My Teenagers’ Friends

My best friend is very likely still my best friend because she was nice to my younger sisters. When she invited me to the mall or movies, she assumed they would tag along. Never in our entire friendship did she ask ”do they have to come?” or act annoyed that they dragged out their sleeping bags for our sleepovers. She just embraced being the fourth sister – as responsible for my sisters as I was.

I guess that’s why I judge the friends of my two teenage boys by how they respond to a little brother in their midst.

He’s ten. He’s loud. He wants to play. He thinks he’s one of the big dogs… but really, he’s still the little guy. He might cheat. He might even cry.

So, I love teenagers who are good to him, and his two older brothers seem to hold onto the friends who are.

Last night, a long-legged teenage boy ascended the stairs from our basement brandishing a nerf gun. My ten-year-old was at his heels. The teenager – a friend of our eighth grader – wore a too-small army helmet and a knight’s silver armor from old Halloween costumes. The little guy wore an orange ski helmet, goggles and a grin from ear to ear… because they were playing his game, on his terms.

And it struck me instantly, as it has before, that this lanky teenager is a great kid. I’m glad he’s my son’s friend.

It was hours later, trying to fall asleep, that something else entered my mind. Does it ever cross his mind to say, “Do we have to?” Because I realized it never crossed mine, as we were trying to be cool teenagers, that my best friend might not want little sisters tagging along. And…

She was ten. She was loud. She just wanted to play…

The Little Things

I Am Thankful For…

The time I spend with my kids

Date nights

The fact that…

…Jackson dives in with his all, his killer smile

…Finn’s creative streak, a wild ride

…Max is soulful and funny and eager to share

Date nights

The fact that…

…my sisters are my friends

…I learned to parent from my parents

…I can still help with math

The time I spend with my kids

Hugs that linger

Afternoon sun through the trees

The first glimpse of the beach

Catching up around the fire

Date nights

And the time I spend with my kids.

Tell Me a Story

“Do you have any stories?”

I was already dozing off when my guys piled onto the bed for back scratches.

“You mean once upon a time stories?”

“Or about you as a kid. Like what you did in the summer.”

We woke up early every morning and walked the half-block to swim practice. Sometimes a big group of us – age eight to eighteen, boys and girls – headed together to Montgomery Donuts after practice. Then back to the pool. We raced home for a quick lunch or the older kids would do a McDonalds run, and the clubhouse porch smelled of French fries for the rest of the day.

When it rained we stayed on the porch, counting the seconds between lightning and thunder, and played ping-pong and Uno. Sometimes the coaches caught us still there and dragged us into afternoon practice at 4:00. Then after dinner, back to the pool until after the lights came on under water. Or our friends gathered outside our house and play kick-the-can or capture-the-flag or ball tag.

We didn’t do camps. Every day was the same. Except for Tuesdays and Thursdays. Those were swim meets. They were at night, and all of our friends and their families went to get pizza together after – win or lose.

And every Sunday, our families met at the pool for dinner with big coolers of drinks and potato salad, hot dogs and burgers. And occasionally, if we were lucky, the Dads belly-flopped into the pool and threw their children in big, wiggling, screaming splashes.

My sisters and I did everything together.

“…like you guys.”

“That sounds awesome, mom.”

The Luckiest Guy

Our middle son climbed into the car looking a bit shaken. While we waited for his brothers to trudge down the carpool line, I asked if he was okay.

“It’s weird. My friends who have sisters keep telling me how lucky I am that I have brothers,” he paused. “Who knew?”

He was dead serious.

“Their sisters just stay in their rooms all day, and they don’t want to do anything.”

“Well, some girls like to do different things than you guys do, and they might not want to talk about football 24/7.”

He just shook his head, “I’m lucky,” still bewildered. “Who knew?”

A Mom’s Battle for Valentines Day

I grew up in a house of three girls where making Valentines cards each year was considered a fun tradition. We’d go to Bruce’s Variety and pick out all kinds of pink and purple stickers and ribbons and beads. Then we would sit around the table together, think about what each classmate might like, and busy ourselves creating cards every afternoon for a week.

With that memory, I have insisted that my three boys make their Valentines cards too. No store-bought cartoon cards with Fun-Dip attached for them, despite the fact that those are their favorite cards to receive.

For me, the point of giving classmates Valentines cards is the effort you put into showing you care about them. You only do it once a year. You should go all out. Or not do it at all.

This year, with boys in fifth, fourth and kindergarten, my own sister laughed at me.

“Fourth and fifth grade boys shouldn’t have to make Valentines!”

I heard my friend chuckle in agreement. “We never have!”

I have been thinking it about it all day. They may be right. Still, why should my kids bother to tape a lollipop to the back of a Star Wars card that I bought at the grocery store? What does that show their friends?

Sigh.

Fine, since my guys do not enjoy the effort as much as I once did, and they will apparently be laughed at by their friends – and mine – for making their own cards, I relent after ten years.

But never fear! The battle for Valentines wages on here.

Two boys too old and too cool to make their own Valentines cards have been assigned to help their little brother with his, so that he knows what it’s like to sit around a table with his siblings making very special notes to show how much he appreciates his friends.

 

 

What’s So Great About ABBA?

In snowy, cold mid-winter conditions last night, a theater in Denver was packed with grown-ups singing along with the actors in Mamma Mia. Laughing a lot. Quite a number were dancing at the end.

I was likely the only person in the audience – or in theaters everywhere – who cried during “Dancing Queen.” 

You see, what’s great about ABBA, even if you don’t like their music, is that everyone of our generation knows the words. Most of us females acted out the lyrics at one point in our lives either alone in our pink rooms, in the living room with friends, or at a school dance when we finally realized we could dance in packs not caring if a boy asked us.

For me, ABBA is every afternoon from about fifth grade on. Homework with Doritoes and coke, only a few planned activities, dinner at home every night, sleepovers every Friday. And my sisters, best friend and I danced and sang and laughed at our own goofiness. We held dance contests. We acted out the songs again and again.

ABBA. The Monkees. The Beatles. Billy Joel.

“Dancing Queen” was a favorite.

So in the middle of the theater last night, when everyone else was singing, I cried, missing those afternoons. “Young and sweet, only seventeen.” Knowing that when the four of us are together now, which is not enough, we still laugh a lot. We still know all the words. We can start exactly where we left off as if it were yesterday.

But we no longer dance.

That’s what came to me last night in the theater during a really fun rendition of a favorite old song, when part of the point of the play is that our inner dancing queen will always be there no matter what we go through, no matter how much we grow up. 

That’s what’s so great about ABBA. 

Then I remembered that just a few days ago, my six year old and I were playing air guitar in the kitchen, and for a moment, we rocked the house. Just needed a tambourine, two sisters and best friend to get us dancing the afternoon away.

 

A Product Review: Why I’m Mad at My Sister

Hot dog

My sister is the best gift-giver I know. Some years, her Christmas shopping is done in May because she has discovered the perfect gifts for everyone on her list by then. She is always on the look out. She also thinks about what makes people tick when buying them a present.

Her latest present to my kids, however, is making me crazy.

The hot dog slicer by Evriholder.

This gadget is everywhere on the Internet: eBay, Amazon and numerous online toy stores. When they opened the slicer, the kids thought their aunt was crazy. It was funny… at first.

Then they became obsessed with eating hotdogs.

The problem, you ask, besides the uptick in chemicals?

The hotdogs we buy are too long for the slicer. So first Mom has to cut off the end. Then as Mom slices, Mom get splattered in hotdog juice. Mom puts the ketchup in the attached dog bowl, the kids eat happily.

You’re thinking I’m just a hotdog slicing scrooge, right?

The second child sees that the first is eating a hotdog out of the very special Evriholder hotdog slicer and immediately starts begging for his. As soon as the third notices that he has been neglected, he joins the chorus, just in time for the first child to ask for another hotdog.

By the time they are done, Mom is covered in hotdog juice and that unique hotdog scent, and there’s still the task of cleaning out the stuck hotdog skins.

Of course, you can’t throw it away. That would seem ungrateful. And mean to three boys who once again received the perfect gift from their aunt.

You’d be mad at your sister too.

Lost: One Small Red Dragon

“Excuse me, we had dinner here a few nights ago, and my son may have left a very small red dragon. Do you have a Lost & Found?”

The lovely woman behind the desk pulled a drawer open. “Sweater. Toy train. Car,” then she looked up, hope in her eyes, “Is it stuffed?”

Red Dragon! A dirty, slightly smelly, much loved beanbag red dragon. And thankfully for all concerned, stuffed.

Until today, I always wondered what led parents to return to stores and restaurants and vacation spots seeking lost toys. You told the kid not to bring it. You warned him he was going to lose it. He should learn his lesson. You can’t save him from every little loss – especially one he deserved – and you shouldn’t. Let him cry for a few minutes, and he will move on quicker than you think. It was, after all, only a stuffed animal.

That is what I thought before I saw Red Dragon again.

We were on vacation, of course. Red Dragon had gone missing three days before, and we were catching our flight home. No sign of Red Dragon even after cleaning out the beach house.

As predicted, my four year old cried for a few minutes when I told him I could not find him. And he moved on. It was my sister and I who refused to leave Red Dragon behind. And it was us – two cynical women in our forties – who teared up when Red Dragon was returned.

That dirty, slightly smelly, lucky-for-all-concerned stuffed Red Dragon.

Red Dragon represents my son’s toddlerhood – four years of charm and joy and warm snuggles and sweet giggles and no fear. Red Dragon comes downstairs every morning and peeks over the rim of my son’s cereal bowl. They share a love of Froot Loops, though my son likes the green ones and Red Dragon is non-discriminating.

Red Dragon is red because my son’s “yucky color”, as he called it before he could sound out the letter “l”, has always been red. He likes red baseball teams, red football teams, red ski boots and coats, red cars, red trains, red shoes and red dragons. Half of his t-shirts are red.

So losing Red Dragon as he approaches his fifth birthday would have felt like an end to something far more special than a little beanbag toy that smells bad.

My sister and I also realized these last two weeks that this may be our last vacation on the beach where we have been going every August for more than 30 years. We are leaving a lot behind on that beach – family traditions and memories of childhood, peaceful moments, my wedding day, a long history of Boggle and Scrabble games played, sunsets and starry nights looking for constellations and shooting stars.

We could not leave Red Dragon there too.

So there I was back at the restaurant. “Excuse me… my son may have left a very small red dragon…”

Hey, Hey, We’re the Monkees!

Back in the day when kids barely had any after-school activities, we danced our afternoons away….literally.

We’d come home from school, go straight to the kitchen for snack, then head to the living room and turn on the stereo. Our favorite dance music came from ABBA, the Fame soundtrack, the Grease soundtrack, and of course, the Monkees.

So when I opened my Yahoo homepage today to learn that Monkees’ singer Davy Jones has passed away, I naturally wanted to go home to my old living room (which no longer exists) and have a dance contest with my sisters and best friend. Remember “Last Train to Clarksville”? We acted that one out.

Back in the day, we were Daydream Believers. We pretended we were Solid Gold dancers, doing our late 70s and early 80s dance moves, hoping the boys in our neighborhood didn’t happen to look toward our window as they passed by on their way home. They would have seen us jumping around, spinning, singing at the top of our lungs… looking a little bit like, well, monkeys.

We each had our favorite. I remember my sister liked Mickey because he had a big head, and I liked the one with the hat because he was a goofball. Everyone else we knew loved Davy.

If my sisters and best friend were here, I know what we’d do this afternoon after school…

We’d dance.