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.

He Said, She Said at Dinner

Dad, I get it.

All those meals with three daughters talking fast about who said what to whom, why so-and-so is feeling whatsy-what. How could she have done that, said that…?! She’s my best friend in the whole world… no, that was yesterday. Now I hate her!!!!

You couldn’t keep up. How could you possibly not know which Mary we were talking about?! How had you not registered that boy’s name yet? We’d been talking about him for at least a week!

Dad, I get it. And I am sorry.

More than twenty years have passed. I sit at the dinner table, quietly raging, then laughing, then raging a little again. My inner monologue is saying, “I spent an hour in the kitchen alone cooking this dinner, and all you people have to talk about while we eat is movie quotes, the entire scripts from goofy advertisements, the latest YouTube video of some talking dog, talking cow, talking infant who happens to be a whiz at eTrade?”

Can’t we talk?! Have a conversation?!

Every night, as my husband and three boys eat dinner, they quote things: movies, television shows, advertisements, songs, YouTube videos. They laugh, big belly laughs together. The nine-year-old can’t stay in his seat.

One recent night, they spoke more “Minion” words (from Despicable Me 2) than English.

And I sit there staring at them… trying to keep up. What was that from? Why is that funny? Really?!

Last night, they were repeating the lyrics from a YouTube song called Dumb Ways to Die. Really?!

This must be kid humor. But it’s not. My husband is grinning, joining in. It is boy humor. It is boy conversation.

My mom and sisters and I filled each other in on every detail of our day. That’s what I think dinner conversation is supposed to be. I am ready every evening to have nice a conversation with my family.

Then, “why don’t you try reading the rules, shankapotomus?” And the laughing begins.

I am determined to embrace the boy rules. Follow the conversation. But first, I owe my Dad an apology.

Dinner, Brothers and the Cool of Archeology

Sometimes, dinner conversation at our house is just odd.

“Mom, did you know that the Egyptians used to pull the brains out of a dead person through their nose with a big stick?”

My fourth grader knows how to ruin your appetite. And he does it grinning.

“No,” I responded. “Did you know that when I was in fourth grade, I studied Egypt, and it made me want to be an archeologist?”

“Why did you want to be an archeologist?” he asked.

“I studied the Leakeys, who were great archeologists, and I wanted to be just like them.”

My husband added, “They were the real-life Indiana Jones.”

“Except for the theme song.” My third grader is all about cool. “I’ll bet they didn’t have that.”

Fourth grader: Gross science facts.
Third grader: Cool theme songs.

They make a good team, even if you’d never guess they were brothers.

Conversation on a Rainy Summer Weekend

“Mom! Knock, knock,” says the eight year old…for the hundredth time this wet, gray weekend.

“What?” I hate rain.

“You can’t say ‘what?’ Say ‘who’s there?’”

“Honey, grown-ups really don’t like knock, knock jokes.”

“But this is a good one.”

“Okay, who’s there?”

“Mom!” interrupts the four year old, “which BeyBlade do you think is going to win the battle, Hades Kerbecs or Burn Fireblaze?”

“I don’t know.”

“Yes you do. Pick one.”

“Mom! You were doing my knock, knock joke.”

“Oh right, who’s there?”

“Hades Kerbecs or Burn Fireblaze?”

“Mom!” the nine year old jumps in, “look at this. “Garfield’s theory of evolution. Do you think Odie or a rock is smarter?”

“Mom!” The eight year old again. “Knock, knock!”

“Who does Garfield think is smarter? John or a food processer?”

“Hades Kerbecs or Burn Fireblaze?”

“I pick Burn Fireblaze.”

“No way,” says the four year old.

“He’s weak,” says the nine year old.

“The food processor?”

“Knock, knock!” yells the eight year old.

I can’t wait for the sun to come out.