Boys’ Night

Last night, the fourth grade boys celebrated next week’s start of school with an all-boys’ outdoor movie night. The night was put on as part of an effort to establish some traditions for them that bring them together as a group.

Kickball. Catching up. The third Raiders of the Lost Ark. Pizza. Cupcakes. Brownies. Candy. Popcorn.

With the sun refusing to set, and after some very loud happy play, they sat around the picnic tables talking. One excited crew poured juice on each other’s heads. One head injury ended up in the ER. They are boys, after all.

But as darkness fell, and cool air promising a 10:00 rainstorm blew across the yard, they snuggled up together under their blankets. Two boys huddled in low beach chairs here. Another two in chairs there. Seven or eight in a big pile in the grass like puppies.

Thunder rumbled as the movie ended. The first raindrops fell just as they untangled from the cozy pack and went home.

Their first night out past bedtime.

Wanna Walk to Five Guys?

My thirteen-year-old didn’t like the lunch choices at home today. So, I told him he could go to Five Guys for a burger.

“I can?!”

But I was already eating my lunch.

“You mean I can ride my bike there?” he asked incredulously. This would be a first.

I suggested that if he walked, his older brother, who doesn’t like to ride bikes, might go with him.

Really?” they said together.

The older brother quickly signed on, saying with his dark eyebrows raised, “And if we walk, we can taaaalk,” insinuating that they actually have some previously agreed-to thing to taaaalk about.

Oh, to be a fly on route to Five Guys!

Bouncy World

On beach vacations since I was eight, our toes typically remained in the sand, except for an afternoon of mini golf or a few trips for penny candy. So, a beach vacation where the beach itself is not spectacular, means readjusting expectations.

Well, my expectations. The kids are not as tied down.

So, when the largest bouncy water slide we’d ever seen loomed into view high above us on Day One, I privately groaned. And when the one slide turned into an entire park of bouncy castle fun, I knew, reluctantly, I was doomed to miss at least a day of beach time.

One side of the park houses water slides of all sizes. No shoes. No socks. Probably not quite sanitary. The other side is home to dry bouncy adventures. Socks, please. For a dollar, we bought a pair of black socks for the nine-year-old in flip-flops. New or from the Lost and Found? I’d rather not know.

In-between the two lands – wet and dry – are two snack bars, picnic tables, beach chairs, and even cabanas for $50 a day extra. Families bring their coolers and stay the day or check into the adjacent motel for stay-and-play special weekends.

And the place, unimagined by me prior to this week, was packed.

I let my guys loose, found a chair in the sun, and opened a good book. They played for more than three hours, and would have stayed much longer. No fights. No whining. No injuries. No “can we go home now?”

One stopped by for a rest every so often. Another sat for a snack, then rushed off again, dragging his older brother with him. I only caught glimpses of the youngest racing between slides, or heard his voice yelling as he plummeted downward or calling out a challenge to whatever child waited in line behind him.

“The best part of vacation!” “We have to come back!”

As we fly home, I already miss the sun and the sand, and the possibility of every day being a good beach day. But I have to admit, Bouncy World – in all its plasticky, dirty, strange distortion of my vacation expectations – was the highlight for the boys, ready to go back in a second.

First Catch

During last week’s camping trip, and our youngest son’s second fishing outing, he bemoaned the fact that he has never caught a fish. So, in a stellar Dad move, my husband asked a friend where to go, got a fishing license, and we all (crazy dog included) drove up to Jefferson Lake, Colorado. It’s a beautiful location in the mountains, and it was a gorgeous summer day.

We walked about a half mile along the shore and set up camp. I was in charge of the dog, who was much-enamored with the chipmunks.

About an hour later, a shout went out across the water. “I caught a fish! I caught a fish!” So ridiculously loud, in his usual way, that I am surprised all the fish didn’t immediately vacate the premises.

We raced toward him with net, tackle box, camera, and cheers.

“I feel like I won the lottery!” he beamed.

The best though, was how he carried the dead fish back to the car, out in front of him, smiling from ear to ear, slowing down as he approached other fishermen and their families, so they could stop and look and express how impressed they were with his catch.

If that weren’t awesome enough, in a second stellar Dad move, there was a recipe waiting at home. The proud fishermen prepared and cooked the rainbow trout in butter and brown sugar, and then we all ate.

I think he might be hooked.

Twelve Days in the Wilderness

My eighth grade Environmental Science trip included a week of canoeing and camping, and I remember it like it was yesterday. The night it rained so hard our tent collapsed. M&M soap operas with rationed candy. Being first in line in the cave. Learning to steer.

I am one of the few who loved middle school, and that week was the best of it. So, I was excited when my son wanted to go on his school’s version of that trip. Still, sending him off into the wilderness was a little unnerving. He’s the one who admits to being afraid of the dark. The one who hates to exercise. The one who wants pasta every night for dinner.

So, during their two-day drive to the boundary waters in Canada, I expected some hint from him how he was doing. It turns out, no one on the trip called home before leaving their cell phones with the outfitter.

And his texts went like this:

“At Wall Drug.”

“I found your letter.” (I left a little card in his backpack telling him how proud of him I am and how excited that he gets to go on this adventure.)

“Mini golf course.”

“The fleas on the prairie dogs in the Badlands had the bubonic plague.”

“Yes.” “You too.” “Too late. Goodnight.”

Then… “Good night. Not bringing my phone canoeing, so this might be my last text message. I love you!”

And as the days of his adventure go by, I realize that I never called my parents. We didn’t have cell phones. And like me learning to navigate the river, they were fine.

Mom’s Overreactions

“Once again,” our fourteen year old announced as he climbed into the car after school, “you totally overreacted.”

Apparently, the math quiz I made him study for that morning was only two problems. “You always panic about nothing.”

We are in a funny cycle into which lots of middle school boys and their moms fall. I let up on nagging, his grades go down. I nag, he “remembers” to do his homework, his grades stabilize, and he thinks the “crazy overreacting” – and more importantly, the fact that he actually studied – is completely unrelated to the newly acquired A.

So, every time he does well on a test, he celebrates with a big smile and… “See! Everything was fine, Mom!”

Like I’m a crazy, stressed-out wacko instead of his way-cool, full-of-wisdom mom, who just can’t understand why he doesn’t get the game.

If you do the homework, you get the A. You win.

In the Dursleys’ Wine Cellar

Our youngest is not a “bed” guy. For years, he slept on the floor in his brothers’ rooms, dragging sleeping bags, blankets, pillows, stuffed animals and his book down the hall every night.

With the older two entering teen-dom, however, their patience eventually dried up. So, he set up camp on the floor in his own room right next to his bed. It took us a few months of cajoling to realize he is afraid of falling out of bed. So, we bought a queen-size mattress and put it on the floor (no bedsprings) with new super soft, red fleece sheets.

It worked. For months, he climbed into bed every night, then spent ten minutes methodically setting up shop. Large stuffed bear and pillows along the non-wall side. Seven foxes snuggled against Big Bear in order of whose night of the week it was to sleep closest to him. “Blue Blanky” as first blanket, because it’s his favorite, then the others on top.

But something snapped.

He realized that if he pulls the mattress away from the wall, he can set up a bed back there… on the floor.

The ten-minute bedtime process got moved.

Then two nights ago, when he was feeling sorry for himself, it moved again…

…to the closet.

“I want to hide from the world!”

Big Bear, Blue Blanky, pillow, foxes, flashlight, book all in the smallest possible place to sleep. Shirts hanging just above him.

“Like Harry Potter’s bed at the Dursleys’,” I said, thinking that would discourage him. But by Night #2, it was his happy place.

Harry had to sleep in the wine cellar. Remember? It was under the stairs.”

As if that made all the difference.

And in all my years of reading Harry Potter books, I never pictured the Durselys drinking wine.