Seeing Myself in Him on His 13th Birthday

My oldest son celebrated his 13th birthday by inviting nine of his friends to watch and play football at our house yesterday. My basement still smells like boy sweat this morning.

His friends are sweet, funny kids who, as they grow in confidence and appreciate their own unique personalities, are increasingly having fun together. Big puppies with size 10 feet.

And watching my now teenage son with his friends, I saw my younger self.

During the party, he watched the Packers beat the Rams (24-10), sometimes the only one still cheering, as the other boys climbed over him, dressed in old Halloween costumes, and waged war from the laundry room back to the couch where he sat… smiling and utterly happy.

My freshman year in college, still wearing my shy high school persona, I decided that I would no longer wait for people to seek me out. I understood that being shy meant lost opportunities. And just downstairs from my apartment lived three guys who were smart, cool and hysterically funny. Their energy together drew in others so that their apartment was always the center of creativity and good times.

So every night, I gathered my courage, went downstairs and sat on their couch. I didn’t talk much. I just soaked it all in. I laughed a lot. I memorized the quotes they painted on their walls. I learned the words to their music (a lot of Squeeze and Talking Heads), and we eventually became good friends.

Yesterday brought that all back… “And She Was” singing in my head…

Thirty years later, my son, grinning on another couch in our smelly, loud basement, weaving cautiously, awkwardly in and out of the boys’ raucous play, but embraced by his friends and thrilled to be a part of such a wonderful moment in time.

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.

To All the Colleges That Rejected Me

The Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece written by a graduating high school senior who apparently was not accepted by the college(s) she was hoping to attend next fall (

I thought I would try a version (not all of it true).

Dear Admissions Director:

I recently received your letter stating that I was not accepted to your great institution for matriculation in the fall. I have been taught, when I fail, to ask why and to use that information to grow. Please help me learn from this rejection so that I can change course, and in the years to come, you look back on your decision and wonder how such a great person could have been overlooked.

I have not suffered divorce, rare disease, eating disorders, neglectful families with big trust funds, latchkey kingdoms, multiple moves that left me friendless, or coming from a misunderstood minority. I have not had to overcome anything but a normal adolescence. I am merely a late bloomer with a great family (although not alums or famous), a small group of nerdy friends, and an optimistic attitude about what’s to come.

I know that doesn’t sound very exciting to a guy who hears all kinds of stories of loss and redemption. I’ve never understood why happiness sounds so boring to other people. Or just a nice girl-next-door making her way through high school without a big bang – good or bad.

Here’s me in nutshell.

While I have not excelled on the lacrosse field, I am the most passionate, hardest working, but slowest benchwarmer in the league. My coach and my teammates like me, even if they don’t pass to me.

My grades are good, but not stellar because my teachers say that I should speak up more in class. They clearly think I have something important to share, and I will share it when I am ready… most likely in college.

I never played Carnegie Hall, but I rock out in the shower. Had you accepted me, your freshman dorm halls would have been alive with bad 70s and 80s music every morning. What better way is there to wake up a college campus than joyful singing early on a Sunday morning!

I have not yet saved the world, because I am gathering my facts and building my skillsets, so that when I do launch my first philanthropic initiative, it will be world-changing… for someone, somewhere, and it won’t just be me.

When I travel – and I admit I have not traveled west of the Mississippi, east of the Atlantic, south of Virginia or north of New England – I prefer to stay off the highways, bring my own fresh maple syrup into breakfast joints, buy art off the street, and take photos of people, not places. And I dream of traveling everywhere outside that perimeter. It’s just that I’ve been working summers and saving up to go to your college.

I make myself laugh all the time, which makes other people laugh.

I am loyal, the kind of person who will remember my college with fond memories and give back year after year.

I’m a decent kid with lots of potential. I think you would have liked me. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,
Just Your Average Teen