Personal Entries

Magic Water Fountain Of Wisdom

“Drink deeply from the Magic Water Fountain of Wisdom, boys.  Jake, you drink more deeply than the others,” I said.

“Really, Mom? Is that really necessary, really?”  Asked Jake.

Yes.  Yes it is.

It was a long first semester at Chapel Hill.  Jake had a lot of fun and did very, very well in his major, if his major had been Co-ed Dorm Living.  Sadly, that is not his major.

The semester was peppered with quotes which might haunt Jake for years; things which one with a less-than-stellar GPA should probably not say to their mother.

My favorite?

“I can’t concentrate right now because two girls are rubbing my head.  They say my new buzz feels really good.”

This, said by a boy who had called me to discuss the need for tutoring.

There have been many talks.  Many, many, many talks. Talks about maturity, priorities, and expectations.  Talks about hard work, and potential.  Talks about appropriate times and places for having one’s head rubbed, and the wisdom of telling one’s mother of details which one might never live down.

In fact,  just before this picture was taken there had been one last talk over lunch at Spanky’s, capped off by my mother leaning forward and whispering to the grandson she loves, “Get your ass in gear, kid.”

And Jake, being Jake, listened graciously.

On our after-lunch walk to Chapel Hill’s famous fountain, The Old Well, Jake’s brothers had teased him relentlessly:  Did he need his head rubbed? Had he had a long enough drink from the fountain on the first day of classes?  Because Chapel Hill legend says that drink was supposed to have ensured a 4.0 GPA,  so what happened?  Upon reaching the Old Well, the brothers showed Jake the proper way to drink from the fountain, because he obviously had done it wrong last semester.

Perhaps my suggestion that he drink more deeply than the others was a bit much?

When Jake hung his head and cheerfully bemoaned the abuse being heaped upon him, I worried: had the teasing gone too far?  I hoped not, but I did want to assure him that he was very loved.  And so, I did what a good mother should do:  I rubbed his head and sang “Soft Kitty” to him while his brothers beat the snot out of each other behind us.

I think he’ll do better this semester, if only to make sure that he doesn’t have to switch to a local college and come live at home.

I love that boy so much.


Personal Entries

So he stomped on my chest

Oh honey, it's not "his self."


“I only stomped on his chest GENTLY!”  Says Riley.

Ri is shaking his head from side to side, holding both hands up in a gesture of innocence and surrender.  Clearly, someone is overreacting to having their chest stomped upon gently, and Ri is a bit disgusted.

I’m already annoyed with Matt and Ri, as they are supposed to be doing their homework while I work on dinner. They’ve wandered away to play Nerf basketball, and my repeated requests to return to their homework have been ignored.  Now Riley pointedly returns to his homework; he has no time for divas fussing about a gentle chest-stomping when there is homework to be done.

“You stomped on his chest gently?,” I ask. ” Is that anything like the time you pushed him into the banister playfully?  Maybe next time you can smack him upside the head with a two-by-four jokingly?”

“It wasn’t hard and he kept saying ‘BRICK,’ and–“

But I can’t hear the rest of  Riley’s answer, because Matt has  joined us in the kitchen, and has a lot to say about his chest injury. Their words are a jumble: “youLAUGHED  yousaidBRICK YOUstompedonmyCHEST NOTHARD!”

“You know what?” I say, cutting them both off,  “No!  I don’t want to even hear it.  You were supposed to be doing homework, you weren’t listening, and you two work this out. “

I tell them to each get a piece of paper, sit down and write out what happened, and then hear each other out.

Riley’s hands go back up, “I’m just trying to do my homework–“

Jake is home on break, and he advises Riley,  “Dude, you should listen before she beats the crap out of you, nicely.”

“And then maybe we should bury him in the backyard, gently?”  I add.

Jake and I agree that this is a good plan, and we discuss all my options while the two younger boys scribble out their conflict.

Today, days later, I find Matt’s paper.  We’re going to need to work on grammar, among so many, many other things.

Personal Entries

A different grocery store

As we discuss what we should make for dinner,  I realize a grocery run is needed.   Jake offers to do the shopping trip, and while I write up a short list, I also issue instructions.  I want Jake to go to a specific store; not our usual grocery store, but to the Harris Teeter down the road.

“Go ahead and grab my ATM card out of my wallet,” I say, ” but I need you to go to the Harris Teeter—”

“The hairy titties?” Asks Riley.

“Really?”  I ask Riley.  “Really?”

Riley grins, and I sigh, shake my head, and begin again.

“As I was saying, do not go to the hairy titties, Jake—”

“No, ” he assures me, ” I wasn’t planning to go to the hairy titties.”

“Good. Good.”  Jake and I nod in agreement.  Hairy titties are out.   “But,  if you would go to the HARRIS TEETER–”

“The hairy testes?’ Asks Matt.

I close my eyes for a moment, and then continue,  ” If you could go to the grocery store–”

“The hairy testes, Jake,” clarifies Riley.

“Would you STOP with the hairy testes, please?” I ask my younger sons.  I’m trying not to laugh and,  like predators, I’m sure they sense my weakness.

“Well, Mom,” Riley explains,  “that’s not really gonna be up to me.  I mean, that’s kinda what puberty does.”  He and Matt are grinning from ear to ear,  nodding in agreement.  Yes, This is true.  Hairy testes will not be up to them.

Jake is biting back a smile, and his upper body shakes with the laughter he’s holding in.  I can’t look at him or I’ll start laughing, too.

This is one of the greatest joys and most difficult challenges of parenting Riley.  He finds humor in almost anything.  Year after year, I’ve received phone calls from his teachers which begin, “I love Riley, and I really enjoy him, but…”  The “but” is inevitably followed by a request that I talk to Riley about curtailing his comedic comments while in class.  I’ve had many conversations with Ri about time and place; about using his powers for good and not evil.

And as Matt’s sense of humor has matured, he’s become Riley’s partner in crime.  Recently they’ve mastered the two-pronged assault: one riffing off the other,  each providing fuel for his brother’s fire,  perfecting their A, B, A, B  rhythm.  Riley plants the seeds, and Matt cheerfully helps bring that crop to harvest.  I’m just happy they’re cooperating.

The two of them are waiting politely for me to continue.  I glare at them, and they smile, sweetly.

I hold my hand up like a stop sign, and blurt out the rest of my instructions to Jake, ” If you go to the Harris Teeter, they have big bags of Scott’s mulch on sale, and I’d love it if you could get as much as you can fit in the trunk of your car, ok?”

“YOU’RE GOING TO MULCH THE HAIRY TESTES?”  Matt is shocked. “That’s GROSS!  You’re not mulching my testes, lady!”

Riley slowly shakes his head from side to side.  He’s disappointed in the kind of woman he just realized I am.  A testes mulcher.

An image of my front flowerbed filled with mulched, hairy testes flashes through my mind, and I’m lost.

“Would you two stop?!”  I laugh, ” Just stop it!  No more hairy testes!”

“I haven’t even started my hairy testes yet, Mom, ” says Matt, and adds matter-of-factly, “that’s probably going to happen in middle school.”

“No,” says Riley, “Highschool.  We hit puberty late in this family.”

Jake takes the list, and heads for the door.  “I’ll get as much mulch as I can, ” he assures me.

As he leaves, Riley calls out, “Don’t forget the hairy titties, Jake!”


Personal Entries

Wanna play drums on my nuts?

Afraid of retaliation after kneeing his older brother in the groin several times, Riley now has both his soccer shinguards stuck down the front of his jeans.  It’s not particularly comfortable to walk around this way, but it makes a great sound when you energetically play drums on your crotch.

“Hey Mom, wanna play drums on my nuts?”

“Um, no thanks.  I think I’m good, thanks.”

“Reeeally?  You don’t know what you’re missing…”

“It’s an incredible offer,  but maybe some other time, yo.”

 He shakes his head in disbelief.  “Crazy.” 

And away he wanders, happily drumming his nuts.

Personal Entries

Notebook Casanova

As Riley packed his backpack this morning, he announced that he needed another spiral notebook for science class.

Another one?” I ask.  This is the third notebook this year.

“Yeah, the other one fell apart.”

“What do you do to them, Ri?”

“The covers just keep falling off!”

“That’s because you’re not treating them right,” interjects Jake. “You need to treat them like a lover.  You need to treat them softly, and carefully.  Stroke them gently.”

“Really, Jake?   Really?”   I ask.

He grins widely, and nods his head, “Yeah.’

“That’s really beautiful.”

“Uh-huh,”  he agrees.

“Or,” says Riley, “OR!  I could treat it like a notebook, because that’s less creepy.”


Personal Entries

Football nerds

College application due dates are approaching, and so our house is all college discussion, all the time.

Jake has worked hard academically, and now he’s looking at some brainy colleges.   For every school he explores, Matthew quickly gauges their worth based on their football strength.  Other than UNC, Matt hasn’t been impressed with Jake’s picks.

As I made dinner, our daily college discussion turned to the schools  no one on earth should be smart enough to go to, the schools only the freaky-smart attend.  The schools which scoff at National Honor Society kids like Jake.

“Who even gets into MIT?” Jake asks me.

“Dude, I have no idea—”

“Does MIT have a football team?” interjects Matt.

” I don’t think so,” I say, “Usually the farther you go up on the brainy nerd scale, the less likely you play football.  MIT doesn’t strike me as a footbally bunch.”

“Jake, you shouldn’t go there then,” Matt informs his brother.  Jake agrees.  It’s settled, then.  He won’t be attending MIT because they don’t have a football team.

Cornell has made Jake’s short list, though, and Matt does not endorse Cornell, either.

“But Cornell’s a nerd school,” Matt argues,  “and you want to go there.”

“Cornell has a football team,” I say, “they’re a little lower on the brainy nerd scale, so they play football.”

“Yeah, but they’re nerd football players,”  says Matt, derisively.

Matt hunches over like a quarterback in a football huddle.  For some reason he  assumes the voice of Jon Stewart impersonating George Bush, and so Matt’s quarterback comes out evil, clueless, AND brainy.

“He he.  It’s fourth down, see? And if we run this play there’s a 42 percent chance I’ll get sacked.  He he. He.  If I do, I will attempt to fall at a 30 degree angle and avoid injury.  He he.  We’re gonna need our pocket protectors.”  He straightens up and looks at Jake, one eyebrow cocked.  “They’re nerds, Jake. Nerds suck at football.  You shouldn’t go there.”

“Ok, Matt.  I’ll keep that in mind.”

Personal Entries

He’s a *#$@% Buddhist, got it?

Dinnertime is important to me.  We almost always sit at the table for dinner, and it’s during these times that we have some of our best conversations.  As no topic is really off-limits in my house, dinner table topics range from “how was your day?” to politics, religion, and genetic research.  We were discussing religion when Matt announced that he was a Buddhist.

“I’m a Buddhist,” he said between bites.  He didn’t notice the sudden strangled, confused silence around him.  His brothers and I were speechless, and those comments his brothers might have made were bitten back because of the sharp look I shot them.

Matt is not….


Matt is…. Well, Matt is passionate.  He feeeels, strongly, and frustrates quickly.   He feels strongly especially when he believes he has been wronged or insulted,  and then, boy, does he come out swinging.

Boychild has a temper, and this is part of the reason I pulled him out of school and homeschooled him for almost two years.  His temper and quick frustration mixed with ADHD made it important for me to temporarily slow things down for him and teach him the skills he needed to keep his head from popping off; to understand his nature and learn ways to maximize his positive, minimize his negative.  He worked hard and he did so well,  and the boy I sent back to school last year is a sweet guy who knows how to cool his jets and breathe deeply.  Most of the time.

His isn’t, however, the name that pops into your head when you think about prime candidates for Buddhism.  At all.  Like, that would never even occur to you.  And so there was brief, heavily loaded silence when Matt revealed his inner Buddhist at dinner.

“You’re a Buddhist, buddy?”  Asked Jake.

“Yeah,” said Matt, without looking up.  Which was good, because the look on Jake’s face didn’t match the calm of his question.  He looked as if, in the midst of laughing uproariously, someone had shoved a beachball up his nose.  I think  reigning in his disbelief was causing him pain.

“You’re a Buddhist,” Riley clarified.  He wasn’t convinced.

Yes, Ri.”  A bit of an edge this time, and Matt looked up at Ri, challenging him.

Oh hell, here it goes, because the one raw button Matt still has is the one Riley’s finger knows how to push.  Expertly.

“Matt, you are NOT a Buddhist!”

“Yes I am, Ri!  I’m a Buddhist if I say I’m a Buddhist!”

“You hit me and threw your football at me before dinner!  You’re not a Buddhist!”


And all three are tripping over each other’s words, fighting about who is a Buddhist and who is not.



“Buddy, do you even know what a Buddhist is?” Asks Jake.  Oh, cripes.  Why?  Why?


“I just asked!”

“He doesn’t know because he isn’t one,” adds Riley, helpfully.

“Enough.”  I say.  “E. NOUGH.  First of all, if Matt wants to be a Buddhist, that’s great.”

“But he threw a football at my head!” Riley is half-amused, half angry.  The intelligent part of him sees the absurdity of this moment, the emotional part feels it has gotten the short end of my parenting stick because of the focus on Matt, and he’s a bit resentful.  He will probably always feel, as older siblings do, that his younger brother has gotten away with something; has gotten off easy.

I hold up my hand to forestall Matt’s response.

“Buddhists love football,” I say.  ” They totally love it.  I’m sure he threw the ball at your head peacefully.  Like you do.”   I get his resentment.  I do, and Matt is going to have to understand that there is a reason his family is reacting this way.

“Matt does know about Buddhism, because we’ve read about it. ”  Matt nods as I say this, his dignity slightly restored by my defense of him.  “But Matt,  Buddhism is a path and a process and takes practice, like anything else.  And the reason we are all surprised to hear you say this is that we’ve seen a lot of your temper, ok?  But I think you’d do great with it, just like you do great at everything else you put your mind to.”

He nods.  We’ve had this discussion before; that we can go forward but it will take time for our memories to completely fade.  I’m proud of how graciously he accepts this.

“If you want to be a Buddhist,” I continue,” I can get you some more books on it, and I’ll help you, OK?

“I’m going to be a Buddhist,” he says with authority, and Riley snorts with derision.

“Stop.” I say to Ri. “A passionate person can be deeply spiritual and peaceful, and someone like Matt might really do well with Buddhism, so don’t be like that, Riley.”

I have no doubt that what I’m saying is true.  If Matt wants to be a Buddhist, he will end up making the Dalai Lama look like an unhinged violent reactionary by comparison.

Matt will be the most f***ing passionately calm Buddhist, ever, damn it!

Personal Entries

Beluga testicles

My sons have always been very impressed with their genitals.  It borders on the ridiculous, although I’m sure most men started out similarly.

In the case of my youngest, he’s had years of his older brothers setting the standard for how much one should congratulate oneself for being born with a penis, although I think he would have figured this out himself.  My oldest was barely three and without older brothers to clue him in when he wrapped his arms around my neck and said, “Mommy, I’m sorry you don’t have a penis.”   He was so sad for me.

As little boys, they’d look down in the bathtub and start cackling with laughter, pointing to their penises.  Getting dressed was cause for hilarity.  It’s still there!  Isn’t that awesome?  Look!  Really, look Mom!

Yup, still there, still awesome.

As they grew older I began with indulgent eye-rolling and head shaking.  Older still and I whittled down to just eye-rolling.

“Dude,”  I said to each of them in turn, ” it’s not that I’m not happy for you.  Trust me, I’m over-the-moon-thrilled that you were so clever to be born with a Y chromosome and all its accoutrements.  But I’ve seeeen it.  I’ve slapped about five thousand diapers on that hienie over the years.  I got a good look.  I’ll let you know if I have further need of a view.  And honestly?  No one else, ever, for the rest of your life, will be quite as enthralled with your penis as you are, so you might want to keep it in your pants.”

And after that, the genital fascination moved to the periphery of my life. Luckily, they had brothers with whom they could unabashedly share their enthusiasm.

Large parts of my younger boys’ days are spent discussing “nuts.” Whether the nuts have been kicked, whether clothing constrains the nuts.  Who is missing their nuts, and what further euphemisms can be ascribed to nuts.

My two youngest are often like Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau, and Cato, but if Clouseau and Cato were puppies.  They try to kill or maim each other during most waking hours, and they can’t be in the same room without pouncing on each other.  It’s friendly, except when it’s not.

I was in my studio when the wrestling started.

“Oh, MY NUTS!”

“Aww, you don’t have any nuts, Matt,” said Riley, cheerfully.

“Yes I do!  They’re right here!   RightHere!  Ow!  I poked my nuts too hard!”

“Matt.  I told you, you don’t have any nuts.”

“Yes I do.  SEE!”

Oh.  Good.  Lord.  The child has dropped trou to present his nuts, hasn’t he?  I know without looking.  It’s difficult to concentrate when this is going on in the next room.

“Ohhhhhh, Matt.  I didn’t need to see that,”  said Riley,  “and those aren’t nuts.”

“Yes they are. It’s my MANLINESS!”

“That’s not your manliness!  Those are like caterpillar balls.”   The crashing sounds have begun again.

“They’re like COW BALLS!”  Yells Matt. Cow balls?  “My nuts are HUGE!”

“You don’t have nuts,” repeats Riley, cheerfully.  More slamming.


“Matt, aren’t belugas a whale?”

“Yes,” I interject from my studio.  “The boy has just referred to his testicles as small whales.”

Matt is laughing so hard I can barely understand him. “MY BELUGAS. THEY’RE  HUUUGE!”

There is entirely too much testosterone in my house.

Unconvinced of existence of brother's testicles
Unconvinced of existence of brother's testicles