Twelve Days in the Wilderness

My eighth grade Environmental Science trip included a week of canoeing and camping, and I remember it like it was yesterday. The night it rained so hard our tent collapsed. M&M soap operas with rationed candy. Being first in line in the cave. Learning to steer.

I am one of the few who loved middle school, and that week was the best of it. So, I was excited when my son wanted to go on his school’s version of that trip. Still, sending him off into the wilderness was a little unnerving. He’s the one who admits to being afraid of the dark. The one who hates to exercise. The one who wants pasta every night for dinner.

So, during their two-day drive to the boundary waters in Canada, I expected some hint from him how he was doing. It turns out, no one on the trip called home before leaving their cell phones with the outfitter.

And his texts went like this:

“At Wall Drug.”

“I found your letter.” (I left a little card in his backpack telling him how proud of him I am and how excited that he gets to go on this adventure.)

“Mini golf course.”

“The fleas on the prairie dogs in the Badlands had the bubonic plague.”

“Yes.” “You too.” “Too late. Goodnight.”

Then… “Good night. Not bringing my phone canoeing, so this might be my last text message. I love you!”

And as the days of his adventure go by, I realize that I never called my parents. We didn’t have cell phones. And like me learning to navigate the river, they were fine.

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.

Door Prize

My son taped a new sign to his bedroom door in a fit of rage against mom for saying that riding one’s scooter back and forth outside a neighbor’s house with a baseball ready to throw at him was “acting like a bully.”

“No Moms!” said the door.

When his rage cooled two days later, he dragged me down the hall to show me his change of heart. Smiling, he waved his hand at the door as if presenting me with a great prize.

rage-door-photo

At least it is a green sercole for now.

The Hour Added To Date Nights

Every once in a while, our 8th grader will say, “You should go on a date night!”

So, you might think the boys actually like it when we leave. Freedom. Kraft Mac-n-cheese. Video games. But if it’s past 9:00, we get a text from the 7th grader, as if on cue. “When are you coming home?”

And no matter what time we return, they are all up, exploding with something to tell us, show us, read to us. And so 9:00 becomes 10:00. Or later.

When they were little, my favorite thing about date nights were that the babysitter had the kids asleep when we got home. I could tiptoe into their dimly lit rooms, kiss their warm foreheads goodnight, take a long look at their sweet faces, and go to bed. Five minutes from date to sleep. Tops. Now, I have to admit, I enjoy their need to share, as if we have been gone forever, and sleep will not come until they do.

Last night, we left for the theater at 6:00 and walked back in the house at 9:00. Perfect bedtime hour, but…

“Mom, do you want to see my Falcons’ Season in Review Youtube video? I’m not done yet, but…” So I watched ten minutes of Julio Jones beating his opponents in long touchdown runs to music.

“I’m impressed.”

“Did you see the clips with that weird reflection? I’m going to redo those. And the dark one?” Sigh, “I was hoping to get more done tonight.”

“Bedtime.”

“Mom, I started a new comic strip. Want to see it?” The third grader creates beautifully detailed illustrations, but his comic strip spelling requires pre-9:00 translation skills.

“Love it!”

He gives me a big hug. “I’m just gonna…”

“Nope. Bedtime.”

“Will you come say goodnight?”

And then the 8th grader sidles up to me, talking in a low, secretive whisper as if something is wrong. But… “You know how we’re not allowed to bring phones or iPads on the class trip? Well, I really want to finish The Book Thief. So I was thinking I could buy an iPod Shuffle.”

He spent his three hours of freedom coming up with the best way to get me to say yes to a new technology purchase. Not happening. “We have a copy of the book. You can bring that.”.

“The thing is, I don’t like to read books. They’re so… I don’t know… physical.”

“Go to bed.”

And that’s how a quick date night keeps everyone up too late.

 

A Rooftop Christmas Crash

On Christmas Eve, just before the kids went down for their long winter nap and, according to NORAD, Rudolph’s red nose was leading Santa north from South America, our 12 year old lost a tooth.

Already excited, the lost tooth and resulting bloody grin infused the boys with even more energy. It took some time to settle down as Mom and Dad worried that Santa – and now the Tooth Fairy – would fall asleep before the kids did.

Then I heard someone gasp, “What if Santa and the Tooth Fairy crash into each other at our house?”

And all I could think was….

Another 15 minutes of adrenaline as young brains ponder the possibility. Another 15 minutes before Santa and the Tooth Fairy can sleep.

Historic World Series

Soccer practice was over. Homework was done. The dinner dishes were clean. So we all headed upstairs to get ready for bed, do the third grader’s out-loud reading, and watch the end of the 7th game of the World Series.

Indians versus Cubs. Two teams you want to cheer for because success must be sweeter for an almost-forever underdog. We are Rockies fans, so we know. And while we decided that 1948 and more than a century feel equally bad, we went for the longest-time loser.

And our former outfielder – a Rocky turned Cubby – started the game with an historic walk-on homerun.

But the second I closed my third grader’s The Worst Class Trip Ever, I crashed into a deep sleep. So did my husband and the third grader, while the older boys watched and cheered around us. It has been a very busy few weeks.

Then suddenly… “Cubbies won! Cubbies won!” Boys jumping on the bed. Hi-fiving. Our dog, disturbed from slumber, barking. Three once sleeping bodies trampled on. “Go Cubs!”

An exciting Series for two teams who have wanted it for so long. Sadly, mom, dad and the third grader missed its thrilling end. Sometimes, no matter how much you want to see the ninth inning or the tenth – history in the making – your typically insignificant eyelids wield their power. And you sleep.

On His 14th Birthday

There are moments that might only be significant to a parent. Small achievements that are marked by us as special. That no one else notices or celebrates. Yet they make our hearts sing.

Most would call my oldest son an introvert. He spoke late to the concern of his pediatrician. But when he decided to talk, he spoke with what some remarked to be perfect annunciation. It turns out, he was just listening, biding his time to speak only when he had heard enough from the rest of us.

I was reminded of that on his fourteenth birthday. He had volunteered to do the reading at our school’s Blessing of the Animals, in honor of Francis of Assisi.

It was a gorgeous fall day. Crisp. Sunny. Just the tips of the aspens turned yellow. The lower school choir sang. The entire school body and many of their parents sat in clusters on the soccer field. Dogs sat or wagged or gloried in attention. Two ducks. A hedgehog. Hamsters. A turtle. At least one kitten.

Then my son – 12 years after we worried why he wasn’t talking – stood at the podium and read the psalm he had been assigned. He looked tall and serious and handsome. His voice rang out across the field above the hum of excited children and their pets, and quieted them. Clear. Confident. Each word spoken for its meaning. A voice that you want to listen to, that you instinctively expect to say something wonderful and wise. Beautiful.