Friday, March 23, 2007

This is How Teenage Boys Communicate

UPDATE, summer 2010

Dear parents: Since I wrote this post a little over three years ago, it has probably gotten several hundred hits from parents googling, "How to Communicate with Teenage Boys." This is kind of sad, given that this post is all about how teenage boys DON'T communicate.

I wrote a later post intended to give y'all hope. I even titled it, "How to Communicate with Teenage Boys"!) but google has never picked up on it and continues to send you here. So I figured I'd come back into this post to give you an update on my non-communicator.

He is now 21, entering his senior year in college next month, and home for the summer. He converses in complete sentences. When he answers questions, he doesn't just give an answer and then stop talking; sometimes he even takes the conversation off on a tangent of his own that allows us to continue talking! And believe it or not, he has actually been known to start a conversation or two with, "So, Mom (or Dad), how are you doing?" Or, "How's that thing going that you were working on?" Or [fill in the blank with conversational topic that NORMAL people would talk about.]Time may not cure everything, but it does cure teenage-boy-non-talkitis. Trust me here.

The one thing I want to add, though, is this, the best thing I ever read on teenage boys, this advice from former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who left the wild and woolly world of politics to spend more time with his family:

I don’t know how many of you have had teenage boys, I know nothing about teenage girls, but teenage boys are like clam shells. They really are exactly like clam shells. They are tightly shut and occasionally, just occasionally, when you least expect it, those clam shells open and you see inside this very soft and beautiful and very vulnerable interior. Then the clam shell shuts tight again and you don’t see it and you don’t know when, if ever, it will open. But it will open at a very unexpected time and in a very unexpected way, and if you’re not there when it opens you might as well be on the moon.

Love those clams, parents. And know it will get better.

And now, the original post:


My older son had a track meet yesterday. I didn't go because his younger brother had play practice till 5:30, and a well-run track meet can be over as early as 6:00. And since my son forgot his cell phone and it was an away meet, I couldn't call to find out where they were in the order. (Plus it was pouring down rain. I would be lying if I said that didn't factor in.)

He didn't get home till close to 8:00. And as he was dishing up dinner, our conversation went something like this:

Me: How'd the meet go?
Him: Good
Me: Good. How'd the team do?
Him: Mmm... Good. I think good.
Me: They didn't have the results yet?
Him: No, not yet.
Me: How'd you guys do in the 4x4?
Him: Good.
Me: [saying nothing, letting the silence drag out]
Him: Uh... We won.
Me: That's great! Who ran it?
Him: Uh... Me, Jacky, and two guy I don't think you'd know.
(This was, by the way, his longest sentence of the day.)
Me: Did you run the 400 or the 800?
Him: Uh... 800.
Me: Cool. How'd it go?
Him: Good.
Me: [saying nothing, letting the silence drag out]
Him: Uh...I won.

This is life with a teenage boy. He's not surly, or rude. He just doesn't understand why I would possibly want to know this stuff. He doesn't see the point of communication. Unless he's with his friends.

The first time I got a report card saying, "excessive talking is a problem," which was in sixth grade, I had to check the name at the top to be sure I hadn't been given somebody else's papers. Over the years he's learned to channel that, but he still talks far more away than at home.

I think a lot of this is a middle child thing. I was the same way with my parents. And my other two are chatterboxes. (In a good way.)

And yet I do enjoy my silent child. Because everything is...well...uh...good.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I'm Not a Vegas Kind of Gal

Sorry for my long silence lately. Life and all that. My husband and I spent a few days in Las Vegas last week for a company event. It was fun to get away, but I've decided I'm NOT a Vegas kind of person.

I found Las Vegas to be a kind of sad place. A plastic city, filled with dead-eyed, plastic people. People don't seem to be really enjoying themselves in Vegas, although many are desperately trying. And everything -- from the hotels made up to look like other places, to the shows is trying to replicate Broadway (but for a shorter attention span), to the performers trying to pretend that they really do prefer this kind of place to New York or LA -- everything is trying to be something it's not.

To be sure, some of the replicas are stunning. The marble mosiac tilework in the floor of our hotel was breathtaking pseudo-Italian. But it wasn't real. Nothing is real.

(The funny thing is? I love Disneyland, and nothing is real there either. But I think the original intent of Disneyland was a lot different from the orginal intent of Vegas.)

One of the things I found most fascinating were the people. On the street you'll see both men and women, most of them appearing unable to speak English, whose job it is to hand out flashy cards to people passing by on the streets. Cards with pictures of buxom women that say things like, "Girls2YourDoor in 90 minutes!" They even tried to hand them to me. Uh, 'scuse me? Do I look like I want a Girl2MyDoor in 90 minutes? And sometimes, if my husband was walking a little behind me, they would try to slip a card to him behind my back. I wonder how often this works.

And I can't help but wonder what it's like, being one of those Girls, ready to go 2YourDoor on a moment's notice. Are they the flashy, dead-eyed women you see in the casinos?

My husband and I were out for a walk on our last afternoon and he had to stop and take a phone call. I wandered into a smaller, low-brow place that seemed to specialize in beer and cheap slot machines. There was a girl sitting there at the slots, and she couldn't have been more than twenty, but she'd obviously been playing the game awhile. Her knee was pressed into the thigh of a twenty-something guy she didn't seem to know all that well. Both were smoking, both looked tipsy. It was 1:00 in the afternoon. She was saying, "And I don't even know WHAT I got arrested for that time." She was younger than my daughter.

The whole place left me kind of sad. And it was good to get home to cool breezes and cherry blossoms in full bloom and (mostly) cheerful kids who (mostly) get good grades and (mostly) help with groceries.

I guess we need places like Vegas so we can appreciate the other places in our lives. The places that are real.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

I Love Frogs

My favorite family frog story:

Last year, my son had a major project due for his combined English/History AP class. And since his presentation was scheduled on Tuesday, he assumed that his written project was due that day also.

However, on the previous Wednesday, he discovered (SURPRISE!) that the written projects were actually due the day of the FIRST presentations and not the day of one's own presentation. And since he has inherited a family tendency to procrastinate...

He was up until he fell asleep at the computer at 2:00, then up again at 5:00. When I got up, he turned to me, bleary-eyed, and said, "Uh, Mom? I stepped on a frog in the bathroom last night."
I thought I'd heard wrong. "A frog?" I asked.
He nodded. "Yeah. On the floor of the bathroom. It hopped away afterwards, and I then I couldn't find it and I was too tired to do anything."

Okay. A frog in the bathroom? I searched and searched, then decided he'd been hallucinating. (And half braced myself for the smell of decomposing frog somewhere in the basement in the coming weeks.) Then a week later my younger son came running upstairs and said, "Mom, I found the frog! It's in the bathtub!"

Sure enough, a little bitty frog, less than two inches long, just sitting in my downstairs bathtub. He didn't look any worse off for having been squashed by a giant. I grabbed a wide-mouthed glass, captured him and let him loose outside. After a few seconds of looking dazed, he hopped away.

We decided he must have come in through the garage door when we'd had it open to do yardwork, and from there he went through the storage room and into the basement bathroom.

I love frogs. I love everything about frogs. We've had a streak of gorgeous, warm weather. Yesterday was sixty-ish and sunny. And when I walked outside I could hear them. Dozens, probably hundreds, coming from the wet, wooded area a few hundred yards away.

Yes, I love frogs. Spring is on the way at last.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Dreaded "Culminating Project"

Without question, the worst, most ridiculous thing about having a senior in high school is the "Culminating Project."

I suppose the people behind it have good intentions, and it looks good on paper. But when you have a college-bound senior who's taking three or so AP classes while juggling extracurricular activities like the track team and student government, piling on a twenty-page research paper, oral presentation and whatever project finale they've decided on... Well, honestly, it's stupid. For my kids and their friends who have already done major projects in school, it's just ridiculous busywork.

My son chose cooking a Chinese dinner for 10 friends, along with the requisite 20-page research paper on Chinese culture. The dinner was Saturday night. Aside from making Kraft macaroni and cheese on a regular basis, he had never cooked before. And rather than saying, "Okay, honey, this is how you..." I just turned the kitchen over to him and let him have at it. Five of his guy friends came over and supervised, then three or four female friends came over to eat. My husband and younger son and I hung out downstairs and watched movies.

I'd pop upstairs occasionally to say things like, "Do you need help?" and "Umm...oil really isn't supposed to smoke that way," and "Just in case, you do know how to put out a grease fire, right?" And then I'd disappear downstairs again.

It seemed to go okay. Aside from the main chicken dish not quite getting cooked. (And they intelligently did not eat it. See, I told you they were smart kids.) They laughed a lot and sounded like they were having a great time.

And when they all left, he even cleaned up the kitchen. Pretty much. (I wonder if that was a CP requirement.)

And so now he's done the project. All that's left is the 20-page paper and the oral report. If he doesn't pass, he doesn't graduate. The senior class president who had a 3.88 gpa last semester. Gosh, that makes a lot of sense.

But on the bright side, he now knows how to mince garlic. That's a skill that will last well beyond the Culminating Project. So I suppose there has been some benefit.

Friday, March 02, 2007


I have a confession to make. I love it when my husband travels.

I'm lucky, because he usually doesn't take long trips -- only one or two nights. Long enough for me to luxuriate in having the remote, or sleeping diagonally on the bed, or falling asleep reading on the couch without feeling guilty, and then dragging myself to bed when I wake up at 3:00 a.m.

This week it was supposed to be three nights -- Tuesday through Thursday. I got an e-mail this morning saying the snowstorm canceled his flight at O'Hare, so he was spending the night with our niece and her husband and little boy and coming home tomorrow. So I get one more night to play on the computer, update my blogs, watch a little soccer... It's fun, but somehow not nearly as much fun as the first three nights.

Four nights. And this is enough. I'm ready for him to come home now. :-)