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Life with Liz: Growing pains

The boys made a monumental decision to attend a two-week “counselor in training” program at Boy Scout Camp this year. The Scout camp program has been pretty progressive when it comes to being away from home. First, they went to day camp, then a four-day/three-night program with a parent, then a weeklong stay with their scoutmaster (and a few other adult gluttons for punishment), and now finally, they were facing two weeks on their own.

The person who was the most enthusiastic about this whole adventure was E, who couldn’t wait to “practice for when the boys go to college.” Her activities for the week included leaving her clothes all over their shared bathroom, taking as long as she wanted in the shower, and displaying all her creams, lotions, polishes and other beauty products all over the place.

My plans for the weeks included doing a deep dive under their beds, figuring that if whatever item had been lost to those black holes hadn’t been missed already, they would never know it was gone when I removed it for good. I meant to get to a quick clean-out of their dresser drawers as well, but 37 stray socks later, I figured I had done enough penance for two weeks.

On my way home from dropping them off at camp, I stopped at the grocery store and boldly claimed one of the “small” carts for my week’s shopping for only three of us. With such a small amount of food, I was able to use the self-checkout. The chunk remaining in my grocery budget was so large that I even splurged on a bag of treats for the dog when I made my next stop at the feed store to pick up G’s weekly supply of chicken food.

That was when the thrill of having a partially empty nest wore off. Two mouths may have flown the coop, but there were literally 52 more that moved right in. The WH and I agreed to split chicken duty. He would feed and water and I would handle the eggs. After a few days of scrubbing hundreds of eggs, I began to suspect that G’s frequent bouts of klutziness with the egg basket might be a little premeditated. I’m ashamed to admit how many hours of my life have now been spent watching YouTube videos about how to make your own automatic egg washer.

Since we were just back from vacation, and still had a little bit of our recharged energy left, I planned lots of projects for our weekend at home. With only one kid to run to activities, I thought we would have hours to get things accomplished. Unfortunately, the WH ended up spending most of the weekend cutting grass. While A’s approach to cutting one section of the grass every day was a little aggravating in that all of our lawn never quite looked neat at the same time, I have to say his method of doing a little every day sure beat 10 hours straight on the tractor.

The one habit I have not been able to break my kids of over the past year is their belief that they must use a new dish every single time they take a sip of water or have any sort of snack.

This summer has gotten to the point where the dishwasher is almost always running. It’s worse than the washing machine. Of course, the downside to running the dishwasher once every three days is that it gives things plenty of time to grow inside the warm, moist environment. After that little experiment, we gave up on the dishwasher and just handwashed our meager output every evening.

As we headed into week two, I did a quick inventory of the groceries and found that I had to buy even less than the week before. Apparently, E had started getting a little lonely and started spending more and more time with her grandparents, which meant she wasn’t eating at home either. The WH made good use of the freshly washed eggs most nights, whipping up a quick omelet rather than waiting for me to cook anything bigger.

If it wasn’t for the few snack items that the boys requested we replace on our quick trip home to do some laundry, I don’t know that I would have even bothered going to the store. The reality of having milk in the fridge for almost two weeks hit me hard, though, as I poured slightly chunky milk onto my cereal. I was ready to have my 3- to 5-gallon a week habit back.

So, how did the boys fare on their adventure? Well, for the first few days, I got regular updates, particularly before they went to bed. Cellphones and texting make prolonged absences a lot easier to take. But, after the first week, I only got responses when I texted first, and they were one maybe two words, rarely a complete sentence. The last few nights, even my “good night” messages went unanswered.

The response to “When do I pick you up?” was simply “idk.” (which, for those of you who don’t speak teen means I don’t know) They were having a good time, in their element, with their new friends, and I was relegated to afterthought status.

Although they were packed up and ready to leave when I finally did get my directions where and when to get them, I could tell they were reluctant to leave. Both boys brought home applications to spend all of next summer as full-time counselors and have brought it up more than once since they’ve been back. I’m not sure if they will see it through, or if there will be bigger and better adventures next summer.

It was bittersweet. On the one hand, I was very glad I didn’t get that phone call to come pick someone up in the middle of the night. On the other hand, were full sentences for two weeks too much to ask? I should be happy that they are independent enough to head out on such an adventure without a single tear or hesitation, and I am, I really am. I know that this type of experience is preparing them for college and beyond, and that’s a really good thing. It’s also a little heartbreaking when they don’t look back as they head off, or when their resentment at having their wings clipped again when they come home is palpable. As a parent, I knew there would be plenty of growing pains. I just didn’t expect to be the one experiencing them.

Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.