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.”

I’m on my way… maybe…

My phone rang as I walked the long walk to my car after work.

“Mom? Are you coming to pick me up?”

“Nah. I was going to but I changed my mind…”

<silence>

“…I’ve decided to go to Florida instead.”

“What? How are you going to go to Florida in your truck?”

“How am I going to go to Florida?”

“Yes! You can’t go to Florida in your truck.”

“Do you really not know how people travel from one place to another? It’s simple. I get in my truck and I drive. Then I stop for gas. And then I drive. And then I stop for gas. And I stop to pee. And then I drive. And I keep doing that until I get to Florida.”

“You are not going to Florida.”

“Why not? How do you know I’m not going to Florida?”

“Mom!!” I could hear his friends in the background. “I want to go home!”

“Oh, well that’s a problem if I’m on my way to Florida.”

“Come pick me up!”

“If I pick you up, what, you want me to come home with you then?”

“Yes! You can watch me play Black Ops.”

“That doesn’t sound like fun. Florida sounds like fun.”

“You can eat crackers.”

“What?”

“Crackers.”

“What about crackers?”

“You can eat them while you watch me play Black Ops. Or whatever it is you eat. Black Ops is awesome.”

“I don’t like watching you play Black Ops – that’s your dad. Mickey Mouse is in Florida. That sounds more fun to me. I mean, come on! Mickey!” At this point, I climbed into my truck and began to drive to the high school.

“I’m trying to celebrate. Come get me.”

“Celebrate? Celebrate what?”

{something garbled that sounded like “Football is over! Forever!”}

“Football isn’t over. You have a game on Thursday.”

{more garble that sounded like “This was the last practice! Ever!”}

“Last practice ever? Wait, I thought you loved football. You don’t plan on playing next year? Really?”

“No, mom! Last freshman football practice. It’s done.”

“It’s not done. You still have a game on Thursday.”

“Mom, come on. You need to pick me up.”

“Ok, fine. I’m on my way.”

“Good.”

“It’s going to take me a while to get there though. I had already made it to Alabama before you called.”

“Alabama’s not even that far away mom.”

I laughed. “You need to pay more attention to geography if you think Alabama is close.”

“You can fly.” Again, I could hear his friends talking and laughing.

“I can’t believe you are talking about my super powers in front of your friends. You know I don’t like people to know that I can fly.”

“Mom!”

“Besides, I’m not strong enough to carry the truck with me all the way back from Alabama.”

“Please just come pick me up!”

“I am! I’m on my way right now.”

“Wait, so you mean you are talking to me on the phone while you are driving? That’s not safe, mom!”

“Ok, fine. You are right. Bye!”

I set my phone down with a chuckle. I’m so glad he’s a good sport.

 

Daryl and the AIDS-laden Turtle

I turned down a long narrow road after picking Daryl up from football practice. As I approached the end of the road, I noticed something in the way. At first I thought it was just a bit of tire from a semi-truck, but as I got closer, I saw it for what it was.

There was a medium/smallish turtle standing still in the center of my lane, head stretched up toward the sky. The road was a divided two-lane road with curbs on the side and on the median. There was literally no way for me to go around the turtle. Maybe my truck could pass over the top of him, if he ducked his head into his shell, but I didn’t want to chance it.

“Hey,” I said to my oblivious son. “Go move the turtle.”

“Huh?”

“Go move the turtle. Take him all the way over to the other side. Not just the median and not back that way,” I said, as I motioned around us. Since my last turtle-in-the-road debacle, I had learned that you move turtles in the direction they are going. Doing anything else will just cause them to enter the road again.

“What?”

“GET OUT OF THE TRUCK. GO MOVE THE TURTLE.”

“Huh?” He looked up from his phone. “Oh, hey! Look! There’s a turtle!”

“YES! That’s what I said. Now go move him,” I said, repeating all the details of where.

“But why?”

“He’s blocking my path. Just go move him!” I said, checking that there was no one behind us.

“But what if it’s a snapping turtle?”

“It’s not.”

“But what if it is?”

“Then be careful. Just get out there and pick him up.”

Daryl exited the truck and approached the turtle with a level of caution I would typically reserve for mountain lions or rattle snakes – assuming I was being forced to approach them for some reason.

He started to pick up the turtle and it moved suddenly. Daryl jumped back. He started trying to “shoo” the turtle by pushing it with his foot. The turtle responded by running in the wrong direction and then turning to face him.

The dance continued as I rolled down my window and called out, “Just pick him up and move him!”

“But he’s trying to bite me!”

“No he’s not!”

“Yes he is!”

“Just move the turtle, boy! What’s wrong with you?” I asked, exasperated but reaching for my cell phone to catch his hesitation on film.

His fourth or fifth attempt at lifting the turtle, he didn’t jerk and let go when it moved its legs and he quickly moved it… to the median. Not to the other side of the other lane as I had instructed.

“No!” I cried out, knowing that the turtle would now have to cross the other lane as well. “Move him all the way to the other side!”

“No!” he responded in kind as he returned to the car. “He’s out of the way and there’s a car coming up behind us now.”

“Only because you took so long! Now he’s going to have to cross the other street.”

“That’ll take him a million years to get to it.” (The median was very narrow).

“No it won’t. I saw how fast he moved on you! Why were you afraid of the turtle?”

“I wasn’t afraid of the turtle.”

“You were totally afraid of the turtle.”

“No. It was an alligator snapping turtle.”

“It was not.”

“It was trying to bite me!”

“No it wasn’t!”

“It kept touching me.”

“So?”

“I’d go to pick it up and then it would start walking and its leg would touch my hand. Yuck!”

“So what?”

“It might give me AIDS.”

“You can’t get AIDS from a turtle!”

“You don’t know that.”

“Actually, I do.”

“I could have gotten AIDS.”

“Turtles don’t get AIDS. You can’t get AIDS from touching a turtle.”

“Uh-huh. He could have been rolling around in it. He could have had it all over him.”

“AIDS is a condition that you can develop if you contract the HIV virus. It’s not something that turtles can ‘pick up’ from ‘rolling around’ in the grass. HIV can’t survive out in the open long enough for that to be a thing.”

“Yes it can. I know these things. I’m in Biology.”

We traveled in silence for a while before I brought it back up. “If you had just finished picking it up, then its legs would have just sagged and not been touching you anymore.”

“No! It’d keep running. Vrrr-vrrr-vrrr,” he said, making rapid ‘running’ motions with his arms and sound effects with his mouth.

“It doesn’t matter anyway. It’s just a turtle. You are a wuss.”

“No I’m not. Man, I’m tough. That was an alligator snapping turtle!”

“No it wasn’t!”

He answered his phone about then. His dad was calling. Daryl gave him our approximate location and then sat silently as he listened to his dad talk.

I leaned over slightly and called out, “Your son was afraid of a turtle!”

“It was an alligator turtle,” he protested, “and it could have given me AIDS!”

His dad must have mentioned that the turtle couldn’t give him AIDS because turtles are cold blooded, because Daryl then said, “It’s called cold blooded AIDS. C-B-A-I-D-S. It’s real man.”

Daryl then passed on a question from his dad – what were my plans for the night.

“I need to write a blog post,” I responded.

Daryl dutifully told his dad, “She’s going to write a blog post.” Then there was the briefest pause as realization of the topic struck him, “{Smack} Hey!”

I just laughed. The phone conversation ended and we drove along in silence some more. As we approached the intersection at which I had totaled a previous car due to rubber-necking while people were dealing with a very large honest-to-goodness alligator snapping turtle, I brought it up again.

“You know, I watched an eleven year old girl in a dance leotard – BARE FOOTED – pick up an actual alligator snapping turtle, much bigger than the one you were afraid of, and carry it all the way across the highway.”

“I wasn’t afraid of it!”

“Yes you were. You are a wuss. Weaker than an eleven year old girl.”

“No! Eleven year old girls are just too young! They don’t know any better. They are too stupid to avoid them.”

“Whatever. You are a wuss.”

“Uh-huh. And is that eleven year old girl going to play football? Huh? I don’t think so.” He sat back with a smug, self-satisfied smile.

“Don’t try to change the subject. You might play football but you were afraid of a little turtle. Wuss.”

You know, don’t tell Daryl, but it might really have been a snapping turtle. It wasn’t big and I don’t think it could have gotten its head around to bite Daryl, but it was responding rather aggressively. Just don’t tell him I said that though. OK?

And in case you are wondering, Daryl knows he can’t get AIDS from a turtle. It’s just fun when he pretends to be a confidently wrong idiot and we banter back and forth. He also knows he was being timid and I know (and he knows that I know) he’s not really a wuss. Except when it comes to turtles, of course.

 

 

Daryl Goes to High School

Daryl knew exactly what he wanted to wear his first day of high school. He was animated telling me about it, dropping into his faux hip-hop mannerisms he uses when he’s talking about how cool he is. He tends to lean to one side, drop his shoulder, and put his hands in front of him, gesturing like a rapper, one side of his mouth turned up in a knowing smirk, his eyes barely open, head nodding, and an occasional smack of the lips.

“I got it all planned out,” he said. “Imma gonna wear my…{smack} Adidas sweatpants and my… {smack} Adidas shoes and then my Adidas sweatshirt… yeahhhhh…” Slow, ‘cool’ nods of the head as he tilts back and slightly to one side.

“You are going to wear a sweatshirt. On August 20th. In Texas,” I replied.

“Yeahhh….it’s gonna be gucci maaaann…”

“You are going to look stupid. The upperclassmen are going to look at you and think, ‘look at that idiot wearing a sweatshirt when it’s a hundred degrees outside.”

“Nah, man. I’m gonna be killing it. See, Imma gonna be all Adidas. Imma even gonna wear my Adidas underwear.”

“How is anyone going to know you are wearing Adidas underwear if you are wearing a sweatshirt?”

“Easy… see… ya just pull your pants down a little like this…” He pulled one side of his pants down a few inches past his hips to reveal the waistband of his underwear. “Yeahhhh…” More head nods and arm gestures as he strutted across the room in front of me.

“Still, no one is going to see your underwear if you are wearing a sweatshirt, even if you pull your pants down a little,” I said.

“No, mama, you see, it’s like this. See, ya juss… ya juss… lift your shirt up like this see? You walk around, you just kinda lift it and go, ‘what’s up bruh? Yeah… iss aright man…’.” He kind of flopped his arms up under the bottom of his shirt and held his arms like he was greating his buddies from the hood or something, nodding and walking like he had a limp.

I shook my head.

“You are going to look like an idiot if you walk around like that.”

“Nah, man, I coo bro…” he said, pulling the other side of his pants down so he had that awful street look where his pants are barely hanging on and his underwear is almost fully revealed. I knew he was tweaking me then.

“You gonna wear Adidas socks to complete the look?” I asked.

“Oh, hecks no. I’m a Nike man! I be wearing my Nike socks! What you talkin’ about?”

Yes, he really said that. Yes he did. After describing his four piece Adidas outfit he was proud to wear on the first day, he declared himself a Nike man and thought I was crazy to suggest he wear anything other than Nike socks.

Kids are crazy, but I think teenage boys may take the cake.

And guess what? First day of school? He wore a T-shirt that he has had for at least two years. Not Adidas, not Nike.

“What about the Adidas sweatshirt?” I asked.

“Ahh… it’s in the hamper.”

“You gonna wear it anyway?”

“Nah. It’s dirty.”

He had a day and a half to wash that sweatshirt after announcing his perfect first day of school attire. I guess the desire to look his imagined best doesn’t go deep enough to override general teenage laziness, forgetfulness, and that overwhelming need to get as much Fortnite in as possible before summer ends.

Fine by me. Saved me all the “Sweatshirt? Really? Is that boy crazy?” questions I would have gotten when I shared the first-day-of-school pictures on Facebook.

Opening Night

And while we are on the topic of opening weekend movies, the fam went en masse to see Infinity War on opening night. There were a few highlights of the experience plus some insight into my two oldest children that I’d like to share.

First off, I’m not going to go into any real detail about the movie, so you are basically spoiler safe. At the same time, the movie’s been out like a month, so if you haven’t seen it yet, I find it hard to believe that it’s all that important to you. I’m not going to be as careful as I might have been if I had written it that week as I had planned.

First, the theater was packed – just like you’d expect for the first showing in town. Everyone was excited. My husband was running late so I went out to the ticket taker, gave him the ticket, and described my husband before heading back to the theater.

The trailers had already started so I carefully snuck back to my seat. Something was bothering me about the trailer though. It seemed to be staying on that scene too long – a crazy alien guy walking through a sea of dead and dying people, giving some grand speech.

I leaned over to Jane and asked, “What movie is this for?”

“This isn’t a trailer,” she responded. “There were no trailers. This is the movie.”

I was shocked! The whole reason I didn’t wait in the lobby for my husband was because I absolutely despise missing even the first minutes of a movie. But OK. That shock paled in comparison to the ones to come.

The crowd behaved just like you would expect an Opening Night crowd to behave. Lots of oohs and ahhs and cheering and shocked gasps and cries of horror and laughter and clapping. I was missing some of the dialogue because of it, but the energy was palpable and made it all worth it.

At one point, a bearded man dressed in all black came on the screen. The theater erupted in cheering. I was confused. I couldn’t think of who the person was. How could this nondescript person be this many people’s favorite? So, I leaned back over to Jane.

Who is that?” I whispered.

She stared at me for a moment and then laughed. She got her brother’s attention. “Daryl! Daryl! Mom just asked who Captain America was!” He leaned over to stare at me incredulously before shaking his head and turning back to the movie.

Whatever.

As I’m sure practically everyone has heard, the ending was a shocker. Actually, multiple shockers. Shocker after shocker after shocker. I sat there kind of numb thinking, I can’t believe they are doing this to their fans. I mean, Marvel fans are so devoted!

People were exclaiming in dismay. I could hear people crying. My son – insight #1 – was laughing. He was looking around the theater with a certain amount of superiority on his face, laughing at everyone there. He’s jaded enough to know that the dead people weren’t going to stay dead.

As the credits rolled, a friend came down to sit next to me. We talked about the movie and the ending and watched the credits, anticipating, like everyone else, the end credit scene(s). Well, almost everyone else. I think 5-10 people got up and left at the end. Who does that? I mean, really. You came to Opening Night of a Marvel moving and you aren’t staying through the end? Are you that dense? Or were you that mad at the ending? It made no sense.

As we talked, we saw that the end of the credits were rolling toward the top. The excited chatter that had filled the theater as soon as the last scene ended died abruptly. You would have thought the audience was an orchestra and the conductor had just circled his arm to stop the music.

Everyone waited. Silently. The last words disappeared from the top of the screen. The screen was blank. The theater was deadly quiet. And then… more words appeared at the bottom and began to scroll up.

Psych!

I chuckled. They really were messing with their fans. The friend and I began to theorize that they were actually going to stick it to everyone by going with no end credit scenes. In a Marvel movie. We were wrong – there was a scene, but that pregnant pause in the credits? I think that was my favorite part of the entire experience.

It was as we walked to the parking lot that I had insight #2 about my children. They were complaining – vociferously! – about the crowd.

“Why couldn’t they have been QUIET? Sheesh! I couldn’t even hear the characters talking!”

“I know! I kept missing stuff. OK. We get it. We don’t need you to clap when your favorite character comes on screen.” (I wondered if either noticed when I clapped enthusiastically for Black Panther).

“And that one girl? Did you hear her scream?!”

“Yeah. That was crazy. I mean, who even likes Ironman that much? Chill out – it’s just a movie!”

“Like remember when we went to Star Wars? And that text and the music started at the beginning? Everyone went wild. I just don’t get it. I wish they’d just shut up.”

“Um, guys,” I tried. “That’s the way opening night is. People get into it. That’s the whole reason for going. It’s an experience. It’s different than what you get any other night.”

“Well, I don’t like it.” The other one agreed.

“Then you need to not demand that we go on opening night – because that is always what you are going to get,” I said.

“No, I’m still going to go then. I just wish people would be quiet.”

*sigh*

Who knew my kids were such killjoys?

Comfort Food

When I was young, I liked to lie in my mom’s lap, with my head rested on her chest, and listen to her talk. I liked how her voice reverberated through her chest. I liked the warmth and feeling her heart beat under my face. I liked being the only person experiencing her voice and her touch in that way at that moment. These are intensely pleasurable memories. Comfort food for the soul.

Last night, I stepped up to my six foot tall son as he put his PS4 controller away after another epic round of Fortnite. When I reached out for a hug, he hugged back and didn’t quickly let go.

I wrapped my arms around his waist and nestled my head against his chest. He continued talking to his dad about the game. I marveled at how his deep voice reverberated through his chest. I soaked in the warmth. I felt his heart beat near my face. I could have stood there forever. I cherished being the only person he calls mom. The only person who gets this particular hug.

I don’t see my mom as often as I’d like and I never rest in her lap with my head on her chest anymore. But I get a good taste of that old comfort every time we hug. And now I can get a similar sensation with my son. Comfort food for the soul.