Latest newspaper column – the top ten things we won’t miss now that our son is away at college

The day after West Virginia University’s Ginny Thrasher won the first gold medal of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, I was in Morgantown.

But I wasn’t there to help celebrate.

I was there to move our son into his dorm room.

Our eldest kid is no longer living in our basement. He’s out of our house and on his own, albeit still on his parents’ dime.

Our son started his WVU career a week early. He’s a trumpet playing member of the Mountaineer Marching Band, “The Pride of West Virginia.” The Pride requires members to show up a week early for band camp.

I admit to being somewhat apprehensive about turning him loose on Morgantown. And my eyes may have even welled up a little when I left him on his own. I’m not saying they did, just that they MIGHT have.

But now that it’s been nearly a week since the last time I saw our son, I’m starting to see the bright side of this college thing.

And so is my wife.

A couple of days after our son left she called me from her office. With sirens wailing in the background, she said “it’s nice not to have worry about him being in a car accident every time I hear an ambulance or fire engine.”

That got me thinking about several more things we won’t miss:

  1. Bellowing down the basement stairs each morning because we don’t trust him to set an alarm.
  2. Having to continue bellowing because he didn’t hear us the first time.
  3. The morning bathroom fight between him and his younger sister.
  4. Scrambling through a lukewarm shower before it turns frigid because he used most of the hot water.
  5. Being distracted when guests are over out of fear that he might wander into the family room wearing nothing but boxer shorts.
  6. Trying to pry information from him and only getting a series of grunts and a shrug for our trouble.
  7. Our weird relationship with the pizza delivery guy who, until last week, rang our doorbell on what seemed like a near daily basis.
  8. Having to buy frozen pizza in a misguided effort to satisfy his craving and keep the pizza bill within reason.
  9. Wrapping a pillow around our heads because he decided that 2am is the perfect time to practice his trumpet.
  10. Putting up with his sleeping until 2pm because he was up all night – PRACTICING HIS TRUMPET!

This list is hardly exhaustive, but it doesn’t mean we are gleeful that he’s gone and no longer interested in keeping tabs on him.

The fact is, we are getting sort of desperate. He’s been largely silent since he left. He hasn’t even been sending us many text messages, his preferred method of communication. My wife and I have been reduced to searching for him in the pictures the WVU band posts on social media.

That will likely change, though.

After all, his penchant for pizza means he’s bound to eventually run out of spending money.

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Stalking our college son

Our son hasn’t really been in touch with us since I dropped him off for band camp at West Virginia University in Morgantown.

Not surprising. He’s a fairly independent kid.

Thanks to social media, though, at least we know he made it to rehearsals on Wednesday.

My wife found this picture posted by @WVUMarchingBand on Twitter. She helpfully circled our son, marching with nearly 400 of his new best friends. He’s just left of the 40 yard line, part of the “V” in WVU.img_1406.jpg

Marching band dad

A day after West Virginia University’s Ginny Thrasher won the first gold medal at the Rio Olympics, I’m in Morgantown.

Our son is starting his college career a week early. We’re here for band camp. He’s a freshman member of  the Mountaineer Marching Band, otherwise known as “The Pride of West Virginia.”

Today was registration day.

No more basement living for our oldest kid. Tomorrow, it’s sink or swim. We’re moving him into his dorm room and then I’m leaving him to it.

He probably won’t ever win Olympic gold, but I feel like there should be some sort of prize for parents who have gotten their kids this far.

On our son’s high school graduation and Starfleet Academy

The first teaser trailer for the new “Star Trek” TV series that’s supposed to come out next year was released this week. It didn’t reveal much – just the new logo and beauty shots of space – but it did remind me that I haven’t made a “Star Trek” reference lately.

And, since that’s an eye-rolling part of my shtick, you’re just going to have to bear with me as I engage in it.

Our kids are now at the age when the milestones are coming so fast it’s as if their lives have kicked into warp drive.

For example, our daughter is now a confirmed member of our church.

I took last Sunday off from work so I could be there as she stood in front of the congregation with a couple other church kids. They were confirmed on Pentecost, so they all wore red, matching the pastor’s vestments and the flowers behind the alter.

confirmationsunday

The kids participated in the service. One was responsible for the processional cross, another read the day’s Bible verses, and our daughter helped serve communion.

I was happily enjoying the moment when our pastor brought me up short. He told the congregation that, at least in the eyes of the church, our daughter is now an adult.

AN ADULT!

The church may consider her grown up, but she hasn’t yet turned 15. I’m allowed to  indulge in a few more years of denial where she is concerned.

Her older brother’s progress, however, is harder to stave off. He turned 18 this spring and voted for the first time last month.

He also had his first car accident. He backed his mother’s car into our driveway basketball pole a couple of weeks ago.

The car wasn’t damaged, but shooting hoops at our house is no longer an option – the pole isn’t there anymore. Apparently (here comes another “Star Trek” reference), the base of it was so eaten up by rust a starship gently traveling at nothing more than impulse speed could have knocked it over.

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It’s probably just as well that it’s been put out of commission. Playing driveway basketball was never much of a priority at our house. For more than ten years, that pole had nothing better to do than preside unnoticed and unappreciated over our comings and goings. It was a vestige of the previous owners. Now, it exists only in memory and in the background of family pictures.

At some family gathering years from now, I can see us going through our old pics and somebody will say, “Man, I forgot all about that basketball pole. What happened to it?” At which point I will merely give our son the sort of disapproving look that says “you still haven’t lived that down.”

But that’s in a future glimpsed only in my mind’s eye. Right now, a more immediate milestone is nearly upon us.

Our son is graduating from high school. Commencement ceremonies are scheduled for Monday evening, and it won’t be long before we pack him off to college.

I’d send to him Starfleet Academy (another “Star Trek” reference!) but since it doesn’t exist (yet) a more practical post-secondary education seems more appropriate to our timeline.

College brings with it its own set of hurdles. And while our son is likely to remain true to form and give his mother and me heartburn, he will likely clear them and move on with his life.

Otherwise, I might have to get Enterprise’s captain to start opening the bar in Ten-Forward a little early.

I worked “Star Wars” into my latest newspaper column for Halloween

I don’t know how I’ve managed to make it this far without knowing there is an actual word for what I’ve spent years trying to avoid.

But at least this Halloween, I finally have a simple adjective to describe the turbulence that regularly sweeps through my house as if it were haunted by a ghost who needs anger management therapy.

Our teenage daughter brought it to my attention. She told me the other day she gets really “hangry” when I fail to keep the cupboards stocked.

I may be an out-of-touch, middle-aged, nerdy dad who needs his kids to keep him up-to-date on the finer points of pop culture, but, for once, I didn’t have to ask what she meant.

We had, after all, just averted what could have amounted to a prolonged meltdown.

Our daughter is usually borderline hangry when she comes home from school. That day, we had to make do with what we had on hand because I had yet to go the grocery store.

But even without context, the mash-up of “hungry” and “angry,” seems to define itself.

In any case, I know a hangry person when I see one. I live with enough of them.

To adapt a line from one of the trailers for the new “Star Wars” movie coming out next month: “Hanger runs strong in my family. My wife has it. Our daughter has it. And our cats have it, too!”

Earlier this week, a text message from my wife jolted me out of bed while I was trying to catch up on sleep after having worked an overnight shift in the newsroom. She warned that our cats were out of food. She didn’t have time to go to the store herself before leaving for work, but she urged me to go immediately.

And she left me with this disturbing thought as a motivator to wake up and get moving. She said if our truly ornery cat Skitty didn’t get something to eat soon, she may commit  … BLOODY MURDER!

My wife was exaggerating, but when I investigated the food situation, Skitty WAS sharpening her claws.

And when I peered into the kitchen, I saw that our other cat was hangry, too. She expresses frustration in a less threatening but more messy way –  by leaping on top of the fridge and hurling cereal boxes to the floor.

At least she kept her claws to herself while I swept up the rainbow of fruity colors and grabbed my car keys for an emergency trip to the grocery store.

It was only after I picked up food for the cats that I realized that I had neglected to rustle up snacks for our daughter. But I worked out a strategy to satisfy us both.

Our daughter doesn’t need a whole lot on her stomach to keep her happy, just a nibble here and there usually does the trick. And while she prefers to snack on healthy fruits and veggies, I went big and unhealthy.

I got her a massive bucket of fresh, hot french fries because … plenty of leftovers for Dad.

And because the cats just seemed too hangry to share.

Why lying around the house isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anymore

Pro-tip: if you’re tired of your teenage kid hogging the family car, don’t put any gas in it.

I know this move works.

I’ve field tested it.

Earlier this week, our 17-year-old son came back into the house shortly after he was supposed to leave for school. He had an annoyed expression on his face because the car he wanted to use was short on fuel.

I was slightly surprised he even noticed. Teenage boys aren’t known for paying much attention to anything except their stomachs.

Which is why it’s a good thing gas gauges are located where even they can’t miss them.

Still, it was either dumb luck our son noticed or he is simply growing up and thinking ahead instead of learning from my dubious example.

In any case, he feared the car would be running on fumes by the time he made it to school. And when I followed him back out to the garage to see for myself, I discovered he wasn’t far off.

I told him he could probably make it, but that he’d have to fill it up before returning home. Otherwise, he might end up stranded on the side of the interstate waiting for the courtesy patrol to save the day.

Then I sensed an opportunity.

I pleaded poverty.

I made a show of checking my wallet for the cash I knew I didn’t have – because, who carries cash anymore?

I also pointed out that the clock was ticking, that he didn’t have time to pull up to a pump before school started. I suggested leaving the car with me made better sense. That way I could fill it up while he was in school in case he wanted to use it later.

I then finished with this coup de grace: I told him that he was just going to have suck it up and ride with me when I took his younger sister. Thankfully, she is not yet old enough to compete with the rest of us for the car keys.

I felt sort of guilty for depriving him of the car. After all, I could have easily handed over the plastic I customarily use to spend our money.

But here’s the thing: I wanted easy access to a car again, if only for one day.

The problem at our house these days is a simple one – too many drivers and not enough cars.

When our son takes one of our two cars to school, I’m left stranded at home because my wife needs to take the other one to work.

This arrangement generally works because of the odd hours I keep. I make my living at night and on weekends, which means I’m home a great deal during the day.

At first I welcomed being stranded. With no one around and no way to get around, I figured I could finally get my busy nap schedule back on track. Or maybe stream some old “Star Trek” episodes that I haven’t seen in a while … at least, not since the previous school year let out for the summer.

But I was wrong.

The truth is, I’ve actually been losing sleep ever since the new school year began. And streaming anything is beginning to bore me, even “Star Trek.”

All because I’m not free to come and go as I please.

In short, lying around the house isn’t quite as satisfying when it’s forced upon you.

Sometimes a guy just needs to get off the couch and drive.

Even if it means tricking your kid into leaving the car with you.

Protip: When traveling with kids, don’t forget the charger

I’ve made a small investment in a simple piece of hardware that I hope will keep me from having to perform the classic “frustrated dad maneuver” this weekend – that is, threatening to pull the car over and making the kids walk.

It’s an inexpensive USB car charger.

For 14 bucks, I have a device in hand that will a) keep everyone’s electronics happily humming along and b) distract the kids from bickering for the duration of our quick trip to Atlantic City.

I ran across this potentially life-changing device in the electronics store.

I made our daughter accompany me there against her will this week. She turns 13 this month and is true to form. The last thing she wants is to be seen in public with me, but I thought ahead and offered a bribe.

After embarrassing her by just being present while she got her back-to-school haircut, I floated the promise of ice cream if she’d indulge me before returning home. She’ll do anything for ice cream, even temporarily forgetting that I should only exist when she needs money … for more ice cream.

When we got to the store, I quickly discovered the leap chargers have made since the last time I was in the market for one. Their potential to keep the peace didn’t escape me, either. I snapped up one with two USB ports.

I’m probably coming late to the whole USB car charger thing, but I have an excuse. It’s been several years since I’ve had to buy a charger. I haven’t had to think about one because my wheels are iPhone ready – meaning I can plug my phone into the car’s system and play it through the stereo while it charges.

But I don’t have an iPhone, anymore. I got a new Android this week, and it doesn’t play nice with my car. It’s rendered its iPhone capabilities almost useless.

However, my new charger fixes that. It taps into my car’s juice in the usual way, through the cigarette lighter. And while it works exactly like the chargers I’m used to, it effectively expands by threefold my vehicle’s ability to keep electronic devices ready-to-go. But the real pay-off is its potential to keep our kids from coming to blows over whose turn it is to replenish their batteries.

The kids each have their own port. My daughter can charge her phone and her Kindle on one while her older brother takes the other for not only his phone, but his video game systems. Since my wife still has an iPhone, she can use my car’s iPhone plug.

That just leaves me.

If you’re keeping score at home, it looks like I’m the odd man out.

Despite having the USB charger, I’m still one plug short. It gives me three, but four people are cramming into my car for the trip to Atlantic City.

I could make one of the kids share time with me, but that would just stir up the kind of trouble I’m trying to avoid.

The last thing I want is to be kicked out of my own car.