Monday, January 6, 2020

Teenage Loudness

I had mentioned not too long ago that Michael's voice changed. This is hardly unexpected for a boy of fifteen. At some point, they all go through that transformation from child to man, and for some it is more rapid than others.

What I cannot understand, though, is what happened to his volume control.

The change in pitch I get: you get bigger, your resonant chamber grows and responds to deeper notes, your vocal chords elongate and vibrate slower. That all makes sense.

But the sudden, dramatic change in his loudness is what's puzzling me.

Whereas before he used a vocal level that was comfortably resting within the bounds of what we all have agreed to as an "inside voice", now his normal conversational level is somewhere around "chainsaw at two feet". In the space of less than a week he went from 5 to 11 on the volume knob.

It's amazing. Just listening to him at the dinner table is uncomfortable as he practically shouts at us, though he's less than 22 inches from my eardrums.

I have to constantly remind him to take it down a few notches. Of course, he responds to this admonition by producing the loudest whisper that is possible to make by the human larynx.

Some evenings his mom and I head upstairs early after having been worn to the nub by our respective workplaces (the fact that we're over 50 has nothing to do with it of course). Michael will remain downstairs "getting ready for bed" by singing, chasing the cats or hollering at whatever video game he's currently playing. And all of this sonic pressure blasts its way upstairs, making it nearly impossible for my wife and me to hold a conversation, despite a floor separation and a closed door. I am forced to storm downstairs and remind him yet again that he needs to tone it down and be considerate.

Naturally he has to whisper back: "OK!"

I suppose this is a normal teenage boy thing, and like every other phase will pass along into memory. But it sure is hard on my ears.

I wonder if they make those sound cancelling headphones in something that fits over a mouth.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019


Ever forward, creeps the future.

But does so slowly. Unnoticed.

You think "Tomorrow will be the same thing as today, as yesterday was. Nothing really changes." But each new day connects to the one before it, with its tiny alterations. The days start to add up. And so go the weeks. And the months. And the years. As the song says, they start coming and they don't stop.

And by the time you step aside and take stock, fifteen years have gone by, and your baby is now on the brink of sixteen. He's sprouted mustache hairs.

And his voice dropped an octave. I didn't particularly notice that, until the end of last summer. One evening his mom and I were out on an evening walk around the neighborhood, and she got a call. I could overhear the caller - it was some man. Her responses were brief and direct. But when the caller said "when do you think you'll be home?" I then realized that "man" was my kid. I struggled with the notion that the little boy, whose voice very recently had been pitched up to the soprano of an eight-year-old, is now speaking in the basso profundo of an established adult.

We've already established him in his first year of high school. His report cards show huge improvements in his efforts and his output, and all his teachers agree he's on track for graduating with excellent grades. He is looking into getting his learner's permit now, too. The kid that was in a booster seat such a short time ago is eager to start driving.

His sisters have all moved out on their own, and they're doing very well: One has been working for several months at a local pizza restaurant (with prospects for becoming management on the fast track), another is gaining momentum in retail sales, and the third is finishing up her second year at a theatrical supply company.

Life has changed immensely since those days when Michael was knocking people silly with his head or pulling the guinea pig cage off the table, or when the girls were fighting over the computer or having screaming meltdowns over doing their homework. Those days my wife and I collapsed into bed at the end of each day, utterly exhausted. Our house regularly looked like a war zone. We ran the dishwasher twice a day, and never caught up on the laundry.

Now, our house remains relatively tidy, and enjoys periods of near silence.

For me, the next phase includes finally completing those home improvement projects I've put off for decades, and shifting gears into a more relaxed, uncluttered, uncomplicated lifestyle.

I'm hoping my wife and I get a chance to travel a bit before the grandkids come along.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

And then there was one...

We are a three person household now.

Michael is the last bird in the nest, as his third sister has flown.

Sister L had been living with us since 2016, and as an adult child her rooming situation in our home was under contract. That is, she had specific obligations to fulfill in order to secure her room and board, and specific consequences outlined should these obligations be violated.

It wasn't much, really, but it was designed to help strengthen her ability to understand that life in the real world is hard, it isn't always fair and kind, and it demands a lot just to get along. We did not want to make living in our home smooth and easy and relaxing, as if to say "please stay with us as long as you like, and we'll provide whatever you want." That would be counterproductive to her as a grownup. Eventually she'd be faced with the harsh reality of taking care of herself completely, and it's best to get that set of muscles strong as early on as possible. As one pundit put it, as parents of adult children we should provide a safety net, not a hammock.

We came to a point recently where sister L  was occasionally skipping out on her chores. Sometimes she would mention she'd be out late, sometimes she wouldn't. And then there were times when she didn't come home at all, leaving the chores completely undone. We had warned her that she was using up her strikes, and while I very much did not want to compel her to leave for two weeks, as per our agreement, it became necessary to do so when she bailed for the final time.

Only she decided right then not to bother with the two week leave, but that she was moving out permanently. My wife and I could see that this was not an accident, that she had been looking for an excuse to be "kicked out" so she could justify moving in with this "roommate".

So this last weekend she very happily finsihed loading all of her stuff up into a borrowed vehicle and she and her roommate headed off, and out of our living arrangement forever.

And if I know sister L, there won't be any bouncing back. She's the kind of girl who sets her face forward and heads in that direction. My wife and I are confident that she has gained enough strength and maturity over the last two and a half years her to face the adult world and begin to make her way.

It's been a rough time for me, and for Michael. He takes it hard, in that his secure world that he had "nested" in, being surrounded by sisters and love, is eroding and now he is open and exposed, with only his aging parents left. It has manifested itself in an increased level of obsession with the cats, in that he must know where each of them is at all times. He spends the daylight hours in a mild panic as he moves from window to window peering outside hoping to catch a glimpse of them. He is relieved, for the most part, each night when he can lure them inside the house and lock their cat doors.

It will be tough for him to grow through and past all of this, to realize his own strength and security in himself, but I know he can. He has made tremendous strides himself, and is doing very well in his first year in high school.

Some day we will say farewell to Michael as well. It will be the saddest day, and I am sure his mother will take it as hard as I am taking sister L's departure.

But then we have a brand new adventure ahead of us: kids returning for holidays, and grandkids!

Monday, August 26, 2019

Just A Phase

I console myself with those words: "It's just a phase."


Michael will be starting high school in a few days, a fact that floors me. He could technically start driving before summer next year, and could potentially get a job working for actual money.

But he's not showing a lot of interest in anything aside from being anxious about the cats and playing video games.

And, oddly enough, watching other people play games on YouTube.

This is a phenomenon I really cannot fathom. The vicarious enjoyment of watching someone else play a game and listening to their running commentary is just beyond me. It's not even to watch what they're doing and learn from their mistakes or their successes, it's simply to be entertained by their actions and reactions to events and adventures in this digital, virtual realm.

And it's always the same kind of thing, no matter which channel or which player: a man-child alternately yelling "OH MY G*D!" and issuing shrill screams plows his way through whatever game it is they happen to be playing at the moment, whether it's a first person shooter or speed run right or crafting game or what have you. Fortnight, Roblox, Minecraft, Baldy's Basics... it doesn't matter. The gameplay all sounds the same: alternating invective and shrieking.

At least Michael has the integrity enough to avoid channels where hard swearing is the norm; we have set the limit on that.

But how he can derive any sort of entertaining value from the high-pitched antics of these basement-dwelling proto-adults is beyond me. And you can't blame the guy who owns the channel; there are a number of them, and they've all figured out they can actually make money playing games and yelling like toddlers. Technically, this is a paying job, so I can't cite them for being lazy and unproductive, in a technical sense. But what kind of example is this setting for my son?

Disney has picked up on the phenomenon as well, devoting entire programming lineups to these guys, with "Select Player" and "Parker Plays" among others. Headshots of fledgling facial hair visages with headsets inset on their monitor screen view as their digital characters go about their gameplay within a virtual world. We have reached the point where kids can watch other kids play videogames.

"Get him involved with something else," you say. "Get him away from his screen." Yes, I agree. And this I do, as often as I can. We limit his time with screens, and though it is a large limit, there are still boundaries. He knows he cannot visit sites or view content that is inappropriate for our values. He knows he must attend to his chores and whatever learning activity he is tasked with. But for the time not covered by obligation, his go-to is his phone and the glorious YouTube videos of screaming man- children.

Like all things, the fun to be found here will wane. Just as he lost interest in looking at sprinklers, finding smoke alarms, or watching "The Shaggy Dog," he will lose interest in this as well. Hopefully before he gets too far in high school.

I continue to console myself with "It's just a phase."

Friday, August 16, 2019


Michael's in the last few days of summer before he starts High School. This is weird to write, the kid that was running around the house in a stinky diaper just a few posts ago is now going to High School.

He's had a decent summer: lots of free time, summer school at his new place of learning (which happens to be conveniently located only a few paces from our home), camp, a concert and a couple of beach trips.

He still insists upon lengthy and ceremonial good-byes for each parent, rising at 5:15 AM to say goodbye to his mom on days she goes to work (breaking the solemn teenager code of sleeping until noon unless pried out of bed by force), and plying me with hugs and well wishes on my way out the door. Seriously - neither one of us can leave the premises without first completing the appropriate goodbye obeisance to he who keeps the door.

This morning was no exception.

It was his parting words, though, that made me laugh.

I asked him to try not to burn the house down, as he'd be alone for the day doing Lord knows what all (eating ice cream from the carton, bingeing Stranger Things, locking the cats in the bathroom, microwaving eggs in the shell, etc.).

He responded with "Okay, dad - I promise to not try to burn the house down." He paused and grinned.

He knew that I knew what he'd done: subtly twisted the words around to give him an out, in case he does burn the house down.

He probably already worked his response for later while we stood over the smouldering ruins: "Well dad, see, I didn't promise to try not to burn the house down, I promised to not try to burn the house down!"

He should do just fine in High School. Just let the teachers try to get anything past him.

Monday, May 7, 2018


Today Michael is fourteen years old.

And of course, I am struggling with wrapping my brain around this fact, and the knowledge that I have been taking notes along the journey of our life for almost as many years.

It is a milestone for sure; he is no longer a child, no longer a tot, no longer a random vector of actions and consequences.

Along with this milestone come others.

Michael's Mom and I have just completed a major remodel of our downstairs. In particular, the kitchen and dining room have been overhauled. We are talking down to bare studs, ductwork and sparking wires. Our kitchen is no longer a cramped, dark, grungy tidepool but is now transformed into a light, active, wide, hopeful space where delicious things are created and enjoyed.

Our daughters both have jobs where they work for other people and make actual money. One is a hostess at a local restaurant, working her way up to server, the other just started at a local theater supply company, something that is right up her alley.

More changes are coming, and we are very well aware that we are in the phase of life where we change from being active parents of children to being advisers to young adults learning to live on their own, but with our own regained life as a couple, our toes balanced on the threshold of a life of adventures together; the horizon now tantalizingly stretching before us.

It is this last bit that motivates me to want to take better care of myself and my wife, so that we can live longer and thus enjoy more while we are here. I want to spend that time touring the country in an RV, taking pictures of Mount Rushmore or seeing the autumn leaves in New England. I would like to stand before the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows, and put my feet in the Atlantic ocean while hand in hand with my sweetheart.

And I'd like to visit a south pacific island. Tahiti would be nice. Warm water, a bungalow on the beach, tropical sunsets and tropical drinks... sounds so nice.

I'm doing the long term plan thing.

In the meanwhile, I'll have to help Michael learn to drive, help him navigate high school without him turning into a nightmare, and help support him into his college or trade school years. And I need to ensure that the daughters, when they reach the age of 26, are safely booted out on their own.

Still lots to do before I can ever relax.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

All That Glitters

(this is a tale from 2008, but it stands the test of time.)

A couple of weekends ago, we took the family across the state to be a part of a ceremony to scatter the ashes of my wife’s grandmother on a mountain top.

My mother-in-law had arranged the ceremonial activities at the park on the summit of the mountain, and while doing so discovered that the park officials look upon this as an un-sanctioned activity. It’s sort of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of thing; as long as we’re not advertising it or making a big deal of it, they’ll just sort of look the other way.

Her idea, as a loving tribute to be shared by all, was for each family member, from the closest to the more distant relatives to be given a chance to scatter some of grandma’s ashes to the wind.

And there was a breeze, light as it was. And it whimsically changed direction several times while we gathered around. 

One extra little touch my mother-in-law added to the celebration of life was to have the funeral company mix grandma’s ashes with some ground mica: a non-toxic and biodegradable glitter that makes the ash-tossing experience a sparkly, spiritual, very memorable affair.

When the ceremony began, my mother-in-law gave a brief discourse about memories of her mother. Then, she reached in with the scoop and gave the first toss into the wind. It was wonderful: the ashes flew out over the mountainside away from us to the south, and the sparkles remained suspended in the air like tiny diamonds, floating away in a gentle cloud.

The ash tosses from the next few relatives were just as majestic. We were all entranced by the glimmering cloud that floated gracefully away.

It wasn’t too much later that we ran short of close relatives. Cousins and next-generation relatives were called upon, and shortly thereafter the grandkids were ushered forward to try their hands and hefting grandma into the breeze. These last contenders apparently weren’t so much concerned with distance as they were determined to make a robust elevation, which had the unexpected consequence of giving us all a slight dusting.  

And then, as if to underscore the solemnity of the observance, the wind changed direction again, and we really started getting fallout.

At this point one granddaughter stepped up and gave a very healthy lob straight up, and our dear grandmother’s remains ended up coming straight down in an enthusiastic flump! on the rock wall where we were perched, a dense plume of glittering debris spreading throughout the crowd. Cousins, aunts, uncles, grandkids alike coughed, sputtered and scrambled backwards as quickly as they could.

We were all coated lightly in sparkles, spitting dust out of our mouths. Grandma was still very much with us.

Unfortunately there were still several cups left to toss, despite the number of family members that had already given their respects. And as the tossing continued, the accuracy diminished. The area was starting to look like the floor of a glitter factory after a controlled building implosion.  

Then my MIL decided on one last toss, with the entire remaining quantity.

This mass did not scatter, nor did it loft.

It went straight up a short distance, then straight down in a final, grand poof of glitter right on our feet.

Most of us closed our eyes and bowed our heads, but not so much out of respect and reverence for the moment but out of disbelief and denial over what just happened.

It was over. The remaining airborne dust settled, the last vestiges of shimmering cloud drifted off, and we all whistled and nonchalantly walked on up the hill. I felt this keen need to at least try to kick some unsullied dirt over the remnants of our deed, in some feeble effort to hide some of the evidence, but felt pressured to keep moving.

The group headed upward along the trail to a higher vantage point to switch our attention to simple enjoyment of the mountain scenery, in some hopes of erasing from our minds the grisly scene.

Meanwhile… other unsuspecting hikers walked along the trail and happened upon a remarkable and unexpected sight: piles of glitter!

Now, who would dump glitter right here? A curious hiker reached down and pinched some between his thumb and forefinger, and rubbed it around quizzically to test consistency. Hmmm. Slippery as well as shiny.

And here was a mother, scooping up a couple of handfuls: Hey, kids! It’s face make-up! She patted it on her kids’ cheeks, turning her children into sparkly-faced mimes, unknowingly initiating them into some ancient rite of wearing the dust of another family’s ancestors.

From my higher vantage point, I looked down upon the scattering and realized that the debris field covered a much wider area than I’d previously thought. It was probably forty or fifty square feet, a wide circle of silver shine that entirely coated the rocks on the mountainside.

Like Rip Taylor had a sneezing jag.

After a good half hour, we hiked down the back trail and made our way back to the tram area, saying nothing and doing our best to look nonchalant.

We had sent Grandma off as she’d wished, scattered across the mountainside. And in so many ways, she remains with us, and still touched lives of folks she never knew.

And I’m praying for a good strong rain.