Wednesday, June 28, 2017

You want chips with that?

After all the hoopla died down, from the unexpectedly lengthy and complicated process of Derek actually getting hired for his first job, he kicked off his brand new Working Life on Sunday night, with the 5-9 p.m. shift at Subway. As an added…bonus…because Husband’s out of town, he had to endure the dreaded Mom Taxi scenario, but strangely enough, he declined my generous and heartfelt offer to walk him I was sending him off to Kindergarten, or something. (I just can’t imagine WHY!) I had to settle for repeating the time-honored “first day” advice: play nicely with others, learn something new, and try your best. (Which cracks me up—it never occurred to me before, how well those kiddie rules just naturally apply to grown-up situations as well!)

Then…presumably he toiled away diligently—at whatever tasks they might see fit to assign to a newbie, I suppose--until it was time for me to go and retrieve him. When he plopped himself heavily into the car with a sigh, I asked him for his impressions on how it had gone. “Fine,” he replied, and then interjected, “I’m exhausted! This is the only time I’ve sat down since 5:00!” Ah, yes…welcome to the lightning-paced world of the fast-food-ish restaurant biz…where you just survived your inaugural Sunday evening dinner rush. Whoo hoo—congrats!

Of course, I pressed him for more details, and he further described his experience as “pretty stressful, having to put things together quickly and get everyone’s order right.” It seems that he’d been busy doing other…supportive-type activities…in the back, but the manager had called him out to help with customer service because they had a line of hungry people to feed. Alrighty, then, “trial by fire” it is!

He told us that he did some general cleaning, restocking when things ran low, (the oh-so-thrilling), mopping, and adding vegetables to sandwiches, but not meat, because “that comes later.” (Although as a vegetarian I have some pretty specific ideas about the…dangers…of deli products, I don’t have a clue why Subway deems them so much more challenging that they don’t train employees in their use until they’re considered fully ready for such knowledge…) Oh, and he shared that he’s “not so good at the folding and wrapping part yet [of the sandwiches for presentation to the customer]”.

On the definite plus side, he found out that he gets to keep a portion of the tips, when satisfied sandwich-purchasers are pleased with his work and choose to leave some money. (Since it was his first night, the manager let him keep the whole amount this time, which was very sweet of her.) On the downside, he really thought one would get something to eat, during a break or after the shift, and apparently this isn’t the case. (To be around all that food, for hours, and not be able to partake in it must be a special kind of torture to a perpetually hungry adolescent boy! Eh, it’ll be good for strengthening his…willpower…or whatever.)

The next step was for him to stop by on Tuesday to check the schedule for the coming week, and see when he was supposed to show up again. With Husband still away, I drove him over once more. He returned to the car and reported with exasperation, “She put me down to work two days while we’re in Maryland…so I have to text her and let her know to change it.” As we I was exiting the parking lot it occurred to me to ask, “So, what other days are you scheduled?” He shrugged and mumbled, “I’ll have Trevor take a picture and send it to me.”

“Um…sweetie? Couldn’t you have, I don’t know, done that yourself while you were there…like 30 seconds ago? ‘Cuz it’s not like any of the REST of us—such as, just as a minor example, the person whose car you need to borrow on a regular basis to get yourself to and from your new gig--need to know what you’re doing, right? I mean, I know it’s Summertime and all, but do me a favor and try to use your Teenage Boy Brain at least once in a while, ‘kay?”

So we turned around and went BACK, for him to do just that…prompting him to utter the best comment of the afternoon, by far: “I don’t wanna have a job…it’s too much WORK!” (Hahahahaha! Nice one, son. Oh, and also “too bad”; you’re stuck in the ranks of the Employed Folks now, and there’s no turning back!) And would you believe that when we returned home and he was reading his shifts to me so I could add them to the master calendar, he hadn’t noticed that he was also scheduled for July 7th…the day he’s getting his wisdom teeth removed. You guessed it--he has to go back one more time to leave a note for the manager saying why he can’t come in that day…or he’ll have poor Trevor do it for him. Siiiighhhhh.

Clearly there are going to be some…growing pains…with this endeavor. When Husband returned from his trip, he asked a question that I hadn’t—had Derek enjoyed himself? His response kind of summed up the undertaking, “It’s not like I’m passionate about sandwich making. Is it FUN? No. Can I tolerate it? Yes.” Yep, sounds about right for a part-time minimum wage first job. But for now, by all accounts (including the manager’s), he completed a successful “debut”, he’s gaining all kinds of Valuable Life Skills, blah blah blah…and he gets to wear kind of a cool t-shirt in lieu of a uniform. All in all, we’ll take it! 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Running...into (a little) trouble!

In 2015, Team WestEnders did a race called Four on the Fourth—which, as the name suggests, covered 4 miles rather than our usual 5K, and took place on Independence Day. Last year we were in Seattle for the holiday, and missed it. But we’ll be in town for July 4th, 2017, so we broached the subject of participating in it again with the kids, as a potential “fun-filled family activity”…or what have you.

And lemme tell ya, the response was LESS than what you’d call…enthusiastic…or even receptive….or anything else that can be construed as “positive”, for that matter. There was immediate backlash from the older son, who made an exasperated noise and huffed, “Really? We’re gonna be THAT family?” Um…that depends…which one are you talking about, dear? “You know, the one that gets up EARLY on a HOLIDAY to go RUN!” Since he’d so eloquently cleared that up, I was able to cheerfully reply, “Oh! Well then YES—yes, we ARE that family!” Riley’s response was a much more succinct and plaintive, “Ugh. Noooo! we have to?”

I pointed out to the lazy teenage slugs—I mean “beloved offspring”—that since it’s their Summer break, they have the privilege of sleeping in most days anyway, so it shouldn’t be any kind of a hardship to drag themselves out of bed ONCE. Somehow, they were unmoved by my calm, cool logic, however.

But…then I started thinking about how I’ve been able to keep running these days only with varying degrees of determination…and difficulty. Honestly, my knees grudgingly consent to pound the pavement for 3-ish miles, but would most likely rebel…probably in a verrrry unpleasant fashion…if I demanded more out of them at this point. So the upshot was: I brightened the kids’ day considerably be conceding the issue, and instead began looking around for a substitute (because, you know, “foregoing races completely” is just not an option…)

What I found was a new offering called (wait for it) the VegFest 5K. It was the right length, it was local, and the participant t-shirt they showed on the website depicted a trio of…running vegetables! Say no more, I’m IN! I even got Husband to agree to tag along with me, although you can scarcely imagine the amount of eye-rolling and mockery that the children heaped on us for joining a race that appeared to be entirely supported by eco-friendly, organic, vegan sponsors. (Yes! MY TRIBE….y’all!)

That’s how we found ourselves making the short trip to Southern Village early this past Sunday—with one groggy, silent individual (Guess who? Yeah, that was easy, wasn’t it?) and one annoyingly chatty and chipper dude. (Seriously, Husband is SUCH a morning person—aren’t they awful? I mean, when you can’t have coffee because you’re going to be exercising just a few short minutes after your eyes open? There should be a rule that they have to be quiet and leave us alone! Or is that just me? Whatever….sure, I’m awake NOW…)

Anyway, this was the…first rehearsal, if you will…of this event--and boy, did it show. Mind you, everything LOOKED good—with many vendors setting up their displays with lots of interesting products to peruse after the workout portion of the day was completed. The organizers had encouraged folks to come in costume, and a few took them up on the challenge, which is why we found ourselves mingling with a teenaged pineapple…a tutu-d watermelon…a young carrot…and an eggplant guy who had the further audacity to bring his (plainly dressed, thank goodness) dog along for the festivities.

And things went well….that is, right up until the first turn (um, that would be approximately 30 seconds out of the proverbial gate. Before that, whew, it was smooth sailing!) The volunteer who was supposed to be pointing out the route initially signaled for us to continue down the wrong street, before checking his GPS and correcting himself. (Later, Husband would note that we should have known how things would turn out, based on that inauspicious start…hindsight, man…sigh…)

Then at around 1.5 miles, there was an obstacle—what I can only describe as the Everest of this particular neighborhood: a steeeeep, loooong hill that I initially made a valiant attempt to scale at a jogging pace, but finally had to admit was only realistically conquerable by walking. (In my mind, I rallied my spirit with something along the lines of “I may not have defeated the *&%$ mountain, but I WILL win the war—ahem…”finish the race”!) But wait, it gets worse: because of a lack of support personnel lining the route—or even directional signs, which would have been sufficient and appreciated—there were few people keeping you on track, so I, and the pack of people I happened to be with, made an erroneous turn…and faced that same stupid incline AGAIN! (Yeah, didn’t even try to pretend to run up it the second time…)

Finally, to add (further) insult to (fortunately only metaphorical) injury, there was absolutely no instruction about what to do around mile 2.5, so the whole horde of us went…unintentionally rogue…without even being aware of it. Nope, we just kept plugging along…until I finally looked at my phone’s stopwatch, because my legs felt like lead and I was 100% out of gas, and saw that 33 minutes had passed. Now, even WITH some slow periods, this falls well outside the bounds of when I should have finished…and the end was nowhere in sight…which led me to the irrefutable conclusion that we were collectively lost.

About that time we spotted a police officer  who was directing stragglers, and queried him about how to…reacquire…the race HQ. “Do you want to stick to the course?” he politely asked, to which we chorused a resounding, “No, thank you! We’ll take the shortest distance, thankyouverymuch!” (At this point I was so tired and discouraged that my mantra became: I just have to come in ahead of that one woman…wearing a potato outfit. I will NOT lose to a spud! I might have been becoming delirious, you think? Eh, it kept my feet moving…) Thus I hauled myself wearily over the Finish Line without even bothering to check my official time, since I’d obviously traveled beyond the prescribed 3.1 miles. When I caught up with Husband, he commented that he’d experienced virtually the same scenario…but was so irritated by the whole snafu that he’d ignored the Finish Line altogether.

So, not what I’d call an altogether well conceptualized…or well planned…shindig. But there were a few perks to brighten things up, due to the aforementioned businesses who shared their wares with the hot, tired…mildly disgruntled…public. Such as: samples of creamy, delicious cashew-based “ice cream”…giveaways of organic energy bars and gluten-free vegan cupcakes…and some homemade truffles that were quite possibly the BEST little bites of chocolate I’ve ever put in my mouth. When you’ve checked off your physical activity—and racked up your 10,000 steps—for the day by 9 a.m., and you’re rewarded with treats like those? There are definitely worse ways to start a Sunday. Besides…then you’re free to go home, relax, and at long last enjoy your delayed COFFEE…yaaaaay!

Friday, June 23, 2017

A little more of the "growing up" stuff (gulp!)

As soon as "the friend group", as Derek calls them, began to turn 16 one by one and get their driver's licenses, they also embarked upon that most sacred of adolescent traditions: obtaining a part-time job. (Because, you know, their parents need one MORE reminder that they're THIS CLOSE to becoming full-fledged adults...cue the inevitable maternal freak out...which--I'm giving you fair warning right now--will very likely continue almost unabated for the next year or so. Hey, you're welcome for the heads-up!)

We did find it amusing that all of these young men gravitated to one particular establishment...a local Subway shop. You see, one of them (who somehow has escaped being assigned an alias yet, so hereafter shall be known as..."Trevor") has an older brother who joined the payroll there a few years ago. He recommended Trevor...who then vouched for Lou...who in turn put in a good word"Rick". And suddenly Subway was the happening place to be--at least for newly-employed High School students from our neighborhood, anyway.

But not Derek--at least not at first--because Husband and I agreed that he should remain focused on doing well in school, especially given the dire warnings we'd (all) received about the rigors, courseload, and stresses that come along with surviving Junior year. We were leery of having him try to juggle another obligation during the academic months, so we held off until he'd safely and successfully navigated his Final Exams before pushing him to float his name in the applicant pool.

(Practically) the minute those grades were recorded, though, it quickly turned into "Okay, buddy, let's get a move on, and figure out that application process!" And how did Derek feel about this whole endeavor? Let's just say he expressed a bit of...ambivalence. On the one hand, he readily admitted--given the frequency with which he and his pals have been indulging in takeout meals lately--that he would appreciate having some income...that he was earning himself, rather than receiving handouts from the....ahem..."Bank of Mom and Dad".

However, he also confessed that he wasn't join the Rat Race, as it were, but would much rather maintain the Life of Teenage Leisure that he's enjoyed up to this point. And yes, he does recognize that these perspectives conflict with one another...and also that he's reached an age where he neither can nor should sponge off his parents 100%, when he's perfectly capable of contributing to his and feeding. Then there's the whole "demonstrating responsibility" and "employment looks good on college applications" aspects, and blah blah blah...basically, for many reasons, it was TIME.

So one Sunday night a couple of weeks ago he and I sat down at the computer to fill out the online form--which included all of his basic descriptive and identifying information, of course, but also a lengthy survey that the two of us found utterly hi-larious. You had to respond to a wide variety of questions by selecting options ranging from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree". Examples of what the Subway Powers That Be wanted to know included: "I get along well with others" (okay, that's falls into the realm of "understandable and relevant" for a workplace); something along the lines of "I will cut corners if necessary to get things done" (Derek and I stared at each other, dumbfounded, until he finally said, "Um...what's the right way to answer that?").

And finally, the one that cracked us up the most, "I often feel joy at work" Seriously? How many of us can honestly answer that in the affirmative? I mean, do I like my job? Sure! Do I find it meaningful and rewarding? Absolutely! But c'mon...JOY? We're not talking about pursuing your lifelong passion or aiming toward bettering the world for humankind...this is SANDWICH MAKING, for crying out loud! (Unless this IS your ultimate goal and it does bring you enormous pleasure, in which case I applaud you and am sincerely delighted that you discovered your calling. Carry on!) For your average teenager seeking entry-level work experience? It might be...a bit all I'm saying...

Anyway, after we double-checked all of  the details and clicked "submit", we just sat back and waited to be contacted for the next step in the hiring hierarchy. And we waited some more...listening to the crickets...nope, still nothing. And then I started wondering: when would it be appropriate to follow-up? It's been decades since my own foray into the..."restaurant environment" I'm not exactly sure of the protocol. After some discussion (with Derek firmly on the side of "Moooom, don't bother anyone!" and me weighing in with "Trust me, it's okay to politely ASK, honey."), I convinced him to try calling during business hours and requesting to speak to the manager (Let's see...."Irene" will do). However, when he did, no one answered the phone.

Well, fine! Since the direct approach had failed so thoroughly, our next plan of attack involved the roundabout method of...enlisting Trevor's assistance. (Poor guy, we put him on the spot--but to his credit he was very willing to help us out...maybe because we actually stopped by one day and asked him in person. And he's FAR too well-brought-up to refuse an appeal from someone's mother...) Trevor told us that Irene couldn't find Derek's electronic application, so he went ahead and resubmitted it. (Oy! The trials of the Digital Age...) In the meantime, as the other guys had previously done for one another, Trevor gave Irene a good report about Derek's ability to fulfill the duties of a Subway employee...or something like that.

As we were still twiddling our thumbs several days later, Derek finally broached the subject with me: "Do you think I should just start looking for other jobs? It doesn't seem like this is going to happen." I agreed that this was dragging on, and offered to help him search for something else that same evening...until he jogged up to me a short while later and announced, "Hold that thought--Trevor just texted me that Irene wants me to come in for an interview on Thursday."

Well, hallelujah! Since it would be Derek's very first such appointment of ANY kind, Husband immediately began peppering him with tips about questions he should anticipate, material he'd want to cover in his answers, and how he should phrase his responses. While I was like, "Um...dear? You might want to calm's a temporary, part-time gig at Subway...not a career-building foray into the higher echelons of business...or whatever." My own advice to Derek was much simpler: dress nicely, arrive early, speak intelligently, answer truthfully...and be yourself. And don't worry--you're gonna do great!"

On the big day, I wished him well, requested that he text me when he was done, and crossed my fingers. Not very long after his scheduled meeting time, Derek ended my suspense by relaying the news that he'd been accepted. Yaaaayyyyy! The teenager survived his first hiring experience, and is now gainfully employed! Of course, I plied him for more details when I saw him next, but his only comment was, "Nothing happened!" Confused, I asked him to explain. He clarified, "She didn't really ask me much. I guess she just reviewed what was on my application...and took Trevor's word for it that I could do the job!" Alrighty, then...not necessarily what we expected...but fair enough!

So, to wrap this up: Derek's first official night of...sandwich creation...will be this coming Sunday. Irene said she needs evening coverage, so most of his shifts will occur during that timeframe. And as a result, (drumroll, please)...he can jump into the ranks of those who draw a regular (ish) paycheck...and watch the dough rolling in ( much as minimum wage will allow. Nevertheless, it's more than he makes right now, for sure!). Whoo hoo!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Saturday Excursion--just to mix things up...

Last Summer, Riley's unfortunate incident with a certain broken tibia and the resulting cast/crutches catastrophe prevented the boys and me from taking any of our typical field trips. None. Zip. Zero. Boo hoo! So maybe you can understand my eagerness to kick off the party--um, "enlightening experiences"--this year, with everyone in sound mind and body and whatnot. And would you look at that--already a whole WEEK has passed since school ended! Clearly, it was high time to get out there and...find something...FUN!

I queried the beloved sons about whether they'd be interested in an activity of some kind, and got a thumbs-up from both of them. So far, so good...then I had to go and press my luck by asking, "Well, what would you like to do?" Derek stared at me blankly for a few seconds before replying with a small, sheepish smile, "I kind of hoped you had a plan in mind already." Sigh...of course you did, my delightful teenager. Let me get right on that, while you feel free to pursue your own passion...which suspiciously looks a lot like "vegging out in your room watching SportsCenter highlights".

However much (mild) grief I gave him (just, you know, for appearance's sake), I'd decided some time ago that I wanted to visit the Duke Lemur Center anyway, so I didn't actually have to carry out hours of complex, difficult research or anything crazy like that. Check the schedule and types of programs...make a reservation...aaannnd DONE. It turned out that they had spaces available in the Saturday evening Twilight Tour, so I chose that one, especially because the enthusiastic and helpful lady on the phone told me that the animals are often more active as the sun is setting and the heat of the day is diminishing.

When we arrived, we (and the rest of the group sharing our timeslot) were treated to a super-cheesy-yet-adorable informational film at the Visitor's Center. We learned that the Duke collection of lemurs is the largest in the entire world, outside of Madagascar, their only natural habitat. At the compound, the staff care for the creatures, study them, train them, breed them (there are around 60 different species' left in the wild, and all are endangered)--and of course share an up-close-and-personal view of their behavior with the public.

After the educational portion, we got to stroll around the grounds with a guide (named Anna) and observe some of the fuzzy cuties...chowing down on their dinner fare, scrambling high and low on the wire cages of their enclosures, nimbly leaping from branches to platforms, and sometimes coming over to stare at US with intelligent, curious expressions...which left me thinking, "Man, they soooo look like they want to chat with you--I wish I spoke 'lemur'!"

As a matter of fact, we were treated to several...fascinating....and also slightly scary...demonstrations of the residents' vocal power. Anna had discussed how lemurs do communicate with each other through sounds, and each species even has its own..."dialect", if you will. Therefore, all of the varieties don't necessarily understand each other...but each one has some version of an alarm call.

Well...something set one of them off, causing it to screech piercingly, which then inspired some of its neighbors to add their distinct howls, growls, and barks, until it sounded like we were surrounded by a hostile army of fierce...and yet still inescapably adorable...primates. As we stood and listened to the cacophony, Anna wryly noted that when this happens, the humans in the area might not ever know what triggered the tantrum...or for that matter what generally constitutes a valid reason for the lemurs to YELL...but that in captivity, "They tend to have a bit of the 'drama queen' about them."

And then, as if I weren't entertained enough already, I discovered something that, to me, was worth the entire price of admission. You see, there used to be a kids' show on PBS that I would watch with the boys when they were very small, starring a lemur called Zoboomafoo (and also the nature-loving Kratt brothers, if that helps anyone else recognize it. No? I'm probably alone on this one, but that's okay, I'll continue with my burst of nostalgia...). Martin Kratt attended Duke University, and the featured creature actually lived at the Duke Lemur Center (until his death at age 20 in 2014). WOW! It was like some kind of...almost-brush with greatness, I tell ya! (Maybe in a "six degrees of separation" way? Whatever...I was ridiculously thrilled...)

Finally, we headed back toward our vehicles, full of new facts about Madagascar's most famous exports--and as a bonus, we got one more cool chance to watch the little guys. Some of the animals--depending on factors such as age, health,  mastery of and compliance with training signals--are allowed out into the forest to roam freely, forage for their own meals, and interact with their environment and each other. There happened to be a family group in the trees bordering the parking lot, munching on leaves, swinging from the branches, and generally providing an enjoyable final glimpse into the Life of Lemurs.

As usual, the irresistible combination of nerdy learning opportunity, encounter with the Great Outdoors, and family bonding proved successful. Team WestEnders' first adventure of Summer 2017 is in the books, and we're calling it a WIN!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Aaaannnd, we're out!

June 9th marked the so-called last day of school for the 2016-17 academic year...I phrase it this way because Derek had officially finished the previous morning when he turned in his last exam...and Riley actually only had to attend his 90-minute Promotion Ceremony before being dismissed from the hallowed halls of Middle School for good and ever. (One sec: yaaaaayyyyy! Thanks...)

Cruel and insensitive parental units that we are, Husband and I required the older brother to tag along with us and support his sibling--even though Riley apparently told Derek privately that he was completely indifferent to his presence, and therefore didn't care if he slept in rather than attending. However, when I got wind of this, I informed Derek that that was all very nice, but...tough--you're coming anyway, so suck it up, buttercup! (Or something to that effect...) Derek's reply was a resigned shrug and a mild retort, "Fine. I'm getting up at 8:25, then!" (We were leaving at 8:40, but as long as he"dressed", I decided I wouldn't protest. Sometimes you've gotta set the bar waaayyy low, ya know?)

So we sent Riley over to the school at his usual time...albeit MUCH more fancily attired than normal. In fact, he'd requested a ride from Husband, rather than walking like he typically does, so that he wouldn't get all sweaty in his dress clothes. Lucky for him he got dropped off at the front door, as it turned out, since by the time the rest of Team WestEnders pulled ourselves together and joined the throng a short while later, finding a parking space anywhere near the building resembled mall at Christmas....kind of situation.

Finally we jumped a curb to claim a...technically illegal, I in the grass (like many others had done before us, so we figured, "no harm, no foul"...or much more importantly, "no one's going to bother giving us a ticket, at least during this event") and trooped into the gym for the last time...along with friends and relations belonging to the other 242 8th graders. (Amusingly, the massive crowd included several of Derek's buddies who also have family members in Riley's class, as well as many other High Schoolers that he recognized. So evidently we were NOT the only parents who insisted on making this a Family Activity. Ha!)

Then the actual pomp and circumstance (such as it was) commenced, with the Principal giving an abbreviated version of a graduation address, and expressing appreciation to a number of  parent volunteers and superlative teachers. Next a parade of instructors handed out a slew of awards to deserving students. And finally, when their name was called, each kid was handed a certificate commemorating the culmination of their time in Middle School.

And...then it was all O-V-E-R, folks--the ceremony, the 3 years in Junior High...the whole shebang. I must say, I experienced quite a few emotions during the morning's progression--but shockingly, none of them could be called "sadness". Of course there's no small amount of maternal pride, as he reaches this milestone at the end of a very successful three-year..."career". And then...there's a great deal of SHOCK...that my youngest son is now in High School...and that means there are only four more years until he'll be completely done. (Yikes!)

Okay, okay--if I'm being honest, perhaps there's even a tiny bit of nostalgia, realizing that certain things are now in the attending two separate Back to School nights...or looking up the Supply Lists in August and making that expensive-but-nerdily-satisfying jaunt to Staples to stock up on necessities. (Oh, who am I trying to kid? We loooove us some office supplies, so we'll probably just manufacture an excuse--no matter how flimsy--to take a field trip to Staples anyway...)

Lastly, as I look at the photos I snapped to capture this memory, I'm overwhelmed with gratitude...that Riley formed such a wonderful group of friends during his Middle School years...that he's ready and excited to be moving on to his next adventure...and that his Big Bro will be there to help him navigate the...Freshman the Fall (which I'm sure Derek will do...along with a certain amount of--hopefully good-natured--"Welcome to High School hazing" that is bound to occur as well...). For now, with all of their obligations behind them, the Westman boys can get down to the crucial task...of starting to enjoy their Summer Vacation. Sooooo....let the fun begin!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Hang on, we're getting there!

Well, folks, we have arrived at a very special Hump Day—the one that falls in the middle of the 36th and final week of the boys’ academic year. (I’ll just insert a quick but enthusiastic “Whoo hoo!” for them…okay, back to business…) So you might be wondering what, exactly, goes on during the last few days before springing the eager students free for their long-awaited, much-anticipated Summer Break. And the definitive answer is: um…actually, it’s kind of complicated, and depends on which son we’re discussing.

You see, for Derek, Final Exams have begun. When Riley—whose tests were given last week, and are therefore completely finished—seemed flabbergasted by this, he exclaimed, “WHY do they do it at the last minute?” Derek himself responded to this one, with the matter-of-fact explanation: “They know that as soon as exams are over, no one’s showing up for classes anymore, so they push them back as far as possible.”

He has a point, as we’ve figured out from his past two High School years. I remember when he was a Freshman and trying to convince me that the standard procedure was for kids to attend only when they had a test to take, skedaddle as soon as that particular exam block was over—and not show up on the last day of school AT ALL. Although he’s not prone to telling me whoppers, I admit I was…skeptical about his information. Perhaps he misunderstood? But no--that’s how the game apparently runs around here.

So for those of you keeping score at home, here’s Derek’s super-demanding schedule for the week (which I had to write down, so I could keep it straight and not yell at him for missing school in an unauthorized fashion): Monday morning English exam, walk home afterward; Tuesday off day (more on that in a second); Wednesday a relatively challenging Human Body Systems test in the morning and History in the afternoon (meaning he was forced to remain trapped in the halls of learning for the Entire. Day. The horror!); Thursday the dreaded Math assessment in the morning and then…that’s it. As he put it, “Everyone leaves, and it’s just… over.” (Which would sound fairly dramatic…if it weren’t delivered in such a mild tone of voice, accompanied by a nonchalant shrug, by a teenage boy.)

Back to Tuesday, when he would have had his 3rd and 4th period Finals: both of these were A.P. Bio slots (lecture and lab), in which he’d already taken the test a month ago, so there was literally no need for him to be in class that day. In fact, his instructor imparted something along the lines of, “I’m not…legally…allowed to tell you to stay home…but I don’t want to take attendance. And THIS is what we’ll be doing (proceeds to stare into space with a vacant expression whilst twiddling his thumbs. Bless his heart--I love this man…you can always count on him to tell it like it is…). Taking this sage advice, Derek opted to use his time wisely…sort of…by sleeping in a little, doing some studying….and spending the rest of his bonus free day hanging out with friends.

Meanwhile, the Middle School regimen couldn’t be much more different. First of all, they got all their exam…toil and trouble…out of the way at the beginning of June, so they could kick back and…honestly, I don’t know WHAT the heck they’re up to this week. Oh, except the 8th Grade Celebratory Field Trip happened on Tuesday, when those who chose to participate piled onto charter buses at the decidedly un-fun hour of 7:30 a.m. for the 2-1/2 hour drive to Carowinds amusement park. There they would presumably amuse themselves by checking out all the crazy rides, loading up on carnival-type junk food, socializing with their classmates…and hopefully not getting into TOO much mischief.

When Riley returned home, 12 hours after being dropped off, he reported that he’d enjoyed himself…except for one tiny glitch: he discovered (the hard way) that the rollercoasters made him nauseous. Oh, dear…it seems my younger child developed a bit of motion sickness when he hit puberty. Well, now we know: small-to-medium-size boats…and spinning/plunging/twisting thrill rides are RIGHT OUT. (Eh, I think those are easy enough to avoid…if it ever extends to automobiles or airplanes, we’re gonna have a problem, though…) Because of this, he didn’t feel able to eat anything all day, either, so there goes the whole “stuff yourself with funnel cake” plan that Husband had encouraged before he left. Oh well…he had a good time with his peeps, and that’s what counts, right?

Okay, next up: two solid days of…nah, I can’t even imagine what they could possibly do to fill 14 hours, to tell you the truth. Clean out their lockers? Shred old assignments? Help teachers pack up their rooms? Um….grade papers? (Yeah, hopefully NOT!) Anyway, whatever the adults-in-charge come up with to keep them in check, it only has to last until Friday morning, when they’ll be experiencing their 8th Grade Promotion Ceremony. And yes, because his older sibling is unfettered by any of his own obligations, Husband and I are making him come, to support his brother (or, you know, for the purely “you must get out of bed early on your first day of vacation and sit on hard bleachers for 90 minutes of stuff that will bore you to tears” torture factor…whatever. Parenting has its privileges…mwah hah hah!).

But that’s a post for another day (that would be "Friday"—duh!), and my more immediate need is to devise ways of keeping the boys busy, to prevent them from falling into the bad habit right away of frittering away all of their appealingly empty waking hours. Hmm…there’s ALWAYS laundry to do…they could probably organize the garage….or I could take it in the completely opposite direction, and just JOIN them in their appreciation of leisure. Heyyy…..NOW we’re talking! We’ll see how that goes…

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A (New) Middle School Memory

Amidst all the recent hoopla--both academic and extra-curricular--we've been coping with in these parts, it had heretofore escaped my notice that Team WestEnders is about to face yet another somewhat momentous occasion: the conclusion of our collective Middle School Experience. That's right--Riley is sliding into the homestretch, with only one more week left as an 8th grader. With all of his tests and tryouts and whatnot, I suppose it's no wonder this snuck up on us...but now those challenging tasks are behind him, and only the fun stuff remains.

Speaking of which, the first noteworthy event on the calendar happened to be a social activity on Friday night...the 8th Grade Semi-Formal. Attendance at this shindig was not mandatory, of course, so Riley's initial reaction was a predictable, scoffing, "Pffft, I'm not going to that!" But then as the date drew closer he began to contemplate it a little more, and eventually softened his position to the much less definite, " depends on whether my friends are going." Ah, yes, the old adage "there's strength in numbers" remains undeniably true...especially when applied to adolescent males, who feel more comfortable traveling in packs! (And really, who can blame them? 'Cuz Middle School girls can be totally scary, dude! Trust me, I used to BE one, ya know...)

It turned out that the two specific buddies whose support he required to declare himself "in" were in favor of gracing their classmates with their presence, so Operation...I don't know...Boys at the Ball?...was a GO. Great! Now all we needed to do was ensure that Riley had something appropriate to wear. Right...uh-oh. You see, a quick peek into his closet revealed: a polo shirt, and...nope, that's it, nothing else. Hmm, I guess he hasn't had an occasion to dress up in a while, yeah?

In this situation, when you're lacking the recommended attire...but you live in a house with two other guys who are approximately the same size (I know, right! When did that even happen?)...there's only one thing to do: raid your father's and brother's closets. From Derek we obtained a practically new, gently worn pair of dress pants--his only ones, in fact, bought at the beginning of his Sophomore year, when we had to scour the offerings at Kohl's to locate the SINGLE option that would stay up on his scrawny hips (with a belt, no less). Since Derek has filled out since then, and now outweighs Riley by about 20 pounds, they fit the younger kid like they were made for him. (Yep, with a belt...bless my skinny--um, "wiry"--children. And if that hadn't worked, I don't know what we would have done...except maybe go shopping. Thanks goodness it didn't come to that--at least this time!).

Then it was on to Husband's array of shirts and ties, which offered much more variety and the possibility of actually making some choices. Riley was not delighted with the...ahem...let's say "voluminousness" of the button-downs...until he came across one marked as "Slim Fit"....which looked--and felt, apparently--perfect on him. He quickly managed to select a patterned tie that pleased him, and because we'd already conceded to allowing him to wear his recently purchased, pristinely clean sneakers, BAM, wardrobe D-O-N-E. (I've said it before and I'll most likely say it again: in some ways boys are soooooo...uncomplicated!)

With those important decisions out of the way, all that was left to do was figure out a game plan for the night of the gala. they went with the simple and low-key "gather at "Ken's" (not his real name, protecting the innocent, blah blah blah) house, eat pizza, play a little basketball and/or X-Box, throw on our fancy duds, and catch a ride over to school." Easy peasy, right? Sure, except for that one teensy tiny little issue...your mother wants her photo op. (But, that's just so... unexpected! Said no one who's met me, EVER....)

Riley perhaps did let a very small sigh escape his lips...and he might have given me a quick side-eye...and a quietly muttered, "Moooommmm!" But unlike his brother, who fought me tooth and nail over the Prom pictures, he probably figured it was less traumatic to just agree with me and get it over with. (Smart boy! I wouldn't be surprised if he also realized that, since there were no damsels involved in this venture, the potential for embarrassment was really quite low. I mean, who cares if there's photographic evidence of you and your posse acting like goofballs? Eh, that's pretty much business as usual, actually...).

So at the appointed time I strolled over to Ken's with my trusty Nikon to document the four dapper young men on their way to one of their final celebrations of Middle School. And I tell ya, it was like some kind of MIRACLE: they weren't sweaty, or covered in grass, or sporting stains from their last meal...I swear I almost didn't recognize them (including my own kid)! In short, they looked very handsome...even if they couldn't quite camouflage the impish gleam in their eyes as they contemplated just what kinds of mischief they could get into if the dance failed to hold their attention or entertain them sufficiently. (Because, you know, heaven forbid they actually stoop to conversing with the opposite sex, or anything crazy like that....)

Satisfied with my shots, I left them to storm the gymnasium...consume copious amounts of junk some casino-inspired games the PTA was providing...aaannnnd...whatever else one does to pass the time at a school-sponsored soiree of this nature (probably under the heading of "hopefully-harmless youthful hijinks", as previously mentioned). After all, when you're only a Middle Schooler for seven more days, you'd better make the most of it--even if it does mean you have to put on a tie...and risk interacting with girls...for a couple of hours!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Low-Key Memorial Day

Ah, Memorial Day weekend...when a festive, Summertime mood overtakes people, and they spend their time enjoying picnics, pool outings, barbecuing, and all sorts of outdoor activities with their families. And we here at Team WestEnders are no different...oh, wait a minute...we actually of those things. So, how did we pass our 3-day mini-vacation?

Well, let’s see...Saturday I barely caught a glimpse of the boys, as each of them hung out with their respective friend groups. Riley went to his Middle School (I know! On a day he didn't have to!) to use the field for a pickup soccer game with some of his buddies. Derek joined one of his pals to watch the televised Carolina Courage contest--since, you know, they consider themselves such HUGE fans of the new women's professional soccer squad in our area. (In all seriousness, they did attend the team's inaugural home match...and they each bought a t-shirt. So I guess that counts...) He popped back in long enough to inform us that his posse had hatched a dinner scheme: to make use of the fundraising coupon books they'd all bought (sold to support the High School baseball team, by their friend who's a player) by picking and patronizing one of the participating eateries.

Okay, then--one day down! Sunday began with church for me and the kids, after which we’ve made it a habit to take care of any errands that make sense, based on the proximity of certain stores in the area. In this case, since Husband's birthday always falls on or around this particular holiday, they wanted to pick up his gift—the idea for which, amusingly, he'd shared with them, rather than me...perhaps because it involved a trip to a home improvement emporium? Yeah…male solidarity at its finest....however, I ended up driving them there, since Lowe's is literally across the street from our church. And amidst all the extravagant, complex, endless variety of items available at such an establishment, what did he request, you might wonder? Just a longer garden hose, so he can water the flowers he planted down by the mailbox, at the end of our steep driveway. Ha! All gender stereotypes aside, I helped the boys locate the correct department and identify an appropriate, affordable option—so there!

While we were already out, we were also passing by the place where Derek and Riley usually get their haircuts. They had originally planned to go out by themselves and do this without parental accompaniment, since as Derek said, “That was fun last time; can we do that again?” I’d readily agreed…since they’d passed the test by returning with completely normal ‘dos when left to their own devices…but again, the opportunity to just get it over with was too good to pass up. (And…would you believe there was NO WAIT?! Honestly, you can’t beat that…)

Then, for even more entertainment…they got to go (are you ready for this?) shopping for shoes! Oh, right, they’re teenage dudes…this isn’t the biggest thrill for them. Apparently, though, it IS for Husband, who upon finding out that I intended to shuttle them to the outlet mall to replace some of their worn-out footwear, eagerly asked if he could come. Um…whyyyyy? “Because I never get to go shopping!” he responded. Well, if you’re that enthusiastic about the trip…YOU take them! I mean, this is not an all-hands-on-deck, two-parent operation, here. I did catch him gleefully commenting to his sons, “Mom’s turning us loose in the outlets….without supervision!” Then he chortled, “We can do some damage, boys!” “HEY,” I called from the living room, where he hadn’t noticed me sitting, “I heard that! And by the way, you ARE the supervision, genius!” I believe his reply was, “Doh!” but I’m really not sure he was suitably chagrined….

As they piled into the car to leave, I felt it prudent to remind him, “Use your best judgement…and make them stick to a budget!” He simply grinned slyly at me as he rolled up his window and claimed, “What? I didn’t catch that over the radio!” Siiigghhhhhh…fortunately, my Voice of Reason—also known as Riley—was part of the retail run. I knew I could rest assured that at least ONE of them would be cost-conscious…especially since Riley was the one who’d adamantly insisted he didn’t need us to waste money on any new footwear for him…even as I held up one of his sneakers and pointed out the strips of rubber that were peeling away from the soles.

After their successful sojourn (in which they selected very nice shoes…and most importantly didn’t break the bank in the process), believe it or not there was one more bit of family bonding on the agenda: a birthday dinner. Now, we’re pretty backed up on this, with three of our birthdays falling within a month of each other. So technically, it could have been Derek’s, Husband’s, or my choice. We gave Derek first pick, but he immediately passed it off, stating that he didn’t want to be responsible for the venue this time. That left me next, and I already knew where I wanted to go: the Chopt salad restaurant that just opened near us. True, the Male Trio might have rolled their eyes a bit…or groaned softly under their breath…but they gamely agreed to give it a shot, for me. And while it obviously wouldn’t have been their first (or 10th) selection, they were pleased enough with their meals…if not entirely stuffed afterwards.

Finally, our bonus day off, in which we actually seemed to have a stretch of free hours in which none of us could think of any obligations we needed to fulfill, whatsoever. So, with no place to go, and nothing to do, we could concoct, at the very least, an entertaining afternoon, yeah? Sure! Except that Riley woke up with some kind of…respiratory plague…and his labored breathing and copious coughing put the kibosh on any rambunctious endeavors. Instead, everyone took a more leisurely approach to the day—admittedly, it might not have been super-exciting, but we all still appreciated the fact that we weren’t at work or in a classroom! Oh, and since Husband’s not so much a “cake guy”, I baked (gluten free, but absolutely the best such mix I’ve yet discovered) chocolate chip cookies for his birthday treat. 

So, R&R...and sweets….make for a delightful end to a long weekend, wouldn’t you say? Tomorrow it’s back to business…while various members of Team WestEnders will be sporting fresh haircuts…showing off new shoes…testing out an upgraded hose… sneaking leftover cookies—and trying to cure Riley of his miserable malady. Looks like it’s gonna be busy…I’d better go get some sleep!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Say it with me: Two. More. Weeks...

Whew, folks! After last week's--and weekend's-- full agenda of festivities...and around Casa WestEnders quieted down and returned to more of "the usual", which was a welcome relief. Now we're on the cusp of Memorial Day, which around here means that another school year is careening toward its close. I'm never 100% sure what to expect in late May/early June, because it seems like each step on the academic ladder is different, but I'm here to tell you, the waning days of the 2016/17 academic term have touched off verrrrry different reactions from the minors in our household.

Let's start with Derek, who reports that his classes have become fairly chill, with no new concepts being taught as teachers review previous material and prepare students for end-of-grade exams. This also translates to "very little nightly homework", and therefore "more leisure time than usual". Sounds pretty nice, huh? In some cases it's even more extreme, like A.P. courses, whose tests have already occurred. Derek took A.P. Biology this year, with a 2-period block for lecture and lab, which finished up with the nationwide testing date on May 5th, leaving them to do...absolutely nothing for a month. Add to that the fact that in his daily schedule, this chunk is adjacent to his Study Period, and you have a great big black hole of GOOFING OFF in the middle of his day.

When I heard about all this free time he'd be enjoying, I did mention that he might consider putting it to good use--by researching potentially interesting colleges and lining up tours, perhaps? And he does still have regular finals to study for, so I assume he's not sitting in school twiddling his thumbs (or the modern-day adolescent boy equivalent: watching YouTube videos or ESPN sports highlights) least not all day, every day, anyway. I keep telling myself it could be worse: some of his friends who have their own cars and drive themselves to school get to LEAVE in the middle of the day when they have empty hours, and come back for their necessary classes. Jeez, Louise!

(And seriously, what is this, college....lite? I swear I never had this much freedom when I was in High School....back in (mumble mumble never mind)...once we arrived for the day, we had to stay there until dismissal, or face the consequences, by golly! Well...maybe that had something to do with the fact that my school was--literally--in the middle of a corn field...and there was nowhere to go...and it would have taken a while to get anywhere, much less return. But STILL!)

So to sum up, Derek has several concrete goals for the remainder of Junior year: 1) continue to pay attention at least well enough to ensure that his final grades are strong; 2) plan some Summer college visits that we can get on the calendar and 3) arrange an activity that will shape his character, instill discipline and good habits, and line his pockets, all at the same time...that's right, I'm talking about the time-honored tradition for American teenagers, the Summer Job, y'all! (Much more on that to follow--stay tuned....) But mostly, he seems to be relaxing and taking it relatively easy as his academic demands dwindle.

On the other hand, Riley is skidding into the holiday weekend wound tighter than...I don't know....a big ball of rubber bands? But wait, what could an 8th grader possibly have to worry about, really? Hmm, let's see...he has his own final exams, which--although he's a great student--studying for the tests has him waaayyy stressed out for some reason. Then in 2 of his classes he has an extra test (Bonus! Yaayyy....NOT!), since they're technically High School level courses, and in order to earn credit he has to pass the statewide measure of competency. One of these (that would be Math, in case you're wondering, also known as "the bane of his existence" this year) is giving him fits, as he struggles to limp to the Finish Line with a teacher who...let's just say has been "less than stellar" in our opinion. Therefore he's not exactly feeling all confident, like "I'm gonna kick these numbers' BUTTS"...staring down the barrel of the assessment.

On top of this the local soccer league, in all their infinite wisdom and understanding, scheduled their annual tryouts for this week, while the rest of this nonsense is already weighing him down. So for 2 nights (it would have been 3, if it weren't for the delightful tornado watch we were under on Wednesday) he had to take time away from schoolwork to participate in drills and scrimmages and such on the field, under the watchful eyes of a group of coaches whose job it was to evaluate everyone's skills and place them on the appropriate team. And, you guessed it: while he's a talented player and already a member of an elite team, he put all kinds of pressure on himself to turn in a flawless performance (which I know and you know and even HE knows, isn't even possible, but that's how hyped up he is right now), lest he be demoted.

Oh, and add to that a perfectly normal, healthy dollop of teenage hormonal angst, and you've got the recipe for one (temporarily) extremely unhappy, somewhat emotionally volatile kid. Fortunately, he's willing to air out his grievances with me (thank heavens!), and seems comfortable talking things out, listening to advice, trying various suggestions for...relieving stress and...increasing inner calm...or whatever. (Right? Because it makes sooooo  much sense that his much more spazzy, dramatic, high-strung parent is the one offering him techniques for promoting peacefulness and serenity and emotional stability. Yeeaaahhh, maybe we should practice these TOGETHER, ya think? That's what they call a Win-Win, for sure...)

One of the options I mentioned to him--based on the popularity of a recent craze among adults right now--was...coloring. That's right: breaking out the old Crayolas (or, you know, a brand new box of 64, like I did when I joined the trend) and filling in the lines (or roaming outside them--whatever, you're not being graded on this, it's for fun, so do whatever you want, that's the point! Ooohh, sorry. See what I mean about where Riley gets it from? How 'bout those joint coloring therapy sessions?).

I honestly wasn't sure how this would go over, since he's at an age where it could be seen as insulting and babyish, or it could go the whole other way and be a "Wow, that sounds cool! kind of notion. And whattya know, he LOVED the idea. In fact, he was so enthused that we immediately searched Amazon for some coloring books related to trains (since these have been a source of fascination for him since he was a wee tot) so he could get started....after the obligatory trip to Michael's for a fresh set of colored pencils--his artistic tool of choice. seems to be helping. When he's riled up about something, he'll pull out his new supplies, get settled at his desk, and color away. (For the record, he falls firmly in the "Design and Fill In", rather than the "Random Scribbler" category. He visualizes the finished picture, selects hues accordingly, and applies the shades neatly. Is anyone surprised? I didn't think so...) How well does it work to temper his moods? The other night I went into his room to ask if he'd heard the thunder, and he looked up from the page he was working on, blinked at me owlishly and replied, "What? When I'm coloring, I'm completely focused, and not aware of anything else!"

Alrighty, then. mischief managed...for the moment. Team WestEnders will continue on our merry way, counting down until the lazy, hazy, crazy days of Summer unofficially, "June 9", for those of you scoring at home. Fingers crossed for a fortnight!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Finally, the Main Event(s)

The week that was chock-full of melodrama and uproar caused by a certain posse of High Schoolers--mine included--came speeding to a close on Saturday, culminating in the Countdown to "Prom". But wait--first, 3/4 of Team WestEnders had a little something called a DNA Day 5K to check off our list. (And yes, this was on the calendar waaayyy before Derek got recruited into attending the dance, because we're not THAT nuts....almost, but not quite...) So we got up, prepped with our usual pre-run routine...oh, except for Derek, that is. You see, he was tired--his own fault for not bothering to adjust his bedtime the night before--and opted to sleep until the last possible minute. Then, even though he absolutely knows better, he chose not to properly hydrate or eat anything before the race (when I prompted him to maybe have a banana and some juice, he shrugged and nonchalantly threw out, "I'll be okay.....I've done stupider things!" Yeaahhh, son, not exactly the most impressive argument, there.).

So, not surprisingly, we had to deal with some...issues: for example, Derek suffered a cramp during the race. And although it was cool-ish, it was also suuuuuper-humid at start time, which may explain why, at around the second mile, my legs began to feel like blocks of lead. The course is a familiar one that goes through UNC's campus, meaning I anticipated the hills. But by the time we arrived at what I knew were the last two inclines, my tank was officially EMPTY, and I had to slow down to a walk for a minute or so before picking it back up to finish. (Derek passed me again during this period, having recovered enough from his discomfort to at least cross the line ahead of me. Brat.)

Therefore I ended up with my slowest 5K time to date, as expected. However, a cheerful Riley greeted us with the news that he had come in...4th overall....with a total time of 20 minutes and 14 seconds. Holy Speed Demons, Batman! Which meant that he won the 13-and-Under Boys group, got his name called during the awards presentation, and was given a nifty medal. We were congratulating him and admiring his swag when they came Females category and I heard a shocking announcement over the PA--my name...pronounced correctly, even. What the WHAT? I was wondering "how on Earth did that happen?" when I came to the conclusions that 1) It must be a reeeealllly small field, 2) Perhaps I was the only one in my age range? (Hold on--I just looked it up, and there were, in fact, 5 of us, so I was "faster" than several other women...whoo hoo!), or 3) I did....ahem...."move up" this year, so now I'm at the younger end of the...Mature Ladies Who Run, so maybe that explains it.
With that excitement concluded, we headed home to devote our attention to 11th-hour Prom details, such as picking up Derek's date's corsage from the florist. He was supposed to bring one of his friends along to do the same thing, but..."Mac" (There, you have your own pseudonym--are you happy? You earned it...) texted him and said he couldn't come because (Are you ready for this?) his family's small canine pet swallowed a button off his tux's vest. I'm sorry, let me be sure I've got this straight: you're going with the "My dog ate my homework"--I mean "tux"--excuse? Wow, you must really not want to go to this thing, dude! Also, I have questions, such as "How the heck did the creature get to the tux anyway, with it inside its bag? And of course, WHY did it decide that a hard, shiny button would be a yummy snack? This is all very suspicious, I tell ya!

Fortunately, we didn't have to suffer in suspense, as Derek actually ran into Mac at the florist. You see, his mother had driven him there on her way to take the Schnoodle (no, I'm not making that up--it's a real breed...sort of...) to the vet and have the unauthorized object...handled. (No, I don't wanna know...). But she was understandably peeved with Mac, so she'd dropped him off and told him to find his own way home. Then along came Derek, at his time of need, to drive him back to our house-- thereby ensuring that her punishment would be entirely ineffective, and he would suffer no unpleasant consequences whatsoever from his actions. (Eh, sometimes parenting decisions backfire--what can you do?) When quizzed, Mac clarified that the button had, in fact, fallen off by itself, meaning that the tux was out of its wrapping awaiting his mother's repair. She was going to sew it back on when the dog snuck into the room and snatched it. (Well...okay. It's still ridiculous, but now I at least understand what happened.)

After Mac left to presumably return to his own home and face the video games....whatever...Derek and I were chatting over lunch. He mused, "I'm gonna have to figure out how to get my hair to behave." (Background note: he and Riley are pretty regular every-8-weeks haircut guys, and they're slightly overdue. Not totally shaggy, but on the way there. Most importantly to Derek, he gets what he calls his Superman swoop--an s-shaped curl that flops over onto his forehead, that he despises. It's adorable, of course, but it bugs the heck out of him...) I started to offer a solution, such as helping him gel it...but as I opened my mouth he cut me off with a mischievous glint in his eye and a half-smirk and firmly stated, "I'm not COMBING it!" Right. Well, that level of...commitment...removes, oh, approximately ALL of our options, son. I presume you're going to get it to do what you want...using the power of your mind? Fine--good luck with that!

Next we moved on to: the donning of the formal wear! This was obviously an occasion for each of us to fulfill our special roles: Husband to assist...and me to document. And seriously, it took all of about 10 minutes to get him fully suited up and ready to head out (since, you know, he was insistent on eschewing the oh-so-retro comb in favor of the modern Jedi-hair-control method). He was meeting the whole gang of attendees at his buddy's (Lou, the one who volunteered him for Prom duty in the first place) date's house for photos.

Here's where I have to digress for a moment and mention the closest thing to an actual...altercation...that I believe Derek and I have ever experienced. When plans for the evening were being arranged earlier in the week--including the gathering at Evelyn's home and a scheduled trip to UNC's arboretum for "formal pictures", I'd interjected to ask at what point I'd be allowed to join in the photo parade. My precious child stared at me, aghast, and replied, "Mom! You can't follow me to Prom! That's so embarrassing--no other parents are going to be there!"

I gave him the "you've got to be kidding me, mister" look, and pointed out several truths to him: first of all, I 100% guarantee that most, if not every single other mother, at least, wants to take pictures as well; second, I don't intend to trail along after you like a Private Detective, snapping surreptitious shots that I'll later use for blackmail  (Hmm...unless that becomes necessary--perhaps I'll reserve judgement for now...); and finally, the stern "your father and I have been nothing but supportive, understanding, cooperative, and helpful during this whirlwind you've brought into our lives, and all I'm asking for in return is a Couple. Of. Freaking. Pictures. My voice might have been rising as I delivered this last section. There might have been a bit (or a LOT) of hand waving. I was getting altogether pretty worked up, but he just shook his head and stubbornly insisted that it was a terrible idea, and would cause him irreparable mortification, blah blah blah.

Fast forward to the gala night, when, as it turns out, ALL THE PARENTS joined their offspring at Evelyn's, to happily point cameras and snap away at their beautifully dressed progeny--none of whom, by the way, appeared to be the slightest bit put out by the commotion or attention. (I exercised remarkable restraint in not saying, "I told you so..." Ha! Just kidding! It was impossible not to point out that he'd gotten all hyped up over nothing...especially since this is such a rare occurrence for him. To his credit, he took it with good grace...)

I got to meet Derek's partner in this whole affair, who proved to be a lovely young lady. I appreciated the opportunity to view the neighborhood goofballs--who I often encounter in dirt and/or sweat- covered athletic clothes--all cleaned up and outfitted in their finery, and I must say they looked utterly dashing. The ceremonial pinning on of the boutonnieres was both amusing and nerve-wracking as sharp pins were jabbed toward our sons' chest regions (no flowers were harmed, nor blood shed, thank goodness). And can you believe it, through all of this: no tears?! (I know--I shocked myself by remaining calm and non-weepy. But the way I look at it, I'd better start practicing now, because there will be plenty of these kinds of moments in the coming year...deep breaths...)

From there, the couples moved on to the aforementioned pix-among-the-trees at UNC, then to dinner at a local restaurant, the dance itself, and...undetermined after-plans (which Derek reported as being a very low key "drive around a little, then hang out and talk at someone's house until curfew"). After all the craziness--and a good deal of uncertainty--leading up to it, Derek commented that he had, in fact, enjoyed himself...and was glad he went. Now all that's left to do is return the tux...and then we can all also return to normalcy for a while (until the Next Big Thing....but we've got a few weeks, so let's make it count!)