What I Didn’t Know About the Boys’ Bathroom

A ski weekend in Vail is always great for people-watching.

“What’s people-watching?” my teenager had asked me earlier in the day as skiers in elaborate costumes – some drunk by noon and very entertaining – lined up for the gondola to celebrate the final day of the ski season.

Seriously? What’s people-watching?

Later, I returned to our restaurant table from the girls’ bathroom and repeated some of the humorous conversations the ladies were engaged in. Comparing shoes. Heels no heels and associated mishaps. Gossip about the wedding they were attending. Dancing in their 60s. The much too short dresses of the younger girls.

“Wait,” my eighth grader looked confused. “They were talking in the bathroom?!”

“Well, yes,” I answered equally confused. “Why do you think girls head to the restroom together?”

Blank stares around the table.

“To talk about stuff,” I added. “Especially boys.”

“While you go to the bathroom?” All three boys looked disgusted. My husband smiled at me.

Apparently, the boys’ bathroom is silent. No talking. All business. Even if it’s just you and your brother. It’s like a rule. You do not talk.

“That’s weird,” they agreed, looking at me sideways as if I had just revealed yet another reason why girls are so strange.

After 15 years of living in a house of all boys I am still learning. No people-watching. No chatting in the bathroom.

It’s a Boy Thing

After a week with my three boys at the beach, it dawned on me yet another reason why boys and girls are different. Boys enjoy driving each other crazy for sport.

It is a constant effort to see how far they can go before the other goes bat-shit crazy. I do not remember that in a house of three girls.

They poke each other. Jump out from behind corners to scare each other. Take every opportunity to remind each other of a favorite football team’s meltdown in the Super Bowl.

They have old lady nicknames for each other like Carol and Sally and then use them until their brother can’t take it anymore.

They remind each other of the embarrassing things they did yesterday or last year or six years ago. “Remember when you pooped at the pool? “Well, you pooped on the beach!”

Poke. Shove. Poke. “Hey, Carol, remember when…”

In the end, after all three laugh until their sides ache, someone always storms off. “They are sooo mean.”

But fifteen minutes later, they are back together, back at it, back to smiles and that little-boy twinkle in their eyes. All for one and one for all.

I pointed this observance out to them. They all grinned, “That’s why boys are more fun.”

Our First Bat Mitzvah

Last weekend, the boys and I went to our first bat mitzvah, which began in a temple and turned into the best party I’ve been to in a long time. Beach theme. Burgers, hot dogs and deliciously salty hushpuppies. Dancing with a DJ and someone hired to lead line dances and teach the boys some break-dancing moves. A tattoo booth, a photo booth, skee ball, a carousel. A “penny candy” table as a fill-your-own favor bag.

The day gave us a number of new experiences. Our eight year old wore a tie for the first time. All three boys donned Carolina blue yamakas. They listened to songs in Hebrew. They made new friends. They bore witness to someone their age give a speech she write herself about values and community. My twelve year old danced until almost midnight without going near the slew of thirteen year old girls on the dance floor.

I expected there would be much to talk about. Instead, as we walked back to the car that night….

“Most of those girls look like they’re in college,” said the oldest, who spent most of the night sitting with me.

“And some of those dresses were totally inappropriate,” said his puritanical brother.

Really short.”

Though they did not speak or dance with the girls, they were apparently quite aware of them.

Another first?

And Then There Were Girls

My sixth grader recently stopped insisting that he hates girls. He still rarely mentions them by name. If you ask which girls were on the team or in the class, he says he doesn’t remember. If you say the name of a girl he knows, he either blushes or rolls his eyes.

But on October 30, he went to his first real party. A Halloween party to which his entire grade was invited. Food. Music. Costumes. He said it was fun. He smiled a lot. But he gave no report.

I heard from another mom that as a result of the party, there are now a few who are dating. That night, she went down the list of her son’s friends with him. “Yes. No. No. No.” When she asked him if my son had a girlfriend, he replied, “He’s waiting for high school.”

She said he was wise.

On October 31, the boys went trick-or-treating for hours. Texts flew from cell phone to cell phone, as some of the girls tried to find the boys. And the boys tried to find the girls. When the girls and boys finally met up though, my son headed home.

“Are you okay?” I asked. His trash bag of candy was so heavy he had to keep switching shoulders.

“The girls just walk down the middle of the street talking. They skip houses. If I am not going to get more candy, then what’s the point?”

He doesn’t hate them. He’s just not ready for them – still a little kid who wants as many Kit-Kats and Twix Bars as he can carry. And wise to wait.

There are Girls in My Car!

Yesterday, I drove on a fourth grade field trip. I often volunteer to drive on field trips, so I was prepared for the usual – my son and four of his friends, all excited to be escaping the confines of desk-dom and eager to arrive at our destination first.

“Go faster!” the boys yell from the backseat of the minivan.

“Step on it!”

“Can you turn up the music?” they add, although if even one of the boys spoke quietly, we might hear the music fine.

“Louder, please!”

“Not that song!”


Yesterday, the teacher gave me a new crew – two boys and two girls. The girls immediately took control by sitting in the middle row, chatting at a normal decibel. My son opened a book so he would not have to talk to the girls. His friend pretended to sleep, though an occasional giggle escaped from the third row.

The girls sang. Justin Bieber. Katy Perry. Taylor Swift.

“I can’t believe Justin Bieber is giving up his career!” one girl said.

“He is?” I asked. Who knew?

“Well…” they were happy to educate me, “he’s been dating Selena forever, and he asked her to marry him, but she said no, but they are still dating, and he needs to stop taking drugs. So, he’s quitting.”

Do they all talk in run-on sentences?

The second girl jumped in, “Can you imagine asking someone to marry you, they say no, and so you say, fine let’s go the museum for a date? And she says okay? Wierd.”

I suggest, “teenagers!”

“Um, they’re like 26.”

How do girls know all this? Typically, the boys in my car shout, “Louder! Faster! Hurry, we have to be the first ones there!” and only sing the cuss words of a song.

These girls are talking relationships. Admittedly, just Justin Bieber’s relationship. But still!

And the boys are pretending to be anywhere but my usually very boy-friendly minivan.

Bruce Variety: A 60-Year Story

There is rumor that has made its way from Bethesda, Maryland to Denver – and probably beyond – in less than a week. The news affects people from three or four generations. It has traveled by Facebook and email and texts. It has been on the local news. And it is triggering emotions from panic to nostalgia.

Bruce Variety is closing.

According to a DC local news report, the sign went up the day after Christmas. Everything half off. The rent is just too high.

Remember when Bethesda was just a small town? There was Baskin-Robbins next to the A&P, the Chinese food place, the Bethesda Crab House, and Montgomery Donuts. Not much more within walking distance… except for that small strip of stores on Arlington Road that housed “Bruce’s”.

Bruce Variety opened in 1953. The aisles are too narrow. The shelves are too cluttered. It always seems dusty. Yet if you grew up in Bethesda, you very likely went to Bruce’s again and again. If you live there today, you find yourself bringing your kids. You can probably put together your autobiography by thinking of different trips and various purchases over the years.

There was the annual trip in early September for school supplies. We’d inevitably run into our entire class in the over-crowded school supply row. Pure chaos. Comparing stories of our summer vacations, wondering about our new teachers, and trying to find the coolest pocket folder before someone else claimed it. All while our mothers tried to catch up on gossip while calling after little ones who’d wandered down more entertaining aisles.

1976 and the bi-centennial celebration at school. We picked out calico cloth at Bruce’s – mine was purple with little flowers – and had colonial dresses and bonnets made for the parade and worn again and again in our basement playroom. I felt like I was straight out of Laura Ingalls’ house on the South Dakota prairie.

Halloween costumes? Each October, Bruce’s was our first stop. It sold face-paint and reams of cloth and plastic masks and any kind of odd material you might use to create your own unique look for the school parade and trick-or-treating. The “undecideds” roamed up and down the aisles waiting for inspiration, while little brothers and sisters dragged their loot and tried to sneak cheap toys or puzzles into Mom’s basket.

When ribbon barrettes first came on the style scene in the eighties, the ribbon aisle at Bruce Variety became the place for girls to go for supplies. Thin silky ribbons in every color and shade promised gorgeous gifts for friends and showpieces of our barrette-making talents.

Mrs. Dater’s sixth grade scrapbooks before Scrapbooking was a multimillion-dollar business. The hardest I ever worked in school. The most I ever wanted an A++. You could get that if your scrapbook page was elaborate enough. But you didn’t survive Mrs. Dater’s class without hundreds of trips to Bruce Variety. Gorgeous scrapbooks about Africa and South America required paint, pastels, strips of cloth, ribbons, beans, beads, buttons, glitter, fake grass, anything you could glue to a piece of construction paper.

And the many colors of string at Bruce’s captured the imagination of the Edgemoor swim team. On rainy days, the girls all sat chatting on the poolside porch making bracelets for each other in shades of blue to get excited for the next big meet against Kenwood or Congressional or Army-Navy. Chest paint for the boys, which they of course bought at Bruce Variety. Friendship bracelets for the girls.

The first week in February every year, we filled our basket at Bruce’s with pink and purple and red glitter, along with heart-shaped lace doilies for the two dozen Valentine’s cards my sisters and I each made with care. Or for those less interested in making them from scratch, Bruce’s carried plenty of Disney or other pre-made Valentine’s cards.

Tube socks for gym class. White tights for church. Cheap white T-shirts for tie-dye day. Travel toiletries for camping trips. Flip-flops for opening day at the pool.

I keep wondering how far the news will travel. To what cities or countries. And how fast.

Bruce Variety is closing.

His First Fight

My son got in his first physical fight outside the family. Nothing to boast about, but it reminded me of one of the key differences between boys and girls, and why mothers sometimes struggle to comprehend their sons.

Of course, he is constantly wrestling and fighting with his brothers. I hear that it is part of being a brother. But on Sunday, he and his best friend went to blows. There were tears. He had a quick-to-fade mark on his back. His friend a quick-to-fade red spot on his cheek.

It happened at a pizza place after seeing the Becoming Van Gogh exhibit at the Denver Art Museum. The waiter was trying to deliver our pizza to the table.

Maybe they absorbed the artist’s insanity for the day. Maybe they were hungry. Maybe fourth grade boys start getting overpowering spurts of testosterone in their system.

But my friend and I (their moms) were appalled. Such ghastly, unprompted behavior from our sweet sons!

And we worried all the next day while the boys were at school that they would never speak again. That they were both suffering terrible, lonely days, because their best friend was ignoring them.

Mama drama. We assume the worst.

We should have remembered the reason they fought in the first place – they are boys. Boys may hit, but they move on.

“How was your day?” I asked at 3:15 the second he got in the car.

“Great,” my fourth grader responded with a smile.

“Was everything okay with [friend’s name]?”

“Yeah,” he rolled his eyes at me, as if to say “of course it was, crazy lady.”

And it was. They are still best friends. The very next day. As if nothing happened at the pizza place.

I will always remember the day when my best friend tried to strangle me with her sweater on the playground in fourth grade. I am sure I’ve brought it up over the years more than I needed to, because I am a girl. And it took more than a few days to get us back on track, because we are girls. That’s how it works with us…even though it prolongs our misery. Yet we too are still best friends.

I wonder if, 40 years from now, they will remember going to see Becoming Van Gogh and then throwing their first punch at the pizza place. Or if boys really do forget?