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.

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.

Battle of the Bands: Little Brother vs. One Direction

This morning was a good morning. Hal returned to the land of the living – he had been ill and was asleep when I got home last night and never stirred from the couch all evening – despite all the bustle of activity around him. At one point, he heard my voice and reached for a hug but was back asleep in no time. He slept all night too. But this morning, he bounded in, full of energy. We told him to take a shower and eat some breakfast.

It was a good morning for Jane too. Today was the release day for the new One Direction album that she had pre-ordered months ago. She had the music on her iPhone and was trying to devour all the songs as she prepared for school.

And that’s where the collision occurred.

The happy, energetic, feeling-better seven-year-old was singing heartily in the shower. The happy, excited teenager was trying to listen to her new music while applying make-up and fixing her hair in the same bathroom.

“Hal! Can you please stop singing?”

{More singing of nonsense words.}

“Hal! Please! I’m trying to listen to my new music!”

{Singing continues.}

“HAL! I asked nicely!”

I called to Jane. She called back in an irritated voice.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“I’m trying to listen to my new music but Hal keeps singing.”

“Singing in the shower,” I said, “is an intrinsic right. You can’t deny someone their right to sing in the shower.”

“Well! I didn’t want to turn the music up loud and bother people!”

“But you can’t tell him not to sing in the shower. It’s a primal need. You’ll have to go get ready in your room or wait to listen to your music or just put up with him.”

She groaned.

“Jane?” I called out.

She’d had enough. In her most tortured, irritated teenagery voice, she yelled back, “ARE YOU STILL TALKING TO ME?!”

“Yes. I just wanted to tell you that I’m glad the One Direction album came in. I’m glad you are getting to enjoy it. I’m happy for you.”

“Oh. Thank you.”

“You handled that well,” my husband whispered.

“It’s what I really planned to say all along. Really.”

But I will hold the “ARE YOU STILL TALKING TO ME?!” line in my head all day. As my mother-in-law loves to say on Facebook, it was my first laugh of the day.

What If Overdrive

Parenthood can be anxiety-inducing. Some parts are scarier than others and I’ll admit that I’m entering into one of those stages right now. The last time I remember being this scared was when we brought our first child home and I worried about her dying of SIDS in her crib while I took a shower or slept myself or did anything other than watch her chest move up and down and up and down.

It’s the lack of control that gets me.

When they were little, I had full control. They weren’t going anywhere without me. They weren’t alone with anyone unless I allowed it. Then they went off to preschool. I knew all their friends. I knew the families of all their friends. I had full knowledge of everything they had going on. I talked to their teachers every day.

Then they headed off to Kindergarten. And they started talking about kids I didn’t know. Eventually, I got to know their friends, but I didn’t really know their friends’ families very well. And they interacted with a lot of kids that I didn’t know at all. As they got older, I didn’t necessarily stay at the birthday parties they went to. I was losing touch.

Still, they didn’t go anywhere that I didn’t know about. I took them places. I picked them up. They had no ability to slip from my grip. Or at least my awareness. I still had a handle on things. For the most part. It still felt safe.

Now Jane is in high school. And she’s bringing a boy home to meet us tomorrow. I find myself in a mild panic. I was much more comfortable over the past year when she had steadfastly held that relationships weren’t worth the drama. I had honestly hoped and foolishly believed that the perspective would hold through high school.

I should have known better.

At first, I was happy for her. Basically. They aren’t “dating”. They are friends who think they might be interested in pursuing a relationship. It seemed mild enough. Then I realized that I didn’t know this boy. At all. Never seen him. Never met him. And the what-ifs started.

What if he’s not a nice person?
What if he hurts her?
What if he has dishonorable intentions with my daughter?
What if this relationship distracts her from her grades?
What if the relationship changes her personality?
And then it struck me: Oh, no. He’s a Sophomore. He’ll be driving by the end of the school year.
What if she turns on us? He could pick her up without us knowing.
I won’t know where she is.
She won’t necessarily be where I think she is.
What if they lie to us?
What if they run off?
What if they have sex and she gets pregnant?
What if he’s a perfectly nice boy but not a great driver?
What if she dies in a car wreck with him at the wheel?

The whole driving thing has already been weirding me out. I’m terrified. It’s just too simple for kids to do something stupid. And then they are gone and there’s no getting them back. I don’t want that to be my kid. I don’t want her behind the wheel. I definitely don’t want her in the car while any other young person is behind the wheel. Even if she did say that the Senior who drove her to our church the other day is a better driver than I am. I don’t care.

So, see? It’s the lack of control that I can’t handle.

Parenthood is about slowly and surely losing control. I started off feeding them with nourishment from my own body. Ever since that first weening, I’ve been letting go a little bit at a time. Sometimes I haven’t noticed. Sometimes I’ve rejoiced (never was a big fan of wiping little bottoms). Sometimes…

Sometimes, I’m like that moment a few months before Jane was born when the reality of impending parenthood overwhelmed me and I kept backing up on the bed, trying to pass through the wall into oblivion to avoid this thing that I couldn’t stop. “No, no! We aren’t ready for this! What were we thinking?! We can’t do this! We don’t know what we are doing!”

Too late now.

We don’t know what we are doing. We don’t have a clue. We’ve never done it before. The stakes are so high during this tumultuous time in a child’s life. Not everyone makes it through, but everyone has to enter. So here we are.

I understand now why parents wait up for their children to come home. I understand now why, even past 40, when I leave my mom’s house for the long drive home, she tells me to call her when I get home. I get it. It doesn’t make me any less scared though.

The Grubby Gentleman

Apparently, if you leave my daughter alone in the stationary/greeting card/party supply aisle at Wal-Mart, she looks like a good candidate to ask for help. I’m not sure why – what with the teenager reputation of being all into themselves. I don’t know how long it took her to find the birthday card and Starbucks gift card before she found herself waiting for me to return from the home repair section on the opposite end of the store. All I know is that she was busy enough when I got back.

Specifically, she was looking at a greeting card with a very sketchy looking man. I was suspicious – not alarmed, but definitely on alert. I threaded through the other people between us and approached carefully. She grabbed the card and said, “No this is one for people wishing you a happy anniversary. Let’s see…”

She returned to the row of cards and began searching. I stepped up to make my presence known. Not that I cut an intimidating figure, but still. The man was dirty and his skin was covered both in tattoos and years of sun damage. His clothes were very worn. He was claiming that he had forgotten his glasses and couldn’t read the cards.

It was his anniversary and he felt very relieved that he had remembered. But he was having trouble finding an appropriate card. He wasn’t touching Jane or standing too close or anything that would set off any further alarms. I joined the search.

Jane found a card that would work and he held it while she looked some more. When she read the next one to him, he snatched it and declared it perfect. As we turned away from the racks, he thanked us and said with a smile, “Now I just need to go find some flowers.”

He even shook each of our hands before walking away. Not a threat. Not a pervert. Just a man looking to do something sweet for his wife. It occurred to me later that while his story might have been true, he also might not have been able to read, or read well.

As we walked away, Jane leaned over and said, “That’s the second person I’ve helped today. Before he came along, I helped a woman in one of those scooters get one of the birthday balloons down.”

Maybe seeing that was what made the man decide to approach her. I’m proud of her and her little good deeds. I’m a little saddened that I’ll still need to talk to her about being careful in situations like that. Just because… unfortunately… not all men, grubby or not, are as honest and harmless as that gentleman turned out to be.

When It Rains…

It’s been raining here a lot. I mean, a crazy lot. More than it has rained in a very, very long time. Area lakes are at or near their capacity for the first time in years. People who have not seen water under their docks for over three years are thinking about dragging the boat out and discovering whether it still runs.

The weather has been crazy. In the eighties one day and then overcast and chilly the next. Lots of storms. Thunder is becoming the norm. My rainboots now seem like the wisest purchase ever made. I’m getting used to sleeping to the roll of thunder.

Hal, who is terrified of thunderstorms, has had a lot of practice getting over that fear. Once upon a time, even the faintest boom in a town far away would set him to crying or send him running into our room. Now he has graduated to spending the night with his tiny fingers crammed into his ears to block the sound.

One recent night, around midnight I’m guessing, I was deep asleep. My husband was in bed but reading on his Kindle. Suddenly, a bomb went off. At least, that’s what it sounded like. A massive explosion followed by the long continuous rumble of a building collapsing. It had to have been the loudest, closest, longest-lasting clap of thunder I’ve ever experienced.

I jumped and my eyes shot open. I looked up at my husband and said, “Well, that ought to be enough for Hal.” I waited for the wail or the sound of a bedroom door opening. I just knew that fingers in the ears weren’t going to cut it this time. I waited, wide awake myself, but no child cried out and no door opened. I gradually returned to sleep.

The next morning, I learned two things. First, Hal had slept through the impossible-to-sleep-through thunder clap. Second, Jane had not. Not only had she not slept through it, it had pulled her out of bed.

“It scared me,” she said. “It scared me real bad. I’m telling you, I was out of bed with my comforter wrapped around me and my hand on my doorknob. I was this close to going to your room and crawling into bed with you. And then I told myself, ‘Jane, you are 14 years old. You shouldn’t have to go to your parents’ room because of a thunderstorm.’ And it was hard but I managed to put myself back in bed.”

I died laughing. “Oh, man, honey,” I said. “That would have cracked me up. I was expecting Hal to walk in. If I had heard your door open, I would have assumed it was him. That would have been such a surprise to hear my door slide open and see you instead!”

It was a sweet moment. To know that she still needed us, or more precisely, still wanted to need us. But that she was also beginning to make that healthy separation, beginning to recognize that she can handle life without us. In small doses. Starting with weathering the weather without parental reassurance.