Personal Entries

Don’t pee on the couch

Karen and her kids, Emily and Patrick, have come down for dinner.   Karen and Emily sit down to keep me company while I finish cooking, and the boys head into the living room and the PS3.  Patrick, 12,  is the last boy to leave the kitchen.

“Hey Patrick,” I say, “don’t pee on my couch, OK?”


“Please try not to pee on the couch?”

“Miss Katie, why would I pee on the couch?”  The boy is understandably perplexed.  I’ve known him since he was a year old, and he’s never peed on anything in my house.

“I have no idea,” I tell him now, “but the bathroom is right there if you need it, OK?”

“But…why…..  Why would I pee on your couch?

I don’t know.”  I say. ” But just don’t, ok?”

His head cocked to the side and his eyebrows knitted, Patrick heads into the living room while Karen grins at me, shaking her head slowly from side to side.

In a moment Patrick returns.

“When did I pee on your couch?”  Patrick demands of me.

“I don’t know. Why don’t you tell me?”

Through a fit of giggles, Emily shouts at her younger brother, “JUST DON’T PEE ON THE COUCH, Patrick!”

“No, wait. ” I put up my hand to forestall another outburst from Emily.  “He was about to tell us when he peed on the couch.”

“I DIDN’T PEE ON THE COUCH!” Patrick exclaims.

“OK.  If you say so, I believe you.”

“I didn’t.”  He insists.

“That’s great!  And I really appreciate that.”

“So…why are you telling me not to pee on the couch?”

“Because it’s a leather couch, and once that smell gets into it, there is just no getting it out.  I don’t want to have to replace the couch.  It’s expensive.”

“But… why do you think I’m going to pee on the couch?”

“Patrick,” Karen puts up a hand to stop her son’s questions, and with each word clearly articulated says,   “just   do   not   pee   on   that   couch. “

“But, why would—“

“Just don’t!” Karen orders.

As Patrick leaves the kitchen, Karen, Emily and I double over in silent laughter. Each of us knows what will happen next, and almost immediately, it does.

Matt bursts into the kitchen, “Why did you tell Patrick not to pee on the couch?”

“Because I don’t want him to pee on the couch,” I explain.

No one should pee on the couch,” adds Karen.

“When did he pee on the couch?!” Matt demands.

We didn’t say he did.  We just don’t want him to pee on the couch.”

“You shouldn’t be peeing on the couch, either.” Karen informs Matt.

“I’m not going to pee on the couch,” says Matt.

“I hope not…..” But Karen sounds dubious.

“I’ve never peed on the couch!”  Insists Matt.

“You sure? ” I ask him, “You haven’t? “


“We don’t know.”

And then suddenly the kitchen is full of  boys, all talking at once, all insisting that they have NEVER peed on my couch or any other couch, anywhere.  Ever.

“And no one said you did!”  I explain, “And we want you to keep up the good work.”

Karen sums it up for them, “Don’t pee on the couch. It should go without saying.  Now, we’ll call you when it’s time to eat.”

Muttering and confused, indignant and questioning each others’ urinary histories, the boys leave the kitchen to return to their game.

“And don’t pee on the chairs, either! ”  Emily calls out.

Really, how do people amuse themselves when they don’t have children?


Personal Entries

Muffin lechery

Mr. Muffin

The boys settle at the table while I finish making a pot of tea.   I’ve made blueberry muffins for breakfast, and as they help themselves to the muffins in the basket,  Riley notices that one muffin resembles a human face.

Soon the muffin is serving as his puppet, and it has a lot to say.

“Heeey Matt,”  the muffin says, “heeeeey.  I’m Mr. Muffin, yeaaah.  How you doing?  Heh heh, heh.  Yeaaah.”

Mr. Muffin sounds a lot like a cross between Beavis and the late, gravel-voiced DJ, Wolfman Jack.

“Hey! You better look at me when I’m talking to you,” Mr. Muffin tells Matt.  “No respect, no respect.”

Matt is ignoring Mr. Muffin.  This is remarkable, as Matt’s hobby this morning is being easily offended.  It’s a hobby he’s really, really good at, as good as Riley is at his chosen hobby: being offensive.

“Hey kid,” Mr. Muffin continues, “you better look at me or I’ll kick yo’ a** !”

“RILEY!” I tell my 14 year old as I join the boys at the table. “No!”

But Matt and I are both laughing, and this only serves to encourage Riley.

“Mom,” says Riley in his own voice,  shaking his head and throwing up his free hand in a gesture of defeat. “It’s the muffin.  He has a really bad attitude. What?”

“Well, your muffin needs to behave,” I tell my son.  “Your muffin better take it down a notch, OK? “

Riley sighs and looks admonishingly at his muffin. Then the muffin is turned my way, as if noticing me for the first time.

“Heeeeey baby!” Says Mr. Muffin. “Hey pretty lady!  How you doin’?”


“How ’bout you give Mr. Muffin a kiss?” Suggests Mr. Muffin.


“Just a little kiiiiiiissss.”

I am not kissing a muffin, and I tell my son so.

Mr. Muffin turns to Riley, now.

“I just wanna little kiiiiss.”  Says a sad Mr. Muffin to Riley. “I just need love.”

“Oh, I’ll give you kiss, Mr. Muffin, ” says Riley, giving the muffin a quick peck between his blueberry eyes.  “Geez Mom, can’t you be nice?”

“I’m NOT kissing your muffin,”  I laugh.

“Just a little kiss. ” sniffs Mr. Muffin, inches from my face.  “Just ooone.  One little kisssss.”

It’s kind of sad, and maybe if I kiss the muffin we’ll all be able to eat breakfast.  I give in, and lean forward to give Mr. Muffin a peck between his eyes.  As I do, Mr. Muffin opens his huge muffin mouth and makes lascivious noises:

“He hllllllaa, heh he he ehhhhhhhhhhh.  Heh he he!  Tongue Kiss! Heh!”

I feel so dirty, and a bit disturbed.


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

Don’t be stupid, don’t die

Listen closely. Do you hear that voice?  The one saying, “Cam, please be careful! Please?”

That’s me.

This is what my parenting has been reduced to: urging boys to be careful. That’s it.   I feed them and implore them not to be too stupid;  not to die.  This might seem like a small job, but any teenage boy will tell you that being stupid and almost dying is the teenage boy’s goal.

What the video doesn’t show is me, moments before, calling out the window:

“Who’s on the bike?  Is that Cam?”

“Yes M’am!”  Said Cam, who is a very nice boy.

“Oh Cam, honey, I thought you were smart.”  I said to Cam, who is very smart.

“No, I’m stupid!”  Cam answered, and all the other boys cheered.

What you see, above, is what they did all day, only pausing to have a contest to determine who could stand outside in their bare feet the longest.

You might think that the purpose of sledding is to go down a hill as fast as you can, but you’d be wrong.  The purpose of sledding is to see who can most dramatically and inventively come closest to fracturing their skull, and if I had a dollar for every time I called out, “I DO NOT want to go to the hospital today,” I’d be a wealthy woman.

Be careful, don’t be too stupid, don’t die:  It’s more work than you think.


Personal Entries

To my sons

My dear sweet, beautiful sons,

This weekend, you watched as my heart shattered.  After weeks of worry– of ups and downs, of questioning myself, of waiting for things that were out of my control–I fell apart.

Children aren’t supposed to see that, are they? Parents are supposed to leave the room for their disintegrations.  But you three watch me like hawks, as if I am the most interesting and important creature you’ve ever encountered, and  I don’t think there is anything I’ve ever done or felt that went unnoticed.  To assure you that I am OK when I’m not is to teach you that your instincts are wrong, and your instincts are rarely wrong.  I learned a long time ago that attempting to slink off to lick my wounds privately only makes you three nervous, and it’s best to be honest when I am struggling.  What you imagine is always worse than the reality.

And so you’ve been aware of my recent worries, and your patience and quiet concern have helped me stay calm and guardedly optimistic.

But suddenly it all became too much, and as I took one blow too many you watched at I crumbled. You gathered around me, encircling me with your skinny boy arms, shushing me as I sobbed, kissing me on my head as the first real hope I’ve felt in years drained away like the last light of the day;  as old scar tissue was carelessly ripped apart, yet again.

You three didn’t even flinch.  In one moment, you morphed from trash-talking, wrestling, nut-punching hooligans into pure goodness. Your compassion, your empathetic tears, your calm self-assurance as you shuffled me up to my bed and told me to lie down for an hour until I felt better, your protectiveness of me over the past few days  ….  it humbles me.    How do an 11, a 14, a 19 year-old know how to care and love this way?

You are such kind people, and that kindness and those skinny arms have lifted a bit of the heaviness from my heart–just enough that I can take a deep breath and steady myself.

You are my heroes, and it is an honor to be your mother.

Thank you for loving me 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

The boy. He rocks so hard.

Photo by Buren Foster, one of the team’s Dads.

I love my Riley.

Sometimes I’m a bit overwhelmed by the demands  the boys’ soccer puts upon me,  but then I see pictures like this one taken at last weekend’s tournament.

My boys go full-throttle, caution-to-the-wind, go-big-or-go-home, and I admire them for it.

How could I not go the extra mile to let them do something that makes them feel like this?  Because this?  This must feel pretty awesome.


*Visit Buren Foster Photography


Personal Entries

Studies have shown

“Uh-oh, the goldfish are mating,” says Riley, as he snacks on Pepperidge Farm Rainbow Goldfish.

“What do you mean, ‘mating‘?”  I ask.

“Mom, do you really need me to explain this to you?”

I walk over to see that Riley has paired up the goldfish crackers into matching color couples:  red with red,  green with green, orange with orange, purple with purple.

“I think you’re imposing your own values on them,” I say, “maybe an orange would like a green, or a purple might like a red.  I think you’re being a goldfish-racist.”

“No,” says Riley,  shaking his head.  “Uh-uh.  Studies have shown that goldfish crackers are only attracted to other goldfish crackers that look like them.”

“Studies have shown this?” I ask.  “They’ve studied the mating habits of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish?”

“Yeah.  They have.  On  So, who’s the goldfish racist now, huh?”


Personal Entries

Now and before

It’s been, what?  Six weeks since Matt started middle school? But Matt, being Matt, has thrown himself into this new stage of his life: he is middle school and middle school is he.

Now he is very grown up, whereas before he was not.  The  delineation between now and before is quite clear.

The night before the start of sixth grade, Matt was annoyed with Riley about how long Ri had been sitting next to me;  it was his turn to smoosh up against me on the couch, and only fair and right that Ri shove off.   Only twenty hours later,  Matt walked in the door from his first day of middle school and was disgusted and confused by my kiss on his head. Why would I DO that?  He made clear to me that there will no longer be any tolerance of maternal affection, because it is gross and a violation of his manly boundaries.

Middle school Matt has been curious to watch.

As he sits at the kitchen table after school,  he chatters on about his day.

“And Andre called Bethany a ‘B’ !”

A “B,” blogosphere!  He called her a ‘B!”

“Oh no!” I say, “Was she upset?”

“No.  Bethany says Andre in an ‘A.’  She just ignores him.”

There is something endearing about him swinging his legs and eating cookies while telling me, matter-of-factly and yet in code, about the use of profanity on the bus. Something very young, and yet trying to be big; a poignant straddling of what came before and what comes next.

He wonders if he should start shaving, and tells me knock-knock jokes.  When I order pizza, he offers to pay for it.  He’s frustrated and angry to realize he needs help with his math homework, and then practices burping the sentence, “I just farted.”  My cuddliest child no longer allows affection,  but the ban on affection clearly corresponds  with him becoming grumpier and grumpier.  Grumpier with me, grumpier with his brother, grumpier with the cat and the dog.  Everything is an insult to him, everything is frustrating.

I desperately want to gather him in my arms and gentle his spirit, and yet to attempt to do so would be disrespectful.

In the mornings I’ve always woken Riley, first.  I  rub Ri’s back  until he wakes, and then head in to do the same for Matt.   Since school started and affection is no longer allowed,  Matt has been awake enough when I come to him to assure me he needs no waking.

The past two weeks I’ve switched it up.  I’ve set my alarm a bit earlier, and quietly gone in to Matt, first.   As the mattress sinks under my weight, he instinctively turns to cuddle up to me, just as he always has.  I kiss his head and rub his freckled cheeks until he wakes.  Having momentarily forgotten that warmth is verboten, he wakes as the sweet Matt he’s always been, spouting questions as he’s always done.

“Hey Mom? Do you think I’ll get into the Ping-Pong Club? Did you sign my reading log?    So, can I stay after school for the football game on Thursday?” Silence, and then, “Ha!  I just farted on you!”

With one last kiss on his head, I disentangle myself and move away before he realizes I’ve committed the felony of affection.


Personal Entries

The joy club

As I go through life and meet new people, I sometimes meet another mother of three or more boys.  In a check-out line,  at a sporting event, a school function– those moments when we knock up against strangers long enough to engage in small talk.  Upon realizing this commonality, there always follows a small, silent exchange;  a moment of recognition and appreciation.   We meet each other’s eyes, break into a grin, shake our heads and roll our eyes: boys.

My mother’s sister, Joni, and her husband, Tom, have five boys.  There is a very special place in Heaven for Joni and my Uncle Tom.  They will have a full staff who jump to do whatever they say, the first time they say it, complementing them on their wisdom.  No one will require emergency medical care after five o’clock.

Clockwise from top left: Mike, (married to the awesome Cory, Dad to two) 36, Tom (musician and headed to college) 18, Bob (soon to be married) 31, Tim (college student and skate gangsta) 23, and John (USAF stud) 22

Growing up, I used to be baffled by the things I heard my Aunt and Uncle say.

“Don’t give them that key!”  Joni would say,  “They’ll just go put it in the outlets.”

Why, I’d think, would nine, ten, eleven- year-olds put a key in an outlet? They’re old enough to understand the danger at the age.

“Don’t tell them the light goes out when you close the refrigerator door,” Tom would say, “they’ll put each other in there.”

THAT is ridiculous.  They wouldn’t get into the refrigerator.

Joni and Tom were part of a club I had not yet joined, and now I understand what I did not then:  with boys, you must constantly suspend all common sense and consider the most unreasonable thing to do at any given time. Then, you must assume your sons will think of something worse to do.

They might not have put that key into the outlet when they were younger, but now that they know they can be electrocuted, they will spend hours attempting to electrocute themselves and each other.

And yes, they would get into the refrigerator.   I know this because I am constantly telling my boys to let each other out of the dryer.

Three seems to be the magic number.  Two boys can think of some really stupid things to do, but throw in the third and now you have an audience. Add an audience, and that last trace of common sense disappears.

I thought of my Aunt and Uncle tonight, as I said goodnight to Matt.

Matt fell asleep on the couch, and as Jake carried him up to bed, he woke.  As he neared the bed, he twisted and torqued like a hooked pickerel, flinging himself out of Jake’s arms and face-first into the wall over his bed. BAM…thunk.  And because that is all shades of AWESOME, he burst out laughing.

Laughter is the rallying cry for boys, and so Riley came running.  Seeing Jake in Matt’s room, he headed straight for him, ramming him with his head to cause as much pain as he possibly could.

“My NUTS!” Yelled Jake.

Jake, in turn, beat the snot out of Riley, causing him as much pain as he could.

“My NUUUUTS!” Yelled Riley, as Jake picked him up by his testicles, it seems,  and threw him onto the bed.

I had followed Jake as he carried his brother upstairs, and now, as I sat on the bed with Matt, his two brothers put on the Sunday Night Show.

“THIS is why I’ve always had the rule of no brothers in each other’s room at bedtime!” I say.

“I’ll take care of it, Mom!”  Says my oldest son.  And he grabs Riley by the ankles, and drags him from the room.    THUNK, face-down, off the bed and onto the floor. AHHHH, as the rug rubs the skin off his face.  THUNK, against the door frame.

Riley, at the last minute, grabs my leg and attempts to pull me with him.  My leg doesn’t bend at a 90° angle sideways, and in the midst of the craziness the most natural reaction is to laugh and hang onto the boy beside me.  Matt and I are dragged halfway off the bed before Riley releases his grip.

I spend the next half hour beside my laughing son, my gaze swiveling between him to my left, and his brothers to my right.  Matt, the youngest, big-eyed and freckled,  head thrown back as he laughs deep belly laughs at his brothers’ antics.  Jake,  standing bouncer-like in the doorway, hands held together to protect his crotch as Riley gleefully attempts to batter his way into the room, again and again.

“My nuuuuuuuts!” Yells Riley, as Jake drags him away from the doorway once again,  “He’s dragging me by my nuuuuuuuuts!”

For a half an hour I find myself crying out warnings and orders; setting limits which are not so much ignored at not heard through the laughter.

“Be careful of his head and his spine!  WATCH HIS NECK!  His HEAD, HIS HEAD!”  I plead.

“DO NOT  get that gun out at this hour.  NO WEAPONS AT ELEVEN O’CLOCK AT NIGHT!”  I order.

“Put the cap back on that deodorant!  Put the cap on that deodorant!”  I command, and then,   ” Oh yuuuuck! Now I have deodorant all over my arm.  Ew.”

“OK, let’s not move the furniture right now, LET’S NOT MOVE THE FURNITURE!”

As I sit beside my laughing son, I’m aware of how fleeting this time is, and I think of my Aunt and Uncle.  What do Tom and Joni feel as their boys get older and head off into the world?  My youngest cousin is eighteen, and only two boys are still at home.  Are Tom and Joni ready for a bit of quiet, or will they miss the ridiculous out-of-control of so many boys?  Is it heart-breaking, or a relief?   Both?

I think of my Aunt and Uncle in my first defined memories of them: the weekend of their wedding, almost forty years ago.  Joni: a red-haired, round-faced teenager, and Tom: youth-slim and dark-haired, dashing, and a bit cocky.

They’ve had quite a ride, and I’m sure it’s not what they imagined it would be.  Is it ever?

Tom, Joni, John (USAF)

More than time and all else in life combined, Tom and Joni’s boys have made them what they are today;  that half-wild, rough-sweet mass of constantly moving boy has been their life.  Their sons are the Sun around which their world has revolved, and at this moment I feel so lucky to be a member of the same club.

To be the mother in a house full of boys is joy, pure joy.