Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Now That You've Dropped Your Kid Off at College...

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about dropping your kid off at college--kind of a dos and don'ts sort of a thing. After rereading it, and after having done even more kid-dropping-off in the ensuing half decade, I think I can safely say it still pretty much stands up.

If you're so inclined, go ahead and read it now.

OK, so, now that your pookie is off to sleep-away school, the rules have changed a bit. This is when the Growing Up Portion of little Junior's life starts.

Please note: I'm not just making this stuff up. This is what I've learned from personal experience and hearing stories from my peeps on the front lines--people who actually work at these institutions of higher learning and have seen the horror wrought by this group of mammals to which we now belong: College Parents.

And I need to warn you at the outset that, while I love my children dearly, my life did not stop when they went away to college. I recently heard a fellow mom say, "It took me a year to adjust to the empty nest." I almost spit out my drink. Are you kidding me? The best sight I've ever seen is our son's back going down the security line at an airport. Not that I don't miss them and love having them around, but isn't this why we have kids? So they can grow up and live their own lives?

We start with the assumption that your child is old enough and mature enough to handle living on her own and dealing with the rigors of a college curriculum and has the social awareness to live peacefully in a communal setting. Because if she doesn't, well...

Let's not think about that right now. Let's focus on this new journey you're on and allow me to offer a few observations.
  • It's COLLEGE. Back the eff off. And by that I mean, leave him alone. Let him figure out what he's supposed to do, when he's supposed to do it, and how he's supposed to do it. You can give him a little nudge now and again, but seriously, this is his journey and you need to let him be on it. Now this does not mean you shouldn't help him set things up--everything from his residence hall room (they'll tell you not to call it a dorm, just wait) to his student accounts. You should. And get the passwords while you're at it, because if your kid is anything like mine those passwords are out of the brain the second they're typed into the computer. But stuff like registering for classes and making his schedule and actually going to class? That's his deal. And, trust me, if you are one of those parents who keeps calling the desk receptionist to check on your kid's whereabouts on a Saturday night (FYI, the DR has no idea where your precious munchkin is playing his current game of beer pong) you will become the focus of much ridicule and abuse at the next hall staff meeting.
  • Don't be what colleges refer to as a Velcro Parent. As in, you need to be peeled away from your child. Let's take a little test. When talking about your daughter heading off for college, what pronoun do you use? If it's "we" or "our" (like, if you ever uttered: "we decided on Princeton" or "our college choice was Harvard") then honey, you might have a problem with this whole letting-go thing. One mom I talked to last year said these actual words to me: "I am ready to stay in the room with her that first night in case she needs my help falling asleep." The scary thing? She wasn't kidding. I had this picture of this poor girl's roommate going to the RA that first night and saying, "Yeah, uh, so there's this woman in our room..." In a case like this, there's a really thin line between excessive parenting and felony loitering.
  • Your kid is the one who should be getting--and heeding--the school's Public Safety alerts, not you. Marquette University has a phenomenal social media presence, which as a mom I'm grateful for, but when other parents start posting on the parent Facebook page things like "There's been a push-in robbery at 16th and Kilbourn" I'm not sure how to respond. I live more than 1,000 miles away from each of my kids' colleges, so am I supposed to hop on a plane with my pocket flaming torch and collapsible pitchfork so I can join the Parental Lynch Mob? I mean, there could be a major problem with TSA, for starters.

    If your kid's college is in a city, he's going to be dealing with everything a city has to offer, like fantastic restaurants, excellent museums, great public transportation, and the occasional mugging. Even if Junior's headed off to a campus in the middle of nowhere, there's still a chance he might have things stolen out of his room or be accosted on the way home from the bars/late night chess club meeting. Make sure Buffy listens to and abides by all of the dos and don'ts of the Safety Talk she'll be given about 29 times during orientation week. Encourage her to keep her head up, lock her door when she's not in her room, and take care of her valuables. But this is her deal, not yours.
  • Don't use social media to work out your kid's social or academic problems. Your precious little pumpkin's struggles with her roommate, her professors, or her class schedule really have no place on the school's public social media pages. Your child would be mortified (I hope) if she discovered she was the topic of conversation on Facebook--and god forbid the roommate's parents figure out you're talking about their little pumpkin. Unless that's what you intend, and that's just passive aggressive and mean and, not to put too fine a point on it, you're a bad person.
  • Yes, college is expensive. Shut up about it. We all get the same friendly emails from the bursar's office twice a year, and while our bottom-line balance due amounts vary, none of us is really getting away for free. This isn't a police state, so this whole college choice thing is completely up to Junior and, to some extent of course, you, so when you start sentences with the words, "Given the amount of money we pay..." I, for one, want to punch you in the face. Go find a school where that amount of money you're paying is a good ROI for you and just shut the hell up. (This also applies to people who send their children to private elementary and high schools. Sort of a me-proclaimed universal law, if you will.)
This list is by no means comprehensive, but I've got to cut this short since happy hour's about to start and we have a lot to celebrate. Joe just texted that he's arrived in Spokane for his junior year at Gonzaga, and I think I finally found a type of Febreze that might actually get that horrific smell out of his room.

Good luck as you begin this new phase of your life. Trust me, it will all be fine! Or, at the very least, a couple of drinks will make it seem way better,

Sunday, August 9, 2015

I Never Liked You

A couple weeks ago I packed up my trophy husband, lots of loose-fitting clothes, and extra migraine medication and traveled to Milwaukee for my 30th college reunion. The Marquette University Class of 1985 came out in impressive numbers, as usual, and, as far as any of us remember or will testify to, there were no casualties. So, great success.

Here are a few of my observations from those three booze- and cheese-fueled days:
  • Three decades is enough time to forget a name, but not a grudge. I walked into our class party on Friday night, saw a woman in a black shirt, and instantly thought, "OMG. I hate her." I mean, it was a visceral reaction like I can't even explain. Here's the problem with that. I racked my brain, asked a bunch of other people, and I still have no idea what her name is or why I even hated her in the first place. I think that says something about how horrible I am as a person, but I've decided not to be self-aware enough to figure out what that is, exactly.
  • Those lanyard name tag thingys seem like a good idea, but they can be the cause of some pretty intense social awkwardness. Everyone has those Who IS That? moments at these gatherings, and when the tags get flipped around, well... One of my classmates, coming up for air after chugging a PBR tall boy, gasped out, "See that woman over there? I reached down to get a better look at her name tag and accidentally touched her boob. Then I realized, once I'd figured out who she was, we'd had a one-night stand that I spent most of senior year trying to forget. Now I think she's going to try to stalk me." We sent someone over to the bar to get him a refill because, judging from the look she was giving him when we all turned around to see who she was, it was going to be a long night.
  • And on the subject of name tags: It's really humbling when someone looks at you, takes a glance at yours, and then just moves on.
  • The upside of social media: You get to skip all the boring So What Have You Been Up To? conversations, since you've been following all the kid updates, job changes, and other life milestones that have happened since the last reunion and jump right to the discussions that start, "OMG, did you hear..."
  • You know that weaselly guy you just wanted to punch in college? Be comforted in knowing that some things never change. Plus, because life simply isn't fair, it turns out that that guy is now a very rich jerk, which makes it all the more irritating. But good news: 30 years out, you get to be brutally honest because what do you have to lose? Hands-down the best thing I heard during the whole reunion was when one of my buddies managed to weave into his conversation with Class A##hole, "You know, you always were a giant dick."
  • The older we get, the more we all start looking alike. At one point when a couple of the guys were having one of those horrible, slightly drunk "No, we lived on the fourth floor!" "No, it was the tenth!" arguments, they decided to look around for the one person who could settle it and we all realized at once that at night, in a beer garden, it's hard to discern one bald head from another.
  • Do not begin gossiping about a fellow classmate until you've checked to make sure a) she's not within earshot b) her husband's not within earshot and c) her fiercely loyal sophomore year roommate isn't within earshot. Wait, better rule: don't gossip at all until you're in the car on your way home. It's just safer that way. Trust me.
  • There's a huge downside to going to college in a city where the chief exports are beer and farm animals. It took me three days to completely sober up after the whole thing was over, and judging from the ERROR MAX WEIGHT EXCEEDED message I got on my scale when we came back, I think I consumed pretty much the entire Class of 85's RYA of Miller Lite, Real Chili, cheese curds, brats, butter burgers, and frozen custard. Talk about taking one for the team. You're welcome, Fellow Warriors.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Finding God in all things

God has a sense of humor. And he enjoys messing with me.

A few months ago, in an effort to get myself in better spiritual shape, I managed to find a sweet, patient Jesuit who was willing to lead me through an adapted version of St. Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises. I'm about halfway through and so far it's been great. I spend some time every day in quiet contemplation, reading a bit, reflecting a bit, and having some pretty good one-on-one conversations with Jesus.

Actually, Ignatian spirituality is perfect for an ADD-afflicted human like me. Whenever I find myself going off the rails, getting distracted when I should be focusing on my meditation for the day, or even when I'm out in the world and start having very uncharitable thoughts, I usually can get myself re-focused by using Ignatius' tenet of trying to find God in all things.

Like this morning, for example, when I walked into the gym still in my post-meditation, content, I'm Going to Look for God in Everything I See Today mode and I'm instantly accosted by the Resident Creeper, the guy who wears cargo shorts, bad 70s-looking t-shirts, smells faintly of a mixture of Pine-Sol and moth balls, and who tries to strike up a conversation with any woman under the age of 100 who happens to be working out.

RC: Hey, you weren't here yesterday.

Me (trying to be pleasant while still trying to discourage a major conversation): No, I took the day off. Had some other stuff to do.

RC: Stuff, huh?

Me (trying to step around him because he's a close talker and, you know, the smell): Yep.

RC: You got any plans for the weekend?

Me (as I'm walking away): Yeah, my husband and I are headed to a family reunion in Nebraska.

RC (loudly, because by now there are all of five feet between me and him and he wants to make sure I can hear him): You shouldn't tell people you're leaving town. That's how houses get robbed.

Me: Yeah. Thanks!

I kept walking and escaped to the locker room, thinking the whole time, "Really, God? Really? You have to test me like this?"

As I was putting my stuff in my locker, Holly, one of my fellow gymgoers who overheard the whole encounter with RC said to me, "What is with that guy? The other day he told me I should wear my hair shorter and get some highlights."

A few other women chimed in about him, too (apparently I'm not special), and then Gloria, one of the octogenarian aquasizers, momentarily stopped her struggle with her bathing suit (at that point the bathing suit was winning) and said, "Girls, he's lonely. He obviously doesn't have any social skills, and this is where he feels comfortable, so would it kill you all to just be a little tolerant of him, make his life a little better by being nice?"

Then, looking at Holly, she said, "And you know what? You could maybe use some highlights. Brighten up your face a little."

And there it was. Just as I was trying really hard to remind myself that God was in the RC, Gloria speaks up and says pretty much what I imagine Jesus would say in that situation.

And, of course, how does the voice of Jesus come to me? Through a half-naked 80-year-old woman in the locker room of an LA Fitness.

Seriously. God has a helluva sense of humor.

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Weekend in Vegas

A couple of observations as I sit in the Las Vegas airport waiting for my flight home after a weekend spent roaming casinos, eating good food, watching bad football, and drinking far too much.

1. I'm neither a fashion model nor a fashion designer, but I can tell you without question that a dress with big horizontal blocks of florescent green, black, and cherry red that barely covers a 250-lb woman's behind is NOT a very flattering choice. And if I had to guess, the sparkly 10-inch platform heels weren't comfortable, either.

2. You just have to wonder what the one giggly, scantily clad woman in the group of seven loud, over-served men is really thinking. If I had to guess, it's got something to do with a business transaction and nothing all to do with being entertained by stories about the insurance business back home in Erie.

3. In order to get a cup of coffee in the morning you have to traipse through the casino, where, if you had a rough night (which we actually did), the smell of cigarette smoke and the sight of people swilling cheap bourbon at 8 a.m. does nothing to ease your budding hangover.

4. How do they get all the cigarette smoke out of those casinos? That's got to be a pretty amazing ventilation system.

5. The cutest thing I saw: a couple who looked to be in their 80s holding hands while they both played the slots. Whenever one of them won, they gave each other a kiss. It was even cuter when their caretaker/daughter came up and said loudly, "OK, you two, time for lunch. You have to take your medicine and get a little nap and so you'll be fresh for the show tonight!" They picked up their canes and shuffled off, then two portly women wearing I (heart) Quilting sweatshirts swooped into their seats. "They left just as they were paying out!" PW 1 unnecessarily explained to me, a bit defensively.

6. We watched the Super Bowl in the bar of a very nice restaurant and were entertained not by the game but by the table full of men with Jersey accents throwing money around (and buying Mark and me a drink or two while they were at it), and a table full of guys speaking what sounded like Russian who kept putting their heads together and whispering, leaning back nodding vigorously, then ordering another round of drinks and food. They were either very serious about reaching a consensus on their beverage choice or they were plotting something big. I hope it's the former, but if it's the latter I don't think I'll be a good witness because, due to all the drinks we were getting, when I tried to recall their faces this morning all I could conjure was Vladimir Putin in his boxing getup.

7. I think your fellow citizens should get to vote on whether or not you are allowed to wear a t-shirt that declares, "I'm bringing the sexy back."

8. I really wanted to strike up a conversation with the woman who was wearing the "I'm Still A Virgin" t-shirt. What's the thought process involved there? Are you trying to get a guy? Are you willing to change? What?

9. As I was waiting for Mark in the MGM lobby this morning, I overheard a group of 20-something guys recount their weekend. Sounds like all in all they had a good few days, but my heart went out to the guy who said, shaking his head, "I can't believe she was a hooker! Damn. I really thought I was getting somewhere with her!"

10. I usually try to take a live-and-let-live attitude when I'm waiting in an airport, but listening to the slot machines jingle and the shouts of the overserved gentlemen speaking a language I don't understand is starting to get on my nerves. For fun, I think I'm going to start fantasizing a way to shut them up that involves the garbage lady's cart, the hand trolley the stocker guy is using, and a couple of the plastic trash bins stacked up behind me. I'll let you know if I can get all the logistics worked out before I have to board the plane.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The January 15 Christmas Letter

After the Current Husband, the Girl Child and I finished putting away all the Christmas stuff a couple weeks ago, I surveyed the now-back-to-normal living room and said, "Well, THAT never happened." I was all ready to put the Christmas season behind me and begin the new year with a good attitude (no easy feat for me) and a firm resolve to try to be nice to people (even more difficult).

Then it arrived.

On January 15, in a red, holly-trimmed envelope, we got what is annually The Most Annoying Christmas Letter Sent By The Most Annoying Family We Know. I'd been wondering where it was, since every year I look forward to making fun of TMAFWK and their horrifyingly posed photo and the wife's grammar-massacring prose. This year's offering did not disappoint.

Guess why it was so late? Because TMAFWK spent their Christmas on a cruise ship, sailing to a tropical locale that was "like a dreaming." The photo included the whole family in matching swimwear, showing off some pretty scary Midwestern-white skin and featuring the wife's newly tightened face and, if I'm not mistaken, newly enhanced breasts.

Good news. The kids are still perfect geniuses, the husband's job is going great (five extravagant vacations this year!), and the wife is "filling her days with children and managing the dally lives of their sports achievements and schoolwork!!!" (you can't make stuff like that up)

Seven poorly written paragraphs that are sure to set your teeth on edge, ended with the inevitable "Love! The Smith's."

What's with the excessive use of exclamation points? And people, will you stop with the unnecessary apostrophes? Sheesh.

Which brings us to the Skoog Annual Christmas Letter, a direct response to those chirpy TMI, OMG-Isn't-Our-Life-Great missives that make actual normal people want to barf. Is ours perfect? Nope. But, well, it kind of sums up what our particular family is all about.

Here is our 2013 edition:

The smart, cute, and well-behaved Skoog children.

After a pathetic showing last year (writing the letter on a laptop on our way home from Christmas dinner), we’re excited that this might actually get to you all before actual Christmas. But what are we doing, taking up valuable time like this? Let’s get to the news!

· 19 years old, a freshman at Gonzaga University
· Ended a superlative high school debate career and was actually recruited by several universities (no! seriously! we’re not kidding!), including Michigan State and Mary Washington, but ended up choosing Gonzaga because of its coaches, philosophy department, and because it’s included on the list of 28 mom-approved schools.
· Shortly after arriving on campus, ducked into McCarthey Athletic Center to avoid the white stuff falling out of the sky (he later learned it’s called “snow”), and accidentally joined a shoot-around with the men’s basketball team. After Joe hit seven straight threes, Coach Mark Few instantly offered him a scholarship. Joe’s initial “no thanks” to Coach Few has evolved, over the past few months, from “Please, I need to get to class,” into “What are you doing in my room?” Apparently the poor guy doesn’t take rejection well—but he seemed to take the restraining order OK.

· 21 years old, a senior at Marquette University
· Was accepted into MU’s Physician Assistant Program and is currently in the first year of her master’s degree studies. She was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa in the spring and is currently the facilities manager at McCabe Hall.
· Inadvertently caused the government shutdown earlier this year when a high-level government worker found and plugged in the website she developed in her high school HTML class and launched it as healthcare.gov. After several panicked phone calls from Kathleen Sebilius’ office, Catharine was able to use her excessive amounts of spare time (freed up when she ended her urban farming venture) to completely redo the website while, at the very same time, brokering a compromise with members of Congress and getting the government back up and running.

· 7 years old, a cocker spaniel
· During a summer visit to the vet, we learned that Lady has become a much sweeter, calmer dog, making her the first member of the family to actually become less dysfunctional during her time as a Skoog.
· Because of her obvious intelligence and copious amounts of free time, she was tapped by Amazon to be one of their first drone test pilots.Initial results seemed promising, until it came to light that deliveries were being delayed because the drones were constantly dive bombing unsuspecting bunnies. Apparently it’s all fun and games until PETA gets involved.

· Vice president of marketing at JDA Software.
· Is splitting his time between Scottsdale and Chicago, where he has been hired as Derek Rose’s personal trainer and rehab supervisor due to the storied success he enjoyed after his own meniscus repair. His job has just gotten more complicated with the addition of a new client, a young and extremely demanding man named Kanye, who is determined to have a better meniscus tear/rehab than anyone else’s and is really putting Mark through his paces.

· Recently left my job and am now devoting myself full time to my art (mark my words—the previously undiscovered beauty of doorknob decoupage is about to sweep the nation) and resuming my freelance career.
· Thanks to a flaw in the facial recognition software of onlyfarmers.com, I’ve spent a good deal of my time these days trying to answer emails/inquiries for someone named Marge from Wahoo, Nebraska, who apparently is looking for a sturdy man who can help her move pivots, tend the cattle, and whose interests include animal husbandry, aquifer conservation, hand harvesting, and beet canning. I’m just sending along the messages, but if I was Marge I’d go for Dewayne, who looked downright sexy in his (obviously) new overalls and seemed sincere when he wrote about his love for calving.

In other news:
· We moved Mark’s mom, Jeanne, down here in April. She’s living in Belmont Village, an assisted living facility about a quarter mile from our house, and she seems to be adjusting well. 
· Catharine will graduate from Marquette on May 18. Anyone who’s up for a trip to Milwaukee is more than welcome. Just a warning, though: there might actually be some beer consumed.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Just a typical weekend

A few snapshots from the past three days.

Friday afternoon, standing in line for lunch at a place where I happen to be friends with the owners, I overheard this conversation:

Worker girl 1: I'm thinking of calling in sick.
Worker girl 2: You should. This job sucks.
Worker girl 1: She's crazy, though. If she finds out I'm lying, she'll fire me.
Worker girl 2: She is crazy. But if you're sick, you're sick.
Worker girl 1: But I won't be sick. I want to hang out with my boyfriend.
Worker girl 2: She doesn't have to know that.
Worker girl 1: I think that woman in the pink sweater is friends with her.
Worker girl 2: Really?
Me (who is, in fact, sporting a pink sweater, although I think it's more of a cantaloupe color): Yes, she is.
Worker 1 and Worker 2 both stop dead in their tracks and stare at me with something akin to horror in their eyes because my friend the owner is, in fact, a bit crazy.
Me: But don't worry, I won't say a word. I promise.

Twenty bucks says neither of them is still working there the next time I go back.

Saturday afternoon at the beauty salon, there was a fellow patron with a voice like a bullhorn who was going on and on about stuff I--nor, if I had to guess, anyone else in the English-speaking world--cared about, like her new sink fixtures ("brass, but not shiny, because that's tacky"), her boss's flaky scalp ("I mean, it gets all over my desk when he leans over me to see my computer screen"), and her boyfriend's dog's fungus problem ("not all over, just in spots, and I don't think I can pick it up, do you?"). By the time they stuck her right next to me to wait for her hair to process, I had run through several scenarios for bringing about her untimely demise and settled on one that included--but was not limited to--a hairdryer, some nail polish remover, and a carelessly lit match.

As she sat down, she was telling the stylist, "I could've taught at (insert name of college prep high school here) but I am just too intelligent for them. I walked into that interview and you could just tell I intimidated everyone in the room."

The kicker came when the stylist asked her if she wanted a magazine while she waited, but she shook her head no. "I have paperwork to do!" she chirped, and proceeded to pull out a crossword puzzle. And it wasn't even the NY Times Saturday puzzle, either--it was one of those lame ones with big squares, which kind of bummed me out because I was going to see what she got for 5 down.

Sunday morning found Mark and me at the local sports bar, watching NFL football with dozens of beautiful people. Mark's a Bear fan and I'm a Packer fan, so it was a win-win-win-win today, since our teams weren't playing each other, they both won AND they were on screens next to each other. Woo-hoo.

Our fellow patrons included
  • A youngish couple and their son. I knew right off the wife and I would never be bffs because when they sat down the mom announced "We're huge football fans!" and then proceeded to order a mimosa. In a sports bar. Please. That's almost disrespectful to football. But I cut them some slack because when the Bears did something spectacularly stupid (the first of about 50 idiotic plays for the day), Mark screamed the f-word, so we owed them a big apology, since using the swears in front of the small children is decidedly not cool.
  • A guy who kept yelling, "Go, Forty, go!" whenever the Bears' QB gave Matt Forte (pronounced For-tay) the ball, which was a lot, and he was either doing that random nickname thing I hate or he doesn't really know football. I suspect it was the former, but it was irritating. It also underscored how overused Forte was today since the guy behind us yelled it about 10,000 times.
  • A table full of college girls wearing various NFL jerseys who started off drinking beer (good) but then when the (I believe it was the Falcons) scored, one girl said, "Time to celebrate with some shots!" and the waitress brought something that looked like chocolate milk to lots of squealing and T-Rex-armed clapping. Epic sports bar fail. Shots in a sports bar = something brown or something clear. THEN they all stood underneath the tvs and proceeded to get as many pictures of themselves as possible so they could post it to whatever Instatweetbookchat they're using these day. (When I become benevolent dictator the word "selfie" will be outlawed and those who use it will be severely punished. And what's with that hand-on-the-hips, shoulder-thrown-back pose thing?)
  • The girl in the bathroom who was in the stall on the phone asking someone if she should just go to the Walgreens down the street for the morning-after pill because, and she actually said these words out loud in a public bathroom, "I don't think he's going to call me again." But it would be OK to have unprotected sex if he DID call you again? Kids these days.
A trip to the nail salon after the game to get my hooves polished ended with the nice Asian guy who, every time he gives me a pedicure holds up the thing that looks like a cheese grater and says, "I remove callus? Please? Eet bahd" shook my hand, saying thank you three times to me, getting a box and cleaning out his station, and walking out the back door in a huff. At first I thought it was just me (eet ees bahd, to tell the truth), but apparently there was some brouhaha with another patron and he ended up having to redo her nails twice and things got a little heated. Who knew there could be such drama in a nail salon?

But the best thing? Well, it came out of a not-so-good thing, when Catharine called from a Culver's parking lot in Milwaukee and reported her car wouldn't start and she didn't know where to get it towed. Turns out, neither did I. So I called my Milwaukee-dwelling friend Sue, whose first words, once I told her the situation, were, "I'll take care of it." And she did. Tonight Catharine's back on campus, her car will be taken to Sue's trusted mechanic in the morning, and all's right with the world.

I don't know why I'm so blessed to have such good friends, but I am. And this afternoon was yet another reminder to be grateful for them every single day. And to have a chat with my kids about the evils of casual sex, of course.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Judges' Lounge

My kids are nerds.

I'm excessively proud of that fact, mostly because after that initial Aren't They Cute When They Try to Play T-Ball stage and a few sketchy years of Catholic grade school sports (my stint as a girls' basketball coach is why my left eye twitches), I haven't had to spend entire weekends baking in the sun, watching my kid play (insert name of sport here) while hanging out with other (insert name of sport here) parents, and for that I'm eternally grateful.

And don't worry. Catharine and Joe are both relatively well-rounded, if not athletically gifted. As a matter of fact, Joe is a very accomplished policy debater, an activity that requires an incredible amount of research, advanced logical reasoning, and this weird type of yelling that is very upsetting if you don't know what you're listening to. It's held in classrooms and hotel rooms and generally parents aren't required or encouraged to go. Plus, as an added bonus, because debaters are expected to spend their summers researching the topic for the year ahead, they have actual debate camps where kids like Joe spend weeks at a time living on a college campus.

As in, not here at my house. Yeah, it's pretty excellent.

So when I listen to my friends go on about their sunburns, bad backs, snack issues, fellow sports parents, and carpool woes, I have to admit I feel a little guilty since I've managed to emerge relatively unscathed from all that.

Of course, being Catholic, that guilt thing can get pretty intense, so when I got the annual Welcome to the New Year, Speech and Debate Parents! email that announced Brophy was hosting a debate tournament in September and they needed parents to help stock and staff the judges' lounge, I volunteered, with another parent, to head up the effort.

And let me tell you, after the weekend we had, that guilt? It's gone.

Unless you've attended a speech and debate event, you can't truly appreciate the bizarre collection of humans these things attract. A few years ago, when I was still trying to convince myself that there was a chance that Joe was cool, I was helping out at another tournament, and while I was loading up a cooler outside in the hallway a bus pulled up and unloaded a group of business-suited high school students.

Wow, I thought to myself. Look at these kids. They're all professional, serious-looking, studious types. This is great.

Until one of them, a young man wearing a bright purple tie and green shoes, walked up to the pillar about four feet away from me and started talking to it.

Ruh roh.

Not that they're all like that. They aren't. But let's just say some of them have more social skills than others. One time, walking through a large group of speech kids hanging around in a hallway waiting for their results to be posted, I said, "Wow. Looks like a Young Republican convention here."

One kid looked at me, pushed his glasses up on his nose, and said, in a monotone, "You're saying that because we're all in suits. It's a stereotype. But I actually think I'll vote Democratic when the time comes."

Now the judges at these speech and debate tournaments, they don't tend to dress up. As a matter of fact, if you walk into a judges' lounge, it kind of looks like the local homeless shelter is giving their best and brightest the night off. Lots of questionable hygiene, unmatched socks, bad fashion choices, and, my personal favorite, horrendous manners. Oh, and I should probably mention that judges are simply grown up speech and debaters, so you can imagine the diverse personality of the crowd.

Let's just say we knew we'd be having an interesting weekend.

Right after we got the food set up on Friday night, a huge guy who must've gone about 320 waddled in, heaved his backpack down on the ground, and started rummaging around on the table for something to eat. His clothes and epic b.o. indicated that he wasn't a big fan of any type of soap and water, but he was pretty personable and started chatting us up.

"This is a nice school," he said, grabbing seven cookies, three brownies, and a piece of broccoli (you know, for the vitamin C and the roughage) in one fell swoop. "Are you parents here? How old are your kids?"

We told him. As we got to talking, he told us he'd judged one of our sons in a speech event last year and that the kid was really good. (We moms live for that crap)

Then he said, "Yeah, I don't have kids of my own. I never found the right woman to settle down with. I just started internet dating..."

That's when I stopped listening and found something else to do. I mean, come on, really? Thanks a lot, dude. First I'm forced to watch you eat, and now you're conjuring up a mental picture of you on a date? Ewww. Plus, if we're being honest here, my eyes were starting to water from the smell coming off him.

Later that same evening, we ran out of food. And of course we felt bad, because hello! we're all moms and it's in our nature to make sure everyone gets fed. But then the mousy, bitchy woman with bad teeth came up to me and said, "Did you know how many people were coming? How could you run out of food?"

Hang on, hang on, I said. Are you scolding us? Can we help it if you judges are a bunch of locusts? I almost directed her to the really, really big girl in the sundress (what is it with really, really big girls and their sundresses?) who took four sandwiches but at that point had only powered down two, because I really think I would've enjoyed watching a catfight and in a best-of-three-falls, the big girl would've totally kicked the mousy, bitchy woman's ass.

I finally just said, Okay, we're sorry. There's nothing we can do about it now. But hey! Look! A granola bar! These things have over 25% of your RDA of riboflavin, and I know just from looking at you that you haven't had enough of that today. Here, take two. Then you'll be halfway there.

A few of the people within earshot laughed as the mousy, bitchy woman stomped off, clutching her granola bars to her chest.  Then a round-faced, red headed-kid in a Mr. Wizard t-shirt with actual duct tape holding his glasses together stood in front of me and declared, "You're cool."

I'm bummed I didn't get his name. I'd like to use him as a job reference.

And so it went. Friday night morphed somehow into Saturday morning, and I found myself back in the Judges' Lounge again, dealing with another group of speech and debate parents (who were delightful) and the exact same group of judges, some of whom were wearing the same clothes as the day before.

I overheard a group of six or seven college-age kids debate who was the worse villain--Darth Vader, Voldemort, or Khan. I saw two guys playing cards and thought, Excellent! Someone actually does something normal in here! until I realized that instead of poker or even Go Fish they were playing a game called Magic, the Gathering, which seems to me to be a bit like Pokemon for older kids. There were countless conversations about the validity of this argument or that, and there was even a group of young men who, due to the giggling I was hearing, I'd have to guess were looking at something untoward on their iPads.

Oh, but good news. Mousy, bitchy woman hovered and hovered in the lounge on Saturday and I'm happy to report she was the first one in line for our Mexican food luncheon extravaganza. After she filled her plate, squirreling away tortillas and piling on the refried beans and machaca like it was her job, my red-headed buddy with the duct tape on his glasses who was filling his own plate looked over at her and said loudly, "Does anyone know how much riboflavin is in this Spanish rice?"

It's official. I have inside jokes with Debate Nerds. Not exactly what a girl dreams of, but at this point I'll take it.