the last decade. I have at least one picture from back in the day. Little guys. Chubby cheeks. The lab coats so big on them, hems hit the floor.

So yesterday, as these two nearly six-foot-tall young men enjoyed the museum in a sea of tiny elementary school kids, I was compelled to take another. Two hours in and eager to stay longer. Back in their lab coats and goggles. All smiles.