Hello? It’s me. You know, your mom?

This is what I typically see when I look at my conversation history with my 13 year old son. Sometimes it feels really lonely. Like I’m talking to myself. I know he has a phone because his nose is in it much of the time we are together. So what happens to it while we are apart? Strange, I tell ya. Maybe I should ask him about it…

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Daryl, (Never) On His Own

Daryl recently attended a summer camp out of state with a friend. His dad told him to be sure to send us a picture every day.

By the end of the first day, there was no picture. No surprise.

“Where is today’s picture?” I asked in a text. “How was it?”

He responded the next day with this:

That was it. No text, no nothing. What a punk. I said as much in the conversation that ensued.

(My husband responded first. I was calling my son a punk, not my spouse.)

That was Day 2 and the entirety of the conversation. Notice he left me hanging.

Day 3 brought more silence and no picture. I gave up. You honestly shouldn’t expect much out of a thirteen year old boy.

And then, nearly 48 hours after I asked my questions, he responded, “Yeah, it was cold and sometimes scary.”

Then… then… he sent a picture! Unprompted! And it wasn’t of his feet in socks he’d probably been wearing for several days. It was an honest-to-goodness quality picture of a creek surrounded by trees from a hike he had gone on.

He topped it off by carrying on a conversation with his dad about the hike and what he had purchased as gifts for his siblings. When his dad told him he loved him, Daryl responded, “I love you too.” And that’s when I knew.

The boy was ready to come home.

He’s typically an aloof child and not very expressive of his emotions. But one of the best things about him going on a trip like this is the quality of hug I get when he returns.

He actually hugs back instead of waiting patiently for me to finish and he’ll stay in the hug as long as I want. For minutes even. I sometimes wonder if he’s just being tolerant of his mother. My husband is pretty sure that he does it because he needs the hugs too. Which makes me all sorts of warm and happy inside.

Dressing for the Dance

Daryl’s middle school has an end-of-year dance. A couple of days before the dance this year, he asked a girl at school to be his girlfriend. And then he asked her to the dance. The night before the dance, Daryl was rummaging through his clothing, looking for something to wear.

“Do you know where my Easter clothes are?” he asked me.

“I thought you hated your Easter clothes.”

“I do, but it’s a Hawaiian themed dance and we are supposed to wear Hawaiian shirts or bright colored clothes.”

His Easter clothes certainly would fit the bill. He didn’t want to go with me when I shopped for Easter clothing, telling me instead to “just pick something out for me. I don’t care.”

He cared once I got home. I had purchased a pair of bright turquoise blue shorts on clearance and a sorta-bright pastel yellow shirt. He was horrified! But now? Now he was looking for those hideous clothes. But they weren’t even the best choice he had.

“You should wear your Hawaiian shirt,” I said, pulling a dark blue and white flowered shirt out of his closet. A much more sartorially accomplished friend of Jane’s had handed it down to Daryl a couple of years earlier and Daryl had never worn it.

“I’m not wearing that.” He said it in his serious, no-nonsense voice, which I groaned at and then ignored.

“Seriously, Daryl, that shirt is perfect. It’s a Hawaiian dance and this is a Hawaiian shirt. It doesn’t get any better than that. Here, try it on.” I slipped it off the hanger and handed it to him.

He tried it on. I could tell it was right on the edge of being too small for him but he looked good and I said so. He headed to our bathroom to check it out and I followed. As soon as he could see himself in the mirror, he wrinkled up his nose in disgust and said, “No way!”

“Oh, come on!” I tried. But, no, the Hawaiian shirt would not be worn. He found his Easter clothes soon thereafter and tried to get me to iron them. I pointed out that the Hawaiian shirt didn’t need to be ironed. He pleaded. I told him I was exhausted (I was) and that he could iron them himself. He said he didn’t know how. I said it was a good time to learn. He didn’t iron them but also didn’t switch to the Hawaiian shirt.

The next day, on the drive home from work, I thought about the clothes that still needed to be ironed. Since I was in the car with the bluetooth connection to my phone, I called.

“Get the ironing board and iron out so we can iron those clothes as soon as I get home,” I said.

“Oh, I don’t need to. I took care of it.”

“Really?” I asked in shock. “You ironed your clothes?” He must really like this girl, I thought to myself.

“No,” he said, “I’m not wearing those.” And this is where it got really good. I mean, really, really good.

“I’m wearing the Hawaiian shirt.”

My eyes went as big as saucers.

“Sally wants to match and she’s wearing blue so I’m going to wear that.”

A belly laugh began to work its way up to my throat. I forcefully shoved it back down and in the most neutral voice I could muster, said, “That’s wonderful dear. I’m glad you worked it out. I love you.” At this point, I was in severe danger of making it obvious I was laughing at the situation. “Good-bye,” I said, reaching quickly for the little red “hang up” button on my console.

And then I laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed. Tears rolled down my face. Mom couldn’t have threatened or rewarded him enough to get him to walk among his peers in that shirt. But a pretty young girl just had to say she wanted to match.

The hilarity continued when I got home and a hyper thirteen year old boy showed me how he had shaved. He fixed his hair (again and then again). He brushed his teeth. He took the toothpaste with him to freshen up after dinner. He checked his hair in the car’s mirror. In short, he acted like a completely different boy than I had been living with all this time.

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.