Month: August 2017

Every Week is Plagued by Something Dark.

Once a week, we have Family Movie Night.

This started when I realized that, after having kids, Bill and I no longer enjoyed our Friday nights eating pizza and relaxing, as we’d done previously. So we reclaimed the tradition, and it’s stuck for many years.

Now that the kids are old enough, everyone gets to choose what we watch. We alternate weeks, with each person choosing a movie appropriate for the whole family. Unfortunately, now that Shane is 13, this means that the entire PG and PG-13 world is available to us all.

Being the only female in this new movie world is tough. Here is a sample of what can happen:

Week 1 – Bill’s choice: War Games

Week 2 – Kirsten’s choice: Freaky Friday

Week 3 – Dylan’s choice: The Bye Bye Man

Week 4 – Shane’s choice: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Week 5 – Bill’s choice: Austin Powers

Week 6 – Kirsten’s choice: The Princess Diaries

Week 7 – Dylan’s choice: The Dark Knight

Week 8 – Shane’s choice: Poltergeist

Note that every week is plagued by something dark, except mine. There is either suspense or dark humor, or downright horror. The Bye Bye Man was particularly awful, but somehow it still kept me up at night for a long time.

Last week, Shane’s choice was Killer Clowns From Outer Space. Does it get any darker than that?

It’s gotten to the point where I’m actually considering forcing the children to watch the Disney movies again, except Bambi which I cannot handle, so that I don’t have to resort to things like Lassie Come Home and Sounder. I’ve actually reached the point where I – briefly – considered Sounder.

Instead, I am slogging forth. This week, it’s my turn and I am deciding between Queen of Katwe and Lion. I always look forward to my week.

But I’m not sure the boys do.

Shane Was Never Deterred.

When Shane was younger, he was a magician. He didn’t just have a kids’ magic kit (like I did) – he actually studied magic. From the time he was eight years old, he was obsessed with learning everything he could about magic. Sleight of hand tricks were his favorites, and he got pretty good at them – for an eight-year-old.

Shane studied and studied, practiced and practiced. We went to dozens of magic shows, everything from birthday party entertainment to Vegas showmen. Shane befriended all the local magicians, many of whom are quite serious about their craft.

As he got older, Shane learned more and more tricks. He did shows at home. I was his volunteer (i.e., guinea pig) for more tricks than I could ever count. He would do a trick, and it would bomb. And then he would do it again, often accidentally explaining how the tricks worked. Sometimes he told me his secrets on purpose, because he thought it was just so cool.

When he was 11 or 12, he started doing appearances at local magic shows. He became a magician’s apprentice and worked as his opening act – and sidekick. They performed together every few weeks at a nearby magic shop, which also featured a stage. Teo, the adult magician, shared his secrets with Shane, who grew rapidly.

Magic isn’t a booming business. In fact, it seems to be rather a dying art.

But Shane was never deterred. He worked and studied and practiced and learned more and more and more.

Then one day, when Shane was supposed to do his apprentice act on stage, Teo got into a car accident on his way to the show.

I wasn’t even with Shane – I’d seen him perform so many times – but Teo called me from the hospital.

“Could Shane could do an entire show alone?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said. “He’d love that.”

So, at barely 11 years old, Shane got up on that stage and did an entire show. It was a short show, with a limited audience that included mostly friends and family. But Shane did a fine job of entertaining.

Then Shane went home, slept, woke up – and never did magic again. After three years, he just stopped.

Until now.

Years have gone by and, quite suddenly and without warning, Shane is learning new card tricks at an alarming rate.

And he’s good. The tricks are good. He’s older, and wiser, and quicker, and more able to “wow” people.

I don’t know what to do.

I guess I have a magician in the family again.

I’ll Help Out and Pay For Stuff.

It isn’t often that we get a chance to impart a life lesson on our kids about money. But now, we have that chance.

We are not well-off, but we are not suffering through poverty. (I did that in my youth; I know what it’s like.) Our kids, however, get to do a lot and they pay for very little. Dylan, in particular, believes he is very careful with his money because he rarely spends anything – and when he does buy something, it’s usually cheap.

Dylan is so careful with money, in fact, that he’s saved a ton of money just by not spending anything.

Then he got a real job.

This summer, working part-time, he made about $700. He went to the mall a few times, but his grand total spent at the mall (all summer) was probably less than $100. However, he bought two concert tickets in June, which cost more than $100. Then he bought two more concert tickets for $130.

So his net profit for working all summer isn’t that high.

Now, just before school starts and without any upcoming work, Dylan’s friends are coming into town for a few days.

These friends are online friends – a couple of sisters who Dylan has never met in person. They got some cheap plane tickets and are flying in from Louisiana.

“It would really help them out if we could pick them up from the airport,” he said – notifying us for the first time of the concrete plans that were forming around him.

“What?” I said. “You want me to do what?” He didn’t seem to understand the enormity of what was about to happen.

These girls bought plane tickets with no intention of renting a car when they got here – and Dylan expected us to pick up the slack for their five-day vacation.

Dylan told them, “I’ll help out and pay for stuff.” He said maybe he could help pay for the hotel.

This did not go over well with us, since we know how expensive “stuff” can be.

The girls decided to stay in a cheap hotel room nowhere near the airport or near our house. When we explained the hazards of drug deals gone bad in that city, I was able to find them a place to stay that is equally cheap – but much nicer – on AirBnB. (This site is a Godsend; who knew?)

Then we talked about the things we were planning to do for the weekend. The state fair and the Renaissance Festival – admissions costs alone are upwards of $50. We decided that we will not be doing anything fun while Dylan’s friends are in town.

Even without planned activities, people need to eat. No one had even considered food. Coming from a rural area in Louisiana, these teens are going to have extreme sticker shock.

Bill tossed $100 at the problem, changed their airplane tickets to something more manageable, and directed them to stay three days (cheaper) instead of five. We worked with them to get the plane tickets changed and the AirBnB room reserved.

Still, Dylan has volunteered to “help you with whatever you need.” If only he knew how much that “help” is going to cost him. What’s left of his summer earnings is as good as gone.

He has to learn sometime. It may as well be now.

Maybe next summer, he’ll be able to earn some more money. And maybe at the end of next summer, it won’t all be gone.

I Thought a Summer’s Worth of Practice Would Be Helpful.

I made the mistake of mentioning “school” to Dylan. It doesn’t start for two more weeks.

Since 10th grade finished, Dylan has been on a quest to show me how responsible he is. He’s been great with letting me know when he’s ready for work – and being ready on time. He’s planned ahead with friends and asked in advance when he wanted to spend time with them. And he’s done his work around the house, mostly without being reminded.

And we’ve rewarded him by letting him do nearly everything he wants to do, whenever he wants to do it. He’s even learning to drive.

But also on his list of responsibilities were two things: summer homework and SAT practice. Those things have somehow slipped his mind.

So this week, it rained a lot and we didn’t have much to do. So I told him to finish his summer homework, and to do some SAT practice. You’d have thought I was asking him to pull out his toenails with a tweezer.

Eventually, though, after repeated arguments about how I only care about his future and not his present, Dylan finally buckled down and did the work.

Somehow I thought this responsibility thing would translate to the school year. I thought a summer’s worth of practice would be helpful.

But it’s not going to translate. I thought he’d wake up earlier in the mornings, make himself a healthy breakfast, remember his vitamins and coffee, and head out the door with a grin because he’s finally making all A’s and maybe one B.

But that’s not going to happen. He absolutely detests going to school. It doesn’t matter how much it means for his future to do well this year.

The only thing that matters to Dylan is how he feels right now. It is the classic characteristic of immaturity and irresponsibility.

I’ll be surprised if Dylan actually gets all the way through 11th grade. And it hasn’t even started yet.

He’s Actually Joking.

All summer, I have been wondering if I’ve misjudged Shane. Maybe “disorder” doesn’t suit him at all.

While many characteristics of a nonverbal learning disorder still fit him, they are all positive attributes. He has a fantastic memory with exact recall in many instances. He’s highly skilled in reading and writing. And he’s got a tendency to take things very, very literally.

He takes things literally even when common sense dictates otherwise. That’s what worried me.

I keep thinking about the time that Shane was “helping” Bill change a light bulb in the garage. Bill handed Shane the old light bulb and said, “Just toss that over there.” And Shane tossed the light bulb in that general direction, causing the light bulb to shatter into a billion pieces on the garage floor.

When someone takes something that literally, doesn’t that mean there’s a problem? Nonverbal Learning Disorder seemed to nail it – a minor issue, but one that explained Shane’s inability to discern for himself that the light bulb would break if he “tossed” it.


I’ve spent a ton of time with Shane this summer, and we’ve talked a lot. He is incredibly funny with a very dry wit. Lately, he’s also started memorizing very bad jokes – and sharing them in spite of my resistance. (This isn’t why he’s funny.)

Most interesting, Shane has been starting to figure out things that, in the past, would have completely baffled him. And he’s admitted to me that he knows more than I thought.

Shane recently said, “Whenever I say things that sound like I don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s when I’m kidding.”

Just the fact that he can identify and tell me when he’s kidding is new. He used to say, “I don’t really mean to be funny.” But now he is recognizing how his sense of humor is making others laugh.

For example, I might say, “I’ve been on the computer since 8:00. It’s the only thing I’ve done all day.”

And Shane might respond with, “You did a lot more than that today, Mom. You sat on a chair, too.”

A year ago, I would have explained to Shane that the word “only” in my sentence wasn’t meant to be taken literally. And he would have said, “But you did sit on a chair.” It would have required additional explanation about how sitting was implied in my original statement.

But some time has passed, and Shane now admits that these kinds of statements are just jokes. And he admits it honestly – not as if he’s trying to cover his tracks. He’s actually joking. It’s just in such a dry-witted way that many people might miss the joke.

In fact, many people do miss the joke. And the “why” of that is very hard to explain to Shane. But he is starting to understand that, too.

He’s still concerned that I don’t always use verbatim quotes in my blog posts. When I explained the nature of “creative nonfiction,” Shane surprised me again.

Shane said, “Actually, as soon as we hear something, our brains take the words and filter them. So no one can remember exactly what people say, just the way they said it.”

He’s right, of course.

But just his knowing the difference between exact and vague, and his knowing the difference between literal and figurative… This is new, and something I haven’t seen from Shane in years past.

He’s figuring out the way words work, and responding appropriately, and putting it all together into a cohesive, manageable format in his head.

He’s doing it – and it’s awesome.

I Just Wait the Whole Day for My Turn!

The gender of your child isn’t all that important, I know. But when I found out we’d be having a boy – and then two boys – I was very excited.

I was a tomboy. I climbed trees and played sports and never had any interest in dolls or makeup or sewing. I am from the era when I was forced to wear skirts and dresses to school, so these were the girly things I was “supposed” to like. (I am old.)

When I visualized my future children – several decades before I had any – I only chose boys’ names. I couldn’t come up with any girl names that I liked. (I can now, although they are still rather ambiguous.) Before we knew they were males, we’d finally agreed on Casey (for Dylan) and Jamie (for Shane) – both of which can be used as boys’ names, too.

It was also important to me that I spend my adult years hovering near the dugout while my kids played baseball. I pictured myself in the bleachers, cheering as the little guys raced around the bases.

So I put them both on the baseball field at age five. I bought them a tiny glove and a tiny hat and plunked them out there, waiting for my dream to begin.

By the age of six, though, both boys hated baseball.

“I just stand there,” Dylan whined. “There’s nothing to do!”

Three years later, I had a similar conversation with Shane: “It’s so boring!” Shane told me. “I just wait the whole day for my turn to bat!”

I realized, too late, that I hadn’t spent enough time preparing them for the doldrums that happen while the other team is at bat. I also didn’t explain why baseball is fun, even when you’re just standing there.

Maybe we just didn’t play enough catch.

But the boys tried other sports, too. Dylan played baseball, basketball, soccer, and football. He was in chess club, if that counts as “sport.” He learned how to swim, ice skate, roller skate and ski. He played ultimate frisbee for three seasons. One day he decided to run a mile, and he did – and later, he joined the 8th grade cross country team. The following year, he quit cross country and learned how to play tennis. He was going to play at school, but tennis team conflicts with the spring musical.

Dylan is quite good at sports, too. He has real natural ability, particularly in basketball and tennis. But he quit everything except ski club – which is now in danger of closing due to insufficient participation.

Shane was a bit less traditional. At age two, Shane asked to take dance class, and did. Then he played baseball, basketball and football. He loved football, but only played flag – no tackle. Like Dylan, Shane also learned to play chess, swim, ski and skate. (Shane was so good at roller skating that I once googled “roller derby for kids.”)

Shane played a lot of tennis, and he was good at it. But in spite of the cost of lessons at the fancy tennis club, Shane never played a single match. A year later, he fell in love with ping pong. His friends are on a swim team – but Shane declined to join, and took up rock climbing instead. Since he also runs like the wind, Shane is considering trying track. He just signed up for ping pong classes.

Both boys are athletic and talented. They could play any sport.

But on weeknights during baseball season, I sit in the bleachers outside at dusk, watching someone else’s kids play.

I Can Run Through the Gamut of My Entire Life.

I play a computer game called Song Pop. It’s a game that supplies short clips from songs, and requires me to guess the song from the clip. I’m given a choice of four songs or artists and I try to guess the one that’s correct. Since I memorized every song I heard for nearly three decades, this is mostly fun for me.

My favorite thing about Song Pop is that each song I recognize represents something – and usually transports me instantly back to my youth.

For example, I hear three seconds of “Let It Whip” and I am instantly transported to parties after work at an amusement park, where I’d squeal uncontrollably and fly onto the dance floor. Or I hear two seconds of “You’re So Vain” and suddenly I am lounging on the scratchy white-and-gray couch in my parents’ house, playing my dad’s Carly Simon albums on the old console stereo. Or I hear five seconds of “With Arms Wide Open,” and I’m once again pregnant and simultaneously sobbing and singing as I drive home from work in my little blue Mazda.

I can run through the gamut of my entire life in 30 seconds. It’s wonderful! But recently I had an experience that sent me into some kind of emotional Song Pop tornado.

I heard about three seconds of a Bee Gees song – “Too Much Heaven.”

My Song Pop choices, however, suggested that it might be “Donny Osmond.” At the height of his popularity, Donny Osmond – with his prepubescent voice – sounded a lot like the Bee Gees.

My emotions suddenly and temporarily imploded.

Because when I was eight years old, Donny Osmond was my whole world – well, except for the rest of the Osmond family. I played Osmond albums over and over, singing along and staring at Donny’s puppy-dog eyes. I knew the whole world loved Donny. So, as only an eight-year-old can, I truly believed that someday I would grow up and marry Jimmy Osmond, because we both had freckles.

When I hear a clip of an Osmond song, I am instantly transported to sitting cross-legged on my bedroom floor listening to my plastic turntable for hours on end. These are some of the happiest flashbacks from my childhood, so I love getting Osmond clips on Song Pop. It’s one of those things that takes me back so fast, I forget how old I am now.

But the song I actually heard in this incident was by the Bee Gees. I saw the name “Donny Osmond,” sending me into a tailspin, but I knew that wasn’t right.

“Too Much Heaven” was the number one song in the country when I was 15. I was a devastated teenager. When “Too Much Heaven” played – and it played a lot – I retreated into a depression so deep, I could have cried. But I was too angry to cry, so I would sink into a funk that could last for the length of the song, or for a month. (I was overloaded with hormones, so I never knew what would happen.) I flashed back to days of sulking on the floor of my bedroom closet, doors closed and providing a darkness to match my mood.

And that was the complete opposite of my childhood Osmond experience. So when I heard “Too Much Heaven” and saw “Donny Osmond,” my brain whipped from childhood ecstasy to depression, and back, and down – and I was lost in a sudden sort of memory fog.

Then I clicked “Bee Gees.”

And thankfully, I returned to the present.

I Can Get Whatever I Want!

As a mom, my birthday takes a backseat to everything related to my kids – but I no longer let that stop me.

My birthday is at the end of August. I begin celebrating sometime in late July (if I can wait that long). For the month of August, I treat myself well.

This is unusual, actually. For the other eleven months of the year, I whine and moan about all the things I wish I had. And if I’m not whining, I’m (at least) thinking about what I don’t have.

I don’t give myself anywhere near the amount of attention (or stuff) I give to my kids.

I don’t want lavish things. I don’t think, I wish I could buy a vacation home or my own private island. I don’t think, I wish I had a 14-carat gold bracelet that glorifies my name with diamonds.

No. These are not the kinds of things I want.

Still, in August, I allow myself to really dream.

For example, I dream when I make fried eggs.

I have four spatulas for flipping. I don’t cook often, but when I do, I only like using one of my four spatulas. I like the green one. But the green one is often in the dishwasher, having been used by someone else. So my choice is to use one of the spatulas I don’t like, or to hand-wash the green one.

Naturally, I use a spatula I don’t like. And I gripe and complain (to myself) the whole time the egg is cooking, because I don’t have the right spatula.

So this year, I bought another spatula. After all, it’s my birthday! I can get whatever I want!

I have no idea if I will like my new spatula or not. I haven’t used it yet. But I am happy, knowing I have a new one. (I bought the green one for my birthday two years ago.)

And this year – in a clever ploy – I took advantage of my birthday for something even more dramatic.

In my bedroom, I have a light switch that, when flicked to the “on” position, illuminates a table lamp in the corner.

For many years, I have been walking into my bedroom and hitting that switch and … I wait and … a tiny ray of yellow light is emitted from the table lamp. For 13 years, since we moved into this house, I’ve gotten nothing but a minimal streak of yellow when I flick that switch.

This means I can’t see what’s in my drawers to find matching clothes. I can’t read a scrap of paper on the dresser across the room. In fact, the only thing I can see is the table beneath the lamp – which I don’t even use, except to strategically hold my alarm clock.

Several months ago, I bought a floor lamp for Dylan to use in his bedroom. It was only $60. But when I hit the switch in his room, I almost cried. It’s so bright in there! Dylan’s whole room lights up, and he can see whatever he wants! Heck, he could even read a book by that light.

But in my room… there was just that tiny ray of light from that little table lamp.

Until now. I bought myself a floor lamp just like Dylan’s. I moved the table lamp to my dresser, and now I have sufficient brightness everywhere!

It’s my birthday! I can get whatever I want!

This year, I got a lamp and a spatula. And I am totally happy.


Most of the Time, My Kids Surprise Me.

After Dylan and I came home from our jaunt around town on segways, I asked him a question.

We’d ridden segways once before, and my feet hurt substantially less on our second go-round. I wondered if it was that I’d worn different shoes, or if we’d had an easier ride, or if the ride was a little shorter.

“My feet just don’t hurt this time,” I said to Dylan. “What do you think?”

Dylan looked up from his chair, where he was smiling and tapping away on his cell phone. “Huh?” he said.

“What do you think?” I asked again.

Dylan said, “I think – if you illegally copy a movie, and you do it on an island somewhere in the southeastern part of the United States…. Does that make you a Pirate of the Caribbean? That’s what I’m thinking about.”

Sometimes I don’t get what I expect from my kids. In fact, I am starting to realize, most of the time, my kids surprise me.

Last night, I was on my way to bed and Shane followed me down the hall.

“Mom! Mom!” Shane whispered frantically. I turned around, tired but wanting to know what he needed.

“Yes, Shane?”

“Mom, what did the pirate say on his 80th birthday?”

I am not sure how this is so urgent that he needs to chase me down the hall at midnight, I thought. Still, I waited a second before giving up. “Arrr,” I said.

“No,” Shane said. “He said, ‘Aye, Matey!'”

“Aye Matey,” I repeated aloud. “Oh, get it! That’s pretty clever.”

Two pirate jokes in one day. I am not a fan of pirates, or pirate jokes, or anything to do with pirates, except Johnny Depp – who, I must say, is better without the drunken Jack expression.

Still, pirate jokes from my kids are okay. It sure beats yelling, screaming and trying to control their every move.

I guess it was a pretty good day.

Why Was I Expecting Dylan To Be Responsible?

Today I went sightseeing in D.C. with Dylan.

We had a reservation to tour the city while riding on segways.

We had to be there at 9:30 a.m. The website made it very clear that if we were even five minutes late, we would lose our reservation and forfeit our tour. It was not a cheap tour. And D.C. is not next door. We had to get up early.

I needed to be awake by 7:15 to get out the door by 7:45. Dylan needed to get up by 7:00 and, if we were lucky, he would remember to eat breakfast before we left. Dylan always takes longer to get ready in the morning than anyone else in the family.

As is usually the case when I am worried, I barely slept. I was worried that Dylan wouldn’t get up in time, and/or that my alarm wouldn’t go off, so we would sleep through the entire experience. I woke up when it was pitch black – twice – then again in early morning light – three times. When I finally woke up for the last time, it was 6:30 a.m. Half an hour later, I gave up on sleep and rolled out of bed.

Several times during the night I thought, If I were going with someone else, I wouldn’t have to worry so much.

I started getting ready for my day. At 7:20 a.m., I stood silently outside of Dylan’s room. Dylan’s bedroom door was still closed.

Do I let him sleep? I wondered. Should I pretend to bang into the door to wake him up? Or should I sit down on the top step and cry? I truly believed that Dylan would sleep through the segway tour, and we would both miss it. Why was I expecting Dylan to be responsible enough to get up and go?

And then I thought, I am NOT missing this! And I threw open the bedroom door with a flourish.

There was Dylan, still in bed … but sitting up, listening to music, and typing something on his iPad. He was wide awake, but hadn’t bothered getting out of bed.

“I’m going to kill you!” I said without thinking.

“Why?” he said, unruffled. “I’ve got tons of time.” He kept typing on his iPad.

“PUT DOWN THE ELECTRONICS!” I whisper-shrieked in a very muffled voice, so as not to wake Shane. “Get ready FIRST!”

“Okay,” he said. He finished typing, plopped the iPad onto the bed and got up.

It was the beginning of a beautiful day.

No, really.

He got ready, made himself a healthy breakfast, took his vitamins and got in the car without any issues. We were in the car at 7:45, arrived early to our segway tour, and had an absolutely wonderful time together. It really was the beginning of a beautiful day.

When we got home, we both took a very serious power nap.

Next page →