Growing Pains


“Mom, I don’t have any pants that fit.” It was Sunday morning, and we were getting ready for church when W entered my room with this report.

Admittedly, my brain had not yet woken up. No pants that fit, I thought. If these kids don’t stop growing like weeds….

But then my mind started to wake up and deconstruct that thought. I thought back over the past few days. He had pants that fit yesterday. He had pants that fit the day before yesterday. No pants that fit? Hmm….

“What do you mean, you don’t have pants that fit?” I asked him.

“I don’t have any pants,” he responded. “Only pants that are too small.”

“There’s a basket of laundry in the living room,” I reminded him (because doesn’t every body keep a basket of laundry in their living room?). “Did you look there?”

“No,” he admitted without the slightest hesitation.

“Perhaps you should. I bet you’ll find some pants in there that fit.” He left the room without further comment. I imagine he knew that suggesting again that he had no pants would do him no good.

I heard no more. When I went downstairs, he was wearing pants, and they seemed to fit. Well enough, anyway. The length was debatable, but who was going to argue?

At 14, he really can grow out of his pants overnight. In fact, it has happened. In my bedroom, I have a large bin of clothes that are on hold, castoffs from his brother just waiting for him to grow so they can be claimed and worn again. However, I opened that bin over the weekend, and it was nearly empty. A few pair of jeans, some shorts, and a handful of t-shirts lingered in the bottom. His older brother’s growth is slowing down. And, of course, the size that W needs now is the size that C skipped. And so, I am doomed. We will have to go shopping and actually try on jeans and figure out which size, style, cut, etc. he wants. And then I’ll have to pay for them. Doomed, I tell you.

But W could consider himself lucky. He will have brand new pants. The era of wearing his brother’s hand-me-downs has passed. Hopefully, he won’t outgrow the new ones overnight.

Meanwhile, on Monday night, we left a meeting and were walking to the car to drive home. The light from the nearly full moon skipped across the ice dotting the pavement. “Hey Mom,” W said, through the darkness. “These shoes are too small.”





I have been working with teenagers since I was barely out of my teens, myself, so when I had my children, I remember wondering what I was ever going to do with these tiny babies. I was pretty sure I would be fine once they reached their teens, but the baby stages… they puzzled me. Nonetheless, I made it all the way from the baby stage to now, layering years and parenting and experiences to get to this point. Now that they are teens, I am still pretty sure that these are the best years yet. Complicated, conflicted, confusing, confounding, but definitely, the best yet.

Every now and then, however, there is a moment that makes me question. You know all those things you’ve heard about teens being moody and unpredictable from one minute to the next? Some days, those things are not true at all. But other days, those things are incredibly spot on.

From one child to the next, it seems I have a pattern in which I “forget” some of the more challenging things. There are days I have to consciously remind myself that some battles just aren’t worth fighting. One morning this week, it was about a sweatshirt. Fact: child in question didn’t have one. He did have a jacket, so I suppose that was a step in the right direction.

“You’re going to be cold in school,” I informed him.

“No I’m not,” he retorted with complete certainty. No. Of course you’re not.

“I hope you don’t plan to wear your jacket around school all day,” his sister chimed in. “That’s just wrong.” And the next thing I knew, he was off moping in the other room. Because moping. As we’ve all heard, it’s what teenagers do.

His absence from the room gave me a brief moment of pause in which I considered what it was that drew me to my work with teens…. Perhaps I had been misleading myself all along. But the teens I work with are other people’s kids. They don’t usually treat me like I’m ignorant.

Moping child came back into the room just in time to pack his backpack and scoot out the door. “Don’t think that just because your jacket is zipped up all the way that you’re fooling me!” I called after him.

“Ugh!! Teenagers are so obnoxious!!” my daughter stated with an overly dramatic eye roll as she put on her jacket. And we laughed together before she slipped out into the darkness of the early morning. And I focus on this.

Some days, I wonder if I will make it through the teen years with my sanity intact. But each time this household spirals into the depths of teenage moodiness, there is someone to pull me through it with a joke or a smile or a sarcastic comment. There is always someone to add a layer of fun or silliness to the situation. And as my son is so quick to remind me, “Mom, you didn’t get into this with your sanity intact!”


The other day when I was cooking dinner, I decided to listen to some music from my younger days. I played a Styx “Classic” album as I prepared the meal. I was even remembering most of the words, though I will admit there were a couple songs I didn’t know. The boys were in the living room finishing homework, and J was still at school, attending a theater meeting or some such activity.

Dinner was nearly ready when she walked in the door. “What are you listening to?” were the first words out of her mouth when the song hit her. She wrinkled her nose and her tone was one of disgust. It was a tone a parent might use when asking a teenager what she was listening to.

I feigned shock. “What? You don’t like it? This is my 80s head-banging music!” I made a head-banging motion; in response, she rolled her eyes as she slipped off her shoes and headed for the living room.

It was a few minutes before I called all three kids to the kitchen to help set the table so we could eat. My voice no doubt fully pulled the boys from their activity. “Mom,” C ventured. “What are you listening to?” It was the exact same tone his sister had used only a few minutes before. J laughed when I proudly responded “It’s my 80s head-banging music!”

She came into the kitchen. “Mom, what’s the chance we could turn off the 80s grunge?”

I was looking for a little nostalgia while I cooked dinner, and look what I got: teenage sarcasm with a side of humor! In my house, who would expect anything else?

Writing Space

Written in response to Writing 101, Day 6: The space to write….

My children were very young when I became a single mother—my youngest was 14 months old—but I have never stopped writing. I have “paused” every now and again when life becomes overwhelming, but I have written, at least a bit, through each stage of their lives. Because I also took on an online teaching position, I became accustomed to working with much distraction.

When the children were young, I would work and write while they played—sometimes in the other room, and sometimes right near me. Often, the children would have their various craft projects or drawings-in-progress splayed across the kitchen table; I would squeeze myself in, claiming a tiny little spot of table real estate, just big enough for my laptop. Crayons, markers, clay, googly eyes and cast-off drawings inched nearer with every movement they made. When they were quietly engaged in their own activities, I could write without a problem. However, I developed tactics to deal with noise and distraction.

On one particularly memorable day, I was sitting at the kitchen table working, and W was sitting across from me, bent over some project or another. He might have been about eight at the time. The other two were in the living room, and they were not being quiet, by any stretch of the imagination. I was working, but to keep my focus, I was dictating to myself as I typed.

I saw W look up from his project, so I watched him as I typed. He looked at me, cocked his head and narrowed his eyes as he studied me, pondering what to say. I stared back without pausing in my typing or my dictating. “Mum, can you type silently?” he asked me.

I raised my eyebrows in question and halted my dictation and hence, my typing. “Do you hear your brother and sister?” As if on cue, one of them squealed, and they both giggled. W nodded. “That is why I can’t type silently.” He held my gaze for a long moment before he sighed and turned back to his work.

Since then, I always try to type silently. But sometimes, when the distractions are just too much to handle, I have to type out loud.

Shared adventure


I sent my children out on a mission. Armed with my camera, and all the colors of the fall season for inspiration, they went for a walk around the neighborhood so my daughter could take pictures for my son’s yearbook photo.

This plan is one that has was hatched over the summer, when I decided to save some money by not hiring a professional photographer to take C’s senior pictures. We discussed it in August, but C wanted to wait until the trees turned and the colors were bright. And he kept putting it off, claiming that his sister was never ready. J, meanwhile, claimed that C just had to say the word. It was not a promising start to the project, and I found myself second-guessing my decision.

As often happens, we procrastinated down to the wire. The pictures were due this week, and we had to factor activity schedules with days of “picture perfect” weather. And so it was Wednesday, leaving us very little time for a retake, should it be necessary.

After school, texts flew as plans came together, friends were contacted, and last minute details were taken care of. I let the kids figure out the logistics, the process, the timing. I gave them their mission, and I stepped out of the picture.

When I entered the house later that day, three kids were in the living room, laughing and chatting as they viewed the pictures on the computer. Click, click, giggle. Click, click, “Oh! Flag that!” Click, “Stop! Go back!” They flip through the photos, one by one. All of them. All 248 of them.

248 photos! (In my day, that would have been 10+ rolls of film; countless hours in the darkroom….) My daughter had catalogued the entire excursion in a photographic essay, of sorts, documenting the journey from our front door to the top of the street, and back again. Buried in among all of these photographs were the three choice moments when they stopped to focus on the mission I gave them—the sit-and-pose pictures. In total, we had seven photos in the running for the yearbook. But we had countless others that had captured a moment, a journey, a memory.

I sent my children out on a mission, but they came back armed with memories of an adventure. Sometimes, I am amazed at what happens when I remove myself from the picture. Mission (more than) accomplished!

DSC_0938     DSC_0942

(all images provided by the creative eye of J)


The other day, I was in the fridge looking for something. (Of course, my “looking for something in the fridge” is very different from my teenagers’ “looking for something in the fridge,” but that’s another story…). As I looked for whatever it was, I spied the same half-consumed bottle of soda that I had seen in there for too long. “Whose soda is this?” I asked to no one in particular, though based on the flavor, I already knew the answer.

“It’s not mine,” W answered. “But I’ll take it.”

I wrinkled my nose, which was still poking around in the fridge. “You’re not going to drink it, are you? It needs to be tossed.”

“I’m not going to drink it. I’m going to use it for something.”

I handed it to him. “Why don’t you dump it?” I suggested. He took it from me, set it on the counter, and walked out of the room.

When my brief foray in the fridge was over, I went back to working on my laptop at the kitchen table. W reappeared in the kitchen and picked up the soda. Plunk, I heard a hard object hit the bottom of the plastic bottle.

I turned from my work, curious. “What did you just do?”

“I put a nail in it,” he replied, as if this was the most normal thing in the world. He screwed the cover on and set the soda back on the counter. I continued to watch him as he came to the table and sat down, returning to the magazine article he was reading.

Um… well that was interesting. “What’s to stop your brother from drinking that?” I questioned.

He looked up from his magazine. “Huh? Oh right.” He stood up, fetched the masking tape, and ran a small piece around the cap. “There. Now no one will drink it.”

“Really? Because that tape doesn’t look like anyone will even notice it. Why don’t you write a note?”

He sighed a heavy sigh that let me know he thought I was being ridiculous. Humor me, kid, I thought, as he took one of the smallest sticky notes we own and scribbled a hasty message. He stuck the note on the counter by the soda before he glanced at me as if to say, Happy? “Fine,” I told him, though I knew I’d eventually have to tape the note to the bottle.

It’s been several days, and the bottle still sits on the counter. The nail remains inside, doing whatever nails do in soda.

The note has been taped to the bottle, and I know no one is likely to drink it. At least not anyone in my household. But if you happen to be visiting and find part of a soda in the fridge, I wouldn’t suggest you drink it. There’s no telling what kind of mad science might be going on inside….


Camp Mail

Sending letters to camp is not what it used to be. When I was a kid, my mother would send us off to camp, and each day, while she sat at home doing nothing (because what else does a mother do when her children are not home?), she would take out a pad of stationery and write a note about her day and inconsequential things that had happened. I remember the first time my sister went to camp, Mom asked me if I wanted to write her a letter. But then she cautioned, “Don’t write anything that will make her homesick.” I was eight and had no idea what would make my sister homesick. So I drew an elaborate picture, wrote that the cat had sniffed a blueberry, and I signed my name. We still laugh about that letter….

On Sunday, I dropped my son at camp for a week. Now, what with e-mmediate-mail, it’s quicker to drop the letters off with the child’s camp counselor, or in this case, Scout leader. Of course, W’s Scout leaders have worked hard to earn a reputation for handing out mail (the entire week’s worth) on the day parents are coming for pick up. I decided to circumvent that problem, and give the letters directly to W to read on the correct day(s). I labeled the letters with post-its and packed them in a Ziploc bag (the bag will prevent him from reading mail on the wrong day or reading all of the letters at once, of course).

Being seasoned camp-ers, we know all the warnings: Don’t send food, candy, electronics, or any bad news such as news that the dog died. And so…. Because we are cat people, every year, I send a letter to camp informing the child in question that the dog has expired.

On Sunday morning, I sat down at the kitchen table to compose five letters to be read over the coming five days. As the story in the letters began to unfold, I snickered to myself, unable to contain my amusement. W was walking through the kitchen. Knowing I was writing camp mail, he stopped and rolled his eyes. “Mom, what are you writing?”

“You’ll see!” I giggled in response.

Over the next few days, my son will read about our adventures in Paris, eating breakfast with a view of the Eiffel Tower; snorkeling off the coast of Australia; and walking the Great Wall of China. Believe it or not, we were able to walk the entire length of the Wall in one day—between our day in Australia and our trip home in time to pick him up.

On Thursday, my son will read that the dog accompanied us on our trek on the Great Wall, and did a fantastic job! He will read that the dog is doing well, though resting, after his intensive exercise. Sadly, on Friday W will learn that the trek was too much for our pup, and he expired overnight.

Yes, we had a grand adventure while my son was at camp—at least in my over-active imagination. And my son got to read about it from the comfort of his tent.

None of my kids can say camp mail isn’t entertaining!



It started at the dinner table, our discussion of warped things. W looked out the window into the settling dusk of evening. “And… it’s started raining again!”

“It’s raining?” I questioned, glancing out the window. It had been raining for two days, but the rain had stopped earlier in the afternoon, and I thought it was done. According to the weather forecaster, it was done, at any rate. Then again, the weather forecaster doesn’t have a great track record.

“Or tiny morsels of something are hitting our window,” W continued. “I can hear it.”

“Oh, that’s not rain,” I informed him. I’d been sitting at the kitchen table all day, and I had heard the noise he was referring to. “I washed the window last week, and for some reason, the sun-catcher is now tapping against the window.” I leaned in toward the window to study the sun-catcher. “I must not have put it back in exactly the perfect spot. Or may it’s warped….” The discussion wandered to how a window might be warped, until I brought it back to the sun-catcher.

I stood up to put some dishes in the sink. I looked at W. “I have a son who’s warped….” He turned to look at me, startled for half a second before the mischief smiled on his face.

“You do have a warped son, don’t you?” He glanced at C who was getting up to bring his plate to the sink. C was also smirking.

“Yes, you do,” he agreed, as he moved out of the kitchen for his next activity.

“You can totally say that, Mom,” W commented, “Because we’ll both think it’s the other one.” He watched C walk out the door, and he leaned toward me, speaking just a little quieter. “But I’d be right!”

I smiled in response, and W started the dishes.

A few minutes later, the warm water had begun to lull the crazy day out of him. He looked up from the suds that he had been spreading around a pan. “You know Mom, I’m not warped. I’m just bent.”

Yes, my friend, we’re all a little bent. That’s what keeps us from breaking.


For much of the week, the students at the school where C has his culinary program have been taking a new, way too time consuming standardized test (because another test is a good use of their time). So there has been no Voc program first thing in the morning. Needless to say, he has been getting up a few minutes later than usual. Friday morning, he was back to the regular schedule.

On Thursday night, he made it a point to tell me that he needed to get up in the morning; that I should not let him sleep in, as I have been. That is an interesting interpretation. I have been getting him up as usual, then calling to him more than usual—and more urgently than usual—to get him out of bed. “Make sure I’m out of bed early in the morning,” he told me.

“I am not the reason you have been sleeping in,” I informed him. “I have tried to get you up. You choose to stay in bed.”

“I know, but that’s because I don’t have to leave as early. Tomorrow, I need to get out of bed because I have to go.” True enough.

In the past, I have used a number of tactics to wake this sleepy head. When he was little, I would roll up socks and throw them at him. I tried a water gun once. I would sing to him. I tried tickling his nose. I put rings on all of his fingers while he slept. I contemplated applying make up….

Now, I have one tried and true way to wake my reluctant teen and get him moving, but it required just a bit of advance planning. I pulled out my supplies and started baking. We would have raspberry muffins for breakfast!

In the morning, after waking him, I made one simple statement. “If you don’t get up, all the raspberry muffins will be gone!”

W walked by me, fully dressed and ready for the day. “I’m going downstairs to eat all the muffins!” he reported.

That did the trick! I just hope C can find someone to bake for him when he goes off to college….


3D Printers

We have been sick at our house for what seems like forever. The normal winter viruses hit hard on the first day of spring, and they haven’t stopped.

C has spent the spring struggling with bronchitis, pneumonia, bronchitis, etc. It’s a nasty cycle, and with the number of viruses that have gotten him, it just keeps cycling. The rest of us have been cycling in and out, so there are generally two of us sick at any given time. Enough already.

Meanwhile, W has spent the spring talking about 3D printers. He wants one. Badly. He also has enough money saved up to buy one. The kid doesn’t even have a job, but somehow, he has collected enough money in his bank account to pay for a 3D printer. A friend of his has the one he wants, so he knows how it prints pretty well.

Every chance he gets, he talks about 3D printers. At dinner: “If I had a 3D printer….” At breakfast: “Do you know what I could do with a 3D printer?” After school: “I could print you one… if I had a 3D printer.” While I’m cooking: “So, I was reading about 3D printers….”

After awhile, I just go with it. Whatever comes out, I fly. “So, this 3D printer I want…” he starts in for the gazillionth time.

“Did you know you could make body parts with a 3D printer?” I respond, without missing a beat. “You can print heart valves and ears. They are even using them to make affordable prosthetic limbs. You could go into business. I’ll bet you could make a lot of money!”

He looked at me, speechless for just a split second. I had stopped him in his tracks. He shook his head. “Not with the one I’m getting.” He paused to breathe, as he does when he is trying to shift the direction of the conversation.

“Really…” I jumped in before he had time to start his new direction. “If you could figure that out, it would be great. Think about all the people you could help!”

“Mom. Stop.” A bit of frustration was evident in his tone. “Those printers cost thousands of dollars. Mine won’t do that.”

“I KNOW!!” I said, an idea taking shape in my head. “You could print a new set of lungs for your brother!! Clearly, he could use them.” I pointed to the coughing, hacking, wheezing (and laughing) C across the table.

“Well…” said W, looking at me and smiling broadly. “If it means I get my 3D printer…. I can figure it out!”