Puddle Jumping

Let’s just stick with the teenage boy for another post. I came home from choir practice the other day and he was sitting at the table doing homework. He was calling out questions to his dad and asking Siri about socialism and communism and suffrage. I was surprised. I don’t catch him doing homework very often.

I passed through the room and walked down the hall through our bedroom to the master bath. Once there, I settled on “the throne” for a bit of quiet me time. It wasn’t quiet for long. He came into the room wanting to show me something on his phone.

It was a Snapchat video of a bunch of football players. They were running and then leaping or sliding into huge puddles of water. It’s been raining a fair amount around here lately. And it’s cold. Ok, not northern-states cold, but cold for Texas. Hovering around freezing at night and not getting out of the forties or low fifties during the day.

He was naming each of the boys as they came into view and threw themselves into the mud. “And here’s ME!!! BOY!!!” he exclaimed just as I saw his lean frame make a smooth slide through the puddle. He finished naming the boys before pulling his phone back.

“There was that puddle and then another bigger one over there. We were all doing it. Even Big Mo and {honestly, I don’t remember the names…you get the idea}. It was fun!”

“You know who else likes to jump in puddles?” I asked.

“Who?”

“Four-year-olds. Four-year-olds like to jump in puddles.”

“It was fun!! But, man! It was cold. Like really, really cold.” He said that as if I would be unaware it was cold without his first-hand account.

“And it soaked my underwear and socks!” He gave a small laugh. “I didn’t know we were going to do that. I didn’t bring extra underwear and socks.” (They wear school-provided workout clothes during Athletics).

He stuck his foot out. “Man, I’m not wearing white socks anymore. Look at these!”

I soon heard him regaling his father with the same tale. He was very proud and very excited. I mean, he had to be. What 16-year-old boy wants to hang out with his mom while she’s using the bathroom?

Like I’ve said before, he can go days or weeks without having any substantive conversation with me at all. And then there’s days like this. I guess it’s the age, but it always, without fail, is about something stupid he’s done, a friend has done, or he’s heard. But it’s always fun. He’s living the good life.

A Truck In Sheep’s Clothing

“I’ve got some stuff that I want to get,” my teenage son said.

“Like what?” I asked, looking up from my laptop. He had a funny smile on his face and was fiddling with the door frame above his head.

“I wanna get some stuff for my truck,” he started, looking out the door toward where his truck was parked. “I want to get some floor coverings. Like some carpet.”

“Sheep skin,” my husband called from the other room. “He wants sheep skin floor mats.”

“What?” I asked.

“Yeaaahhhh…. that would be SO cool, dude!” my son said.

“You want sheep skin floor mats?” I clarified. “On the floor of your truck. Where your feet go.”

“Yeah! Think about it! It would be awesome!”

“I’m already writing one blog post about you. You’re going to go give me another?”

He didn’t respond but kept enthusing about the sheep skin floor mats.

“They are going to get dirty!” I tried.

“No, man. I know how to keep them clean! Like my shoes.”

“Oh, so you are going to stop driving the truck, is that it?”

“I wear those shoes all the time!” (side note: No. He doesn’t. He doesn’t want to risk creasing them.)

He continued as he looked at the ceiling and ran his fingers along the wall: “And I want to get LED rope lights.”

“Inside your truck?!”

“No! In my room. I’m talking about my room now. It’s gonna look good with those lights….But the sheep skin, mom!”

“How are you going to keep the sheep skin clean?” I asked.

“I’ll take my shoes off. Can you imagine how great that would feel? Your left foot just resting on that?”

“And what about when it’s raining? You gonna just stand outside in the rain and take your shoes off before you climb in?”

“Or I can sit down and take them off first.”

“With all the rain pouring in? Everything will be soaked!”

“I’ll put a rain cover on it.”

“A rain cover.” I deadpanned.

“Yeah! Dude. I’ll watch the weather and put a rain cover on if it’s supposed to rain.”

“On the floor mats.”

“Yes! They don’t have to be all fluffy and thick. They can just be carpet. Lots of people have carpet in their cars.”

“You said sheep skin. That’s thick and fluffy.”

“I know! My truck’s going to be awesome. Get those floor mats and get the radio installed. Dude.”

Chalk this up as another conversation that I never, ever imagined having. With anyone. As my mother-in-law would say, it’s a good thing he’s cute.

Taste Buds

“Did you know you have taste buds on your ball sac?” my son asked…me. Yes, he asked me. Directly.

“No, actually. I know for a fact that I don’t have any taste buds on my ball sac. Since I don’t have a ball sac. Being a girl and all.”

“No, that’s not what I mean. You know. There’s taste buds on ball sacs. It’s science.”

“Where did you see this? Snapchat?”

“No, an Instagram page,” my husband countered.

“No, for real. It’s science. You can look it up.”

“You did not learn about this in your Chemistry class,” I said patiently.

“No.”

“Then where?”

“It’s true. I think you can taste like soy sauce and orange juice man!”

“So what are you going to do? Stick your balls in a bowl of orange juice and see if you can taste it?” I asked.

“Nah, man. I’m not going to do it. But I’m just sayin’. Just look it up.”

So, with considerable misgivings, I picked up my phone. Opened Google. And began to type:

t-a-s-t-e- -b-u-d-s-

And then I noticed the suggested completions.

“‘Taste buds on balls’ is the second suggestion?” I asked incredulously.

“It’s trending right now,” my husband said.

And he was right. The article I opened was dated just four days earlier and acknowledged that the internet was suddenly fascinated with a study published in 2013 that stated two protein receptors allow certain tastes to be recognized in cells throughout the body, including – you got it – testes. Apparently, they are critical for fertility.

I then read to him: “But whether or not these taste receptors create…typical taste is another question. Indeed having tested the theory, many Internet users are disputing that any taste sensation occurs.”

“Great,” I said. “That means there are plenty of other guys out there sticking their balls in orange juice.”

“And soy sauce,” he said.

I sighed. I know I mentioned in a recent post that I treasure conversations with my 16-year-old son, but times like this… Oh, who am I kidding? I still love it. I just kind of wonder about him while we are talking.

Calling Mom

We were eating dinner at a local fast food establishment recently. A family of five has unique challenges at fast food restaurants since the tables tend to be bolted to the floor and arranged for groups of 2-4.

This particular location is even worse because the choices are small booths or round tables that tightly fit four. The round tables are impossible for five people. They do happen to not be bolted to the floor, allowing them to be moved side-by-side. But have you ever tried to group around, essentially, the infinity symbol? Or two-thirds of a snowman? It doesn’t work particularly well.

Our usual choice is to add a chair from one of the round tables to the end of a booth. Once the four booth sitters are in, the chair sitter can squeeze in at the end. No one ever wants the chair which means it’s usually me sitting there. As a result, I’m usually trying to figure out where to place my purse.

One time, I chose to put my purse on the table against the wall, directly across the length of the table from me. My phone was in my purse and still on “silent” from our time at church.

As we ate, Hal kept looking at me and grinning expectantly. I returned the look quizzically. He’d fumble around under the table and grin at me again. I decided to ignore him.

Finally, he asked, “Mom, where’s your phone?”

“It’s in my purse in front of you, why?”

He glanced at my purse and looked confused. About then, we all heard a distinctive voice say, “Hello? Hello?”

It was my mother-in law. Speaking from my husband’s smart watch strapped to Hal’s wrist. And then all the pieces fell into place.

Hal had his dad’s watch, from which he could make calls for the phone still in his dad’s pocket. He had thought it’d be funny to call me. Probably hoped it would confuse me since my husband, sitting next to me, was clearly not making a phone call.

I was not confused, but he sure was! It was an easy mistake for an eleven-year-old to make. A man does not store his wife’s number under the name “Mom.” If you call “Mom,” you are going to get, well, his mom – not yours. Which is exactly what happened.

Poor kid went from playing a prank on mom to talking to grandma on the phone while mom and dad and siblings laughed.

Tick…Talk…

I don’t know about other teenage boys. So far, I only have the one. But I find the one I have to be a little lacking in the communication department. Trying to carry on a conversation with him is often less fruitful than talking to an infant. At least the infant makes eye contact, coos in a way that seems responsive, and maybe drools on you a bit. This guy, he just looks somewhere past your shoulder or toward the floor and shrugs. Mumbles in a way that could be words or could just be him clearing his throat. Waits quietly for you to release him.

That’s what makes the talkative times so unbelievable and special. I drink them in and try to store them up, in the hopes the maternal high will hold me over until the next time. It’s what makes me willing to talk about literally anything, just to keep the conversation going. I’ll talk NFL, NBA, rap stars, internet personalities, high school drama, Modern Warfare. Literally anything. Or, at least, I’ll ask questions and sit back and bask in the flood of words coming out of his mouth, hoping each question will keep the hole in the breached dam open just a little bit longer.

I had one of those nights recently. I came home from work late. Very late. It was almost 8:00 in the evening. Daryl was in his bedroom, I think. I’m not sure because he was walking toward me just as soon as I entered the house. He was already talking before I had set down all of my belongings. He had a big smile on his face.

“I’m moving up to varsity,” he said.

“This week?” I asked.

“No. For the playoffs. I’ll finish the season on JV this week.”

“Oh. That’s not a surprise, right? I thought the whole starting team was moving up for the playoffs.”

“No.” He was obviously pleased. “Only about 7 of us moved up.” He rattled off some names. I started preparing a salad for my late dinner. I asked questions about the names he didn’t mention. We talked about who moved up and who didn’t and why we thought that was and whether he was likely to actually play.

“They said they might put us in for special teams some. And maybe a play or two. Maybe.”

I sat down next to my husband to eat my salad. I expected our son to wander off but he kept standing at the corner of the table, shifting his weight and flipping his hair back, and talking. Talking, talking, talking.

It was, simply put, glorious.

By the next night, we were back to our regularly scheduled programming. He didn’t look up from the PS4 when I walked in the door. He didn’t say hello. I wondered if he even noticed I was home. When I spoke to him, he’d quickly mute his microphone so his friends wouldn’t hear me, then he’d nod or give a one-syllable reply before resuming the online conversation about the game.

I was busy working on a project later in the evening when my husband walked up and said, “Did Daryl tell you about getting pulled over today?”

“By a cop?!” I asked, shocked. How, exactly, does a newly-minted sixteen year old fail to mention that?

“Yes,” my husband smiled. When I asked if he freaked out, he responded, “Thelma said he did.”

“Wait, Thelma?” Apparently a friend happened to be driving by and saw it. She said he looked really worried. It was during the school day. He was returning to the high school from a class at the middle school and had two other students with him. It was a legitimate trip for legitimate reasons, but having more than one passenger is technically against state law. I would have expected him to be terrified!

He didn’t get a ticket – just a warning for his brake lights not working. But still. I would have expected getting pulled over to rank up there with making varsity on newsworthy events. But then, I’m not a teenage boy.

I got his attention later that evening. He muted his mic. I asked him to come talk to me when he finished that round. “You aren’t in trouble,” I reassured the lad who was not the least bit concerned about what I wanted. The mic was already released; his attention had never left the screen.

A few minutes later he came into the bedroom, where I was propped up against pillows, writing this blog post. He paused at the corner of the bed, glanced at me, and rubbed his right arm with his left hand while he waited for me to speak.

“Is there anything you forgot to tell me about today?”

I got a brief confused glance and a mumbled “I don’t think so.”

“Nothing out of the ordinary happened in your day?” There was a brief pause.

“Oh, do you mean the brake light?” he asked.

“You getting pulled over. Yes. That’s what I’m talking about.”

He shrugged. “I wasn’t worried about it. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong.”

“That’s not what the bystander said.”

“What?”

“Someone saw it. They said you looked freaked out.”

“I wasn’t. I told Brian and Aaron that it was probably a taillight or something.”

“You were away from school during school hours with more than one passenger and you weren’t worried at all?”

“No.” Shrug. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Ok.”

Silence.

“Just for the record, this is the kind of thing I expect to hear about.”

A single nod.

“Anything else happen today that I should know about?”

A single head shake.

“Bomb threat? Lock-down? Teacher had a heart attack and you had to use the defibrillator on them?”

Slight smile, amused huff, more pronounced head shake followed by a “no.”

And that was it. He was back to his game and I was back to my blog. Wondering what makes him tick and when the cat would release his tongue again. And could I hold over until then. Ticktock… Ticktock… Tick… Talk…

Talk to Your Sons

If you doubt the veracity or sincerity of the #MeToo movement, I beg you to read this blog post. If you read nothing else I write, please read this.

My 18-year old daughter has had multiple experiences that I can’t fathom. That I never experienced and struggle to comprehend. Experiences that make my skin crawl. That make me want to shout into the wind. That make me want to strangle the necks of the young men who foisted these experiences on her. That make me want to cry. That make me think, as parents of boys, we must collectively be failing.

************** warning **************
*potentially offensive language ahead *

Jane has been asked to boys’ houses for casual sex. Jane has been texted by boys asking her to suck their dicks. Jane has been texted by boys asking her to let them “suck her titties.”

This has come from multiple boys. None of whom she’s been in a romantic relationship with at the time of the request. In fact, only one of them had she ever even gone on a date with, and that one, it was a single date months in the past. One had only recently been dumped by a close friends of hers. And another was a clearly platonic friend she had known for almost a decade.

Jane is matter-of-fact about it. She tells them no and often tells them off. She lectures them on their behavior and attempts to explain the inappropriateness of it. But.

But.

She seems to take it all in stride.

Just let that sink in for a minute.

An eighteen year old girl knows it isn’t right but also isn’t particularly surprised.

I talked to another mother of a girl of a slightly younger age. That girl wears a sweatshirt several sizes too big for her every day to school, no matter the weather, because that’s the only thing she’s found that keeps boys from grabbing her.

What a terrible thing for our boys that they are expected to misbehave. What a terrible thing for our girls that they have to deal with the misbehavior. As if it’s normal.

Now before you shake your head and mutter under your breath that some people should do a better job raising their sons but it has nothing to do with you, consider this. One of these boys, I know for a fact, comes from a very good family. A good Christian family that believes in hard work, respect, morals, proper behavior. His parents would be appalled.

I don’t tell them because they would come down on him and he would lash out at Jane and Jane would be mad at me, feeling I had betrayed her confidence. And then she would shut me out. I don’t tell them because Jane doesn’t want me to.

She’s already learned the lesson that many women seem to learn. It’s just better to sweep it under the rug. To minimize the significance of what happened. To say it really wasn’t that big a deal. It’s just her word against his anyway and there’s always the chance that his parents and others won’t believe what she says. That they’ll think she’s just out to destroy his life for some unclear reason. So we don’t rock the boat. No wonder so many young women struggle with depression and anxiety.

Here’s another sad lesson. When I said that every time I see one of these boys or his parents, I’m thinking about it, that I can’t look at him the same way anymore, she responded, “I know mom. Me too. It just goes to show that you think boys are your friends, but really, they aren’t.”

If you think your son would never do this, that he’s not capable of being that crass, that you’ve surely raised him better than that, You. Are. Wrong.

I believe my 15-year old son would never do this. I believe he is not capable of being that crass. I believe I have raised him better than this.

But I also know that before this, I had never talked to him about stuff like this. I had never thought I needed to tell him that asking a girl he’s not in a serious relationship with for sexual favors is wrong. That texting a random girl “Hey, suck my dick” is out of line. I seriously never thought I needed to.

I have talked to him now. In depth. And if you have a son, you should too. Today. And again tomorrow. And next week. And as often as necessary. Talk to him about his behavior but also tell him to talk to his friends. Tell him to call it out for what it is when he sees it. Work to change this culture that objectifies and demeans our girls and reduces our boys to something less than they can be. Than they should be.

Addendum: I told Jane as she read this that I would not publish it without her permission. I thought she might not want me talking about it. She shrugged. “It’s not a unique story, mom.”

Rules of the Road

When you are teaching your child to drive, it’s easy to cover the basics. Stop behind the line. Signal before changing lanes. Look over your left shoulder to check your blind spot. Accelerate to the highway speed before merging onto the highway. Please, oh please! Always do that. And God forbid, don’t slow down until after exiting the highway.

What’s harder are the unexpected situations.

Like encountering a driver traveling the wrong way on the road you are on. That happened recently while I was on my way to pick Daryl up so I made a mental note and used it as an object lesson later on why you have to always pay attention.

Like getting pulled over by the police. Who is ever ready for that? We thought it happened to us recently. I had directed him onto a road after the one we were on became one-way in the opposite direction. Shortly after we turned, sirens started up. We stopped at the stop sign and then the flashing lights came right up behind us.

“Just stay put,” I told him, expecting the officer to go around us. Our street was one-way and we were in the left lane. The road in front of us was one-way as well, traveling from right to left. I guess the officer expected us to go ahead and turn left into some nearby parking spots because he paused behind us. Just long enough for me to draw the conclusion that we were being pulled over.

Just as I began to tell my son where to move, the officer went around us. What a relief. And now my son knows that panicky feeling of being pulled over. Maybe his first real time (you know it’s going to happen), he won’t be quite as freaked out.

Then there’s the matter of stranded motorists. Do you stop to help or not? If you do, do you give them a ride or go get what they need for them? I don’t recall talking to Jane about that 3 years ago when she was learning to drive but she handled it beautifully when it happened recently.

She was traveling into town to pick up Daryl from football practice when she saw a woman standing next to her car trying to wave people down. Jane didn’t stop and she saw the woman’s hands drop down to her sides. She was obviously exasperated that no one was stopping to help her on a section of interstate with no signs of habitation, no businesses nearby.

Jane decided that if the woman was still there when she passed back by, she’d help. And, when she passed back that way, the woman was indeed still there, although now sitting in her car. It was getting dark. So Jane circled around and asked if she needed help.

The woman told her a story of traveling from one place not very close to here, where her mother lived, to another place not very close to here, where she lived. Her car had run out of gas and her cell phone had died. She showed Jane that she had some cash. She said she was a nurse at a hospital and offered to show her ID.

Jane told her that we had a gas can at our house. She’d call her dad and he’d bring some gas. So Jane did just that – called her dad. We paused the show we were watching so that he could go help. Jane didn’t wait for him on the side of the road with the woman. She went ahead and brought her brother home.

“Did I do the right thing?” she asked when she briefed me on the story. “I mean, if it was a man, I wouldn’t have stopped. But. Did I do the right thing?”

“Yes, dear. You did. Running out of gas and your cell phone happens to be dead is a suspicious story. You were right to be on guard. But it sounds like she really needed help so I’m glad you stopped.”

There was so much to unpack there. A young woman and a stranded motorist. What are the rules? Don’t stop if the motorist is a man. Unless you have a man with you. A man, not your teenage younger brother. Don’t approach the car. Or maybe don’t even get out of your car. Don’t let them into your car. Don’t get into their car. Don’t quite trust the story – no matter how vulnerable they seem. But don’t be callous -we are called to help people. But don’t let them get close enough to grab you. Call someone for help. Or call the police? But not 911 because it’s not an emergency.

The story was true, we think. The woman couldn’t stop praising Jane when my husband showed up with a can of gas. She was an older woman. Most of us wouldn’t be on the road without a charging cable for our phone, but an older person? Yeah, totally believable. And the road behind her? It’d been a while since she had been able to see a gas station from the road.

I’m glad my daughter stopped to help. I don’t fault her for not stopping the first time. She was likely too far past the woman by the time she processed what was going on and what she should do. I am disappointed that no one else stopped in the 20+ minutes it took Jane to circle back around.

It has all gotten me to thinking though. Jane heads off for college in less than two weeks. What other scenarios have we failed to prepare her for? Both on the road and in life. How well will she fare on her own? So this is why parents of adults don’t necessarily relax – especially parents of newly-minted adults. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind doesn’t apply to your children.