Saturday, September 23, 2017

Made it to Friday...whoo hoo!

It was "one of those weeks"--you know the kind I'm talking about, right? Not traumatic or difficult, or anything like that, thank goodness...just lots of places to go/details to keep straight/items to check off the To Do list. (Wait, I know there's a word for that; what was it again? Oh, right...LIFE.) Maybe you can relate to this as well: my ironclad organizational system, my reserves of energy, and my allowance of patience--all of which seemed solid on Monday--begin to dwindle and fray as the weekdays march onward. Therefore, when Friday finally arrived I felt thoroughly discombobulated (Where am I supposed to be going, again?), mildly exhausted (Ugh, all of this...stuff...needs to get done today?), aaaannnnd a wee bit grouchy (But I don't waaaaaanaaaa!).

However, right there in black and white (or, you know, "pencil") I could clearly read where I'd written, "appointment with physical therapist", and if there's one fact I can always count on, it's that the planner never lies. So, off I went to kick start my Friday with some super-fun...exercises. Yay? I'm kidding--it was fine, really...and if the treatment succeeds in finally convincing my obnoxious left knee to calm down and behave (read: "stop hurting when I run, thankyouverymuch") it will be totally worth every ounce of work. Besides, the practice I chose to administer my p.t. program has two important things going for it: 1) they did a fabulous job with Riley when he saw them to rehab his broken leg and 2) they're located a Dunkin' Donuts to justify a coffee run either before or after each visit. Yep, that's what we call a Win/Win, y'all!

Once that task was accomplished, I opted for a bit of fun, taking a Friday...flower...Fall...field trip. I'd read about a rose garden--free and open to public wandering--located behind a theater in Raleigh. Although today technically marked the Autumnal Equinox, the weather didn't seem to have gotten the message, providing yet another blazingly sunny, scorchingly hot, damply muggy day. So it was somewhat of a sweaty endeavor, admiring all of the brightly colored, well-manicured blooms...but at least I couldn't complain about the conditions, which were perfect for my camera to capture the beauty. And the occasional obliging insect as well!

 After Part One of the entertainment portion of my day, I had a couple of hours to knock out some chores: buy new socks, check; squeeze in a quick workout, check; pick up my race bib for tomorrow morning, check. Then...oh, yeah...leisure activities, Part Two, the Soccer Showdown. You see, the Chapel Hill Tigers (my kids' school team) were facing off against their cross-town rivals, the East Chapel Hill Wildcats (okay, the campuses are really only about a mile apart, but trust me, in a town this size, it's a Big Deal when they play each other, nevertheless). This first meeting of the season would be at East, so I headed over to cheer on Riley's squad.

Alas, in the initial 2017 Junior Varsity clash of the...ferocious felines....East came away with the victory. But fortunately, when I caught up with him after the game, Riley didn't seem too bothered by the defeat. Of course, this might perhaps be due to the fact that he'd already asked if we could pick up dinner at Subway...since it conveniently lay directly in our path on the way home....and because he knew his brother would be making sandwiches behind the counter that night. Believe it or not, somehow we had not yet stopped by to torment--I mean "offer our patronage to"--Derek during one of his shifts, so I agreed that it was high time we did so.

And I've gotta say, Riley seemed to get a huge kick out of ordering his older brother around and getting him to construct a sub to his exact specifications. On the other hand, there's really nothing I can eat there, so I had to amuse myself in a different way. Such as asking Derek as many inane questions as I could possibly think of  while we had his full attention (there were no other customers at the moment who needed him--probably much to his chagrin). "Do you have gluten free bread?" I began. "Mom," he replied in an exasperated tone, "NO--this is SUBWAY!" Not to be deterred, I tried, "Is there any tofu?" He just glared at me and declined to respond, so I felt compelled to continue, "Are your vegetables organic?" He sighed. "Are your ingredients locally sourced?" Now he was completely ignoring me, but I was on a roll. (Ha! Sorry, that was actually unintentional...but see how I'm not erasing it? I'm just cracking myself up, at this point...) Finally he'd finished putting together Riley's sandwich, so I had to throw in my last query, "Honestly, do you guys make sure the animals where you get your...artificial, preservative-laden lunchmeat...are ethically treated?"

I'm probably lucky he didn't choose to chuck something at me, in hindsight...but he was absolutely a good sport about it--though I can only imagine how thrilled he must have been when he could ring us up, take our money...and get us (well...ME) the heck out of his hair. To be fair, I put a nice tip in the jar for his troubles, so I think he'll forgive me--eventually. Oh yeeeaaaeah, this is Derek we're talking about--the one whose ability to hold a grudge is, oh, approximately I'm sure he's entirely forgotten about it by now! (That simply means I can get started on thinking up a new list of ridiculous things to badger him about the next time we just so happen to wander into his place of employment...mwah hah hah!)

Anyway, thus ends a somewhat whirlwind week. Now it's time to relax....hmm....except for the 5K I'm running at 8:30 on Saturday. Oh, and shortly after that, the boys are volunteering for a 4-hour Eco-Crew for service learning credits. Then Husband has a soccer match. I was planning to pop out at some point to buy light bulbs at the home improvement store. While I'm at it, we always need a few things from the supermarket. Of course, there's the Fresh Air Fitness group I meet up with on Sundays..right, and church afterwards. Aaaaahhhhh! That's it, I'm going to bed now, before I think of anything else! 'Night, all....

Sunday, September 17, 2017

When real life is stranger than fiction...

Okay, folks...this doesn't often happen, but I feel compelled to offer a disclaimer for today's tale. Let's just say...the "ick factor" will be quite high...meaning it's not a narrative for the faint of...stomach. There, you've been warned (ominous, eerie music). So, shall we continue (chipper game show host voice)?

We have to start about a month or so ago, when--overnight, as best I can recall--large, angry, red bumps appeared on both boys' legs. I instantly jumped to the (logical) conclusion that something had bitten them--we assumed spider---while they were playing together in the front yard or on the school field that they tend to frequent for their pickup games. It just so happened that Riley's yearly well-visit with his pediatrician was scheduled for soon after that, so we asked the doctor about it while we were there. After inspecting the area, Dr. W diagnosed a minor skin infection called cellulitis, prescribed a topical antibiotic, and moved on to other matters. That seemed to be the end of it, since Riley diligently followed instructions in applying the cream--which in turn did its job and cleared up the problem.

In contrast, Derek's...battle wound...didn't seem to be ALL. Even when Husband and I advised him to start borrowing Riley's medicine, the spot remained large, scaly, inflamed, and crimson. (Hey, I told you it wouldn't be pretty, didn't I? Hang on, it gets much, much worse...) Oh, and did I forget to mention that it oozed? (Yeah, it was pretty grotesque, I'm not gonna lie.) Finally, (this past Thursday, to be exact) I'd had enough of this nonsense, and informed Derek that I was dragging him to the doctor for an expert opinion. He grumbled about it not being necessary, of course, and we had to negotiate the best time for me to take him away from his classes so he didn't miss anything too important, but I stood my ground and made the appointment.

That's how we found ourselves at the physician's office on Friday afternoon, for Dr. W to have a look-see at Derek's calf. Now, I feel I should insert just a little bit of background, here, and tell you that in the time we've been acquainted with him, Dr. W has always come across as a quiet, soft-spoken, laid-back guy. This occasion was no different, as he peered intently at Derek's leg and did some poking and prodding, while simultaneously asking questions about the symptoms and whatnot. It was all done in his usual calm and methodical manner...until I sensed his demeanor. It was verrrry subtle, but his expression altered just a fraction...and I couldn't immediately ascertain what it meant. His probing seemed to become more purposeful, and I got the impression that he was trying to camouflage something from showing on his face--but I wasn't sure whether it was concern...or excitement.

Right about then, he abruptly exclaimed--but still in his professional, soothing, "nothing to get alarmed about" voice--"There's something in there--do you see it?" Startled despite his best attempt to...probably prevent parental freak-out, I squeaked, "WHAT? WHERE?" It didn't even occur to me that both of us were completely ignoring Derek at this point--you know, the one whose body was supposedly harboring an alien life form? Nah, we were 100% focused on trying to catch a glimpse of the...creature--though to be honest, without a magnifying glass, I wasn't able to actually lay eyes on what had gotten Dr. W so hyped. But trust me, I was content to take his word for it. Now, I realized that the widened eyes and newly-animated tone to his voice meant that the good doctor was...kind of like the proverbial "kid in a candy store" in terms of how much he was thrilled by this...experience. (I'm not kidding--had he been a more demonstrative man, I truly thought he might jump up and down with glee...)

Satisfied with his investigation, Dr. W stood up and formulated a plan of attack...which initially consisted of consulting with a dermatologist, to figure out how the HECK to...extract this unwelcome guest from my child. He excused himself from the room...leaving Derek and me to our shell-shocked selves. In my mind, the conversation that ensued will go down as one of the most memorable in the annals of WestEnders lore, as I first asked my beloved offspring, "REALLY, Derek? Between your brother's traumatic seashell encounter and your exotic...bug infestation...could you possibly invent any more ridiculous ways to get injured?" To which he snorted and replied, "Yeah, you're welcome." Then he became more serious and wondered, "Oh, jeez, what should I tell people when they ask why I wasn't in school this afternoon?" Which led both of us to the realization that he absolutely had to relay the true story to at least one person--someone who would most appreciate the gory details: his former AP Biology teacher, who used to enthusiastically share with his students his own history of medical misfortunes from his time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa.

But the whole thing came entirely off the rails when in the midst of discussing the whole...situation...a crazy thought occurred to me: "Hey, do you think we can take it HOME with us?" Luckily Dr. W prevented Derek's response to this, when he returned with an update: "Well, the dermatologist has never seen one of these, either, so he said for me to just go ahead and remove it." Um...yippee? On the plus side, they'd been able to identify what, exactly, we were dealing with--a botfly larvae. (I'll pause here for a second so we can all go...EWWWWWWW. Seriously, don't think too much about it, just plow ahead with me...) You see, I had reminded Dr. W that the fam had traveled to Belize on vacation this year, which had helpfully led him to determine that Derek had picked up the rainforest. (And can I just say...Holy horror movie, Batman...Worst. Souvenir. E-V-E-R.)

But Dr. W had decided how to proceed by now, so he continued to explain, still in that reassuring way of his, "First I'll inject a numbing agent around the site, and wait a few minutes for it to take effect. Then I might have to make a small incision to widen the hole so I can get to the larvae. Finally, I'll use...whatever tool is get it out of there." He finished with an apologetic, "I  might have to dig a little. I can't say it's going to be...pleasant." Perhaps realizing that this wasn't terribly good news, he hastened to add brightly, "But when I'm done, it'll be gone!"

Oh. My. Goodness. Well, there was nothing to do but get on with it, right? (Yeah, easy for ME to say, sitting comfortably in a nearby chair...invader-free...and not "just about to go under the knife"... sympathetic shudder...) As Dr. W readied the needle, Derek only had one preliminary query: "Am I allowed to say bad words?" All of us in the room unanimously agreed that, "You can let fly with whatever you need to, buddy." (Oh, also, we'd now been joined by the nurse who'd initially checked us in and taken Derek's vitals, as well as another physician we hadn't me before, who was just observing, to satisfy her own curiosity. Yep, it had become quite the circus side show, my friends...)

Without further ado, Dr. W began the (ironic) process of systematically jabbing the sharp object into Derek's flesh, to deliver the pain-blocking serum--an activity that looked about as delightful as it sounds. To his credit, while Derek winced, sucked in his breath, and let out a heartfelt, "OWWWW!" he did not burn anyone's ears with stronger language. And then, it happened. On the third stab, Dr. W said, "Ooh, it doesn't LIKE that! Here it comes!" I swear, people, it was like something out of a sci-fi movie--a picture popped up in my head of a flat desert landscape, with a...worm-like organism...rising up out of it. Except, you know, it was my kid's hairy calf. And a freakin' subtropical parasite. Yes, we can all take a moment here....aaaaaahhhhhhhhh!

Okay, deep breath....Dr. W was totally ready for it; he coolly grabbed the tweezers he had conveniently placed within arm's reach, gently but firmly grasped the...creepy crawly critter...and pulled it free of its host--um "my poor son". Then he plopped it into a specimen dish--for photography purposes, OF COURSE--and voila! Successful outpatient...larvae...ectomy completed! Now the only items that remained to be addressed were: dabbing the spot with Neosporin and covering it with a bandage; phoning in a prescription for an oral antibiotic...just to ensure there were no unforeseen side-effects down the road, from having harbored a parasitic Central American species for oh, approximately SIX WEEKS; and touching base one more time with the dermatologist to see if they wanted to keep the actual bug, or whether the pictures would which case, it could be ours. (Like some kind of twisted version of a...lovely parting gift? But see, I told you we'd get to walk out of there with it!)

After that, Derek and I gathered our wits--and our botfly larvae (who I think really needs a name at this point. I'm open to suggestions...) and headed home. Timing-wise, there was no point in returning him to school by now...not that he could probably have concentrated, anyway. However, Dr. W had been definite that there was no reason to stay away from work that believe it or not, Derek took his shift at Subway, as scheduled. I, meanwhile, relished my upcoming astound...and nauseate...Husband, with the extended version of...Derek's Infestation, 2017. Ha!

Whew! It was an utterly exhausting afternoon and, as Derek succinctly put it, "Soooooo NOT how I expected my Friday to go!" As we did our best to process all the...hoopla...I attempted to impose a philosophical overtone to the event. "Just think," I began, "We're so fortunate that we get to visit these awesome, unique places....and sometimes, I suppose, there can be dangers associated with that. But remember the snorkeling, and the waterfalls, and..." But Derek was having NONE of it. He cut me off with a vehement, "NOPE! Never. Leaving. The country. Again!"

Siiiiighhhhhhh. FINE, be that way...ooh, hold year's idea is to take an Alaskan cruise! It's technically still the U.S.--what could possibly go wrong? (And I mean it, no one had better dare to suggest, "One of you could get eaten by a bear,"!) For now, let's take a nice looooong time to recover...say, until the saga begins to fall more into the category of "Wow, that's kind of...legendary, really " than "Aww, you must be forever-scarred!" I predict we'll be totally back to normal by, oh, let's say travel time next Summer (fingers crossed)!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Senor Senior

A couple of weeks into the new school year seems like a pretty good time to check in with Team WestEnders' resident Upperclassman, yeah? (You know, BEFORE his inevitable, tragic case of Senioritis hits...any bets on how early this will happen? I'm just keeping my fingers crossed we have at least until the end of the first semester before we have to deal with this phenomenon...)

First off, regarding his classes, Derek reports--in his usual understated fashion--"Eh, they're...fine." He does become slightly animated when he describes APES (aka "A.P. Environmental Science"), which he claims offers a whole lot of propaganda to the effect of "It's our responsibility to Save the World!" along with a healthy dose of "Everything Trump does is bad!" thrown in for good measure. On a somewhat related note, he feels that his A.P. Lit course imparts "a constant stream of liberal media"...which as your typical, non-politically-tuned-in, somewhat-apathetic-to-world-affairs teenager, he swallows with a rather large grain of salt.

And while we’re on the subject of his English hour, you might recall that Derek was supposed to come into the fresh academic term having already completed not one, but THREE readings during his Summer vacation? Not only that, but wait 'til you get a load of what these assigned gems were: Hamlet (okay, no problem, that’s a good one…); Their Eyes Were Watching God (which I enjoyed, and he at least understood, but it didn’t really resonate with an adolescent male, if you know what I mean…); and finally (saving the most traumatic and difficult for last)…A (nonsensical) Portrait of the Artist as a Young (painfully odd, self-tortured and unbalanced) Man, by James (Freakin’) Joyce. (Can you guess how we felt about this particular..."masterpiece"? Oy.)

Now, I’m sure it won’t surprise you—or anyone who’s had the pleasure of witnessing firsthand the youthful Summer brain in action…er, make that “inertia”-- that Derek procrastinated until the last possible moments before cracking the spines on these collected works. However, complete them he did, even if it was just in the nick of time. And believe it or not, he was even inspired to share a moment of insight, one morning just before school started, when he commented to me, “I noticed a theme among the 3 stories. The characters’ problems are all basically caused by internal conflict, rather than external factors acting upon them.” Whoa! Where did THAT come from, dude? Oops, what I mean is “Hmm…I hadn’t thought about it that way before...but I’d have to agree.” (Well played, son…I hereby proclaim you ready to go forth and conquer the realm of…12th-grade literary circles…or whatever…)
It turned out to be quite fortunate that he’d followed through on the task—heinous as he might have found it, interrupting his video games and outdoor play, and other assorted leisure activities, and all—because the teacher gave a quiz on the second day of school, to check up on what his students had managed to take away from the texts. (Whew!) That being said, Mr. H also admitted that he, himself, finds Joyce to be somewhat…incomprehensible. So I suspect that this might be one of those “just get through it” units--hopefully leading to something much better? Only time will tell..

Okay, moving right along: in contrast, Derek LOVES his History class--mainly because of his instructor. According to my child, Mr. C uses his pulpit and captive audience to mock the kind of views that Derek lumps into the broad category of "hippie Carrboro stuff"...which is something that Derek and his friend group also tend to do on a regular basis. (

Next, let’s talk about something that happens every day in the middle of all this…studying and whatnot. That’s right: lunch. Normally this activity wouldn’t even merit a footnote in the overall scheme of…life—after all, it’s just a regularly scheduled event, in which I assume Derek congregates with his friends, scarfs down as much food as possible, and hopefully doesn’t cause too much trouble. All well and good...except that, evidently I was missing one crucial piece of data. You see, at Riley’s soccer game the other night, a mom-friend, whose sons and mine are buddies, mentioned that her eldest was under the impression that “Derek and his gang leave campus for lunch”.

I had been nodding along up to now as she spoke--"Mm-hmm, I hear you"--but this little tidbit succeeded in completely derailing my attention. "Hold on...I'm sorry...what, now? This was breaking news to me, so I brought it up with Derek later that night. “Oh, yeah,” he breezily replied, “We come home at lunchtime.” And by “home” he means “Lou’s house”, where they apparently hang out and eat until it’s time to head back for their next period. Huh. Well, that’s just…fascinating, dear. Just out of curiosity, at any point in time were you planning to, I don’t know, INFORM YOUR PARENTS OF THIS DEVELOPMENT? You remember us, right? The ones responsible for your well-being, safety, and behavior? The people who just might be interested in knowing where you are, during the hours you’re supposed to be incarcerated—or “at school”--learning and stuff?

“Sure, I was gonna tell you,” he said with an annoying smirk, “when you asked.” (Must. Resist. Urge. To. Throw. Things. At. Offspring...) So, it seems like this would be an excellent opportunity to have a little chat about how you’re technically still a minor, (for 7 more months…gulp) and obligated to keep your mother and/or father in the loop as to your whereabouts and shenanigans, blah blah blah. Most of all--and I cannot stress this enough--do NOT make me hear things from someone ELSE’S Mom, okay? Thankyouverymuch…

So there you have it: all the current hot topics from a High School Senior’s first few weeks…of his last year in K-12 education. All joking aside, he’s—mostly—beyond the point where he needs much supervision for navigating his…scholarly career. Oh, with the obvious exception of the college application process, which is a whole different can of worms for another day. Yeah, and perhaps some extra practice with the “identifying and communicating crucial life-details to your loving, concerned parents”…issue. But one thing I’m absolutely certain of is: no matter what happensreal life can’t help but make a HECK of a lot more sense than…James Joyce! And we don't even need Cliff Notes--so here we go, let's DO this!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Sometimes I understand the teenage brain...other times, not so much

Now on to something MUCH lighter…let’s take a little field trip to Derek’s world, shall we? (C’mon, it’ll be fun! It’s just a glimpse into the murky thought processes of a 17-year old boy…that can't be scary at all, right? Stick with me, here..)

So, one of those things I gave up on a looooong time ago as a mother was attempting to force the children to fold their t-shirts and store them neatly in the dresser drawers. I mean, this was important to ME, but they couldn’t have cared less about whether their clothing lay in perfect stacks….or for that matter, whether they strolled out of the house looking like wrinkled messes. I simply had to accept that they had different priorities, like whether their faves were clean (which we could ALL agree on, actually), and whether they could easily lay their hands on the one they wanted to wear on any given day (which somehow, even without using my—clearly superior—arrangement, they manage to accomplish).

Imagine my amazement, then, when Derek approached me one day out of the blue with a gigantic grin plastered on his face and announced, “I just did something you’ll be very proud of…I organized my t-shirt collection!” Now, I have to admit, my thoughts did not immediately jump to, “Wow, buddy, that’s awesome!” Instead I glared at him and retorted, “Oh, really? You mean, that thing I’ve done countless times, and been railing at you about for YEARS?” His smile turned sly as he replied, in a tone of aggrieved innocence (as if I were persecuting him for his revolutionary ideas, or something. Very dramatic…), “Yeah, but now that I thought of it…it’s a much better idea!”

(Obligatory pause for maternal episode of banging one’s head against the nearest wall. Okay, carry on…) He continued, his enthusiasm undampened by my lukewarm reception, “Wanna see?” Well, suuuuure, honey. I can’t wait to experience this innovative new technique you’ve created (curiosity and sarcasm waging a battle within me, can you tell?). He pulled open the drawer to expose his handiwork, prompting me to exclaim, “It looks IDENTICAL to the way I’ve always done it!” (Seriously, three piles of folded shirts—this is your brilliant brainstorm? Yeah, I was decidedly…undazzled…thus far…)

He quickly denied this, protesting, “No, no, there’s a system!” He earnestly continued with his explanation, “See, there are three tiers. Say it’s a Friday, and I want to wear something special, I know to look on the left--that’s Tier One. On your average Tuesday, I might go for Tier Two, in the middle. And a Sunday filled with homework? That’s what Tier Three is for, on the right." He concluded with a flourish, "It’ll be so much easier this way!”

Ay yi yi. Oh well, I guess it could be worse…it only took 17-plus years for him to come up with a rationale for showing his clothing some respect—one that made sense to him and motivated him internally to change-- rather than continuing to cram his apparel randomly into his dresser. Perhaps there’s…domestic hope…for him, yet!

On the other hand, I don’t know why this incident surprised me in the slightest, really—given another recent interaction with my eldest in which I’d learned some…shocking? Disturbing? Okay, maybe more like “mildly disconcerting and unexpected” information. You see, one day when I had entered the teenager’s Inner Sanctuary—um, “bedroom”—I’d moved his pillow, making space for me to sit on the bed and chat. He reacted with (mostly feigned) alarm, “Make sure you put that back the same way!” I was bewildered, “Um…right. Why is that, again?” With his trademark smirk, he answered, “Because my pillow stays in exactly the same position at all times!” Far from enlightening me, this only served to further confuse the issue. “You mean, you don’t rotate your pillow sometimes, for a cooler spot…or a…ahem…fresher side?” He emphatically shut down the very possibility with an emphatic, “NOPE! No way!”

In case you’re wondering, don’t ask me for any further illumination into this….character quirk…because he was unable to provide me with any actual reasons, short of the cop-out, “I fear change!” (Utterly negated by the chipper delivery  and impish expression, by the way. And incidentally, this is a well-known catchphrase in our house, typically used by Husband to encompass any and all situations in which he wishes to continue doing things the same way he’s always done, without altering the tiniest detail or causing himself any discomfort or inconvenience. Well done, dear—you’ve taught your sons an avoidance tactic that I’m SURE they’ll NEVER take advantage of, or overuse…siiiighhhhh…)

Anyway, fast forward to the other night, when Riley was seized by a sudden inspiration to rearrange his bedroom. Specifically, he wandered into where I was relaxing and commented, “I know this isn’t like me, but for the first time since we moved into this house, I’m thinking about moving my furniture around.” Well…as someone who’s easily bored and sometimes changes things up just for the HECK of it, this came as a call to action. I probably startled—and possibly dismayed—him when I jumped right up and replied, “Sounds good! How would you like it?” He sputtered, “Like, right NOW?” “Absolutely!” I said, “No time like the present!”

Probably already regretting his impulsive proclamation, he trailed me into his room, where we discussed potential locations for his bed and desk, weighing the spatial considerations, the aesthetic appeal, and the functional merits of each option. Nah, I’m joking! There were honestly only a couple of viable possibilities, so we quickly shifted his desk to a new orientation, tested it out, evaluated its acceptability…and that was it. In one fell swoop, the new setup simultaneously solved the problems that he’d wanted to address, namely “I don’t like my back to the door” and “I’d like the overhead light to be shining directly onto my work surface” Done, and DONE! (And another satisfied client—oh, right..."son"!)

When Derek became aware of these goings-on, he naturally came to check out the new, improved Riley’s Crib. Of course, he shook his head and asked, bemused, “WHY? What was wrong with it before?” As if it was so foreign to his own nature, that he was struggling to comprehend a person’s desire to switch things around…even for a good cause. Therefore, I couldn’t resist teasing, “Hey, we’re done here…now do you wanna rearrange yours?” I began striding purposefully towards his room--with him following briskly at my heels. Now, he knows better than to panic, since I wouldn’t actually touch anything without his permission. However, he made his feelings crystal clear by stating, “When I go to college, I would honestly rather see my room turned into…an arts and crafts studio (which was probably the most extreme...ridiculous...and unlikely example that occurred to him, given his…unartistic…mother) than have anything MOVED!

Alrighty, then, sweetie: duly noted. But you know...suddenly a rather dastardly scheme is occurring to me…maybe for the next year I’ll periodically leave scraps of…fabric…and, I don’t know…stray beads? Bits of yarn? Whatever the DIY-creative-folks use these days…lying about his room for him to randomly discover from time to time! Ooh, and while I’m in there, I’ll…flip over his pillow! Eh, let’s just consider it a course in...real-life training...for when he’s going to have to share a dorm room with someone, who might handle his stuff on occasion, as people do. (Or, you know, it’s just for my own amusement…whatever…) Mwah hah hah!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Let's just call it a..."learning curve"...

Whew! I'm not gonna lie, folks, that was possibly the rockiest first week of school I've ever experienced. And I'm not even the one who has to figure out all the "getting back into a routine", and "juggling a whole bunch of new demands", and...what else...oh, yeah, "learning"...and whatnot! The first inkling that things were not going to be as easy as I'd led myself to believe came on Monday--that's right, at the end of Day One. When Riley arrived home after soccer practice, I greeted him with a chipper, "So, how was your day, buddy?" Naturally, I was anticipating a torrent of details about his schedule, courses, teachers, etc. What I actually got was an impassioned, "I HATE High School."

Whoooaaaa....not where I thought that was going--but okay, tell me more. He elaborated, "It didn't go well. There's tons of people, and not a lot of space. The classrooms are tiny, dark, and uninviting. I know 4 people per class, max. It seems really hard. The expectations are very high." Somewhat stunned by his outburst already, I was trying to formulate a positive, supportive response when he added his last comment, "I'm stressed and tired...but I'm holding it together." (That last part was delivered with a barely audible quaver in his voice that spoke volumes about his emotional state at that moment, and it just about broke my heart, I tell ya.)  

Before addressing all...that...I bought myself some time by changing the subject to ask him how the sports portion of his day had gone. He cheered up instantly and replied, "The only bright spot in my day, and looking forward to it got me through school." Well, at least there was that little ray of sunshine to hold onto...because unfortunately, his night didn't improve much from there. He had several hours of homework to knock out, as well as a stack of forms to get signed. (I know--welcome to 9th grade, right? You'd think they could have eased the poor kids into High School, but nooooo....) Plus, as an extra-special bonus, he'd already decided he wanted to make a change to his schedule-- which normally isn't too big a deal, really. But to him this represented one more gigantic worry in a brain that was already filled with a daunting To Do List.

There was nothing for it, obviously, but to....I don't through the pain? I helped him out with what I could, assignment-wise...but I think my most valuable contribution might very well have come in the form of: chocolate. You see, there was leftover dessert from his birthday, so in a moment of inspiration, I suggested that he at some point plan to pause in his labors for a Cake Time-Out. He took me up on this without hesitation, so at 9:45 p.m. he came and found me and announced, "I'm ready for cake now. I deserve it!" (Oh, don't we ALL, honey...) As he licked the plate clean he noted, "I think I'm gonna need this all week. Can you keep the cake coming, Mom?" Then he quickly amended, "You can switch it up if you want--any kind of treat you feel like making!" (Um...that would be an unequivocal YES, kiddo. I mean, whatever it takes to help you through this tough period, of course. That's just the kind of...sweet-tooth-enabling mother...I am...)

It also seemed like a wise idea to enlist the older brother to step in with some "been there, done that" perspective. Derek obligingly reassured Riley that his first impression of High School did NOT mean he was destined for a super-demanding year with an impossible workload. Case in point: Derek found out that--since they each had been placed with the same History teacher in their respective Freshman years--they'd both been tasked with writing an introduction letter to turn in on the second day. Riley commented that he's spent some time composing his...and Derek actually interrupted him by bursting into laughter. When asked what could possibly be so funny about an assigned task, Derek exclaimed, "I made the whole thing up! I said I moved here from Juneau, Alaska!"

Riley and I both were somewhat horrified by this unapologetic admission of...bald-faced fibbery...but it did serve to highlight an important point: probably the most useful skill Riley will have an opportunity to master this year is how to manage his own...Type-A perfectionist tendencies. Like Derek--for whom this comes much more naturally than it does for Riley or me--he'll figure out what requires his full attention and effort, and what can be done...."good enough". (For example, remember that fabricated History letter? Riley wondered what grade Derek had received on it, and the answer was "100%!" Ay yi yi...since the purpose was to illustrate a point for Riley, I'm just gonna bite my tongue and let this one slide...)

Anyway, the next day's drama revolved around turning in the dang "Schedule Change Request"--which we'd filled out, but I'd apparently forgotten to sign. A flurry of texts back and forth between Riley and the parentals-on-standby--negotiating how and when to complete the transaction--finally resulted in Husband popping over at lunchtime to add his illegible scribble, so that Riley could turn the paper over to the Guidance Office. Luckily, after that little bump in the road the process was quite painless, and by the end of the school day Riley had been granted permission to join his new class. The only downside was that, in order to make his schedule work, he had to move to another Spanish section...with a different teacher. Pfftt--no problem, yeah? Suuuure...except that his maestra de espanol had been the ONE instructor he was actually excited about. Siiighhhh...

Okay, deep breath, shoulders back, chin comes Wednesday. (Good heavens, could this week go any more slowly? Or traumatically? Never mind...don't answer that...) In the middle of the day, I got a text from Riley, with a "lunchtime update". He reported that everything with his new schedule had gone smoothly...he was having his best day yet...and he liked his Spanish teacher. Yaaaaaayyyyy! Now, we weren't quite out of the woods yet, since that afternoon he'd be journeying with the soccer team to their first away-game of the season, which happened to be about an hour's travel. Given the distance, the duration of the match, the necessity of stopping to feed the ravenous hordes on the way back...and then the inevitable homework (and shower--let's not forget that....please!), it made for a very late night for an already tired teenager.

But then, we'd all somehow managed to survive until Thursday--putting us one day closer to the much-needed breather that would be heralded by the arrival of the blessed Labor Day weekend. Another upbeat lunchtime report seemed to indicate that Riley was settling in and feeling more optimistic about this whole High School shebang. Don't get me wrong, he was increasingly exhausted....the loads of evening homework continued unabated thus far...he was still feeling some pressure from all the moving parts he had to manage...but you'd be amazed at how many challenges can be overcome by indulging in a simple ritual to soothe one's jangled nerves.

No, I'm not talking about chamomile tea, or...meditation (although I suspect the latter would be reeeaaally beneficial for us, and we totally should try it...someday), but rather the good old-fashioned...pre-bedtime Brownie Break. (Yeah, the cake eventually ran out...) And when those are gone, we might have to move on to chocolate chip cookies. Hey, it's a looooong school year, and I'm absolutely committed to doing whatever it takes to support my kid in having a successful, happy 9th grade experience! Although if we keep this up, I might have to increase the intensity of my workouts, to avoid the dreaded Freshman...Mom...15! (I swear, the sacrifices we make for our children...ha!)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Total eclipse of the...never mind...

With all the...personal hullabaloo...stirring up Camp WestEnders over the past several weeks, some of the more globally-relevant news items inadvertently got left out of the narrative, such as….what was it…oh yeah, just the first total solar eclipse to grace the continental U.S. with its presence since 1979. Furthermore, the last one wasn’t even visible where I lived when growing up--and this time, we were going to be in a region of 93% totality….so you can understand that it was kind of a Big Deal around here, and folks were pretty doggone psyched up about the whole thing. In fact, some people apparently decided that “almost” simply wasn’t good enough, so we began to hear stories of those who made plans to trek into the path of the full eclipse, in places such as western NC and Charleston, South Carolina.

Then, in the weeks leading up to the phenomenon, warnings started popping up all over the Internet, about the catastrophic eye damage that could occur if you were…unwise (I read this as “idiotic”, which the doctors were either too polite...or too say) enough to gaze directly at the giant, glowing celestial body, even while it was partially obscured--without proper protection.. Not to worry, though, as our family was prepared, thanks to…my co-worker’s wedding. 

You see, my colleague is a Research Scientist, and her husband is a Physicist, so when they got married, several weeks prior to the eclipse, they had the brilliant idea to provide NASA-approved cardboard glasses at each guest’s seat, as their wedding favors. (I know, right? How AWESOME is that?! And I swear, you have never seen such an ecstatic room full of nerds, as we all found our place settings, discovered the specs, and collectively gasped in delight...)

As E-Day approached, the discussions among everyone in our area became more focused, with people wondering where to get the best unobstructed view of the sky, how traffic was going to be during the hours of the heavenly show…and whether the eyewear they planned to use was adequate to safeguard their vision while they tried to enjoy the rare occurrence in the stratosphere. (Not everyone obtained their gear from friends with advanced degrees in science-related fields, as we did…we were just the super-lucky ones!)

In the end, three-fourths of our little clan opted to watch from the comfort of our own front yard, basically. Derek, on the other hand, asked Husband if he could accompany some of his buddies to Kenan Stadium (the football venue on UNC’s campus) to hang out and catch the action. When his father asked him why he wanted to do this, the teenager glibly replied, “You know…an iconic location for an iconic event!” Apparently Husband responded with a skeptical expression, prompting Derek to admit, “Yeah, not really….it was all Rick’s idea.” (Yeeeeaaaahhh, that explains a lot, since historically, a number of the friend group’s…questionable notions…can be traced to this particular individual’s--ahem--“brainstorms”.)

Husband eventually gave him permission to go, but asked how Derek intended to actually watch the eclipse unfold. “We’ll make a viewer out of a cereal box. Rick found a video that showed how to do it on YouTube!” Derek brightly assured him. Far from alleviating his concerns, however, this statement alarmed Husband enough that he immediately offered Derek one of our pairs of glasses instead. I mean, stop and think about it for a second: did he truly expect us to trust the…crafting talents…much less direction-following abilities…possessed by a pack of adolescent boys? (Pffftt…puh-lease…)

At last, after much anticipation, the hour arrived, and the moon commenced its slow march towards blocking its bigger, brighter solar-system-cousin. And overall, it was…pretty cool…if a bit…underwhelming. We honestly kind of expected it to get much darker, but the effect was more like late afternoon, or maybe twilight, than full-on nighttime. It did create some awesome shadows, which we had a chance to appreciate while loitering in the road, admiring the free-of-charge, public access “space programming”.

In other words, to get an idea of what “totality” actually looked like, we had to rely on news coverage from the Pacific Northwest, or a bit further south of here….which I have to admit, was utterly awe-inspiring, and I get why people wanted so badly to experience it in person. But hey, at least we got to say we were around for a “near-total eclipse”, right? AND, we didn’t get stuck in horrific gridlock returning home from our eclipse-chasing-adventures, as I heard from a number of my pals. Finally, of course, our peepers are still healthy after we faithfully utilized our uber-stylish wedding favors.

To sum up: it may not have been mind-blowing, but I’m gonna go ahead and call it a Win. Besides, the next one that comes anywhere close is set to pass over a few states away, in 2024. Gives us plenty of time to put together a road trip, yeah? Hmm…(begins scheming…stay tuned!)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Starting 14 off with a bang (or...several...)

So, it's been a bit of a...momentous whirlwind...for the youngest member of Team WestEnders, who celebrated his 14th birthday, attended Freshman Orientation, and kicked off his High School career...all within a span of 4 days. (I don't know about him, but I'M exhausted--can we have another weekend now, please? I don't think I've ever said this before in my entire life, but seriously, Labor Day cannot come soon enough...)

Since it felt as though August had been rattling along like a runaway train, the first sign that Riley's birthday was approaching honestly came in a less-than-special way...with his annual check-up at the doctor's. (Hey, it can't ALL be cake and ice cream, ya know...which is too bad, really...although at least this was a "shot-free" year, so there's that little bright spot...) It was pretty routine, since he's (knocking on wood) generally very healthy and we had nothing unusual to report. There were even a few laughs, believe it or not--like when they measured his pulse, and it was...48 beats per minute. Riley didn't understand why the nurse and I seemed so amazed, until she explained that, "If you were a, let's say "not very fit" adult, and we saw that number...we'd be resuscitating you right now!" So, yeah, all that soccer is apparently paying off, in terms of his cardiac function.

The second chuckle moment came when the doctor examined a bump that has recently developed on Riley's leg, proclaimed that it was caused by a minor case of bacterial growth (obviously NOT the amusing part yet) and prescribed a "topical antibiotic" to help speed up the healing. It wasn't until we were discussing this in the car on the way home that Riley sighed resignedly and said, "Well, at least I'm used to taking a pill twice a day, after my foot injury." I turned to him to see if he was joking, and when it was clear he wasn't I replied, "Um, sweetie? 'Topical' means you rub it on the wound." His face brightened in comprehension and he exclaimed, "Oh! I'd never heard it used that way before...I thought he just meant that the medicine was 'relevant' to the infection!" (Hahahahahaha! So you get your skin cleared up, and a new vocabulary word...B-O-N-U-S!)

Now that he'd passed his physical, we could safely move on to the more exciting topic of how to help him enjoy his birthday...which somehow morphed into a multi-event endeavor. First he went to a Carolina Courage match (women's professional soccer) with Derek--each of them inviting one friend along. Next we had the family Durham Bulls game, to which he was also allowed to bring a buddy. Finally, Husband plans to take the boys to a zip-lining adventure park, so they can....I don't know...swing around in the trees like monkeys, or something. (Can you tell that this is very much NOT a "me" thing? Yeah, I'll be at home, feet planted firmly on the ground...drinking coffee and reading a good book. And everyone will be happy...)

As for actual "presents", Riley informed us that he didn't particularly want anything this year. was an extra-nice surprise when Derek went behind his back and secretly ordered him a t-shirt printed with the name and club of his favorite international men's soccer player. Then as his actual birthday got closer, Riley did waffle a little bit, and decided that maybe he could use another baseball cap. When I started to tell Derek about this, he interrupted me with, "Hold on, I know exactly what he said: his UNC hat is to wear while playing sports, and it gets sweaty, so it can't be used for anything else. His Costa Rica hat is his favorite, and it's for special occasions, so he doesn't want to mess it up. He needs one other hat, to wear when he's just hanging out with friends, being casual."

I sat there and gaped at him, momentarily speechless, because he'd just recreated, practically VERBATIM, the monologue that Riley had delivered when explaining why he wished to add to his hat collection. Utterly pleased with himself and with my reaction, he finished smugly, "See? Riley and I are close!" (Well, yes--yes, you are. Thanks for the irrefutable proof, son...) In the end, we let him pick out a Bulls hat for us to buy him while we were at the stadium, so it worked out well for all concerned.

And then, Sunday rolled around, and....9th grade suddenly sprang upon us. Riley took care of some routine preliminary tasks: loading up his (new, super-sized, "serious academic High School student") backpack, gathering his soccer supplies for practice, planning what to bring for his lunch and snacks. Then came the question mark items, such as "when will the bus come to pick me up?" and "Where do I go for 1st period?" (since his brother had mentioned in passing that the schedule is typically rearranged on Day One, to accommodate a homeroom slot that isn't part of the regular agenda).

Beyond this, however, Derek was unable to offer any further details or, you know, "helpful information". In fact, when Riley conveyed his concern about the transportation issue, Derek shrugged and gave a response something along the lines of, "Eh, I was hoping YOU'D figure that out...and tell ME!" (Can I just pause here for a second and express the following: Oh. My. Freakin'. Gosh. There are times that this beloved child of mine crosses the line from "delightfully laid-back" to "would you please, for the love of Pete, stop drifting blithely along on your pillowy cloud of ''ll all work out'...and get gear?") Needless to say, he did NOT come to his brother's rescue, in terms of  reducing Riley's night-before-school anxiety.

Fortunately, I already knew how to find the necessary facts, using the website--which also revealed that there was an alternative bus stop that hadn't existed before this year, so it was a good thing I checked for him after all...and kept Derek in the loop (Sigh...). So that was one crisis narrowly averted--but the true emotional turmoil was still to come. You see, Riley admitted to being struck by some pre-High-School jitters at the last minute, and was worried about the next day. Like me, he prefers to know as much as possible before facing any situation, in order to feel comfortable and on-top of...stuff. Therefore the vast unknowns presented by a different campus (with four buildings...and trailers!), hordes of strangers, an unfamiliar class structure, and seven new courses, all combined to overwhelm the poor kid--before he even arrived to jump into his Freshman year.

But because he chose to share his nervousness with me, we were able to talk it through and--I believe--alleviate some of his qualms. One conclusion he came to on his own was that, if he got lost in the hallways, he'd look for one of the Tiger Links (who'd be wearing their distinctive shirts, to make them stand out for just such emergencies) and ask for directions. He also engaged in a flurry of text conversations with some of his pals to discuss such important topics as: "where to meet for lunch" and "which gym we should go to for our homeroom session". See? Look at that-- you're already problem-solving this whole "High School Novice" challenge! Whoo hoo! You've totally got this, kiddo, and I'm 100% confident that you'll be able to handle anything you may face. Let me just offer one teensy piece of advice, if you don't mind...whatever you do...if you're not sure about something...don't ask your brother! (Bless his little pea pickin' heart...)

Saturday, August 26, 2017

High School...Times Two! (gulp...)

Big Friday goings-on to report from...Camp WestEnders. (I've decided we might as well call it that, at least through the weekend, until  it's all "back to the salt mines"--I mean "academia"--right? I think it projects a happy, upbeat vibe....but somehow I don't think the kids are buying into it. Oh well, can't say I didn't do my part to try and stave off the End-of-Summer blues and boost Rah-Rah-for School morale around here...)

Anyway, as I was saying, somehow we had two major activities scheduled for today: Freshman Orientation for Riley, and Senior Portraits for Derek. ('Cuz, you know, why not just go ahead and strap their mother in, on her year-long Emotional Rollercoaster ride, right from Day One? Ay yi yi...) For the 9th grader, there wasn't much preparation needed...we got a few emails from the High School with details about the itinerary/timing/etc. And let's not forget the phone call from his student guide, called a Tiger Link, who'll be shepherding him through his tour...information session...and apparently "fun and games" if you believe the pre-event hype. (Riley took this with a healthy dose of teenage skepticism, as recommended by his jaded older sibling. Siiiighhhh....proving that there are both benefits AND drawbacks to having a brother who's gone before you and experienced it all...)

And then there was the time-honored tradition of having one's Senior Portrait taken--a rite of passage, if you will, as it captures on film your 17-year old self, however you'd like that person to be remembered. Furthermore, this is something that takes time to plan, and should be approached with great care for the results, as they'll be displayed on your parents' and grandparents' mantels--not to mention in the yearbook, for crying out loud--forever. In fact, the brochure that arrived in the mail weeks ago with Derek's appointment time suggested that one should bring "multiple outfits, props, and accessories" to personalize the experience. Ohhh-kaaay.....I read that out loud to my son...then he and I shared a side-splitting howl about how far away from reality THAT scenario was...or as he put it succinctly, "Um...I'm not a girl...and I don't ALL!"

I could see where this was rapidly heading, so right from the start I jumped in to steer the bus back on course. "You could pick out something sporty," I suggested--which got me a side-eye and exasperated snort. So I got to the heart of the matter: "Well, I'D like you to wear one nice set of clothes." Before I could continue, he evidently thought it'd be best to just nip this conversation in the bud by conceding, "I'll show up in whatever you want me to, because you're the one who's going to look at this picture for decades, not me!" Hmmm....DEAL! (That was pretty easy...once again, thank goodness for low-maintenance male children, dude...)

As the actual photo date drew closer, we refined the wardrobe to "khaki shorts and a polo, with a dress shirt and pants in reserve" as the final options. Since his hair is too short to even recommend brushing beforehand, I settled for advising him to make sure his glasses are clean, and figured my work here was done. Husband, surprisingly, actually took it one step further, counseling Derek to practice smiling in his bedroom mirror, so he could summon a natural expression on demand in front of the camera. However, I believe it goes without saying that Derek was never, in a million years, going to follow-up on this little gem. Aaannnd, hopefully the proof in the....proofs...will be satisfactory to all. Or, worst case scenario, there's always make-up day, I suppose? We'll just (all) keep our fingers crossed that no one has to go through nonsense this a second time...

As for the OTHER calendar item, last night I warned Riley that, if I was going to be driving him anywhere first thing in the morning--and also sitting through yet another Parent Meeting--we'd be making a detour for me to pick up coffee on the way. Now, keep in mind that Riley is the member of Team WestEnders who MOST prefers to be...not just "on time" (which frankly is good enough for me, on the rare occasions that I actually achieve it, that is) but rather "as early as possible". So it turns out that, during our ever-so-slight deviation from the most direct route to the school, Riley began texting a pal about how his mother took him "5 miles in the wrong direction" and we were going to be "15 minutes late".

However, he was busted shortly thereafter, when I ran into his buddy's mother, who happens to be MY friend, and she laughingly told me all about it. (Consider that your first lesson of the term, kiddo: you have more parental eyes on you than you know what to do're welcome!) Oh, and we strolled in EXACTLY when the program was starting, and missed nothing whatsoever...and there was it all worked out beautifully.

Then we dutifully listened to the introductions, the overview of the day's agenda, blah blah blah...before they called for the Freshmen to follow some of the Tiger Links out of the auditorium to commence with the...shenanigans. Unable to resist a brief moment of feigned drama, I sniffled loudly, threw my arms around Riley and proclaimed, "Bye, sweetie! Have a good time! See you later! Don't get lost!" He staunchly endured my silliness, but muttered under his breath, "I don't know about could be...another Hamanasi!" (The name of our Belizean resort, cleverly used to compare his current situation to some of the tribulations he suffered towards the end of our Central American adventure. Well played, buddy....and congratulations...I think that just became part of Team WestEnders lexicon...)

Meanwhile, I'd run into the other mom I mentioned before, who'd ratted out Riley for his digital complaining--and after a quick glance at the remaining topics that were going to be addressed in subsequent speeches from various teachers and other faculty, we agreed that we'd probably already heard the whole spiel, from going through the process with our older boys. So we chatted for a while instead, then just...took off. (So...rebellious! It felt like playing hooky, I tell ya...)

In the afternoon, when it was time for Derek to take his turn in Senior Pictureland, I sent him back to the school with the dual responsibility of "saying cheese" and retrieving his brother. Both then returned for the day--one having successfully located all of his classrooms, spent some time catching up with friends, gathered some valuable intel about his new institution of learning for the next four years...and eaten complimentary Jersey Mike's sandwiches provided by the PTA. Oh, right--and the other one, when quizzed about how his Senior Portrait had gone, shrugged nonchalantly and replied, "Eh, fine, I guess?"

So there you have it. All that's left to do now is enjoy one final weekend o'freedom...and get (mentally) ready for Riley's first day of High School...and Derek's LAST first day of High School. And the continuation of Mom's slow ride up that first, enormous hill of the Countdown to Growing Up Rollercoaster...wheeeeee!!!!!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Smiling all the way to the bank...

So, Derek's about 2 months into his first employment gig, and I'd say that overall it seems to be going fine...or, you know, as well as can be expected for a part-time High School fast food position, anyway. When he began this journey, he naturally had NO idea about what was involved, procedurally, to become a member of the Working Class. For example, Husband and I asked if he'd filled out any official-looking paperwork, or provided banking information to the manager, so he could get paid at some point. Derek gave us a blank stare and shrugged, "Um...I don't think so." we backed up a bit and inquired as to whether he even knew when--or how often--he'd be...ahem..."reaping the rewards of his labor". Again, he professed to have nary a clue. "I assume it'll happen sometime," he helpfully offered, when I sighed in exasperation. (Oh, thanks, sweetie--that's such useful information! Grrr....)

Well, it took a while, but apparently the manager did eventually get around to filing the requisite forms, because one evening, Derek came home after his shift, and waved...something...triumphantly in my direction. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be one of those waxy paper bags they put the cookies in for customers, so my first thought was that he'd brought me a treat. Alas, this was not the case, as he informed me that this was the standard delivery measure not only for baked goods, but also for...his every-other-week PAYCHECK. (Oh, fine--I guess that's also exciting....)

"Well, how much is it?" I demanded. He shook his head, "I waited to open it until I got home!" Aww, that's sweet--so we could share this momentous occasion of your very first payday. I absolutely appreciate let's see it, already! He ceremonially extracted the paper and excitedly read out the total...which, while not "professional sports star money" or anything, represented a decent amount. Especially since it was a bigger chunk of dough than he'd ever been given at one time, before! I took a closer look, however, and had to burst his bubble just a little bit. "Er, honey? Let me teach you a little bit really quickly about....TAXES. You noticed that number on the paystub? Now compare it to the actual portion that you'll be keeping. Yeah, those minor things called "deductions"--they're your government's piece...sorry." 

Fortunately, the realities of living in--and having to contribute to--a well-established society failed to dampen his enthusiasm for his newly acquired...wealth. I chuckled a bit at his glee...but also took a moment to reinforce that THIS was the reason we'd been so adamant that he get a job, so he could acquire his own pocket cash...that he, himself worked to earn. "You know when your friends are able to buy something they want, and they say it's because they have 'Subway money'? This is what they've been talking about!" I could see the wheels turning in his teenage brain as he slyly replied, "Yeeeaaaah, I already have enough to get season tickets (to the Carolina Courage, the local women's pro soccer team) now...I can QUIT!"

Uh...nooooo, son, that's not how it works (Ha!). He grinned mischievously, "I know...just thought I'd give it a shot." Hmm...nice try...moving on. The next step, of course, was to actually get the virtual moolah into his bank account, where it could actually benefit him. Since he'd never had any reason to make a deposit before, he and I took a little Life Skills Field Trip to the ATM to walk through the steps: insert card, type in PIN number, endorse check. He stopped me there, “What the heck does that mean?” I clarified, “Sign the back.” “Well, why didn’t you just say that?” Dude, you should know the lingo, just in case!

I mean, you never know when it might come in handy...such as, for instance, the very next time we attempted to use the machine, and it couldn’t read the check, because whatever electronic process had produced it had printed the numbers on top of something else, making it difficult for a non-human to decipher. We actually had to do something totally primitive—go inside the building during business hours, and talk to a teller...who just might use that kind of language, since it’s part of their daily activities, and all. Do you want to appear ignorant to the staff, or do you want to know what you’re doing, and smoothly handle your financial transactions? (Gasp! Yet another educational experience in this whole Late High School chapter of an adolescent’s life, yeah? Even though, to be perfectly honest, Derek probably couldn’t care less what anyone thinks of him…but I’d still like him to be informed...)

When we had completed the exchange and had the receipt in hand, I instructed him to look at his new available balance, just to drive the point home a little more firmly. “See how much is in there…after just one payday?” He was practically giddy when he saw the amount that first time...but of course now that he’s been at this a while he has realized that it’s not all fun and games…or incentives. One night he came home from a particularly trying shift and threw himself into a chair, groaning, “I’ve only been working a month…and I already need a vacation!”

This is equal parts amusing and ridiculous, since I’ve discovered that Derek takes it upon himself to mark his availability for shifts….“very...judiciously”. As in, not only does he note legitimate conflicts, like when we left the country for a week, or when he’s attending other events with his family...but he also chooses random days he doesn’t want to be scheduled….such as...“Saturday”. When I queried him about this he breezily explained, “I deserve a day off—it’s a weekend!” (Ay yi yi...forehead, meet palm…)

Then again, the subject did come up today in a more serious fashion, as he and I discussed--one week out from the start of the academic term--how his work hours might have to be modified, in order to make sure that his homework (which with 3 AP courses might be considerable this year) continues to get top priority. He and I share this concern, especially given what happened the other night, when the shop closed at 10, and he didn't get home until 11:30 due to some kind of "technological difficulties" that prevented him and his co-workers from completing their duties in a timely fashion. I assured him that I was totally cool with pulling the Mom Card and allowing him to tell his manager that his parents wouldn't permit him to work until closing--at least during the school week.

He seemed relieved, although--perhaps because we were having such a pleasant, candid chat--he also couldn't seem to stop himself from admitting, "I don't really WANT to work on Fridays, because it's the end of the week, and I'd rather take it easy." Then he added, musingly, "Or Saturdays...because college football." Before I had a chance to deliver a snarky comment, he hastened to add, "But I get that it's part of the whole 'growing up and taking responsibility' thing!" (Yes, THAT. And nice save, honey...)

Anyway, I suppose I’ll just let this go, since he is making enough of an effort that it actually keeps a steady stream of...well, maybe not "Benjamins", but at least some of the other notable (Ha!) presidents...rolling into his Checking account. However much he jokes about it, I know that he does, in fact, now really understand the value of having a job, and is greatly enjoying the taste of independence it offers him. And, of course, he’ll never forget these important details, since I’m here to remind him--say, whenever he uses his own debit card to purchase something online that's caught his eye. Yep, that’s me….just doing MY job! (And for the record, willing to accept my hard-earned COOKIES!)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Again with Virginia!

As I mentioned in the last post, after our entertaining, enlightening…and lengthy experience at James Madison, Derek and I still had another college drop-in on the roster, before finishing our day. In hindsight, this MIGHT have been, I don’t know….”ambitious” is the nice way to phrase it….”idiotic” would be less kind, but more accurate. You see, I didn’t check the distance between the two cities, before we traveled. (Confession: because I didn’t actually want to know, since it would be a deterrent to the Trip Agenda if I’d had this information. Call it denial, or stubbornness, or whatever—I was determined that we could Get. This. Done. Don’t get in the way of Mom on a Mission, folks…)

As it turned out, GPS helpfully told us that Harrisonburg and Blacksburg are separated by 136 miles, which we were projected to cover in about 2 hours. Alrighty, then…to the Subaru! (Groan…) Now, keep in mind that by the time we found a mutually-acceptable lunch spot near JMU, sat down for a while, and enjoyed our well-earned repast, it was about 2:45. This obviously meant that we wouldn’t be rolling into Virginia Tech until maybe 5 or so—fortunately, Derek checked while we were on the road, and the Visitor’s Center stays open until 6 (which seemed extremely generous, given that it was a Friday, in the SUMMER, no less. Score one for Tech!).

However…we had some bothersome rain to contend with, which might have contributed to the excursion taking longer than the optimistic Google Maps estimate. Thus we pulled up to the Visitor’s Center around 5:30, in the midst of a shower, making us less-than-upbeat about the self-guided walkabout we’d hoped to take around campus. Nevertheless, we ducked inside, hoping to talk to a representative of the university and pick up any materials they’d be willing to share about their fine institution (including the all-important map of the surroundings, so we’d be able to figure out what the heck we were looking out, without a handy student ambassador at our beck and call).

I have to say, the lady we met was super-friendly and full of useful information. She not only handed us a brochure about the school, she reviewed the map in detail with us--demonstrating the driving route she recommended we follow, indicating the buildings we should be sure to see, showing us where it was safe to park without getting a ticket, and even suggesting local restaurants (tailored to our specific food preferences—she was GOOD, I tell ya) where we could have a meal before heading home. 

By the time we finished chatting with her, we felt fully prepared to take on the Hokie Nation.
As an incredible bonus, while we were inside loading up on valuable intel, the downpour slowed to a trickle, then stopped, and the late-afternoon sun valiantly attempted to poke through the clouds. A positive omen, if I ever saw one! Therefore, while we’d almost resigned ourselves to staying in the car and having to be satisfied with catching glimpses of structures through the droplet-streaked windows as we passed, we were able to revise our scheme back to “wander through as much of the university grounds as possible on foot”.

So that’s exactly what we did—acquainting ourselves with at least the layout of the campus, and getting an impression of what the architecture looked like, without the benefit of an assigned co-ed to dispense facts, tell stories, and usher us inside the various classroom and residential halls. We took a peek inside the Student Center and a recreation facility, which were still open at that hour. And we had a great opportunity to admire the vast grassy area known as the Drill Field, which lies in the center of everything, and which I could easily imagine covered with students…studying and frolicking…during the academic term.

When we felt we’d done what we could on our solo-jaunt, Derek and I agreed that all-in-all, while it was undoubtedly a scenic, attractive place, we couldn’t really get a true sense of it without participating in an official presentation and student-led program. Therefore, in the hypothetical event that Derek does apply…is accepted…and seriously considers attending Virginia Tech…we would have to return for the full…Open House hoopla.

Still, it was enough of a taste for him to keep it on The List of institutions he’s interested in, so the time was definitely well-spent. Before getting back in the car for our final 3+ hours of commuting (about 600 miles in 2 days, if anyone’s counting) we strolled around downtown Blacksburg to sightsee a bit and grab dinner. Admittedly we didn’t have a whole lot of leisure time to perform an in-depth analysis, but on the surface it seems like an appealing, friendly little ‘burb. Again, we’ll do a better job on our next recon excursion!

But for now, our heads were stuffed with all the details we could handle for the moment. It was time to return to Casa WestEnders, process everything we’d learned…and get started on those applications, yeah? I mean, those babies aren’t filling themselves out, ya know? (Says Type-A-Mom….whom Derek is going to come to L-O-V-E during the next, oh, 6 months or so…mwah hah hah!)