Your Epidermis Is Showing

Your Epidermis Is Showing

I used to look forward all year to summer: to my three boys getting out of school, to the lazy mornings, to the lack of a routine. Now I utterly dread it. Why? Because my oldest son is a teenager.

“Mommy,” Daniel, 13, says to me on a recent morning. “I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to masticate my weenus.”

Daniel’s 10-year-old brothers, Cameron and Kyle, turn to me in anticipation of a shocked expression. Lifting my eyes calmly, as mothers are supposed to, I take the dictionary challenge. “OK,” I say. “I know that masticate means to chew a long time. But I believe there is no such word as weenus.”

Triumphant, Daniel reaches for his elbow and pulls the loose skin around the bend. “You’re wrong. It’s this piece of wrinkly skin right here. Hah! Mommy needs a vocabulary lesson.”

Sometime ago, Daniel stopped playing with Legos and took up the electric guitar. He lost interest in Nintendo and began making his own animated videos on Adobe Flash Player—videos with apocalyptic themes, like the Earth exploding from nuclear bombs and people walking around with their brains falling out. He spends his weekends spray-painting stencils on his skateboard deck, drawing graffiti on his bedroom walls (the lesser crime to city buildings) and sneaking time on YouTube.

It’s because of Daniel’s meteoric race into adolescence that I’ve contracted a severe case of summer anxiety. In the past, I handled summer by writing checks to various kids’ camps and carting Daniel off to them. Sports camp, science camp, art camp, nature camp: he attended them all. This year, however, he’s informed me he’s “too old” for camp. He says he wants “free time” to “hang out.” That sounds great in theory, but in reality it’s the opposite. Put Daniel together with free time, and it will get messy.

Take spring break, a few months ago. Daniel and his friends (all skateboarders) gathered in our living room. Baseball caps, dirty shoes, skateboards and cell phones littered the room. The boys were “hecka bored” with the Berkeley skate park, they told me. It was “crowded” and “tame.” They wanted to construct their own skate park.

With our small backyard, no wood to speak of and no knowledge of vert ramp construction, I was quite sure that it wasn’t going to happen.

I was wrong.

After a few grunts and nods, the boys dispersed, and went hunting through our neighborhood for scrap wood. They dug through Dumpsters, searched in the weeds behind buildings, went begging at construction sites and returned with stacks of wormy-looking wood. Then, after a quick check on the Internet for construction ideas, they drew up plans and spent a noisy day on the back patio building themselves a jump. When it was done, they dragged it onto the sidewalk in front of our house.

The vert ramp drew a lot of kids—including my twins and their friends. And over time it began to grow. For added risk (it would seem), the boys used whatever they could find to make it more challenging, including bricks, two-by-fours, recycling bins and even an old downspout that had broken from our gutter for a grind rail.

The super-ramp-skateboarding-roller-coaster-deathtrap took up the entire sidewalk in front of our house and attracted more boys. As my husband John and I stared cow-eyed out the window at the deathtrap, we counted the minutes for the telephone to ring with a formal charge from Child Protective Services.

Skateboarding is a noisy sport. Just the sound of a single skateboard rolling down the sidewalk has the aural quality of a train coming down the tracks. Add the tricks (a kick flip, an ollie, a manual, a fakey, a nose grind) and the noise gets riotous. Add a ramp—with the roll, the jump, the landing and the roll again—and the sound of recycling bins echoing, bricks falling and wood collapsing, and the noise is comparable to a train derailing.

My neighbors peered out their windows but didn’t complain. They seemed to understand it was just a phase. And I thank them for that. But in my experience, one phase always leads to another. And when I think of a whole summer of phases leading to phases, I grip my heart. A week is one thing. But summer stretches on and on. So when Daniel rejected every single colorful summer camp brochure fanned out on the table, I could feel tiny beads of sweat gathering on my brow. OK, I thought. I can do this. I just have to talk to him logically. On his level.

“I’ll bet your friends aren’t going to spend their summers just hanging out.”

“I don’t care.”

“Well, who do you plan to hang out with?”


“But it won’t be any fun hanging out alone. You’ll get bored.”

“I like boredom.”

“Are you kidding me? You hate boredom!”

“Mommy, you worry too much. Take a chill pill.”

I took in big, worried gulps of air. What words would convince him? I called some other parents. I went online. I found some teen-centered camps. And I realized that I had to adjust my vision of what fun means to a 13-year-old. Science and nature and computer camps were for babies. I needed to think subversive.

I collected a whole new set of brochures. And finally, Daniel came around to my point of view. Skateboarding camp was cool. Guitar camp was cool. And a sleep-away camp in Tahoe was cool.

Three weeks were better than no weeks, I thought.

“But what are you going to do for the other seven weeks?” I asked nervously.

“I don’t know. Gesticulate my gesticles.”

“OK, there’s no such word as gesticles.”

“Yes, there is. It’s the skin between your fingers.”

He fanned out his fingers and showed me, and then gesticulated them. And I went to get the dictionary.

Read the definition of weenus, gesticles and other new words at

Veronica Chater is a Berkeley author who has enjoyed embarrassing her kids and family in many publications, including the Los Angeles Times Magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, and on NPR’s This American Life. She is currently writing a memoir called Waiting for the Apocalypse, which will be published by W.W. Norton in Spring, 2008.


Bubble Fairies | by Laralynn Weiss Rapoza

Tennis Camp | by Toni Martin

Your Epidermis Is Showing | by Veronica Chater

I Was a Teenage Angler | by Jill Koenigsdorf

The House Guest | by Laura Shumaker

The Last Summer | by J.H.B. Chambers

Aunt Edith’s Lemon Meringue Pie | by Linda Joy Myers

Camp Wishi | by Sarah Lavender Smith

The Summer of Love | by Christine Schoefer

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