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.

Third Grade Homework

Last night, my nine year old was struggling with long division again. I knew he was tired, so I stayed close in case he got frustrated. Plus, there was the spelling test to study for, and although he was getting “bruise” consistently, he kept messing up “cruise”. And we weren’t getting anywhere with “reduce”.

The expected “UGH!” came.

He was able to translate the word problem into an equation, but couldn’t remember the process he needed to go through to find the answer.

He slid the paper over to me, and I could tell he was on the verge of exploding with rage. But as I started to talk him through the steps, he took a long, deep breath, then placed his hand on my arm ever so gently.

“Mom, I don’t want to hurt your feelings,” his voice was quiet and his big brown eyes filled with pity. “I know you’re trying to help, but you’re making it harder, and it’s driving me crazy.”

So, I slid the paper back and watched with a big smile on my face while he finished his math.

The Ambler

My husband and I dragged our fourteen year old along on a 6-mile walk on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon. A long walk with Mom and Dad was a lot less threatening than a short run with Dad. So, there we were, taking in the scenery, talking, soaking in the late spring sunshine.

And he complained. Are we there yet? You walk too fast. It’s hot. You’re annoying. How have you not broken a sweat?!

Nearly approaching the end, we passed by a very small elderly woman with her very small dog, and he grinned, “Now that’s a good walking speed!”

He demonstrated for us what his walk looks like, probably in a ploy to slow us down, and we debated the correct word for it. Amble? Stroll? Waddle? Is walking even a sport?

He was very funny.

Then today, as the boys and I walked to school, he explained to his brothers how he had suffered so on Saturday. Mom and Dad walk too fast. It was hot. They’re annoying.

And he showed them his walking “style”, short, slow-motion steps. “I take the time to appreciate my surroundings. Look at that beautiful tree! And this chain link fence? It’s a metaphor for humanity linking arms and taking care of each other.”

“Wow, you’re boring to walk with,” said his younger brother.

“But when you walk fast,” now on the defensive, “you can’t think of metaphors!”

For the Love of Reading

According to our seventh grader, he read a 401-page book yesterday afternoon. He reads so quickly that we used to doubt his retention. But when we’d ask him to tell us about the story or his favorite character, he would provide every detail, every twist and turn.

I always wondered how you could enjoy a book if you didn’t linger over it.

But as he read yesterday, curled in a chair, his too-big-for-his-body feet hanging over the chair’s arm, a grin would spread across his face, and he’d say, “Mom, do you want to hear a good line?”

Be still, my heart!

And then he’d read me a well-written description or funny phrase that made you visualize a moment perfectly.

Even better, in-between perfectly written sentences, his face would burst into a smile over this plot twist or the next. An amusing comeback. And I don’t know what else.

I could have watched him read for hours…but then he finished the book.

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.

Things I Will Never Like

Sometimes when our nine year old is angry, he goes to his room to cool down by drawing the thing that made him mad (a mean picture of his brother) or making Keep Out signs or writing down the offending event. Then he returns to family life or homework or the basketball game on the street with a smile.

On a recent weekend evening, he shared a list he had written earlier in the day. The spelling is his (with translation where necessary).

Things I will never like

  • Sewead (steping on)
  • Penut butter
  • Spelling
  • 80s muise
  • Gaming fingers (a.k.a. jamming fingers)
  • Dierreiy (diarrhea)
  • Dring off with a cold wet towel
  • Peolpe that stay inside all day and play video games
  • Peolpe that brag

Funny list.