“Tween mode … ACTIVATED!” we shout, when Riley is acting moody or particularly argumentative. “My name’s Riley and I’m always right,” I say, through a pushed-out lower lip, my hands shoved deep into my pockets. “I’m twelve and I know everything.” John strokes his chin and acts gravely concerned: “Are you grouchy because your body is going through changes?” I dig out my phone and pretend to call 911. “Um, hi, we have a tween who, like, cannot even? Yeah he literally cannot. Can you send a wahmbulance?”

“Oh my god, STOP. You guys are the WORST,” he says, frustrated, fighting a smile.


I turn around from the dishwasher and run smack into Dylan, who wraps his arms around my waist. “Unexpected hug,” he says, his voice muffled by my shirt.


We all watch American Vandal, a Netflix mockumentary in the style of Serial or Making a Murderer. The story centers around a kid who’s accused of spray-painting a bunch of dicks at his school. We get into heated conversations about how the crime went down and whether this person or that person is guilty or innocent. “For the life of me, I just don’t understand what’s so funny about penises,” someone on the show says into the camera, and we laugh and laugh.


Both kids have a Gizmo Gadget watch, they can send short predefined texts like “Yes,” “No,” “I love you,” “Where are you?” “I’m at school,” etc.

Riley rides his bike to school now, and texts when he arrives. I have a long string of one-button notifications:

I’m at school.

I’m at school.

I’m at school.

I’m at school.

I’m at school.

Sometimes I just open the app and look at those messages, wishing I had more insight into his day but deciding what I do know is enough.

I’m okay.

I’m safe.

Everything is all right.


Dylan was joking around with Riley and for some reason he announced that his new name was Balange (Bah-laange) and to his eternal regret it stuck, instantly.

Dylan: “Stop calling me Balange!”
Riley: “Okay Balange.”
Dylan: “Seriously DON’T.”
Riley: “Classic Balange thing to say.”

Even I find myself saying it sometimes, usually when I’m exasperated about something.

Me: “Where’s your homework sheet?”
Dylan: “Um … I think I forgot it at school.”

Balange now seems like Dylan’s alter-ego, like the little Not Me! ghost that runs around in those Family Circus cartoons. Who dumped half a sleeve of Saltine crumbs on the floor? Balange. Who left his shoes right where I can trip over them? Balange. Who said pangolins were his favorite animal then got super mad because we kept thinking he was saying “penguins”? Balange.


We finally got around to the painting the kids’ rooms. Riley chose a neutral grey with a denim-blue accent wall. Dylan chose an aggressive yellow that took on an orange tint as it dried. “It’s so much better!” he said, delighted.

Last night he spent some time cutting and taping a piece of paper to his door. It reads,


19 Responses to “The Velveeta cave”

  1. Taryn on October 26th, 2017 3:32 pm

    Hilarious & vivid writing- I love how you are able to portray your boys personalities!

  2. Kendra on October 26th, 2017 6:32 pm

    I’ve missed these windows on your world. Balange!

  3. Celeste on October 26th, 2017 8:36 pm

    I just love this. I have two boys, two and 8 and this made me kind of excited for the tween years.

  4. LP on October 26th, 2017 9:05 pm

    Divine snipits!! Your kids (really your whole family) are so funny!!

  5. Suzanne on October 27th, 2017 6:02 am

    Love these glimpses at their personalities. Joy is really in the smallest moments, isn’t it?

  6. jennb33 on October 27th, 2017 7:32 am

    All of these are the pearls of parenting. Thank you for sharing them. This is what we have to remember when we are stuck in the doldrums.
    Balange FTW.

  7. Emm on October 27th, 2017 12:25 pm

    OMG I can’t wait to use the “are you grumpy because your body is going through changes” line on my 10 year old! My boys are 9 and 10 and already the tween years have been activated. Ugh, Balange.

  8. marilyn on October 27th, 2017 1:21 pm

    Love. So grateful to you (and them!) for these perfect little pictures of a life and your ability to share them with us. Unexpected hug brings a little nostalgic-for-my-future tear to my eye.

  9. Tanya on October 27th, 2017 5:58 pm

    BWAHAHAHA!!!!!! Get Dylan a comforter that looks like a slice of pizza.

  10. A on October 28th, 2017 5:58 pm

    Your writing… Thank you for sharing your talent.

  11. nonsoccermom on October 28th, 2017 10:02 pm

    I love your writing so much. And the tween years are something, aren’t they?

  12. Shawna on October 30th, 2017 6:31 am

    My son also has a room with yellowish-orange walls. He has white wainscoting though, because 4 full walls of that colour would be TOO MUCH (for us, if not for him). He does love it though. Orange has been his life-long favourite colour, and when we colour-code anything for the family, that’s always his colour.

    My daughter is firmly in the tween years, but other than some extra drama with her friends, things have been pretty smooth, and she has remained a delightful child. Her 9-year-old brother though? Look out! If he’s sometimes grouchy and difficult now, I can only imagine what we’re in store for in a couple of years. And I’ve noticed his leg hair has already started to grow a little thicker. Can deodorant and zits be far behind?

    Speaking of which, my daughter and all her friends started needing deodorant at about the same time (and yes, they needed it) when I think maybe they were just turned 10 – is the trajectory for boys about the same?

  13. Alison on October 30th, 2017 3:05 pm

    I love everything about this post. I’m genuinely kind of terrified about the coming boy tween/teen years, but this all sounds lovely. Or at least clearly tolerable.

  14. Mary Clare on November 1st, 2017 7:50 am

    Ha! Love the way you rib Riley about his tweendom.

  15. Carrie on November 2nd, 2017 8:28 am

    I absolutely love your writing and your family. And this post gives me some solace that, if I have a boy, that I’ll be ok. :)

  16. Jess on November 3rd, 2017 3:52 am

    This is so awesome!
    With 2 almost 10 & 12 year old boys your writing always make me feel like I have someone who can relate…. and there is just something about it, no matter what the topic, that makes the lonely times of motherhood not quite so lonely… so thanks!!!!!

    Also, thinking of the Gizmo Gadget watches for Christmas presents…. have you been happy with them?

  17. Ivo on November 12th, 2017 5:12 am

    Great topic… revealing the talent of writing. Awesome…

  18. Emily on November 16th, 2017 5:19 pm

    Love this. Also love that your kids are grown enough now to be witty, even though it makes me feel a tiiiiny bit old.

  19. TravelingBlush on November 25th, 2017 9:15 am

    I haven’t been by in a while, but I always love it when I do. It’s nice to read what you’re up to – you’re such a gifted writer. This post cracked me up real good. :D

    Alrighty, back to catching up on the reads!

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