“Mom, I’m okay, I wasn’t involved, but the police want you to come pick me up.”

My heart races at this rush of words through the telephone.

Teen and two other boys had permission to spend a summer night at another friend’s house. He has a game room and they wanted to play late into the night.

Teen neglected to tell us parents would not be home; we goofed and didn’t check.

Someone invited someone who invited someone else who did something stupid to attract police attention before arriving at the now-party. Police ran a license plate, called parents, and eventually discovered unsupervised minors, some of whom were still obliviously playing games.

Guy went to get him while I stayed home and prayed. Obviously the car ride home involved a conversation about trust and a now-depleted, in fact negatively balanced, Trust Account.

Teen has never been a big gamer. He is a health-conscious athlete and mostly a likable, good kid. He gets in trouble because he acts impulsively, the tell-tale symptom of his ADHD which inclines him to risk-taking. Honest to God, I’m grateful his risk in this situation was relatively low.

Teen barely knew the kid for whom the cops arrived and he easily recognized the stupidity of the kid’s actions. He never argued about being grounded. He understood that the situation could quickly have become So Much Worse. He learned something.

A summer week without friends might be a rough kid-consequence, but his parents enjoyed hanging out with our Teen. He won’t say it, but he might have had some fun with his family, too.

This is the reason we spent our not-truly-a-staycation cleaning out and reorganizing our garage (aka storage-unit) into a hang-out space. Not in response, as we’d already begun the process before the incident, but because we want our house to be a place Teen wants to bring friends.

Teen’s tendency has been to go out rather than invite friends in. Understandably, as our smallish house lacked a space with sufficient separation from Family Life. Almost simultaneously, Teen bought a PS3 + games from a friend who had moved on to a newer system, and friends offered us their sectional couch and rug. We saw an opportunity.


Purging in process

garage 2

Prepping for sanding/painting

Parents did most of the purging; Teen put on his work clothes to move furniture, to sand and paint. He offered input on where things should go (he pushed us to purge even more) and what else might be needed (mini fridge, space warmer for cold nights). He even reorganized games into attractive storage boxes.

It’s still a garage – bikes and sports equipment, tools and laundry, no cars (we live in California) – but thankfully, the renovation worked. Over the last three months, Teen has stayed home more than he might have AND he has invited friends in. Goal! It has also given Guy a new opportunity to bond and play with his boys and provided another comfortable hang out space.

Our garage-pantry makes for easy snack access; cat = happy, too!

Our garage-pantry makes for easy snack access; cat = happy, too!

No perfect solution, the Man Cave has also created new problems. Teen hears the siren call of video games so much louder than our reminders to get homework done first. It has become a too-frequent escape when he’d prefer not to engage with family. And the three guys enjoying the space so much sometimes leaves Mama out. As families do, we negotiate as we go.

We listened with ears, eyes, heart, and our love for Teen led us to a Labor of Love: a garage hang-out space. He receives love best through Time and Gifts, and I’ve seen it in his eyes – he understands that we spent significant Time to create a Gift of space for him.

I asked him again today: “Are you grateful we worked so hard to create this space for you?”

He responded, “No, Mom. Seriously, are you really asking me that? Yes, I’m grateful.”

Sarcasm aside, he is grateful. He received the love. I’ll take it.

Rituals: Cation House

Cation House

Writ large on the walls of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Pablo Neruda’s words strike a chord in my soul: “I spin on the circle of wave upon wave of the sea.”

My life has felt like constant spinning, waves of joy and laughter, wash of chaos and drama, waves of peaceful beauty. My parents’ lives spun on disorder and turmoil until they spun into each other and, quickly, marriage. They attempted to overcome the tidal pull of established patterns; they did their best to remain upright in swirling waters. Still, my Airline Captain father flew in and out of our lives on air currents rather than water.

While I attended college my parents purchased a Time Share blocks from a NorCal beach (we lived a short drive from SoCal beaches). Recently I asked my mom, “Why?”
“To create family memories, to have a place we could come back to year after year.”

My parents, siblings and I never spent a week there as a family. My family, however – my mom and nephew, my husband and sons – has spent a week there every summer since Teen was two years old. We call it the “Cation House.”


Friends! The rest of today’s post appears on the blog of a dear one, Cara Meredith, aka Be.Mama.Be. I can’t wait for you to finish this story, so significant to my life, AND meet Cara – energetic, amazing, So Much Fun with the Best Laugh Ever! We laughed ourselves silly through The Great Snowpocalypse of 2010 following the National Prayer Breakfast. We prayed together and then got stranded together in the gorgeous hip-deep snow we waded through to enjoy DC monuments and distract ourselves from Where We Were Supposed To BE. Good times, y’all!CaraMac

Talking with Boys in Cars

Long before Guy and I had kids of our own, let alone teenagers, we ran a youth group filled with young people we loved. One of the things we quickly learned: girls like to talk face-to-face while boys talk more openly when engaged in activity. Of course that’s a generality, but we’ve seen it play out so many times in so many conversations.

And now we have our own two boys and so many things – important things – to talk about with them.

The car has been one of my favorite places to talk with my kids. They know I’m watching the road, not their faces. They can predict how long the conversation will last based on location and destination. I have learned not to ask questions too easily dismissed with one-word answers.
Not “How was your day?”
“Fine” or “Boring” or “Tiring.”
Instead, “Tell me something interesting you learned today” or “What made you laugh today?”

I have also learned to shut up and listen. Carpools are great for that, so long as the kids don’t have their noses buried in cell phones. For one year of Teen’s middle school years I drove a van-full of boys home after youth group. No kidding, it might have been my favorite 20 minutes of each week. High energy, completely amped boys talked and laughed and sang and even occasionally got serious about something they’d heard at church or something happening at school. Once in a while they asked me a question or let me chime in, but mostly I listened. And laughed along with them.

Carpooling Kids

Of course the close quarters don’t always incline themselves to conversation. One night as I drove Teen to sports practice I told him I was proud of him.

He snapped, “Why?”
“Because I like the young man you are becoming.”
No response.
So I continued. “You are kind, you work hard, you care for people and animals and the earth…”
Still no response, so I kept talking. He kept not talking.

My mind spun out of control. Why wasn’t he answering me? Had I said something wrong? Do I not offer him compliments regularly enough? Am I so critical that he doesn’t trust my kind words? In our fifteen-minute drive he didn’t say anything. Not even “Goodbye” as he grabbed his duffel bag and dashed to the field.

Guy picked him up after practice and Teen arrived home again in a much better mood, energized from a good workout and time with friends. I asked him about the silent treatment he’d given me.

“What? Oh, Mom, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude. I was just thinking about girls.”

Thinking about girls? Not intentionally ignoring me or snubbing me, but hormonally preoccupied? Sheesh!

A few weeks later, this time he drove to practice while I sat in the passenger seat. He had ‘his’ music playing loud, bass thumping (still surprised I’m riding in the bass-bouncing car). The song was new to me and the lyrics were crass. As the chorus repeated the same vulgar words, I turned down the volume and asked, “Does it not bother you to listen to that with your mom sitting here?”
I repeated my question.
Still confused, “What? Oh, that? Mom, honestly.. I’m sorry, I know this is going to sound bad, but I kind of forgot you were here. I’m not even listening to the music, I’m just thinking about practice tonight.”

I had to laugh! Twice in a month I learned that you can’t read too much into someone’s silence. Especially a teenage boy’s!

One of the few true-for-always things I’ve learned about good parenting: be available when the kids are ready to talk. Which takes presence and time. Lots of both.

During spring break, Tween and I took a long road trip together. To while away the time, I suggested a game: he should say a word, then I’d say another word beginning with the last letter of his word, and so on. Alphabet, telephone, eel, laughter, reach, hungry…

We played for an hour, and surprisingly, we laughed big belly laughs – you have no idea how many words end in ‘e’ and how few words begin with ‘e’ until you’ve played this game! We played it again with cousins when we reached our destination. We played again on the way home, but the game lost its appeal as we repeated all the same words we’d used before.

One morning before school we were talking about how being grateful can affect your attitude. “I know, Mom! Let’s play the word game again, except this time we only say things we’re thankful for.” God, Dad, danger (“adds spice to life!”), redemption, new flowers, senses, safety, you (watery eyes on two faces)… The game we began on a car ride changed the conversation in the house, and we both lived that day with a little more gratitude.

A few years ago I had a conversation with a mom whose child was about to take their driver’s test. She lamented the loss of car time to talk with her child, something I hadn’t yet considered. I gained a new perspective on just how fleeting the daily reality, the chores of parenting, can be.

Today Teen got his driver’s license. He doesn’t have a car so I anticipate a lot of negotiation in our near future. We may continue to drive him to and from school and keep him in carpools for a while; California teens can’t drive anyone under 21 for the first year they have their license.

He lost only one point on his test and the instructor wrote “Good driver” on the bottom. I’m not surprised. I thought being a passenger to my child as driver might freak me out, but his confidence inspires trust. He is a good driver.

I’m proud of him, happy for him. And truthfully, I’m a little bit sad for me at losing our together time in the car. Next-up parenting challenge: I’m going to have to find new shared activities, new ways to be present with him over time, to continue the conversation.

sunset trees 11-14

Instead of “Godspeed” I think I will pray, “God-Slow my child!”