Goodbye, Sticker Chart

In mid-fall, our fourth grader was having trouble controlling his emotions and his desire to be chatty at school. So, we started a sticker chart to get him through.

As he walked down the carpool line, I always knew by his body language whether he had earned the sticker or not. And he was very honest about it. “Nope!” he would announce without me having to ask, and then launch into the story of that day’s misadventure.

After 20 stickers, he could purchase an under-$20 prize. The first 20 were tough, but he got there. Then we raised it to 30 stickers. That round went too fast, and I kept forgetting that he hadn’t received his second reward.

Yesterday, two months since we’ve even looked at the sticker chart, he reminded me that he was owed.

The he put his hand gently on my arm, “But this is the last. I don’t need stickers anymore.”

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The Call from Ski Patrol

We are fortunate that the calls we’ve received from ski patrol over the years were not due to major injuries. A vomiting child. A fainting spell in line for the gondola. And now….

Last weekend, the call came just as we were about to order a late lunch. Apparently, our ten-year-old was being brought down the mountain in a toboggan after a ski school injury to his ankle.

Or somewhere on his foot?

Maybe his leg?

His ride from China Bowl to ski patrol led him to the opposite side of the mountain from our lunch spot. So, I raced to get him. A gondola ride down with a group of hilarious women who claimed to “apres ski all day” and complained of a daughter-in-law who doesn’t ski because “all she does is sit around eating hamburgers.” Then a jaunt from that base to the next, where ski patrol was holding him.

The ski patrol dudes were lovely and patient. He wouldn’t let them take his boot off. “I would bring him back to the condo, put his feet up, and if he is still in pain tomorrow, take him for an x-ray. You know kids though. They’re fast healers.”

He didn’t exactly wink at me, but I knew.

A bus ride back to the base where we parked with the little guy performing a dramatic limp that actually put more weight on the injured ankle than the healthy one.

“Was the ride down scary or fun?” I asked, distracting him as I slid off his red ski boots.

“Well,” he winced between words, “it would have been really fun if I wasn’t in pain.”

Sneakers on. A slow walk to get mom some food. As we passed the skating rink, he brightened up…

“Can I go skating?”

Ankle? Foot? Leg? Where’d that crazy limp go?

Such a fast healer.

Best Friends

With Christmas Break at its half-way point, our guys were starting to pick on, and at, each other. Sarcasm laced dinner conversation. It was annoying. So, we challenged them to be nice for 24 hours. Every time we caught them being mean to one another, or sarcastic about the other, they paid me a dollar to help pay for a dinner out.

I was named, “the arbiter of niceness.”

In less than fifteen minutes, our ninth grader accumulated $7 in debt to the bucket. The eighth grader was lawyering up, as he tends to do, debating his $3. The fourth grader was grinning at $2.

And “best two dollars I ever spent,” said my husband as the dishes were cleared.

The funny thing is that our eighth grader is trying to decide whether to go to the high school he thinks he likes best, or the one his big brother goes to. It is a tough choice for him, because academics matter to him… a lot.

But they are each other’s best friends. We cannot imagine them apart. We cannot imagine one going through high school without the other. They will lift each other up, quietly in the background of any picture. The presence of one will inspire the other to engage.

When they were in elementary school, they walked the carpool line at the end of the day, each at their own speed. I remember feeling sad that the one didn’t race to catch up with the other even if both dragged along the sidewalk alone. And I remember that as soon as they were both in middle school, that changed. They were suddenly always side by side, sometimes with friends weaving in and out between them, sometimes not. I loved watching them talk as they approached the car, wondering what had them so animated until they spilled in, long legs and too-heavy backpacks, both talking at once.

They are not the same. They operate at completely different speeds, the one always begging the other to play football or basketball, and the other begging for peace. They perceive the world through their own lenses – different sports teams, politics, favorite classes, favorite foods, humor. And often watching them, we think that if we blended their opposites into one person, they would be absolutely unbeatable as they move through this world.

Together, despite the $10 of mean fees earned quickly at the dinner table, they are amazing. I hope it Is not long before they understand and celebrate how very rare – how important – their friendship is. Maybe in time to choose a high school.

Thanksgiving Week on the Farm

Outside the kitchen window at Goose Hill is a blur of whites and grays, ending on the far side of the pond in near-black due to the shade of the pine trees reflected in already dark water. The first morning, looking out at the snowy hill down to the pond, we drank apple cider from the apple trees that grow in the fields closest to the house. Tomorrow morning, we will use the farm’s applies to bake a Thanksgiving pie.

We trudged through the snowy woods to investigate the year-old maple project, lines of light blue tubing crossing down the hill connecting the maples that we helped mark and count while the decision to launch this new business was being considered. The beech trees have been felled since we were here last, opening the path to the sky, the trunks and logs on the forest floor setting the agenda for next summer’s trip here.

We toured the maple shack where it gets processed and bought a case of real maple syrup made from the farm’s own trees. Good Christmas gifts for our friends and teachers back home who will nevermore be content with Aunt Jemima.

Yesterday, we moved a pile of rocks dumped at the edge of the road to build a Cotswald-ish wall along the shed, where tractors and ATVs sleep. Then together, the seven of us gathered – and counted – more than 5,000 black walnuts scattered across the path between the house and the barn. Grandpa promised 5 cents for every 20 walnuts, and a quick online search informed us that 100 pounds of hulled walnuts get you $15, maybe enough to pay the gas to the hulling station. So, the kids made trips back and forth in the ATV to dump them in the ravine, where they will fatten happy squirrels.

The boys have gone sledding, played football in the snow, used trees and the big red barn’s roof as targets for their snowballs.

And yet, the week feels sleepy. Nourishing in some way even before we carve the Thanksgiving bird, knowing that the comical turkeys peering in the window while we feasted last year have gone wild in the woods.

Parenting at Midnight

I have been waiting for my 8th grader to crash. Last night was the Middle School play, for which he was on Tech Crew, arriving home at 9:30 to do his Math homework. The night before, he attended a high school open house after showing up at school early for robotics, then working on Tech Crew after school, eventually coming home at 9:00 to take an online Science test. The night before that, a two-hour basketball practice. His first of the season.

On Friday night, he will get home from basketball practice at 8:30, then wake up early Saturday for an all-day robotics competition. He’s been putting in a lot of hours across the board.

But he has been full of energy through it all. With an “I’m good!” anytime I asked if he needed help or wanted to wait until morning to complete assignments.

Last night was the same. Chatty. Feeling great about the play. “I’m good!” The Math, he claimed, was easy.

Then just before midnight…

“Mom, I threw up.” All over both levels of his bunk bed.

Sigh. I pulled on socks and a sweatshirt to survive the chill after sleeping deeply in my warm bed. Took a look at the damage, then headed to the kitchen for Clorox wipes and paper towels, where…

…the floor surrounding the dishwasher was flooded with soapy bubbles.

And the first thought that entered my head (after “I’m going to kill whoever put the wrong soap in the dishwasher”) was that if anyone has the right to cry it’s him. Not me.

“I’m sorry, Mom,” he whispered at me. Not crying.

Deep breath before re-entering the vomit-y bedroom. “We’ve got to wake up Dad” to divide and conquer.

Together, we cleaned up the bubbles on the kitchen floor. Threw our son’s blankets in the shower, then to the laundry. Clorox wiped the bedroom floor. Then cleaned out the chunks collected at the shower drain. Took out the trash. Put together a comfy bed on the floor for our very tired boy, who fell instantly back to sleep.

Then back in our own room, “I can’t fall back to sleep.”

“Me neither. I’m not good at throw up.”

“Me neither.”

“And my stomach hurts.”

My Teenagers’ Friends

My best friend is very likely still my best friend because she was nice to my younger sisters. When she invited me to the mall or movies, she assumed they would tag along. Never in our entire friendship did she ask ”do they have to come?” or act annoyed that they dragged out their sleeping bags for our sleepovers. She just embraced being the fourth sister – as responsible for my sisters as I was.

I guess that’s why I judge the friends of my two teenage boys by how they respond to a little brother in their midst.

He’s ten. He’s loud. He wants to play. He thinks he’s one of the big dogs… but really, he’s still the little guy. He might cheat. He might even cry.

So, I love teenagers who are good to him, and his two older brothers seem to hold onto the friends who are.

Last night, a long-legged teenage boy ascended the stairs from our basement brandishing a nerf gun. My ten-year-old was at his heels. The teenager – a friend of our eighth grader – wore a too-small army helmet and a knight’s silver armor from old Halloween costumes. The little guy wore an orange ski helmet, goggles and a grin from ear to ear… because they were playing his game, on his terms.

And it struck me instantly, as it has before, that this lanky teenager is a great kid. I’m glad he’s my son’s friend.

It was hours later, trying to fall asleep, that something else entered my mind. Does it ever cross his mind to say, “Do we have to?” Because I realized it never crossed mine, as we were trying to be cool teenagers, that my best friend might not want little sisters tagging along. And…

She was ten. She was loud. She just wanted to play…

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”?