Water

I was in the basement moving the laundry from the washer to the dryer. It was quiet in the basement, despite all manner of teen antics that were presently permeating the first floor. I live in a townhouse-style condominium, and as with most condominiums, this one was built quickly and cheaply. Sound travels from floor to floor, from room to room, and—pretty much—from end to end.

I concentrated on sorting the items that needed to go into the dryer from those that should be line-dried, attempting to ignore the laughter and shouts from above—sounds that clearly indicate mischief is afoot. But then C came tumbling down the stairs, his feet sending vibrations through the house before he skidded to a halt on the second to last stair.

“Can you just keep yourself busy down here for like ten minutes? I’ve got everything under control!”

“Um… no,” I told him, the gears in my brain grinding to a halt. “What’s happening up there?”

But he had already begun the sprint back up the stairs. “Nothing,” he said. “I’ve got it under control!”

I sighed as I hastened my sorting, knowing his story might be more than a bit skewed, though I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what was going on. J came down to get away from the ruckus and breathe, the boys’ rough play proving to be overwhelming. “They got a lot of water on the floor.” And then she proceeded to tell me that one boy threw a cupful of water at the other. “But they’re cleaning it up,” she added.

I took a deep breath pushing the minor complication from my thoughts. After all, it was just water. If my boys need to involve some “weapon” in their fights with each other, I suppose I should be happy that they choose to fight only with water. It’s (generally) easy to clean up, and (with the exception of frozen water balloons) it doesn’t hurt.

Let’s face it: my house has a long relationship with water. In the early days of parenting, I had toddlers jumping out of the tub and running down the hall “to get something,” with no thought for drying off first. I had little ones playing “car wash” and “baby bath time” on my kitchen floor. Water balloons, sprinklers, and pools filled my summers, and snow play with its soaking wet mittens, boots, snowpants, and jackets filled the dark afternoons of December through March. Rain, “frogging” in our pond, puddle jumping, water pistols and super-soakers.

A late-stage teenage water fight? I’ve got this! After all, what’s a little water between brothers when it’s all in fun?

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Family Dinner

When I was growing up, we always had our evening meal together as a family. I have maintained that tradition as much as possible in my life with my children, as I feel it is important that we sit down together and share a meal and conversation. At dinner, we can sit together, relax, and enjoy each other’s company while we are doing something we need to do anyway. After all, from my experience, there is nothing as effective as food to bring teenagers to the table.

Our family meals might start out calm and orderly. “Could you pour the milk?” “Please pass the salt.” “This is really good, Mom. Thanks.” But any time you have three teenage siblings in the same small space for any length of time, “calm and orderly” can unravel fast and stuff begins to happen. I’m just gonna say it: Our family dinners can get a little rowdy. Take last night, for example.

I don’t know how things deteriorated as quickly as they did, but it started with one of the younger siblings deciding that the oldest would be responsible for fetching anything that was needed—milk, salt, dessert, utensils. The jovial requests picked up in intensity. When younger brother said, “Hey C, can you get me some ice cream? Oh, and I’ll need a bowl. And a spoon. Don’t forget the ice cream scoop…,” C decided spoon, bowl, and scoop would be best delivered via air mail. And so, a spoon flew across my kitchen into the [thankfully] nimble hands of little brother.

“Did you just throw that?” I turned to ask. But by the time the words had come out, a ceramic bowl passed through the air from one boy to the other. “STOP!” I commanded. “Do not throw dishes and utensils!” Seriously? Why is this even something that has to be explicitly stated? This could have gone very badly, but thankfully, it did not. It was not until a few minutes later, when C was playfully tossing a cup in the air to tease me that he dropped it. At least that one was plastic. It does make me wonder what they do when I’m not home.

Come to think of it, this may just be the very behavior that has carved so many chips out of the edges of my dishes….

Sibling Challenge

Through years of parenting and even more years of working with teenagers, I have gained a certain perspective on teen shenanigans. When this weekend started out with a “friendly competition,” I knew things were not headed in a positive direction.

We were getting ready to leave for a weekend away, and we were rushing around to take care of the few final tasks that had to be completed before our departure. We needed to dispose of the garbage and load the car. My youngest agreed to “take a quick run” to the condo dumpster. But instead of walking, he thought he would ride his bike.

Now, anyone with more than one teenage boy knows that nothing is real—or fun—unless it is made into a competition of some sort. In this case, “a quick run” became the point of competition.

“I’ll get down there and back before PiE gets here,” my son announced. “But instead of walking, I’ll take my bike.” His bike was lying in the front yard waiting to be loaded onto the bike-rack.

“I’m gonna time you!” challenged his older brother. “I’ll start the timer as soon as you get outside.”

“NO!” I told them, sternly. “We are going away, and if you race to the dumpster, you’re liable to end up hurt. I don’t want to be taking you to the ER before we leave. Or spending the weekend at the hospital, thank you very much.”

“Oh, I’ll be fine,” W pronounced as he continued out the door, grabbing the garbage on his way.

“Don’t race!” I hollered after him, but my command fell on deaf ears as he strapped on his helmet and took off at break-neck speed, his brother’s challenges urging him on. “Ugh!” I groaned in his wake as C focused on the stop-watch on his iPod.

It was only seconds before C was running out the door to check W’s progress, fully expecting to see his little brother disappearing in the distance. He stood outside for a minute, yelling after W, and then he came back into the kitchen, laughing. “He fell,” he informed me. “He was standing at the bottom of the hill saying, ‘Mom was right!’” Of course, these kids joke around so much, I didn’t fully believe him.

But sure enough, when W returned to the house, he had an odd combination of scrapes and cuts—his left elbow and his right thigh and ankle. While his injuries didn’t require medical attention, they did slow him down (just a bit) during our weekend adventures.

The lesson learned, “Mom was right,” could be priceless. But this lesson will fade as quickly as the pain of the road rash, and he will have to be reminded, once again, that sometimes Mom can see into the future and can predict how things will end. Some lessons need to be learned again and again in order for them to eventually… maybe… stick.

Annoying Little Sister

I had a moment yesterday. It was a moment when—even in all my supposed adulthood—I was feeling just a bit like the annoying little sister I once was and, clearly, sometimes still am.

I was in Boston with PiE, my sister, and her partner, and we were navigating the streets between the bus station and SoWa open market. It was a gorgeous day—finally—and I was enjoying the walk… and the sun… and the company.

We had gotten drinks for the journey—water, coffee, and the disaster that was my sister’s iced coffee—before we left the bus station, so I was good to go. My bag slung over my shoulder, I held PiE’s hand in my left hand and my water bottle in my right.

Before long, we were walking beside a chain link fence that bordered a construction site. The proximity of the fence was just too perfect, and suddenly, my mind was hatching an idea of annoying little sister proportions. I looked at my sister, walking directly in front of me, and back to the fence. For a split second, I angled the water bottle in my hand just slightly so that it rubbed on the fence as I walked. The hollow clattering noise it produced was just what I wanted.

I smiled to myself, and this time, I angled the water bottle full on into the fence. I continued to walk nonchalantly, pretending I was doing nothing, as little sisters are wont to do. My eyes never left my sister’s back. This noise, I knew, would grate on her just like every annoying noise I had ever made throughout our childhood.

When she turned around, I burst out laughing, and so did she. “What are you doing?” she asked, and I moved the bottle away from the fence. I knew she would turn around, and I told her so.

In an incredibly immature but still very fulfilling way, I felt this moment to be a triumph. Not a surprise, but a triumph—one that only a little sister could understand.

{Image credit: FreeImages.com / bren1}

Lockdown

It was one of those crazy conversations that starts at the dinner table. The cat was outside, sitting at the end of the walkway waiting to come in, as he so often does. W got up from the table and let him in. When he closed the door, he said, “There. Now we are in lockdown for the night. No one goes out. No one comes in.” He sat back down at the table to finish his dinner.

“If that’s the case, you’d better lock the door,” I told him. Rather than get up, he leaned back in his chair, attempting to reach the door. He couldn’t quite reach, and the chair nearly toppled.

“You’d better get up to do that,” his sister advised. “Or you’re going to be the one going out. To the hospital.” W heeded her advice and stood to lock the door. “Or maybe,” she continued. “We’ll have to explain to the ambulance drivers why they can’t come in. GO AWAY! We’re on lockdown!” she demonstrated.

“But then they’d just kick in the door,” W said. “Lockdown or no, they don’t care.”

“True,” I said through my laughter.

By the time I got up from the table, I had completely forgotten about the “lockdown.” The cat was once again meowing at the door, and I let him out, clearly not thinking.

A few minutes later, J spotted the cat out the window. “I thought you let the cat in,” she said to W. “What happened to the lockdown?”

W looked out the window. “Wait… how did he get out? I let him in!”

I turned from the sink to see two kids looking at me. I shrugged sheepishly. “I forgot about the lockdown.” But then we noticed the cat going after something outside. He had clearly spotted something of interest, and he was hurrying toward it. I had been baking for an event at work, and I was sweating, so I took the opportunity to go see what he was after.

“Mom, you can’t go out. The lockdown!” the kids reminded me.

“I’ll just be a minute,” I told them. “I want to see what he is after. DON’T lock me out. There is no lockdown.” And of course, in my mind, my word was the word in this house since I pay the bills.

Nevertheless, I returned to a locked door and a sticky note. “Sorry. We are in lockdown. Come back tomorrow at 6:00 am.” Are you kidding? That’s a long time to be outside without a jacket.

I knocked on the door. “Let me in!” I laughed. “There is no lockdown!”

Yeah, they let me in. If they hadn’t, I would’ve gone to the neighbor’s house. I keep a key there just in case my kids do something crazy—like declare a lockdown and refuse to let me in!

Class Rank

The conversation started out innocently enough. We were talking about the grades my daughter earned in the third quarter, which ended on Friday. Of course, nowadays, with programs like PowerSchool, there really are no surprises when it comes to grades. If parents open that report card and don’t know what their kids’ grades are, they’re not paying attention.

But then my daughter stared talking about a student in her AP English class who was missing much of her work for last quarter because she just didn’t hand it in. Or something. This particular student was ranked number one in the class last year, but this year… not so much.

If you’re wondering why a child would choose to slack off junior year—the year that is probably the most important, as far as college admission goes—read on. The rest of the conversation is quite telling. While the subject continued on grades and class rank, the focuse shifted to my youngest.

“I’ll bet you’re valedictorian in your class,” my daughter said to her brother. Her tone was almost accusatory.

“No I’m not,” he assured her, and he named the student who is.

“Well, you’re just a freshman,” she told him. “Your classes are easy and you don’t even do any homework. Wait until junior year. The people who are working hard now will get overwhelmed and start to struggle. Then you’ll be valedictorian.” She seemed pleased with her logic.

There was a pause in the conversation, and I thought it might be over. Then she said, “But if you’re valedictorian, you’ll have to give a speech, and you won’t want to do that. You’ll have to slack off a bit. But not too much because you don’t want Guidance to notice and ask you what’s up.”

“If I’m a junior and I’m number one in the class, I’ll have to slack off more than just ‘a bit.’”

“No you won’t,” I inserted myself into the conversation. “The top few students are really close. If one grade slips just a little, you’ll slip to number two with no problem.”

“But you don’t want to be salutatorian, either,” his sister cautioned him. “There’s really no point. If you aren’t number one, may as well go for third. Then you won’t have to give a speech, and you won’t have to be second.” If there was such a thing as an audible wink, she would have inserted one here.

And that explains why the top student in the class might slack off junior year—apparently, it’s all about the speech. And this is where I insert an audible groan….

 

One final thought–Christmas antics

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Stuffing stockings—one of my annual Christmas challenges. Have I found enough stuff to fill each stocking? Will I have too much stuff, and if so, what will I do with the extra? Even after years of filling the same stockings, I always second-guess myself.

This year, we approached the holiday in “scaled down” mode. Finances are a little tight, so when I was searching for stocking stuffers, I decided to go the practical route. In addition to some toiletries, toothbrushes, and a tiny puzzle-y-thing or two (okay, and the requisite chocolate…), I purchased socks and underwear to fill the extra space in the stockings because, well… practical (and necessary).

When I started to actually fill the stockings, I found that I did not have enough room for the underwear. I had purchased a package of underwear for each of the teens in my house. While the packages were a good idea and would have taken up a sizeable chunk of space, the stockings were full enough without them. So late on Christmas Eve, I made the decision to place the packages of underwear in the children’s rooms, as if Santa, himself, had gone to their rooms to check on them and placed the item there.

On Christmas morning, I wanted to make sure none of them missed this amazing Christmas treasure. W was the first one up. “Did you see that there is underwear in your room?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he told me, and then his face brightened. “I was so excited that I had to wake C to let him know. ‘Santa came! Santa came! And look what he brought us: new underwear!’” he recounted the scene for me, and I had to smile at his sense of humor and fun. In fact, he actually did wake his older brother with his humorous rendition of childlike Christmas excitement.

And because that childlike excitement of their younger days has tempered to a much calmer holiday emotion, I always smile at the moments like this one—humorous or not.

The big brother who is trying to sleep in … maybe he doesn’t find these antics quite so entertaining.