When Parenthood is Like Solving a Mystery

One day, shortly after Daryl had allegedly mowed the yard, I noticed a large patch of uncut grass about 8 feet by 20 ringed completely by a strip that had been cut.

“Daryl,” I asked, “why didn’t you mow this?”

“I’m going to cut it with the weed-eater,” he said, a response that I found patently absurd.

I said as much. “That doesn’t make sense. It’d have taken you 1 minute tops to cut it with the lawn mower. It’ll take considerably longer than that with the weed-eater.”

“Not really,” he said in that droning teenager voice, this being the response I get every time I say something he disagrees with but won’t give reasons to support his position.

“Yes really,” I said. “Besides that, the weed-eater won’t cut it evenly. It won’t look as good. Always cut as much as you can with the lawn mower.”

“OK” – same monotonous drone.

“Did you see that patch of grass Daryl didn’t mow?” I asked my husband next time I saw him.

“I did,” he said. “I told him he should have mowed it.”

There wasn’t much we could do about it though because the lawnmower had returned to our friend’s house. Rats had chewed through our wiring harness so in a desperate pinch, we hauled hers out to our house.

About a week later, that friend was sitting at our dining room table.

“Did Daryl run over some telephone wire or something when he was mowing?” she asked.

My shoulders sagged as the pieces started to fall into place. “He didn’t say anything,” I said cautiously. “Why?”

“Well, we couldn’t get the blades to spin and when we got to looking under it, there was this telephone wire wrapped tight around the blades. I don’t see how he could have mowed with it like that.”

My husband and I stared at each other silently for an extended second or two before simultaneously calling out in a stern tone, “DARYL?!”

“What?” he asked as he sulked into the room.

“Did you run over something with the lawn mower?” I asked, now understanding why he had inexplicably stopped mowing before finishing a section he had obviously started.

“No.”

“Really? You just stopped mowing even though the mower was just fine.”

“Well, it started smoking…”

“It started smoking and you didn’t say anything to us?!”

“Well!” His tone got defensive. “I thought it was just out of gas.”

“Seriously, Daryl,” my husband said, “you are smarter than that. It doesn’t smoke when it runs out of gas. And you are supposed to tell us when it runs out of gas anyway.”

“This wasn’t our lawnmower, Daryl! We were borrowing it and you knew that! You have to tell us when something like this happens, especially if it isn’t ours.”

“Sorry…”

This scene played out again a few days later when we discovered that his recent abysmal weed-eating performance was due to there not being any thread in the weed-eater. Rather than telling us as much when we got home and questioned his completion of the task, he just kept repeating that he had weed-eated. Even though every tree and fence post and porch or sidewalk edge had tufts of grass surrounding them. Every. Single. One. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later when we set him to weed-eating again, that the truth was uncovered.

Seriously. I don’t know how they expect to get away with this stuff.

You Have an Uncle?

My children and I were sitting around the dinner table last night, having a rare, slow evening. I asked them what they were looking forward to the most about summertime. After a bit of animated response, Daryl asked, “Are we going anywhere this summer?”

“Denver,” I said, reminding them of our annual trip to visit my husband’s family.

“Anywhere else?”

“Well…,” I said, “If your sister doesn’t get that wild card spot to Globals in Knoxville, we were talking about going to North Carolina.” I said it in a tone that hinted I was annoyed with her possible wild card berth.

“Oh, my!” she exclaimed in false excitement. “North Carolina!! Oh, my goodness! I’ve always wanted to go to North Carolina. It’s just so exciting!! I’ll totally give up Globals for that! I mean, come on. It’s North Carolina!”

I rolled my eyes but otherwise ignored her.

“What’s in North Carolina?” Daryl asked.

“My uncle.”

“You have an uncle? I didn’t know you had an uncle.”

“Yes, my Uncle Matt and his wife and their daughter Anna and her husband and their kids. Here,” I said, showing him a picture off of Facebook.

“He looks just like Grandpa Ted!”

“Wow!” injected Jane. “They must be related!”

“They are brothers,” I said.

“Well, I didn’t know! I’ve never met him before.”

“Yes, you have,” I said. “You’ve been to his house even. You just don’t remember it. You were pretty small.”

“I don’t like visiting family I don’t know very well,” Daryl said quietly. “It’s uncomfortable.”

“Yeah,” said Jane, who then started in with a loud and energetic voice tinged with that homey sweetness that older family members often use: “‘Oh, sweetheart! You are looking so good! My goodness, I haven’t seen you since you were THIS tall. You sure have grown! I remember when you could barely walk. How old are you now? Are you in High School yet? I bet you’ve got all the girls lined up waiting for you, don’t you! Quite the ladies’ man, I’m sure.’ See?” she asked, dropping the fake voice and turning to me, “I’m ready to be an old family member. I’ve got this down.”

I hate to say this, but she’s kinda right. The older we get, the more obnoxious we seem to get when we see people, especially young people, that we haven’t seen for awhile. But having had the occasional “Oh, wow! You look just like your mother!” or “I can’t believe how much you’ve grown up!” slip out of my mouth unplanned, I’ve gotta say, she doesn’t have to fake it. By the time she gets there, she’ll be doing it too.

I just hope that I can continue to stop it after the first sentence and not go on with the annoying attempts to relate and sound cool. Thing is, kids are so aloof that it seems to me to not be a very comfortable event from the other side either.

Teenage Boy

Teenage boy.

Really, that’s all I need to write and so many of you nod your heads and think, yeah, I know. But maybe it’s more fun to give you the details of my latest encounter with teenage boy in the wild.

Daryl had a track meet.

It happened to be in a town not too far away so my husband took on Hal’s soccer practice so I could go watch Daryl run. He was to run in the 800 and then the anchor leg for the 4×400. I was particularly excited to see him run the relay.

So off I headed about 30 minutes down the road from home, found a parking spot (which was fairly fortunate), paid my entrance fee, and sat down by myself in a crowd full of strangers to wait.

Not too long after I got there, they called for the 7th grade boys 800. About 6:15, I watched the very large group of mostly gangly, awkward looking boys line up at the start line. The first thing I noticed was that Daryl was not wearing the new, specialized, spikes-included, long-distance running shoes we had bought him. Why wasn’t he wearing the shoes? Why had we bought the shoes if he wasn’t going to wear them?

And then the race began. He fell behind pretty quickly. This doesn’t look good, I thought to myself. By the time he came around on the second pass, only four boys were behind him. To his credit, he still kicked it into gear and ran his heart out to the finish line. But he certainly didn’t look like a kid who had finished 4th the first time he had run this race.

He didn’t come up into the stands to see me – even though I had texted my exact location to him. I asked if he was OK. How did he feel about the race? “Had a cramp” was his response. Ok, when is the 4×400? “Soon, I think.”

I know now that there are just a small handful of variations of track meet schedules. And the 4×400 is not that soon after the 800.

I watched the 100m dashes. I watched the 110 hurdles. I watched the 200 races and the 300 hurdles. I watched all of these for 7th and 8th grade girls and 7th and 8th grade boys. All the while, hoping to hear first call for the 4×400. It didn’t come. My butt was numb. My phone was nearly dead. No one to talk to and not enough juice to lose myself in a game.

So I watched a small slice of the 400s from my car as I charged my phone. And I knew that the 4×400 couldn’t be anywhere near the 400.

Back in the stadium, they made the first call for the 7th grade girls’ 1600. I cried.

I mean, not literally, on the outside, tears streaming down my face, but on the inside, yes. I was going to have to sit through four 1600’s first? And then essentially two more with the girls’ 4×400’s?

“I think the 4×400 is last,” my son texted me.

“Yes, I figured that out,” I said. “Why don’t you go ahead and come get your note so you can ride home with me?”

“But it’s the last race.”

“Yes, but it’s still faster for you to ride home with me than ride the bus. Come here.”

That’s when he stopped talking to me. Convenient.

About 9:15, he showed up in the stands. Limping.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I hurt my ankle. Nate is taking my spot in the relay so we can go ahead and go home.”

Three hours. I had sat there for three hours!

“When did you hurt your ankle?”

“During the 800.”

Three hours. I had sat there for three hours.

“Why did you wait so long to decide you couldn’t run?”

“I kept hoping it’d start feeling better.”

Did I mention how butt-numbing bleachers are?

“Did you ice it?” I asked.

“No.”

“Did you tell your coaches?”

“I didn’t know where they were.”

Three hours. I sat and waited for three hours while the boy merely hoped his ankle would feel better and did absolutely nothing to enhance his chances that it would. And said nothing to me as we texted back and forth. Three hours.

That’s when I noticed he was wearing the new track shoes. The ones he hadn’t worn when actually racing – he was wearing them now.

“Why didn’t you wear those during the 800?” I asked, pointing. He shrugged.

“It was a longer distance.”

“They are long distance shoes.”

Shrug.

As we began the drive home, he told me, “Coach had me do the high jump!”

“What?” I asked. “Why didn’t you tell me? When did you know?”

“It was earlier in the meet. I figured you couldn’t be here anyway. Coach said he saw me play basketball and knew I could jump.”

“But the motion is completely different,” I countered. “Had you ever practiced the high jump?”

“No.”

“Which coach said he’d seen you play basketball?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know. He told you in person, didn’t he? Which coach was it?”

“I don’t know. They look the same.”

I’m surprised I didn’t run off the road at this point. I had previously met one of the coaches and knew he was black.

“Daryl! You do realize that that’s the most stereotypical racist thing you could say? ‘They all look alike’? I mean seriously.”

“I didn’t say they all look alike. I said these two guys do. They are about the same height and sometimes they wear glasses and they are both bald.”

“I can’t believe you. You see these guys every day and you don’t know who is who.”

Shrug.

(To be fair to him, he joined athletics part way through the year so he missed introductions. I’m guessing he can distinguish these two guys from each other but doesn’t have a good handle on which one is Coach X and which is Coach Y. At least, that’s what I’m hoping.)

Conversation continued on for a few more minutes before his face became lost in the glow of his phone and I stared at the dark road ahead of me and pondered what I could have done with those three hours. What he could have done with those three hours.

Like maybe finish the major science project due the next day that he had thoughtfully tried to complete the day before but couldn’t because he had forgotten to bring home the rubric? The project that he had been given days or weeks before? The project that he would now have to stay up even later to complete?

I also thought about how sorely disappointed I was to not see him take the baton and run. How that three hours and the additional 30+ minutes that I likely would have waited would have been all ok if it meant I’d see him run.

But I didn’t. I waited ignorantly for an ankle I didn’t know was injured, didn’t know wasn’t being treated, didn’t know wasn’t known by the coaches. Because. Teenage boy.

You’ve Got to be Joking

“Hey, mom. Did you know that the Joker has an IQ of like 150?”

“Hey. You do realize that the Joker isn’t real, right?”

“Yeah, I know. But his IQ is like 150.”

“His IQ is whatever the writers at DC want it to be, son.”

“No, no! I’m telling you. It’s crazy high. People have studied it.”

“And I’m telling you he isn’t real.”

“It’s like realistic, true-to-life fiction though.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Hey, did you know…”

“I’m not listening to you.”

I know I should always show an interest in what my kids want to talk about, but sometimes I just can’t. I’m not going to talk about the nitty-gritty of their latest video game obsession and I’m not going to have a detailed conversation about comic book characters as if they are real. That’s what Dad is for.

When Cool Isn’t Cool

“You should really take a look at your son’s Instagram account.”

This came from my sophisticated, always-in-her-brother’s-business daughter, not from a fellow adult.

As he laughed, she continued: “I’m serious. It’s not funny, Daryl! His user name? Daryl69_420.”

“Wha-at?” he asked in a shrill voice as we gave him a disapproving (and surprised) look. “I saw it on a website. It’s what all the cool people use.”

“Do you know what 69 means?” I asked him.

“No,” he laughed, a little embarrassed. “I just know it’s cool.”

“69,” I said, leaning towards him, “is where the guy puts his mouth on the girl’s privates.” His face scrunched up in a disgusted expression but I continued, “And the girl puts her mouth on his penis.”

Pandemonium broke out as Hal called out in a sing-song, tattle-tale voice, “She said penis!” at the same time Daryl started fighting his sister for his phone. “Give it to me! Give it to me! Oh, gosh. That’s gross! That’s so gross! Give it to me now so I can change it! I didn’t know! I didn’t know!”

“That’s why you don’t use stuff that you don’t know what it means,” Jane lectured. “And 420 is about smoking weed.”

(She took great amusement in the fact that I didn’t know 420. I don’t find that part of the conversation important to include here at all but I know her and her dad well enough to know that they will comment on my selective editing of events so here you go. Full disclosure. I’m not all up-to-date on all the lingo and I’m ok with that.)

We are at the rather fun stage with Daryl where he’s essentially growing a mustache and maybe thinking about girls but not brave enough to act on the impulse and still hopelessly naive. One of his best friends went to the movies with a girl the same day we were having this conversation and his Destination Imagination team was waiting to pounce on him the next day. They are right on the threshold, teetering on the edge.

The transition from child to teenager holds many points of amusement for parents.

Like Father, Like Son

At Christmas, my kids get to see their cousins from a couple of states away, which they always love. This past Christmas, my eleven year old nephew, Jack, brought a drone, which he proved very adept at flying.

We’d all watch – mesmerized – as he hovered it gently just above the floor or zoomed it across the living room, doing little flips along the way. It was obvious he had spent a lot of time with it because he had masterful control.

And then we opened presents and Daryl discovered that Jack’s family had bought him the exact same drone. Once gift opening was completed, the boys all headed outside to fly their drones.

It wasn’t long before they came back in.

Jack was excitedly telling his dad that Daryl had pressed the auto-land button but instead, the drone had shot up into the air, over the trees, and disappeared.

“It wouldn’t have done that if he had pressed the auto-land button,” my brother countered.

“But that’s what happened!” the boys all insisted. They headed out to the creek near my mom’s house and searched for the drone. At our suggestion, they went door-to-door at the neighbors’ houses, asking if they could search their backyards.

They only searched one backyard – no one else was home. My mom and I made a flyer and forced Daryl to go back to the neighbors and leave flyers and ask everyone to keep an eye out for the missing drone.

The adults are all fairly certain that Daryl flew the drone too high and then, instead of pushing the auto-land button as he intended, pushed the auto-take-off button, which rocketed the drone outside of his radio control and into a large gust of wind.

The drone is gone. Fastest end to a Christmas present ever.

The incident reminded me significantly of my husband’s remote control airplane he bought back when we were in our early college days. He bought the large balsa-wood plane, replacement propellers, extra av gas, and a whole host of other accessories because, and I quote, “I’m going to be flying this thing a lot. I’ve always wanted to do this.”

We took it to the local softball fields so he’d have plenty of room. First go at it, he ran it along the grass to pick up speed, then didn’t get enough lift and crashed it full speed into a fence. Propellers broken.

But we had replacement propellers! Yay! Some time with some tools and the plane was ready to go again. He’d learned from that attempt and this time got the plane into the air.

Almost immediately, something appeared to be wrong. The plane kept flying further and further away. I glanced nervously at my husband. Does he know what he’s doing? I thought.

“Honey?” I finally asked tentatively. “What’s wrong?”

“I can’t see the plane,” he said. This was nigh on 25 years ago, so I don’t remember all the details, but I think he might not have had his glasses on.

The plane eventually nosedived into, just like his son years later, a nearby creek. We were, in one small detail, more fortunate than our son in that we found the plane. The end result was the same, however. The plane was mangled beyond repair. It was no more.

Over the next five years, the expensive av gas was used to get the burn piles going (we lived out in the country) and the cost of the plane and its accessories sat on our credit card for years. And I used the tale to my benefit for a very long time. Any time I did something stupid and he teased me about it, I’d mention the plane and he’d get quiet.

Eventually, my list of stupid things got long enough or I finally did a stupid something that outstripped his in total cost that it stopped being propped up as an argument. I actually hadn’t thought about it in quite some time. Until our son repeated the experience.

Like father, like son. I love these guys…

Best Laid Plans

Just on the off chance that you are tone deaf to emotion and didn’t pick up on it in the last two posts, I’ve been kinda down of late. Monday was particularly bad. Tuesday wasn’t shaping up to be much better until I decided to throw caution (and responsibility) to the wind and leave work early to go run.

I was giddy with excitement as I walked to my car. I had great plans. I’d run outdoors for the first time in weeks. It was a beautiful day! And then I’d take a nice long shower before picking up the boys. Hal, from his friend’s house and Daryl, from basketball practice.

But plans – especially happy plans – almost never work out. Especially if you have kids. You never get to do what you want when you have kids.

Jane had left school early for a doctor’s appointment, which was not likely to interfere, I thought. How naive…

I finished my run to find Jane baking a cake (from scratch). The darling had decided to make a cake for the Angel Mom picking up Hal from school as a thank you. There was just one problem. She had forgotten to preheat the oven and now needed to leave before it was done.

“It’s just another 12 minutes, mom. Can you finish it? You just need to add cocoa and melt it all for the icing,” she said, gesturing to a saucepan already holding milk and butter. “Then once it’s all liquid, add the vanilla and half that bag of sugar.”

I was standing there bathed in sweat, looking forward to my shower, and was now, instead, going to stand in a hot kitchen.

“Ok,” I said.

“Thanks, Mommy!”

While I waited for the butter to melt, I checked my voicemail. Someone had called during my run. Turns out it was Daryl, who had had to borrow someone’s phone since his was sitting in a bag of rice at home.

“Mom. There’s no basketball practice.”

That was the entire message. And no way to call him back.

Now what?

I tried to hurry outside and wave Jane down but she didn’t see me. I called a friend but she had already picked up her son and was home.

Now what?

The cake still had 10 minutes to go. His message was a solid 15 minutes earlier. Nothing to it. He’d just have to wait until I was done icing the cake.

And I’d just have to wait on that shower too.

The best laid plans of mice and men, folks. Best laid plans.