We had nine blocks to walk from my downtown office to the sushi restaurant. I tried, but I couldn’t keep up. Always three steps behind. The click of my heels scurrying behind two tall teen boys. Slow down, guys! They’d pause for a beat, take a look back and slow their stride, but inevitably their feet would move as fast as their conversation. At lights I would catch up, only to lose them as the walk sign blinked on.

Aaron, my stepson at Penn State, just hopped a bus home a little early for spring break. Perfect timing. It is a Wednesday and that means stepson sushi night. Double the teens, double the slang, right? My language immersion was about to go full tilt.

When we got to the restaurant, I caught my breath, sat down and got ready to start grilling. Prying is what I do best. I like to think of it as investigative journalism. Some might say it’s more synonymous with “nosy stepparent.” I can’t deny that. I was, however, thwarted by the bubbling excitement of two very close brothers who haven’t seen each other since Christmas.

Words zipped by. The Dab. Damn, Daniel. My mans. Here we go. If only I brought my reporter’s notebook. My digital recorder even! Take an L. Hotline Bling. I got a question in here and there, but they were busy chatting about their bikes, their Spotify playlists, partying in college, economics class (I know, really?), Sheetz coffee, laptop use in high school, the Apple privacy case, and on and on.

I watched the two like you watch an Olympic ping pong match. Bounce. Bounce. Bounce. Back and forth. Back and forth. And there was that feeling again, the one where I can’t keep up.

The boys are 16 and 19 now. It’s been more than three years since I last saw Avery’s long, blond Bieber hair. Today it sits (heavily) gelled, short and swept to the side. Aaron has stopped talking about being a Navy pilot. He mentions looking for IT internships and writing speeches for school. There’s a picture of Avery on our wall at home. He was in fifth grade, his fingers stretching to reach all the guitar strings as our friend Cary was showing him how to play. Now he’ll pull out the James Bond theme song, Metallica or Led Zeppelin. Aaron no longer asks if he can have a soda from the fridge or if he can head out with a friend. There is no curfew for him. The Legos are now all stored in Ethan’s room, and the coffee isn’t just for Mark anymore. To top it off, today Avery officially got his driver’s license.

The two have grown faster than I can keep pace with. I look at Aaron and Avery and I see flashes of it in Ethan. Want me to come play with you? “No, I’m okay. Can you close the door?” Later I find his Lego minifigures strewn across the bed in the midst of some epic battle, one I used to play a key role in. I see peeks into the future when he sponges up the teen speak and throws out words like “You got wrecked” or “Yeet.” Yesterday he showed me some dance moves and I immediately saw a 20-something Adam. His father’s child. Full of rhythm and a love of the Running Man.

For now, Ethan still snuggles up with me on the couch. The last two days he’s been carting around his new bat stuffed animal I brought back from Austin, even making a “cave” for him on his bed. He likes to pick a new stuffed animal to sleep with in bed each night. Sometimes he lets me read to him, even if he usually likes to do it alone.

With Ethan, I have a few more years before his strides are too long and his pace too quick, but he has two brothers he’s in a hurry to catch up to. So I know at some point there will be three boys ahead of me. I can only hope that every once in a while, they’ll slow down and take a look behind because there I’ll be, prepped and ready to go. And by ready, I mean ready with at least 20 probing questions. I am still a nosy (step)mom no matter how old they’ll be.


While I didn’t understand most of what they were saying, I did walk away with some new knowledge to pass on for the Dankster Dictionary:

The Dab: A dance that originated with Cam Newton. If you watch football then you probably already know this. It involves dropping your head while raising one outstretched arm to the side and the other bent. Your dropped head should go into said bent arm, near the elbow. Google it. Makes way more sense.

Hotline Bling: Dance originate by Drake. To me, it looks like shaking dice in your hands and rolling it by your side. I could be wrong. I may have misinterpreted.

My Mans: I personally think it’s the same thing as “My man,” but in plural form because it’s the hipster thing to do. Ex/Avery’s friend walked into the restaurant. To say hi, he said, “Theo! My mans!”

Taking an L: Taking a loss. Ex/After THON, I took an L on my 8 a.m. and skipped it. (Not that the Penn State student would say something like that at all. Who skips classes in college?)