Observations on Life with (teenage) boys

food for days

Where the eating never stooooppppsss

1. The eating never stops. I don’t even know where to start in the Daily Circle of Life, but let’s just say the only time the kitchen is clean and not in use is when everyone is gone at school for the day. I treat that eight-hour time frame as the new Evening Peace. You know, that blessed chunk of time when all the babies are in bed and you clean the kitchen and go to bed and then you wake up and everything is just as you left it? With teens, that no longer exists. I go to bed and inevitably hear someone, a few minutes later, walk into the kitchen and pour some milk. And make a sandwich (which I don’t hear being made, but find evidence of the next morning). Lesson learned: take baby steps. I let the boys eat when they are hungry, but they need to clean up after themselves. I’m okay with dishes in the sink; don’t leave stuff all over the place, though.

2. There is a lot of talk of growing. Growth spurt that just happened, one that is in the near future. You are acutely aware of the inches, how those boys will (I’m not even exaggerating) come downstairs one morning and you can literally see that they grew overnight. And then there are lags and you wait and wonder. And so will your son. When will I grow again? How tall will I be? And it’s all this grand adventure, watching to see who they will become, as it unfolds in front of you.

3. It’s not as scary as you might imagine. I mean, ten years ago this version of me probably would have freaked me out. Boys, big teenage boys, coming and going. Being all around my house, eating all my food, driving my van, going to hit golf balls in the afternoon, just because. Wha? How can you manage it all? How do you keep track? You just…do. Somehow. Like mothers the world over, our little boys turn into young men and there is grace for it. Some days are more grace-filled than others, but you manage. You learn that you can’t treat a 16-year-old like an eleven-year-old. You have moments of grace and clarity when you realize it’s time to adjust the approach and you just do it. And you love it. Trust me on this. Paul and I will sometimes catch ourselves just beaming with pride and joy. These kids! What a delight.

4. There are some days when everything I just wrote in that last graph feels like a complete lie and total hogwash. Some days are hard and you question everything you are doing, how you are doing it, why you are even trying. Usually it’s just a flash of emotion, but just push through. It’s gonna be okay.

5. Another graph about food seems warranted. These boys! They eat A TON. But it’s not necessarily what you would think. It’s like, some meals they will devour everything in sight. Some nights not so much. But just buy the foods that you feel good about feeding your family, and they will figure out how to get it down the hatch (for me, I’ve gotten away from a lot of processed foods in part because of the health factor but really? Because I’m cheap. And a box of Froot Loops is gone in ten minutes flat. Might as well just burn the $3.97).

6. That’s all I’ve got. I’m off to sew buttons on a blue blazer (more life with teen boys!) because that becomes part of our school uniform in October. Also, I’m sure there is a new round of dirty socks to be picked up (by THEM, which means I need to direct that traffic as well).

7. Last thing: Don’t be afraid. This is advice I’m giving myself. Do everything out of love. Apologize when you mess up. And require that these kids do the same. Give them opportunities to earn your trust, and pray that whatever is going on under the radar will come to light. It always does!

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

bella bearIsabel came running into the kitchen yesterday, crying and deeply offended.

“What’s wrong,” I asked, to which she replied “Henry hit me in the nuts!”

She didn’t reply so much as sob the words, the statement of horrific indignity trailing out from deep within her soul.

“Honey,” I told her, “ummm….” and I wasn’t even sure where to begin. We don’t talk like that? You don’t have those? Henry shouldn’t ever hit you, but he definitely didn’t hit you there…

As it was, she was sort of pushed in the upper stomach by her brother, and the crimes again humanity didn’t stop there. I believe it was all over some kind of YouTube video of someone making flowers out of play-doh and if this isn’t starting to sound like a dream sequence straight out of a Disney cartoon (circa 1941) then I don’t know what is.

I’ve been reflecting on Isabel’s Strange Life (the title of my next book?) and all I can say is, “Lord, have mercy.” And I mean it in all of the ways.

On the way to school one morning this week, for some reason I let her use my phone to watch something (not that I’m against screen time, but I try to avoid the habit of my phone being part of the deal, etc etc) and she asked me to help her find [insert uber-girly themed video with singing]. When I was able to get the video she wanted, she leaned forward from her seat behind mine in the van. “Thanks,” she said, “gimme five.” And I looked in the rear-view to see her hand extended toward my arm-rest, waiting for the slap.

All girl. With lots of boy influences.

This weekend was Isabel’s turn to bring home the class “mascot” to spend some time with us. Bella the Bear will report back Monday morning with a write-up of her time with the Family Balducci, and I’m trying to decide just how honest we are willing to be. Bella might not be free to share about everything that went on this weekend, but then again, maybe she should.

The previous two entries in the notebook include fun-times with other classmates, things like “riding in a golf cart!” and “going to church to sing songs about Jesus.” I think we will be sure to include some spirituality and fun as well, but I’m musing on how much Bella might want to just keep to herself. We might need to have a chat.

For starters, she had been home with our entire family less than an hour before I caught Bella on the ROOF OF THE VAN with Isabel’s seven-year-old brother. The brother who is going through a phase right now of “let’s climb on the roof of the van. In our socks.”

Last night I bet I woke up about five times with the image of Henry up on the van and I spent the evening trying to shake it (change the mental channel! Change it!). Mostly because at ten o’clock last night our neighbor Arlene called us because she forgot to say anything earlier.

“Paul,” I could hear her thick New England accent through the phone, “I looked out and Henry was jumping up and down like it was a MATTRESS!”

Yes, that image. It haunted me (I made a comment on someone’s instagram yesterday, as she noted how scary it was to watch her very young boys be daring at the park, that I’m getting worse about a spirit of adventure as I get older; you can see why). It haunted me the whole rest of the night. We don’t condone that sort of behavior, it won’t (Lord, please) happen again.

But out there in the midst of all that was Bella, the Class Bear, playing possum on the roof of the van. And Isabel, fiercely protective of her weekend charge, stuck on the windshield unable to climb higher.

“Bella!” she cried, “BELLA!!!” Henry jumped and Bella lay lifeless and Isabel cried and Arlene watched (from across the street) and I walked out to find this whole display of drama played out in my driveway and all I could think was “if Bella tells the teacher, we are in trouble.”

Later that evening, I found Henry and Isabel and Bella in our other driveway, the one with the basketball court. This time they had fashioned a piñata using a bungee cord and… (wait for it) a metal Razor scooter. Henry had connected the scooter to the bungee cord, lifted the basketball goal to its highest setting and watched as the scooter lifted off the ground and was swinging in the air. He proceeded to whack at the scooter like we were at a real, live birthday party. Except we were in the driveway, hitting a scooter dangling wildly from the basketball goal.

Bella just sat there in Isabel’s arms, silently judging my parenting skills.

Tomorrow we are taking Bella on a hike and we will get some photographic proof that her entire stay with us wasn’t something out of a prison-break movie. We hope.

In the meantime, I know the world is filled with girls who have lots of older brothers. It’s gonna be okay. Isabel will go out into life with a very unique skill set, which we hope (in the near future) will include a proper grasp of anatomy.

Greatest Day Never

conked out

This photo reminds of those Olan Mills shots that were popular in the early 80s. Like this is Real Me, turned to the side, with Inner Me in the background.

Consider yourselves a blessed crew that I’ve spared you many of the fine details of my Sensory Nervous System of late. It’s a weird place to be, wanting to talk about brow sweats and crying and I’m imagining the general population is like, “uh, this is not what we signed up for, where are the stories of little boys peeing outside?” Also, I see that my brother-in-law Kip reads my blog from time to time, per his Facebook likes, and the thought of unleashing those details to him at the Family Christmas party is pretty mortifying, I never would, so why not avoid the awkward of over-sharing here.

But I need to nod my head in the general directions of hormones because it will give you keen insight into the Awesomeness of a few days of late, namely ones where I spent some time speed-pulling the Kleenex while camped out on the sofa. It was as pathetic as you just imagined.

Last week, in the middle of a crazy over-booked day, Henry and I got in a little fender bender on the way to his seven-year-old well baby check. I’d had a morning where my To Do list and my To Go list was speed-stacked, where every stop I made and place I went was timed to the minute to get to the next stop on time to leave the next stop on time to arrive etc ad naseum repeat. All good things, just too many of them.

So as Henry and I are heading out to the perfectly-timed-and-executed school-pick-up and departure, as we are at a light waiting to turn onto the highway, I hear a loud THUD and we are lurched forward. I did one of those involuntary squeals and turned to check on Henry, who had a giant grin on his face, eyebrows raised to his hairline. “Were we just in a wreck?” he mildly rejoiced. And my nerves, after the morning I’d put them through, thought “well now would be a good time to take out the knees.” So my legs started shaking and I realized there was no way I could step out of the van, into traffic, in my tremored state.

I rolled down the window, looked at the dude next to me and said, “what happened?”

“You got hit,” he explained. I would call him Captain Obvious but I was the one putting him on the spot. He was probably all “what do you think just happened, lady?”

“Is everyone okay?” I pressed, making it clear that he would be my liaison between myself and the world outside my van.

“Yes, the lady who hit you is fine.”

“How’s my van,” I said and it was here I realized I probably was going to have to get out of the car, probably should not rely on the eye-witness account of the guy next to me to decide if I needed insurance information.

The guy told me my van looked fine and around this time the lady who hit me walked up next to my window, freshly-lit cig dangling from her fingers, to say “Sorry” and she thought I was good to go. I heaved my shaking bones from my perch (our van has no running boards, that’s how I keep my Dan Jansen’s so nice and tone) and sort of glided to the back of my vehicle. No dent in sight.

The whole front portion of the lady’s car was smashed in, but we looked good.

Around this time I was trying to call Paul and couldn’t get him on the phone. And in my “MUST GET TO DOCTOR” frenzy continuing from the morning, I decided we were in fact good, just as everyone said. No dent, no need for digits.

So I got back in the van and headed out to the highway, thanking the Lord that we didn’t need to wait for the police. There was no problem. What a day, I thought. What a day.

The next morning, after I dropped Isabel at school, I was heading back to the van when I realized, with some alarm and great despair, that in this new, not-so-frantic light of day, the bumper did not look good. Not at all. There was no dent but it was clearly, CLEARLY, pulled off a few inches from where it normally resides. Blech. I felt sick to my stomach.

So problem number one: you have no insurance information and a screwy bumper. Hooray.

This should have been my clue that hormones were brewing, because when I called Paul (as I sat in a heap on the living room sofa) and he said “ooooh. Yeah. We probably should have gotten that information…” I started to bawl. Just, lost it. I was so upset with myself for being so over-the-top hurried that I didn’t wait for the information. But then Paul was nice and said even if I’d gotten him on the phone, based on what I so confidently saw at the scene of the accident, he wouldn’t have told me to do anything different.

(Here’s a sidenote: always get information; even if it all looks okay.)

So fast forward a few hours and I’ve made it back from the pit of desolation, gotten a grip and realized the world wasn’t about to end. I was working with Ethan on his upcoming Eagle Scout project and trying to get information out about his efforts to raise money for the project. So I sent a text to everyone in my phone book that Ethan was going to do a raffle for a car wash to raise money (as an aside: Ethan’s Eagle Scout project will involve installing two benches near the black-top basketball court at our school which serves as a gathering place for many young men in our outlying neighborhood, not from our school but the area at-large). So Ethan is raising money for the benches to get the project done.

Well, I’m not even lying. After the first batch of group texts I sent out, I hear Ethan’s phone ring (as I continue to send out group text after group text, probably seventy-five people in all). And Ethan comes to me, as I’m still sending away, to say the call was from his Scoutmaster who said you can’t do a raffle for a fundraiser, you can only ask for donations. I must have included Larry in my very first text.

So then, immediately after sending out the information, I had to follow-up with a “oops! Just found out never mind you can’t do this [insert red-faced smily-emoticon here].”

Sigh.

As I reflect on the emotions of that moment, now, a week later, I would describe it as a complicated mixture of “embarrassment, fatigue, sadness and frustration.” In that moment? I just wanted the earth to swallow me whole. It was THE WORST moment in time.

A few minutes after that I got a text from my friend Kathy asking me a question about something we were working on together, I replied, she replied back and then after that I heard several more text beeps. “#grouptext” was one of the messages (from someone else in the group) along with a private text to me and Kathy which said “Do you realize you are carrying on a private text conversation in a group text setting?”

This last text, no big deal, was from the principal of our high school, the one THREE OF MY BOYS ATTEND. And again, not feeling like dying as I recall these events, kinda even laughing. Last week: cue the tears pass the kleenex enter the onslaught of embarrassment, fatigue, sadness and frustration. It was like a scene from Beaches where the friend is dying except it was just me getting a text about sending a text but don’t even question the sadness it was legit. Such sadness, deeeeeep within. I was hearing violins, in surround sound.

In a word: welcome to The Hormone Shift. Be sure and carry a hanky.

The good news is, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve got my wits about me today. I’ve caught my breath and calmed my bad self down. But Lord have mercy. For real, Lord. Please have mercy. Because we are doing just fine without that level of melodrama around this joint, this is not what any of us signed up for.

Does God Care?

Simon Says

Simon Says is a cute game but not a realistic parenting approach

I made an impressive feast for our family the other night, a roast chicken recipe that I’ve finally perfected. I like to serve the meal with glazed carrots and onions, red potatoes and a delicious salad that rounds out the plate in perfection.

It’s such a simple meal and one of the boys’ favorites.

So when I made it recently, imagine my surprise when I realized that besides the chicken, I’d forgotten just about every other detail of the meal. No potatoes, no onions. No salad in sight. Just a platter of meat and a small side of orange veg.

“Oh my gosh what was I thinking,” I fretted. How did I manage to forget almost the entire meal? I knew I was going lighter on this weekday evening, but I didn’t mean to make it a fast!

“I can’t believe I did this,” I must have said to Paul about five times. I looked across our vast dinner table and saw…very little. Cups with water, plates with chicken. One measly carrot chunk on the plates of those children with an aversion to nutrition.

“Honey,” assured Paul, “it’s perfect.”

And somehow, it was.

We sat and feasted and enjoyed each other’s company. And I managed to let go of this ideal meal, the one I prefer to serve, and celebrate being together. And really, my menfolk are pretty simple; they don’t need a variety of sides to be happy. They just want to be fed.

I was talking to a trusted friend recently about some ways that I make life hard for myself. In my efforts to do The Right Thing and be a good momma, I set standards for myself that are silly and exhausting. But they aren’t impossible, which is also part of the problem. Because they are attainable, I think these standards are worth the effort.

One recent Sunday at Mass I was in a small battle with one of the younger children who desperately wanted a drink. And I kept saying “no, you may not leave for a drink” and felt if I backed down on this issue I’d be sending a message I didn’t want to send.

But finally, after a few minutes, I just didn’t feel like battling any more. “You may go,” I relented, “but come right back.”

And a minute later, that boy came back and he was like a different child. He was thirsty; he got a drink. We made it through that epic stand-off by me getting a grip.

“Does God really care,” was my friend’s question when I recently relayed this story. I felt exhausted and wimpy, like I’d thrown out every bit of sound parenting advice I’d ever read and what I needed to hear was maybe I was fighting battles that were not worth winning. Does God care? Yes and no.

God cares about what’s important — about us loving our children and teaching them to love each other and to love Him. But maybe a list of never-miss rules is not where I need to put too much energy.

Yes I’m The Boss, yes Paul and I are in charge of this family. But sometimes I need to step back and ask myself which battles are worth fighting. And then do another round of that again.

I know it’s important to have high standards and ideals, to be the best we can be, but in the midst of that I need to always be asking God what HE wants that to look like. Having rules and regulations for the sake of them bears fruit, but not necessarily the fruit God has for our family.

Perfection in Christ is a different thing entirely from just Perfection. I can serve the right meal and have my kids sit perfectly still and never mess up from my list of ideals. But if I have not love, I am a clanging cymbal.

A friend recently shared with me that in scripture, the word “perfect” has its roots in a word better interpreted as “being thoroughly well-made.” That’s who God wants us to be. That’s the freedom he has in store for all who seek his voice.

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.