Girls, plastic collars, zip ties and duct tape

Sixteen-year-old Ben just came home from a 4-H leadership conference in Fort Collins. He had looked forward to it since last year when he met a bunch of friends and found that there is, indeed, life beyond Hotchkiss. Even “girl” life. That was particularly exciting to him. So, when this years sign-up list was making the rounds, Ben’s name was first to hit the roster.

The event lasted three days, and for some young pups, it was the first time away from home. They frolic, drink Mountain Dew, Red Bull and other caffeine-based drinks, listen to inspiring lecturers and then drive the chaperones crazy until the wee hours. Usually, with a little therapy, the chaperones bounce back to normal within a week. Some remain abnormal the rest of their lives. (You know who you are…)

As is our tradition, all heck broke loose on our end as Ben left. Dad broke his hip; a goat got her leg broke by a dog; another goat got sick and Dad’s cows got a case of the “Happy Feet,” and were running loose apparently heading for a field trip in Montana.

The photo, at right, shows one of Dad’s cows deep in thought about navigating the most direct route to Montana.  Once the plotting is complete, the cows feet levitate and the rest is a blur of hooves, wringing tails and cow glee. 

Waiting to pick up Ben from his trip, I got a phone call from the vet saying he had a shot for the sick goat and that we could stop by to pick it up on our way home. Time did not allow me to alert Ben to the change in the usual drive home, so he launched into a full detailed account of the most exciting parts of his trip. That included one story after another involving girls.

“There were so many girls there that I couldn’t dance with them all,” he said. “They even came up to me asking me to save slow dances for them – but there were only about five slow dances and four times that many girls,” he continued, lamenting what he felt was a dire situation. He bounced from one story to another – all involving girls – when the turn to the vet’s office came into sight.

“What are you doing?” he panicked, searching the rear-view mirror for police lights. “Where are we going?”

“We’re going to the vet’s,” I said, matter of fact.

“Why? Did something bad happen?” he asked.

“No. I just figured it was time to get you neutered,” I answered. “You’ll stay home better, and all these thoughts of girls will vanish and you’ll be better able to focus on school and the important things,” I say, trying to keep a straight face.

Long pause.

“I know you’re kidding,” he said. “Besides, I have an opposable thumb. Whatever he does to the dog, I can undo.”

“That’s why they have zip-ties, duct tape and a plastic collar,” I say, unable to resist.

We arrived at the vet’s. Ben opted not to get out of the car despite the sweltering heat. I went inside thinking this would be a quick visit, but the vet’s wife was on the phone telling someone that their dog might need to have its eye removed. I could tell the call wasn’t going well. Then, Doc entered the operating room and appeared to be in a foul mood as well having just taken an eye out of a cow. I figured he could use a little comic relief, so I told him why Ben was holed up inside the car and wanted no part of seeing him today.

The vet chuckled, probably finding me sick and demented, but un-medicate-able. His wife opted to end the dog call before memories of her own son’s discovering girls caused her to chuckle inappropriately.

As the heat in the car increased, Ben’s grit expired and he reluctantly came inside. He quickly sat down, legs together, hands folded over his lap in a protective fashion.

Now, what I would have given to have the vet come out with a set of tweezers and a large plastic collar and tell Ben to get up on the table…but, no, my vet is soft.

“Don’t worry, Ben,” he said, smiling. “I’m on your side.”

“My mother is SOOO ornery,” said Ben. “She hasn’t seen me for three days. You’d think she’d be nice for, well, at least an hour. But noooooo. It’s like she’s stored up three days worth!”

“All women are that way, but the ones with horses are the worst,” said the vet, giving a sidelong glance at his wife. “There’s no cure, and it appears to be genetic. That means that you’ll probably behave the same way with your kids,” he said, smiling.

Band pants and abortions

Emergency hem job? Or unknown new kid in the school drum section?

If you like the teenage drama series, you’ll appreciate this. My husband, Ken, was gone last week, and conveniently for him, everything went to heck as soon as the airplane door was fastened securely shut. This was lucky for him because, had I known, I would have pried the door open and plucked him out to help, fending off air marshalls if necessary. That not being an option landed all subsequent drama onto my shift, which was unfortunate.

When we first married, we divided child care 50/50. I called the first 10 years, he got the second. I got paperwork, he got yucky stuff. On both counts, age and yuckiness, the events of this week should have fallen squarely on his shift. But noooo. He was sitting on a plane at 40,000 feet debating the relative merits of peanuts versus pretzels while I was suffering the pangs of parenting teens.

The week progressed with the usual doses of tantalizing ups and downs including our daughter’s prom drama (a riveting story unto itself), son’s first lovelife hitting the skids and housekeeping necessarily being thrown out the window. By Tuesday, it was clear that Martha Stewart did not live here anymore. By Wednesday, it appeared the landfill had been relocated to our living room.

Striving for order, I fought back against the laundry first, hauling a dump truck load of dry cleaning (debate suits for the kids) to the cleaners which is an hour away round trip.

This, I thought, was brilliant on my part because we were well in advance of needing these suits again. I was busy congratulating myself on my forward thinking when son Ben came strolling home from school making noise about a band concert…that night.

Band concerts, as all varsity parents know, require that the kids wear…dress pants…which I had just hauled to Delta because I was unaware of the band concert. The alternative blue jeans will result in an F in band, subsequent unemployability, and a lengthy layover living at home after high school. Becoming quite stern with him (yelling), I asked why I was hearing about it so late. Ben calmly assured me that his teacher gave him the notice a week ago, but that he lost it, or forgot it, or insert teen-excuse-of-your-choice here, because, by now, I had pushed the “mute” button and could only see his lips moving – no sound. 

Not a problem, he assured me – he would wear his debate clothes.  So, I told him to indulge me and to produce what he intended to wear. Confidently he strides out of the room and I hear rustling in his room, rustling in the t.v. room, rustling in my room, rustling in the attic, the cars, the laundry room, the bathroom, the shower stalls, the toilet tanks, the dog crates, the truck, the goat pen, and finally, he comes in and asks me, calmly, like nothing is the matter, if I might have seen his debate clothes.  Oh yes, I reply.  I did see them…all.  And I picked them all up, and I hauled them all to the cleaners. 

A brief wave of panic crosses his face, and then he replied, “Well, I’ll just run to Farmer Franks and buy another pair of pants.”  Yes, yes.  Great idea.  Except that it is Wednesday – and they are closed on Wednesdays.  Panic returns to his face. He glances at his watch and grimaces.  He does not have time to run to Wal-Mart.  Real panic begins to bubble.  The thrift store?  They hardly have anything in his size.  He’s now in a real pitch when my mom and dad walk into the house.  What’s going on? Dad asks sensing the tension, to which I ask if abortion is still an option.

“How far are you along?” he asks, with eyebrows arched.  Sixteen years, I answer.  “Hmmm,” he ponders.  “Yes, I think Obama just signed a bill permitting it.” 

Ben ended up wearing a pair of Dad’s pants to the band concert.  Cannot believe how lucky guys-covering-for-guys can be.  My dad measures four foot in the torso with two-foot-long legs.  Ben’s measurements are the reverse of that. Good thing Ben is a drummer.

I forgot to mention – Hotchkiss is having another band concert soon.  I hear the last one was a riot.  Some drummer was wearing an over-sized suit jacket with capris.  I, of course, have never heard of him.  Didn’t even know he attended school here….Ben? Ben who???

The “other” side of “Cash for Clunkers”

Son Ben was the first to complain about the “Cash for Clunkers” program being counterproductive.  Frankly, not being in the market for clunkers, I did not “feel his pain,” but now I do.

Ben is 16.  He drives a 1981 Toyota Corolla.  The car is a decade older than him.  It was what he could afford.  He paid for it in cash from money he’d earned, been given as gifts and saved along the way.  The $1,100 purchase price was HUGE to him.  It could have been a million dollars from his young view.  I’m ashamed to admit that we all kidded Ben about his big purchase.  When he called his car a “bullet”  we called it his “bomb.”  Big sister did NOT want to ride in it for fear that it would ruin her reputation.  With no radio, no heater, an odd smell and questionable wipers, no one except Nana was eager to take the first ride.

Ben, the poor kid, had worked so hard to be responsible, to only buy what he could afford, to love it and treat it like a Bentley, and he was rewarded with our laughter.  We should all be ashamed…But not his dad.  Ken thought that Ben driving an ancient car was important.  “He needs to learn to work hard to better his position in life,” said Ken.  “He needs to know that things are not handed to him on a platter,” he said.  “He needs to develop a work ethic so he can provide for his family,” he would say. 

And so the lessons have been underway for a year when Ben’s clutch went out.  It was expected.  A car that old cannot run without a menagerie of broken parts – which, translated, means that whenever Ben got his savings account up to $200, or $300, he’d get a car problem that cost $500.  So when Ben said he wanted to upgrade his car, I offered to help him in his hunt.  That was before I had considered that the Cash for Clunkers government program had encouraged people to take in old cars and get ridiculous prices ($4,500+) for old vehicles, only for those vehicles to be destroyed.

“It will clean up the environment,” said the President.  “It will help the economy,” said other leaders. 

They’re all wet.  From Ben’s perspective, they have removed the affordable cars out of the marketplace for young men like him to buy, repair, learn from, and drive until they can upgrade.  They removed the cars that the insurance companies charged less to insure.  They removed the cars that had affordable registrations.  Now, those cheap cars are scarce.  Instead of easily finding a car for $2,000-$2,500, the upgrade cars start at $4,000.  This steep price jump forces young bucks like Ben to accept ”borrowing,” from dubious sources for depreciating assets.  Hmmm.  That’s an odd lesson for government to endorse.  Especially in this economy when those who live within their means should be applauded.  What were they thinking?  Get rid of the clunkers – remove the reachable goal for young boys.  After all, every 16 year old needs a $10,000 car, right?  And, at 16, if they get that far into debt, how will their college tuition get paid?  By borrowing, that’s how.  Methodically, our high school children are being desensitized to debt.  How will they learn fiscal responsibility?  How will they recognize what government is doing wrong? 

So, I search the classified, the salvage titles, the back-door entry into automobile ownership for a kid that wishes he wasn’t stuck in a clap-trap of a car.  And as all those clunkers get smashed, replacement parts for cars like Ben’s will become more and more expensive.  Why didn’t the congressmen think of that?  Are they all so accustomed to driving higher end cars that they forgot what it’s like to be 16 again?  Or, did all the congressmen’s parents buy them their first cars?  Perhaps that would explain the lack of guilt in spending OPM (other people’s money).

So, I apologize for this post not being “funny” as the title of this blog suggests.  I just sometimes feel that as a parent trying to raise a responsible adult – someone who will NOT be a drain on the system – that the government decision makers are  just not being that helpful. 

Heidi went off to Los Angeles for a debate camp and was accosted with those who view the government allocations to educating the poor as hopelessly inadequate.  She finally got a belly full of this tripe and asked one attendant if the local libraries in their town charged admission.  “Well, no,” the kid said.  Heidi then reminded this kid that some of the best educators in the world – the most expensive speakers who have ever lived – offer their insights for free at local libraries.  “Education is free in the U.S.,” she said, “Just most people are too lazy to go get it!”  Of course, that went over like a lead balloon.  But she speaks from the heart and from her own experience.  When Ken and I were first married and I could not get hired, I went to the library and checked out countless books on finance, real estate, pitfalls of money management, etc.  That education will never show up on a transcript, but a shrewd businessman would be a fool not to hire me because of my lack of a degree – the education I received was superb – and exceeded much of what is taught in colleges.  The fact that I got it from a library showed incredible initiative.  I made sure that my kids knew that beyond cars, and colleges, there is always another way to make your dreams come true.  It might take extra work, but it’s not “someone else’s fault” if your life doesn’t turn out as you’d hoped.  And no amount of government spending can change that.

Prom is a 4-letter word

Jabbing the stickpin into the actual boy is sometimes merited.

It does cross my mind that last week, I had to do an article which said that the Pueblo mental hospital only has seven beds for the entire western slope of Colorado. Why, I could have filled all seven beds with people from my own house on prom weekend. I also note that the director of the Colorado West Regional Mental Health Center is needing $400,000 from 27 counties but she did not have a booth at the Delta High School prom. I suspect, if she had, she could have gotten donations rivaling that amount from parents. I simply cannot accept that we were alone.

The “What’s for dinner” report card

Mothers should NEVER be allowed to goof off with their jobs. (Photo courtesy of

Pancakes…with funny faces of mustard, and a sauerkraut mustache above the smile. Ben was unamused. “Can I have syrup?” he asked, poking at it with his fork.

I’m still hearing a lot about my “What’s for dinner” report card. You see, I’m all about fairness. What’s good enough for my kids is good enough for me. This concept took an unexpected turn when Ben was in seventh grade and was happily driving his teachers bananas by not turning in assignments when due, handing in part of an assignment, and basically goofing off in class. The teachers were beside themselves. “What can we do?” they asked. That’s when the following conversation/action plan took place.