The One Where Fun With Flags Pays Off

On Wednesday nights, our neighborhood coffee shop/bar/gathering space hosts DJ Trivia. We have gone a couple times with some of our awesome neighbors. This week, none of our neighbors were available to join the festivities. We thought about skipping out too but, with Joe home from college and Luke without homework before spring break, we decided we had enough of a team with just the four of us. The boys were so not thrilled that we were dragging them along that Luke decided the only appropriate team name was Two Willing Participants since they didn’t want to be there.

We got through the first round with all the possible points, but it’s the easy round. We clinched the bonus question because of my gift with lyrics. Who knew that my brain would pull Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar On Me out of its cobwebby recesses? I haven’t willingly listened to that song since, well, ever. Anyhoo, we struggled the second round and ended with 20 out of 40 points and didn’t even dare take a stab at the bonus question. We were sitting in 6th place out of 7 teams, and our confidence was flagging. Somehow, though, we rallied in the third round, scoring 60 out of 80. Luke knew the bonus question about the alloy of copper and tin (it’s bronze), and we were right back in it. Suddenly, we were sitting in third, which meant we were in prize territory.

The final round is fill-in-the-blank questions rather than multiple choice. We got the first two fairly easily, but missed the next two. We were somehow still in third place as we waded into the final bonus round, called the Do Or Die Dare round. We strategized how to play it and decided it was go big or go home. If we got the question right, we would double our entire score and could finish in a higher place, or at least hold on to third and win a prize. And then, as if the gods were on our side, the title of the bonus round question hit the screen. The title was Fun With Flags. We all looked at Joe. This was our Slumdog Millionaire moment. Joe has long been a fan of geography and flags. He’s a regular vexillologist. In his senior year, he had to give a 45-minute presentation on a topic of his choice. The title of the presentation he shared with his classmates? Fun With Flags. I shit you not.

Yeah…I know that flag

Steve pushed himself back from the table with a “this is it” flourish of glee. A flag appeared on the trivia screens. Joe looked at it for a nanosecond, leaned forward, and said quietly with the utmost confidence, “Uzbekistan.” I grabbed the paper and wrote it down. We handed it to the DJ judge in five seconds flat while the rest of the tables sat hemming and hawing and conjecturing. It appeared no one wanted to risk all their points with an answer. Finally, a representative from the Vandalay Industries team stood up and walked to submit their answer. We all knew Joe had provided the right answer. Not because any of us had a clue about the flag of Uzbekistan but because Joe. The DJ did all the tabulating and then announced that only two answers had been submitted for the Do or Die Dare and only one of those was right. The correct answer was Uzbekistan.

Yeah, baby!

The DJ read off the name of the third place winner. We smiled. Second place went to the team that often wins each week, Hot Fuzz. The room was dead silent. Someone had pulled off an upset. The DJ put our team name on the screen, and we high-fived all around while Hot Fuzz looked over at us like we’d just kicked their puppy. Two Willing Participants won largely due to the efforts of its two unwilling team participants, and the coveted $25 brewery gift card and bragging rights for the week were ours. It was positively glorious.

A member of Team Hot Fuzz, still flabbergasted by their unexpected loss, shouted over to Joe to inquire how he knew the answer to the flag question so quickly. To which Joe replied, “I have the flags of the world memorized. It’s a good party trick.” This twenty year old kid just ruined their evening, and I couldn’t have been any prouder. It made all the hours I’ve spent quizzing Joe on flags and listening to him prattle on about the poorly designed ones totally worth it.

Joe with his personal Uzbekistan flag at home after our win

I guess there are a few lessons to be learned from our trivia evening. First, never, ever assume something you are asked to do (like attend a trivia night with your parents) will be a waste of time because you never know what you might learn about yourself or others. Second, if you encourage your child’s obsessions, they might pay off. Third, if you’re going to trivia night, take Joe and Luke with you. Their arcane knowledge about flags or every letter of the Greek alphabet or the names of Roman emperors might be just what you need to humble Hot Fuzz. And finally, if your kid wants to collect flags, let him.

My Momma Heart Is Full

Brothers

Thing One and Thing Two

Are Back Together Again

And They Are Happy

Adjusting to our oldest going off to college has been a journey, but it hasn’t been as horrible as I imagined it would be. Yeah. I was pretty sad for the first month he was gone last year, but then he made friends and my sadness was replaced with comfort that he was not alone. Later, as his grades came in and we realized he was holding his own, I began to feel even better. This year, he started dating a friend he made during his first semester last year, and that too added some peace of mind because I know he is happy. Next year, his brother will be joining him. Although I will be without both of them, they will be together, and I can’t think of anything that makes my momma heart happier than thinking about them starting their own lives separately but still together.

Can I Get A Drum Roll, Please?

Well, it’s a done deal. After flying to three different states, touring five schools, revisiting two of the schools, and receiving four acceptance letters, Luke has chosen his college. It was a tough decision for him. He got a sizable merit scholarship from St. Olaf in Northfield, Minnesota, but ultimately decided he didn’t want to be Minnesota-level cold. He received a similar scholarship from the University of Denver, but decided he couldn’t go to college two miles from his high school because that wasn’t enough of a stretch. That left Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, pulling his attention.

Luke chose Reed College for himself his freshman year. He glommed onto it as a good fit for him right away. It’s a self-described college for eggheads, the kind of place kids go because they love to learn and not because they have a lovely campus, amazing dorms, or good football team. In fact, Reed has no sports and no Greek life. There is nothing to get in the way of learning for learning’s sake. It’s that kind of place. Reed is ranked sixth in the country for producing candidates who go on to doctorate degrees. The campus is amazing. Luke loves their adopted motto: “Communism, Atheism, and Free Love.” It is a funny motto, especially considering the school took it on as a tongue-in-cheek nod to the reputation they had earned as being a little bit more liberal than most places. I was a little nervous about the exceedingly rigorous educational practices at Reed, but once we toured it the second time (which was actually my third time as I also toured it with my oldest) I felt better. It’s impressive, and I definitely could see Luke there.

Luke’s brother chose Whitman College. Joe ended up at Whitman because his savvy mother found it for him and thought he should see it. Whitman, while being somewhat isolated in a small town in rural, southeastern Washington, is a great school with a solid reputation. It’s academically challenging but it values work/life balance, so there’s no busywork for the sake of looking impressive. Whitman aims to create well-rounded adults. There are tons of opportunities to get outdoors and to volunteer in the community, and charming downtown Walla Walla with its boutiques, wineries, and restaurants, is just a five-minute walk away. While Joe was a little apprehensive about going to school in such a small town, Whitman has been everything we expected it to be for him…challenging but fun. He is happy there. Having a brother going to Whitman could be a blessing or a curse for Luke. We wondered if that would enter into his decision.

In the end, Luke had two wonderful finalists and a tough decision. Did he want to push his academic limits at Reed, knowing its reputation for cranking out future post-grads? Did he want to attend the same college his brother chose? When he weighed his life goals against the pluses and minuses of each school, he felt he had a clear choice. He chose:

The two boys will both be at the same college next year, which works because it just does. This is the most Joe and Luke thing since Joe and Luke became brothers. The motto of Whitman College, which I loved so much for Joe, also is apt for Luke. Per ardua surgo roughly translates to “Through adversity, I rise,” which certainly fits both these kids who started their school careers struggling with their learning disabilities and yet worked hard and thus landed at a highly respected liberal arts college anyway.

Here’s hoping their next adventures together won’t involve Lego gunships broken into hundreds of pieces or empty deals made to persuade the other to do something they don’t want to do. If war breaks out between the two of them this time around, they won’t have their mother to appeal to for mediation.

Prisoners of Geography

We are all prisoners of geography — literally

I don’t normally offer book reviews or suggestions. I stopped being in book clubs years ago when I tired of other people ruining books I enjoyed. So I don’t feel like a free reading expert, and I don’t share often about literature. But today, given what is happening now in eastern Europe, I want to recommend Prisoners of Geography, written by Tim Marshall. I bought it years ago for our oldest son who is a geography whiz. When he was younger, he would zoom into a location on Google Earth and then ask me to guess where it was. He would then slowly zoom out, bit by bit, pausing after each change until he thought I should be able to get the answer about its location. He had to zoom out a lot. I rarely guessed correctly. He was often exasperated by my lack of knowledge about the globe. It was a game on his end, but it made me feel like a dolt. Ultimately, Joe took the book to college, and I forgot about it.

Then, a couple weeks ago we were with some neighbors when they mentioned they were reading that book together. I got intrigued. So I downloaded the book on Audible and started listening. It wasn’t long into the book that I realized I needed the maps the hard copy provided to help me visualize what was being discussed. So I picked it up and got back to work. It ended up being a timely reading choice because the day after I bought the hard copy and started learning about why we are prisoners of geography, Putin invaded Ukraine. For the first time, I began to understand Russia’s position in the world. I may not understand Putin (who does?), but at least I can somewhat comprehend now why Ukraine’s land is important to him and why he is so eager to reclaim it. Russia, both because of and despite its size, has geography issues.

The book also covers China, the United States, Western Europe, Africa, the Middle East, India and Pakistan, Korea and Japan, Latin America, and the Arctic. The author, a journalist and leader on foreign affairs, has reported from forty countries and covered conflicts in the former Yugoslav republics, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Israel. His vast geographical and political knowledge, combined with his journalism skills, make the book not only highly informative but also accessible and interesting. I now have a better understanding of China’s treatment of the Muslim Uighur population in Xinjiang province. I understand why the concept of manifest destiny was important to the creation of the United States as we know it today. I also have a far better handle on how and why wars have been fought in Europe and why some countries have fared better than others. (I’m looking at you, Poland.) I’ll have to finish the book to learn more about Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.

If you are looking for a greater understanding of the politics of countries, their prosperity or lack thereof, or the ways they are constrained, I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s a little outdated because it was published in 2015, but it is still useful. If you’re a big-time history or geography geek, this might be too basic for you; but for the rest of the hoi polloi, it is an education in geography, history, and our current political dilemmas in 277 pages. It isn’t going to make you feel any better about the humanitarian nightmare developing as Putin’s army rolls into and bombs the free and innocent people of Ukraine, but it will help you make a little more sense about why Russia is the way it is. Because of the Internet, we are more a global people now than we have ever been before. If you want a way into understanding that world, this is it.

A Table With An Extra Leaf

Me and Thing One

We dropped Thing One at the airport again this morning for his flight back to Walla Walla. He has been in college a year now and, overall, these comings and goings have become easier for me. Not because I don’t miss him but because he has proven himself more than up to the task and I have seen that life without him after 20 years with him is okay. I am okay. My time as Mom isn’t over but the role has shifted. Joe still needs me often enough, but he’s also on his own a lot more. So we dropped him at the curb with his bags and drove off without incident. No tears. Everything was copacetic.

Everything was fine when we got home too. I was feeling pretty proud of myself. It was the easiest drop off yet. Yay, me! I got to work on life around the house, laundry, vacuuming. Then I got to the kitchen table. I removed the placements, wiped it off, and went to take the fifth chair away. That is when I got sad and teary eyed. I put the fifth chair back at the dining table where it lives and then set about taking the extra leaf out of the kitchen table and returning it to its usual 4-person size. I stood there for a minute overwhelmed over the loss of that extra seat.

A little later after I thought I had moved on again and pulled myself together, I put on a hoodie Joe left behind for me. It smelled like him. I got teary eyed again.

Letting go is a process, one I have to keep reminding myself about over and over. I know I will never stop missing Joe or being sad when he leaves, but it will become part of our new relationship contract. I told him today that I was a little sad about the table. And then I told him that it is all okay because I love him with my whole heart and I am happy that he is off pursuing his own life, but I will always miss him when he leaves. Then I told him that someday he will miss me when I leave and that is life. He told me we’d best not talk about that ever again.

Relationships aren’t easy, but they are worthwhile. And I will always have a table with an extra leaf for those times when the important people pop back into my life. Until then, there’s this little guy who is here for me.

The son I got to replace the son who sent to college. I will have to get another when Thing Two goes to college. And I am really glad I didn’t have more children because I can only handle two dogs.

You’re Never Too Old For A Snow Day

It was an unexpected, although welcome, snow day for our high school senior and his carpool-weary mom today. We knew there would be a late start this morning because of the snow, ice, and subzero windchill this morning, but when I woke up and started getting dressed to go out and shovel the driveway so I could drive Luke to school, hubby casually said, “You know it’s a snow day, right?”

It was the kind of unanticipated gift that can make life better after a slow and difficult re-entry to real life after a beautiful holiday in Hawaii. I determined it would be a catch up day. I felt overwhelmed when we returned home on Monday afternoon and had to turn around and start back into reality at 6 am Tuesday. So I l planned to use this gifted day to catch up on laundry and take down all the holiday decorations that had grown tiresome. The best part was that I now had a full day to do it and two sons at home to help.

After we had returned our home to its pre-holiday state and Joe had worn out the dogs with playtime in the yard, he approached Luke and said he had an idea. Joe has ideas a lot. When he has them, he involves Luke. Luke tries to get out of what ever Joe is scheming, but more often than not he ends up giving in because he knows Joe can be relentless. He will not stop hounding you until you give in. I usually cringe for Luke in these situations because I know, as an introvert, what Luke wants most is to stick with what he is doing and not get dragged into Joe’s plans. Today, though, Joe whispered his idea into Luke’s ear, and I was surprised how easily Luke acquiesced. They found their snow gear, grabbed sleds they’ve had for ten years, and headed out to the open space. When they returned home, I heard Joe remark to Luke how much lighter and easier to handle these sleds are now. It made me smile.

Today our adult children seized the day and took advantage of their snow day as they might have when they were 8 and 10. It made me happy. We tend to give Joe a little grief when he says he has an idea, but the truth is that a lot of the really amazing things we’ve done started with one of Joe’s ideas. Luke is amazing at accomplishing things, but I thank heaven every day for Joe who is amazing at reminding Luke (and the rest of us) to let go and have fun once in a while. Every family should have a Joe to dream up plans and interminably pester everyone until they come to fruition. Don’t we all deserve to have that one person who reminds us not just to live but to practice being alive?

Luke (18) and Joe (20) and their childhood Zipfy sleds

Walking In A (Snowless) Winter Wonderland

It was 24 degrees when we went to the Trail of Lights in a nature preserve near our home. We have gone to this event several times over the years, but it has been a while. It’s a fun thing to do, but the colder it is, the faster we seem to move through it. We moved pretty fast tonight. But a quick winter walk with both our sons was worth it.

Back together again
Not enough layers for this, but we took this photo before our faces froze
This tree is amazing, and the ambiance around it was ethereal
Neon trees
Quiet night along the trail
Brothers

We may have had cold bodies, but we had warm hearts.

Name Your Son After Luke Skywalker And You Just Might Get Someone With Jedi Power

And so it begins. Luke received his first college acceptance. Today, the University of Denver sent him an acceptance letter stating that he is recognized as a Chancellor’s Scholar. So, I’m going to take a moment to shine a light on my son, not because I want to brag (although I kind of do) but because I’ve never met anyone like him.

Luke has always been a hard worker and a helper. Despite having been diagnosed with severe dyslexia in third grade, he has found ways to rise above. He started fourth grade at a first grade reading level. Reading was hard for him, but he worked at it. A lot. Instead of shying away from reading, he made it his job to overcome his dyslexia. He did such a good job that the only way you can tell now that he is dyslexic is his reading speed. He is a slow reader, but he is exceptionally good at it now. At the end of his junior year, when his IQ and skills were last tested, Luke was reading at graduate school level. Luke went from barely being able to read Magic Tree House books with help in third grade to reading The Iliad and The Odyssey the summer before his freshman year. Luke never quits.

He is organized, focused, and structured in his approach to everything. He needs 25 solo volunteer hours to graduate in June. He is already beyond those hours. He has a project due for Western Civ this Thursday. He created 26 slides for it and finished it this afternoon. There is no such thing as minimal effort from him. He does nothing half-assed. In eighth grade, he became an ambassador for his school, giving tours to prospective students and their parents. He became a lead ambassador his sophomore year. He’s the president of his school’s National Honor Society chapter and has served on the Student Senate as an officer as well. He ran both track and cross-country. Luke submitted five college applications. The first three were due November 1st. He had those completed three weeks in advance. He went ahead and submitted the two that weren’t due until January 15th at the same time.

But, Luke’s effort doesn’t simply apply to school. He is like this all the time. When he makes his mind up to do something, he goes for it. He decided a while back that he wanted to be a better singer. So, he took voice lessons for a year. He was struggling with anxiety (pursuant to his work ethic and built-in need to excel) and started therapy to work on it. Despite not being thrilled at first with having to admit he needed some assistance, he grew to appreciate therapy and has been going regularly for years. He has so valued the experience that he is currently considering earning a PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) degree so he provide therapy to others. He contributes at home without complaint. And at the end of his day, he says good night to us and heads to his room to do some free reading, spending upwards of an hour on that each night to unwind.

I have to admit the most fun part of all of this for me is seeing Luke’s hard work pay off. Two years of middle school and four years of high school with honors classes and straight A grades and tonight, for the first time, he seemed satisfied with his efforts.

Luke has taught me so much. He has always been unstoppable. He has self-confidence to spare, but it’s his work ethic that makes him who he is. Luke has taught me there’s no point in underestimating yourself, and the only thing that can hold you back is you. For this reason, Luke is limitless. He will reach his goals, even if he has to use a machete to cut his own path to get there. I have no doubts or concerns about his ability to do anything he sets his mind to.

We had Luke Skywalker in mind when we named our Luke. It was a good way to go. As it turns out, our Luke, like his namesake, wields a lot of power. Unlike Luke Skywalker, though, our Luke didn’t need Yoda to tell him, “Do or do not. There is no try.” “Try” is not a word in this kid’s vocabulary. He’s got Jedi power.

Our little rock star

Be Careful What You Ask Your Mom

My son sent me a photo yesterday of him and his new(ish) girlfriend. Six hours after he sent the photo, I asked him what color his girlfriend’s eyes are because it was hard to tell from the photo. He answered and that was the end of that. Or so I thought. Today, nineteen hours after I asked what color her eyes are and eighteen hours after he told me they were hazel, he sends me a random text inquiring why I want to know. He had no problem answering the question for me yesterday, so why was he suddenly curious about the question today? It felt like a trap somehow, although I didn’t know why. I decided to deflect thusly:

When I was a kid, my mom had a saying that went, “Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer.” Today seemed like an apt time to employ that logic. I mean, why did he think I asked? He has a new girlfriend. Am I not allowed to be curious about her? Geesh.

Because he’s such a good sport, Joe’s response was, “Yooooooo. That’s a solid reason.” Damn skippy, it is, junior.

I’m not really going to harvest her eyeballs for my pagan rituals. It’s a small college and word would get around. Besides, Joe really likes her and she seems to like him too. So, I guess I will save my eyeball harvesting ritual for a girlfriend I don’t like.

Life Isn’t Chess: You Can’t Go Back, So Just Go Forward

In April of 2006, just before our sons turned 4 and 6, we traveled to Captiva Island, Florida, to give them a taste of beach life. Because we are a landlocked, mile high family, we waited to make the long trip to a beautiful island until we were certain the boys would enjoy the experience (and we wouldn’t lose it on a four-hour flight with them). While we were there, we shuffled between the resort pool and the shell-strewn beach. The boys loved racing from the surf and building sand castles. We visited the famous Bubble Room for one dinner, and another night we ate ice cream for dinner and chased it with salt water taffy and all-day suckers. We saw a couple manatees near the boat docks. We took a sunset cruise to look for dolphins. And at the end of the trip, my husband took an epic photo of the boys and I, which became one of my all-time favorites.

April 2006

During the lockdowns and the time spent at home during 2020, I spent my some of my time dreaming of returning to Captiva with the boys. We were desperate for a beach trip after being stuck in our landlocked state for so long. I booked a 3-bedroom condo at the same resort we visited last time. We were in a different part of the resort this time around, closer to public restaurants and to the Starbucks just outside the resort entrance, but the rental was bigger and afforded the boys their own rooms. We spent a lot of time at the beach, but didn’t visit the pools because the boys were a bit too big for the kiddie waterslide now. Instead, we did some kayaking through mangroves on nearby Sanibel Island. We ate at the Bubble Room again and loved it. We wanted to repeat our ice cream dinner, but didn’t have the right resort card to gain access, which was a total bummer. Still, we discovered another restaurant that we loved so much we ate there twice. We saw more manatees this time than last time, including a momma and her baby off the docks outside our condo and another one that swam by us while we were in the surf in the Gulf. And on one clear evening, we went back to the spot where we took my favorite photo and attempted to recreate it as best we could. The palm trees were bigger, the boys were bigger, but the beauty of the moment was the same.

May 2021

When you have young kids, people love to tell you that you should cherish those moments because they go by so fast. They aren’t wrong. They fly by like they’re on a Japanese bullet train. But parenting is, from day one, a growth enterprise. There is no going backwards, as it’s meant to be a forward endeavor. So don’t let anyone convince you that watching your kids grow, change, and eventually move on into their own lives is somehow a negative, something to be depressed about. It’s the greatest gift a parent can receive. If you don’t believe me, ask a parent who has lost a child. As memorable as our trip was in 2006, it was better in 2021. I’m grateful we’ve made it this far together, and no matter what happens from here I will cherish ALL the memories, not just the ones from when the boys were small.