Have some more

My Dad’s mom, “Gramma,” came over from Germany when she was very, very little.  Although the family left the country, they brought their traditions with them, german-dinnerincluding recipes and a penchant for cooking enough to feed a small nation.  Gramma was always encouraging us to “have some more,” something she herself didn’t have — “more” — growing up in the early part of the 20th century on a midwestern farm.

“Did you have enough to eat?” was always asked at the end of every meal at Gramma’s, and always followed by dessert regardless of your answer.  If you were lucky, it was Gramma Pie (also known as homemade apple pie) which was the absolute best as far as us 10 cousins were concerned.  Gramma continued to make those pies into her 90s because she knew we all loved her cooking, and that was the way she spoiled all of us.  Gramma Pie wrapped us all in a big, comfortable hug from that tiny little woman.

It wasn’t until later in my own life that it dawned on me that cooking and baking with love and from scratch was one of her many unspoken ways of saying “I love you.”

She never wrote down her recipes — cooking and baking were second nature to her.  But I watched her on several occasions, making those pies.  And somehow my young brain etched a general outline into memory, so that years later, after Gramma had died, I was able to create a relatively close facsimile of Gramma Pie.  For many years after, I experimented, and one apple-pieThanksgiving, I remember my Dad bragging about my pie to other guests gathered at that dinner years ago: “This is as close to her Grandmother’s recipe as anyone in the family has been able to get!”

I don’t cook or bake nearly as much as my Gramma did.  My family is smaller, and I don’t enjoy it as much as I believe Gramma did.  For her, I think feeding her family as well as she did was a source of great satisfaction and pride for her.  And when the question “Did you have enough to eat?”  was met with smiles, happy groans, and a chorus of “Yes!” she knew she had taken good care of all of us.

So, I got to thinking about other ways we say “I love you.”  Even in everyday phrases we use, we say them because we care.  Things like:

Put on your seatbelt.

Where will you be/with whom/what time will you be back?

Don’t go!

Do you need anything while I’m out?

Have a safe trip!

Get some sleep.

I’m thinking of you.

glass heartAnd showing our love can come in wrappers other than hugs:

Writing a note on a card where they’ll find it first thing.

Washing their car unexpectedly.

Doing their laundry unasked.

Taking them to lunch.

Making a donation to their favorite charity in their name.

Buying their favorite movie on DVD and watching it with them(multiple times!)

Sitting by their bedside when they’re ill.

Going to a concert/sporting event/lecture/play you know they like, even if you don’t (and not complaining even once).

Putting down the electronic device(s) and making eye contact, actively listening.

Calling or texting in the middle of the day just to say “I love you.”

Sharing and passing on family traditions.

Regardless of how we all say it, the important thing is that the ones we care for KNOW it.

I hope you, my readers, know how grateful I am for you!

Bis Freitag, Freunde.  Prost!drawn heart

The Final Five

final five gymnasts

Marta Karolyi’s “Final Five” U.S. gymnasts gave her the ride of a lifetime at the Rio Olympics.  Gold medals galore and a glorious ending to a brilliant career.

At our house, the “Final Five” means something else entirely:  the final list of colleges Z has narrowed down to which he will be applying this fall.   But there’s more in common between the two than you might think:

Struggles.college map of US

Golden moments.

Setbacks.

Tears (ours and theirs).

Waiting for scores (from judges for Marta; from ACT and SAT here).

Days when you wonder “what was I thinking getting into this?” (gymnastics for Marta; parenting for me).

All while teaching and leading and cheering and nudging and cajoling and loving our teenagers.  She even has a special look: the “Marta stare,” which she gives gymnasts when she thinks they can do something better.  Mine is just called the “Mom look.”  Same thing.

Marta and I, yeah, we have a lot in common.

Until next Friday, Friends.  Cheers!acceptedgold medal

 

Fairy Godmothers have nothing on Moms

Originally published in November, 2015, I find myself thinking a lot about these wishes again lately…

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fairy godmothers“Sleeping Beauty had three fairy godmothers who bestowed one gift each upon her in the form of a wish — but couldn’t manage to keep the girl away from a spinning wheel in 16 years.

When I was pregnant, I dreamed about what my child would be like: what he/she would look like, sound like, everything.  Of course, we all want our children to be smart and healthy, kind and successful, and SAFE; at the beginning, we tend to think in these broader strokes.

Then, as a new parent, my life was filled with so many new things besides a baby: crib latches, bottle temperatures, learning to fold strollers one-handed while holding the baby and diaper bag in the other, navigating the grocery store half asleep, play-group politics, pediatrician recommendations, my own changing body, and a million things more… I was grateful to just keep up.  Although I never really forgot all those “wishes” for my child, I just never got around to writing it all down.

I say a mother’s wish is worth 100 fairies’.  So here they are, in writing now (give me a break — remember, I said, at the time, I was happy to just keep up).

wishing star

In no particular order, these are the 12 things I most wish for my child:

Kindness.  Above all else.
Understanding.  Of yourself and others.
Integrity.  Do the right thing, even when it’s hard.
Love. Yourself, others, our World.
Health.  Physical, mental, emotional.
Wisdom.  Physical, mental and emotional.                                                                             Resilience.  Always.
Creativity.  In whatever you do, think outside that box… or rectangle, or circle, or parallelogram…
A Sense of wonder. For everything.
Friendship. Be a good friend and you’ll have good friends.
Gratefulness.  For who and what you do have.
Be owned by at least one rescue pet at all times.  It’s good for your soul.

Nobel prizeNaturally there are other things I wish for Z, like nice manners and a Nobel Peace Prize;  actually, those may very well be covered by the list above. But these are things I’ve learned are most important to me as we both grow older, and I hope they are, or become, important to him.

I wonder how different this list would be if I had written it 16 years earlier?

What are your wishes for your children?

Until Friday, Friends. Cheers!

 

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Gracie’s summer vacation

Ahhh, family vacations.  Those wondrous, happy forays into unchartered places to experience 24/7 togetherness.  “Why should it be limited to just the people?” we wondered aloud last spring as we were planning our summer vacation.  “Let’s take the dog!”

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“Let’s go bye-bye,” they said.  “It’ll be fun,” they said.  At first, it is.  Gracie loves watching Mama pack her bag with her favorite toy, her travel bowl, and snacks.  Excitement supreme reigns as she watches her bags go into the trunk with her people’s suitcase-things.  And she is beyond thrilled when The Boy gets in the backseat with her.

But after a few hours, Gracie the dog is not amused.

What is to be gained from driving in the car for a whole day?  Sure, there are multiple stops along the way, and it turns out this place called “Michigan” has some splendid roadside parks. But they all look — and smell — pretty much the same after a while.  At the hotel, the family is split up for 2 nights.  “Where did the boys gIMG_2721o??”  Gracie sits by the door, staring.  Not moving.  Occasionally she barks at any noise on the other side of that big bad door; breaks into her happy dance when another member of the family miraculously appears.

This is what her people call a “vacation.”  She doesn’t see the appeal.  “Is this what you do every time you leave the house with those suitcases?”

IMG_2723Back in the car for just a “quick ride” to some big water her family calls “Lake Michigan”.  She walks across the rocks, down to the water.  The people wade in.  She looks at her people as if they’re stupid.  “C’mon in!” they coax.  She very tentatively walks into the water up to her elbows.  That’s it, that’s as far as Gracie wants to go.  “Why are we doing this?” she wonders. “Will ‘vacation’ be over soon?”

Back in the car AGAIN and drive to a town where there are people, and dogs, and food, and cars, and parks with big trees.  “Big deal.  We have all that at home,” Gracie thinks.  “But it makes my people happy, so I’ll go along.”

After one night, Mama makes her sleep in her kennel (something about Gracie’s barking in the middle of the night is annoying), then it’s back in the car and drive another long ways.  But this timeboat when the family gets out, there are BIG boats and LOTS of people.  Gracie and her family walk on something Mama calls “a dock.”  It MOVES!  It bounces up and down a little bit when walk on!  Then up some stairs and big engines started — Gracie can feel the vibrations through her paws.  Then she gets bored,FullSizeRender(1) and lays down and goes to sleep for the 16 minute trip across the blue, blue water next to the big, very long bridge.  But Gracie doesn’t take notice of any of that.  She gets agitated, though, when she hears two little yappy dogs down below, and then it’s to bark back “You’d better not come up here.  I’m not in the mood.”

busy streetSuddenly everyone is getting off the big boat, and there are EVEN MORE PEOPLE!  And carts with suitcases!  And DOGS!  Gotta protect the family!  Mama is pulling backwards on the leash.  Gracie’s new harness grabs more of her body, and she is forced backwards.  Then the family climbs up into some kind of car with open sides — Mama calls it a “carriage”.  Gracie can see out both sides, and the SMELLS!  Gracie gets in trouble for rolling in what that smells like at home.  The car starts moving, but there is no steering wheel or engine.

Then she sees them.  They are animals, she can see that, but they are coming closer.  They are SO BIG!  She has never seen any creature this big moving before!  Bark!  Lose it completely and BARK!  “Horses,man driving carriage” Mama says.  “Those are HORSES?  They don’t look like the horses at Puppy Camp-Kennel!  These are huge monsters!”

Gracie needs to get a grip, and she knows it.  She’ll bark at some people on bikes.  Look!  More dogs!

Then OMG…

“OMG!  What do you mean, these monsters are DRIVING OUR CARRIAGE???”  Hysteria.  Complete and total lack of control.  Gracie can’t comprehend this.  “OMG, must save the family — there are MONSTERS driving us!”

IMG_2735Finally!  Out of the carriage, and the boys take Gracie off to the grass (and away from the monsters) while Mama goes in a big white building.  She finally comes out, and we go to a patio.  Out of the big magic bag, Mama fishes out Gracie’s water bowl, a big bottle of cold water, and some doggie snacks.  We’re sitting in the shade.  Gracie takes a short nap while the people talk.

“A walk!  We get to go for a walk!  Ooooh, what’s that over there? No wait, what’s that?  Ooh ooh let me smell that!  Oh, now into a building and up some stairs!  Into a much bigger room than that last one — oh look!  There are two sleeping rooms and a bathroom and a little room that connects all three!  This is MUCH better: I can see everyone’s beds.  Aww, my people brought my bed and my dishes along from that other place!  Oh, my family loves me.  Gracie’s a good girl!”

IMG_2732This place has wonderful outdoor smells, and there’s a big patio outside so that Gracie can go outside and take a nap, just like at home!  Gracie can smell the woods, and the water, and critters — and those monsters.  Those monsters are all over this place!  Usually in pairs.  Gracie goes for lots of walks here since there isn’t a backyard with a fence to go potty like at home.  But it’s hot and sticky outside, so we find shade whenever we can.

During some walks, Gracie crosses a bridge, and sometimes the great big monsters walk up and wait for people to get off and on their carriages right by that bridge.  Being up higher than the monsters makes Gracie feel braver, and she sits with her head between the bridge posts and watches them from just above their giant heads. This is one of her favorite things to do on her walks now, and she does her best to convince the family to walk over to the bridge so she can look for the monsters below.

blond horsesOn one walk, Mama and Gracie find a new path.  New smells!  New people to greet!  The path comes to a small road and then MONSTERS!  The monsters are coming!  Mama makes Gracie “sit” and “stay”.  Gracie trusts Mama, but better keep an eye on her anyway to keep her safe.  They watch the pair of monsters walk slowly by, leading a carriage with lots of people riding in it.  These monsters clop slowly past Gracie, and she gets a good sniff this time.  “Hmm.  They kind of smell like the horses at Puppy Camp-Kennel,” thinks Gracie.  “I suppose they could be Very Big Horses.”  She doesn’t bark this time, but her eyes are big and round and she watches their every move.

IMG_2736Mama explains to Gracie that they are on an “island” and that’s why there’s water all around.  And one day, Gracie decides she’ll wade in up to her shoulders.  The family gets excited when she does that.  But she has no interest in “swimming.”

Then comes the day it’s time to leave the island.  Gracie can tell because everyone is putting things in those suitcase-things.  She leads Mama around to be sure she packs the travel water bowl, bottle of fresh water, and snacks into Gracie’s very own travel bag.  Gracie supervises the rest of the packing, and then there’s time for one more walk.

Gracie walks her family back to the big white building where they arrived, and they sit in the shade.  Pretty soon two of the Very Big Horses come up, steering a carriage.  They stop for a drink at the two big water holes by the flowers.  Gracie gets uhorses up closep her courage and wants to go closer.  The Boy walks her over to the front of the horse on the left.  Gracie is SO curious!  The horse* lifts his Goliath-like head, and water drips from his chin.  He bows his head to look at this smaller fawn-colored creature, and Gracie almost touches her nose to the Great Goliath’s nose, but she suddenly becomes shy and backs away.

Then Gracie bravely leads her family onto the carriage, and sits quietly this time to watch all the people and bicycles going by.  At one point, she thinks she’d like to jump down and run alongside the carriage, but Mama very firmly says “No, you’re not a Dalmation.”  As the Very Big Horses keep clop-clopping their way forward, more and more carriages begin to appear, and then we’re in the hustle and bustle of the middle of town again.  We get ohorses comingff the carriage and walk along another dock — Gracie is certain she sees things swimming in that water!  Back up the stairs and the big engines start again.  The blue, blue water is jumping today, so this ride is bumpy.

And <sigh>, back in the car again.  Mama says we’re in the Youpee now.  People make funny names for things.  Another long drive, but at least we stop at some beaches to run on!  The big lake up here is SO much colder than the one by tIMG_2740he island!  Mama says it’s because it’s the biggest and deepest of these Good Lakes.  Gracie is pooped when they get to stop and go to sleep.  Another night where part of the family disappears.  Gracie thinks she’ll be petulant and pushes Mama off the bed.  Oops — back in the kennel!  Another day, another drive.  More stops, but this time in a place called “Wisconsin.” Are we forever doomed to move from place to place?  Will Gracie ever see her yard again?

Gracie decides to lay down with her toy Moose for the drive, and maybe even pretend to be asleep when the car stops again.  But, wait: could it be?  “It smells like my park… it smells like my neighborhood!  IT IS!  IT’S HOME!”  Gracie is even excited to see her cats.  She checks out the house — everything is just like she left it.  She rings the bells to go outside.   Then she rings them harder, louder, because everyone is upstairs taking things out of the suitcase-things.  Once outside, she patrols the fence border at a trot, nose to the ground, ears up, checking and double-checking to be sure there was no breach by anything bigger or fiercer than a bunny.

Satisfied that the perimeter is secure, Gracie returns to the porch to recline and survey her yard.  Milo, the dog from next door, runs up to the fence, wiggling and wagging, excitedly welcoming Gracie back.  She is too tired to go back across the yard, so she barks a “hello” and Milo is IMG_2787happy, grinning his toothy doggy grin.

“Vacations are exhausting,” Gracie says to herself as she lay her head between her paws.  “I hope I don’t have to take the family on one again any time soon.”

Yep, Toto said it best:  there’s no place like home.

 

*Horsey conversation overheard in the stables later:

“Hey, did you see that four-legged, blond creature back at the hotel?”

“Yeah, was it a dog?”

“No, didn’t have a tail, and it’s ears were huge!”

“Too small to be a full-grown deer…”

“Too big to be a fox…”

“What do you think it was?”

 

 

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End of the beginning

end of the world t-shirtAs R.E.M. so eloquently stated: It’s the end of the world as we know it.  But I don’t know if I feel fine… You see, it’s the beginning of the end of the beginning of the world as we know it here at our house: Z started his senior year in high school last week.

As many parents have discovered before me:  holy cow.

We work so hard to give them roots and wings, and then the ungrateful little ragamuffins want to actually use those wings?  Wait, that wasn’t in the manual…

It’s a time wrapped up in mixed emotions and the “lasts”: “last” school clothes shopping day; “last”school supply shopping list; “last” first day of school; “last” school picture; “last” first day of school dinner out;  “last”…   Not that he won’t need things at college or eat, but he’ll do that wherever he lands.  By himself and with new people.

proud momI’m so proud of him — he’s achieved so much, and challenged himself; made such good friends who are good people; he’s walked the walk and done the work to apply to colleges.  He’s a good person.  Kind.  Intelligent.  Healthy.  Strong.  Talented.  Funny.

But I feel resentment.  I resent that the time went by so, so fast.  Why didn’t anyone tell me?  (oh yeah, they did — I just chose to not believe them).  Infant to toddler; to preschool then kindergarten; then onward to elementary school, and then off to middle school.  It all rolled along just as it should have.

And then we hit some kind of time warp-wormhole because high school is just about over and it can’t be because it just started!  What is it about these last 3 or 4 years that just pick up speed and charge ahead, careening towards graduation day???

I cop to some guilt about being excited to have an “empty nest”, too.  Usually right after I cry a little bit about how much I’ll miss my son… If you try to understand how you can swing so easily between feelings, you’ll lose (what’s left of) your mind.  I don’t pretend to understand it; I’m just along (semi-reluctantly) for the ride.empty nest

Until next Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

 

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I’ll have what she’s having

Nora1Fun fact: Nora Ephron and I share the same birthday.

I first experienced Ms. Ephron with her film “Heartburn” in 1986, based on her semi-autobiographical book by the same name, starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. Although, I confess, at the time, I was struck more by the credit music by Carly Simon, prompting me to buy one more of her albums just so I could listen to “Coming Around Again” again and again.

I had seen “Silkwood” with Meryl Streep and Cher (1983). Then came Nora’s “Sleepless in Seattle” (’93), “You’ve Got Mail” (’98), “Julie and Julia” (’09), and a score of others interspersed throughout those years.  But, for me, the definitive “When Harry Met Sally” (1989) is the best of her films, and is still arguably one of the most sincere and realistic films about friendships between men and women ever produced, not to mention just all-out fall-down funny and touching and real.  One of my all-time favorite movies, period.  That movie, that point in time, is when Nora Ephron really hit my radar.

But it wasn’t until mid-July this year when I finally sat down with a book by Nora.  I was trying to understand this form of writing I stumbled upon — and apparently have been doing — for over a year.  The week before we left for a long-weekend trip to northern Michigan, I Googled “personal essay writers” and was hit with list upon list and more lists and “next pages” of lists.  I wanted a woman’s perspective.  So naturally, it was Nora Ephron.

I was at Barnes and Noble for over an hour in the small, hidden-in-the-back, out of the way “Essays” section (I didn’t even know there was such a section until then; did you?).

With a lot to do before the trip, I decided I’d wait to read my chosen coursework until we were “officially” on the trip.  Which means, once we get on the road or to the airport.  Mostly because at that point, there is nothing else I can do to get myself/child/partner/pets/house/car in order.  In this instance, we had decided to fly since it was just T and me; and, because in the previous five weeks, between the two of us, we had already made the driving trek to Michigan five times (various business trips intermingled with family visits), with one more to go (our summer family vacation; and no, we don’t normally get to spend so much time in our home state.  It’s just worked out that way this summer).  So with great anticipation, I cracked the spine on my primer when we arrived at our gate.

I Feel Bad About My Neck is the book I chose to begin my education.  And it was a post-doc level course.

Nora2I laughed so hard and out loud on the plane reading it, I think T was actually pretending not to know me for the entirety of the flight.

When we landed, I reluctantly put the book away for later.  We were there for reasons other than relaxation, and it wasn’t until bedtime that I had an opportunity to extract the book from my carry on.  While T finished up some work on his laptop, I lay in bed, laughing; folding over page corners for reliving later; thinking “me too!” more times than I could count; and wondering how in the world this woman had exactly the right words in exactly the right order to recount periods in her life with such exquisite perspective.

I sighed when I finished — much like after a wonderful meal that fills you, not only with food, but with gratitude that you had a seat at that particular table.

“I may as well just stop writing now,” I said to T.

“What?”

“I will never write like Nora Ephron,” I said.

“Well maybe it’s something to strive for,” he replied.

“No, you don’t understand,” I replied earnestly.  “I will never write like Nora Ephron.”

At that point, he decided to just nod vaguely in agreement and leave me pondering this slim volume of wonderment.  (He’s a wise man.)

I decided to do a little background research on my new-found teacher, and that’s when I discovered I have the same birthday as Nora Ephron.  That must be some cosmic sign she is to be my muse, right?  (Of course, there are lots of other people who were born on that day in May.  Including one of my ex’s much younger girlfriends.  Some people think I must be offended by that in some way.  Not really.  I had that birthday first.)  I was on a first-name basis with Nora by then, so it was an OMG moment for certain.  I posted it on Facebook.  I tweeted on Twitter.  I shouted it to my family (“Who?” said my teen).  Ok, I was getting carried away.  I can see that now.

But it’s NORA FREAKIN’ EPHRON!  And she’s one of the most brilliant writers ever, whether it’s for print or movies — geez, she could write directions for an oil change and it would be awesome.

Much of my life goes irrelevantly on, in spite of larger events,” she wrote.  As the song goes, “I know nothing stays the same…”

And yet she still believed strongly that “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”  Hell to the yes!

At the same time I was voraciously reading Nora’s essays, I picked up a copy of a book T’s mom had told me about regarding the history of the feminist movement.  This happened to coincide with Hillary Clinton’s nomination as the first woman to head an election ticket by a major party.  AND, guess who was quoted throughout the book?  Nora.

Nora3So how timely and apropo was my discovery of Ms. Ephron?  From needing some direction as to my writing future to commentary on women in politics, Nora came into my life at just the right time.

Nora would have been 75 this last birthday of ours.  But the world lost her marvelous voice in June of 2012, to stupid leukemia.  I don’t have many regrets in my life, but I do regret not having discovered this remarkable woman earlier.  I would have written a letter to her, in the most fan-girl of ways, saying all these things I’ve learned with help from her.

In retrospect, however, I do believe I came across Nora Ephron exactly when I should have.  Any sooner, I may have just chuckled and moved on.  In that time period, from when she left us to my discovering her on that bookshelf at Barnes and Noble, I have changed in so many ways — I think for the better.  Nora has given me so many master-classes in not just writing, but in how to look at the world through a different lens; finding humor in places I didn’t know I could; accepting myself fully for who I am in every way; looking back through the history of the Women’s Movement and learning things I never even guessed at growing up in the 70s.

NoraI know nothing stays the same, but it’s ok, she assures me.  Because if things don’t change, we’re actually all the worse for it.  So the changes I’ve weathered, the changes I invited, the changes I made willingly and excitedly, even the ones I didn’t — they’ve all made me who I am now, and have led me to discover my writing anew and shown me where I can fit in to the literary world.

Thank you, Nora.  I needed that.

 

Until next Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

drawn heart

 

 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Originally published on August 25, 2015.  As apropo now as ever…

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Admit it: you sang the title just now, didn’t you.

I love my son.  Let’s just be clear on that.

But by the time mid-August rolls around, I’ve decided I love the beginning of the school year almost as much.

Dad with cartThose office supply commercials capture the essence perfectly, don’t you think?  From the parent gaily coasting along the aisle on the back of a shopping cart, to the sad, pitiful children, standing by, watching as their Dad effectively loses his mind from pure relief that summer vacation is nearly over.

Dad and kidsIsn’t it great?

Our kids don’t understand.  They won’t — unless and until they become parents themselves.  And it doesn’t matter if you’re a stay-at-home parent or a parent working outside the home: by the time summer is well underway, you find yourself going through the calendar (many, many times) counting the number of days until the bell rings.

I love our family vacations when we’re able to get away.  But they’re FAMILY vacations — we ALL get to relax (more or less) then.  The kid may be “on vacation” from school the rest of the time, but the adults here are back to work.  Trying to keep another person busy and entertained is another whole job unto itself.  Forget about getting anything else actually accomplished.

Even a teen — old enough to dress and feed himself, but apparently not old enough to understand that 12 hours in front of a screen probably isn’t the healthiest way to go — surrenders to the idea that brains are on hiatus over the summer.  I’m tired of taking away gadget privileges for spending every waking hour with them.  When does self-policing kick in?  Age 30?

No matter how many times I tell my son “It’s good to be bored once in a while,” he doesn’t believe me.  In this age of instant access to all sorts of information and entertainment, being bored is akin to the spinny circle of death on a computer screen (cue the screaming and agonizing and gnashing of teeth).

I’ve come to the conclusion that I look forward to the beginning of the new school year because then I have other adults (ie, teachers and coaches) on board with me keeping the kid’s brain from turning to mush.  We get back to a SCHEDULE where EVERYONE (even the teenager) knows what is expected and when (even if he claims the contrary).

mom jumping for joyBut I think it’s mostly this:  even more important than my teen having a schedule is ME having a schedule:  I know exactly how much time I have before the “I’m hungry/there’s nothing in the house to eat/can I watch TV/where’s my iPad charger/why do I have to take the garbage out/my room IS clean/I have too much homework” griping begins.  I know exactly how much I can get done during the school hours, and I know how I need to structure my day and my work schedule to take advantage of the optimum quiet time BTA (Before Teen Arrives).  Even when I worked outside the house in an office miles away, I was besieged by telephone calls and texts once 3:12pm rolled around — the moment he walked in the door from the bus stop.

Even when I leave lists of chores to be finished by dinner time, I still hear “I’m bored” once in a while.  At those times, I’ll “save” my work and put the computer to sleep, and sit down with my teen child.  Sometimes that plaintive tone best suited for a 6-year-old comes through in the 16-year-old.  I’m not sure, but I think that’s more “Mom, I need you.”

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but he seems happier when we’ve sat together and talked about his day, or avoided talking about his day all together.  I can pick up on the cues enough to know when he wants to skip a certain subject.  Sometimes I’ll fix us a light snack as he sits at the kitchen counter, talking; me asking questions along the way, sometimes he asks the questions.  It can be 10 minutes or half an hour.  But somewhere along the line, these breaks have become very important to both of us.  I can see his shoulders relax, he smiles more quickly, and becomes animated while telling me about what happened during chem lab or at the lunch table that day.

Sometimes, when the snack is finished and we’ve talked about everything we want to at that time, a “sigh” will escape.  That’s usually me.  Z will look at me and smile, give me a hug, and go back upstairs or downstairs (depending on mood) to work on the “too much” homework.  I’ll go back to my computer and open the most recent project.  We both work until it’s time for dinner.  At that point, we’ve settled back into our day and managed (usually) to accomplish something, and we feel good.  The laughter comes easy, sharing the rest of our day is fun, and it’s a pleasure for all of us to be back in the same room together.

There is actual research to support the idea that when people spend a portion of their day apart, coming back together is far more pleasurable.  Maybe that’s why summer break doesn’t always feel like a vacation:  maybe there’s too much togetherness.  No apart time.  Everyone knows what everyone else is doing all day.  There’s not much to talk about then.

futileSo come on, First Day of School!  Hurry up and get here!  I really, REALLY want to appreciate the absence of my teenager!

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

A great agony… and other things about writing

image“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
~ Maya Angelou

Between writing from the heart, writing what’s on my mind, dreaming about writing, writing to be heard, writing writing writing writing; having an idea I want to pursue and not being near my computer or smart phone, nor pen and paper, and being set upon by madness until I can write down the idea…. that is the greatest agony for writers, truly. “Bearing the untold story” that Dr. Angelou talks about is why I started my blog.

Now, the reasons why writers hold those stories are as different as why we ultimately decide to tell those stories.  My reasons are pretty straightforward: I wanted another way to connect to the world.  I wanted to share my experiences as a kind of salve to anyone thinking they were alone because of certain feelings or circumstances (or was it the other way ’round?); and, I wanted to evoke the “me too!” reaction that always brings me joy when I am gifted with it.

I’ve learned certain things about myself, and my writing, over the last year and a half.  Writing (nearly) every day will do that to you.  So will attending a writing conference or retreat.  And it’s a mixed bag, some good observations as well as some not-so-pretty; and some that were difficult to admit, and others that surprised me.

In no particular order, what I’ve learned about myself through writing:

…as in speaking, I’m long-winded.

…I probably use the em-dash (—) far too often.

…I have a strong voice.

…I have a need to dwell on the positive.

…I can turn almost anything on its end and make it funny.

…my favorite comments from readers are the ones where they tell me they felt as though we just finished having coffee, or wine, over conversation in person.

…that I have a long way to go in being able to write a good novel.Nora

…that nearly every one of my blog entries is actually a personal essay.

…that I will never write like Nora Ephron.

…that personal essays are a genre that doesn’t enjoy the same cache as novels, or poetry, or short stories.  But it should.  Because, NORA FREAKIN’ EPHRON!

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” ~ Nora Ephron

A personal essay, as near as I can explain it, is about a specific point in time in the writer’s life that illustrates a timeless idea or point to the reader.  Typically written in first person (“I”), the writer is describing a personal experience, examining it, and sharing their observations about the experience in terms to relate to you, the reader.

That said, it almost seems as though essays would be dry things, and not a very interesting way to spend time reading, let alone writing.  But I disagree!  Author Ariel Levy says, “…writing an essay is like catching a wave…crafting a piece of writing around an idea you think is worthwhile — an idea you suspect is an insight — requires real audacity.  It is an act of daring.”

Wow.  I’m audacious and daring!  If I think too much on that, though, I get a little queasy, so let’s go somewhere else…

It is, indeed, like catching a wave when an idea comes along. It’s not as though it taps you on the shoulder and waits around.  Sometimes it seems as though it’s more like a ticker tape running through my head at the bottom of the screen of other more prominent thoughts, ideas, to-do lists, and images.  Once in a while, one of the “ticks” will catch my full attention as it enters my internal screen view, and everything else suddenly switches to the background as I focus on that tidbit of information.  If I’m lucky, it turns out to be fodder for an entire column — or as I’m beginning to think of them, an essay.

Occasionally, it turns out there wasn’t really anything there, but I’ll file the idea away (in writing, because heaven knows I can’t remember a damn thing unless I write it down).  It might turn into something more substantial later.

Writing these weekly essays has been a means for me to get ideas down; the ideas I want to share.  It’s also allowed me to play with them, try different things, and different forms.  All of this experimentation has led me to realizing the list at the beginning.  A list of some of my strengths and some of my weaknesses.  This, in turn, gives me yet another list of things to work on.

But most importantly — at this time, anyway — it allows me to see not only what I’ve done right, but also how far I’ve come.  Taking stock like this lets me see myself from a different angle…. and who doesn’t need that once in a while?

It’s my way of conducting a writing reality check.

Perhaps that is why I write, whether it’s essays, or stories; fiction or not.  I’m conducting a reality check for myself:  is this or that idea common?  Is this storyline interesting enough to share?  Does anybody want to read any of it?  Wait, what do you mean I’ll never write like Nora Ephron?

As time continues to tick along the continuum, I certainly hope I continue to evolve and that my writing does, too.  I suppose if it stops, then it’s time to move on to something else.  But I’m bearing a lot of untold stories, so I think it’s safe to say I’ll be writing for a while.

Until next Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

drawn heart

Standing on this precipice

Dear Z,

Wasn’t I just writing about your 16th birthday?

Somehow, a whole year full of ups and downs and ins and outs and every-which-ways has passed, and I now find myself writing as you turn 17.

Seventeen, more than any age, looks like a precipice.  You have obtained that driving license; you’ve visited colleges; you’ve taken the ACT, the SAT, and you worked hard to bring up an already stellar GPA; you’ve traveled abroad; you are in the midst of your first “serious” relationship; and you’re about to be a high school senior.  All of these experiences, and more, have led you to this cliff’s edge.

But don’t be alarmed!  This cliff is offering you a unique perspective on where you’ve been and the infinite ways to go from here!  On this path you’ve seen the best and the worst of people.  Now you know what to look for.  On this path, you have seen beauty unparalleled, and ugliness you hope never to see again.  Now you know what to look for.  This path has been smooth and bumpy along the way (for both of us); and you’ve learned the smoothest path isn’t always the wisest; but sometimes it’s ok to “coast” and put down your burdens for a while, too.

You’ve seen first-hand what integrity really means, and I see you striving to live up to that idea.  I’ve seen you rage against injustice, and I pray it won’t harden you.  Watching your sense of humor develop has been a trip and a half, and I hope it serves you well in all your years ahead (it’s a super-power we share).  Your passion for learning inspires me every single day, and I’m so excited to see you spread those wings you’ve been testing…

…and jump.

Yes, jump.  Get a running start and leap off this cliff, spread those wings, and see where and how far they take you.

This time, unlike others, you’ll be doing it by yourself.

I’ll be watching from the cliff, always.  Sometimes holding my breath, other times cheering wildly.  I’ll desperately want to jump to follow you when I see an ill wind coming your way, but I won’t.  I will be here, when you need me to be.  I will be here to throw you a rope if you need one.  And my home will always be yours, even when you have a place of your own.  Anywhere my heart is, you are already there.

There are so many people in this world who love you ~ some you’ve never even met.  And there are even more who will grow to love you from this point on.  These are people I may never meet, but I hope you’ll tell me about them.  And I hope you cherish them.  Cherish the hell out of the people who cherish you, ok?  Keep your heart open, but guard it.  Because that, my child, is your greatest asset, your greatest gift.  It is what will keep you aloft.  Your very great big heart.

I have been so incredibly lucky to give you part of my heart, and be given a piece of yours in return ~ that is what has kept me on the wing all these years together.

Fly, be free to continue your journey to be anything and everything.  In the meantime, remember: I love you mostest.  You are my greatest treasure.    Always and forever.

~ Mamadrawn heart