I have mixed feelings about this

4… 3… 2…

As of tomorrow, I have a Freshman in College.

I know the best gift you can give your child is that of Roots and Wings — but wait, now he wants to use those wings?  I have 10 weeks before my life and his change profoundly when he leaves for college.  And then what?  He’s ready, but I’m not quite there yet.  As I’ve said multiple times over the last year:  I have mixed feelings about this.

“The days are long, but the years are short,” said Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project.  She wasn’t kidding.  But no one in the midst of those long days wants to be told something like this: “You’re life is going to change.” (duh)  “Don’t blink.”  (really?)  “They grow up so fast.”  (it can’t be *that* fast)  But we don’t want to hear any of that as we gawk in wonder at the new life we hold in our arms, when we’re knee-deep in toddlers, in the thick of it with newly-minted teenagers, or beginning to learn to ‘let go’ with high schoolers.  We don’t have any more room in our heads — or hearts — to keep those kinds of ideas and feelings front and center.  We went into parenthood absolutely convinced we could, and would, be present in each moment.  How could we know that’s just. not. possible?

We also may not want to admit that “the years being short” is exactly what we’re afraid of.  That deep down we know Life is going to laugh at us as we make plans, only to watch those plans go every which way but our own.  Perhaps we’re not as much “afraid” as we are “uncertain” how our own hearts are going to change, not only when these tiny people arrive — but also when they leave to continue their own journey.

I always knew that my son was going to grow up and graduate from high school and go to college (barring any unforseen hurdles).  But somewhere between middle school angst and high school politics, we entered a time warp wherein the high school years seem to have developed much shorter days than the years before.  Is that because he was doing so much more on his own, and I used that time to get caught up on my own life again?  Only to turn around and see him taller than I am, his jawline defined, driving himself to and from his activities, shaving, working part-time…

Did that all really happen in just a mere three or four years?

Indeed, maybe that’s what is so surprising for us as parents: all that major changing takes place in such a short amount of time in relation to their previous growth, except when they are brand new.  They’ve been reliant on us for so long: for love, food, shelter, comfort; ultimately tagging along on our errands; waiting their turn as we worked out carpools and event schedules; even planning for a night out without them was more about them (i.e. remember trying to find a sitter?).  Then, overnight — literally, OVERNIGHT — on their 16th birthday, they become so much more self-sustaining.

I really don’t remember what my life was like before I was a parent.  You hear that a lot from moms and dads.  But it’s not really accurate in describing this path we’re taking.  I have memories, of course, of doing things with friends and family before I became a Mom.  What I don’t know is the feeling of the long-term physical absence of someone who became this close to my heart and soul — who is made of me.  How do you prepare for saying ‘goodbye’ to part of yourself?

My friend K calls this “pre-mourning.”  Her son is the same age as mine, will be graduating the same day as Z, and will leave for college this summer, too.  K and I have chatted about the upcoming metamorphoses — for the boys and ourselves.  She was warned about the dangers of pre-mourning, namely beginning the process of saying goodbye far too soon and missing out on — and being present in — the months preceding her son’s flight out of the nest.  I kept that advice close to my own heart over the last year, but it’s difficult to keep it from taking over the moments, though: at “the last” birthday celebration at home; “the last” Christmas where we’ll all be here to decorate the tree; “the last” field trip; “the last” game of the season; “the last” “the last” “the last…”

And yet… I’m so incredibly excited for Z!

 

College!  Getting to know so many new people, from more places than ever before!  Fall football games and all-nighters; school traditions and trying new things; forming friendships that he’ll have far into his future; meeting those special few who become mentors helping to draft his career path.

How can I feel so excited and sad at the same time?  I’ve never felt it on this level before.  And I know this feeling will take on an even different texture as we pack him up to move into his new home in August.  Author Dr. Brené Brown describes it this way: “There’s a combination of joy and grief that can take your breath away.”  And that’s exactly how I’m feeling — two opposite emotions at the same time are taking my breath away.

There’s no rule that says we are only allowed to feel one thing at a time — but that’s how we want it to work.  Otherwise it becomes overwhelming.   And no one wants to feel overwhelmed, because then we’re not in control.  Guess what?  We parents of older teens haven’t been in control for a long time.  It’s just now becoming apparent to me.  And I am overwhelmed with giant waves of feelings, all at once, out of the blue, sometimes at the strangest times.  All I can do is ride it out.

I have no illusions that I’ll be able to get through graduation nor moving day without crying.  Fortunately, Z knows I’m like this, so he expects it.  But even he may be surprised at how many tissues I’ll go through this time, all the while smiling like a maniac because I’m so damned proud.  He may chalk that up to Mum being a hormonal idiot.  That’s ok.  I can’t explain it to him, not yet.  Maybe if he becomes a parent, and on the eve of his child graduating I can say “I know,” and hand him tissues.

And then we’ll talk about having mixed feelings about this.

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

 

 

I think I’m getting the hang of this

 

It’s my birthday today.  I’ve been around the sun 53 times.

And I’ve been writing this blog for two full years now.

 

For those of you who have been with me from the beginning (or nearly), thank you for sticking with me.  For those of you who are relatively new, I hope you’ve had a chance to read past posts to see where we’ve been,  and enjoy them enough to go along for a ride.

As you’ll have read by now, my son is graduating from high school next week, and leaves for university mid-August… it’s gonna be a brand new ballgame.

I hope you’ll stay with me as I begin this new chapter of my life — empty-nesting is best done with the company of others, I’ve been told.  And, besides sending Z off to college, I’ll continue sharing here all manner of things, as well as keeping you posted on new ventures I’m jumping into this year.

To give you an idea of who else is stopping by to read with you, 85% are women, 15% are men.  Most of you are between the ages of 45 and 54, with healthy representation by folks who are between 35-44 and 55-64 years old.

Most of my readers live here in the USA, but Italians are close behind!  Ireland and Canada are tied after that, with the United Kingdom and Greenland following closely.  Readers from Scandinavia, France, and as far away as New Zealand stop in frequently to read.  The Philippines, China, and Singapore are well-represented, as are Puerto Rico, Mexico, Morocco, Luxembourg, Indonesia, Egypt, and Australia; and your native languages total 20 now.

 

But people from all over can relate in some way to a person in Chicago-land.  And that’s what this Life is all about my Friends:  Connecting here on Earth.

 

Cheers to many more years of making those connections, Friends ~sig with heart

Countdown commencing

10, 9, 8…

Z picked up his cap and gown this week.

…7, 6, 5…

Did I really write the following just 2 short years ago???

Oh boy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Trust me when I tell you I’m not a helicopter parent. And although Z and I are close, he’s certainly not a “mama’s boy” (I’ve got that in our cat, Murphy). Z knows knows how to do his laundry, knows basic cooking and finance, and how to care for an auto. Z is a very good, very well-rounded student with damn good grades.  He has a good head on his shoulders, can read music and play a tough game of tennis, knows how to be a good friend, and is interested in enough of the world that I think he’s going to make the most out of his time at college and make it a positive experience all around (as long as his roommates don’t kill him first).  He’s been away on his own every summer for 3 weeks at a time at camp, a seven hours’ drive away, since he was 8. I don’t doubt he’ll be just fine.

It’s me.

From the time he was born, I knew all about his days. Who he saw, what he did, where he went, when he did it, and how he felt and fared.

imageEven once he entered preschool, the two and a half hours each morning had a uniformity, as well as notes and newsletters every week! Not to mention my volunteering every other week or so. And kindergarten was much the same. As elementary school progressed, every day reports became a thing of the past, but his excitement to tell me about who/what/where/when and how only grew.

Then came middle school.

Between hormones (his) and the school district weaning us parents off weekly communiques, it was harder to get the scoop on his days.

And then there’s high school.

imageGoing from knowing everything about someone’s day to being the last to know is very, VERY hard, and I admit I’m not very good at it. I’ve said it before: he’s my first, last, and only. I’m experiencing it all, all at once!

I really am looking forward to a little more freedom to go about my business without needing to take the teen’s schedule into account every day. I can certainly do without the annoying spats we get into at least once a week (T is looking forward to that, too). And only having one set of hormones raging in the house will be like a vacation every day (at least for me; T still has to put up with mine).

But not hearing about SOME aspect of his day, the good or the bad, is something with which I’m struggling. Knowing I’ll only get a very broad picture once he leaves, for months at a time, is hard to imagine. I know my son, probably better than he knows himself at times. But all that is going to change: the person I love most in this world is going to move away. And I suddenly feel like I did when I was 9 and my parents announced we were moving. It didn’t matter that it was just across town, because I still had to accept that my friends, whom I saw EVERY DAY, weren’t going to be a part of my everyday life anymore. It didn’t matter if we could phone each other as much as we wanted, because we all know it’s not the same as being together in person whether it’s at age 9, 10, 15, 20, 40, or 51.

imageIt’s going to be time to share my son (the good, the bad, and the ugly) with the rest of the world. And I’m having a hard time preparing myself to share my greatest treasure. You see, I genuinely like Z. Faults, foibles, hormones, and all. And I miss having the people I love, AND like, nearby.

I’m not afraid of the Empty Nest – I have enough writing to do, places to explore, and worlds to examine to fill another lifetime. But I am feeling sad that the wings I’ve gladly helped him grow will take him away from our knowing and sharing our everyday stuff with each other. Our talking will naturally turn to bigger life events, simply because it’s the day-to-day things that get forgotten first. Texts are nice for quick contact. But even I can’t put everything I want to say into a text (ask T and my best girlfriend E about the novels I try sending…). And again, it’s different than being right next to someone.

For all of school & life’s lessons – not one prepares you for saying “arrivederci” when your child leaves home.image

Until Friday, Friends. Cheers!

Say cheese!

IMG_0115I don’t photograph well.  I never have.  Oh, there are a few decent pictures of me floating around — but not many.  On average, I’d say I take a good photo about once (maybe twice) a decade.

Of course there are the standard school photos of me throughout the years. And I have some treasured pictures from some of my theatrical endeavors, covering the years from age 9 to 28.

But there are hardly any photos of me from the time when Z was a newborn through early elementary school.  For one thing, I was always the one with the camera, ready to mark milestones, funny things, or even “just” everyday things.  For another, my (now) ex wouldn’t think to take photos; I don’t have pictures of my pregnancy or right after Z was born — I couldn’t even get him to bring the camera or video camera to the hospital.

So, either I was taking the pictures, or there wasn’t anyone around to regularly snap a photo that I would have happened to be in.

IMG_1046As the years have passed, though, I find more and more that I step (okay, RUN) out of camera range when someone pulls out their iPhone.  The excuses I go through are many: I don’t have any make up on, my hair is a mess, I haven’t lost weight, I don’t like what I’m wearing, I look especially bloated, blah blah blah blah.  I simply don’t let anyone near me with a camera anymore.

Even if I had a selfie stick (which is so obnoxious anyway), I’d be too self-conscious of what would “make” a good picture, and snap endless versions, and thus lose the entire idea of a “snapshot” — literally, a sudden shot of life captured.  These days it’s far too easy to “delete” photos digitally and do another take.  And another.  And another, until the moment has passed or everyone’s smile begins to look strained and through their clenched teeth they are yelling at you to “just hurry up and take it!”

So there aren’t many of the “everyday me.”  The “me” I want Z to remember in years to come.  Not the school pictures, not the costumed and made-up characters I was playing in the musicals, not even the posed pictures (ie, senior high school picture or a professional photo my sister and I had taken for our Dad one year).

IMG_1134Not to be morbid, but my hope is that when Z looks at photos of me after I die, he remembers not only how I looked at a particular point in time, but what I was like.  If there are only “special occasion” photos, it colors the memories — not that special occasions aren’t, special, I just don’t want the only times he has an actual visual reminder to be more about the occasion than the people in the pictures.

In order to make that happen, I’ve realized that I need to let people take pictures of me.  Otherwise, I have no one to blame but myself.

Come to think of it, though, there is a relatively recent photo of me, T, and Z that I adore.  It is a selfie that Z took while we were on vacation on Kauai a couple of years back, and it caught us all smiling big about something silly. None of us even remember what was so funny, but it was a perfect moment.  It was a kind of cloudy day, right on the ocean; I don’t have a lick of make up on, we’re all squinting into the camera a little, we’re all windblown… and I love it.  It is the perfect photo of a perfect moment.  Every time I look at it, I smile.  That’s the picture — or one very much like it — I want Z to look at when I’m long gone and say “That’s my Mom.”

So I need to stop bolting anytime I see a camera make an appearance (but I can’t promise I won’t weed through the really dreadful pictures later and delete them).  I’ll save the ones that are even marginally IMG_0821“meh” so that Z remembers me as a real person, the everyday me.  The real me.

Until Friday, Friends.  Say “CHEESE!”

 

Tuxedos and Corsages

That one word is potent, isn’t it?  Memories, good, bad, or middling spring up, unbidden.

I was lucky to attend my junior and senior proms (and even with the same boy, my high school sweetheart, J)

Now I’m living it from the “other” side as a parent.  Woooooo boy.  And things have changed since the early 80s, that’s for certain (besides big hair).

Here in our neck of the woods, boys still wear tuxedos and girls still wear floor length gowns… but that seems to be the extent of the similarities.

I went shopping for a dress both years, visited maybe 2 stores, and had a very strict (read: low) budget.  Now it seems it’s an all-weekend event, with girls spending as much as what a wedding dress can cost.  Yikes!  And it’s not just at Z’s school, it’s all over.

elaborate hairstyleHair, nails, and make up appointments are made.  Holy cow!  I did my own (I did for my wedding, too, come to think of it).  That’s a whole crazy afternoon in itself.

Pictures are now a nearly professional affair, too, taking hours and are logistical nightmares.

So, these kids will have been in monkey suits and ties, fitted gowns and heels plus make up and hair since, say, 2pm?  And they don’t even leave for prom until 5pm?  And if the weather doesn’t cooperate?

Now, some things have changed for the better in my opinion: here, the kids meet at their school’s gym, and then board buses which take them to the prom venue, usually a very nice hotel with banquet facilities, or a unique place which can accommodate a couple of hundred people (one local high school held their prom at the aquarium last year!).  These destinations include a nice dinner as well, and so precludes the necessity of trying to get reservations on the same night as everyone else.  And because the cost is included in the prom tickets, there are no nasty surprises at the end of the meal since no bill comes.

No one is allowed entry to the prom unless they arrive on the bus.  They also must all depart on the bus, and are returned to the school parking lot from whence they left.  As a parent, I’m thrilled with this!

We didn’t have the buslimousineing option — some kids actually rented limousines — and dinner was on our own.  All of that adds exponentially to the cost of the evening.  These are high school kids!  Even if they’ve had a part-time job for a year or two, that’s still a big chunk of change!

Tuxedos are crazy expensive to rent — especially if you want something other than the basic black.  This year was relatively easy tux shopping since Z wanted the exact same tux as last year (with just a different color vest and tie to match his date’s dress).

corsagesA wrist corsage was all that was left to purchase, and Z was very practical in his approach without any prompting from me.  He settled on orchids this year, still sticking to the concept of “simple, but elegant.”

Z’s date is also a very practical person, and proudly shared her shopping prowess: she went dress hunting only at places she knew were in her budget; she had coupons; and she was so excited to find exactly what she wanted for far less than she (and her mom) expected.

prom coupleThey are going to look fabulous, and have a wonderful evening without fretting over how much they spent for this one night.

I’m not saying prom isn’t something special — it IS, I believe that with all my heart.  But the idea behind prom is to celebrate the time together, as couples, as friends, as classmates.  Going over the top isn’t necessary.  I certainly don’t begrudge any family the option if they wish to go all out.  But not everyone has the same access, nor even the same attitude, to discretionary funds in the family budget.  And if the kids are paying for everything themselves, then it’s important for them to pay close attention to how — and why — they’re spending their money.

This is an excellent opportunity for both of them to see what buys this kind of evening, and allows them a chance to try it out and learn whether or not they like spending their money on a big date night like this with their friends; or maybe they’ll say “That was fun, but I’d rather do ________.”

High school is a time to learn new things before going out into the “real” world.  Prom is part of the high school experience if they choose to make it so.  I had a wonderful time both years, dancing the night away with my date and being with friends, all dressed up.  It is special because prom is a once-a-year occasion.  But honestly, if we had chosen not to go, and decided to go to a movie and get pizza afterwards, I would have had just as much fun.  It ultimately comes down to the person/people you’re with.  Tuxes go back to the store; dresses take up room in closets; meals are usually quickly forgotten.  People make memories.  And you don’t need a bow tie to do that.

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!drawn heart

 

Love all

So my life as a “tennis mom” is coming to an end this season.  As of May 27, I will no longer have a child in our public schools, and thus no longer a sports team member.

I have mixed feelings about this.

In her hysterical blog post, Please Let That Be Rain, Stacy Graebner shares her mind’s wanderings as she valiantly sits through yet ANOTHER sports event for one of her children.  Let’s face it: most all of us have been there in one way or another for someone we love.  Even during the match/game/playoff of the year for a sport we actually enjoy.

Especially for outdoor sports, sports parents are a hardy bunch — but there are limits to our good natures and ability to fight pneumonia after so many cold/wet/windy/sweltering days (sometimes all on the same day) cheering on our kids.  And yes, I have — on occasion — prayed that that really is rain (or at least, lightning, because tennis matches get called off then).

Our school district considers boys’ tennis as *technically* a spring sport.  But all of us tennis parents know better: when the practice season begins the first week in March, and they’re outdoors by the middle of the month, let’s be honest here, it’s still winter in Chicagoland.  We intrepid parents meet up at the first match, bundled up in winter coats, hats, scarves, gloves, and wrapped in our kids’ old “Bob the Builder” and “Blue’s Clues” twin comforters that will live in the backs of our cars through the season.   And the inevitable joke “Who knew tennis was a winter sport?” pops up at least a dozen times.  By the time mid-May rolls around, we are sweltering in the sun, or jockeying for position under the single tree, standard at any school tennis courts, now sitting on those old comforters (tennis garners neither the district’s attention, nor budget, for bleachers).

I admit that my mind has wandered during quite a few matches, and when the temperature is either “freezing” or “sweltering,” and the wind blows perfectly good shots across the adjoining courts, I have been known to go sit in the car and switch on the heat or the air, watching from inside the climate controlled vehicle for at least a little while (usually until I thaw, or my skin stops burning).  Otherwise I’m out there, clapping and cheering for good shots, chatting with other parents, and enjoying my son’s involvement in a great sport.

Although we don’t rate bleachers, we are very fortunate in our school district for a more important reason: tennis is a “no cut” team sport in our conference.  If someone wants to play tennis, they are on the team.  The coach does seed the players, and we have 3 starter singles, and 4 starter doubles teams; thus, 11 “Starters.”  The rest of the players are Exhibition Players, and play after the Starters finish their matches.  The first year, Z played in high school, there were 60 (SIXTY!) boys playing JV and Varsity tennis at our school!  Challenge matches to move up in seeding are held throughout the season, and everyone supports each other.  Always.  Even the opponents.  Yes, players and parents are encouraged to let the “other” team know when we appreciate a play.  Coach makes it very clear every year at the parent meeting in February that this is a Gentleman’s Game (or in the fall, a Ladies’ Game).  This means EVERYONE is expected to adhere to good sportsmanship in every way, on and off the court.  As a result, spectators sit a respectful distance from the courts and no hanging on the fences.  No cheering for a missed shot or serve fault.  Players or parents not adhering to these rules can be ejected by the coach at any time.  And it’s been done.

I’ve watched my son grow in his appreciation of the game over the last eight years, both as a player and as spectator.  His favorite player is Roger Federer, the Swiss sensation still playing and winning at 35 (yes, I’m a fan, too).  It makes me very happy that Z has chosen someone who embodies the ideals of good sportsmanship, generosity on and off the court, and all-around good guy.  I have no doubt that these last four years playing for his high school will leave an indelible mark on his character for the better.  Some of his very best friends are from tennis, and the bonds between any teammates for any sport are as strong for these young men as any I’ve ever witnessed.  They have built something special together, and made their coach proud for many reasons.  As a parent, I love cheering on each of these players, and have become quite proficient at watching up to three different matches at once.

I  wonder how much I’ll miss this.  I love the sport, and the experiences my son and his teammates have been afforded by our school district, the conference, and his coach have been extraordinary.  Z plans to join the intramural or club team away at college — that’s one of the great gifts of tennis: you can take it with you wherever you go, and for as far and as long as you wish.

I won’t miss freezing, sitting in a camp chair, wrapped in one of Z’s old bed comforters; or sweltering under my wide-brimmed straw hat, slathering layer upon layer of sunscreen trying to keep my pale Scandinavian/Scottish/German skin from burning to a crisp in the afternoon sun.  But I will miss seeing him out on the courts every spring with some of his very best friends, playing hard and fast, fists pumping after a good shot, patting the shoulder of a compatriot after a hard-fought — but lost — contest.  I will miss watching his muscles become lean with 2-hour practices every day after school, and seeing his hard work and practice pay off as his “win” column grows in number, hopefully more so than the “loss” column.  I’ll miss the smile on his face and the laughter he and his doubles partner share at an inside joke born of the pure joy in playing the game, and being able to shake off a bad shot or a lost point.  I’ll miss the other parents sitting there with me, shivering or sweating, as we watch our sons put into practice what Coach has instilled from their first meeting: good sportsmanship, and everything that goes with it.

But we still have over half the season ahead of us, and I think I’ll enjoy it as much or more as before.

And because I want Z to enjoy as much tennis as he can before the demands of college take over, and I want to be there to see every last moment possible, I will pray that isn’t rain.

Until next Friday, Friends!

 

 

A mother’s wish list

fairy godmothersSleeping 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, 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… toddler years with “I do it!” and tantrums, snuggles and big beds… then came the elementary school years with fundraisers and volunteering, PTA politics, endless questions (mostly “why?”), learning to let go and let him cross the street by himself and ride his bike to his friends’ houses (a block away)… then middle school (enough said)… and suddenly high school, which became a whole different world of “I’ll do it myself,” curfews given and curfews broken, driving, girlfriends, college applications, college acceptance letters — and rejection letters… and soon graduation….

I’ve been grateful just to keep up.

And although I never really forgot all those “wishes” for my child, I just never got around to writing it all down.  Until now.

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.

Until Friday, Friends. Cheers!

 

Recalculating

I know the analogy “life is like a journey” can be a tired old cliche, but as a parent, it really is the best metaphor you can use.

crazy-carBe warned, though: this journey is a road trip, and you didn’t pack enough snacks, everyone needs to go to the bathroom exactly 2.36 miles past the last rest area and/or McDonalds (even though you asked “Does anyone need a bathroom break?” long before you reached the exit), someone gets carsick, the GPS isn’t working, and you threw out the old, ripped, mis-folded and mashed-up paper map when you were scrambling through the glovebox looking for napkins.

And naturally, there’s always someone who thinks they know best when it comes to the best route, and/or your family.  Whether it’s your mother, father, pastor, neighbor, pharmacist, plumber, mechanic, or the person who bags your groceries at the market, there are people in your life who don’t know when to keep their advice to themselves.  It’s just like having Siri on 24/7 and you can’t switch her off.  It will happen from the time you announce you’re going to be a parent until well after the kid(s) are older and have started their lives apart from you.

Keep smiling, say “thanks,” and move on.

You owe those people nothing more than that when unsolicited advice is thrown at you, much like when you decide that the scenic route looks far more interesting than the main highway and Siri responds in thamapt frigid voice “Recalculating.”  Yeah, your mother may purse her lips and shake her head when you do things your own way, but she’s not driving this bus, is she?

What happens when we screw up?  (because we all do)  Well, apologize; fix what you can; move on.  Really.  I used to beat myself up about all manner of things.  Not anymore.  Kids have remarkable memories.  Believe me, they’re going to remember far worse and more embarrassing moments, and will happily blurt them out at the most inopportune moments in the future on this trip we call Life.

And guess what?  No one is going to need therapy!  Because “normal” is, after all, just a setting on the dryer.

You’re driving.  At least until the kids are 16, right?  Even if you’re winging it (like me), you’ve got a general destination in mind, and although you might not have the most dicountry-roadrect route mapped, you’re getting there.  In the meantime, let someone else drive once in a while; crank up the tunes and sing along; look out the window; be glad you’re taking the scenic route, and enjoy the ride as much as you possibly can whenever you can.

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!drawn heart

Gumption, Barbie dolls, pierced ears, and never letting go

“Reva had gumption.”

That is the phrase I’ll remember most from the life celebration of a dear family friend, because it perfectly encapsulates that woman I’ve known since I was four-years-old.  Her memorial service was held just a few weeks after she died, about a month shy of her 92nd birthday this month.  I will be 53 in May.

Forty-eight-plus years I have known this family.  Reva’s youngest of five daughters, Lisa, and I are the same age, and were in school together through high school graduation.  From 4th grade on, we lived three houses down and across the street from each other.  Our families were inextricably tied together from the time Reva’s oldest daughters babysat my younger sister and me.  Our everyday lives were intertwined. I remember the countless Memorial Day weekends and Fourth of Julys celebrated on their screened-in front porch with coffee, juice, and donuts (is it just me, or were every single one of those days sunny?  I remember nothing but sun); then we’d all walk en masse a few blocks down our street to watch the home-town parades.  I remember playing Barbie dolls for hours on end.  I remember casual all-family dinners at each other’s houses.  I remember the drama only a bunch of teenaged girls can produce.  I remember sleepovers and games and whispers about boys and walking to school and the smell of their house and playing with our dogs and talking about big things that were really very little, and little things that were really very big.

Reva pierced my ears for me on my 13th birthday.  She was a registered nurse, and the only person my parents trusted to poke holes in their daughter’s head.  The idea of a piercing “gun” made me tremble in my Keds anyway.  So, Lisa and I rode our bikes downtown, and there at Woolworth’s on Main Street, I picked out the tiny gold studs that would fill those little holes in my earlobes for the next six weeks.

We rode back to Lisa’s house, where Reva had laid out some ice cubes, the long stainless steel needle, and a potato (for those of you thinking Reva’s method sounds barbaric, keep in mind that’s how it was done up until the 70s).  She sat me down at their kitchen table, and gave me a brief — but terrifying — lecture about what would happen if I didn’t take care of my piercings by cleaning them regularly with rubbing alcohol.  Even worse: if I took out the studs too soon, the holes would heal and POOF! no more pierced ears.  I nodded solemnly, taking to heart everything she said, despite being so nervous I was shaking.  Lisa promised she’d sit next to me and hold my hand and not let go.  She stayed true to her word, even as her Mom jabbed through my earlobe, the needle embedded in the potato she held behind my ear to stop the needle’s momentum.  I didn’t register much pain at all and was feeling pretty good about the whole thing… and then I saw poor Lisa turning positively green.  But she never let go of my hand, not once during the ordeal.  Trust me: that is the gold standard for a lifelong friend.

Since we both left the old neighborhood, we’ve stayed in touch.  We saw each other back at our parents’ over college breaks.  Far too early in our young lives, I went to her Dad’s funeral.  I went to her sisters’ weddings; she came to mine; and not too long after, I went to hers.  We visited her young family when we both lived out east when Z was just a baby, and Lisa was pregnant with her second child (they were near D.C., we lived in New Jersey).  Christmas cards and letters have passed back and forth between our homes over the years.  With the advent of Facebook, we’ve been able to watch each other’s families grow, and cheer on each other, and share in the children spreading their wings.  Through her, I was able to reconnect with her other sisters, too, who are spread out across the country.

When I moved to Chicagoland 15 years ago, one of the sisters, Katie, lived about 45 minutes away and Reva had moved nearby, too.  After all these years, our families were “neighbors” (of a sort) again.  The Universe definitely conspires for our benefit sometimes.  We visited together, and we attended Katie’s 40th birthday party where we girls were all together again, with Reva still keeping an eye on us all.

When Lisa called a month ago to let me know her Mom had passed, I was immediately struck by the thought “No, that can’t be right.”  Who ever thought Reva would leave this Earth?  Really.  She was tenacious.  She was tough.  She loved fiercely.  She had gumption!  But for all her toughness, if you were lucky to be enveloped into their lives as extended family, she would do anything for you.  Reva was who you called if you needed help.  She was rock solid.  She was always there.  But now…

My heart ached for the five sisters with whom I’ve been blessed to know from such an early age.  Between them, there have been spouses and partners; there are 14 beautiful grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.  There have been marriages, and there are engagements with more weddings in the near future.  I know all of them have felt the heart-jab realization that ‘Nonny’ won’t be there in person to celebrate.  I’m sad they won’t have that joy.  But I hope they know that those of us who know their mothers and aunts — and who knew their grandmother for so long — are amazed, and almost overwhelmed, by how much of Reva we see in each of them.

Watching these children (a good many who are actually adults…but always “the kids”) filled me with a wonder I’ve never quite experienced.  All I could manage to express the day of Reva’s funeral was telling Lisa “Your children are beautiful.”  (I’m pretty sure she knew I meant more than just their outsides, but I didn’t have the words for everything else.)

Having my own child there with me, who is the same age as a couple of Reva’s own grandchildren, meant so much to me — SO much.  But why?  I mean beyond having added comfort in having him sit next to me.  As I was saying “good night” to him, and thanking him once again for going with me to Reva’s service, the “why” suddenly occurred to me — startling me enough to cause my undignified “plop” onto the edge of Z’s bed: despite the years and the miles from their front porch, there we all were, multiple generations of two families, a link originally formed through children and neighborhood… celebrating the life of a dearly loved woman who herself became the link… and our own families were a testament to her legacy.  She raised five tough and beautiful women.  She certainly had influence on at least one other young woman (thank you, Reva).  As we faced the reality of our own mortality, we were also looking at our lives’ legacies in our own children.  What a wonderful gift!

My 17-year-old, as he heard for the first time some of the crazy stories of neighbor girls who became fast friends, understands a little bit of that now.  In this world where technology allows us to keep in touch when we’re hundreds and thousands of miles apart, there is nothing to equal being together and sharing laughs and tears and stories.  Nothing.  Except maybe a friend holding your hand for support, even if she is totally grossed out by needles… And never letting go.

Cheers, my Friends.

P.S.  I still have my Reva-pierced ears.