Saturday, April 14, 2018

Bits of April...

I realized it had been a while since I'd sat down to chronicle anything in the ongoing saga of Team WestEnders--because (contrary to the usual state of...controlled chaos) things have honestly been pretty quiet around here lately, and there hasn't been any kind of big, exciting story to tell. But then it occurred to me that April has brought with it a collection of...let's call them "little milestones"...that are worth noting.

For example, the boys have skated into their 4th and final quarter of the current academic term. For Riley, this means that he's almost finished with his first year of High School--which is nerve-wracking enough...at least for his mother, who's having a great deal of difficulty wrapping her head around this concept. Even more mind-boggling, however, is the fact that Derek is now entrenched in the very last 2 months of his K-12 career (and I just....I can't even...never mind, I'll get back to you on this...). The reality of this situation was abruptly brought into sharp focus last week, when he got the notice that his graduation gear had arrived and was ready for pickup during lunch period. (Nope, not dealing...maybe later...)

On a related note, only 2 weeks remain until he'll have to announce a formal decision about where he plans to attend college in the Fall, so we can pay his deposit and secure his spot in the Class of 2022. (I apologize for repeating myself, but I figure if I say it often enough, maybe I'll eventually become desensitized to this information, and therefore possibly decrease the frequency and severity of the episodes of watery eyes and hyperventilating...it's worth a shot, yeah?) Well...in truth he's actually already made his choice, but he has a few questions he needs answered about financial and scholarship topics, before he can officially declare (and allow his mother to post it to his adoring public on social media, of course...)

Moving on to something less traumatic...oh, or NOT...we've been attempting to get Riley into a Driver's Ed class, so that when his birthday rolls around in August, he'll be all ready to go in and obtain his permit. (Give me a second....aaaahhhhhh! My BABY! How is this happening? Okay, I'm good....ish...) Because he's on the younger side for his grade, he got bumped the first couple of times we tried, for students with earlier birthdays--which is understandable. However, in a head-shaking coincidence, all 3 of the sessions offered at his High School during the Summer directly conflict with either our family trips (in 2 cases), or soccer tryouts (the last one). What're the odds? So we're keeping our fingers crossed that he'll be allowed to register for--and that space will be available in--an option held at a neighboring...crosstown rival....but it'll be okay, since this isn't a sporting event, per se, no one's keeping score, and they're all winners...right? (Sure, let's go with that...)

Finally, one more entry in the gosh-darn-it-they're-growing-up-too-fast department: Riley also recently found a volunteer opportunity that appealed to him, working with kids at a camp program held at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham. This wasn't something you just put your name in for, either--he had to fill out an application listing his qualifications and experience...request 2 letters of recommendation (hopefully highlighting his character, maturity, and leadership abilities)...and INTERVIEW with someone from the museum, responding to a list of questions that were provided ahead of time so he could prepare appropriately. Holy Real Deal, Batman...that's pretty heady stuff for a 14-year old! So, he's had his meeting, and now we just wait to find out if he's offered one of the positions--and if so, which weeks he's slated to serve...which had better not overlap with Driver's Ed, since we determined his free time for camp when we mistakenly still believed he'd be completing the car training course during the school year. Ay yi yi...

Aaaannd that's it for the first-half-of-April updates. Yep, time to relax and enjoy the weekend...or, you know, organize the celebration for one particular member of the fam, who will be turning the big 1-8 on Monday. (Here we go again....aaahhhhhh!) But of course, that's a whole 'nother tale for a different day, y'all! Now if you'll excuse me, I've gotta go have an attack of Mom-stalgia...oh, and buy ingredients for a cake....


Thursday, April 5, 2018

Boats, bridges, and battlefields (oh my!)

While Day 1 in New Bern had proved both enlightening and entertaining, the sun hadn’t made an appearance to grace my travels. So when I awoke on Saturday to a bright blue sky and copious rays, I knew I’d be exploring a bit more before taking my leave. First up: a stroll across the bridge that leads into town, for some scenic riverscapes. Although it was super-windy and slightly on the cool-ish side, the excursion proved just as lovely as I’d hoped. What is it about bodies of water that invokes such a deep-seated sense of peace, causing one’s breathing to calm and mind to cease racing? Seriously, if someone could identify and bottle that stuff, they’d make millions, I tell ya.


And of course there were the rows upon rows of cheerful sailboats to behold, gently bobbing on the waves. Now, I don’t love to be, you know. ON small crafts, in general….but I do absolutely enjoy gazing upon--and photographing--them. (What can I say? I’m a woman of many complicated contradictions...or whatever…)


Then came the huge unexpected BONUS of my walkabout...I began to hear a repeated clanging sound, like a signal for something. I suddenly remembered the signs I’d seen while driving in the previous day, giving instructions for “Pedestrians (to) stop here when bell sounds”. At the time I’d given it a curious moment of thought, but hadn’t really stopped to try to figure out what it actually meant. Now, however, it dawned on me that it must be a drawbridge, and they were warning you to remain in the safe zone if the structure needed to be raised.


Which it did, apparently. I joined the line of cars waiting behind the lowered barriers and watched, utterly fascinated, as a portion of the roadway tilted up, up, up towards us, to allow a tall-masted schooner to scoot through unobstructed. (Is that an appropriate term? I could totally be using my ignorance to take liberties with the nautical lingo. But I liked the way it sounded, so I'm just gonna go with it...and I apologize in the unlikely event that any sailors...or...um...pirates?...read this...) I’m not sure exactly why that struck me as so cool...but it definitely counted as my silly thrill for the morning.


After that, it was back to the car for a short jaunt over to the New Bern Battlefield Park...which turned out to be a long, fancy name for...a small plot of nondescript forest that didn't contain much of interest, actually. I got the basic gist--the town was desirable because of its waterway access, and therefore potential for shipping goods and people during the Civil War. Brigadier General Ambrose Burnside successfully defeated the Confederate forces to gain control of New Bern, and it remained in the Union’s hands for the rest of the conflict. (Because even though it wasn’t very impressive, as historical sites go, I couldn’t help but read the plaques, you know? C’mon, there might be a quiz! If so, I’m prepared…)


Finally--on a related note--I made my way to the New Bern National Cemetery, which was established in 1867 and now serves as the final resting place for soldiers from that time forward. It reminded me of a mini-Arlington, with white marble markers in orderly rows, amidst a bucolic setting. I swear, even the birds, who have been joyfully warbling away now that the weather has at long last decided to become Spring-like, seemed to confine their singing to a respectful, reverent volume within the boundaries of the burial grounds.

It was a soothing way to end my pleasant sojourn in the Coastal Plains...and when I’d had my fill of reading headstones and soaking up the solar energy, I turned the Subaru westward to make my way back to the Triangle, and reunite with the also-returning Male Posse. Another successful field trip...and also one more spot checked off on my “Tour North Carolina” list. Yep, I'm gonna have to call that...a Win!

Friday, March 30, 2018

Biding Time in New Bern

Well, we've arrived at another Spring Break, so Team WestEnders followed the usual drill: the Male Trio geared up for their annual Easter visit with Husband's parents in South Carolina, and I orchestrate some kind of daytrip for myself while they're away. This time I had to put some extra thought into where to go, since we've been having such an unusually chilly March, and I definitely didn't want to travel anywhere colder. This unfortunately ruled out the mountains to our west, which although it was my first choice, I had to hastily discard when I looked up the forecast for that part of the state...and the temperature numbers in the forecast began with "4s". No. Thank. You.

So I regrouped, and turned my attention in the exact opposite direction, towards the coast. While I didn't quite feel like trekking all the way to the beach (my apologies, Mother Ocean--another time, for sure), I could make it to the Coastal Plain region in a little over 2 hours, which sounded perfect. Once I had identified my compass point, I selected the town I'd be exploring: New Bern, North Carolina. It sounded like it'd be entertaining, with an interesting mix of history, scenery, and maybe a little quirkiness thrown in for good measure.

To start off on the right note, it certainly turned out to be an easy drive. Yep, flat, open highways...for 145 miles. Seriously, the only mildly negative factor was the extreme windiness, which kept buffeting the Subaru as if we were under some kind of...I don't know...Interstate Small Craft Warning, or something. Otherwise. as long as I paid attention and kept a tight grip on the steering wheel, I enjoyed...smooth sailing--ha! (Sorry...)

I cruised into town and stopped by the Visitor's Center first for a handy-dandy street map, which would prove particularly useful, since the friendly, helpful employee assured me that the entire small city was completely walkable. (My fave--park once, then meander for hours. So far, so good...) Even better, when I inquired about where I could legally leave my vehicle--since I'd already stationed it in a lot with a green Parking sign--she looked briefly perplexed before chuckling gently, lowering her voice confidentially, and replying in the sweetest Southern drawl, "Well, I've never known anyone to just...get a ticket right away." I must have appeared skeptical, because she added, "They'll leave a note first, kind of like a warning, so you can move and avoid a fine." (Can I just say: Wooooow. Loving this place already, y'all.)

Armed with all of this knowledge, I set off on foot to get the lay of the land. One of the first things I noticed was the prevalence of...bear statues. I mean, EVERYWHERE. Ursine specimens included  plain wooden, sculpted metal, and brightly painted costumed ones. Over the course of the day, by reading the enchanting informational signs scattered throughout the city, I pieced together a theory: New Bern was founded by a Swiss man (which in retrospect should have been obvious, yeah? Berne...Switzerland? What can I say, it escaped me for a while...). So I wondered if, perhaps, the word bern translates to bear--and Google later assured me that it does, in fact. So that's one mystery solved.

Anyway, I had a lovely time wandering around the Riverwalk, directly next to the water, and admiring people's docked sailboats (as it was much too breezy for anyone to actually be out on the river, as I might have mentioned...). I eventually made my way to Tryon Palace (a very lofty word for the house, in my opinion....mansion would have sufficed), which served as the royal governor's home, when New Bern was the original capital of NC in British-ruled, pre-American-Revolutionary times. From there, I meandered to the Cedar Grove cemetery--because graveyards inexplicably fascinate me.

After that, I ambled the downtown streets--filled with boutiques, restaurants, MANY churches, and historical buildings galore. In case you think I'm exaggerating--just about every structure has a wooden plaque attached to it, stating the date it was erected, and most of them are from the 17-or-1800s. Eventually I was drawn--magnetically, you may suspect--to Bradham's Drugstore...which proudly proclaims itself (wait for it) the Birthplace of Pepsi (or, you know, "soft drink nirvana" to some of us). It seems that Caleb Bradham (who incidentally attended both UNC and the University of Maryland) invented the drink right there in his shop in 1898. The rest, as they say, is...pure refreshment. (Okay, they probably don't say that...but they should!)

At this point I was getting a bit weary--and hungry...and thirsty--so I decided to go find my Air Bnb, where I could rest and recover a bit. Now, about that...the apartment I'd attempted to rent fell through, since the host never responded to confirm the booking. Plan B, selected for its similar cost and location, was a room in someone's house. To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure about this, but it was only one night, and just me, so I figured I'd give it a shot. I found the home tucked back into a large, attractive neighborhood, and when I pulled up, all of the windows and doors were open, presumably to allow the balmy air to circulate indoors. I rang the doorbell several times, but it didn't seem to work, so I knocked...and called "Hello"...and then proceeded to repeat these steps, feeling increasingly ridiculous, until the retired gentleman who owns the property finally saw me and came out. Awk...ward.

But once we introduced ourselves, he was perfectly pleasant, and hospitable...and chatty. He showed me around, told me his life story, introduced me to his cat (Benny), and probably would still be talking my ear off if I hadn't asserted my need for a quick nap. Don't get me wrong, he's quite nice, but it's a wee bit more...interaction....than I was perhaps looking for in terms of sleeping arrangements. (Which explains why I'm currently ensconced at a Starbucks, writing this.) We're just gonna go ahead and chalk this one up to a "Lesson Learned". 

But all in all, it was as lovely a sojourn as I'd hoped, when I embarked on Friday morning. Bonus: I stumbled upon a Panera where I could get my favorite salad for dinner...and in doing so, I passed by a Dunkin' Donuts, which will allow me to get my hands on some java in the morning to fuel a couple more hours of tourist-ing before heading back to the Triangle. For now, I need to sneak back into "my room" to relax for a couple of hours before bed...okay, maybe after petting the kitty one more time...shhh!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Whirlwind tour through the "other Carolina"

Well, here we are in late March--a time that brings with it several significant milestones for Team WestEnders. First, Derek has just one grading quarter remaining in his High School career. (Gulp...) And on a related note, we're just over a month out from official Decision Day, by which point he'll have to choose once-and-for-all where he wants to attend college in the Fall. With this in mind, Derek wanted to revisit both of his favorites one more time--to get a fresh look at each of them, to gauge whether his feelings shifted with another in-depth campus...research excursion...and to judge them based on the criteria he’s developed and refined during this whole process.

So to recap, we did James Madison last month, on a cold, gray, drizzly day. And when we’d finished shivering our way through many hours of tromping around the grounds, making sure we explored every inch of the place...he declared that he hadn’t changed his mind, and that it was still a strong contender. So, that brings us up-to-date...and now University of South Carolina would take its turn in the spotlight. I was particularly excited about this one, since I hadn’t been involved in the initial foray into Gamecock territory, and would therefore be experiencing the school for the first time.

We prepared for our...storming of the South, if you will...by registering for the Admitted Students Day program...securing a place to sleep...confirming the driving directions...um...and packing, I guess. As getaways go, this one seemed super-easy...until we hit a hellish construction fiasco on I-85 around Charlotte, which slapped an extra hour onto our travel time. Grr…

Nevertheless, we eventually arrived, and found ourselves pleasantly well-situated for a short jaunt over to campus the following morning. And I’ve gotta say, although Derek would tell you the activities kicked off faaaaaar too early for his taste (that would be “9:15 a.m.”, if you’re wondering….which to be honest is probably equivalent to “the bum-crack of dawn” on the teenage clock), from the moment he strolled up to the check-in table, he seemed very happy to be there. (Did it have anything to do with the swag bag he received, which contained a coupon he could use to buy a souvenir in the bookstore, PLUS earbuds with the mascot's logo? Perhaps…)

Since we’d actually arrived about 30 minutes before our information session was set to begin (I know, right? GASP! Statistically, I suppose it's bound to happen once in a while…), we had plenty of extra time to wander around and...look at stuff. Derek pointed out the Visitor’s Center, the library, and some dorms--all of which he remembered from his first visit, which is pretty impressive. He reported with amusement that he’d spotted several people that he knew from his High School, walking in the distance ahead of us. But the weirdest coincidence had to be when we were approached by a family that we knew...from our previous hometown in Maryland! We had lived down the street from them, and our sons had gone to school together from pre-k until we moved...and then we ran into them in a whole other state. Small. World.

Anyway, our meeting took us to one of the far edges of campus, which was a good starting point to then meander back through the rest of USC's extensive territory. Of course, our agenda did have priorities...such as allowing ample time for Derek to pick out (yet another) t-shirt from the bookstore's extensive collection of gear. While we were there, we also made sure to walk through the rest of the Student Union, to get an idea of what food and other offerings there were. Finally, at the opposite extreme of campus, lay the Wellness Center, which Derek particularly wanted me to see...and admire. Admittedly, it IS a beautiful structure, filled with an array of equipment and a plethora of spaces to play and work out.

More importantly, though, as Derek and I chatted--and pounded the pavement--through the morning and afternoon, I couldn’t help but notice the way he kept referring to the university, its sports teams, and its denizens as “WE”--as in “I can’t wait for when we play Georgia in Week 2 (of the college football season) next year!” Tired as he was, his perpetual smile never dimmed, and he just seemed...utterly content. So I finally commented/queried, “It sounds like you’ve pretty much made up your mind?” Faced with such directness , he (not surprisingly) hemmed and hawed a bit, “Well...I’m not declaring just yet." Then he relented, "Buuuut...it’s my #1.” When I pressed him to elaborate, he replied, “I’m not sure I can explain it.” Then he laughed ruefully and added, “Okay, I’m gonna pull a ‘you’, here, and say that it just...feels right.” (Oh, I GET you, son. And that totally does sound like me…) I tried to clarify for him, “You mean you’re comfortable here, and feel like you belong?” “YES--that’s it! he  agreed.

Alrighty, then--that was (eventually) illuminating! And then, with the deep discussion out of the way, we made our final stop for the day: Williams Brice stadium, since Derek didn’t feel he could leave town without paying paying his respects to the football team's home field. It lies 2 miles off campus, so we drove in the general direction, then snuck into a parking spot at a Bojangles next door (Shhhh!), so we could get out and do a pedestrian lap around it. Then, having satisfied his inner fan boy, Derek proclaimed that his goals had been met, and he was ready to head for home...using the alternative, straight-line route that skips the highway nonsense altogether, that is.

And yes, the back roads on a Saturday afternoon did prove to be traffic-free and smoothly moving--albeit severely...depressing. I mean, they take you through some rural areas of South Carolina whose ramshackle houses, crumbling trailer parks, and shuttered, decaying buildings all combine to give off an aura of crushing poverty. It’s NOT what you might call a "scenic drive", I’m telling ya. However, it did make us that much more grateful to get back to Chapel Hill, to be sure.

So...now that all of the data-gathering has been done, this just leaves us waiting for Derek to make whatever kind of formal announcement he intends to spring on us (and his public...such as it is)...so we can then send a deposit to one of those venerable institutions, and reserve his spot in the Class of 2022. If you wanna hang out with me, I’ll be over here...holding my breath… (Just kidding! More like “drinking tea”...or “eating chocolate”--you’re still welcome to come, though. And just think, we only have to bide our time until...oh yeah, May 1st. Hmm, could you bring some more Lipton...and Ghirardelli?)

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Can I call a time-out?

Well, friends, it was a wild weekend of sporting….shenanigans….for Team WestEnders, let me tell ya! I mean, there was the obvious NCAA mayhem, which we couldn’t seem to tear ourselves away from--although to me, the atmosphere of upsets and unpredictability created an uncomfortable feeling...sort of like rubbernecking on the highway,as you drive past an accident.

I mean, c’mon...first the overall #1 seed falls in spectacular fashion to a scrappy 16 from Baltimore that no one (except perhaps those of us who attended school across town in Charm City) had ever heard of, and whose mascot is a friendly, hardworking family pooch. And then, speaking of spunky...and alma maters (yeah, yeah, a different Loyola, but still the same saint, right?...how about the Ramblers from Chicago, and their adorable chaplain, Sister Jean? But could you please do me a huge favor, and NOT mention the hometown crew, the reigning champs, who got embarrassingly bounced out of the Round of 32…’cuz it’s just too soon

Moving on to a more personal note, Riley and I ran our traditional “first race of the season”, the 5K for Education. We like this one because it takes place in downtown Chapel Hill, and the route winds mostly through UNC’s lovely campus. However, I will say that--although the path is always exactly the same--it somehow manages to feel hillier to me every year. Eh, it’s all good, though--anything under a half-hour, I’ll take for the win! Riley, of course, cruised in 9 minutes ahead of me, and finished just out of the medal contention, 11th overall, and 4 SECONDS behind the guy who beat him out in his age group. (Rats--so close!) Regardless, we were both content with the results, especially having just started back up after our self-imposed “off season” (which in NC consists of...only January and February….)

Then we could go home and chill for the rest of the day…whoops...I mean “get cleaned up, grab a snack, and drive an hour to an early afternoon soccer game”. Now, I realize this is nothing unusual for our family...however, the match itself turned out to be quite the drama-filled affair. The first half actually progressed fairly routinely--a goal was scored on either end of the pitch, making it even when the whistle blew to signal the end of the 35 minutes. Early in the second period, though, was when things got a bit...chaotic. You see, the spectators rooting for Riley’s black-clad team felt that the referee had been regularly calling fouls that just...weren’t...with all of them going against the visitors. On one of these questionable whistles, he granted the opposing team an indirect kick in front of the goal.

It’s what happened next that began to send things careening off the rails: on the free kick, several of the other squad’s players appeared to fall to the ground. The ref promptly decided that they’d been pushed, or tripped, and awarded a penalty kick...which they converted, to put them up 2-1. But here’s where it goes to  crazytown: our goalie’s father was recording the sequence, presumably for analysis and instructional purposes later. Obviously, we don’t have the benefit of instant replay, or multiple camera angles, or ESPN-quality film...but his short video seems to show the players in question throwing themselves to the ground under our guys’ feet, to draw the ref’s attention, and the foul call.

Soooo….at this point, our normally soft-spoken, calm, understated coach...went ballistic. Not in a profane or disrespectful fashion, mind you, but...let’s just say, “loudly stating his opinion on the quality of the officiating”, and leave it at that. The ref immediately issued him a red card, essentially ejecting him from the field. We heard later that this was ostensibly done because he’d “stepped out of the coach’s box”...which I’ve never seen enforced, in all the years I’ve been attending soccer events, by the way.

For good measure, he also red-carded one of our players, and sent him off as well. (In this case, I assume he was making...inappropriate and/or uncomplimentary remarks...within the ref’s earshot.) Finally, in a stunning coup de grace, while we were all milling about, talking amongst ourselves about this shocking turn of events, the ref blew his whistle with an air of finality...and declared that the game was OVER.

I’m sorry...what now? According to our team manager (a player’s mother), since her name wasn’t written on the official roster, she wasn’t allowed to take over for our ousted coach and finish the match. (I will restrain myself with great difficulty from commenting, here....except to say that it sounds like something that rhymes with wool...spit.) Much furious discussion ensued, but to no avail, so we had no choice but to pack up and drive an hour back home, after a supremely unsatisfying interlude in Sanford, NC. Apparently, an appeal will be filed with the league, requesting to replay the game at a neutral site...WITHOUT the services of that particular referee, one would hope.

Anyway, it certainly gave Riley and me plenty to talk about on the long return trip. And by now, he had definitely earned his relaxation time, yeah? Suuuuuure...right up until Sunday morning, that is, when he and Husband had to get back in the car and travel TWO hours this time for another game...in which the team would be instructed by an alternative leader, and playing without the boy who’d been tossed, since a red card essentially amounts to a one-game suspension.

As for me, I was just happy I got to sit that one out, having paid my dues on Saturday. And that, my friends, is entirely enough athletic commotion for one weekend, thankyouverymuch! And now, it’s Monday…..siiighhhh…. Hey, is there any way I can get myself penalized...and sit on the bench until Tuesday? Hmm...

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Road to College...or, "Are we there yet?"

Over the course of the past 6 months or so, Team WestEnders learned that the College Notification Season, if you will, means enduring a prolonged state of heightened excitement... mixed with no small amount of trepidation. While I believe that, technically, this period can last all the way until April 1st, it’s over for us, since Derek heard from his final school last week. (For the record: Virginia Tech, weighing in with an acceptance envelope that read “What’s a Hokie? You are!”) While it was undoubtedly pleasing to close the proverbial book on that whole experience, it didn’t change Derek’s firm Top 2 preferred universities, which have been South Carolina and JMU ever since he got into both of them, some time ago.

So for a while now, it’s just been a waiting game...to find out what--if any--scholarships and/or financial aid either of the contenders was going to offer...crunch the numbers once we have all the available information...and determine who’s going to pay for how much, basically. With both of his faves being out-of-state options, obviously their tuition was much higher than it would have been for a resident...or, say, if he'd prioritized any one of those lovely North Carolina schools that start with the letters U-N-C.

And Derek, of course, didn’t inherit his mother’s innate impatience (thank goodness), so he’s just been biding his time, calmly holding out for the day that he gets any kind of news through the...higher education grapevine...or whatever. Then, one afternoon in late February, he came...the only way I can describe it is “bounding” into the room where I was sitting, gesturing at me wildly, and stumbling over his words as he tried to rapidly say, “Mom...mom...just...come here, you’ve gotta c’mere right now!”

Whoa...you have to understand that this is an exorbitant amount of animation and...near-hysteria...from my typically low-key kid. But I was reassured by the fact that he seemed gleeful, rather than upset or scared, so I just got up from my chair and followed him into his bedroom, to get to the bottom of the commotion.Then, with an enormous grin on his face, he pointed to his own laptop and commanded, “There--read THAT!”

A quick glance revealed that it appeared to be an official letter of some kind, with the logo identifying the sender as the University of South Carolina. Congratulations on your acceptance, blah blah blah--yeah, we know all that. Scanning down a few sentences, though, I finally arrived at the important part... where it stated that they were prepared to provide Derek an academic scholarship...that would make his tuition equal to that of an in-state student. Ohhh….kaaay. NOW I could totally see why he was so hyped!

I must admit...I did some jumping around of my own, after reading the happy correspondence. And hugging, of course. And giving props for a job well done (with the irresistible, unspoken parental subtext of “See? We told you that hard work would pay off!”). It goes without saying that Derek was utterly delighted--to the point that he declared “This puts South Carolina back on top of the list!” (If you can even use that term….for a group of 2…) Of course, this is with the caveat that James Madison has yet to make its presence known, which we still assume will happen around April Fool’s Day (but hopefully NOT be a joke…).

Once that happens, one of two scenarios will unfold: either SC will win the money game outright, and Derek will declare himself a Gamecock and be perfectly content. Or...JMU will come up with a comparable package, putting the institutions back on level ground, and Derek will have some serious soul-searching to do, to choose one over the other. He’s set a tentative deadline of his birthday (in mid April) to decide, one way or the other--purple or “garnet”...Duke dog or...fighting...chicken? Either way, it’s a pleasant position to be in, at this point in his Senior year, yeah?

In the meantime, he’s also reached the conclusion that, since he attended an actual Admitted Students’ Day at J-Mad, he should do the same with USC...you know, just to feel like he can compare them head-to-head, and give each of them the same consideration when making his final selection. Therefore we’re headed down in a few weeks to spend a Saturday in Columbia, taking one final tour, wandering amongst the coeds...soaking in the southern hospitality....and drinking sweet tea. (Just kidding about that last part, but it sounded like it fit the image…)

As I keep telling myself, “Hang in there--the finish line is almost in sight!” (I mean, maybe if you close one eye, and squint the other, and tilt your head just so, and hold your breath, you’ll catch a glimpse of it…but it’s there, I swear!) In any case, stay tuned for a report...from the OTHER Carolina!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Teenage biology...and chemistry...

Whattya say we cover something a little different today, hmm? Such as, for instance, the murky, intriguing realm of..."Medical Mysteries"--which is one that Team WestEnders rarely has occasion to venture into, fortunately. I mean, we counted ourselves super-lucky and grateful that we escaped the Great Pertussis Outbreak of 2018 unscathed. And (so far) none of us have fallen victim to this year's particularly nasty flu virus (excuse me for one second while I knock on wood...and offer thanks to the....I don't know, Patron Saint of Immunity? Sure, we'll go with that...)

So yeah, we've been enjoying a lovely reprieve from the usual seasonal maladies. However, before we could celebrate being out of the proverbial...Winter woods, if you will...Riley suddenly began complaining about his legs feeling exhausted. Now, this is somewhat to be expected, with his busy, demanding soccer schedule of 90-minute practices 3 times a week, and 1 or 2 matches on weekends. But he explained that he felt more fatigued than he considered "normal", or than he should be. Then I remembered that for a month or so, he'd also been mentioning how cold he feels, and how difficult it's been for him to get--and stay--warm.

This detail by itself might not trigger any alarm bells on the Maternal Scale of Concern...except that this is the kid we always used to call our part-polar-bear. The one who--regardless of the current weather conditions--was comfortable at all times, and dressed accordingly in the least possible amount of lightweight clothing. Now he expressed irritation at the fact that he felt chilly more often than not, and couldn't seem to keep his hands from freezing at his team workouts.

Let's see....tired during exercise...unable to maintain body heat...this was starting to sound suspiciously familiar...taking me back to around 2010, when I was experiencing similar symptoms... and subsequent testing revealed that I had extremely low iron. This wasn't a huge surprise to me, since it was true of my own mother as well. Add to that Husband's side of the family...where he and his mom also have a tendency toward anemia....and I figured poor Riley was pretty much screwed on both genetic sides of the Fe-front.

All of this amounted to mere speculation and quasi-educated guessing, of course, until we got professional confirmation. So we made an appointment to talk with the boys' physician and gather his thoughts about the whole situation. Dr. W listened intently to the entire saga, asked probing questions, and eventually agreed that taking a blood sample and ordering some labs would be the logical next step to figuring out what was happening.

(Side note: one of his queries was "Have you done any traveling lately?" delivered with what seemed like almost feigned nonchalance. I laughed and replied, "I know where you're going with this, but we did NOT visit any exotic places over the holidays, so while I'm sure you're secretly hoping for another thrilling botfly incident, you can just forget about it, thankyouverymuch!" He grinned and admitted, "I felt like I needed to be thorough and ask about African Sleeping Sickness...just in case!" Oh, good grief...nothing like being a weird medical celebrity at your pediatrician's practice, yeah? Siiighhhhh...)

Next, a semi-traumatic...phlebotomy event...ensued, involving 3 nurses, 1 of whom seemed to know exactly what she was doing, but was using Riley as a guinea pig to teach the others, resulting in the necessity for multiple jabs with the needle, in order to obtain the required vials of blood. Then there was nothing left to do but go home and wait for the doctor to contact us and explain the magic numbers from the test results, which would hopefully illuminate what was causing Riley's discomfort and give us a course of action to remedy it.

Sure enough, I received an email a couple of days later, with a full report....containing what, to me, appeared as a list of random acronyms with no explanations, and corresponding numerical values that meant absolutely nothing to me. Um...yay? Happily, before I applied myself to Googling each and every item for clarification, Dr. W followed up with a much more helpful phone call, in which he indicated that Riley's iron is, in fact, completely within normal limits (Excellent!)...but his liver enzymes and thyroid hormones were low, for some reason. (What the WHAT?) He hypothesized that sometime recently, Riley may have been exposed to a virus, which didn't even cause him noticeable symptoms, but which prompted his system to fight it off, nonetheless.

Huh. Well, as a parent, I've gotta say, I find the uncertainty and murkiness of this news...partially fascinating...while also a wee bit terrifying. Soooo anyway, how do we treat it? Dr. W assured me that sometimes thyroids "just get a little bit out of whack" (which I'm sure is the most up-to-date technical term used by respected physicians everywhere), and we may not ever be able to ascertain the specific reason, but we can give Riley a low dose of thyroid hormone for a month, and see if it makes him feel better.

Alrighty, then. Operation Thyroid Kick-Start has commenced. We're about halfway in, and Riley reports that he's doing better, and already noticing a marked improvement in his energy levels. Furthermore, he's still managing his full sports schedule, without having to miss any team....stuff, which is important to him as well. Sometime in the next 2-4 weeks, we'll have another face-to-face with Dr. W...and a hopefully smooth-and-painless repeat blood draw...and find out that all of the rebellious hormones and enzymes and whatnot have just as paradoxically decided to leap back into the optimum range.

In the meantime, what do you think the Patron Saint of Immunity would like as a tribute? Perhaps a nice big jar of...Nyquil? Ooooh, or to make it more challenging, and therefore meaningful, maybe something with pseudoephedrine, since you have to show your license and get that from behind the pharmacy counter these days? Ha! To remain in their continued good graces, I'm willing to give it a shot...

Monday, March 5, 2018

A hair-raising incident...or...not...(Sorry!)

So, to wrap up our February antics--wait, what's that you say? It's March? Holy time-slip, Batman, how the HECK did that happen? I mean, I get that it's a short month and all, but Jeez Louise, that went by fast. Okay, then, to kick off the 3rd month of 2018, how about we start with an amusing Derek anecdote, hmm?

Let me just lead off with: If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: I'm grateful in many ways to be parenting boys. Meaning absolutely no disrespect to girls--seeing as how I am one, after all--or their mothers, but there are just some things that seem...easier...and less complicated...with guys. Take, oh...haircuts, for example. Here's how they typically transpire for Team WestEnders: about every 8 weeks or so, Derek will say, "Man, my hair is getting on my nerves! Can we go to Great Clips soon?" Then we usually do the online check-in thing, and swing by after church, since the salon that's most convenient is our the way home. Approximately 15 minutes later, the teenagers are freshly shorn, and bada bing, bada boom, we're good to go for another couple of months.

Now, when the kids were younger, I'd speak with whomever was going to be grooming them, to explain how they'd like it cut. But with the wonders of modern technology these days, the salon can save the details of customers' preferences in the computer, so whichever stylist you happen to get can just pull it up and follow the exact same instructions at every visit, if that's what you want. And this has always worked out wonderfully...until our most recent encounter, that is. Both sons went back and sat down at the same time, but Derek emerged much sooner than I anticipated...wearing a shell-shocked expression...and sporting an unexpected buzz cut.

"Um...is that what you wanted?" I whispered, so only he could hear me. He shook his head vehemently, running a hand over his prickly 'do, looking quite agitated. Right behind him, the lady who'd administered this...surprise...perhaps seeing our less-than-enthusiastic reactions...hustled over and claimed that "He thought he wanted the #4 all over!" But I'm here to tell you that can't be true, due to the aforementioned electronic record of what he always gets, which I can assure you does NOT involve clippers being used all over his head.

Clearly there was a serious communication breakdown, but as they say, "What's done is done" (no matter how...unfortunate). And also, speaking as a female who has definitely lived through this scenario multiple times during her life (Okay, not that I ever ended up looking like Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, or anything, but you get my drift...)...and who's inherently much more sensitive to the potential trauma it might entail, I could offer the following comfort: "Don't worry--it'll grow back quickly!" Furthermore, the lesson to be learned from this--the hard way--is that, no matter how many times you've patronized a certain establishment, even knowing that they should have proof of what you've asked for in the past, ALWAYS confirm the details with the stylist BEFORE they pick up the tools and start snipping...or...mowing...away.

Derek--being the generally undramatic dude that he is--didn't suffer any kind of emotional meltdown over his bad hair experience...but he did emphatically declare that he would be wearing a baseball cap...at all times...until it gets long enough for him to feel comfortable uncovering it to display to the world at large...or, you know, everyone at his High School. Speaking as his mother, I can objectively report that it's not by any means horrible...it just doesn't...look like the Derek we know and love.

His friends, naturally, weighed in with various opinions, from the helpful and supportive, to the...not so much. Let's see, according to Derek's report...the baseball player shrugged and commented, "Yeah, I've been there." (Since the team has a tradition of shaving their heads each year...I believe before the playoffs? For...solidarity...and good luck? Or some such nonsense...) The one I think of as the...gentlest musketeer in the group...lent his sympathy in a predictably kind fashion. The...um..."class clown" of the bunch--who went through an extended "hat phase" himself, and isn't used to seeing Derek in one, noticed the headgear immediately and wanted to know what was up. And the last amigo? Well, Derek ruefully said that he "cracked up" and thought it was utterly hilarious. (Pffttt....BOYS! Amiright?)

Along the way, Derek has to endure--and deflect--the inevitable entreaties to remove his camouflage cap. Such as last week when another friend, who happens to be a girl, made a deal with him. It seems that she had to wear her glasses in school that day, rather than her contacts, so in Derek's words, she told him that, "If I have to look like a librarian, you can look like an army recruit."

So yeah, Derek is undoubtedly receiving a valuable education in...surviving a Bad Hair...Month? I'm sure in some way it's character building...or whatever. All I can say is, I'm extremely grateful at the timing of this particular snafu....long after Senior portraits, and still waaaay before Graduation photo ops! Eh, and I suppose I'll save a bunch of money by not having to return to the haircut emporium for a while, right? (Whew! While not technically a Win, we'll go ahead and call that a Silver Lining...and send hair-growing vibes...ha!)