The boy with the bugle

When I was 18, I had the eponymous role in my high school’s spring musical, Mame.  It was, without a doubt, one of the ultimate parts of a lifetime — and I cherish those times and those memories.  But, as a high school senior, I could hardly appreciate the intricacies of the parent/child relationship between Mame and Patrick.

Had I known that another 18 years later I would have the dream role of a lifetime, I would have laughed — who thinks that far ahead?  That role, of course, is Mom.

And now, 18 years after THAT ‘production’ premiered, I am sending my best beau off on his own adventure… to college.

One of the things I’ve always admired about Mame is that she is unafraid to just ‘wing it.’  Anytime, anywhere.  She trusted that it all would work out… until she was confronted with the reality that Children Grow Up and Take the Reins — then it’s really and truly out of your control.

And that’s where I find myself today.  My little love is taking the reins, and making his own life — and I won’t be a part of his everyday life anymore.  No wonder I couldn’t even grasp that idea when I was onstage singing my heart out… I can barely get my head around it now.

But those lyrics… oh my, I have found myself thinking of them on and off throughout the 18 years since my son was born.  And now I understand — oh, how I understand! — their true meaning.

Although the song seems — at first listen — a song of regrets, it’s really just about a mother-figure trying to learn to let go: full of questions as to whether or not she did the right things at the right times (and how screwed up will he be because of what I did/did not do?).  And if I had the chance to do it all again, would I do anything differently… or would I do the same again, knowing what I know now, and how he turns out?

I freely admit I’ve winged it as Mom most of Z’s life.  Of course I’ve read books and articles, asked for friends’ advice, and relied on my own instincts… and he’s turned out pretty well so far.  But I know nothing stays the same, nothing is forever, and if you trust your heart and your gut, you’ll make the right choices along the way.

So, Mame darling: don’t worry.  You did great.  It all turns out ok in the end.

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If He Walked Into My Life

Where’s that boy with the bugle?
My little love, who was always my big romance…

Did he need a stronger hand?
Did he need a lighter touch?
Was I soft or was I tough?
Did I give enough?
Did I give too much?

At the moment when he needed me,
Did I ever turn away?
Would I be there when he called,
If he walked into my life today?

And there must have been a million things,
That my heart forgot to say.
Would I think of one or two,
If he walked into my life today?

Should I blame the times I pampered him,
Or blame the times I bossed him?
What a shame
I never really found the boy,
Before I lost him.

Were the years a little fast?
Was his world a little free?
Was there too much of a crowd
All too lush and loud — and not enough of me?

Though I’ll ask myself my whole life long,
What went wrong along the way?
Would I make the same mistakes
If he walked into my life today?

If that boy with the bugle, walked into my life today.

~ Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman for the musical, “Mame”

Braveheart

I was trying to fix dinner and had to keep stepping over the prone, EXTRAORDINARILY stretched out form of my 65 lb. dog.  She was bored.  Nothing worse than a bored dog in the kitchen while you’re actually trying to DO kitchen-y type things.  So naturally, with a saucepan in one hand, I tripped over the dog getting to the sliding door to the back yard; opened said sliding door which previously prone dog rocketed out of; and I immediately regretted the decision to let her out.  Because it was there, hanging in the air.  Unmistakably present.  Skunk.  

Yes, we are in the ‘burbs.  Suburbs that have been continuously “developed” since they were formed.  It’s really a wonder there’s any green left around here. Fortunately, there’s a wonderful conservation coalition that buys up land as part of a conservancy initiative, so we actually do have acres within our county that won’t have to bear the developers’ scythe.  Anyway, despite the very bustling suburbanites traipsing about their previously held territory, the wildlife here is still very much in residence.  We regularly have possums, foxes, raccoons, coyotes, ducks, geese, an occasional deer, and more than our share of rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, and the afore-mentioned skunks. 

I am convinced the coyotes and foxes have a non-aggression pact to leave the smaller, annoying, animal populations intact to harass the humans.  The 8-point buck that charged down the hill toward our backyard, jumped our fence, and led Gracie to chase him all around the yard before he leapt over the front gate and out of our yard this morning is, obviously, outside the realm of the treaty.

img_3019Typically I don’t have a problem with the wild things descending into my yard.  We only lost two boards with the buck jumping the fence, and we have extras for just such occasions (Ok, I’m not entirely certain the reason we have extras is for “when deer charge through…”). I actually get a thrill out of seeing them in and around my yard.  And, because Gracie has given up chasing all but the squirrels (they drive her insane), she generally doesn’t give a hoot about sharing her backyard with wildlife.  Even the bunnies.  There have been plenty of evenings I’ve called Gracie in, only to notice a fat, fluffy rabbit not six feet from her, hanging out, eating our grass, pooping pellets in the yard for Gracie to find the next day.  I know she sees them; she certainly smells them.  She just doesn’t give a damn.  She doesn’t even look embarrassed anymore when she comes in: “Yeah, yeah, I know, there’s a bunny in the yard. Really, Mama, get over it.”  Whether it’s the wisdom of age, or arthritis, or some sort of mammalian detente, she doesn’t chase rabbits anymore.

We have had our share of close encounters with wildlife, the buck just being the most recent.  The scariest was a late fall night, several years ago. Just after having let her outside, I heard Gracie suddenly losing her mind, barking like I’ve never heard her before: she was growling a feral, wild growl which was alarming in and of itself.  But it was the big, bristling-furry, scary thing with knife-like claws and flashing sharp teeth she had cornered that had me scared-stiff for a few moments.  Gracie had backed this monster up against the backyard fence, just to the left of the back door.  When I finally started breathing again, I tried calling Gracie off, but she didn’t even pause, and she never took her eyes off the monster.  I knew that if I tried to pull her off, both of us were in danger of being raked with claws or bitten with those razor teeth I saw.  She was holding it back by sheer, wild dog ferocity.  I raced back inside to get the big push broom, and tore back outside to try and scare the monster over the fence.  Only then did I realize we were fighting a raccoon.

Did you know they can sound like a bear when they’re cornered?  I mean, really, REALLY, REALLY like a growling bear (yes, I’ve heard a bear growling.  It sounded like the raccoon.)

He or she was probably foraging around the bird feeder and berry-filled shrubs when I let Gracie out for her night-time fence patrol and potty time.

raccoon-baring-teethBoth animals had puffed themselves up to their fullest extent: the raccoon virtually unrecognizable in it’s defensive posture; Gracie had not only her hackles up, but the entire ridge of short, rough fur running the length of her back from neck to tail was standing straight up.  Ears partway back, she, like the raccoon, was baring every tooth in her mouth, snapping and biting at the air, daring the other to get close enough for the other to get a chunk off the other.  Claws and paws were waving and swiping, Gracie almost looked like she was dancing.  Almost.

Between the two of us harrassing it — Gracie continuing her dance, me yelling and lunging the giant broom at him/her — the raccoon finally decided maybe the odds had tipped in the mad dog’s favor, and made a break for it over the fence.  Even then, Gracie didn’t let up her mad barking or put her fur down.  I ended up half-dragging, half-carrying the dog as she barked around me and between my legs, back where she had last seen her foe.  “That’s right! Don’t you dare show your face in my yard again! Run, you stinky furry thing, run!”

It took her a long time to calm down.  Hell, it took ME a long time to calm down!  First things first, I checked Gracie over from ears to tail to be sure she hadn’t been scratched or bitten.  Thankfully, I didn’t find a scratch on her.  But it was then I realized she had something in her mouth: after convincing her she should “drop it,” she spit out a big mouthful of raccoon fur.

Oh boy.

A call to the nighttime emergency vet; a trip over to double check she wasn’t bitten or scratched; a worming pill to be sure she hadn’t picked up any img_2124intestinal nasties by biting the raccoon; a trip back home; “cookies” for our brave girl; and THEN she collapsed into her bed, completely worn out.  I checked on her through the night, and in the morning, made her a bath appointment where they checked her over again (and got the wild animal funk out of her fur), and told her what a brave girl she was, followed by more treats and pets.  Gracie was liking the hero treatment (it brought “cookies” and tummy rubs, what’s not to like?).  Later I watched her patrol the yard a little more intently, carefully, but with such a sense of purpose: MY yard, MY people, MY job to keep everyone safe.

Yes, she’s a sucker for a tummy rub, and if you tell her she’s a pretty girl, she’ll gladly show you where Mama keeps the silver and jewelry.  But when it comes down to it, she’s not going to let anyone or anything hurt us — her people — if it’s at all in her power.

img_1682So even when she’s barking her head off for no apparent reason other than she’s bored and trying to get some neighborhood dogs to join in the chorus, I stop myself from being too stern when I stick my head out the door and say “Gracie! Leave it!”  She is a good girl, a brave girl, and knows what battles to fight in order to protect us, and those to leave.  Like this morning, she didn’t attack the buck, just chased it out of her yard.

I just hope that wisdom extends to skunks.  So far, so good.

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

Later, ‘gator

“See you later, alligator!”

“After a while, crocodile!”

That’s the rhyme my son and I used when he was in preschool.  Every morning when I dropped him off, we’d say the little sing-songy good-bye, and that was how he knew I’d be back for him in just a little while (2 hours).

Fast-forward to high school, and his school mascot was the Gator.  We had a few laughs about that, usually on the occasion of me dropping him off at school for one thing or another.

“See ya later, Gator.”  “After a while crocodile.”

Fast forward again, to last week:  we all survived college orientation.

Barely.

There is SO much more information, and SO much more that schools are doing for their students (one session I attended was called “Everybody has Mental Health,” and was about the counseling center and how to support your student during especially rough times in the coming years).  And of course, it’s SO much more expensive (So much.  So, so, very much.  Ouch.), I think the universities are feeling they owe parents this much.  Two days packed full of information for both students and parents.

While Z was off registering for classes, T and I were soaking up all manner of things.  There was so much offered in the way of parent seminars, we decided to divide and conquer.  Between the two of us, we gathered information about Studying Abroad (self-explanatory), University Housing (also self-explanatory), Dollars and Sense (university billing, college Work Study, and financial aid info), Learning to Let Go (exactly what it sounds like — T went to that one), and the afore-mentioned Mental Health seminar.  By the time we met back up with Z at the end of Thursday, my brain was on overload and nothing else stuck after 4:50pm that day.

But all that time, in the midst of all that was happening and all Z was about to experience, in the back of my mind I just kept thinking “I hope he finds someone to sit with at lunch.”

Isn’t that the thing we worry most about from the first time they go off to school?  We hope they feel like they’re a part of something; that they don’t feel left out; that they’re not lonely.  And here I was, thinking exactly the same thing for my almost-18-year-old.

As we parted ways after the general “welcome” session, I had to fight the urge to say “See you later, alligator,” knowing full well that if I did, I’d face the wrath of an embarrassed Freshman.  The overwhelming need I felt to let him know I’d be here at the end was visceral.  But I fought it, and by the time my will-power was gone, so was he: out the door with a hundred other soon-to-be college kids on their way to learning about freshman seminars and prerequisites.

Life has a funny way of letting you know everything is going to be ok.  This time, I was on the receiving end of the assurance: I discovered that Happiness is your son greeting you the second morning of orientation by saying “Hi — I’m meeting friends for breakfast.  See you later!”

After a while, crocodile.

Until Friday, Friends.

 

 

What so proudly we hailed

I hope my out-of-country readers will indulge me this week….

Despite the awfulness of the political climate these days, the insistent ringing of phones with caller ID numbers we don’t recognize, cringing every time we turn on the TV as yet another mud-slinging ad assaults our senses, and the bombardment of opinions crashing in on us from social media, I have to admit that the Fourth of July still stirs something in me.   I remember the words to almost every patriotic ballad we learned in grade school, singing with gusto and and hands over hearts.  Later, after a particular September day, over a decade and a half ago, those same songs were sung with tears.  No matter how, or even if, you remember them, they are generally part of the fabric of our upbringing in this nation.  And, there is one in particular that stands out for me, even today.

“The Star-Sthe star spangled bannerpangled Banner,” the United States of America’s national anthem, is from a poem Defence of Fort M’Henry written on September 13, 1814 by the 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet, Francis Scott Key after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British Royal Navy in Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812.

Ironically, the poem was set to the tune of a popular British song written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a men’s social club in London. “To Anacreaon in Heaven” (or “The Anacreontic Song”), with various lyrics, was already popular in the United States.  Set to Key’s poem and renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner”, it soon became a well-known American patriotic song.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was recognized for official use by the U.S. Navy in 1889, and by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916; but it wasn’t until 1931 when it was finally made the national anthem by a congressional resolution, signed by President Herbert Hoover — over 125 years after it was first written.  Proving that good things are, indeed, worth waiting for.

Even so, our national anthem is often argued to be “too hard” to sing.  Afterall, it does cover an octave and one fifth — not typically in anyone’s regular range unless they sing often; and although the poem has four stanzas, only the first is commonly sung today.  These words, however, are known to virtually every American older than a second-grader:

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

partial flagOur flag does wave.  We are free.  And every time this song is sung with wavering voices or played by beginning brass players; piped over loudspeakers in stadiums or sung live by local choirs; every time, I hope people spare a moment to remember why we sing.

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

paint stroke flagHow is it that the very story this song tells is so often forgotten?  How is it that every sports stadium in the United States of America is filled with the strains of this music, and the only line people typically cheer is the last?  What happened to remembering how this country was forged?

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

How can we complain that this is too difficult to sing, when the very idea of The United States of America was thought “too difficult” to even imagine when our Founding Fathers initially met?  Our flag does in triumph wave.

Although he ended his poem with a prayer (regardless of how you feel about that, it is a protected right under our flag and I respect that he was so moved), Francis Scott Key obviously felt that last line was most important: every stanza ends with it.  We are the home of the free and the brave.  Remember that.  Every time.  Even better: Let’s live up to that.  We did, once upon a time.  There is no good reason on this Earth that we can’t do it again.

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Until next Friday, Friends.  Cheers!flag flying navy background

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 our dear 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.

Bis Freitag, Freunde.  Prost!drawn heart

Design flaw

I have been reminded of this lately — all too often.  It’s times like these that I say to myself, “How long until he leaves for college?  Do we have to wait? Can he leave today?” 

I’m convinced this is why teens have hormonal floods: to drive us parents to the edge of insanity; thus to make their flight out of the nest not *quite* so heartbreaking.

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I have a bone to pick with whomever designed human beings:  who believed having a menopausal woman and a teenager living in the same house at the same time was a good idea?

I had my child later than the norm: I was 35 when Z was born.  And that was a good thing because I would have been a terrible parent in my 20s.  I have always known that (although I do wish I had the energy I had back then).  But I’m certainly not the only one having children at 35 or beyond.  So what’s with the design flaw?

IMG_1168I love my child.  I do.  Really.  I’m pretty sure.  Let me check and get back to you on that.

This week has been one that makes me think an ad on Craig’s list to sell the teenager doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all.  Hell, I’ll give him away.  For some reason, everything to him is magnified for the worst at least tenfold lately:

He’s going to perish from working “all the time.”  He works 22 hours a week now that school is out.

I asked him to change the sheets on his bed.  It’s been a week since I asked.  You don’t want to know how long the current ones have been in residence.  Clean sheets are still sitting on his dresser.  According to him, I’m too controlling.  Yeah, kid: I also control your access to the Internet in this house.  Remember that.

IMG_1370He has the privilege of having a car at his disposal, but suddenly he wants the sporty car to be available to him at all times.  I did offer a second choice, which was not driving at all.  He did not see the humor.

I reminded him that before he leaves for college in the fall, his bedroom and the “teen cave” in the basement need to be cleaned out.  This has been discussed for over a year now.  He is appalled that I even bring it up.

I don’t recognize this spoiled brat at all.  This is not how I raised him.

What happens to the teenage brain on hormonal overload?  Why do they think this kind of behavior is acceptable?  More importantly, when does it stop?

I have friends who say “Oh, the nice kid comes back eventually.  Usually around age 20.”  I know they’re trying to be supportive, but holy crap, I don’t know if I’ll last that long.  At least not without dealing with my kid in a manner in which society may decide it’s time for Dana to go away for a while.

IMG_1291Because I don’t look good in Jailhouse Orange or Asylum White, I decided to dig around to see what I could find to help me hold on.  In her article “Are Teenage Brains Really Different From Adult Brains?”, Molly Edmonds states, “In adults, various parts of the brain work together to evaluate choices, make decisions and act accordingly in each situation. The teenage brain doesn’t appear to work like this.”

Duh.

She goes on to say that “The brain’s remote control is the prefrontal cortex, a section of the brain that weighs outcomes, forms judgments, and controls impulses and emotions. This section of the brain also helps people understand one another.”

I also found out it is also the absolute last section of the brain to develop.

That explains a lot.

Add to this the hormonal changes at work, and it’s a wonder any of us lived to see 20: the adolescent brain pours out adrenal stress hormones, sex hormones, and growth hormones, which in turn influence brain development, and not always for the better. Testosterone increases to 10 times the previous amounts in adolescent boys.

In other words, our kids’ brains are a hot mess.

Of course, I can’t say that mine is much better.

Being in menopause is an interesting experience (aside from the hot flashes, night sweats, and the mood swings).  According to neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine, MD, “Before menopause, a woman’s hormones encourage her to avoid conflict. Our estrogenized brain circuits cause us to respond to stress with nurturing activities that are intended to protect our relationships.”  In other words, from puberty to menopause, a woman walks a fine line between making sure relationships are steady, and tries to keep anger or aggression dialed down.  And that urge doesn’t IMG_1383stop until the hormone supply that fuels it is cut off during menopause.  Brizendine continues, “As the ratio of testosterone to estrogen rises, the anger pathways in a woman’s brain become more like a man’s. Now she gets angry, whereas before she may have just bitten her tongue. At the very least, she’ll stand up for herself and say, “I’m not doing that anymore.”

Wow.  That explains why those little old ladies are so feisty!

So, in a nutshell:  here is my teenage son, feeling the surge of hormones flooding his brain and pretty much incapable of understanding adults; and here am I, experiencing the drain of hormones, leaving me less likely to put up with his crappy hormonal attitude.

Great combination.  Like bleach and vinegar.  Or drinking and driving.  Or Bonnie and Clyde.

These are the odds we face everyday as parents.  Good thing kids are so damn cute because it’s the only thing saving them sometimes.

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

A great agony, and other things about writing

https://i1.wp.com/www.reminddana.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/image6.jpg“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 play.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 work in 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

Gracie’s summer vacation

Not sure we’ll have the time for a family trip longer than a long weekend this summer ~ but we have our fond memories from last summer…

Ahhh, family vacations.  Those wondrous, happy forays into uncharted 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 Her 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, and 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.  Her 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 the house — everything is just like she left it.  She rings her 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?”

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