Soon I will be on our annual family vacation at the beach, made more significant this year because my son is bringing his girlfriend of two years. She's delightful, and they're apparently serious about each other. I resist the notion that they're way too young by remembering that by the time I was their age, I had been going for two years with the young man who became my husband and my son's father.
I've made reservations for the four of us at a fine-dining establishment with a bayside location and sunset views. The menu, that I've previewed online, boasts imaginative plays on seasonal, local ingredients. This is tablecloth dining. We will drink wine and converse. The food, while important, will be secondary to the time spent.
And yet, I'm recalling a lunch with my 12-year-old son and two of his friends, on a no-school day that I turned into a field trip to a national park. Pizza, burgers and sodas were on the table; the boys crammed their faces and debated the who's who of their class. I listened carefully and revealed nothing; my attention apparently directed toward the meal before me.
First they discussed their peers, the boys. The threesome agreed, thus-and-so is a dork. And thus-and-such can be sooo annoying.
And then they got to....the girls. It seems that one of them likes Lindsay, or is it Amelia, or maybe Chelsey. I didn't exactly catch the name, can't place the girl. I sensed that the concept of a girlfriend brings both awe and the acknowledgement of cooties.
I kept my head down and kept eating.
And then it hit them: there's an ADULT at the table. Hey guys, the boy who likes Lindsay/Amelia/Chelsey says, don't talk about this in front of a MOM.
To which my son replied, "That's okay. She's nobody."
What a relief. When it comes to sensitive matters of secret high intelligence, my presence doesn't count. I can pass.
We finished our lunches. Ketchup smears stained paper napkins; pizza crusts littered paper plates. The boys' gullets were satisfyingly filled.
We walked a short distance and crossed a footbridge over the Potomac River and I explained that the C&O canal at the far side was constructed as an engine of commerce, but was almost immediately overshadowed by the railroad line that, at that moment, was literally directly over our heads. I'm aiming to make the moment both enjoyable and scholastic.
"Let's run back to the other side," one boy challenges.
And two of the three boys take off. I'm left with the third and a deflated geography lesson. The remaining boy and I walk back across the footbridge to discover the other two vigorously working up spit wads, which they're taking turns ejecting from their mouths over the edge of the bridge. We come upon them counting the number of seconds it takes the mucus to hit the water. They've turned my moment of educational enrichment into a loogie race.
It wouldn't be a day with preteen boys without a discussion of boogers. The subject arose, naturally, at lunch. When I reminded the boys that boogers aren't appropriate subject matter for mealtime, the conversation switched to a doomsday movie about a rogue virus that makes blood come out of people's eyes. The blood comes out elsewhere, too, but I'll defer mentioning exact locations in the interest of delicacy. Evidently, middle-school boys believe there is no wrong time to gross out your friends.
I do not believe saliva, mucus, blood or other body fluids will be the subject of discussion at the upcoming waterfront dinner I have planned. I miss my preteen baby, with his appalling lack of manners and dependence on mom to instruct and role model. And I look forward to getting to know the man he is becoming.