kids

billy and the band

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This summer John and I gave in to the siren call of buying a log built home on an acre.  A project house, a blank slate of a place, it’s too small, has poorly insulated doors and windows, and lacks reasonable cooling (which is to say, it has none) and heating (which is to say, it has a tiny woodstove and electric baseboard heaters we’re not sure work).  We nonetheless fell in love with its possibility.

For Riley, the cabin fulfills a few wishes.  She’ll get to raise animals, have her pick of climbing trees, eat fruit she picks herself, go wading in the small irrigation stream in the back.

The first time we showed the place to Owen, he stood next to the car shaking his head.  “I mean, all that looking around and this is what you chose?  I’m confused.”   Our choice was further evidence that his parents are nutjobs, that he was switched somehow at birth and got taken home with what he calls “hygienic hippies” instead.  Owen wanted a pool, a media room, a hot tub, a house that said “Wow” from the street.

Early summer was long and lovely and mild, the perfect conditions in which to move ourselves just the few miles with hundred of trips in our pickup truck and some help from a band of teenage boys.  Owen’s friends are much more willing helpers than he is, for which we’re grateful.  In addition to a growing curiosity about his real birth parents, Owen is newly in love, and therefore anything we ask him to do is half completed in a hot rush, one eye on the clock, while he counts the minutes and seconds until he can be reunited with his gal pal.  When they cannot be together, there is furious love-struck texting, and also more than a little staring off into the middle distance, deep in thought.  He wants to be fully independent and stay out at night as late as he likes.  He wants to bring five friends home for dinner with five minute’s notice.  He wants to go camping with a pack of boys and girls and no chaperones, burn huge bonfires in the desert, wear a LOT of cologne.

This territory is new for all of us and seemed to come all at once.  He can hardly have a conversation, changes clothes three times a day, and takes a lot of showers.  We like his gal pal quite a bit; she’s genuine, helpful, a good friend to him.  John and I do remember how all-consuming teen desires of any kind are, which helps us dread the brain-damaged condition we’re all going to have to suffer through for the next few years.  We remember enough to be a anxious about Owen’s choices in his Technicolor love haze.

“Give me a break,” Owen tells us when we talk about not getting carried away in love. “You’re in love too, you know.  With LAND.”  As if it’s a bad thing.

Many days, the new house is too small for Owen and me, so I spend a lot of time outside on the LAND, which I do, I must confess, love.

Anyway, by day three in the cabin I realized the back pasture’s thigh-high grass needed attention.  On Craigslist I found a goat wrangling schoolteacher with a hobby farm a few towns over, so I called him and asked him to bring me some professional eaters, which he did.  The next day our new Nubian friends pulled up to the house in the bed a tiny pick-up truck .  A mother goat and twin kids, a boy and a girl about four months old.  They’d been on the freeway and caused quite a ruckus among drivers, but when they arrived the goats eyed us from the back of the truck, chewing rhythmically on some hay, and didn’t seem too worse for the wear.

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The wrangler stepped out of the cab.  He wore workout clothes, a pair of Nikes, a baseball cap.  I’d expected him to show up wearing, um, goat wrangling clothes, and then realized I had no idea what that attire would be.

“That’s Cooper, the mom,” the wrangler said, “and Coeur d’Alene, the girl; and Preston, the boy. We name all our goats after places.”

Riley and I sat on the tailgate.  The goats nuzzled our hands from the truck’s bed and leaned their foreheads into our chests.

“I just banded Preston,” the wrangler said, “so he might not feel too well for a few days.”  He took some leashes from his cab and reached to clip one to each goat’s dog collar.

I had no idea what he was talking about.  “You did what?”

“See that rubber band back there?”  I maneuvered to look at Preston’s backside and spied a green rubber band wrapped around the top of his testicles.  “It takes the Billy out of his Billy, if you know what I mean.  Last thing you want is a Billy around.  Doesn’t really hurt, just tingles a little.  Should dry up and fall off in a few days.”

Though I had just met the wrangler, I said something about how great it would be if it was that easy to take the Billy out of some human males, remembering John’s post-Billy-surgery-drama-queenness.  The frozen bags of corn and peas. I thought of Owen’s burgeoning Billy, and also wondered how anyone could possibly know that for a goat, having a rubber band cutting off the blood to its Billy did nothing more than tingle.

We stood quietly a moment.  “Wait,” I said.  “Which thing falls off?  The Billy or the rubber band?”

“You’ll see,” he said.  “You can call me if there’s a problem.”

We put the three goats on leashes and took them into the pasture and let them go.

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Preston licked at his backside and then laid down by the gate while Cooper and Cordy wandered off.

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We watched them browsing in their new salad bar, and by the time the wrangler was ready to leave, Riley and I were decidedly smitten.

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It’s been two months, long enough for us to train the goats to come when we call.  They follow us around in the pasture, nudging our hands for kitchen scraps, putting their front feet onto our chests to make sure we’re not concealing anything.  When it’s hot, they lie together under a big spruce at the corner of the property, just opposite the fence from our neighbor’s chickens, who lean against the fence from their own side, close enough to touch their goat pals.  They’re fast friends, which has given life to a habit of breaking property lines to be together.  Once, my neighbor found the goats inside his chicken run, where they ate all the chicken feed and then laid down with the chickens.  A few days later, the hens were in our back pasture, trailing the goats and chortling to one another in chicken speak about what good fun a day visiting friends was.  They put themselves to bed later in the evening.

We’ve spent a lot of time shoring up fencing, hoping each time we’ve succeeded in preventing their next houdinied adventure.

All summer we waited for Preston to lose whatever it was he was going to lose in only a few days.  We called the wrangler once to ask why it was taking so long and got another cryptic answer:  “Sometimes it does,” he said.  In the background I could hear a chicken laying an egg, a lawnmower, some kids yelling.  Riley and I decided to resist asking Uncle Google what to do, and instead, we just waited.

Preston, his Billy perpetually shriveling but not falling off, spent the summer trying to work out what it all meant.  At dusk, he’d run up to his mother and nurse furiously for a minute, then canter spastically toward his sister Cordy and mount her until Cooper bleated at him to stop, at which point he’d run in zig-zags, until they were all sprinting back and forth along the fence line, tossing their ears.

Summer’s pretty much over as far as the kids are concerned.  Owen’s still with his gal pal.  Though John and I are bold in our conversations about how it’s possible to be in love and also make smart choices, we’re terrified of Owen’s Billy being in the driver’s seat of decision making.

Last week Owen and I were in the way back diverting water into the pasture.  He’s been much more willing to help than I imagined, and I’m tickled.  The goats were with us, using one of the fence posts to stretch up into the leafy branches of a locust and eat.  Their appetite is like nothing I’ve seen; it beats even a band of teenaged boys after swim practice.  Owen and I stood in the knee-high stream in our rubber boots, watching the water find its way through the grass in the pasture.

“Isn’t water games so much better than a media room?” I asked.

He shook his head, smiled, offered a clutch of mint to Preston, who nibbled on it, jerking his head to keep it away from Cordy.

I leaned down to check out the status of Preston’s rubber band, finding nothing at all.  All of it had fallen off, both the Billy and the band.  I patted his head and asked him if he felt better, if he’d even noticed that he was newly unencumbered.

“Poor guy,” Owen said.  He stepped out of the water, and Preston sniffed his pockets and put his front legs up on Owen’s chest.  “Wasn’t really a fair fight, was it, Bud?”

I opened my mouth to seize the opportunity to have another TALK about inhabiting the world of love while also making good choices.  But my boy was in galoshes, mucking around with me in the pursuit to divert water, and he was pretty good humored about it, for once.  And already, I was seriously at risk of being the dog whistle he couldn’t hear, so I let it lie.

Owen patted his pocket for the appendage of his phone, then looked toward the house.  “So.  We’re done here?” he asked.  “I’m going to do that thing in a while?”

“Sure.  Thanks for the help.”

I bit my tongue against all the cautionary words to live by, the pearls of wisdom gleaned from my own near-misses and hard lessons, the ever-present feed of news informing new pitfalls for youth.  He wouldn’t have heard me anyway.  Already gone, Owen walked back to the house, sloshing through the water-soaked pasture, his head bent into texting while the goats trotted along behind him.

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Categories: family, goats, kids, nature, parenting, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

surviving february

Over dinner our family sometimes plays the tattoo game.  It goes something like this:  If you had to get a tattoo, which animal (or fruit or motorized vehicle…) would you choose and where on your body would you put it?  The answers are sometimes surprising. Riley always tries to choose a bird no matter the category. John once chose a unicycle for his “motorized” vehicle, and that led to a half hour discussion on locomotion. But anyway, the kids like our strange amusement.  It’s a pastime that saves us on days we’d otherwise easily fall into lamenting the ways the world feels terribly broken.

How the world is broken seems more evident in February, when the slant of light has changed, but not enough to signal spring. When it feels like it’s been winter long enough, and yet the storms keep on coming. What’s wanting is diversion enough to distract from another several weeks of slate skies and long underwear.

The other day I found the perfect thing on River Teeth‘s website.  You can sign up to get a daily email from them — “28 days of Beautiful Things.”  Each day you will receive an excerpt from Michelle Webster-Hein’s essay “Beautiful Things,” originally published in River Teeth in 2013.  I was hooked after reading the idea for the project, but what really got me was the gorgeous photo of a beet, a vegetable I uniformly detested in youth but which now I cannot eat enough of.

Golden, Chioggia, Detroit Dark Red.  Roasted, pickled, slawed.  Nothing beats (ha) growing them. Feeling them release from the soil when they are ready to be harvested.  Knowing that under the tough exterior awaits brilliant color, sweet earthy flavor. Fresh beets means eating the greens, too, steamed or sauteed in sesame oil or hidden inside chili or lasagna (don’t tell the kids).

I’m not usually very clever about where I’d put a tattoo — I almost always choose my arm, because it seems like if I’d gone through the journey of permanently inking myself, I’d want to be able to admire the art without having to use a mirror.  The kids tell me that’s not the point.  Tattoos are meant to be seen by others.

My obsession with body art doesn’t get much past our dinner game.  When we play vegetable tattoo, a beet in any of its iterations is always my answer.  It’s also the lone answer to another game we play — If you were marooned on a deserted island and could only have one food, what would it be? The beet.  Of course. Though I would have trouble deciding which variety.

The miracle of a beet is the topic of “28 Days of Beautiful Things” first beautiful thing.

Today’s excerpt from Webster-Hein is an ode to dust — oddly dear to her, its silty presence on her belongings means she’s spent time doing what she loves instead of housekeeping.

Amen to that.

From River Teeth's website.  How could anyone not love this gorgeous vegetable?

From River Teeth’s website. So gorgeous every time…

Categories: gardening, kids, outdoors, Uncategorized, writing | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

cyclopean eye

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For the better part of a year, I’ve been agitated about selfies, trying to articulate what feels so Orwellian about pictures replacing words.  I know too many adults who have given themselves over to the selfie revolution.  A growing, navel-gazing army of teens is at the front lines of this surge.  You know the posture – one arm outstretched so the self-directed cyclopean eye of a cell phone tastes an experience in order to broadcast it.

It’s hard to be in the world these days without witnessing a selfie in the making.

At our house most technology is considered poor company for sitting down to eat, engaging in conversations, reading, doing homework.  Cell phones, computers and tablets are not invited to join us at these times, and this rule is largely true when the kids have friends over.  We’re mean parents and expect our kids and their friends to actually hang out together, use real words from their mouths, and also maybe some eye contact. Our kids are pretty accomplished at live conversation.

Still, I know when they leave the house the story is different.  Owen’s received a few alarming selfies of girls scantily clad.  One poor girl repeatedly photographed and texted “I Love You” spelled out with a variety of objects — chocolates, candy canes, Goldfish crackers.  I know about these photos because I check.  A lot of parents don’t.  I’m heartsick that for these girls, no one seems to be discussing self-respect and appropriate use of technology, and probably all sorts of other things too.

More to the point, though,  too many teens are free to use their devices without boundaries or guidance.  The result, it seems to me, is the crafting of a whole culture of self-consumed, image-obsessed, instant-gratification-seeking citizens.  Immediacy of everything is king.  Waiting of any kind is bad.  I worry about the fate of the good, hard work of face-to-face social interaction and conversation.  What about companionable silence?  What about the art of doing one thing at one time? What will happen to these important skills?

It’s hard to say.

Now is the time of year for retrospection.  According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word selfie has been so important to us culturally it’s 2013’s word of the year.  This sort of thing makes me feel I was born in the wrong time, and also feeds my sometimes unease that perhaps I’m just not seeing the world clearly.  I mean, if everybody’s doing it, maybe it has some merit. Maybe if I did IT, I would like IT.  Growth and change mean moving out of one’s comfort zone, after all.

Back in October, I decided I’d do a whole day of selfies, dawn-to-dusk.  First, I had to figure out my platform.  I wasn’t willing to have an Instagram or Snapchat account just for the sake of research, which probably means this wasn’t a valid experiment from the start.  But I was willing to text, so I enlisted my friend Heather.  We agreed to text each other all day to see if we could crack the code of what made selfing so attractive.

The next morning, my alarm rang at o’dark-thirty.  I used my phone alarm, so I could take a picture of myself still in bed, in the dark.  I picked it up and realized two things:  I had no idea how to use the camera directed the wrong way –where was that button anyway?– and also that I’d never taken a picture of myself.  Ever.  I HATE having my picture taken, which is plainly obvious in any picture with me in it.

John rolled over and pushed me to get out of his sleeping space.  “I know what you’re doing,” he said.  “It’s stupid.  Just don’t involve me.”

“But don’t you think it’ll be an interesting sociological experiment?  It might help us understand Owen better.”

“Get out of bed now, please.”

In the pre-dawn light, it occurred to me John was right.   What I’d signed us up to do was, frankly, kind of lame.  While I fumbled with the phone, thinking about calling it off, Heather texted a picture of herself waking up, so I went to the bathroom and took a bunch of pictures of brushing teeth.

Brushing Teeth

Because we couldn’t help ourselves, we also used lots of words, mostly about how foolish it felt to snap pictures of things like our ablutions.  Well, not all of them, just the ones involving teeth.

So the day began.

Heather’s two hours ahead of me.  One photo of brushing teeth is plenty.  Here’s one of her feeding the birds.  Look how excited she was to be involved in this research.  We were crushing it.

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There was get-the-paper selfie.  Drink-some-coffee selfie.  Start-some-laundry selfie.  Take-the-kids-to-school selfie.

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Another trawl through the interwebs informed the heap of options I’d already decided against taking pictures of:  my hair (a helfie), my backside (a belfie), my workout (a welfie, also called a gym selfie), my drunken stupor (a drelfie), and a funeral (a felfie?).

I opted for a kiss-a-beer selfie (my carrot later in the evening for doing this stupid experiment).

Running-with-the-dog selfie.  Maybe this qualifies as a welfie, except with no abs or mirrors –the rules about this one seem shifty.

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The dog-swimming-with-my-face-in-one-corner selfie.

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Each time I snapped a photo, I texted it right away.  Waiting for any kind of reply was excruciating.  Sometimes Heather took a whole twenty minutes to respond.  What the hell was she doing anyway, that she couldn’t make a quicker response?  Our experiment was serious business, social science.  Part of the deal was immediacy, because waiting is stupid.  I worried whether she’d aborted the mission, whether her heart was in it, whether she was offended by my zeal or thought my pictures were stupid. Later, in our debrief of the experiment, we discovered we’d been doing the same thing — snapping many pictures but not sending them all, worried that the barrage of photos would be annoying, anxious that we were overdoing it, ill at ease with completely embracing the selfie way of shouting PLEASE RESPOND TO ME.  I guess we’re not very good scientists.

By eleven that morning, I was running out of ideas.  I tried a duckface-gangster selfie, except mostly I looked deranged.  I mean, what grown woman pretends to be a gangster?

I sat down to get some work done and took some pictures of that.  (Don’t zoom in and read the words; I had to murder those darlings.)

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Then I tried to concentrate, but it was hard work because right next to me, the phone was silent.  What was she doing anyway? An hour later I took another picture of myself working, texted it again, and tried to concentrate some more.

Heather sent a picture of herself doing the same thing, and also, because she was running out of ideas, some words about why teenagers do stupid things in photos.  It seemed clear that when you’ve got your finger on the trigger all the time, OF COURSE you run out of material.

On a break from work, I googled selfie again and found an article by Alexandra Siferlin in TIME, “Why Selfies Matter.”  Siferlin suggests parents who are gripped about selfies need to unhinge themselves.  (Oh dear).  Selfies are just part of growing up in the digital age (shit).  What counts is to teach kids what KINDS of selfies are acceptable.  And then the article tacks south and basically says that selfies can be dangerous because:

A:  Kids don’t understand what’s an acceptable thing to take pictures of, even when you tell them (but hello, neither do plenty of adults.  I’m talking about you, Anthony Weiner).

B:  Selfies often make kids feel jealous and lonely when they see their friends doing what LOOKS like fun, and they are not.  This leads to risk-taking, potentially of the naughty kind.

And so, the jury’s out, maybe, still, on how all this digital stuff is shaping the next generations.

Back to the experiment, more hours passed.  All my pictures of working looked the same, so I stopped taking them until I left the house and had an experience worth documenting.

Later that day there were more driving-in-the-car selfies while I picked kids up from school.  A man in the car next to us at the stoplight caught us being idiots.  He shook his head and scowled.  When the light turned green, he sped up and cut me off.

Heather sent a driving-in-the-car selfie also.

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Back at home, Riley and I perfected the blowfish selfie.

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Then we did some yoga and took pictures of ourselves doing downward dog.  I can’t show those photos here because, in addition to our faces, the photo captures everything down the front of my gaping shirt.  Sharing them would violate our household acceptable use policy about privacy.  Our drumbeat of advice for the kids goes something like this:  Remember that there’s no privacy anymore.  Your technological presence is a PERMANENT DIGITAL RECORD. Let us be the voices in your head when you’re out in the world.  Also, while we’re on the subject of out in the world, remember that GENITAL HERPES can ruin your lives.  Please keep your pants on.

But.  I digress.

Like so many I see around me, I went through my whole day without letting the phone out of my sight.  Just in case there was a message responding to my message.  By dinnertime, I was weary of the mission, sick of myself and horrified by how much getting an instant response from one person had come to mean over the course of twelve hours.  What would happen if I expanded my recipient list?  Would I begin to move through my days, starting every sentence with I and forgetting to ask people questions about themselves? If I practiced this kind of relentless self-focus, would my frontal lobe leave my body, pinging around like a pleasure-seeking UFO that couldn’t find the mothership?

While dinner cooked, I flipped through a smutty magazine and enjoyed that carrot beer.  John came home and caught me snapping pictures of myself engaged in these two activities.

“Jesus.  You’re not really doing that are you?”

“What?  It’s research.  Come over by the fire and we’ll selfie together.  Although maybe if we’re both in it, we would dualie…”

“Oh great.  Now it’s a verb.”

Once John was home, I couldn’t experiment with the same verve.  It felt dirty somehow.  We ate dinner, and I left the phone in the other room, though I confess I did flirt with hiding it under the table in my lap.  Afterward, when I checked my texts, Heather had sent along a half-asleep-on-the-couch-and-goodnight selfie.

I took a last picture and sent it, quickly, while John announced from the kitchen that he was turning his phone OFF for the night and suggested I do the same.

Honestly, I needed someone to be the heavy and make some rules.  I was exhausted.

Categories: community, family, girls, kids, parenting, writing | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

you don’t get what you don’t ask for

Until last week, for several weeks, our air space was jammed with the frequency of Homecoming:  the powder puff football game and which class had the strongest athletes, then the “real” football game (actual words used by actual boys) and whether we’d defeat our rivals, then the dance, which was the most painful part, a reminder of how complicated being young is.  It was both entertaining and excruciating to watch Owen begin to understand the gaping maw between his prevailing view that the world is a black and white place – easy to legislate, govern, and operate within if adults would just move over and let teenagers be in charge – and a growing sense that maybe life is not that simple after all.

The real sport of Homecoming was negotiating the dance.  The pre-game show began weeks before the event as boys negotiated amongst themselves which girls to ask and how.  On our way to swim practice each night, Owen’s friends debriefed.

Here is a sample conversation from the car (A conversation highly similar to this was reenacted every night for at least two weeks):

B:               You should ask Emma because she’s going to say no to Brian and she will say yes to you.

Owen:       But I want to ask Izzy.

D:                Dude, you can’t ask Izzy.  Tim’s asking her.

Owen:        But what if I ask Izzy before Tim does?

B:                You can’t do that because Tim already told us he’s asking her.  It’s like stealing.  Not cool.

Owen:        But what if I do?

D:                Don’t do it, man.  That’s lame.  You should ask Emma.

Owen:       You should go with Emma.

D:                I can’t go with Emma.  She’s super quiet and so am I and nobody would talk all night.

B:                D’s going to ask Jane because she talks a lot.  She’ll make it fun.  And you should ask Emma.

Owen:        I don’t know.  I want to go with Izzy.  What if I ask Kate?

B:                Dude.  I’m asking Kate.  D’s asking Jane.  You should ask Emma.  It’ll be fun, I promise.  Plus, you just got here, so you need us to  help you understand them.

Owen:        Them who?

B:                 Girls, dumbass.

There was a long pause while we waited to turn left into the pool parking lot.  It sounded settled to me.  We pulled up to the front door and the boys loitered in the car, gathering up their gear bags.

Owen:         So.  I can’t ask Izzy?  I mean.  For sure Tim knows WE know he’s going to ask?

B:                  You kind of suck at this game.

Once they’d settled the girl question, the issue of the ASK descended.  My recollection, which may be wrong, is that being asked to Homecoming used to go something like this:

(Written on a note passed to me in history with Doritos stains on one corner):

Wanna go to the dance with me?

OR

(Written on a note shoved inside the slats of my locker door)

Will you go to Homecoming with me? Check yes or no and bring it to English.

 

In those days, which Owen tells me were uninspired, boys didn’t ask girls in person.  It was almost always on a note, or through a friend, and in this way not much has changed since the dark ages.  Except that now part of THE ASK has to be creative, thoughtful, unique.  A big statement that others see, a “treat” meant to impress with a sugary crust of embarrassment.

Me:            So, you’re going with Emma.

Owen:       Yes.  Not Izzy because she said yes to Tim.

Me:               I see.  Have you asked Emma yet?

Owen:        Not yet.  I have to figure out how to do it.

Me:             I see.  You mean, when you’ll have a chance to see her to ask her?

Owen:       No.  It’s not like that.  You have to DO something.  Like creative.

Me:             Like creative how?

Owen:        I was thinking about putting a piñata in her front yard?  Inside would be candy and a bunch of ASKS wrapped around the candy, and when she breaks it open, it all falls out?

Me:             I see.  So you’re going to find all that at the store, then wrap each candy with papers that say something clever, then put the candy inside the piñata, then take it to her house after asking her parents and then hang it on a tree in the front yard and leave a stick or a bat to whack it open with?  By tomorrow?

Owen:        Geez.  You make it sound like such a big deal.  Also.   I thought you might help me do it.

Me:              But I’m not going to the dance with Emma.

Owen:         Mawwwwmmm.  I’m just brainstorming here.  I’m supposed to do something creative.  Can’t you just help me think of something, you know, clever?

Me:             What about just asking her?

At this point he left the room, shaking his head.

As Owen deliberated, his friends settled in on their ASK.  They pushed the ASK date ahead.  B bought a betta fish (also known as a Siamese fighting fish) and left it in a tank in Kate’s room with a speech balloon asking her to the dance.  It was an interesting choice – given the known aggressive nature of this species, which is not a “schooling” fish but one that prefers solitude and without it will fight— but I wisely kept my thoughts on metaphor to myself. D put some pink flamingoes in Jane’s front yard with a poster asking her to boogie with him, which was also funny because D had confessed to me that he hates to dance.

B and D waited for Owen to figure out his ASK, and then they all agreed to go forth and ASK on the same day.

The night before the ASK:

Owen:           I’m sick of brainstorming.  I’m just going to get some flowers and leave them in Emma’s locker.

Me:                 Sounds good.  How will you get her combination?

Owen:            B’s getting it.  Will you get me some flowers today?

Me:                 Sorry, pal.  That’s your job.  You can walk over to the shopping center and choose some.  We’ll put them in water until you’re ready.

Owen:            Wait.  I have to do it?

Me:                 Yes, sir.  Because Emma is not my date.  Take your wallet.  Please don’t get carnations; they’re grandma flowers.

Off Owen went to flower shop at the market, where he chose six red roses, proudly brought them home remarking on the deal he got, then threw them on the counter, sighing with relief.  I felt bad, having sent him into battle with so little information.  We had a nice chat about the loud statement a flower like the red rose makes in the romantic world, at the end of which he just shrugged and said, “I’m not going to marry her or anything.  They’re just flowers.”  And that was that.

We hadn’t even gotten to costuming yet, and I was already exhausted.  The boys all chose bow ties.  Those had to match the dresses.  Emma’s mom picked Owen up after school one day and off they went to the mall to choose a bow tie that matched the champagne color in Emma’s dress.  I can only imagine what this must have been like for Owen – shopping, which he hates, with a girl he hardly knew and her mother who was in charge of choosing part of his outfit.  For my part, I was relieved, since I also hate shopping.  He came home with a bow tie that cost forty dollars and went to bed early that night.

Then began negotiations about dinner and which restaurant would be good for a party of 12.  B was in charge of reservations, and there was a lot of conversation in the car about the automatic gratuity for parties so large and whether it was a scam.  Then there was the issue of transportation.  As sophomores, many of them not yet driving, they decided it was totally uncool to have parents ferrying them around.  They booked a limo, and Owen was in charge of organizing that.  Meanwhile, his stash of earned cash was dwindling.

We expect him to use his own money for many things, and this policy has been instrumental in his more thoughtful and miserly approach to spending, for which I am grateful.  There’s nothing like having some skin in the game of spending to learn about money management.  I suggested he and Emma split the tab for the night and was told that’s not how you do it.  When I asked him why, he shrugged and said, “I guess that’s just how it works.  I think the girls pay when there’s a Sadie Hawkins dance or something, except I’m not sure we have that kind of dance at our school.”

We paid for the clothes, but the tickets, dinner, flowers and transportation were up to him.  It was hard to watch him struggle with how much the night would cost and whether it was worth it.  He wisely kept to himself any bitterness he harbored about his friends’ parents’ footing the entire bill for the time.

By the time the actual dance arrived, and we’d learned how to tie a bow tie courtesy of YouTube, and gotten more flowers, and showed up early to the garden of friend’s house to take pictures, my boy seemed to have lost the bounce in his bungee.  But he rallied.

The night was a success, thankfully, and Emma proved to be a fun date, though the next morning over breakfast Owen confessed he was glad it was over.

Owen:          Now I can focus on swimming and school.  I think my math grade has dropped.

Me:               Was it worth it, do you think?

He chewed his bagel and thought a minute.

Owen:         I think so.  I mean, we could have had a dance without all that, you know, stuff.  It was a lot of stress.  Plus, I’m broke now.  Life is expensive, you know?

Me:              I do know.

He shook his head and opened the sports page and we were quiet for a minute.

Owen:        I mean, I’m just not sure about events where the boy has to pay for the whole thing.  It’s like you say.  Where’s the skin in the game if someone else is paying for you? I just don’t know about it.

I kept to myself all the things I wanted to say, or the high-five I itched to give him, or how I’d asked myself that same question more than a few times.

Me:             What if I come up with a creative ASK for cleaning the bathroom and washing the car?  It’s a paying gig.

Owen:        Okay.  You can skip the flowers and candy, though.

2013 September 057

Categories: kids, parenting, writing | Tags: , | 8 Comments

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