Category Archives: Boy Stories

Sometimes Kids’ Adventure Needs to Be Mom-Free

“Mom, we did really awesome things that you would not like,” my son rambled from the backseat, along with descriptions of climbing high, wet, slippery rocks and getting up-close and personal with a possible rattlesnake.

My brain stopped at those high, slippery rocks. I knew those window falls he was talking about. He’s right. There’s no way I’d ever let him climb that.

But my son’s quote is the essence of our relationship. He seeks awesome things and I typically do not like them. Mention adventure and my danger radar goes off. I go into protection mode when it comes to my kids. I know I can’t wrap them in bubble wrap and send them out into the world. I know I have to let them live an actual life and experience actual things. None of that means I won’t worry the entire time they are away from me. And in order for my kids to have certain adventures, like awesome things I would not like, sometimes they just need to be away from me.

My son went camping this week with a friend and his dad. This dad has experience backpacking, camping in places much rougher than the hour-away campground they went to, complete with bathhouse. He’s been a camp counselor and a school principal. A pretty good resume if you are the type of mom who considers credentials before sending your child into the wild.

My breath may catch when my son climbs to new heights. I may tell him to be careful when he walks on slippery rocks. I may remind him twenty times to remember to shower so doesn’t get itchy at night. But once he leaves me, I know what I don’t know won’t hurt me, he’ll have fun, and he’ll do things I wouldn’t allow. He’ll experience life in a way I would never let him. Sometimes that’s the best part of letting go. In order for my kids to truly experience life, sometimes they need to do it out of my grasp.

When they come home and tell me their adventures, I smile and nod my head and I’m glad I wasn’t there to hold them back. And sometimes, I just pretend to listen. I don’t need to hear about all the awesome stuff.

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Lessons From the Fish Tank

For my son’s tenth birthday, we bought him a fish tank for his bedroom. He has only begged for one for years. After having had fish in a fishbowl for four years, my husband wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of cleaning out a larger tank. My son, like any new parent would be, could only see the silver-scaled lining.

He did his research, knew what fish were compatible, knew just how he wanted his tank to look. He spent as much time preparing for his fish as I did for his impending arrival. Unlike us, he had a choice in what he could bring home, and we made many visits to the pet store before he did. Reminiscent of candy store jars, fish of every rainbow color darted in every direction, making it nearly impossible to choose the perfect ones. It required patience, persistent timekeeping, and gentle persuasion on our part to get him moving in the direction of anyone with a net.

In his room, he stood in front of their new home with dreamy eyes and oohed and aahed over them, watching and laughing like any new parent would. Everything they did was just wonderful. He was relieved when his three-year-old mosquitofish was accepted into his tetras’ school. “Look, he made a friend.” I know just how my son feels.

“Mom, come see where my catfish is hiding! Oh, you missed it. He was in the pirate ship, actually in it!” Oh, that silly catfish.

As it was time to expand the family, my husband happily took my son to the pet store. They came home with brilliant orange platyfish. The guppies bullied one of them. My son hovered. He worried. He felt helpless. “Hey, leave him alone!”

Every day after school, my son has checked on his fish, fed them, watched them. One day I had to tell him a platy died. “I knew something was going to happen to him today,” my son said. Quiet. Tears. It was his fault. He knew it was. He had dropped the bag in the car.

Another trip to the pet store, another platy.

“Mom, one of my fish has spots on it.”

Ick. Yes, ich. A fish disease. Another trip to the pet store. Some blue medicine for everyone. “Hey, don’t touch that guy! He’s the sick one.” Son, now you feel my pain.

It all goes with the territory of being a parent. I think he’s starting to get it. I think now he’s schooled.

Aquarium Inhabitants 05

(Photo credit: Capt Kodak)

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Shirts vs. Skins and an Uninformed Boy

My nine-year-old son had his first basketball practice last night and everything was going well. The group of ten boys ran up and down the court with the energy of a litter of puppies. They sprinted toward the basket, took an awkward shot, and ambled away with the gangly misery of a newborn pup. Every now and then, they glued their eyes to the net, held their arms in perfect position, and sunk the ball, fists raised in victory.

Basketball

(Photo credit: mvongrue)

When the coach split them into shirts and skins teams for a scrimmage, three boys yanked their shirts off without a second thought. My son and another teammate stood baffled. Shirtless? In public? From courtside, my son appeared to be bargaining with the coach. He pulled his short sleeves up onto his shoulders as if that would make enough of a distinction from the other team. The coach got a good chuckle. My son edged to the side of the court. The team waited. Like a cowering pubescent teen in a locker room, he slowly peeled his shirt off and revealed a pasty white chest that has never seen the sun. He felt exposed. During the scrimmage, instead of covering a player on the other team, he tried covering himself with his arms.

“When the coach said we were skins, I thought he meant the Redskins,” my son said later. “Then Henry ripped his shirt off and I figured it out.” My kid had never heard of such a thing. And why would he? Growing up in sports where kids practice with flags or scrimmage vests to distinguish teams, no one uses shirts versus skins anymore. At the pool, I’ve always made him wear a rash guard to protect him from the sun. He doesn’t go shirtless in public.

My husband said they used to play shirts versus skins at school. My son’s jaw dropped at the thought. An image of all the boys in his P.E. class praying they didn’t get put on the skins team must have been flashing through his mind.

The truth always comes out though. My son goes bare-chested at home. It’s not like he’s uncomfortable without his shirt. So what’s the real reason behind the embarrassment? He was afraid a bunch of girls on the other side of the sports complex would see him shirtless.

That will change. One day, he’ll hope they do.

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Author Uses ‘The Force’ to Inspire Reading, Origami, and More

I’ve tried getting my kids into origami before. A dozen or more steps to create a paper crane just doesn’t excite a boy who likes to line up peculiar plastic creatures and make them yell and knock each other down.

My daughter struggles with the folds. By the time we finish, either she ends up with a seriously misshapen beast or I’ve done the whole thing for her. Heck, then it’s mine. It’s just not that fun for us.

So why for two days was I not able to cut squares of paper fast enough or stock the right folding papers or print directions in a timely manner? My son has found origami that speaks to him, and when it does it uses the voices of his favorite Star Wars characters. “Fold this corner next, you will.”

origami Yoda

The first of many origami Star Wars characters my son has created.

In preparation for the book signing of Tom Angleberger’s latest book in the Origami Yoda series, The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee, we were a busy bunch. Each book comes with origami directions for a Star Wars character the book is based on and Angleberger’s site origamiyoda.com includes even more fun origami directions. My son made them to take to the book signing.

Angleberger did not disappoint. If you didn’t know how to make an origami Yoda when you went, you did when you left. He showed the kids a good time, their way, with drawings and shooting boogers and lots of kids named Larry.

Seeing an author in person inspires kids. They can get lost in a good story, but meeting an author and hearing that he was a weird kid makes him relatable. Kids identify with someone like that. If they’re not the weird kid, they know someone who is. They see he turned out all right and that gives them hope. Maybe it lets them know they’re OK and that one day all of those odd little mushroom men and eraser beings they make and curious things they do have the potential to be something big.

And us parents who take our kids to see inspiring authors like Angleberger, we have to remember that too. Every little thing our kids do, read, watch, build, play, or draw could inspire them in hundreds of ways we’ll never know. Today’s strange little creatures could be tomorrow’s movie or book or sculpture or song. Hey, a mother can hope too.

Darth Paper origami

Your mother doesn’t want you to join the Dark Side.

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Cursed by Bad Words

My son has always been obsessed with words, learning to spell states and football players’ names when he became bored with his spelling words. He currently keeps a list of city names from our state and names of characters from books he reads. And I believe he also has a running list of all the cuss words he knows.

“The H one, the D one, the S, the A,” he says. “I just can’t figure out what the I one is.”

“The I one?” I think as I rack my brain. “What in the world is the I word?”

Years ago, the fact that my kid knew any cuss words in third grade would have bothered me a great deal. I would have felt irresponsible, guilty. But I realize it’s a natural, curious part of growing up. So it’s a little earlier than I would have liked, but I don’t think it’s any earlier than the boys I grew up with.

Though to him learning a new word is like cracking a code into some secret adult society, just knowing satisfies him. He doesn’t use them except, I’m sure, between giggles and whispers with his closest friends as they try to figure out life as third graders. He tells me his new words, but he protects his little sister.

Now that he’s nine, he’s at an age where it’s getting harder to decide where the boundaries are. This doesn’t mean we’re encouraging our son to swear. It means we’re deciding whether our son can possibly be mature enough to handle knowing bad things and not using them, using his own good judgment.

When he was invited to see The Avengers recently, at first I firmly put my foot down. No PG-13 movies. But it’s the summer blockbuster hit everyone and their five-year-old is raving about. After researching the movie and learning the swear words in it, I really didn’t want him to go. I polled a few people whose opinions I trust. One planned to take her seven-year-old. Hmm. Was I being too tough on my son?

I’ve always tried to shelter him from lewd language but when he’s out on his own, it’s out of my control.

When I read to him, I skip over anything I deem unfit. Several months ago, when I mentioned J.K. Rowling has an adult book coming out this year, he wanted to know why he couldn’t read it.

“Does it have cuss words in it? I bet it does if it’s for adults.”

“There are cuss words in Harry Potter,” I told him, surprised he hadn’t noticed during his reading. I even slipped and read damn one night in the throes of a heated dialogue.

“Is it the J one? Because I don’t know what that one means,” he said.

children's source for bad words, muddledmom

The children’s dictionary. A wonderful reference for naughty words, including the J one.

My husband so rarely gets to witness these conversations. “The J one?” he said. “I don’t even want to know what that one is.”

My son whispered into my husband’s ear, and I was thrilled to not have to explain what a word means. “That’s a donkey.”

“A donkey?” my son said. Bubble burst. The meanings really take the fun out of knowing a bad word.

“Well, I know it doesn’t have the B one,” my son continued. “That’s written on the back of the stall in the fifth-grade boys’ bathroom.”

I remember this struggle when I was a kid. I had learned a few choice words, possibly from my dad. In fourth grade he was nagging me about leaving my bike in the rain and in my retort, I couldn’t remember which word to use. “Well how the hell was I supposed to know?” Innocent mistake, though I’m not sure heck would have really been any better.

We’ve had our own incidents but not as bad as I’d expect, especially for a boy who collects bad words like pirate treasure. I found something in his backpack with bad words written on it. His friend gave him a quarter to write them. I was disappointed that he was stupid enough to do what his friend said. We had a long talk about those words, the principal, and the phrase, “If your friend told you to jump off a cliff…”

I want my kids to understand words, to understand that they can have more than one meaning, that they can hurt, that they can be nasty, and that they can be effective.

The word I do worry about? It’s an I word: ignorance. I won’t tolerate any words that deal with that.

And the movie? We let him see it. He was so enthralled by the action, he didn’t notice any bad words. I worried for nothing.

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The Saga of a Sleepless Son

Most mornings I wake to the sound of my husband tiptoeing off to the shower. I still have fifteen minutes until I need to help get the kids ready for school. It’s quiet. Peaceful. I can unstick the sleep gobs that glue my tired eyes closed in my own time.

But lately, my nine-year-old son shatters those precious moments. He climbs in bed with me at 6:30 and begins chirping away like a baby bird. “Mom, why is it so light out?” “Mom, do you think we’ll have soccer practice tonight?” “Mom, did the Flyers win?” “Mom, I found out what phlegm means in my Harry Potter book and it’s not what you said.”

His early mornings mean one of two things: he’s either excited or worried. And this phase won’t end until his mind is put at ease.

This is not how I like to wake up in the morning, and it brings back memories, evil memories of days that always began way too early after nights with many interruptions.

He’s never been much of a sleeper. I didn’t know kids even came that way.

The most common advice I got before having my son was, “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” Sure, I thought. I will let the house be messy. Dishes can sit in the sink. Laundry doesn’t need to be folded right away. And babies sleep so much anyway, I’ll be able to sleep and still get those things done, right?

I was a stupid new mother.

My son slept. Only when we held him. But we had to bounce him. And we could only do that while standing. God forbid we try to sit down. Those first few weeks with him were torture and I sat in bleary-eyed delirium during my shifts with him in the wee hours of the night wondering what the hell I had done to deserve such punishment. When I did sleep, I’d dream that I was holding him and wake in a sweaty panic that I had dropped him.

Sleep through the night at three months? That was the first parenting myth I believed, a mere dream that sparked, fizzled, and smoked for over a year. Just when my husband and I thought we had nailed it, something else always put a kink in our slumber: teething, a cold, a change in temperature, a fly on the wall, a piece of lint, who freaking knew.

When he was a toddler and threw his babies out of the crib in the middle of the night, it was a top-secret mission to return them to him without being seen. I would army-crawl in through a sea of stuffed animals, toss the missing baby into the crib, and back out of there at top speed. If my son popped his head up, panicked thoughts raced through my mind as I lie splayed on his floor. “I’ve been spotted. Get out. Abort the mission! Abort the mission!” If I was too far in, my only choice was to lie still and try to blend in with the stuffed animals or hide half under the crib. Sometimes I was stuck there for what seemed like hours until he ducked his head down again.

Blue Oliver had a rattle. Don’t ever give your child a baby that rattles. Just don’t.

I’d get tired of those G.I. Joe missions late at night, and I wasn’t into playing peek-a-boo no matter how cute he was.

Once my son got into a regular bed, we’d wake to see him run past our room. My husband found him helping himself to a midnight snack from the fridge.

For an eternal stretch, it seemed like my husband slept on my son’s floor more than he slept in our bed. It was better than constantly being poked in the face and getting up half the night.

It took seven years for my son to let us sleep in peace, for him to realize that just because he was awake didn’t mean he had to wake up the rest of us. He finally learned that he could pick up a book and read while we slept in…until 7.

But now, every time he goes through one of his phases of early mornings, my brain starts ticking. I hear the thud of his feet hit the floor when it’s still dark out. Is it the birds chirping? An upcoming test at school? Excitement over a visit from his grandparent? Or something more? Troubled over something going on at school? After a few days, I figure it out. I don’t like for my son to be worried. I even lose a little sleep over it.

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Not the Sound of Music

While I initially feared the sound of a dying cat clawing its way up a blackboard, I was relieved at the sound of a more tolerable low, moaning whistle. My son brought home a soprano recorder from school last week. He needs to learn songs as part of a music grade.

Knowing my son, he will diligently practice. Already I’ve heard the choppy notes of “Hot Cross Buns” early in the morning, after school, and before his bedtime stories, but I have to give my son credit for making the effort without any prompting from me.

My son playing a recorder

"Hot cross buns, hot cross buns. One a penny..."

I fear the reason is because anytime my kids get a whistle, kazoo, or flutophone, I firmly instruct them not to blow that thing in the house or anywhere within earshot of me. The sound pierces my ears, and it doesn’t take long for a headache to sink in when my kid’s musical attempt sounds like a torture device stuck on repeat. For years I have confiscated these things at any sign of abuse, meaning one shrill note too many, and stored them high atop our refrigerator with other illegal toys. Having a noisemaker with permission from school means my son can basically huff and puff on it whenever he pleases, all in the name of pass or fail. It’s like they’ve given him their blessing to taunt me.

Well thank you, school system. Thank you for bursts of unhinged melody, constant squeaks, and boring repetition. Two more years of this, I might add.

The bright side? It could have been drums.

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