August 28, 2007


I am, by now, familiar with all the signs of teenagerdom: the ennui, the eye-rolling, the sassy answers to basic questions, the polysyllabic "No-ooo-oh." What took me by surprise was the abruptness, the almost-instant change from chubby-cheeked boys to angular, broad-shouldered young men.

End-of-summer shopping has borne this phenomenon out. No more brightly-colored school supplies for us. I didn't realize I was so fond of swim trunks with adorable shark, dolphin or palm tree motifs, until I became conscious of the fact that those don't come in "big boy" sizes. The Gymboree-type clothing that makes any mother's heart beat faster; dress shirts with puppies over the pocket, matching socks and shorts with race car appliqués, anything in primary colors (all of them at the same time). Alas, long outgrown.

Jeff has declared T-shirts in yellow, orange or purple to be “clownish.” Heather gray is the new preference. Dinosaur PJ’s? Forget it.

This summer, both boys' feet grew suddenly from size 6 to a men's size 8. It was a transition from the colorful world of the children's department to the monochromatic adult aisles. From Oz, back to Kansas. Rows of navy blue, brown and black shoes. Oh well, we had a decade of the colorblock sneakers. Jeff's object of desire was a pair of black skateboard slip-ons with skulls and crossbones. Trés cool for eighth grade.

August 12, 2007

Campfire tales

On the long, long drive home from Michigan, Jeff was chatty and forthcoming about his week away. The veracity of his account is highly suspect but, like his mom, Jeff knows that a good story is all in the telling.

He was eager to tell me all about his amazing constructions. Using a glue gun, Popsicle sticks, sea shells and found objects, Jeff created a ship, a wishing well and an airplane, which by all accounts, were quite the hit at camp. Carefully packed in a computer box, they took up nearly the entire back seat.

L: Where did you get all the shells?
J: From the ocean. (That must be the Sea of Kalamazoo?)
L: Were they lying on the beach and you collected them?
J: No, I swam in and gathered them up. This one came from a crab!

Later, when describing the delights of the camp tuck shop, Jeff told me, "I bought a bag of shells. It was the very last bag they had."

Who knew that Jeff was quite the fisherman? He had the certificate to prove it. He caught a fish that was (show of hands apart) THIS BIG. "Do you throw them back in after you catch them?" Eyes roll. "No! I ate it." "Really? But you have to get the guts and the bones out first." Nods, does Ginsu-knife-chopping gesture. "Easy, then you fry it up." Mimes chef flipping crepes.

There was a field trip to a farm and each camper got to hold a piglet. "It was pink and furry. When I picked it up, there was a lot of squealing." I assume he meant from the piggy, but I might be mistaken.

Of course, there were nature hikes. "We picked blueberries. I made mine into a smoothie." (Thank goodness I packed the solar-powered blender.) I surmise that there was an opportunity for boating, evidenced by several choruses of "Rock the boat, don't tip the boat over. Rock the boat."

But the best news yet, whether exactly accurate or not, was Jeff's final announcement. "My cabin didn't need an extra counselor because I was so WELL-BEHAVED."

Jeff returns from camp (photos)

August 5, 2007

Somewhere in rural Michigan

Back in January, I sat down with a number of program brochures, summer calendar and school schedules to figure out how to keep both boys amused and out of trouble during the summer. Since Jeff has loved his previous one-week overnight camp experiences, I foolishly assumed that it was a sure thing: All I had to do was send the check. Wrong.

Jeff was suddenly coy when I mentioned it. "I don't want to go this year. It was too long away from home." That was such a transparent lie that I wondered what was really behind this pronouncement. "Six days is not very long," I offered. "You classmate Amy's camp is four weeks, but I think there is a two-week session." "Two weeks is fine." Pause. "Four weeks is fine, too." A few days later, I ventured my hypothesis on Jeff's change of heart. "I know a lot of the campers there use wheelchairs or don't speak or run very well. Is that it? Would you rather go to a camp with 'regular' kids?" Bingo.

So I looked at web sites and talked to other parents. It turns out Amy's experience last summer was not great--it's hard enough being a teenager, much less one with special issues--so her mother was camp shopping, too.

All four of us trekked to the outer 'burbs on snowy Sunday to attend a Camp and Summer Adventure Fair. Was that an eye-opener! The Fair was set up like any other trade fair and the presenters were just as subtle. I have had more success fending off perfume-wielding women in shopping malls. Girls-Only camps! "No, just boys here!" I announced without breaking my stride. Christian camp? Get thee behind me. Summer programs with computers, chess, foreign languages. Don't make me laugh.

Jeff was completely sold on a Wisconsin YMCA camp whose representative brought along a live rabbit. Amy was quite taken at a booth whose camp program includes a field trip to BUILD-A-BEAR Workshop. But her mother and I were listening skeptically. We were waiting for the code words, "diversity," "inclusion," "accommodation." While there are many camps for disabled kids only, it appears that regular camps who are proactive in providing staff and welcoming kids like ours . . . well, not so much.

We mothers had a visit to the twilight zone at one booth. I had phoned ahead of time to describe Jeff and the director had offered to meet with us at the Fair. Amy got the full treatment of the delights of this particular camp, her mom got the sales pitch, while I, simultaneously was told that they would not take Jeff. Yes, I think that was what the director said. It was hard to tell, because every time I tried to extricate myself with a polite, "I won't take up any more of your time then," he wouldn't release me since he had Amy, a live one, on the line.

Strolling down the last aisle, I stopped at another YMCA camp booth. While Amy admired the photo display, I asked directly, "Do you accommodate children with special needs?" The rep’s eyes lit up. "Yes, we do. We have a behavioral specialist on staff and we provide a one-on-one if the camper requires it. Our camp is committed to integrating these kids and making their camp experience successful." Oh, really? I tried to sound interested, yet non-committal. "May I have your card, your address, your email and an application? Would you like a check now?

Jeff left today. He joined a cabin of 'regular' teenaged boys somewhere in the wilderness of Michigan. I want this week to be a success, but there isn't anything I can do. I was under strict orders from Jeff to "just drop him off." That's normal, right?

August 3, 2007

My library card, a passport to . . . revenge

I have been an eBay member since 1998, back when people still said things to me like, "You send money to strangers?" or "How do you know a personal check is legit?" This was years before PayPal was invented.

So it was a surprise to be swindled on eBay when I recently purchased a flash drive/digital voice recorder. Having difficulty getting that shoddy piece of crap to work, I showed it to a techie friend, who said he suspected it was a bootleg item made with pirated software. To my further annoyance, I paid $10.95 for postage and the thing came in a tiny padded envelope with .92 cents' imprinted.

I dutifully tried to contact the seller. "Try to resolve trading disputes by communication." That's the eBay way. The seller's phone number eBay gave me was an unlisted private landline in Louisiana and unanswered, of course.

Enter SUPER REFERENCE LIBRARIAN, Bruce, who traced the domain holder's name, email and home address to someone in England within five minutes. I emailed "John" directly and asked for a refund. Right. So I forwarded Bruce's email to eBay and my short version of the sordid tale.

Guess what! John (if that IS your real name) is not a registered eBay user ANYMORE!

That will teach him to tangle with SUPER REFERENCE LIBRARIAN. Thanks, Bruce. My hero.