Speaking the language

I ALMOST NEVER go to Starbucks. Most times when I do, it’s because someone gave me a gift card. I'll happily spend someone else's $5 on a super-caffeinated beverage; I can’t in good conscience do it with my own heard-earned cash.

Despite my infrequent visits, I usually order the same thing, in the same way. This morning, gift card in hand, three extra minutes to spare, I decided to not walk by Starbucks today. I went in. And this is what happened.

ME: I’d like a triple grande vanilla latte, sugar-free, fat-free.

BARISTA: So, you want a triple grande SKINNY vanilla latte?

ME: Yeah, if that’s what you call it.

BARISTA: If you say “skinny,” they know you want it sugar-free, fat free.

ME: Do I have to say “skinny?”

BARISTA: Well, they’ll know you want it with the skim milk and the sugar-free syrup if you do.

ME: Okay, then, I want one of those. What you said.

BARISTA: [yells to other barista] I need a triple grande SKINNY vanilla latte please! [To me] Would you like anything to eat with that this morning?

ME: No… tryin’ to, you know, keep it SKINNY.

BARISTA: They make me ask.

ME: I ate breakfast at home.

Beware, ye who do not speak the language! For the barista might just correct your choice of words, and then you might go from feeling a teensy bit smug for having remembered to call it a “triple grande” instead of asking for a grande with an extra shot, to feeling like an idiot who doesn’t order her drink like how all the cool kids do it.

This reminds me of the time in 1993 when I ordered a Diet Coke from a street vendor in Paris. Eager to use my French, I said, “Un Coke Diete, s’il vous plait,” to which the vendor replied, “EIGHTY FRANCS.” She knew I didn’t speak the language, even though I tried.

But, meh, who cares. It’s only Starbucks. I think it’s more important to order your cocktail correctly at a bar. Grey Goose martini, extra dry, up, with olives. Por favor.

A remarkable evening

THERE SHOULD BE NO REASON for me to want to capture in writing just another Monday evening at home. I should not feel compelled to write about sitting on the sofa, fire in the fireplace, sports on the TV. Maybe it's like this every night in your house, but last night was different here.

For starters, all five of us were in the room together. Even Ross the Boss, who, at age 14, would rather convene with friends via xBox Live than watch sports with his family, joined us. Even Seth, now 16, who spends many evenings in his room, his thumping subwoofer pounding out the soundtrack to… whatever it is he does in there.

Peezer, of course, is always around. At 7, he is still of the age where he demands our attention, craves our approval. He is happiest when we are interacting with him: Tossing a ball, playing a game, or simply watching whatever it is he does when he says "Mommy! Mommy! Watch this, Mommy!" And I watch and say, "Wow, Peez!" or whatever half-hearted response, and then feel half-guilty about it, knowing that in a few years he mostly won't care what I think.

The teenagers are long since past that stage. I believe they still want the attention and approval, but they'd rather die than show it or – gasp! – say it.

But last night, Seth asked for another foot rub. It all started on Sunday, when he and I had been on the sofa watching football. (We watch a lot of sports in our house, especially during the fall.) His legs were stretched out and he put his feet on my lap. I started to massage them. Without asking. Something new. He's reluctant to hug me, let alone have me touch him for an extended period of time. But he luuuuuuuved the foot massage. The King of Sarcasm turned into a puppy dog. He didn't want me to stop.

His brothers saw how good this made Seth feel and wanted in on the action. Peezer was next. Predictably, he couldn't get beyond the tickle factor. So his was short.

Then, Ross. He LOVED it! So I rubbed and rubbed some more. Peezer wanted another go at it. I said, "No, Ross hasn't let me touch him for this long in many years; I'm not done yet." Ross just smiled.

And, we talked. I made observations about their feet. Seth, poor kid, has feet like mine: Wide and calloused. There are probably bunions in his future. (Sorry, Seth.) Ross's are narrow and straight, like my sister's. My mom used to take her to a special shoe store to get shoes that fit what the shoe guy called her "aristocratic feet." I think Peezer's are more like Seth's than like Ross's.

We also talked about Homecoming, which is coming up in a couple of weeks. This is the first year Seth has wanted to go, and it's Ross's first year in high school. Seth is going with a big co-ed group of friends and has nothing dressy he could wear, so we were trying to plan a shopping trip. Ross put himself out there last week and asked some girl with a thoughtful, clever Big Ask. She said yes at the moment, but found him at the end of the day and reneged privately. "Was she at least nice about it?" I asked, fighting every urge to unleash my protective Mama Bear. "Yeah, she was," Ross said then. Last night, he says he was only a little bit disappointed, and hasn't decided yet whether he'll go to the dance or not. If he goes, he, too, needs new clothes. But I told him he may not sequester himself in the basement and play xBox that whole evening.

Maybe in your house, this is just another weekday night, but in mine, it was different. I've been joking lately that the teenagers are trying to kill me with their antics. They can be so moody and sarcastic. Selfish. And just downright mean to their little brother. I assure them daily that I don't live to make their lives miserable; they seem unconvinced.

But last night, I saw the other side of what sometimes feels like a giant parenting abyss. Maybe we are connecting with them; we just haven't been witnessing the fruit of our efforts. Last night, they set aside the snark and sarcasm. The big boys went easy on their little brother. They let me touch them. And they opened up and we talked.

And this? This is how I picture it. This is how I want it.

It was just so, so nice.

This post isn't for you, friends – it's for me. I'm coming back to read this one the next time I have to say no. The next time a teenager attempts to twist my words and provokes my ire during what should be a "normal" conversation. The next time one rolls his eyes at me to convey impatience and disgust. The next time one forgets to call or fails a test in school or demands, "Where are all the towels??" or leaves yet another mess of empty soda cans and potato chip bags on the family room table.

Last night seems unremarkable on its surface, but to me, it was worth remembering.