Superheroes

Most nights at the dinner table, I think to myself that we – my sisters and friends and I – never talked about stuff like this. The Falcons game when Matt Ryan…. But Aaron Rodgers is… Who’s better at…. Who’s gonna win at…..

And the other day, overhearing my ten-year-old son and his friend argue the merits of Iron Man and Black Panther, I caught myself thinking the same. Boys are so different.

But then, I remembered Sabrina.

In my mind, she was the best Charlie’s Angel. The smart one. Never the one who sprained her ankle, got caught by the bad guy, or was stupid enough to fall for him. If we were playing Charlie’s Angels, I claimed her. She was going to solve the crime.

Kelly, of course, was a fan favorite, or Jill, or Chris, and their merits could be argued, for sure. Better hair, if nothing else. But I always fought for Sabrina, the grown-up, slightly nerdy tomboy.

Iron Man. Black Panther. Iron Man. Black Panther.

“The suit made him. He wasn’t a real superhero.”

“He made the suit. His brain made him a superhero.”

She was the smartest. The prettiest. The fastest. The bravest. The best.

Iron Man. Black Panther.

Sabrina. Kelly. Jill.

And then… Joe. Beth. Amy. Meg.

Laura. Mary. Carrie.

And we – my sisters and friends and I – talked about stuff like that all the time.

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What I Didn’t Know About the Boys’ Bathroom

A ski weekend in Vail is always great for people-watching.

“What’s people-watching?” my teenager had asked me earlier in the day as skiers in elaborate costumes – some drunk by noon and very entertaining – lined up for the gondola to celebrate the final day of the ski season.

Seriously? What’s people-watching?

Later, I returned to our restaurant table from the girls’ bathroom and repeated some of the humorous conversations the ladies were engaged in. Comparing shoes. Heels no heels and associated mishaps. Gossip about the wedding they were attending. Dancing in their 60s. The much too short dresses of the younger girls.

“Wait,” my eighth grader looked confused. “They were talking in the bathroom?!”

“Well, yes,” I answered equally confused. “Why do you think girls head to the restroom together?”

Blank stares around the table.

“To talk about stuff,” I added. “Especially boys.”

“While you go to the bathroom?” All three boys looked disgusted. My husband smiled at me.

Apparently, the boys’ bathroom is silent. No talking. All business. Even if it’s just you and your brother. It’s like a rule. You do not talk.

“That’s weird,” they agreed, looking at me sideways as if I had just revealed yet another reason why girls are so strange.

After 15 years of living in a house of all boys I am still learning. No people-watching. No chatting in the bathroom.

From Beer to Socrates

We began dinner with a reference to our fourth grader’s birthday party. His friend made quite an impression by rapidly gulping down a bottle of water and burping.

“He’ll be good when he has to shot-gun a beer,” remarked my husband.

“What’s that?” all three boys wanted to know.

So, Dad described how to shot-gun a beer. The speed of the pour.

“That’s disgusting!” said two out of three. But the third claimed his friends shot-gunned Coca-Cola. Easy for one. The other spewed soda everywhere.

Then… Politics. Hollywood. Moral corruption. Innocent before proven guilty. The power of political parties.

We hit them all, but…

How in the world did the conversation end with our eighth grader commenting, “I sometimes get confused between Aristotle and Socrates”?

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.

Terence, This is Stupid Stuff

Last night, my husband and I were sitting at our fire-pit drinking wine, talking about how people eventually get what’s coming to them. And he said, “That reminds me of a poem I memorized by A.E. Housman.”

Seriously?

He memorized it in high school without being assigned to do so. “I just liked the poem.”

Well, I too memorized poems and Shakespearean monologues when I was young. I got an A on the hardest exam I ever took – 10th grade English, when we had to identify a long list of obscure quotations and say what texts they came from, which author, and why important. I was in multiple plays. I only missed a line once, but in that play, I was actually Head of Costumes, and only because I had memorized most of the lines in Annie Get Your Gun, I was a last-minute understudy.

But I no longer remember any of it. That monologue by Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream? Nope. My favorite quotes from F. Scott Fitzgerald? I’ll have to check the book that I used to keep by my bed. The really hard-to-memorize …ugh… what was the name of that poem… Canterbury Tales. Nope.

I only remember one line, “It’s like the ladies’ restroom at the Oriental Theater.” From Auntie Mame. I was the nanny.

Meanwhile, my husband, the science guy, sitting at the fire-pit at least thirty years later, recited – almost flawlessly and without pause – the second half of Housman’s Terence, This is Stupid Stuff.

And I felt stupid.

So, inspired by my husband with the memory of an elephant, I pulled out my – yes, I kept it –  10th grade Norton’s Anthology, and today, I’m going to re-memorize an old favorite.

Hopefully, it stays in my head long enough to recite it around the fire-pit.

The Stars Were Out Tonight, and…

At dinner tonight, we watched the sun set over the water after exploding from behind a single cloud near the horizon.

We watched the lights come on along the quiet dock.

In a clear sky, we looked for constellations, the usual suspects but strikingly obvious. Big dipper. Orion…. A son’s sarcasm, “There are two stars in a line. They must be some god’s belt!”

While night came on, and my husband and I sipped our wine, our middle school sons debated the meaning of “infinitely small.”

Does “infinitely small” exist? Or do you eventually get to zero? Arms flailed. They argued during pasta and continued to debate over chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream.

Their third grade brother jumped in with “as the universe expands, which it is always doing, what’s small gets smaller.”

I was impressed that he had the confidence to leap into the fray.

And then he grinned, “They think close to the box. I think way outside the box.”

“Seriously?” said the oldest, “I am measurable no matter what happens to the universe.”

And then the two older boys returned to their debate, stars winking at us, lights reflected in the water, and a warm breeze barely whispering above a calm sea.

When I was in middle school, we talked about tv shows, boys, politics. I do not remember considering the universe or its infinite possibilities.