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SALMAGUNDI: 14 years in and still learning

I learned a lot in the first 728 weeks of my son’s life, the most recent 52 of which he celebrates tonight whenever he gets home from his responsibilities on the tech crew for the middle school musical.

I learned conducting myself on social media as if my kid could read everything I posted was no longer a hypothetical scenario.

I learned to guard the Amazon password with my life.

I learned the joy of shouting “You’re in charge, I’ll be back in half an hour” as I head out of the house on a grocery run with precisely zero little helpers.

I learned shortly thereafter to expect a text message reading: “If you’re going to Sam’s Club, can I please have a pretzel?”

I learned getting hauled along to a little brother’s pack meeting can be more than just a chance at free pizza, such as an opportunity to volunteer (without prompting) to run the glow-in-the-dark bowling game.

I learned the said-with-a-sly-smile “I don’t have any friends at school” half complaint doesn’t hold up to the scrutiny of a year-end class party.

I learned it’s worth waiting more than a dozen years if that’s how long it takes to make the first pilgrimage to Wrigley Field memorable for all the right reasons.

I learned the reason roller coasters have long lines is so 38-year-old bodies can recover between rides, because when you go to Six Flags on an uncrowded night it is otherwise impossible to keep up with someone a quarter-century your junior.

I learned kayaking is a fun, liberating family activity but driving home is only tolerable if parents alone consent to being eaten alive at the end, helpless victims of the mosquitoes that avoid the open water but swarm the parking lot.

I learned to double check to make sure everyone has sufficient sunscreen coverage.

I learned talking to complete strangers and giving polite directions is no problem when you’re on the other side of the video camera.

I learned booking studio time at the library is far simpler than getting the recording equipment to function.

I learned it doesn’t do any good for two people to get frustrated with technology.

I learned the insistence on packing a battery-powered weather radio in an overstuffed minivan wasn’t extraneous at all on account of absolutely zero cellphone service in the Ozark foothills.

I learned the minimum number of haircuts needed in a given year is two.

I learned to take deep breaths when faced with a testy preschooler, and that every so often — on a road trip, in the grocery store, at someone’s sporting event — a teenage helper would calmly swoop in, unasked, to diffuse the situation with preternatural expertise.

I learned to not ask questions upon getting home from trick-or-treating with the younger brothers to find the front porch converted into a candy-fueled, non-spooky disco.

I learned the question “Do you care if I go?” isn’t directed at parents, but the younger brother whose event leads the rest of us into the car. And that it’s asked with sincerity and answered with respect.

I learned the school attendance office only takes calls from parents, but teachers happily return missed assignment email requests from students.

I learned they don’t give out AARP cards to parents at high school orientation.

I learned it’s still important — albeit difficult — to carve out time for both parents to hang with one son, and that doing so can yield some real dialogue, complete with laughter, insight and honesty.

I learned to wash dishes with a smile on the days someone else decided to make pancakes for dinner for the brothers or to whip up remarkably delicious from-scratch cupcakes with a Siri-discovered recipe.

I learned to share my camera, and to not get jealous of the results.

I learned who to text when in need of a spare set of car keys.

I learned a cat can turn on a computer by sitting on the keyboard and my son can find this TextEdit document uncompleted three days before said birthday and add an “I learned” sentence.

I learned today’s middle school teachers are somewhat more forgiving than those from 25 years ago, but in a way that empowers and encourages self motivation.

I learned I owe gratitude to several dozen dedicated educators who it turns out taught me much more than textbook lessons.

Ultimately, I learned that although I may know him better than anyone, my son will forever teach me new and wonderful things.

SCOTT T. HOLLAND is a former associate editor of The Times who continues to contribute his column plus help with editing and writing. He can be reached at, or

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