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”?

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October Snow Dance

Rumors of an early snow day had three boys in my house in a virtual tizzy last night. And they concocted a few odd rituals to deliver the snow.

The eighth grader ran outside while we were finishing dinner and yelled into the dark, snowless ski, “Snow gods, make it snow!”

The fourth grader followed him out the door, but decided the snow gods would take more notice if he stripped down to his orange striped underwear. “We want a snow day!”

“No school!” called the ninth grader from the doorway.

I am not sure who came up with the final plea. For that, they dumped ice cubes into the toilet.

Then this morning, when only a dusting graced our lawn, they blamed the little guy. “You put too much ice in.”

Funny. I assumed it was the dance in his underwear.

Ten Years in the Minivan

What’s the matter with the car I’m driving?
“Can’t you tell that it’s out of style?”
Should I get a set of white wall tires?
“Are you gonna cruise a miracle mile?

Nowadays you can’t be too sentimental
….’

…but the minivan was my signature. I didn’t need the school sticker on my bumper or my carpool number on the dashboard, because everyone knew the red minivan in carpool line was me.

Yesterday we traded it in, and my husband’s car became mine. It’s a much better, safer, cooler car. But I still feel a little sentimental, a need to record and preserve the memories made during the last ten years. Almost exactly. We bought it a few weeks before our third son was born. “We need a bigger car.” And he turns ten next month.

Remember….

….those early days when I had to pin him down like we were wrestling to get him in his car seat? Him screaming? Writhing? Me wondering if I was going to get arrested for child abuse?

….or the time the car smelled so bad even after we had it detailed, and it ended up that some breakfast sausage links I carried with me for toddler snacks had slid between the seats weeks before?

….the time I drove home from a ski weekend in below zero, snowy weather, and our middle son puked all over the back seat? I pulled over at that abandoned-for-the-winter sleepaway camp and changed him out of his gross wet clothes, both of us crying, sure he was going to get pneumonia.

….or a few years later, when he puked all over his friend on the way up to the mountains?

What about the time our youngest decorated his “happy place” by using a sharpie to draw a pirate scene in the third row seat? And then got mad at me because I scrubbed it off?

….or when his brother’s friends laughed so hard at the story that he did it again?!

….or when one of the few girls to ever get in my car climbed in, and after a quick look stated, “Wow! Your car is dirtier than ours.”

Remember the minivan caravan to Mount Rushmore? The camping trips? The embarrassment of swiping another mom’s car mirror in carpool line? The fights over who had to sit in the seat with goo stuck to it?

The day our oldest first rode in the front seat? Or our dog refusing to give it up?

Her nose smudges and dirty paw scratches on the windows, because, barking in my ear, blocking my view of the road, she tried to get at every truck that passed us by?

What about waiting for dad to pick us up at the airport one night? The boys spotted it in the dark distance because, “Mom, it’s the only minivan in the world that goes 90 miles an hour.”

The racing red minivan. A little sticky in places. A lot of dirt. Stories that make us laugh now. It was “still rock in roll to me.”

Their Personal Travel Profiles

We are working with a travel agent to plan next summer’s trip to Italy, and she requested that everyone in the family fill out a questionnaire. It includes things like favorite travel memories, things you like to do, your style, most important hotel amenity, and more.

“Mom, what’s an ‘amenity’?”

“Mom, what’s an ‘indulgence’?”

“Ohhhh…. Chocolate!” They simultaneously scribbled away.

My fourteen-year-old got to: “Check One: Flip-Flops and Beer? Or Sport Coat and Wine?”

“I’m definitely a sport-coat-and-wine guy.” Check. Meanwhile, his heels hung over the back edge of blue, too-small-by-the-end-of-summer flip-flops. And he was wearing a Green Bay Packers t-shirt for the second or third time this week. “Yeah, totally see myself in a sport coat with a glass of wine like this…”

He posed. Very sophisticated.

“I’m not answering that one,” said his thirteen-year-old brother. “I’m a non-alcoholic kind of guy.”

Then he got to “Is there anything else we should know in planning your trip to Italy?”

“I don’t like Italian food.” He grinned, “That’ll really throw her for a loop!”

 

 

Bigfoot, Click Bait, and the Eclipse

We went on a pilgrimage from Denver to Alliance, Nebraska to watch the eclipse from the Totality Zone. I was dubious that waking up at 3am and a nearly ten-hour round trip drive through dry, brown, flat land would be worth it.

But you can’t turn down an adventure with three boys, their grandparents, and a husband willing to do all the driving. Something spectacular is bound to happen.

Like plenty of pilgrims before us, our seven did not quite make it to the “holy land”, distracted by a dirt road along train tracks that were surrounded by fields of sunflowers. Soon other weary travelers joined us. A friendly group of families and retirees and young couples from as far away as Texas – all with picnics, beach chairs, cameras and eclipse glasses.

We walked and read and chatted in the sunshine. New neighbors described having turned back from the crowded streets, lack of parking, and overflowing restaurants of Alliance, which had at least doubled its population for the event.

A field of sunflowers in the center of the Totality Zone had won our hearts.

“It started!” came the shout by a group of retirees sipping white wine.

And our kids, entertaining themselves through the slow progression, made up ideas for Youtube videos that they call “click bait” – titles, often proclaiming something ridiculously untrue, created merely to earn millions of viewers.

Who knew?

Alien abduction reported in Alliance. Seven people missing post-eclipse.

“Let’s shave your head and eyebrows and cover your face in green paint,” said the thirteen-year-old to his younger brother. “Aliens don’t have eyebrows. And we’ll figure out how to make your eyes bulge. I’ll make a video of the eclipse, and then we’ll layer you in pretending to eat the sun.”

Bigfoot Seen at Eclipse.

In another plan, as the temperature dropped and a strange-but-beautiful dimming of lights changed the colors of the fields around us, he suggested that his older brother “walk like Bigfoot up on the train tracks, and I’ll video the eclipse in the background.”

Then… totality. Cheers erupted down the line of pilgrims. Sudden darkness with a pink band at the horizon any way you turned. The moon and sun as one.

Amazing.

First Two Days of High School

When he started at his last school, he was four, and his three-year-old brother was in class with him – a two-year preschool.

I walked him in every day. I waited until the teacher hugged him or shook his hand or said good morning. I volunteered in the classroom with other moms – for a number of us, it was our first or only. And we have been laughing, encouraging, comparing notes ever since.

But at this new school – high school – he forges his own path. No mom. No little brother fingerpainting at the next easel. Only one known friend among 500 in his class. We both know it would look silly for me to walk him in. I don’t know his teachers, and they haven’t watched him grow up. Don’t yet know his slow-to-reveal humor and wonderful personality.

His brother asked to come yesterday when I picked him up after his first day. “It feels weird that I’ve never even seen his school.”

And when our high schooler got out of the car on the morning of Day 2, he sighed, “I feel a little sad.”

Me too, sweetie. But you get stronger, more impressive every day. You’re going to do great!

Independence is Good, Mom

My friend moved back into the neighborhood where we met more than 40 years ago, and recently described how the quiet streets where we roamed have opened up a new-found independence for her daughters too. Her girls ride their bikes to the pool like we did, walk to restaurants for lunch, stop in at the grocery store for snacks like we did, and sometimes don’t come home until after 10 at night. It’s summer after all. And she is excited for them, because she remembers how much fun we had at their age.

Soon after, my sisters were re-telling a story about a funny walk home from the same grocery store, now remodeled and shinier. We laugh every time we remember it, and top that one with other oft-remembered suburban adventures with each other and our friends.

But our mom worries that too many of our stories were unbeknownst to her. She wonders aloud, in fact, if she was the engaged, good mother she thought she was.

Silly wonderings of every mom – jennswonderings  – as our children grow up. Was I a good mom? Did I guide them well? Did they know how much I loved them?

What she forgets, as she worries, is that our stories are happy ones. That we look back on our childhoods with humor. That as sisters, our stories were shared ones in which we all played a part for much longer than most.

Our mom trusted us to go out into the world and play. So, she missed a few things. That, at some point, was her job.

My hope for my kids is supposed to be that as I let them loose to play in the world, they will have fun stories that I won’t remember because I wasn’t there. Yet such letting go breaks my heart. I want to be part of their days, laughing, listening.

And I worry that as they collect their own stories, my stories will be less … less everything… because three sweet boys are not always in them.