Boys in the House

I grew up in a house of girls, where our games tended to stay within a single room.

But on Thursday afternoon, five boys were racing across my yard and from the basement to the bedrooms for two hours in an “epic” Nerf gun battle. When the house grew silent, I knew they were on a stealth mission, sneaking up on an unsuspecting opponent who thought their hiding place of the moment remained safe. Then minutes later the eruption of noise, Nerf pellets hitting boy. Screams of half-fear, half-delight.

It was only when I saw my third grader on his new electric scooter, speeding toward our intersection, Nerf gun pointed over his shoulder and eyes on his older brother chasing him, that I felt I needed to intervene.

Mom rules. No scooters in battle. No battles in the intersection. No scooter until you actually look both ways.

Then I left for Parent-Teacher conferences, my fourteen year old in charge, worried I would be late because I insisted on watching my son put the scooter away.

I sat down. Took a breath. Started the conference with “I just left five boys alone at home in a Nerf gun war. Bad parenting?”

The teacher laughed, “That’s probably exactly what they need.”

Friday with no school, the battles continued. Again on Saturday afternoon with additional weapons. Rosy cheeks, sweaty foreheads, teamwork, strategy and lots of “you got me! you got me!” But definitely no scooters.

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Master of the Eye-Roll

We are walking out the door, already five or ten minutes late to Lego League.

“Honey, you didn’t brush your hair.”

“I knew you were going to say that,” he grumbles and stomps back into the house. Yet I know that if we arrived at school with his hair sticking up all over the place, he might not walk in. And I would be blamed.

“Don’t forget your soccer uniform.” I had said that too this morning and earned a dramatic eye-roll, made more effective by his dark, expressive eye brows.

“How many times are you going to remind me?”

Admittedly, I had reminded him at least three times last night. “Until it’s in your backpack?”

Most of the time, he feels badly after such interchanges. Today, he climbed back into the car to give me a hug. Some nights he calls out in the dark, “Mom!” for a second chance at goodnight.

It’s like watching the child and teenager in him battle for power the week before he turns 13.

Santa’s Note

It seems you have reached that age when you start trying to figure me out. You stay up later and wake up earlier – all in the hopes of seeing your gifts before Mom and Dad. Or catching a glimpse of my red coat. It’s a fun time for me. Your parents and I have to work together – not like when you were little and wouldn’t dare sneak downstairs in the dark.

Despite a few bumps in the road and a red card or two, you have all been great this year. I am as proud as your parents of how well you are doing at school and what nice friends you are. Here are my instructions for you in 2015:

Have fun and explore. Take risks. Sing a solo. Make new friends. Try new things.

Treat your knowledge as a gift that you share with your classmates. You will enjoy school much more when you figure this out.

Practice more.

Celebrate your talents by challenging yourselves to go faster, higher, smarter than you did yesterday. Work toward your goals without discouragement. It is the “trying” that will make you great even if it leads you down unplanned paths to unexpected victories.

Be patient with your brothers. Be kind. Laugh at your Dad’s jokes. Hug your Mom. Put away your laundry…. and shower, wear underwear, and brush your teeth every day.

Until next year, my fine fellows…

Developmentally Inappropriate Reading

I was at a small get-together with some sixth grade moms last week, and we were debating whether a school-required book our kids are reading is age-appropriate. We have all read the book so we can guide our children through some issues it raises in case their teachers focus on other things.

As we were talking about those issues (i.e. cocaine use, neglectful parents, violence from older brothers, and bad decisions with no consequences), I realized that the extra assignment I had given my fifth and sixth grade sons this summer might be more intense and grown-up than the book we were discussing.

We got a subscription to USA Today, because I decided they should start reading the newspaper, and the writing is less sophisticated than the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, which my husband and I read. Plus, the kids would get drawn in by the sports section.

What a summer of developmentally inappropriate news… for any age!

This really hit home when my eleven year old walked into the kitchen, which at the time was filled with six snacking boys (his brothers and friends, age 6-10) and addressed them in a stream of consciousness:

“Wow, lots of plane crashes lately. How many people do you think have died? And that war in the Ukraine. Do you think it could start World War Three? I mean, really, did you see they bombed a school in Gaza? What’s the world coming to?!”

Six little ice cream covered faces just stared at him. Wide eyes. Still-chubby cheeks. And now heads filled with real-life stories they may not have been ready to hear.

The sad thing is… the truth can be far worse than fiction.

Swim Team

I signed my guys up for swim team last year for a few reasons. I wanted them to get some exercise over the summer, to look like they knew what they were doing in the water (as only swim team kids do) and, most important, to make friends and be known by the larger pool community.

Their strokes are looking better. Their stamina has improved. The coaches and lifeguards know them and greet them by name. The younger two boys talk to anyone who shares their lane or swims with them on a relay. They look up to the good swimmers, referring to them with the highest regard, “he’s State,” which really means he is fast enough to swim in the A league championship at the end of the summer.

What I had forgotten from my own childhood was the difference between being “on” the team and “one of them.” This week, in their second year, I witnessed the transition for my oldest and most reserved son, and realized how special that particular series of events is in the life of a child.

First, he made a friend during practice. Together, they helped the coaches unhook the lane ropes. The head coach realized his breaststroke is legal and, making a big deal about it, convinced him to swim it in the next meet.

Simple things, yet out of the blue, he asked for a private lesson to work on his starts and turns. He lingered at the end of the lane ropes after practice all week waiting to take ownership of his new job.

At the meet, he earned a second place in his first breaststroke race. His new friend got the blue ribbon. My son, never the first to reach out, found the winner and gave him a high-five. “We got one-two! Good swim!”

Last year, when he was “on” the team, had I given him the opportunity to skip a meet, he would have seized it in a second. Now that he has felt the magic of becoming “one of them,” he does not want to let that feeling go.

“Guys, we’re flying home at midnight the night before your last meet,” I said, expecting groans and “do we have to swims?”

“Oh, we’re going!”

“But then we’ll have to be late for…”

“Mom, we have to be there. The team needs us.”

My boys may not be “State”, but they got their trophy when they became “one of the team.”

Snooze Fest

When I was a kid, I always used to say that I wanted to be a Dad. Not a likely prospect, however, for a girl. Now I remember where and why that wish was born.

For Fathers’ Day, I had our boys write cards to their Dad, and to tell him why they love him. But I should not have read the cards, because now I am mad at our eleven year old. Pretty unhappy with the six year old too.

“I wish you were home more often,” wrote the eldest. “Half the time you’re not here, it’s a snooze fest.”

A snooze fest?

This blasphemy after a week in which we – mom at the helm = went back and forth to the pool daily, took golf lessons (so we can play as a family), played a multi-game Ping-Pong tournament, entertained numerous friends and made homemade pizza.

Snooze fest?

Then he has the gall to say, “Dad, you want to play Ping-Pong?” And does a fist-pump when Dad says yes!

I played Ping-Pong!

Even worse? It turns out that this is not just preteen anti-mom activity! Our six year old wrote that when Dad is at work, “I just wait around for you to come play with me.”

Oh please!

I am thrilled that my husband is a great Dad, whose kids love to be around him. As soon as he comes home from work, he is all theirs, and they know it. I am happy that he is involved, throws the football until his arm falls off, helps them with math, brainwashes them about politics, listens to their stories, laughs at the same jokes, belts out the same loud music, expects the best of them and helps them rise to the occasion. He is an awesome Dad who continuously earns his Fathers’ Day.

I’m just wondering what a mom has to do to be as much fun as Dad.