Goddess of Wisdom

It was a particularly rough morning with my 16 year old son.

As I drove my 10 year old to school, I muttered despairingly…

“I just don’t understand WHY he’s so crabby!”

From the backseat I heard my daughter say, “It’s hormones and Monday, Mom. Hormones and Monday.”

I Am Deeply Embarrassing

My fifteen year old is participating in an all-day Chinese immersion program, which is being held at the university where I work. This means we get to commute in and back home together. Everything’s gone swimmingly these first couple of days on our commute into school/work in the trusty minivan. Our conversations have been filled with warmth, laughter, and mutual understanding. But as if by magic, the moment we step out of that enchanted vehicle, I suddenly metamorphose into the most embarrassing creature that ever crawled on the surface of this planet.

I swear I’ve tried to follow the rules. OBVIOUSLY, there is no physical contact. I mean, of course I have my faults, but at least I understand the basic rules of engagement. I walk a little distance away from my son, with my eyes focused straight ahead. It might be possible for strangers to see us and assume that we were not together. Despite our similar features and coloring, it might not even be entirely obvious to the casual observer that it was I, who spent 20 hours in labor bringing this boy into the world.

On Monday, there was a parents’ meeting scheduled for 8 am. It happened to be taking place in the auditorium that’s located on the floor right below my office. My boss walked in and noticed me and the other parents and students milling around. When he asked what was going on, I explained to him that the organizers hadn’t shown up for the information meeting that was supposed to have started fifteen minutes ago. I sincerely believed that I was uttering these words in a subdued, reasonable tone of voice. It appears, however, that in fact, I was shrieking loudly, raucously, and in an utterly mortifying fashion.

The entire time I was speaking with my director, my son stared at his iPod, thumbing away with furious intensity, all while muttering under his breath:

Stop. Mom. You don’t have to do this. You’re talking so loudly. Why are you doing this? 

This morning I told him that he could walk to class and make his way back to my office on his own in the future, but that I would drop him off and pick him up today, just to make sure he knew where to go.

He heaved an exasperated sigh and said, “You don’t have to walk me. I can go by myself. I know exactly where I’m going.”

So, where are you going?” I asked.

Your office is in Cabell,” he replied with brisk alacrity.

I had to break it to him. It’s what we repugnant monsters are programmed to do:

You‘re going to Cabell. My office is in Minor.

I walked the boy to class.


Our birthday boy is now 6’1 and needs to shave. It’s much more difficult to nag and scold a boy when he towers over you. In any case, there’s far less cause for nagging or scolding these days…To my great joy, nowadays more often than not our conversations are easy and filled with laughter.

Other things have changed too…Every once in a while, my son used to sing with a beautiful, pure countertenor voice that would make me drop whatever I was doing to listen. I had to be surreptitious about it; he would immediately clam up if he thought anyone was paying attention to his singing. When his voice fell, the sweet tone that once held me spellbound became harsh and ragged. He still hasn’t been able to find his singing voice, but he’s still making beautiful music…These days he can often be found at the piano or at his laptop with headphones on, creating beats.

Some things never change…We sent our son off this morning on a trip with friends. Packing this morning involved lengthy and heated negotiations. As we stood shivering in the unseasonably cool weather, waiting in the designated spot where his friend’s dad would be picking him up,  I realized I never retrieved from the dryer the one pair of long pants he was planning to wear – a pair of jeans I had stayed up late to wash and dry for his trip. While we stood waiting for his ride, we made idle talk. He described to me at great length the bout of “sleep paralysis” he had experienced for the first time this morning, complete with a hallucinated “dark figure”. He was freaked out initially, but then exhilarated for having experienced a phenomenon he had only ever read about. My side of the conversation was far more prosaic and pretty much boiled down to the same request phrased in different ways. “Cool story. Hey! Remember to text the woman who gave birth to you to let her know you’re still alive. You owe that much to her. Oh, wow! You felt like the dark figure was sucking you in, but you couldn’t move?! Must have been so scary. So anyway, I’m sure you can find time to send me a one sentence text or even just a photo once or twice a day, right?” (It’s 9:30 pm and I haven’t heard a peep from the boy)…

I re-read this post from April 25, 2013 and had to smile.

The past two weeks have shaken us all to the core and have left us feeling raw, exposed, and vulnerable. There was the vicious bomb attack at the Boston Marathon, the devastating fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, and the catastrophic earthquake in China. Closer to home there have been great sorrows that have not made it into the news cycle, but have made the people around me painfully aware of how precious life is and how cruelly capricious the tides of fate.

This morning I realized how much these events have crept into my psyche. I had been up to 2:30 am (the only time I could find to write) and had woken up at 6 am to help my son get packed for his three day school trip.The night before, when he had announced that he was too tired to pack and would wake up early to do so, I knew with absolute certainty that this was a terrible idea. I knew this morning would not be pretty, but I didn’t have the energy to argue the point or to start the packing myself.

So this morning at 6, I sat on my bedroom floor with an open suitcase and my laptop opened to the emailed packing list my son’s teacher had sent.

“Bring me three pairs of long pants and three long-sleeve shirts!” I called out to him.

He slowly shuffled into my bedroom with one pair of pants and one t-shirt.

“THREE pairs of pants and THREE LONG-sleeve shirts!'” I bellowed with exasperation, “CHOP CHOP!”

Seasons changed, my skin began to sag, and more grey hairs sprouted as I waited for him to reappear. Finally he showed up bearing…another t-shirt and a sweater.

When I protested, he claimed that he couldn’t find what was asked for in his drawers.

I rifled through his drawers myself and discovered one or two of the things he needed, but confirmed the fact that the rest of the items simply weren’t there. They were buried deep in the mountain of unwashed laundry that I hadn’t been able to get to all week.

You can probably imagine the snarling and generally churlish behavior that ensued, but we finally did get him packed. Already running late, I began getting myself ready for work. As I was getting out of the shower, I could hear that my husband was about to leave the house to drop him off at school for the field trip.

There was one crucial thing I had forgotten, and I didn’t want to miss my chance. If I’d learned anything in these past two weeks, I’d learned that sometimes you never do get a second chance.

I raced out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around me and my hair streaming with water. At the top of the stairs, I barked out his name.

He turned around, and from the bottom of the stairs he looked up at me with a doleful stare and sighed, “Yes?”

The word was imbued with that unique teenage inflection that makes it abundantly clear that behind that monosyllable is irritation, a lifetime of suffering, and the sure expectation of more unreasonable parental behavior…

I tried to modulate my own tone, but failed.

“I LOVE YOU!” I snapped.

A momentary flicker of surprise registered in his eyes and after the briefest pause, he muttered “Love you” and ambled out the door.

Weekend Snapshots 20

Last weekend was perfect, because of all the things that didn’t happen. The snow wiped clean a full slate of activities, and we got to stay home in our pjs all weekend long, reading and napping and drinking hot cocoa. This weekend was perfect, because of all the things that did happen…


My beloved book group met this Friday. My friend, who has been hosting us for years, always puts out a lavish spread, which includes a decadent dessert she’s made and tea served in beautiful heirloom tea cups. Last month Calamity Jane here broke the handle of the one in the front. My friend let me back into her house anyway, and she even managed to repair the handle with some super glue. Our book group nights are always such a special occasion, and so I like to get dressed up appropriately:

What could be better than kicking off the weekend hanging out with dear friends who love you even when you break their precious things, and to do it in my pjs?! (Pajamas seem to be the common denominator for all perfect weekends).


On Saturday morning I got an impromptu private concert with two of my favorite musicians:

Later that day another group of old friends and I got together over lunch. It was especially lovely, because it was a mini-reunion with our friend, who has moved away from Charlottesville. Drat! Forgot to take a photo! Next time, friends, next time!

As I drove away to the next appointment on my schedule, I got the news that the house we’ve been trying to sell is UNDER CONTRACT! Yahoooooooo!!!

Saturday was the first night of the two weeks that our church will be hosting PACEM, a roving homeless shelter that operates during the cold winter months in various churches around Charlottesville.

It was my first time ever being the nightly meal coordinator. My husband volunteered to make his famous lasagna:

and I had a willing crew of helpers, which included these three hooligans:


I wrote about Rite 13 here and here. The last time I went through this brutal and sadistic ritual, I had some warning and time to prepare myself for the ordeal. This time I was completely caught off guard and the consequences were absolutely devastating.

After the service, I recovered enough to insist on taking a photo to commemorate the momentous occasion of my son’s Rite 13 and my public breakdown. Predictably, he began to complain about having to stop and take a photo. What I could never have expected were the shocking words that came out of his older brother’s mouth:  “She gave birth to you. Take the picture!”

Holy smokes! There is a God. And He and now I’m thinking more likely – She is good. Really, really good. 

The kids all insisted on closed-mouth smiles, because they were afraid goldfish crackers would be stuck in their teeth…

And I even got to get a photo with my son, because I did give birth to him after all!

Believe it or not.

This one goes down in the annals of “Things I Never Believed Would Happen in My Lifetime.”

My son started taking piano lessons when he was five years old. Since then, I’ve spent a good portion of the last nine years of my life nagging and brandishing a whip in his general direction to get him to practice. I couldn’t possibly count the number of arguments we’ve had about whether or not he could quit taking lessons.

Last night in the middle of studying for his Spanish test and writing up notes for Biology, he headed to the piano. He’s been doing this lately as a way of relaxing and taking a break from his studies. What an immense joy it is for me to hear him play the piano for his own pleasure! Still, ever in parent mode, I heard this admonishment escape from my lips: “Don’t practice for too long!” (The poor boy can never win)!

It was during a conversation negotiation I had with his nine-year-old sister that I truly appreciated how astonishing that statement was. His sister has been chafing under the constraints of the “boring” songs in her Suzuki violin book and has even hinted that she may be ready to give up playing.

From the other room, my son called out to her: “Don’t stop playing! You’ll regret it. I used to be just like you. I hated practicing, but now I really like it and I’m glad I didn’t quit!” He ambled into the living room to join the conversation.

“Well, I don’t want to play the songs in the Suzuki book. I want to play River Flows in You,” she insisted. This is a song by the Korean composer Yiruma. My son recently discovered his music and has taught himself how to play the song by ear. It’s one of his favorite pieces at the moment, so we have the pleasure of hearing it often.

I shot him a dirty look and jokingly said, “I blame YOU.”

In response, he dispensed this nugget of wisdom to his little sister: “You can do other songs if you want, but you need to keep up with the Suzuki book. The songs are designed to make you a more confident player. They’ll help you hone your skills.”

What the hell?! Am I being punked? Adolescence was no joke, but the cacophanous noise of pointless arguing and grinding gears is starting to fade out, and I could swear I’m beginning to hear the faint strains of sweet music in my ears.

I am a monster.

When my son was very little he asked me to pose for a portrait. I have to admit, I was flattered by the request. I sat very still as he labored over his masterpiece. He took the whole enterprise very seriously. For a very long time, he would study my face intently and then return to his drawing to add more details. At last he was satisfied with his work. He put the finishing touches on the portrait and then finally released me from my pose.

“Can I see it?” I asked.

He turned the sketchbook to proudly reveal his portrait to me:



Wow!” I said. I was aghast, but trying to be sensitive to my budding young artist’s feelings, “Is that how I look to you?”

“Uh-huh!” he replied nonchalantly, “Looks just like you!”

I recalled this incident a few months ago in the midst of an extremely complicated day…

My son’s school was out for the day, but his school team’s soccer game was still on. To complicate matters, he had made vague plans to go to a friend’s house for a sleepover after his game. My husband had left town for a conference the evening before, so livery service was all up to me. As I left for work that morning I asked my son to be ready and dressed for soccer, to have his bag packed for the sleepover, and to get his friend’s cell phone number so we could find each other at the designated pick up spot at a high school on the opposite side of town. After dropping him off, his siblings and I were going to meet up with friends all the way back on the other side of town. Is your head spinning? Mine was.

I went home during my lunch break to pick up my son and bring him back to my office. I left work a little early to drop him off at his soccer game on time, and then headed back home to pick up my daughter from the babysitter’s house and to pick up my other son as he got off the bus. Together, the three of us drove back to watch the rest of my son’s soccer game. After the game we drove on to the meeting point where he was going to get picked up.

“So you got your friend’s number?” I asked.

“I tried to ask him for it, but he never sent it to me.”

“Well, did you figure out exactly where at the high school we’re meeting?”

“I don’t know. Somewhere around the football field, probably.”

It was twilight when we arrived at the high school. We drove around the parking lot nearest to the football field, looking for his friend.

“Do you know what kind of car they drive?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“No, but just let me out here, I’ll find them,” he said with his hand already starting to open the car door as we circled the lot.

“Stop! We’ll just drive around until we see them.”

“Just let me out here,” he insisted, growing agitated, “You can go now.”

“I’m not going to leave you here to wander around the school all by yourself at night. Relax!”

“Fine! You can stay here in the car if you want. Let me out and I’ll come back to let you know when I’ve found them.”

“It will be much easier and quicker for me to just drive you around. Why are you acting so squirrelly? Are you embarrassed to be seen with me or something?”

“YEAH!” he said far too readily, and in a matter-of-fact tone that cut like a knife through butter. “There are people here! I don’t want everyone in the world to know my mommy had to drive me here.”

“Uhhhh…you’re 14. Everyone knows your mommy has to drive you everywhere. It’s kind of obvious. How else would you get here?”

By now he was really getting his panties in a twist.

“Just let me handle this! This is so embarrassing!”

I think of myself as a reasonable person. I’m not zen by any means, but I’m not crazy, either. But there comes a moment when one is pushed a little too far.

“You want embarrassing?” I snapped, “Because believe me, I can unleash all kinds of embarrassing, Buster!”

And thus commenced an epic hissy fit…One to go down in the history books. I was a grey-faced, slavering Harpy, winging into Athens with unsheathed talons and a crazed glint in my eye. I was Krakatoa, spewing volcanic ash and incinerating everything within my path. I was Enola Gay releasing the atomic bomb.

I’m not exactly sure what I looked like in that moment of terrifying wrath, but I imagine it was probably something like this:


WARNING: If you haven’t had dinner yet, DO NOT READ! And, I apologize in advance for this post.

As you might imagine with a husband who teaches philosophy for a living, conversations around our dinner table tend to be rather highbrow. Here, for example, is what the professor had to say when he finally made it back home in a cast after his fall down the mountain our family now routinely uses air quotes to refer to as: “Mount Pleasant.”

“You think the leg cheese under your shin guards is bad after a soccer game,” he said to my daughter, “Imagine how bad it will be when my cast comes off. My leg will probably be completely coated in a slimy layer of ripe brie.”

To put what happened next into context, you need to know that my fourteen year old boy lives to shock us with gross stories he’s heard from his fellow pubescents or gleaned from the bowels of the internet. He is also going through a growth spurt that makes him ravenously hungry. You can’t even imagine the staggering quantities of food he eats. All this to say, it takes some high octane intellectual firepower to both disgust him and cause him to lose his appetite.

He recoiled in a rictus of visceral horror, dropped his fork with a loud clatter, and pushed his plate away.

DAD! We’re eating! And this salad has feta in it. I seriously can’t eat any more.”

Pray for me, friends. It’s going to be a very long few months…

This Boy

My dad was working in Korea when my first child, his first grandson, was born. He was finally able to meet him when we all converged in Minneapolis to celebrate the wedding of my brother and sister-in-law.

All weekend long, as soon as my dad would spot us, he would scoop his grandchild from my arms into his own.

“You look tired,” he’d say, “I’ll hold the baby for you.” Or: “He must be really heavy for you. Let me take him.”

Because I can be astonishingly dense, the first time I said, “I’m OK, Dad. I can hold him.”

“Nah,” he said gruffly, “You need a rest. I better hold him for you.”

No one else got a chance to hold the baby that weekend…

The words “I love you” have never once fallen from my father’s lips, but that weekend I heard those unspoken words when he gazed upon his grandson and said wistfully, “You won’t believe it, but in the blink of an eye, he’ll be grown up and out the door and you won’t even know how it happened.”

Here’s that baby fourteen Novembers ago…

I blinked and this happened:

Today my son was wearing a t-shirt my husband used to wear when I first met him. Today we measured him, and the boy who, I swear, was a baby only yesterday, is now 6 feet tall!

Oh, Time, our greatest friend and foe! May I remember that every minute of this precious life, even in the most challenging of times, is a gift of immeasurable value. May I not squander the days that I have with these beloved children under my own roof. And when they eventually do go out that door, may they fly back home now and then to my loving arms.


This past weekend, for about a split nanosecond, I had some serious street cred.

On our way to that gangster hangout also known as the National Book Festival, we passed by an Ace Hardware Store.

“Let’s go in here for a second,” I said to my kids. “I need to get a new switch plate.”

“What did you just say?!” my fourteen year old son asked me incredulously.

“I need a new switch plate. You know…to replace the one you broke in the basement?”


The boy’s shoulders sagged visibly and he said glumly, “Oh. For a second there, I thought I had the coolest mom in the world. I thought you said you were going to buy a switchblade.”

When we got to the convention center, it was swarming with thugs like:


and these shady characters:

The boys decided they wanted to explore on their own. We said we’d keep in touch by phone, but then I forgot to take mine out of my purse.

I guess my son had forgotten all about my desperate attempts to make contact with him this summer when he was away at the beach and in Vermont, because when we finally caught up with each other again, he scolded me like an apoplectic squirrel: “We called you a million times and you didn’t answer! Do you EVER check your phone?!”

Payback, baby! With zero effort and no switchblade required! Gangsta.

That moment you realize (again)…that you’re insane

The thing I find most disconcerting about being the parent of a teenage boy is our sudden inability to communicate with each other in any sort of meaningful way. Last night, for example, we had this heart to heart exchange:

“How was school today?”


“What did you do?”

“Science, Math, History…”

“But I mean, what did you actually do? For example, what did you do in Science today?”

“We wrote things down on paper.”

“What KINDS of things? What are you learning about?”

“What living things are.”

Overnight, he’s become a covert CIA operative, trained to take his highly-classified top secrets about what he did in Biology class to the grave.

He recently spent a week away in Vermont with his friend’s family. Having had so little contact with him when he spent a week away at the beach earlier in the summer, I laid down some rules before he left for this second trip.

“Keep your phone charged. I expect you to make contact with us at least twice a day. Once by text and once by calling home.”

The boy kept his phone charged, but never once followed through on the making contact part. On the days that I didn’t initiate contact myself, I didn’t hear from him at all. When I did hear from him, our conversations were entirely unsatisfactory:

The week he was in Vermont, one of his closest friends, who moved away a few years ago, happened to be visiting Charlottesville with his family. The rest of us went to meet up with them for frozen yogurt one evening. Shortly before setting out, I tried and failed to contact my son. I knew he should be arriving in Vermont after two days of travel, and I wanted both to make sure that he’d arrived safely and to give him a chance to talk to his friend over the phone. The first time I called, I could tell he picked up the phone and hung up on me. When I called him a second time just moments later, he didn’t even bother to pick up.

You can bet my panties were in a twist…

I resorted to texting the boy:


Oh really? He “couldb’t” spare two minutes to talk to the woman who was responsible for his existence on this planet? It was time to pull out the oldest trick in the book…the old bait and switch.



How to convey to you how I felt when he agreed to talk to his friend with such alacrity? So many emotions…a whole gallery of feels:

There just HAD to be a reason that he spurned me, but was now perfectly happy to talk to his friend…I mean: a reason other than the fact that I’m his mother and had been neurotically stalking him all the way to Vermont. I just had to get to the bottom of this mystery:

It seemed as if there was no way the poor boy could wriggle his way out of this one. And then he texted the magic words that cleared up everything. The sun shone again, a rainbow arched across the blue, blue sky, the birds started singing their sweet songs, and all was right with the world:

Of course! I giggled, giddy with relief and explained to my husband that the reason our dearly beloved firstborn hadn’t wanted to talk to me was that he’d been sitting on the toilet!

My husband very gently suggested an alternative explanation, generously assigning his hypothesis no more validity than my own conclusion: “Ooooor, is it possible that he was helping unload suitcases from the car?”

Ummm, yeah, OK, whatever. But the point is: all of this Stürm und Drang could have been so easily averted with a little communication.