Wise Words from an 8th Grader

Tonight, I complimented my son on being self-aware for a thirteen-year-old.

But he shrugged me off, “Everyone is self-aware who wants to be.”

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Mom’s Silence is Not So Golden

The other day, when I picked up my high school freshman from school, I had a lot on my mind. I guess I was quiet.

About five minutes into the drive, he said, “Well, this is awkward!”

“What?”

“It’s really weird that you’re not asking me a hundred annoying questions about my day.”

“But you complain when I ask you questions about your day.”

“It’s better than this! What’s wrong?!”

I smiled. “Anything cool going on at school?”

“Oh my God, you are so annoying!”

How to Have a Happy 15-Year-Old

These days, there are two guaranteed ways that I can make my teenage son happy.

The first, I practice almost daily. I bring the dog with me when I pick him up from school. No matter how grumpy he looks as he approaches the car, he is transformed if, when he opens the car door, the dog’s face is there ready to give him a good face-licking. Then, instead of sighing about homework or telling me I ask too many questions, he spends the ride home smiling in the rearview mirror and telling me how cute the dog is.

I learned the second way today. The hard way.

The second way I can make him happy is by screwing up… and getting caught.

“Do you know why I stopped you?”

Yes, I got a speeding ticket, cop motorcycle lights flashing, my son grinning ear-to-ear in the passenger seat, and the dog wagging her tail. Apparently, this was exciting for both of them.

As the police officer wrote out my $160 fine for going 33 in a 20MPH school zone (ooops!), my fifteen-year-old laughed heartily. “This is absolutely awesome!”

The Optimism Rollercoaster on Competition Day

When we make State,” my son said to the Drowning Robots early on competition day, “we’re going to make a prototype.”

“Yeah!” they agreed. “When we make State!”

They are a middle school robotics team. The competition combines an environmental sustainability project with challenging robotic missions. Three presentations. Three programming sessions. Only six would qualify for State.

“And when we have a prototype, we’ll make Nationals!”

“Yeah!”

Remember, this was early.

“Where do we go if we win Nationals?”

“Disney?”

“Oh, then we’re going to World!”

The presentation of their water evaporation tower project – adapted from a strange looking orange contraption piloted in Ethiopia – to water lawns, golf courses, and recreation fields went beautifully. Their Core Values presentation went swimmingly. Their ability to discuss how they went about building their robot and designing programs impressed the judges.

These kids can talk.

And it was still early. “Nationals are in Houston or Detroit. Which one should we go to?”

But then came the robotics. Tension rising with each round. Round One had them in 22nd. Everything that had worked for weeks in practice failed them. The team buckled down. While other teams threw plastic bottles of water at each other, this team worked on their programming. “We can do this!”

But in Round Two, they dropped to 24th. After the final round, revising programs on the fly, they remained near the bottom of the pack.

One of the Dads gave a beautiful pep talk to unhearing, sad faces about their work ethic, team spirit and grit.

They begged to leave before the award ceremony. “We’re just making excuses,” my son whispered to me.

“Even those toddlers throwing water at each other can program better than us,” moaned one of the girls.

But more than an hour later, they heard, “The Core Values Award goes to the Drowning Robots!”

And… they are going to State. Their presentations were so good that talking catapulted them over 16 teams who beat them at robotics.

And the very first thing my son said?

“We’re building a prototype, and we’re winning the Project at State.”

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…