Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Launch Number One

Some days I want my house back. Most days I’m okay with sharing it. It’s only been recently that I’ve come to realize how very close I am to launching my kiddos. Yes, the youngest is only in middle school, but as any high school parent can attest – it goes by fast. Five years. That’s all that’s left.

I used to think I would be sad. Maybe even a bit inconsolable when the last one leaves, but lately I find myself fantasizing about the quiet house. The counter that stays uncluttered. The fridge that stays full.

Will I miss them? For sure. But I’ll look forward to hearing about their adventures via phone, text, Facebook, and email. I’ll savor their visits and time spent with them. I think I will appreciate them so much more when I don’t have to pick up their dirty socks or clear their forgotten dishes.

I’m crazy proud of them and astounded at how great they are turning out, despite how unprepared their parents were going in. We could argue the nature/nurture dilemma until the cows come home, but I'd still lay my money on nature. Maybe it’s because they seem so ready to do their own thing, that I’m so ready to let them do it. It will be such fun to witness - the bumbles, the successes, the hilarious outtakes - I'm looking forward to all of it.

The first one launches tomorrow (In about 21 hours to be exact). So many small irritations and inconveniences have cropped up in the process of getting him registered, roomed, and paid for, that I’m more than nervous that it won’t actually happen or if it does, it won’t really stick. But, fingers crossed, the house will get one third quieter and the grocery bill one third smaller in less than 24 hours.

Will I be sad? I’d be lying if I said I won’t shed a tear or two. If only in memory of that sweet little tow-head boy with the bowl cut. I’m certain he’s still in there somewhere. I catch glimpses of him in a fleeting dimple when he laughs or the way his whole manner softens when he stops to run a hand over the dog’s head. I will miss my sweet boy with pudgy hands and deep questions.

Will I worry? You betcha. I’m a first-rate worrier. I can imagine all kinds of catastrophe, enough to keep my heart racing and sleep at bay for at least the first month he is gone. Will he find his classes, remember to eat, make friends, do his work, meet a girl? Will he drive his roommates crazy, lose his phone, get enough exercise, find his classes, or figure out how to do laundry? Mostly, will he miss us? Will he call me? Will he answer my texts? Plenty to worry about. I could make lists or write entire essays about it.

But I won’t.

Instead I’ll focus on the positive. No longer will I step on Dungeons and Dragons dice left all over my house or fish them out of the mouth of the latest foster dog. It will be nice to know the cats are safe as no cars will come roaring up the driveway at 30 miles an hour. The milkman will be relieved to only have to cart three bottles instead of seven up the driveway on Thursday when he makes his delivery. No one will wake me up at 1am with his pacing in the kitchen below me as he mentally sorts through a story or his evening.

I’m excited for him to meet interesting people who haven’t spent their entire lives in Pennsyltucky. I can’t wait for him to learn from professors who challenge his viewpoints and require that he actually read the text. I’ve been warning him this day would come when he will be responsible for his own diet and laundry and safety. Although he may learn the hard way how to set an alarm clock, keep track of his room key, and change the temperature on a dryer, I know he’ll revel in his independence. Which is what this whole parenting gig was all about. That’s the end game.

And hopefully, by Halloween I’ll be able to laugh at my fears. As always, my child will surprise me with his maturity, ability, and resourcefulness. This entire essay will seem silly. A silly collection of a mother’s heart, an overreaction, calling for one last roll of the eyes.

#launchingfirstborn #herewego #Susquehannabound 


Monday, June 8, 2015

On the Precipice

In some ways he is already gone. Even the hours when he is here, he is somewhere else – ear buds in listening to music I don’t understand, texting with people I do not know, reading books I’ve never heard of, and surfing websites certainly not meant for parents. I’m proud of the fact that he is so independent and obviously ready to be out our door. Yet, my heart breaks at the thought of him being gone.

I watched him walk across that stage a few days ago, accept his diploma, grin for the cameras, toss his hat in the air. He celebrated for two days straight - eating every manner of junk food, laughing, throwing frisbees, solidifying memories to take with him when he goes. This is the last he will see of some of these people, but he won't feel that truth until decades from now.

It seems like only moments ago, he couldn’t remember to hand in homework and lost his shoes and jacket on a regular basis. Learning to drive stressed us both and I wondered if he’d ever be able to find his way without me or his father in the seat beside him. And now he comes and goes, driving to towns 45 minutes away, negotiating the city, and finding a friend’s house on a lonely, dark back road. Undoubtedly he makes a few wrong turns, but he figures it out eventually.

He will negotiate the world in much the same way.

I can’t imagine a day when he will not barrel down the stairs noisily, tease the dog, leave the open milk container on the counter and his socks on the porch. I miss him already and no longer complain when I find Dungeons & Dragons dice or Magic cards all over my house. They are evidence that he is still here.

I feel like this leaving is just one more example of the pain of parenting no one warns you about. The other stuff – sleeping through the night, potty training, starting kindergarten – there are entire books warning you about these trials, but no one tells you that one day this person who has taken up residence in your heart 24/7/365 for eighteen years is going to leave. And it will hurt like nothing you can imagine. There is no metaphor for this pain that is already casting its shadow on my heart even though I still have three months – three months! – before he goes.

For his part, he seems a little guilty. He is kinder and more grateful. Maybe he feels bad that he is so excited to get out of here and leave us. I watch him with his younger siblings. He listens to them more than he ever has – as if memorizing them. He will miss so much of their growing up and they have relished their front row seats to his adventures. This will be hard on them, too.

I don’t know when he discovered the horizon.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Ma'am I am?

I was walking the dog the other day and passed a young man in a baseball cap working in a neighbor’s yard. He looked up, smiled, and called, “Good afternoon, Ma’am!” I smiled and waved back, but inside I was shrieking, “Ma’am?! Ma’am?! I’m not a Ma’am!”

I look in the mirror and I don’t see a Ma’am. Next year I will be fifty, so chronologically, I am firmly in Ma’am territory, like it or not. Why did his respectful greeting bother me so much? I’m not one of those women contemplating Botox. My biggest worry when it comes to aging is that my knees will keep me from running or I won’t have the energy for my ever expanding garden habit. Age isn’t such a bad thing. I’m looking forward to less responsibility and more time in the hammock.

But I don’t want to be a Ma’am. Ma’ams are not sexy. They are not fun. They are not hip, interesting, or exciting. They wear cardigan sweaters, let their hair go gray, and cart around a few extra pounds. Ma’ams drive too slow on the highway and grumble over the check-out person who forgets to give them the extra ten cents off per pound on their ground beef. They complain about kids today and resent school taxes, pierced eyebrows, and loud music.

Perhaps I am affronted by the reference because being referred to as Ma’am reminds me that I am past my prime, fighting the inevitable creaks and pains and pounds more every day. I’m surprised by my age. I look at my face in the mirror and don’t see the years unless I’m not wearing my contacts and lean in close to be sure my eyeliner is lining my eyes and not my cheek bones. I’m startled by the tiny crosshatch marks and obvious wrinkles. Where did they come from?

Sometimes when I see a picture of myself I cringe at how old I look. How did that happen? How could I possibly look that old? Certainly, I don’t feel that old. I find myself talking to a thirty-something mom and thinking of her as my age only to be startled out of that assumption when she doesn’t understand a reference I make about the 1980s, she having only been a toddler at the time.
Maybe it’s denial; this insistence that I am not old enough to be considered a Ma’am. More and more I find myself ducking out of pictures not wanting any more documentation that I am aging. I even vainly untag less than flattering pictures of myself on Facebook. If there isn’t any photographic evidence, I haven’t aged. I’m fooling no one I know, but it’s the principle of the matter. I’m not old. And I’m certainly nobody’s Ma’am.

When I reached my late thirties, a friend explained to me that we were becoming invisible. She said that teenagers, young adults, and men younger than sixty didn’t see us anymore. We were no threat and held no potential as a sexual being. Therefore, they looked right through us. We could be classified henceforth as middle-age mom.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

On the Safe Side of Fate

Every mother harbors nightmares about losing her child. It’s what makes us nag and remind and question and stay up in wait for the headlights in the driveway. We only want to keep them safe. We wrongly imagine it is within our power. This past weekend that nightmare was a reality for a mom in my town. I don’t know her, but she has weighed on my heart ever since the moment I heard that a five-year-old had been struck and killed by a delivery van.

It was an accident. The van wasn’t driving too fast. The driver wasn’t doing anything irresponsible. The little boy was probably being a typical little boy – impulsive, energetic, easily distracted. I imagine he was happy to be out with his mom on such a day as Saturday. It was a gorgeous, blue sky, gentle breezes picture perfect day. Not the kind of day to be pierced by something so tragic.

I heard the sirens. I was puttering in my gardens. I have a friend who once worked as a surgeon in an emergency room. Days like this were busy days for her – people are out and active she told me– motorcycle riders without helmets, kids falling out of tree forts, accidents at picnics and concerts and fairs and sporting events. I worried when I heard the sirens and did what I always do – mentally sorted through my own children’s whereabouts.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Screen Control

Albert Einstein said, “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” I believe he was referencing the nuclear age, but I’d say it’s still relevant when it comes to the pervasive technology today.

I’m sick of screens. I say this as I stare at the screen that I spend the better part of my days with, and don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that I have this screen. I can’t imagine what it was to be a writer in the days of typewriters, or eegads, scrolls and quills. I consider this screen a necessary evil. 

The screens I am most tired of are the little ones, the ones attached to the hand of just about every living person in a lobby, waiting room, check-out line, park bench, walking path, and car. I’m waiting for the next health crisis to emerge called carpal neck syndrome or chronic far-sidedness from the act of constantly staring at these tiny screens.

I can be as guilty as the next as I sit waiting for my youngest son to finish practice that should have been over 15 minutes ago. When I try to resist the phone, I feel angsty. I look around the car for something to entertain me. I read the school papers littering the floor. I sort out the glove compartment. I pick through the nasty things crammed down in the far recesses of the center console. What did I do when I awaited my oldest son’s appearance from practices ten years ago?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Whole New Season of Parenting

There are landmines hidden in my days. I never know when I might step into one.

I’m happily putzing along doing my thing – picking up the socks left under the coffee table, making yet another pot of tea instead of writing something, or wiping down the counter– when a thought floats through my mind, “This time next year, Brady will be gone.” I’m overcome, and have to sit down on the couch with his dirty socks in hand.

I find his socks all over the house (and a few on the porch, in the driveway, and of late – in the car). He has hot feet and has always had a horrible habit of removing his socks and abandoning them wherever he happens to be at the time, which is rarely his room and even more rarely the laundry room. He’s been doing this for 18 years, ever since I first covered his precious tiny toes with socks too small for my own thumb.

Somehow, he grew up. I wasn’t prepared for this.

All these years I’ve worked hard to raise a capable child – one that can cook a meal, pack a lunch, use his manners, put gas in the car, clean a bathroom, and be responsible for his own decisions (but not, apparently, his own socks).

The problem with this goal is, that once I’ve accomplished it – he leaves. And that is painful.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Savoring the Days

I sense that I’m losing control. Okay, maybe I never had control in the first place, but I sure thought I had it. Now I feel like a passenger in a car being driven much too fast over those hills that make your stomach do that droppy thing.

I no longer have any say in what my teenagers wear, eat, or choose to do with their time. My opinion is not one they welcome and only on a good day even tolerate. Luckily, there is still one child left here with me on the island, but even he is inching across the sand, searching the horizon and forgetting to put on his life vest despite the fact that I have a stack of them right here beside me.

I knew this was coming. We all do, right? We joke about when our kids will be teenagers, right up until the point where they are teenagers and we stumble through our days of empty cupboards, stinky laundry, unset alarm clocks, music we don’t understand, and the daily reminder that we know NOTHING and all we can think is – how did this happen?