Life with Teenagers

Archive for October 2009

mixed medley

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“Is this done mom?” asks my youngest teen standing bent over in front of the oven with his finger poking into the tops of two small chicken pot pies. I look at the clock and notice it’s getting close to 8pm.

“Yes, they’re done. Take them out,” I answer.

“They don’t look done,” he says.

“They’re done,” I say, as I empty boiling water from a pan into the sink and a block of bloated pasta falls into the colander with a thwap.

“What do I do with them?” he asks.

I’m engrossed in the act of trying to pry apart individual raviolis and arrange the white swollen packets on a white plate and present them to the older teen sitting at the table and texting into the cellphone on his lap. On the table are three placemats, a jar of tomato sauce, and a plastic container of grated parmesan cheese.

“Umm, just turn them upside down over the mixed vegetables on those two plates,” I say, motioning to the counter.

“Mom, they already had vegetables in them,” he says, carrying over a plate at a time of mounded broken crust and gelatinous chicken gravy jiggling over a layer of tiny multicolor squares, circles, and triangles.

“I thought we needed more,” I say.

“I’m not eating mine,” says the older teen. He grabs the jar from the table and empties a large amount of blood red sauce onto his plate with a splat.

The table laid out before us is gruesome.

“So your brother says he is quitting the leaders group,” I say to both teens.

“Yeah it’s not his thing, dog,” says the older teen.

“Well then, why don’t you suggest some other clubs he can join as a freshman, dog,” I say back. I look at the younger teen. “Or maybe you are going to need a job. You can’t just skateboard all the time.” The younger teen doesn’t look up and continues stretching the uncooked taffy-like center of his chicken pie crust with his fork.

“He can’t get a job at 15 mom. He’s not old enough,” says the older one between mouthfuls of ravioli.

“But you worked at the Y at 15, remember?” I ask.

Now the younger teen chimes in.

“That’s because he is the best one there, mom,” he says.

“Dude, I’m not that good. I wouldn’t leave my own kid alone with me. I mean, I would, I know what I’m doing, I’m not going to lie, but I still have a lot more to learn from the older counselors,” says the older teen. “And when I get married,” he looks at his brother across the table,”to a woman,” he says, and gives him a long exaggerated stare. “But you can do whatever you want…”

“Hey, why do you always look at me and say stuff like that?” says the younger teen.

“Guys, I think you mean when you get married to whoever you want” I say interrupting.

The older teen has lost his train of thought now and looks at me.

“Mom, you knew you were gay in high school right?” he asks.

“I’m not gay,” I answer.

“Come on mom, you were just holding it back,” he says.

“It’s not that simple, dog,” I say. “I like men. I had you guys with your dad didn’t I?”

“Yeah, but that just makes you bisexual,” he replies.

“Some people know right away, others don’t until they are older. Some people just change their minds. All I’m trying to say is that you have options,” I reply.

“Not if I want to have a family I don’t,” he says while pouring water from the jug into his glass.

The younger teen looks at my plate and motions to his massacred crust on his plate.

“This isn’t done, mom,” he says.

I cut around the gooey center of my own crust and hand him the cooked portions from my plate.

“What do you mean? I say back to the older teen. “Of course you can have a family! Most of the same-sex couples I know are having their own kids.”

“Well adoption,” he says.

“Yes, and lots of other things too. One of my friends had all three of his little girls by using his husband’s sperm, one of his sisters’ eggs, and a surrogate mother who lives in another state to carry the babies to term.” I say.

“So wait,” says the younger teen who stops eating to join in the conversation. “So that means their mother is also their aunt?! That’s weird, mom.”

“Or it’s pretty great,” I say. “Think about it. How lucky for those kids to have so many family members that love them.”

“You have friends that picked how their kids were going to look from a book. That’s not right,” says the older teen again.

“Why not?” I say back. “If you had the option to choose some characteristics ahead of time, you wouldn’t?”

“Yeah, dude, wouldn’t you want your kids to have the best?” asks the younger teen. “Not your ugly face.”

“Hey, cut it out, now guys,” I say.

The room gets quiet for a few minutes.

“I know someone with tendencies towards asbergers,” the older teen says changing the subject.

“Yeah, and what do you have tendencies toward?” I ask back.

“I have tendencies toward ADD mom,” he laughs. “Remember all that testing you put me through?”

“And what do you have tendencies toward,” I say looking at the younger teen. He grows thoughtful and thinks about it a minute.

“I’d have to say I have tendencies toward an authority complex.”

“Ahh,” I say back.

And the room gets quiet again.

“This is a terrible dinner,” I say finally while reaching for some of the overcooked french fries the older teen has added next to his plate as a second course.

“It’s not so bad, mom. You’ve made worse,” he says with a smirk.

“You’re right, dog,” I reply.

But in moments like this one, I have to remind myself just why I bother to make a frantic dinner for all three of us several times a week after 7pm.

Sometimes, the best dinners yield no conversation at all. All of us preoccupied with our meal, silently taking in the smells and textures of expertly prepared food, savoring each bite, and listening only to our thoughts and the sounds of silverware clinking against plates.

And the worst dinners can offer up pure magic, when the bad food forces us all to engage in real conversation with each other at the table. Before we know it an hour has passed, we’ve asked some tough questions, and we’ve brought up a whole assortment of colorful topics that matter, some real food for thought.

A regular mixed medley.


Written by kmguay

October 24, 2009 at 7:40 pm

chuck norris

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chuck-norris-002-thumb-400x498 When I get home my ex is already in the teen room flopped on the couch. His keys are on the kitchen counter next to the half empty 3 for $10 bottle of wine and the package of eight portobellos in shrinkwrap. The sink is full of dirty dishes and the dryer is full of unfolded clothes. I look at the clock. It’s already after 7:00.

This is the critical moment of despair, when I just want to give up and call for take out or get into my sweats, grab a container of hummus and some pita bread, and type a facebook status line that says “Mom’s not cooking. Fend” while I dig into the container with my scrap of bread and pretend to do something useful like online Scrabble. OR, I can rally and honor my bright idea to invite my ex to join us at the kitchen table for a little full family face time while whipping up a fast weeknight dinner of… of… (I look over again at the prepackaged portobellos I asked him to buy) something with mushrooms.

I begin washing dishes while my youngest teen walks through the kitchen.
“Hold on there, I could use some help. Start setting the table,” I say to him as I dig through the pile and haul out the dirty grill pan from the bottom.
“What’s for dinner?” he asks with a frown.
“I don’t know yet. I’m going to make it up,” I say back, now scrubbing my cherished pan like a madwoman. I can hear my ex and oldest teen screaming at the TV and I walk a few steps to the refrigerator, reach a soapy wet hand to open the door and look inside.

Sesame bread. Baba ganoush. A red pepper, those mushrooms on the counter, jack cheese. Paninis it is. And there is a container of butternut squash soup in the cabinet. Good. Curry powder, cinnamon, cumin, mexican chile powder.

I switch from the sink to the stove to heat up some olive oil in the now clean and dry grill pan. Next, I furiously chop the portobellos and red pepper, dump them in the oil, and blast on the burner flame to high just as my ex wanders through the kitchen with his box of crackers in his hand. He’s still yelling at the TV, now more than ten steps away from it, and pouring himself a second glass from the already half empty bottle.
“Hey save me some and get out of here – it’s not ready, and you’re in my way” I say.
“Thanks for inviting me, chicken” he says. I glare at him to get out. The sink is still a mess, and the younger teen has set a haphazard table, missing flatware and glasses.
“Go grab the extra chair and the big glass with the candle in it,” I say to the teen, sidestepping my ex while yanking the little pull tab atop the box of butternut soup. The soup pours out in big splashy glubs, showering the top of the stove with pinprick dots of bright yellow. I brush the hair out of my eye that has just fallen from my headband and back up into my older teen, who is now also standing in the kitchen and hilariously laughing in a silent, open-mouthed laugh while trying to get his father’s attention.
“Dad…” he taps him on the back of the shoulder while my ex is moving chairs into position and arranging glasses above each white plate and beside a napkin.
“Dad.” Tap. Tap. “Dad, my friend just texted me another one. Dad, you gotta listen to this. Chuck Norris doesn’t wear a condom,” he says. His father turns around now and looks at him with full intent and his trademark Sponge Bob grin.
“Yeah?” he asks back.
The teen tries to compose himself and repeats the joke. “Chuck Norris doesn’t wear a condom, because there is no protection from Chuck Norris.” The room erupts in laughter. Teen number one stops to hold onto the edge of the chair while bending over. Father and older teen pat each other on the back with hilarity. I flip over the paninis I have since assembled in the pan.
“What’s so funny about that?,” I ask.
“Oh my god, mom, you don’t know Chuck Norris jokes?” one of them says back.
“No, I don’t,” I say and start ladling the butternut soup that is bubbling at the edges of the pan into small white bowls. I hand one to my ex who places it on the first white plate. He sits, and both teens follow his lead, pulling back their chairs to sit as well.
“Kris, it was the funniest thing,” my ex says to me, already spooning into his soup. “We’re in the car, me and my boy up front, and this one – he motions to the younger teen beside him – this one is in the back seat, and you know how he is, he’s like you, he’s so funny. Out of nowhere, he just says “Chuck Norris can slam a revolving door,” and we nearly drove off the road, we were laughing so hard.”
“That’s nice, boys,” I say, carrying a panini balanced on a spatula over to each plate. I slide them off one at a time, near the bowl of soup.

“If you have five dollars and Chuck Norris has five dollars, Chuck Norris has more than you.”

“When Chuck Norris falls out of a boat he dosn’t get wet the water gets Chuck Norrised.”

“Chuck Norris counted to infinity-twice.”

“Chuck Norris doesn’t mow his lawn, he stands outside and dares it to grow.”

“Chuck Norris can fry ants with a magnifying glass. At night.”

And with that one, I choke on a little bit of crust and start to laugh myself. That one was funny. The sheer absurdity of Chuck Norris jokes at the dinner table start to wipe away any care I still have lodged in my body. Any aching between my shoulders, any stiffness in my lower back.

Chuck Norris can fry an ant with a magnifying glass. At night.

What do I care about my long train commute, my dirty kitchen, the undone tasks waiting for me at work tomorrow? Tonight, I have Chuck Norris at my dinner table. I look around and all three of my boys are laughing. I get up and go to the freezer and grab four packaged ice cream sandwiches and hand them out. For another five minutes, all of us silently unwrap our ice cream man treats and eat them slowly as they melt, ripped white paper wrappers strewn about over dirty plates, each person happier than anyone has ever been before.

Even Chuck Norris.

Written by kmguay

October 14, 2009 at 2:46 am

Posted in family

Tagged with , , , ,

the hard way

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It’s Sunday morning and I’m still in pajamas at my girlfriend’s kitchen table, flipping through the Sunday paper. I take a last sip from my oversized pottery coffee mug and watch my cellphone vibrate itself across the glass-top surface of the table.
“Morning hon,” I say as I flip it open against my ear. It’s my 16-yr-old calling from his dad’s house.
“Mom, we have to go to the mall today. I have money. I want to get this before Saturday,” he says.
“But you have all week. And I don’t want to go to the mall. Can’t we just go to TJ Maxx later? I ask.
“I already picked the locket out!” he says, his voice rising now. It has to be Zales, mom.”
And now the stream of consciousness ranting starts.
“Hey wait a minute, hold on, slow down. What do you mean you don’t want to screw up with her anymore? Is she being demanding with you? Did you have a fight about something?” I ask.
“Forget it mom, I’m sorry I’m ruining your day. I’ll figure something else out. Go back to reading the paper,” he says.

And there it is. A heaping dose of guilt to go with my second cup of morning coffee.

“So what’s up?” my girlfriend asks from the sink, her hands gloved in yellow rubber and holding the coffee pot upside down over the kitchen compost pail. She has been methodically scraping used grounds from the bottom for the past few minutes and stealing a look at me, now frowning and sliding the closed cellphone back and forth on the kitchen table.
“Which creature was it?
“Teen number one,” I reply. “Demanding his turn at the mall this time so he can spend all his hard-earned money on his girlfriend for their one-year anniversary present. And mind you, this is all on top of the play tickets, the commuter rail fare into Boston, dinner.”
“Kris, just the Boston part alone could cost him around a hundred dollars,” she says over the sound of the water spray she is aiming into the upturned pot in the sink.
“I know this. I think it’s too much. And what’s worse is that he seems to be taking it all on himself like its something he is expected to do. Like it is some penance he needs to pay for being a bad boyfriend.”
“Hold on,” she says while grinding the beans.

I gaze out the window to watch a cardinal hop around under the japanese cousa tree just starting to change color. The morning dew on the grass is evaporating, a glint or two of wet still rim the edges of curling leaves on the ground, and the sun is beginning to shine from behind white puffy clouds in a bright blue sky. The morning is just now threatening to burst into one of those gloriously crisp fall days.
“Great and I’m going to be at the mall,” I say outloud.

My girlfriend walks over to the table holding a small white plate displaying two square bites of raspberry apple strudle. She places it in front of me and sits in the chair beside me, picking up up both of my feet to rest them on her lap.
“Don’t let him guilt you, Kris,” she says.
“I know. It’s not that. It’s just that… Well, he knows what I did for your birthday. He knows about the plane tickets, the costume, the special breakfast. How can I tell him he is doing too much, he is going overboard, when his mother pulls out all the stops for birthdays and anniversaries? I ask.
“He’s only sixteen. I don’t think it is the same thing,” she says.

And it’s not the same thing, but it might be worse. It has taken me years to finally grasp what constitutes giving yourself away and what is staying true to yourself in a relationship. I worry about this teen because he never hurts anyone’s feelings except his own. And I worry about him feeling obligated to do more and be more to please someone else. I want to tell him how I know all about this, how I’ve lived it, how I’ve suffered with it. And yet I’m also almost certain it’s not the kind of wisdom you can impart to a 16-yr-old during a 15-minute drive on the highway. I think it has to be experienced. It has to be learned over time and maybe over painful mistakes. I think it has to be learned the hard way.

“You need to go to the mall, don’t you?” my girlfriend asks while getting up to pour the second cup of coffee.
“I just think I’ll be able to get more information, maybe he’ll hear something I say if I share my own stories, and I can hopefully talk his jewelry purchase down to something more reasonably priced. You’ll be ok with this, right?
“You know I will,” she says while handing me my mug. “I have things I can do today and I’ll see you for Sunday dinner later. Go take your son to the mall.”

Written by kmguay

October 8, 2009 at 1:37 am