A Few Things About Charlie The Kid’s Spanish Project

Char's Spanish project #2


1.    Carolina Herrara, a famous Spanish person, was chosen FOR him. “Why would I choose a famous Spanish fashion designer if I got to pick the person myself. Huh? I mean… really?”

2.    While Charlie the Kid claims to have spent a good amount of time over a period of days collecting the facts and coming up with the questions to be included on the mounted posted board, it seemed to me that most of the work on this project was completed at 10:00 pm on Sunday night. “I needed to let the information sink into my mind and the idea for how I would design the poster formulate all weekend long.”

3.     “See? I put a ‘rosette’ on the dress.”
“Yes. I see. What’s a rosette?”
“The flower thing-y.”
“How do you even know what a rosette is?”
“From ‘Cake Boss.’ ”
“You know about it from ‘Cake Boss’, huh? And you applied it to fashion?”
“Yes. I feel strongly that there can be cross-over on cake and fashion decoration.”


(The kid knows what a “rosette” is. That just floors me.)

The Poor Children Get a Halloween Candy Buzz

Werewolf reclined 2Cassie: Why are there candy wrappers all over the floor in your room and under your bed? It’s like a war zone in here! Could you not throw them out in your waste basket?

Charlie The Kid: No.

Cassie: Why not?

Charlie: I’m pretty buzzed on the candy right now. In fact, I can’t really move. Must be still…on this bed…shhh…to feel… the chocolate… move through me.

Cassie: And what about all the wrappers I found behind the couch in the great room and in the corner of the closet off the dining room?

Charlie: Oh, the wrappers in the closet. That’s from last year. Old news.

Cassie: From last year?!

Charlie: Yep.

Cassie: Unbelievable. Well, I don’t care if those wrappers are from last year. That’s still annoying. Wrappers all over the place in this house!

Charlie: The wrappers are just a reflection of the very real Halloween Candy situation that occurs in this household.

Cassie: What situation? What are you talking about? Are you going to puke?

Charlie: (with a dreamy, far-off voice) No. Not going to puke.

(He sighs deeply.)

All the kids know that you and Dad steal our Halloween candy. Like you STEAL it! In the late hours of the night or something! So the poor Bollinger children are forced to stuff their faces and eat their candy as quickly as possible. And then the children are buzzed on the candy and when they are in that state, they just let the wrappers fall where they may.

(He closes his eyes dramatically)

Poor children.


“I’m Going to Risk It!”

Each morning, before school, Gigi tells me whether she is going to have hot lunch or bring a cold lunch to school.

Her way of letting me know that it’s going to be a hot lunch day is to say, “I’m going to risk it.”

Each afternoon, after school, I hear whether the risk was worth it.

Big Day for Charlie Bollinger!

DSC_0085Auditions for the Spring Musical (“Grease”) at Mt. Hebron Middle School.

His audition pieces: The song, “Maria,” from “West Side Story” (he hits all the high notes with his gorgeous voice and it makes your heart melt) and the monologue from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (he has the sarcasm down, no question).

Charlie The Kid is pumped. He even brought his leather jacket, a white tee and some pomade gunk to slick back his hair so he looks the part of Danny or any one of Danny’s “Grease-y” sidekicks during the audition.

(Wish I could witness him singing “Maria” in the leather jacket get-up!)

Wish him luck, will you? (Auditions from 4:30 – 6:00 tonight!)

Lost Tooth

Lost ToothGigi: Ahhhhh!!!!!!!

(Tremendous sobbing and shrieking is heard. I rush toward my youngest child who stamps and yells at full throttle in her bedroom. I do a quick body scan, searching for blood, vomit, a severed limb.)

Cassie: What? What? What?!!!!

Gigi: My tooth! It’s gone. I put it right there under my pillow!

Cassie: Just now? Or when you got home from school?

Gigi: (lip trembling uncontrollably, eyes gushing non-stop, nose dripping relentlessly) When I got home from school! Ahhhh!

Cassie: Gigi, why didn’t you keep it in the tooth holder thing-y that the nurse gave you?

Gigi: (hiccuping violently) I don’t know.

(New round of sobbing and shrieking.)

Charlie: (guitar playing stops abruptly; yelling from his bedroom) Dear God, find the tooth already! Make it stop!

Cassie: (yelling back) What do you think I’m doing?! I’M LOOKING FOR IT!!!!

(I proceed to get down on my hands and knees then pick up and examine every piece of lint, every wayward crumb that can be found on Gigi’s bright pink rug.)

Gigi: (stabbing her words at me…as if the tooth misplacement is all my fault) I NEED that money from the tooth fairy! I NEED it for the book fair tomorrow! Awwww! I lost my tooth. I lost my tooth.

Scott (yelling upstairs from the kitchen) What the Hell? She lost another tooth?

Cassie: (yelling back downstairs) No! No! Gigi lost her tooth under her pillow!!!

(Suddenly, the crying fit ceases for a moment, a thought is forming)

Gigi: Does the tooth fairy need to see the tooth? Can she just look at the hole in my teeth on the bottom…where it’s missing? Can she just give me money anyway?

Charlie: (standing in Gigi’s bedroom doorway, holding his guitar, shaking his head, smirking) You need the tooth, dum-dum. That’s the proof! Pffft.

(Gigi starts wailing anew.)

Cassie: Alright. Not helping. Go back to your room, Charlie.

Charlie: Just saying.

(Running my hands slowly across the fitted bed sheet, I finally make contact with the baby tooth.)

Cassie: Eureka! Found it!

Scott: (yelling from the foot of the stairs) Did you find the tooth? Is everyone okay? The dogs are going crazy down here from all the crying and yelling.

Cassie: We’re fine! Yup! We found the tooth in her bed!

(Gigi gives a sigh of relief and blows her nose loudly. Charlie picks at the strings of his guitar while sauntering back to his room. Another chaotic evening in the Bollinger household begins to quiet and becomes more still, save for Charlie’s steady strumming and the occasional hiccup emitted by the young child who anxiously awaits her first visit from the tooth fairy.)

“I’m Gonna Be Good”

Cassie: I got an email from the Robotics Team Leader at school. You got onto the Robotics Team. Congratulations!

Charlie: That’s cool.Thanks.

Cassie: How’d you do it? I thought you said that you would probably just get into the club, which anybody could join, but that it was going to be harder to get onto the actual competitive team.

Charlie: Yeah. I had to prove to the teacher that I could be on the team so I wrote a program.

Cassie: A computer program?

Charlie: Yes.

Cassie: Did Dad help you?

Charlie: No.

Cassie: You wrote a computer program by yourself to get onto the Robotics Team?

Charlie: Yup. I had to take matters into my own hand. I figured out what the teacher wanted, what he was looking for, and I wrote a Lego Robotics program to show him that I could figure out how to make a robot do stuff. I emailed him my program. He liked it.

Cassie: I guess so. Charlie, I’m really impressed.

Charlie: Yeah, thanks. I guess I’m gonna be good in life.

Cassie: Yeah. I think it’s guaranteed.

Concert Wear

Cassie: Dad will meet us in the driveway after the Ice Cream Social to take you to the ACDC Concert.

Charlie: You mean the Ice Breaker. “Ice Cream Social” is totally elementary school. It’s not called that.

Cassie: Yes the Ice Breaker. That’s what I meant. Is that what you’re wearing to the concert?

Charlie: Yes. It looks awesome.

Cassie: Really? I noticed Dad had on his Red Hot Chili Peppers T-shirt this morning.

Charlie: Inappropriate.

Cassie: What do you mean?

Charlie: You don’t insult the rock band who is playing at a concert by wearing the t-shirt of another band.

Cassie: Really? Is that like a thing?

Charlie: It’s called respect.

Cassie: What about your Beatles t-shirt? I mean, it’s the Beatles.

Charlie: Nope.This is what I’m wearing. It’s simple and it doesn’t scream out other band so I can absorb everything ACDC tonight. Have you ever been to a concert, Mom?

Cassie: Do I have to answer this question?

Charlie: No. I already know the answer.

Cassie: I’ve been to SOME concerts.

Charlie: Yeah. Just not a rock concert.

Cassie: Right.

Charlie: Okay. So I think this conversation about concert wear is over.

Cassie: Pffft. Very fresh.

The Birthday Gifts Are You

The Birthday Well Wishes on Facebook are amazing. This past year has been a whirlwind…and quite the learning experience. I just know I’m getting wiser with every second. I can’t wait to see what this next 49th year will teach me about life, parenting, love and grace.

Here are the birthday gifts I am most grateful for: my husband (Scott), my children (Max, Chloe, Charlie and Gigi), my parents, my brothers and their families, my parents in-law, my brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law and their families, my dogs (Simone, the bulldog and Daffodil, the terrier mutt), my health… and of course, MY FRIENDS, you dear people. So many of you have shown such deep tenderness in seeing Scott and me through the trying times we’ve had as parents these past few months.

There was the friend who left her workday to help me get a grip when some of the toughest moments were first occurring during Max’s runaway. There was the friend who left many workdays in a row and held me again and again when I was shaken to the core by what Max’s running away from me and our family might mean, and sometimes just sitting in a room quietly with this friend (no words necessary) was all I needed to carry on with hope instead of cold fear.There was the friend who checked in repeatedly by text and phone, and every time he did so, reminded me to be gentle with myself and my husband. There were the many, many friends who heard the Max story over and over because they love Max and they love me and so they listened endlessly, patiently, quietly. Listening quietly…I’ve been learning the value of it these past few months because God knows I’m a talker and sometimes I forget to listen…but you’ve been teaching me how to listen better, friends, just by all of YOUR listening.

To all of you dear friends who continue to reach out to me and ask — “Hey, is everything okay? How’s Max doing?”– here’s what I need to tell you….

Max is doing well right now. He’s back in California. Today, was the first day of his senior year at Saratoga High School. Yay! Reaching this first day of school has not been without some bumps. But along with those bumps, our family has been graced with some truly amazing, honest to God, real life angels, or “Grace Givers” as I like to call them…our former landlord from our rental home in Cali who tried to put some things in play for Max right away when he first arrived, a close family friend who happened to be on the West Coast for other personal reasons and took the time to meet up with Max, brought him out to dinner for a solid meal, talked with him and listened closely with a parental but non-judgmental ear, and then proceeded to bring Max shopping to purchase a heavy-duty sleeping bag in case there were any more nights camping out in the Saratoga apricot orchards.

Finally, we’ve been graced with some “parenting partners,” amazing souls who have been the biggest Grace Givers of all for Max, Scott and me: Max’s 8th grade teacher from Redwood Middle School and her husband and their two children.They did not hesitate to take Max in so that he could better and more safely land on his feet before truly starting out on his own. They have graciously said to Max, “We’re here. We’ll help.” And then with open hearts, they have gracefully asked, ” What do you need?”

So my birthday…this start of 49…is like none other. I am just so grateful for it and for all these gifts, you glorious Grace Givers whom I love. Happy Birthday to me!

A Different Kind of Goodbye

max15A part of me is back in California, where the sun shines dry and the smell of the Jasmine flower fills the air. I remember that blast of sun baking my arms so that more freckles would pop by the second, and I remember how the jasmine perfume would carry me along, floating in with each inhale as I walked the dogs along the hilly roads of Saratoga. With each car trip to pick up kids from school, I would catch the California vistas of Silicon Valley…green apricot orchards in the foreground, outside my rented home, and purple-brown mountain ranges in the distance surrounding the valley. This was the California life I had. My oldest, Max, has gone back to that Cali life, walking those roads, smelling those flower perfumes, capturing those views with his gray-blue, almond-shaped eyes.

A month ago, Max ran away from our home in New Jersey, determined to get back to his old way of life in California…at all costs. It was a startling time for the Bollinger family. Max’s decisive act to cut himself off from this family ripped us to the core and was the start of intense self-reflection and deep questions about our parenting. Were we too helicopter in our approach, or were we not vigilant enough to the changes, to the distance, to the increasing aberrant teenage behavior? The act of one of our own running away from us became a driving force in assuring ourselves and our son/brother/grandson of our deep love for him and each other.

We got Max back to New Jersey, to his home in Montclair, for a short while and we took that time to engage in some serious family therapy sessions together, to talk through plans for his move back to the west coast together, to share silences in the same room together, to eat together, to sleep under the same roof together (sometimes…as Max often chose to sleep at a friend’s house), to look at each other, really look at each other and memorize the facial features, the expressions, the various dances of our bodies as they moved together in family formation and then separately, individually, on their own.

I miss many things about Max when he is not here living in this house with us. I miss his sense of humor…it’s sharp, it’s cutting, it’s intelligent. I miss his musical talent…he can make a trumpet sing. I miss his calm…his clear thinking and logic frequently set my chaotic mind at ease. I miss his smile…when it shifts into that crinkly, lip-curled “Bollinger Smirk.” I miss the moments of Max in a room…his very presence embracing me in a hug even if his arms are not.

In therapy, we learned that Max doesn’t feel there was anything “toxic” about his home life, just that he is more than ready to move on…away from us…to secure ownership of his own life. Max has always been way ahead of his peers…more fiercely independent, resourceful and courageous than I’ve ever know any other kid to be. A room full of strangers has never been a problem for him. At age nine, when Max transferred to Hillside Elementary School from Bradford Elementary School, we asked him if he wanted us to come with him to the school office on that first day, so we could find out together where he should go and how to get around the new school. Max said, “No. I’ll just ask people myself. It’s nothing to be scared of.”

In middle school, when he first attended the Mannes School of Music in New York City on Saturdays, Max relished the long breaks in between classes and rehearsals to walk around the city. He enjoyed discovering everything NEW and owning the city for HIMSELF. When Max was two years old, after learning to walk, I remember clearly that he would toddle to the front door of our house and try to turn the door knob. Again and again, he would try to get that door knob to work so that he could open the door and be free. Two of his first words after “Mama” and “Dada” were “door” and “outside.” By three years old, he would make his way to the front door every morning after breakfast and fervently ask to go outside. He would do this repeatedly until we went outside.

Last Wednesday, Max flew into San Jose, the densely populated city that surrounds the small town of Saratoga, where we lived for almost two years from 2011 to 2013. He earned the money for the flight by working on refurbishing the brick walkway and patio in the backyard of our Montclair home. The San Jose/Saratoga area is one that Max knows well. He has friends and a tight circle of teachers from the middle school and high school he attended there. He’s considering finishing his senior year at Saratoga High School. We are working to help him establish residency and to structure a possible guardianship so that he can accomplish life and school on his own…with just a bit of guidance until he turns eighteen.

Although Max has clearly stated his desire to disengage from his family and his Montclair life, I caught glimpses of his love for all the people and this place we call home. The foundation of who Max Bollinger is and who he will become started here in Montclair. During his last few days in town, I watched him capture the look, feel and smell of his home and I was there for many of the goodbyes, when he embraced his family and friends completely and with true love. In a precious letter written to him called “Leave Taking” from his Grandma BJ and Pop Dick Lates, Max’s grandparents implored him to always remember that “we are in this world together,” that he should “always look for opportunities to help others” and that he ought to “keep his heart open.”

My heart is open and bleeding right now. I know it is for Scott too. Despite our sadness and that cavernous feeling of emptiness we’ve been battling each day since Max’s brisk departure to his new life, we are rooting for him…truly, with our whole hearts. I hope you will root for him too.

Even though he may not know it yet, we’re walking those hilly Saratoga roads, smelling the Jasmine perfume and seeing those distant northern California mountain ranges with him. We’re with you Max. We’re with you all the way.


More Sleepover Talk

Gigi: I’m heartbroken that Charlie has a sleepover without me.

Cassie: You’re heartbroken, huh?

Gigi: I am. It’s not what we planned. I got a new stuffed Beanie Baby today for our sleepover in his room. The whole vacation week we’re supposed to have sleepovers in his room.

Cassie: Sometimes Char likes to have sleepovers with his friends. You can have a sleep over in Chloe’s room tonight.

Gigi: Nah. She doesn’t have a good floor.