The One In The Middle

Charlie turned ten years old last week. He celebrated with a birthday on Tuesday, a field trip on Wednesday, a day spent at the office with his father on Thursday, and a weekend camping trip.

When I woke him up for school yesterday morning, he protested his need to attend by explaining, “But, there’s nothing happening this week.”

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Charlie always needs to be doing something. When the weekend hits, Bob and I look at each other and ask, “What’s on Charlie’s list?” We’ll jot down things inside the house that need fixing, things outside the house that need planting, things around the house that need… Charlie-ing.

When we tear him away from a small screen on Saturdays and Sundays, Charlie will spend his time on projects. Always tinkering. Always doing.

It came as a great relief when finally – at long last – Charlie grew heavy enough to mow the lawn. See, his diminutive stature was so diminutive that the lawn tractor didn’t recognize that anyone was sitting on the seat of the mower when Charlie would climb aboard and, as a safety precaution, would automatically cut the engine. Oh, how we rejoiced when Charlie weighed enough to keep the motor running. Now, he mows, too. It’s on his list.

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Charlie’s big Christmas present this past year was a brand new orange kayak. He had whittled his wish list down to the aforementioned kayak, a metal detector, or a ventriloquist’s dummy. We went for the kayak.

If it’s something to be done out of doors, Charlie is in. He putters around the pond in his kayak. Fishes there, too. Hikes the neighborhood, ensuring the paths are clear. Uses a bow gifted from his uncle for target practice in the backyard. Polishes his BB gun. Starts a fire in the pit on a chilly spring night.

The natural world matters to Charlie. He saves a turtle stuck on the sidewalk. He studies the sky when a storm approaches. He peers at the stars through his telescope.

Charlie is our Outdoor Boy. Always, always planning his next adventure.

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Two summers ago, Charlie went through an intense round of testing to figure out why school wasn’t clicking. To better discern why learning was so difficult for him. It was a laborious process for Charlie but through that testing we learned Charlie has a significant learning disability. His testing revealed deficiencies across the board – in all areas except one – his vocabulary. He scored “superior” in that area.

“Well, that makes sense,” we mused, thinking of Charlie’s incessant talking and story-telling. If votes were tallied, Charlie would be the People’s Choice winner in this family. He is beloved by those he’s met and those he hasn’t. He’s always drawn others in with his stories, his words. The test results confirmed both what we’d known and what we’d feared.

I wish school were easier for Charlie. I, selfishly, wish it were easier for us, too. Charlie is a challenge. He’s got years of hard work ahead. Bob and I do, too. As parents, we’re conditioned to tell our children they can do anything they set their mind to. But, it’s not that easy. It will never be that easy for Charlie.

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On vacation recently, our family took a Humvee tour through the dunes on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. By chance, Charlie got to sit in the front seat of the Humvee, across from the driver. He was delighted. Absolutely delighted. He also thought I had arranged it that way and I may have been slow to admit it was a happy accident. It was fun to be Charlie’s hero for a little bit.

He played it cool sitting in that front seat. Disguising his eagerness and excitement with a calm demeanor. He didn’t want the driver to know he was ecstatic. He’s maturing and changing. He’s ten after all.

Turning ten years old means you’ll have to hear more of Charlie’s delightful stories directly from Charlie now – not necessarily from me, not necessarily in this space. It’s time.

And, Charlie has plenty of his own tall tales to tell. He is full of adventure, that one. We should all wish to get to go along.

 

Things That Will Definitely Most Likely Happen While I’m Out of Town

Let me preface this by disclosing that my husband has always been the most capable father. No duty of parenthood is too much or too overwhelming for him. He’s never shied away from the tough stuff. When the kids were little, it was middle of the night bottles, unreasonable tantrums, snot of a color not found in nature, explosive poop situations – Bob handled them all. Well, most of them all. Sometimes, the explosive poop stuff was a two-parent job. We always had a safe word when in a situation like this. I’m pretty sure most parents probably have this, maybe? A word you holler when faced with a predicament that is entirely too much for one person to manage? Ours was “backup.” We’d yell, “BACKUP!” when the situation was too horrific for just one adult. “Backup! BACKUP! BACK! UP!” It’s a marriage mandate that the other parent starts running immediately.

Anyway, my point is, Bob is perfectly capable but also he is not me. More than thirteen years of co-parenting with him has taught me this.

I’m traveling for the next five days which means Bob is free to parent in his… style. This also means, certain things are virtually guaranteed to happen in my absence.

1. A kid will throw up. This is number one on the list because it’s just science. I can’t explain it but one thing that is absolutely, positively, guaranteed to happen while I’m out of town is vomit. The very second the door latch clicks on a parent headed out on a trip, someone’s stomach begins to hurt. It’s like death and taxes. The last time this happened, Bob texted me a picture of throw up on Charlie’s bedroom floor so don’t ever tell me that romance is dead.

2. It’s a given that Bob will let the two youngest kids sleep on my side of the king bed every night while I’m gone and I’ll return to weird kid crud and my pillow will smell funny. There will be granola bar wrappers in the sheets. I’ll find Barbie parts and, seemingly self-replicating, stuffed animals all over the comforter. (But, seriously. Where do the stuffed animals COME FROM?) Brushing aside almost a week’s worth of kid flotsam before climbing into bed will not spark joy.

3. The two already overripe avocados in the produce basket will still be in the produce basket. Just five days ripier.

4. Bob will let the kids rent a movie on Amazon to watch that is either

a. One we already own on DVD or

b. Available for free on Netflix.

5. Every piece of storage Tupperware we own will be in the refrigerator. Every. Single. One. One will hold a single strawberry. Another, a single lemon slice. One will be crammed full with half of a pizza from the first night I was gone. One will, inexplicably, be an actual stainless steel cooking pot with a lid holding leftover oatmeal WHICH, BY THE WAY BOB, A POT IS NOT AN APPROVED LEFTOVER CONTAINER TO BE PLACED IN THE FRIDGE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND DECENT.

6. I’m going to be honest and say that the groceries could go either way here. Bob will either

a. Not go grocery shopping, just winging it until my return so the morning he runs back to the safety and quiet of work and I’m standing in front of the fridge trying to pack three lunchboxes and the only thing I can find is a Tupperware container with two mushrooms inside, I’m cursing him, his offspring, and his entire family line or

b. Bob WILL go grocery shopping with the kids and we already know how that will turn out.

7. There will be a full load of clothes in the dryer. There will also probably be stacks of folded clothes on the dining room table, too.

8. Bob will buy random things for the kids at Target, Dicks, and/or Walmart. So, true story about Bob. A few months ago, while on my way to work, I asked Bob to hit up Home Depot for a new garbage can. It was a relatively painless task and I even gave him a store credit to put towards it that we needed to use up. When I got home later that day, there was – and I’m not even exaggerating a little here – a pile of lumber in our foyer. Naturally, I was all, “Hey, can anyone provide some insight on the 2x4s blocking the front door?” From the basement, I hear Millie reply excitedly, “Dad’s building me a balance beam!” I deep sighed and replied, “Come again now?” But, it was true. Bob had purchased $80 worth of lumber, screws, and bolts to build Millie a balance beam of her very own. So cool, right! Such a Fun Dad. Counterpoint though, balance beams aren’t made out of raw lumber because: splinters. “We’re going to sand it REAL good,” was the absolutely expected reply when I expressed concern. When I asked about the new garbage can, Bob said he got overwhelmed buying the balance beam stuff and didn’t get the garbage can. “I also forgot about the store credit, sorry,” he replied while shrugging his shoulders. I can’t wait to see what I return to on Sunday. I can only assume Charlie will finally own that chainsaw he’s been after.

9. Like vomit, I anticipate a trip to urgent care for someone while I’m gone. This happened the last time I went out of town and I just figure this copay is inevitable. When I left this morning, two of the four family members I left behind had bad colds and a third is recovering from pneumonia so the odds are pretty good on this one.

GODSPEED AND GOOD LUCK, BOB.

Thirteen

As of 5:22 this morning, I am the parent of a teenager.

That went fast.

I keep a set of pictures in my wallet. They’re of my children. One wallet-sized picture of each of them from every school year. I’m not even really sure when or why I started keeping them like that. No one seems too interested in school pictures anymore. I casually asked Henry if he wanted a set of this year’s photos to trade with his friends and by his absolutely bewildered reaction, I’m assuming students no longer do this. Just another industry killed by millennials or Facebook, I’m guessing they’ll say. But, on a moment’s notice, I can make the march of time tangible by pulling out the thin stack of photographs from my wallet, laying them all in a row, and marveling at how my kids have changed through the years.

I can see how my bespectacled kindergartner has become a bespectacled middle schooler. How he still, begrudgingly, after all of these years, agrees to wear the one collared shirt he owns on picture day. How he looks the same and yet so very different. How I think I can get a glimpse of what he’ll look like when another eight years pass. How I sometimes feel like I only know him in the present and have completely forgotten how he was in the past.

At thirteen, Henry has become a kind, interesting, funny, sporty, and (somewhat consistently) respectful adolescent.

I’ve found myself over the past several months asking other moms who have parented teenagers what the journey is like. I’m afraid I ask questions of them like I would the big cats caretaker at the zoo – a mix of earnest curiosity and inherit fear. The answers I receive are frequently mixed. For every, “It’s not so bad,” there’s a, “No comment.” One parent will speak fondly of the time while another just looks off into the distance, a little battle-weary. I’m always left with the impression that the teenage years are something to survive rather than relish.

And, we have many, many years of survival ahead of us. During a particularly challenging parenting moment a few weeks ago, when the dust from the frustration and the anger was settling all around us, I looked at Bob and said, “We have a full DECADE of parenting teenagers ahead of us. We didn’t really think this through when we decided to have three of them, did we?”

It’s strange to be beginning this journey. It makes me feel old in a way that turning forty never did. I’m old enough to have a teenager! I still remember being a teenager. It all feels like the start of something but also the end of something. Fun and exciting but also destined for frustration and heartbreak. But, that could describe every stage of parenting.

I suppose teenagers are just a different kind of difficult.