Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Big Month for Middle!

Turning 14!

Last day of school. Little brother is very excited, can't you tell?

Posing by his favorite tree on campus

Proud parents and a graduate!
What a busy month! My middle son went on his final school trip to Washington DC, turned 14, played in a basketball tournament in Reno, a baseball tournament in Martinez, and graduated from middle school. He is looking forward to high school . . . after some summer fun!

A Dreamy Dozen

My youngest son just turned twelve.

For his birthday, he wanted either a bike with disc brakes and lock-out shocks (TOP of the line baby!) or a Temper-Pedic mattress.

Seriously? That is a strange birthday wish list. A kid can dream, and this one certainly does!

Since he was going to the last dance of the year on his birthday, I let him wear the shirt.
In the spirit of dreaming, for my birthday I want a laundress, an E-type Jag with unlimited maintenance included, an apartment in Paris and 50 million frequent flyer miles.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Banquet Fowl

Last night I accompanied my oldest son to his high school lacrosse team's end of season banquet. This was the third banquet I've attended this year. The first, for cross country, was an amazing feat of organization and mobilization. There were about 190 boys on the team, and I've never seen such a gigantic potluck, it was overwhelming. I helped work one of the tables of salads, and was amazed by the variety and sheer volume of food. Cross country runners eat very healthy, there were a lot of pasta and salads dishes and very little meat. Many of the items were made by people rather than store-bought, and the food was plentiful.

The next banquet, a much smaller affair, was just for the freshman soccer team. Also a potluck (all sports banquets, that I am aware of, are potlucks at this school), it was much different just because there were so few families. Still, there was plenty of variety and food. Some food was home-made, some store bought.

This last banquet, the call went out for entrees of chicken or lasagna, and bring enough to serve 25 boys. Wow, that is a lot of food! Having been to two different banquets, I thought this one should fall somewhere in the middle of those extremes. I didn't want to attempt to make lasagna for 25, and I didn't have time to pull that off anyway, so I decided on chicken. I cooked ten pounds of drumsticks after dinner the night before, seasoning them and basting them until my entire house smelled like a BBQ restaurant. I stacked them on a platter and tucked them into the refrigerator, knowing I could run home and grab them before the banquet. I was pretty happy with how delicious they were, easy to serve and eat, and was already planning on making this same thing for the next banquet, whatever that might be.

It honestly did not, for one second, occur to me to purchase prepared food to bring to this event. I don't know why, even though I had a busy day, ran a big meeting, had a work project and other kids to drive around.

I carried my rather heavy platter into the banquet, and was completely dismayed to see buckets of KFC and big trays of store-bought, room temperature lasagna. I set my platter down with some hesitation. Um, did I miss something? What kind of banquet was this?

At the end, the KFC was gone, and I had a lot of leftover chicken. Well, I learned a lesson. For the next chicken/lasagna banquet, I will do the buy out option and eat before I go. I would never buy that kind of food to take to a potluck. For goodness sakes I would never feed my family or friends that stuff, what makes it acceptable to serve it to high school athletes during a celebration gathering? I'd say it was clearly a fowl.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Jay-Z, Kanye, and Us

I am not a music critic or a music expert, nor do I have any music training beyond childhood piano lessons. I enjoy music and like many different kinds. Rap is not one of them.

So why, last December, I found myself at a Jay-Z and Kanye West concert with my eleven year old son is something of a mystery. If you are thinking "wildly inappropriate," you are right. Read on. If you are thinking "who is that?" you better keep reading too.

We were the guests of some very generous friends who, inexplicably, like rap music and like to sit in very good seats close to the stage. I wasn't sure what to expect. I'm your average 40-something mom who is aware of Jay-Z and Kanye through my kids but I turn the radio station to something else when they come on. If my kids try to play it I ask them to use their earphones. Not my thing. But my son, who loves music, thinks they are awesome.

I had read that the concert got great reviews, so that, plus a little arm-twisting from my friend ("it will be fun!"), and I found myself at the concert. There were no other children in sight. I was fully aware that bringing a kid to this concert was wildly inappropriate, so I looked on it as an adventure for both of us. 

My son, who was beyond excited to go to this concert, was uncomfortable when we sat down. The smokiness bothered him, and it wasn't cigarette smoke. The place reeked of pot and I had to reassure my son that he was safe. All the concert-goers around us were conservatively well dressed, polite (and stoned) mellow people mostly in their twenties. There were few women.

My son and the dude next to us.
The stoned dude sitting next to us was clearly disdainful of the kid and mom sitting next to him and he tried to crowd into our space with his odd jerky dance moves. My son warily watched him for a bit and then decided he was harmless and crowded him back to his own space. He even eventually was able to engage him in a short conversation which resulted in a high five from him and a few of his friends sitting around him. I have no idea what was said, I couldn't hear anything but the music pounding in my ears. Later I learned that it had something to do with the dude's jacket, which had a logo for a custom auto shop in LA which my son recognized. The dude was so impressed that my son knew the shop. From then on we were tolerable neighbors during the show. Or my son was anyway.

When the concert started, I felt even more like a fish out of water. What the heck was I doing here? I didn't know any of the songs, and I couldn't understand any of the words except for the plentiful profanity. I was clearly not the target audience, and I brought my kid with me. I looked over at my friend, her son, her husband and their daughter. They appeared to be enjoying themselves. I looked at my son. He was trying to process it all.

So naturally I started taking notes. I know very few of my friends would attend such a concert, but they might be curious what its like. In fact I'd be willing to bet that most of my friends don't really know who Jay-Z and Kanye are other than when they appear in People Magazine.

First, before I start into my description of the imagery of the show, I'd like to share my son's impressions when it was over. He was no longer a fan of their music and he was disappointed because the two performers were "really angry and not having any fun." There was just one song he really liked (see video), and apparently they played it several times which I failed to recognize because it all sounded like noise to me.

The concert set-up was very dark and sparse. There were two giant cubes, or stages, with a single performer on each. The sides of the cubes showed still and moving images, along with another huge screen, the main background behind the performers. Any musicians or back up singers, if present, were hidden. The only thing to look at was the imagery, the limited movements of the performers, and their outfit changes.

The imagery was overtly masculine and aggressive. They showed a barking, snarling dog with teeth bared in slow motion, a shark, a roaring lion, a tiger, a cheetah hunting and killing something, a riot scene, and atom bomb explosion, police cars crashing, other car explosions, a growling bear, a black panther (the animal kind), a snarling wolf, a fighter jet, a flying eagle, people wearing gas masks, a little white boy in a KKK outfit, a little black girl getting baptized in a river, a slow motion rocket blasting off, MLK Jr. speaking. As far as the music goes, the lyrics are angry and have every swear word that exists and little else. The people around me, a mix of races, all seemed to know every word. The people in the front rows were all white and didn't seem to know all the words (I could see them pretty well from where I was sitting).

The artists themselves, to either balance or complement the imagery, I'm not sure which, choose clothing that seemed to either embrace a stereotype or fly in the face of a stereotype. Black leather miniskirt (yes on a guy). Jeans, a plaid shirt tied around the waist, a leather jacket, and a large pearl necklace, with a sequined and bedazzled scottish bag worn across the body. Later, all black, with a hoodie (this is before the hoody became a symbol of violence against youth), which was removed to reveal massive amounts of gold chains, while singing "bring me money c*nt," Louis Vuitton logo wear. Everything seemed to have a faintly feminine touch which was an interesting contrast to the overloaded testosterone imagery going on everywhere.

At one point, after loosing his way in a song several times, one of the artists talked about preventing suicide. My son leaned over to me and shouted "at least there is something educational!"

I thought there was a whole lot more that was educational going on. For example, while I found some aspects fascinating, I learned rap concerts are not my thing. And my son lost respect for these artists and learned they are not his thing either. Like he said, "at least there is something educational."

Thanks (I think) to TL and RL for inviting us and making us go. How about Andrea Bocelli next time?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sign of the Times

I have much to catch my readers up on! We've had an eventful couple of months, which I will go into more detail on, but first, I want to share with you a story about one of the many ironies of being a mother of teenagers.

Both of my older boys recently shaved for the first time. The oldest, while he has very light hair, has been growing a bit of fuzz on his upper lip that, in certain lighting, is becoming visible. His brother had a few rebellious hairs growing out of his face that became visible when we could see his face better after a recent haircut.

At the same exact time these hairs, little squiggly signs of maturity, have made themselves visible in my house, I've lost my ability to see them.

Friends have warned me but I didn't quite believe it. I'm in my mid-forties, and right on schedule, suddenly I can't see the fine print. I have to hold my smart phone further away. Reading in bed at night is no longer the pleasure it should be. The menu at the dim romantic restaurant . . . seriously, how am I supposed to read this?? It's depressing. I need "readers" but I've resisted because I need some seriously cute ones that don't make me look old or dorky. I'm going to go for more of the young sexy librarian look but I don't know where to find glasses that will transform me into that. Surely not the local drugstore? Then there is the question of how to wear them. On top of my head? Around my neck?
These are in the dorky catagory.

I used to wear glasses and contacts before I had the miraculous lasik procedure done more than ten years ago. That was different. I wore glasses because I couldn't see. Now I need them because I'm old.

These look fun.
Reflecting on this situation, I realize there is a lesson in it for me. I am not supposed to worry about the little details, the little hairs, in my life right now. It's the big picture, the view from 10,000 feet, the perspective, that I should be thinking about. Who needs that little stuff?

OK I don't need the little stuff but it really does bother me that I had a hard time reading that menu. I'm going to restaurants with better lighting and bigger print on the menu from now on, or at least until I get some cool looking readers.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Three Times the Fun

Not only do I have three boys, I now have three boys who are all adolescents. I knew this day would come. I guess I'm as prepared as I can be. Which is not an altogether optimistic statement.

My older two, now 15 and almost 14 years old, have been adolescents for a while. I'm used to their swings between insolence and hormone-addled forgetfulness. I just realized my youngest son, on the cusp of 12, is now in the club. How can I tell? Let me show you.

He just posted this on his newly acquired Twitter feed, with a comment that states, "This deserves to be RT'd, it is so true."
Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

That post, his obvious mastery of Twitter, and his sweatpants (the only pants he ever wears) are suddenly too short.

Tighten your seat belts, we are about to go for a wild ride!

Monday, March 5, 2012


When my middle son was two years old, I often dressed him in a tshirt that announced "WARNING! I am two." I thought this was fair warning to others, and funny at the same time. I mean, most people know two year olds can be impulsive and mercurial. It's the way two year olds are supposed to act.

In the last few weeks I've had an almost overwhelming desire to dress the same son in a shirt that reads "WARNING! I am thirteen." Not that he would wear it. But others might need the warning because they may not remember that thirteen year olds are also impulsive and mercurial. And moody and forgetful and arguementitive. The tshirt would be useful because visually, it's a bit hard to detect a 13 year old. For my son, his braces and Bieber hair should give it away but his height and stature suggest an older, more mature young man, which is about to emerge. Any. Day. Now.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Update on Phrases of the Year 2012

Winter sunset in California
Where has January gone? It has sailed by, with warm sunny days, cold nights, and a lot of time in the kitchen and portable locker room car. January 1st, 2012 we made some New Year's resolutions of sorts. Each person in the family chose a word or phrase for the year. After a little more than a month, our phrases are still resonating with us.

Listen; my word of the year. I'm consciously, more deliberately, listening to my kids, my husband, and my own inner voice. I'm listening to podcasts; This American Life, Fresh Air, RadioLab, The Splendid Table, New Yorker: Fiction. I'm wearing earrings that read "in one ear" on one, and "out the other" on the other. I'm listening to some new music, some sent to me on a CD by my friend Nicole. I'm still trying to figure out what all the songs she sent me have in common, it is quite the eclectic mix. My secondary word, polka dot, has informed my recent purchase of new socks. They will not get mixed up with the boy's atheltic socks and they won't be tempted wear them either.

My youngest son's phrase, shut up, has been challenging for him. He is a classic extrovert and his thought processes are verbal. Learning to curb this verbal effluence is challenging for him, both at school and at the dinner table. His brothers take great joy in telling him to shut up on a regular basis. He has been very good-natured about it and has become a bit more aware of when his constant stream of information and random thoughts are not so welcome. It's a hard task for a kid whose brain works so quickly and makes so many connections. Rather than telling him to shut up, I prefer to gently remind him that sometimes his thoughts should stay in his head and not come out his mouth. He is eleven years old right now, and I find myself wondering what he will be like in the grunting, non-verbal early teen years. I think he might skip right over that phase.

My middle son chose the word participation. He has already gotten straight to work on this one. He is in eighth grade, and his school has a tradition of putting on a musical with everyone in the grade. Mandatory auditions were held just after the new year. The students are asked to give a preference of a leading role, a supporting role, a member of the chorus, backstage, or set design crew. His first inclination was to be a member of the chorus or backstage crew. He has never been in a musical before. In fact, I haven't even heard him sing since his voice changed. But rather than play a palm tree in the background, he took a risk and chose to audition for a supporting role. Much to his shock and surprise (and to be honest, fright) he was cast as the male romantic lead, Daniel Beauxhomme. I was very surprised too, and I am unreasonably excited to watch him perform on stage.

My oldest son's phrase is stand out. It was inspired by a conversation he had with a teacher. As a freshman at a large all boys high school, I think he has already done an amazing job of standing out in a highly competitive environment. He is a cross country runner and a member of the freshman soccer team, takes several honors classes, and has a 4.0 GPA. Right now he sees himself as an athlete and a musician, and standing out means maintaining his commitment to sport, school and music. I'm curious to see how his phrase influences him in the next year.

My husband's phrase, mathematical balance, is still a mystery to me. I don't understand it or relate to it, or aspire to it. I don't like to balance a checkbook and I avoid Excel at all costs. He is the master of accounting and spreadsheets and balancing. He declined to elaborate on if or how his phrase is working for him so far in the new year. One way I can tell you it is working, though, is the fact that he is fourteen pounds lighter than he was on January first. He has committed himself to a lifestyle of healthier eating which has had some dramatic effects. And hallelujah the snoring has gone away, which is something I am happy not to listen to. It really is worth all the extra time in the kitchen!

One of the unexpected, and wonderful, results of our New Year word or phrase is the family conversation it has generated. It's something we touch on more often than I would have expected, usually at dinner. We are supporting each other and already celebrating some achievements. Each person's word influences other family members in a subtle and interconnected way. It's an interesting touchpoint that (as corny as it sounds) does seem to highlight the strength of family, which is a welcome thing when you have teenagers.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Listen Up: Happy New Year!

New Year's is not a big holiday around my house but I always find myself doing a lot of thinking about the year that passed and the year ahead. I am not necessarily a big fan of resolutions. I usually forget them or break them a week later. So this year I decided to try out something I've been hearing about: a word of the year. Its sort of a theme you pick for yourself, embodied in a word, that can carry through the year and touch different parts of your life. It's more meaningful than a list of get a new job, lose ten pounds, finish that project, exercise more, clean out the junk drawer, and learn another language.

I started talking about this and auditioning words a few days before New Years. I threw the idea out to two friends and then started a journal page to record all the words we brainstormed about. It wasn't hard to come up with a lot of words, but it is hard to settle on one word I want to live with for the whole year. I can be fickle.

The Webster Dictionary word of the year for 2011 was pragmatic. I'm not sure I need more of sensible and realistic in my life. This word is just too, well, pragmatic for me.

Some words I auditioned and liked were cleanse, play, zesty, make, light, coffee, enjoy, beach, and France. Prioritize, focus, connection, and reinvent also made the list. Several different countries and colors made my list. The word list did not.

The word I chose, that seems to call out to me, is listen. That is my word for 2012. I'm not entirely sure why I chose it or where it will take me. I will try to listen more, or better. To my kids, and to myself. To music? Audio books? To my own intuition? Maybe I'll get my hearing checked. Who knows?

I encouraged my boys to try out this idea too. They have all chosen something. My oldest has chosen stand out, inspired by a conversation he recently had with a teacher. My middle son has chosen participation. I'm not sure of the inspiration for that one, he just said it's the right word for him. And my youngest son has chosen shut up. He says its because he talks too much. My husband is trying out the phrase mathematical balance. He says it has something to do with a bunch of Skittles he was eating forming a perfect pyramid but I have a feeling it is more than that.

One of my good friends picked enjoy as her word. I like this word, and it is sure to be fun and enlightening. Another friend is trying to decide between patience and resolve as she is anticipating her oldest son becoming a teenager this year.

Even though the idea is to have just one word, I'm very tempted to add another more whimsical and fun word to my year. Polka dot. OK, it's two more words, but they go together.

Stay tuned for how this theme idea works for us. Happy New Year! And please leave a comment if you have chosen a word for your year, and why.