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.


Expecting the unexpected

BECAUSE I’M MARRIED TO A SERIOUS SPORTS FAN, I’m accustomed to checking sports schedules before I schedule anything for the family. I dutifully verified that gametime for the Steelers / Ravens NFL playoff game was 4:30 pm on Saturday before I booked Peezer’s birthday party for an earlier time slot the same day.

(The fact that I even thought to do this is something Curt takes for granted. Not all wives would. He has trained me well.)

And I was feeling like a Very Good Wife, until Curt’s friend offered him four face-value tickets to see the game IN PITTSBURGH. Curt, bless him, hesitated, on account of it being the same day as Peezer’s birthday party. But here’s the thing with the Steelers and their rabid fans. Face-value tickets don’t come along that often. And here was a chance for Curt to impress the socks right off of Seth and The Boss. Oh, sure, they’ve been to regular-season NFL games and to Big Ten football at Penn State. But the playoffs? Our favorite team?

So it was in the spirit of teamwork that I offered to “take one for the team” and agreed to host the birthday party solo while Curt took Peezer’s older brothers to Mecca Heinz Field.

Now, we haven’t hosted a birthday party outside of our home in all the years we’ve been parents. But this year, I finally decided there was a certain wisdom in throwing money at this particular issue. I booked the party and decided to let someone else clean up the mess.

And I didn’t necessarily think it would be a big deal. A few kids, some cake – how hard could it be? Last year, I invited his entire class to our home for his party. Out of 22 some invitations, we had only seven RSVPs, and of those, six kids attended. It was a manageable size for a group of five year olds, but I was dismayed by the lack of responses.

Fully expecting the same thing this year, I encouraged Eli to invite lots of kids, so as to hedge our bets. We mailed 23 invitations. Imagine how surprised we were when every single guest replied and only one said they could not attend!

Me + 23 kindergarteners + a frenzied party venue, teeming with hyperactive children? When I confirmed the party details, I asked if I could tack on a box of wine for an additional charge. Alas, it would be up to me to get through the party without crutches.

The kids had a blast bouncing on the inflatables. Plus, sensing my desperation, more than a few parents stuck around, so I had extra arms to assist me with my hosting duties.

Something else extra that I hadn’t counted on, though? Extra party guests! Three parents brought extra siblings. One let me know ahead of time. Two didn’t. And I might not even have noticed except that (for fear of losing someone) I put name tags on all the kids. Then I noticed one I didn’t recognize. “Who’s that?” I asked a nearby parent.

“Oh,” she said, smiling, “That’s Emily.”

Thinking I’d totally missed something, I asked, “Who’s Emily? We didn’t invite an Emily…”

“Oh, no, that’s Mary’s sister,” she said. “I brought her along.” So, I informed her – and the other two parents – that there was a maximum number of jumpers allowed on the inflatables, and that with all our invited guests, we had exactly that many, so if the referees decided to enforce the limit, I’d have to ask their extra child to get off the inflatables.

And you’d think that would have been enough of a hint, but you would be wrong. As we transitioned to the party room for refreshments, all three of the extra kids all bellied up to the table, and we ran out of chairs and chips and cups, because there were exactly enough place settings for the invited guests. The “referees” were cool about it- they brought in extras of everything. And charged me, naturally.

And you would think THAT would have been hint enough, too, but again, you’d be wrong, because two of the three extra guests actually held out their hands for the goodie-bag giveaway at the end of the party! Luckily, I had exactly two extras, because what kind of ogre says to a doe-eyed three year old, sorry, Susie, no candy for you!?

Despite those minor curveballs, it was a fun party – Peezer loved every minute of it. We toted his gifts home and opened them and this week we will be mass-producing thank you notes. Mostly, though, I was touched that this room full of kids was there to celebrate my kid’s birthday. It was loud, chaotic, and crazy – but it was a big ole’ party, and Peezer was thrilled.

I may have scored bonus points for “letting” Curt take the boys to the football game, but I like to think I scored far more meaningful points with my youngest son.

Blow out the candle 


Of toddlers and teens

Tantrum-1 I’M LEARNING THAT HAVING A TEENAGER is, in many ways, like having a toddler. Both are capable of having wild mood swings. Both will seek ways to push their limits to the absolute maximum. Both will throw unspeakable temper tantrums. Both will yell NO!!!, daring you to impose your will.

There are some differences, though, and I’m not just thinking of how a teen is (probably) potty-trained, or the fact that he will eat you out of house and home, or the fact that he will sleep until noon on Saturdays.

For starters, my teen is now as tall as me. Twelve years ago, I could have thrown him into a headlock and pin him down to subdue him. Now, he’s big and strong. Also, he looks me straight in the eye, as if to challenge me, to dare me to assert my authority.

Then, there’s his ability to match wits with me. He can use words to make a coherent argument. He uses rhetoric and sarcasm to make his point. He tries to twist my words and throw them back on me. “Because I said so” just doesn’t work anymore.

These are the things I think they should tell you when you bring leave the hospital with your wee, warm, swaddled, mint-condition infant. They’ll tell you to keep track of how often your baby pees and poops, and what to do if your baby runs a fever. You’ll learn that there is nothing more sublime than when you recline, exhausted, with your sleeping baby draped over your chest. You will listen to his rapid respirations and his little gurgles and sighs and you will murmur sweet nothings into his ear, blissfully unaware that twelve years from now, he’ll glare at you with pure anger in his eyes, sarcastically thank you for completely RUINING his day (or his life), tell you he HATES you, then STOMP down the hallway and SLAM the door to his room, after which he will take out his anger on his younger brother.

Your teen will exhaust you, too, and you might think that this is similar to the exhaustion new parents experience, but it’s different. Theirs is more of a physical exhaustion, brought on by months and months of insufficient, interrupted sleep. Teen parent exhaustion is mental.

A wise person once summarized parenting like this: Little people, little problems. Big people, BIG problems.

My head understands that this is a natural part of growing up. I tested my mother in similar ways. I know he needs to assert his independence. But I want him to learn that there are consequences for his actions. I want him to show he knows what it means to respect authority. I want him to learn the art of compromise. I want him to develop a filter, to learn that you can’t always say exactly what you’re thinking at the moment you’re thinking it. I want to see sympathy and empathy and consideration for others. I want him to care.

I’m not done parenting yet.

Oh, I can see glimpses of the fine young man he’s becoming. He’s charming and witty, and oh my goodness, he’s really smart. He makes friends easily – he’s fun to be around. And he is handsome. This week, he wraps up his middle school years, and my heart will overflow with pride as my firstborn stands up to be recognized at his promotion ceremony. And I will make sure that he knows, whether or not he wants to acknowledge it, that I love him with all of my heart, in that special way that only a mother can.  And I always will. No matter what.