High Crimes and Restaurant Demeanors

High Crimes and Restaurant Demeanors


Easter Sunday we blamed it on the candy.

We knew that, contrary to what medical experts claim, only the special sugar found in jelly beans and chocolate bunnies could have turned our normally restaurant-ready kids into the pair of unrecognizable frolicking fiends sitting next to the Big Guy and me. Twelve-year-old Thing1, normally my gentle giant, should have known better, for example, than to instigate a game of table hockey with wadded up straw wrappers for pucks and burgeoning glasses of OJ for goals. Six-year-old Thing2 definitely knew better than to lap his milk like a dog. But chalking the antics up to the candy, the Big Guy and I doled out the discipline and, once back at home, buried the incident in our subconsciouses with the rest of the childrearing-related traumas we’ve accumulated over the past twelve and a half years.

But the medical experts turned out to be right about the sugar. Another saturday and another breakfast at Bob’s (our favorite) rolled around, and we were joined once again by our children instead of the two imps who had overtaken Easter Sunday Brunch. Things seemed back to normal, so we decided to tempt fate again on Sunday. Sadly, fate took the bait.

Unlike the previous Sunday, Thing1 and Thing2 hadn’t been freebasing candy since dawn, but, for some reason, they could barely contain their giggles as we walked in the door, and we knew we might be in trouble. I haven’t had to carry one of my kids out of a restaurant or store in years, but, even though my instinct suggested we should do that right now, we thought a quick ‘ENUFF!’ would put the kibosh on any drink-spilling festivities. I should have listened to my instinct.

By the time the drinks came, they had lost every privilege we could think of. They had been sentenced to firewood stacking by the time the order was put in. The food came just as I was wondering if the Big Guy was still capable of carrying Thing1 (who’s taller than I am) back to the car. The imps fell quiet as they feasted, but not even the long list of chores they had racked up could keep the silliness from jumpstarting again as soon as they got back in the car.

I’ve come to expect a day of defiance from one or both kids here and there. Two almost consecutive episodes of abysmal restaurant demeanors, however, were beginning to shake my confidence that, after twelve and a half years of long nights and time outs and minding their manners, I had any idea of what I was doing.

As we drove home, we tried to determine the cause of the craziness and, more importantly, the corrective. By the time the Big Guy had reached the top of the driveway, we had decided that wood stacking would be followed by a full-scale room cleaning would be their penance. Despite the threat of more dire consequences – an evening of Jane Austen movies – if the jobs were not completed in short order, however, the giggles from the back seat and then the hazard zone at the near end of the hallway continued.

In the end they got their chores done (there’s nothing like the threat of hours of costume dramas and star-crossed romances to wrest order from two chaotic boys). As I listened to them giggle and clean, however, I heard two brothers who, in spite of their ability to argue over the color of the sky on a clear day, can ultimately pull together when the chips are down.

When the Big Guy and I finally peered into the bunk room, my confidence was on firmer ground. The floor was clear, the beds were made, the point had been made and we were clearly getting the hang of this parenting thing. To the back of my mind, like so much dirty laundry to be hidden until next years’ spring cleaning, I shoved the admission that this round had almost been a draw and not a victory.

But it was a victory, and I’ll add it to the little collection of trophies we’re accumulating as we shepherd our boys through their childhoods. They’re the reminders that we do have some successes – even a few important ones. The reality, though, is that I’m not sure we’ll ever completely master this game. If we do, my guess is that it we’ll hit our stride about two days after Thing2 moves out of the house.

I’m Not Tired

I’m Not Tired

It’s after nine and too late to start another movie. Six-year-old Thing2’s dance has devolved from frenzied leaping and spinning into climbing onto and sliding off of the couch, but he is not tired. The Big Guy puts in the Sound of Music, fast-forwarding to the end of the intermission.

The music swells, and Thing2 twirls on the floor before climbing up to snuggle between me and his older brother who has sandwiched himself next to the Big Guy on a sofa meant to hold three thinner adults. There’s another slide-and-climb maneuver before Maria is told to go climb her mountains, but by the time she returns to the von Trapp embrace, Thing2 has settled into mine, his eyes closing for a minute.

“I’m not tired,” he breathlessly exclaims through what I could have sworn was a snore as he shakes himself alert. He explains he meant to laugh and then sneezed. There’s another slide-and-climb. Baroness von Schrader is dumping the captain about the same time Thing2 begins examining my hand that’s holding his smaller one. Then with a burst of energy, he rolls from sofa to momma, clinging to me like a baby chimp. “I’m not tired,” he mumbles as he closes his eyes and, looking more two than six, finally surrenders.

Maria is singing in the background about nothing coming from nothing, and, as I savor this moment that is becoming all-to-rare and wonder what the heck I ever did in my own wicked past to have earned it in the first place, I am anything but tired.

Sympathy for the Giant

Sympathy for the Giant

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The steps creak a little more each day as Thing1 descends from his bastion on the upper bunk.  He’s been taller than his mother for a year now, and, even though he enjoys sizing up the difference every time we pass in the hall, I am getting used to looking up at someone I used to carry around in a Snugli.  It’s strange feeling, and a few weeks ago, I realized that Thing1, evoking a decidedly impish quality, didn’t really suit him anymore.

I’ve been using nicknames for my kids and husband since this blog’s inception.  My six foot six husband is the Big Guy.  My twelve and six-year-old boys are known as Thing1 and Thing2 (or SuperDude if he’s wearing his cape and wig), respectively.

My decision to use nicknames was not so much to safeguard their internet safety – very little is private anymore now  – but more the result of the feeling that, especially with the kids, I had the right to tell our stories but not the right to opt in the use of their real names until they were old enough to make that decision themselves.  The result has been a mostly illustrated blog (the few photos of the kids are usually old enough to prevent easy recognition by anyone but the people who already know them), and I’ve been happy with it.  Now, however, as I’ve been searching for a new, more appropriate nickname for the gentle giant that roams our house, I realize that part of the motivation for the original nickname was my denial that he is growing up.

There is still a bit of the imp in him, but middle school and the discovery that a world lies outside Minister Hill have made him serious.  When the imp is revealed, Thing2 is often the inspiration and the provocation.  Like any good younger brother, Thing2 carries around a bit of loving hero worship for his big brother.  Most afternoons he expresses his love by snuggling up to his older brother, but there are times when love hurts.

Sometimes inspired by boredom, sometimes by that most flattering of desires – to imitate his older brother in every possible way – Thing2 will sidle up to Thing1 at his desk or on the couch.  He’ll work to inhabit the space with his brother.  Then he’ll ask to play whatever Thing1 is playing, listen to whatever song Thing1 has blasting, or watch whatever show Thing1 thought was great last night but couldn’t care less about this afternoon.  He is dogged in his admiration, and, when Thing1, in the time-honored tradition of surly preteens everywhere, ignores the initial overtures, Thing2 finds a plan B.

Snuggling becomes poking.  Then poking becomes climbing, and sometimes the climbing hurts.  Thing2’s faith that Thing1 would never hurt him is stronger David’s in a God that would guide his slingshot was.  For the most part his faith is well-placed. Unlike the ancient Goliath, when our giant needs a lot of needling before he responds in kind.  Sometimes the giant will lose his temper, but he rarely loses his cool.

Lately he’s been taking on more grown-up chores around the house.  He’s attentive and responsive when we need a quick favor.  Naturally, I see him through my maternal bias, but as I watch the imp becoming a man, I’ve decided it’s time for someone to get a new nickname and rehabilitate the name Goliath.

The Hairy Edge

The Hairy Edge


Maybe if it hadn’t been a snow day filled with lolling about and lying around, this milestone might have gone unnoticed.  But twelve-year-old Thing1, getting as big as a good-natured Goliath these days, made the mistake of mentioning that he wanted a shower on a slow news day.  The Big Guy and I looked at our son and then back at each other, the same question on our minds.

I think the Big Guy was the first to ask Goliath point blank if there was a girl involved.  Our firstborn immediately rebuffed such a ridiculous suggestion.  His hair was too long, he said.  It was too warm and he needed to cool off.  

I don’t mean to imply that Goliath doesn’t shower regularly.  But anyone who’s raised or raising boys will concur that there comes a phase in their lives when they develop severe soap allergies, as evidenced – at our house – by the sounds of cajoling and pleading (and that’s the parents) that commence many evenings just after supper time.  We have heard every excuse for why Goliath and his six-year-old tormenter, David, should abstain from contact with cleanliness.  They don’t feel dirty.  They’re just going to get dirty again tomorrow.  They’re trying to save water and (going after our off-grid Achille’s heels) electricity.  So when we haven’t had to cajole or plead for not just one night, but three in a row, it’s a major event.

The Big Guy and I didn’t contest any further his earnest contention that a sudden romantic interest was not at the source of this sudden spate of elective hygiene.  Once Goliath cleared his place and retreated to his half-hour shower, however, the Big Guy and I looked at each other, realizing we are getting closer and closer to the scary hairy edge of being parents of a full-fledged teenager.  And as frightening as that thought is, the scarier idea is just how fast it’s all going.

So Uncool

So Uncool

The best thing about having a preteen is not the sudden displays of independence (or rebellion depending on your take) or the occasional surliness.  It’s the fact that no matter what you do, for the next decade or so, you know you will never be cool.  Now, no one has actually ever accused me of being all that hip – except maybe the Big Guy when I complement him on a burp – but I’ve noticed that the little bit of cool factor I may have enjoyed, has taken a nose dive as Thing1, my first born, approaches the big One-Three.  This might have bothered me once upon a time, but, now, as I’m getting a lot more selective about which dragons I go chasing after, it’s actually quite liberating.

My precipitous loss of coolness (always in danger due to my uncanny knack for mastering fashion trends just as they were ending and love of all things geek) became apparent one morning as we were driving to school.  Thing1 had already begged me to stop dancing in the car, regardless of our surroundings, and, well remembering the gauntlet called middle school, I respected this ‘request’.  My music choices, however, stayed pretty much the same.  I listen to everything, and my playlists vary with my mood.  My tastes can have us listening to Pavarotti one morning, Rolling Stones  another, or an eighties pop list the next.   It was an eighties pop mix that first prompted Thing1, a budding music geek with firm ideas about “what’s good” that can only survive in the hothouse of adolescence, to assume the role of arbiter of musical taste on our morning school runs.

He began switching up the playlists on my iPod, and, for the most part, I acquiesced happily.  That acquiescence made him happy on the drive, but when we arrived at school, he began hitting the pause button before the car stopped.  After a few mornings of this I realized my acceptance of his choices was causing him to question not his taste but his own coolness.

He’s not into girls yet, so fashion – the most visible signal that a kid is trying to display their coolness – hasn’t really become an issue (boys seem to escape a lot of this anyway), but as he stops the music and climbs out of the car, everything in his demeanor says he’s still anxious to be cool.  Most of the kids entering the building seem to have this same anxiety, translated through their tense postures and nervous glances at their friends.

It’s not just maternal bias when I say that, in my eyes, Thing1 has always been cool.  He’s a door-holder.  He can carry on a conversation with grownup. A number of his classmates are like this too.   So, as I watch these pleasant, curious kids scurrying to school, wearing their self-consciousness on their sleeves, my first daily thought is how ironic it is that they should worry that they’re not cool enough.  When the car door shuts and I unpause the music, my second thought is usually how exhausting it once was to worry about it.

I know Thing1 will survive this gauntlet.  The Big Guy and I are fiercely protective of the inner young man full of hopes and dreams and ideas, but we also know navigating between the desire to fit in and his true north (when he discovers it) is part of the test of teenager-dom.  It’s a journey we can’t take for him.

I’ve recently adopted a new exercise regimen of dancing for a 3 minute song in front of my laptop every few hours so that I can fit some movement into my day.  I pretty much look like an idiotic bowl of jello for those 3 minutes, and sometimes I’m glad none of our windows look out on neighbors.  But I would be dancing even if they did.  That carefree dance is the reward at the end of that journey.  I’ve discovered my true norths now, and, while I’ve started another part of the path, I’ll be waiting for Thing1 when he’s found his own groove.