I haven’t written about what’s been going on in my family lately for fear of jinxing things. But I’m happy to report that Patrick got into a school he really, really wanted to attend, so his last day of high school was last week.
Getting into this school was no slam dunk, let me tell you.
When we visited in September, I asked to speak to the the admissions director privately, and he described typical applicants: highly-motivated, straight-A students who aren’t challenged by high school work.
That’s not exactly our situation, I said.
“Well, we have had some kids come here who are B students, and they’ve done fine, too,” smiled the director reassuringly.
Um, that’s not exactly our situation either, I said.
Suddenly the admissions director looked worried.
But then Patrick went in to talk to him, and when they emerged from the meeting 45 minutes later, the director patted Patrick on the back and told me what a fantastic son I had.
I didn’t know Patrick had it in him to make such a good first impression — he usually can’t bothered to put his napkin in his lap at the dinner table. But give the boy points for pulling out the charm when he needed to.
Or maybe it was sincerity.
Patrick was accepted, and last Friday we drove up to Massachusetts, with me hoping against hope during that two-hour drive that my absent-minded son hadn’t forgotten anything important. As he unpacked, I was relieved to see he’d remembered to bring his sleep medication, in the locked box his doctor recommended.
But of course he’d forgotten the key.
No problem, I assured Patrick. While he was in his orientation meeting, I promised, I’d find a hardware store, break open his old box and buy a new one. Patrick looked nervous (does he think I can’t handle finding a hardware store? I thought), then went off to learn about where to get free condoms, or whatever they tell kids in orientation meetings these days.
I located a hardware store and explained my problem to the kindly owner.
But just as I raised a borrowed ball-peen hammer with the intention of pulverizing the lock, it occurred to me: What if something else was in Patrick’s locked box? Something he kept locked up so his mother wouldn’t find it?
And what if the kindly hardware owner is the kind of person who would call 911 if something else came spraying out of the box when I smashed it?
Was that why Patrick was so nervous when he left?
There was no going back, however. My final thought, as I swung down on the lockbox, was this: after Patrick worked so hard to turn things around — to the point that he got himself into this school! — hadn’t he earned my trust?
And couldn’t I just use money from his college fund to make bail, if it came to that?
So I smashed the box, and all that spilled out were sleeping pills.
It’s only been a week, but so far, so good. I called Patrick the other night and asked what he was doing, and he told me he was reading his chemistry text.
No, really, I said.
But he was!
You’ll have to excuse me now.
I have a moment to relish.
As my son and I were driving to a college admissions interview yesterday — his first — we got into a big argument after I missed an exit on the highway. “Don’t talk while the GPS lady is talking!” I yelled. “Stop blaming me for your bad driving!” Patrick yelled back. I felt bad even before it was over, because the fight wasn’t really about my poor navigation skills (though there’s that). It was about me being anxious that my son will be leaving home soon, and him being nervous about his first college interview.
I’m going to try to make that the last time I get into an argument over something that’s really about something else.
The biggest fight my husband and I ever had was whether to let our dog swim in our pool. I was accused of being a neat freak, of not understanding a dog’s place in the family, of being too rigid. I accused my husband of putting our children in danger, of being unsanitary, of being overindulgent.
Except, we didn’t have a pool. Or children, or a dog. We weren’t even married yet. We had just gotten engaged, and as excited as we were, there was an undercurrent of fear about the giant leap we were taking together. I was 31 and Michael was 34; we weren’t young or naive enough to think everything would be easy.
As it turned out, marriage was a lot easier than friends warned us it would be. (The overindulgent streak of his totally worked in my favor.) That first fight about the pool was just heating up when we realized how silly it was, and started laughing at ourselves, and couldn’t stop. After that, every time a discussion would start to escalate into an argument, we’d ask ourselves, “Is this another dog in the pool situation?” And often, it was. So we’d laugh again.
It’s not always easy to figure out what an argument is really about, but it’s worth taking a breather in the thick of things to try.
If you’re lucky, it will make you laugh.
This is the last time I’m going to complain about the fence my neighbors put on the border of our properties.
I HATE IT!
There, I’m done.
People have told me that the fence, 6 1/2 feet tall and black chain link, looks like it belongs in a prison yard, but so what? Realtors warn me that it devalues my otherwise rustic property, but who cares? My disgusted landscaper said the neighborly thing to do is set a fence at least a foot back from the property line, instead of right on it, but whatever…it’s just a fence, and I have to get over it.
(Please don’t be offended if you have a chain link fence. I have nothing against them; sometimes they look great. But this one made me cry.)
If I don’t get over it, I’ll become the cranky lady on the block that all the kids are afraid of, like Mrs. Mockler.
When I was little, that was our next door neighbor. The Mocklers didn’t have children, and they hated dogs. Or at least, they hated our dog, a collie named Suzy. Over and over, Mrs. Mockler would summon the police to complain about Suzy’s barking, and every time she did, the police would determine that the noise wasn’t enough to be considered a nuisance. So Mrs. Mockler kept dragging my parents to court to complain about the dog, but the case was always tossed out. The fifth time she did that, the angry judge threw her out, and told her never to waste his time in the courtroom again.
So my father researched the barking-est dog that existed, and bought us a German Shepherd named Tinka. Then we had two barking dogs, and there wasn’t anything Mrs. Mockler could do about it.
That story makes me laugh, but I’m not going to be vindictive like that. Besides, I already have a beagle that howls and a teenager who likes to play drums with the window open, and that’s without even trying.
And my neighbors are young. They don’t understand what they’ve done. My reasons for wanting to preserve certain things are sentimental. But my neighbors, full of energy and enthusiasm, want to make changes, and have the right to make their property look the way they want it to. If they could have shown more consideration for my feelings (a simple wood fence would be great! I told them), maybe I was similarly single-minded when we moved here 15 years ago, and put an addition on the house that required so much drilling a neighbor had to send her freaked-out dog to a kennel for three weeks.
At the end of the day, it’s just a fence.
Today is the last time I’m going to listen to Bruce Springsteen in the car, instead of eavesdropping on my kids and their friends in the back seat.
You don’t find out much from Children Of A Certain Age by asking them what’s going on. By the time they’re middle school vets, kids are secretive and sneaky — if you think yours aren’t, that just means they’re very good at it. (No offense.)
Ask Children Of A Certain Age how their day was, and you’re lucky if you get a grunt or an eyeroll. Since I don’t speak “grunt,” like most parents I’ve developed coping mechanisms. Volunteering to car pool is sure-fire. And easy: Shut up, steer and listen. It’s remarkable how quickly kids forget you’re in the car. You find out who has a crush on whom, which boy is filching his dad’s Cubans, whose Bat Mitvah theme just “didn’t match the venue.” It’s brilliant.
You have to keep the radio on, so The Children think you’re listening to music, not them. Except, I can get distracted by Bruce, and today was one of those times. So while eighth graders were gossiping madly in the back of my Odyssey, I was hearing for the thousandth time about tramps like me who are born to run. Consequently, I missed whatever inspired this snippet: “There’s only one kid in our grade who goes to bed at 9, and she got books for Christmas.” I was dying to know what that was about, but I couldn’t ask or I’d blow my cover.
I could only guess what possessed some poor girl’s parents to force her to get ten hours of sleep, and give her presents that might inspire her or make her think, instead of something to make her nails sassier.
Maybe they were guarding her dreams and visions (that’s for you, Stephanie).
In any case, next time, I’ll keep my eyes on the road, and my ears tuned in to the back seat.
When I’m not riding through mansions of glory in suicide machines, that is.
Today my son ordered Something He Shouldn’t Have over the Internet, which means this is the last time, for a while at least, that I will be able to trust him with a credit card.
I was so mad at my son that when my daughter told me tonight that there was a last-minute surprise party for a friend of hers who’s a boy, and that there hadn’t been time for any of the kids to buy him a present, I almost handed her all the gifts I had stashed away for my son’s birthday the following day. “Here you go!” I was on the verge of offering. “Now everyone has a present for Daniel!”
I resisted the urge, even though I know my son won’t appreciate any of the presents I got him. A few vintage shirts, some Uggs slippers and a new backpack is not the same as having Something He Shouldn’t Have.
Kids today! When I was a teenager, I never bought Something I Shouldn’t Have.
I did shoplift it, though.
I do not recommend shoplifting. You often get caught. I did, in the worst possible way. In fact, The Incident practically ruined my freshman year of high school.
I was with my best friend in a department store, and we each picked out a sweater to swipe. We split up, so as not to arouse suspicion, and slipped the sweaters into shopping bags. We arranged to meet up at home.
But suspicion had already been aroused, and each of was tailed by a security guard. Laura was apprehended and whisked to the manager’s office. I inadvertently gave my guard the slip, but my mother was called after Laura ratted me out. Mom drove me to the store in stony silence. When we got there, the manager lifted the merchandise out of my bag that the security guard saw me steal, and was confused. “But it’s been paid for,” she said after examining the tag. I sheepishly explained that after pilfering the sweater, I had gone to a counter and paid for it.
The only thing worse than getting caught shoplifting is to be busted for being too chicken to shoplift. I got off with an earlier curfew, while Laura was grounded for a month. She barely spoke to me for the next three years.
Losing my best friend was a steep price to pay for doing Something I Shouldn’t Have. And doing it badly. Losing my trust isn’t going to hit my son quite as hard. Losing his credit card? Now that’s a plan.
This morning, my son — let’s call him Patrick — came into the kitchen for breakfast. I’d made him eggs and toast. He asked me to get him a glass of orange juice; I suggested he get it himself, since I was in the middle of scrubbing the pan I’d burned the eggs in. “But you’re closer to the refrigerator,” he pointed out. So I poured him a glass— but tomorrow he’ll have to get it himself.
When Patrick was a toddler, he hardly ever cried. I marveled to my mother about how serene he was. “Of course he’s always happy,” my mother snapped. “He gets whatever he wants.”
Which was true. But in all fairness, that’s because Patrick didn’t ask for very much. The first time we took him trick-or-treating, he dutifully walked up to the door and dug a package of Twizzlers out of the candy bowl, but held back when we got to the next house. I asked him why he didn’t want to go again, and he opened up his bag to proudly display the Twizzlers. “I already got something,” he explained. Same thing with his first Easter egg hunt the following spring: one egg was enough. He was resourceful, too — if he couldn’t have a gun, he’d shoot people with a banana. He raced “cars” made out of empty salt shakers.
Even today, he’ll wear jeans until his knees are exposed and sneakers until a toe is poking out, and get annoyed when I insist on dragging him to the mall to get new ones. His slippers are held together with duct tape.
But I’m not doing him any favors by playing waitress in the morning, or reminding him to hand in his homework. He’s more capable than I realized.
I made that discovery recently when he wanted to go to a concert that required traveling from our suburb by train into New York City, then via subway to Brooklyn, and home again before the trains stopped running. That sounded like a lot of coordinating for a teenage boy who packed only one pair of shoes for summer camp (“I can do it myself, Mom!”), then lost them and had to be driven home barefoot, but one of his friends who was going was an expert at navigating the city, so I warily bought Patrick a ticket. He called me as his train was pulling into the station (okay, I called him), and he mentioned that the friend who was supposed to accompany him wouldn’t be going after all. “DON’T GET ON THE TRAIN! I’ll drive you! You don’t know how to get to Brooklyn!” I cried. But it turned out he did. “I take Metro North to Grand Central, catch the L train to Brooklyn and get off at Bedford Avenue,” Patrick replied calmly as the doors closed behind him. My stomach clenched and I poured myself a glass of wine to settle my nerves. But only one, not unconvinced I wouldn’t be racing to Brooklyn in the coming hours to search for my lost boy.
That night, Patrick returned happy, safe and sound. Sober, even.
I learned my lesson. Patrick’s as smart and resourceful as he was when he was two. Which means he can get his own orange juice.
I think I’ll even teach him how to make eggs.