Here we go

Oh boy.

We’re smack dab in the midst of college hunting.

imageZ has a long list of colleges he wanted to look into. He’s been collecting names for about 9 months. This past weekend he began researching in earnest, and managed to scale it down to seven. Of those, we have visited two in the Midwest already – complete with the admissions intro and campus tour. Another is a “maybe,” with more research needed having come to the party late in the game. Another two are here in the Chicagoland area, so easy enough to schedule a visit any weekend this fall. That leaves two, and they aren’t nearby.

These final colleges are farther east: one in upstate New York, and the other is in Ontario. Yeah, Canada. Wow. That’s going away to college. Equidistant from home, and actually, the Canadian school is easier to fly to. But something about out of the country kind of blew my mind.

It also opens up a whole new ballgame in terms of the application process and searching out college financial aid: if he goes outside of the U.S., federal grants and scholarships don’t apply. As if the FAFSA wasn’t enough of a challenge.

imageDon’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled Z is looking “beyond” his comfort zone and wanting to stretch himself. It’s very exciting for all of us! Somehow, though, coming down to the short list has made it very real…and very close. And I’m not ready.

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.
Let me tell you, I’m really good at 20 Questions now as he heads into his junior year.

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.imageI guess I need to go back to preschool and pay better attention to the sharing part. Do you think that would help?

Until Tuesday, Friends. Cheers!

The reason I’m in this mess

imageLanguage. Words. Communication.  I’m fascinated by it all!

Yes, I majored in English.

I minored in Advertising, with a specialty in Public Relations Communications so at least it sounded like I could get a job after graduation.  It actually did lead to my all-time favorite job in the not for profit arts.  The “not for profit part” was me, though:  as much as I loved that job, I just wasn’t making enough to support my cat in the manner to which he was accustomed, which was having kibble in his bowl.  Forget about my own kibble.

My subsequent career took quite a few interesting hair pin curves along the way: account executive working for a graphic design firm; some freelance work in the corporate world; managing a summer music festival; office manager for a cable TV station; and ending up, ultimately, in advertising at a media company, with some other jobs interspersed along the way to keep things interesting (but mostly to keep my resume from having gaps).  Every single job has been about communication.  And I’ve always made sure writing has been an integral part of what I’m doing.

imageThat’s why I’m a writer now.  Well, as I said before, I’ve always been a writer, of any kind of writing, any chance I’d get.  But now I get to call myself “A Writer” because I quit my full-time job with benefits and decent pay to wrack my brains to come up with something MEANINGFUL to say twice a week as well as when I’m working on The Book… So there’s that.

But the real reason I’m now gainfully unemployed is because of two high school teachers.  Specifically Mrs. Rosten and Mr. Reilly.

(As you may have noticed in previous posts, I typically use first initials for the people I’m writing about.  But in this case, I think full names are warranted.)

Mrs. Rosten is, without a doubt, my favorite English teacher of of all time.  Her expository writing class imageopened my eyes to a whole new way of writing.  I also had a literature class with her, and it was the highlight of my school day!  But my absolute, favorite English class was Language Study.  From the first day when Mrs. Rosten explained how the word “assassin” came about (Google it, it’s fascinating!), I was hooked.  Learning how and why English is the way it is?  Nirvana!  Finding etymological keys to language throughout history?  Heaven!  While most of my friends were languishing in Western Lit, I was unlocking doors to language!  Yes, she turned me into a language geek.

Believe it or not, I was kind of shy before entering high school.  (Yes, really.  For those of you who know me now, stop rolling your eyes.)  Finding my scholastic niche was a gift from above — and Mrs. Rosten not only nurtured my questioning mind, but encouraged me all along the way.  Let me tell you: having a teacher you admire who encourages not only curiosity but also creativity; who takes the time to answer questions before, during, and after class (and in hallways between other classes); and is obviously enjoying teaching a subject is pure gold for a student.

Encouraging a teenager to delve into a subject and nurturing that spirit evolves into self-confidence (and I needed that!  What teenager doesn’t?).  The teacher who took that idea and ran marathons with it is my high school drama teacher and theatrical director, Mr. Reilly (Sir).  

He took a big chance on the not-very-sure-of-herself 16-year-old when he cast that year’s high school spring musical.  Terrified, exhilarated, humbled, and excited beyond measure were my feelings upon seeing the casting list posted on the board next to Mr. Reilly’s office door.  In that perfect moment — that breathtaking, tiny moment — I felt worthy: if Mr. Reilly felt I could do it, then I would do it!  

Showtime was the highlight of my high school days and nights.  I LOVED rehearsing!  Trying different things, bouncing ideas around, and best of all, working with my friends, well, it really didn’t get better than that.  That was due to the atmosphere Mr. Reilly cultivated.  When we were working on a show, I was Home. I felt completely comfortable being “me”. 

How funny is that?  I’m onstage pretending to be someone else, and it was the first time I’d felt comfortable in my own skin.  

imageHow can you truly express thanks to the person who taught you that everything you need is within you?  And I’m not just talking about performing onstage, singing, dancing, and acting.  How do you thank someone for believing in you?  How do I thank you, Sir, that even when things went wrong, you took ANOTHER chance on me without (outwardly) blinking.  HOW?  I don’t have an answer yet.  I might not ever come up with an answer.

How do I thank these two Teachers (capital T worthy Teachers) for being the foundation for me to quit a “job” and focus on my passion?

Because it really is all their fault I’m in this mess.  They started the ball rolling back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, encouraging a shy teenage girl to write and study and perform and speak out.

Life is messy.   Quitting a job, with a steady salary is messy.  Starting over is messy.  Writing, editing, and publishing is messy.   Making money off of that mess is another thing altogether, and not messy at all.

But this is is one mess I don’t mind one single bit.  I love what I’m doing.  Bonus points for having the chance to show my teenage son that happiness really does come from pursuing your dream and eventually catching up with it!  And even more bonus points for having a partner who (even if he really is wondering what the hell I’m trying to do) supports me no matter what is happening.

To all my teachers, to all of my son’s teachers, to all of my friends and family who are, or were, teachers:  thank you.  You are all superstars.  I could not do what you do.

imageAnd to the teachers, like Mrs. Rosten and Mr. Reilly, who encourage and push us all beyond our own self-imposed boundaries: I still don’t have the words, other than to say “You changed my life.  Thank you.”

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

 

 

Unfurgettable

“If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude,
then animals are better off than a lot of humans.”
~ James Herriot
With the exception of my years away at college, and the first month living on my own, I have always shared my home with pets.  Dogs and cats, and one gerbil.  All of my pets have been long-lived (except the poor gerbil), and I think they were, and are, all happy lives.  I know my own life has been forever changed by the animals who have been such an integral part of my time on this earth.  They are special.  They are family.
All our pets have been healthy, with just a few unscheduled vet visits here and there for various minor illnesses; occasionally something more serious.  Our two previous cats, Merlyn and Tully, lived to be 19 and 10 respectively.  Both developed kidney disease in their later lives; the 19-year-old better able to cope with the disease physically and mentally than the 10-year-old eventually did.  We treated each of them to keep them comfortable and maintain a good quality of life.  When it was time to let them go, they did indeed let me know, and our blessed, compassionate veterinarian came to our home to help them gently go, comfortably and peacefully.
“Animals have a much better attitude to life and death than we do. 
They know when their time has come.  We are the ones that suffer when they pass,
but it’s a healing kind of grief that enables us to deal with other griefs…”
~ Emmylou Harris
It’s something of a shock to find the years have gone by swiftly, and I find we have “senior” pets living in our home again.  Everyone is healthy for their ages, and living their lives happily.  But once in a while, I’ll see a little more gray on a muzzle; a little bit slower step; a little hesitation before jumping up on the stool beside me as I write.  And I know the time will be coming again to say “goodbye”, and always sooner than I am ready to deal with.
But I’ve just returned from a semi-emergency trip to the vet with Murph, and those thoughts are making my heart ache.
We’d been visiting my Dad on the Gulf shore for a week, and our regular trusted cat sitters had been taking care of the kitty-kids (our dog goes to Puppy-Camp, aka, the kennel).  The evening we’d returned, Murphy seemed out of sorts, but I chalked it up to him being miffed we’d left for a week.  The next morning, however, I knew something was wrong: he kept shaking his head, somewhat violently at times.  And the sneezing fits!  At one point he lost his balance and had to sit down abruptly.  Then the indignity of having kitty snot on his whiskers and bib was just too much, and he ran and hid in the bedroom closet.  When he finally did settle to sleep for a bit, he wanted to be under the covers (unheard of for Murph) and wanted my hand to cradle his head.  Once he fell asleep, albeit fitfully, I used my other hand to reach for my phone and called the vet.
“Pets are humanizing.  They remind us we have an obligation and
responsibility to preserve and nurture and care for all life.”
~ James Cromwell
Because he is a “senior” kitty now, our vet wanted to do some blood work to rule out some of the nastier possibilities, and because I worked at a vet’s office once upon a time and saw some of those nasties, I concurred.  Fortunately for us, it is “just” an upper respiratory infection.  A shot of antibiotics, some IV fluid, and now home to rest.  Murphy is sleeping peacefully on the living room sofa — his “lookout” to keep tabs on the rest of the family.  I am grateful.  And I am sad.
I know it is greedy of me to want them here with me forever.  I know it’s not realistic.  I am most afraid I’ll cross the line between helping them living comfortably and forcing them to stay past time for them to have gained their rest… but I won’t.  I can’t.  And I will be there at the end, telling them it’s ok to go, and holding them long past when their mighty hearts stop beating.  And I will cry.  I will mourn.  And my heart will break into a million pieces, and yet somehow still so full of the love they gave me unconditionally.  And I will be a better person for having them share my life.  My precious pets have been with me through all the chapters of my life; good and bad, awesome and horrible, and everyday.  They keep on loving me EVERY DAY.
We have always adopted from shelters, and I don’t ever see that changing.  And one day, I won’t feel the grief to be so stifling.  And I will eventually feel that “tug” on my heart that leads me to one of the animal shelters our community supports.  And I have no doubt whatsoever that there will be a furry someone who looks at me and says “There you are!  I’ve been waiting for you.  Let’s go home!”
“It’s difficult to understand why people don’t realize
that pets are gifts to mankind.”
~ Linda Blair
Until then — and ever after — I will love and cherish our furry family here with us now.  I will embrace their aging with as much grace as I can, knowing we outlive these marvelous creatures only because they come into this world already knowing how to love unconditionally, and that’s what they are here to teach us. Everyday.  If we would just watch and listen and learn.
“…I just don’t know how I would have lived without animals around me…”
~ Betty White
image
Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers to you all, furry and otherwise!

Dear Amy Poehler

Dear Amy,

May I call you Amy?  I know we’ve never met, but after reading your book, Yes Please, I feel like we just had a 2-week slumber party*.  And after you’ve seen someone in their hypothetical pajamas, it seems we should be on a first-name basis.

I must admit something to you first:  before reading your book, I was never a “fan.”  It’s not that I didn’t like you!  No, no!  I just didn’t know you.  Your movies tended to reach toward a different demographic than the one I fall into: overworked, overstressed, 40-50 something-or-other-mom-of-teenager-people.  And although I enjoyed your tenure on Saturday Night Live, that was when I was lucky to make it to Saturday nights, period. And forget about Tivo/DVR: I have shows from the early 2000s still waiting in the queue.  So, please forgive me for not knowing your most memorable sketches and movie titles.

IMG_3883Another admission:  I’m not really sure what drew me to your book on the shelf at Barnes & Noble.  Maybe because I was so desperate for a “yes” in my life at the time, and there is that big, pink neon, capital YES on the cover.  Actually, your entire attitude comes through on that cover:  “HELLO – YES, ME, OVER HERE, I’D LIKE SOME OF THIS, TOO!”  Me too!  Me too!  And as the front dust cover says, “In a perfect world… We’d get to hang out with Amy Poehler…”  And maybe all I needed for a perfect world right then was hanging out with you (and, because the self-help section was no help at all).

But truly, after reading (and re-reading certain pages), I want to have coffee with you.  I know at first reading that doesn’t sound like much.  But you need to understand that I HATE coffee.  I mean, gag me with a spoon hate.  I try it every few years in case my taste buds have suddenly gone AWOL, but the result is always the same: I take a sip and immediately wish I had soap nearby to wash out my mouth.  I look like a dog trying to get peanut butter off the roof of my mouth, but much more worried because I’m absolutely convinced that the taste won’t ever go away.

Anyway, for you, Amy, I would drink the coffee if it meant sitting and chatting with you about life, love, being the mom to sons (even though I have just one — which is enough for me), writing, divorce, finding the courage to say whatever you want, the energy to do whatever you like, and the wisdom to be whoever you are.

(I hope the coffee analogy was strong enough to show you how much I am willing to risk to spend a day with you.)

I must have missed you in New York.  I lived out east for seven years, although I discovered I wasn’t cut out to work in Manhattan: I was a lousy commuter.  Afterall, if you miss the train by 1 second, you’ve still missed the train.

I, too, moved to Chicagoland (still here).

See?  We already have so much in common!  I, too, love performing (I grew up in the theater and it wasn’t until high school that I realized not everyone had the opportunity to be involved in theater.  I just thought the ones who didn’t were fun-challenged); however, my days on the community theater stage ended when I left Michigan in my late 20s — something I do miss.  The theater, I mean (although, I did have an awful lot of fun in my late 20s, too…).  I am ‘Mom’ to a wildly charming, incredibly intelligent, amazingly talented son (at least for today — check back with me tomorrow: that kid may have snuck away looking for an equally charming, intelligent, talented mother, and left the little monster behind).

And I am looking for the same answers as everyone else.

Well, not that we’re all looking for EXACTLY the same answers: I’ve never thought of Life like algebra where there’s one answer for each problem; but more like an interpretive dance, maybe.  You know, it means whatever the hell each person thinks it means, and some of us are lost and STILL wondering.

But more importantly, I want the chance to tell you that your idea of “good for you, not for me” is as close to The Answer to Life as anything I’ve ever heard!  I mean, it is THE BOMB!  The ABSOLUTE TRUTH!  EXACTLY what I needed to hear (other than there really is a miracle pill for weight loss that won’t ultimately kill me)!  I know it doesn’t answer what IS right for me or anyone else, but it allows some breathing room to figure it out.  For instance, I am 100% behind all of my fellow Earthsters — I just don’t happen to share all of their beliefs: They are Good for You, Not for Me.  To All the Moms of the world, I support you!  Your decisions about what is best for your families are Good for You, Not for Me.

Hillary-AmyI personally feel that this mantra would solve all the world problems by simply getting people to mind their own damn business, and I will be first in line to vote for you when you run for President.  By the way, your impersonation of Hillary is AMAZING!  I wonder if she can do an impersonation of you?

Before I go any further, I feel I should tell you there is someone else I worship admire in my  life: Carly Simon.

I wonder if you’ve ever heard her song “Don’t Wrap it Up”?

“I’ll take some of this, I’ll have some of that
And several more of these.
Now that I see it, I know what I like
So I’d like it if you please.
I ain’t nobody’s princess, stuck in Sunday School!
So I’ll help myself to love,
And have the whole career!
Don’t wrap it up, I’ll eat it here…

…I’ve stood there patiently waiting in line
A take-out man’s an O.K. plan
If you’ve got lots of time
(Especially if he is biodegradable)

I ain’t nobody’s little princess, stuck in some Sunday School —
I ain’t nobody’s fool!
So I’ll help myself to love,
There’s nothing at all to fear (woo hoo!)!
Don’t wrap it up, I’ll eat it here…”

From the first time I heard it years ago, I adopted it as kind of my anthem.  She sang, and I heard her.

You wrote, and I heard you.

Thank you.

cup of coffeeSo call me next time you’re in Chicagoland and we’ll meet up.  For you, Amy, even for coffee.

Very sincerely,

Dana

 

Until Tuesday, Friends.  Cheers!

*Yes, admission #146:  it took me two weeks to read the book.  The only time I had at that point was just before going to bed, and I was lucky I could keep my eyes open long enough to turn a page.  Give me a break.

 

 

Remember when the dog knocked over the tree?

Despite wearing my heart on my sleeve, and feeling every feeling in the room every moment, I’m pretty adept at bouncing back. And I wanted my child to have that feeling of knowing he’s going to be ok, too, no matter what Life throws at him. I’ve tried to instill this in him from the beginning. Nothing like trial by fire, though, and although I’m glad of the lessons learned, I hate that he had to go through a crash course in learning to lean on his resilience several years ago.

It was the first weekend in December. I had just shown my not-soon-enough-to-be-ex the door a couple of weeks prior. However, I was determined to stick to our Christmastime traditions as much as possible for Z’s sake. Number one on the list was putting up the tree.

IMG_3066We went to our favorite place and picked out what we both thought was the perfect tree. Although Z pointed out several 12 foot tall trees, I managed to convince him that the 8-9 foot tall trees were “even better”! Having a high ceiling is great at this time of year, but I wasn’t prepared to wrestle anything much over our heights combined: a 9-year-old isn’t typically a whole lotta help yet in getting a tree through a door and upright in a stand.

We got it home, off the car, in the house, in the stand, strung with hundreds of twinkling white lights, decorated with the seemingly endless supply of ornaments coming out of the boxes from the basement, and a few hours later sat back to admire our work of art. Then we adjourned to the kitchen to stave off the munchies and

CRRRRRRRAAAAAAASSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

We ran back to the living room to see the 9-foot Christmas tree dead to rights, sprawled over the floor and across the coffee table. We could also see shards of colored glass, hooks, water from the stand… and a very, very scared and cowering 50-lb young dog hiding between the two living room chairs.

Z was crying, but speechless. I was speechless, and just about wigging out. I told myself to calm down, and just get the tree upright, that’s all.

Riiiiigghhht.

Have you ever witnessed a 5’3” person trying to lift and walk a heavily decorated 9-foot tree upright while it’s still in the stand? Keep in mind a 4’ little person was trying to “help”, and the dog was circling us both, trying to herd us away from the big nasty tree that was surely going to devour us all.

It must have looked pretty funny to anyone walking by: a comedy of errors, minus the soundtrack (me swearing and yelling at both the short people – furry and otherwise – to move so I could try to pick up the tree and get the stand fixed).

Since I hadn’t grown additional arms since the crash occurred, I had no choice but to rely on the 9-year-old. Trying to give him directions on how to fix the stand while I held the tree at bay was something I seem to have mostly wiped from my mind. But, obviously, somehow I managed to communicate clearly enough what was needed, and he was able to formulate enough of a solution (since my face was buried in the full and aromatic branches of our Fraser Fir tree, I couldn’t see a thing) to make it work.

Once we got the tree upright, I turned and surveyed the devastation in the rest of the living room.

broken ornamentsGlass was all over. I stepped back to see that the portion of the tree that had hit the floor and table was devoid of any intact ornaments except the soft ones. Every. Single. Glass. Ornament. Was. Broken. Whole tree branches were broken and twisted. The big, hot tears threatened to spill over.

Ages-old orbs, the first ornaments Z picked out himself, ornaments we had chosen from past trips to different places, handblown ornaments… shattered.

Naturally at that point, the doorbell rang.

If the living room didn’t face the front, I would have totally ignored it – but there was no way you can hide your movements in front of a huge picture window with the drapes wide open.

I flung open the door – to find myself facing my not-soon-enough-to-be-ex.

“What?” I said, rather tersely, and then got mad at myself for not composing myself enough in front of him (I discovered later I had pieces of pine tree stuck in my hair, and I was covered in tree sap – I’m sure he was thinking along the lines of “what the hell?”). He hadn’t called, he hadn’t mentioned in any way shape or form that he was coming by.

At the next moment, though, I decided I wasn’t going to give him time to answer. I looked at him with his mouth set in the now-all-too-familiar sneer, and decided he was an unwelcome interruption. Kind of like door-to-door missionaries. But worse. And I said “This really isn’t a good time. Call me later.”

And more or less slammed the door in his face.IMG_3822Without giving him another thought, I turned to the wreckage in my living room. I didn’t give myself much time to mourn those poor dashed beauties – I needed to get the glass off the floor so there wouldn’t any emergency room visits later on. One disaster a night is my limit. Dustbuster and wastebasket in hand, I picked up the larger pieces and kept myself from inspecting them too closely for fear I’d realize what broken memory I was holding in my hand and then I’d break. I had put Z in charge of keeping the dog from walking on the glass. He suddenly cried out “MAMA! Look!” and was pointing at the dog’s back. Embedded so deeply into her fur, up and down her back, were pine needles. Dozens and dozens of short, sharp pine needles.

I dropped the dustbuster and got down in front of her. She was terrified, and looked so pitifully at me. I checked her from head to tail, and with the exception of the pine needles and sap, she was fine physically. I gently pulled the needles from her fur, and as I sat on the floor next to her, Z was at her head, holding her gently and talking to her in a very calm – and grown up – fashion. After we took care of our doggy, she went off to hide in her kennel – not from us, but that nasty awful scary tree (if you don’t believe animals can suffer from PTSD, come over next December and watch us bring in the Christmas tree). Z and I finished cleaning up, reconfigured the light strands and remaining ornaments, and promptly collapsed on our backs on the floor, staring up at the tall ceiling feeling SO thankful we didn’t get a taller tree, sweating profusely, and both wanting to cry.

And then my higher power kicked in.

I turned to my dear, sweet son and said, “hey, remember when the dog knocked over the tree?”

His blond little head snapped around and he looked at me in such an alarmed manner, I’m sure he was thinking “This is it. This is Mama cracking up.” But he saw my face and realized that old black humor was paying a visit. He shook his head and said right back “Too soon, Mama. Too soon.”

Resilience.

IMG_3674That is a moment embedded in my head, not because of the disaster wrought by a poor unsuspecting, gangly puppy dog backing up into an unstable 9-foot tree (we tie our trees to the walls now), but because that was the definitive moment I knew my child had a key, a strength, a super-power, that would serve him through the adolescent years to come, into college and adulthood.

Now, when things are rough, and one of us is in a state of near exhaustion or “I can’t handle anything else being thrown at me,” the other turns and says:

“Hey, remember the time the dog knocked over the Christmas tree?”

Does it fix anything? No. But it makes us stop and reevaluate the current situation (one of these days I’m going to create a scale, kind of like the doctors use to describe pain, only this one will be “how disastrous is it really?” with rainbows and smiley faces at one end of the spectrum, and fallen Christmas trees at the other end). It reminds us about that especially emotionally-charged Christmas when we uprighted a tree taller than we could really manage, and we did it together. And came out the other side intact (unlike the tree) with a kind of funny story to tell.

Too soon? No, not at all.

Until Friday, Friends. Cheers!

IMG_3789

(more than) Four weddings and (more than) a funeral

“Why don’t we stay in touch like we say we will?” my best girlfriend, E, wondered aloud over the phone. She and her husband, D, had recently returned from a family imagefuneral in Ohio. And although funerals are not the happiest of circumstances to reconnect with people, if your family is like mine, you find yourself smiling – even laughing – hugging, and chatting up a storm with cousins and family friends over casseroles and cake.

The last time my Dad’s whole side of the family got together was at my Grandma’s funeral – over 10 years ago. We made the trip back to Saginaw, Michigan, about half an hour from Midland where my sister and I had grown up. Most of the rest of the family had stayed in and around Saginaw and its townships after venturing into adulthood; a few moved further away, as my sister and I did. Some went away and came back to mid-Michigan.

We are a large group. When she died, Grandma had 4 children, and 10 grandkids who were all married or otherwise partnered, with their own children – so it seems we multiplied exponentially. But everyone came back for Grandma one last time.

We all met up the first time that week at the funeral home. Family arrived early, before visitation started. Hugs and kisses were shared all around. Exclamations over how big cousins’ kids had become. Talk about how the next two days would play out. Then guests coming to pay their respects began arriving, and it was time to greet friends as they arrived out of the past and into the present.

The day of the funeral went by in a blur. I remember sitting with my sister. I remember driving to the cemetery. But not much in between.

I do remember afterwards.

Not in detail, but in the warmth we all shared. It began as we cousins recalled getting together as kids with our parents and grandparents – usually at Uncle B & Aunt M’s house. My only 2 girl cousins, D & K, are older than me; D by several years, but K by just 1 or 2 and I followed her everywhere when we were kids! We were sitting close now, just like we used to as kids pouring over teen magazines and record jackets and silly girl jokes and whispered secrets. Chairs pulled closer, ties loosened, shoes kicked off, we cousins resurrected funny family stories, some I’d never heard before. We all got happily lost for a little while down that lane as children again.

As it got dark, people needed to hit the road. Children and coats and flowers from the service were gathered; addresses, emails, and phone numbers were exchanged, all with promises to call and keep in touch.

Why don’t we?

We don’t get to have those big crazy family gatherings anymore, we’re all too spread out. It was so much easier when we all lived within an hour of everyone else. And when you have a Matriarch reeling everyone back in on a fairly regular basis. Especially then.

The same dynamic goes for high school and college friends – people move away, create their new lives. Life happens.

imageLife happens when there’s a wedding. Family and friends are invited from all over. And because it’s a wedding, everyone does their very best to be there.  It’s a celebration of Life, and an invitation to those who haven’t been on that most recent part of the Journey to come and catch up and celebrate.

Life happens when there’s a funeral. Family and friends come from all over. I’ve always thought of those services as a celebration of not only the Life lost, but the Lives of everyone who attends the funeral. We are embracing our own lives, and embracing those people who are still with us on this Earth. It doesn’t matter if we saw them 20 years ago or 2 days ago. Funerals make us sad. But they also make us grateful if we let them.

imageWe’ve all walked into a wedding or funeral or reunion with apologies on our lips for not being better at keeping in touch since the “last time.” But I’m starting to believe it’s not necessary to apologize. We’ve all been there, done that, and sometimes that’s just the way it is. When you’re at different stages of life all at different times, it’s just plain hard to connect regularly. No excuses needed: that’s Life.

I very happily hear from my 2 “girl” cousins via Facebook every once in a while, and get to see pictures of their families. And they are MARVELOUS cheerleaders from afar! I’m so thankful for Facebook at those times and so many more. I consider it a small window into the lives of people for whom I care, who are spread out all over the world. I feel that way about texts and emails, too (except for those missives from those foreign prince friends, needing me to go to the bank and wire them money; really, guys – get a credit card!).

If Christmas cards are the height of what is manageable, I feel lucky to be on your list! And I will genuinely exclaim at how big the kids have gotten, and ooh and ahh gleefully over the new furry member of the family. And I will stop for a moment and wish we could get together for a glass of wine, or a walk on a beach, or sit around and recall fond memories in person. But I won’t guilt-trip you by saying “why don’t we get together more often?” I’m grateful to have been thought of at such a crazy time of year. And should the opportunity arise to meet up, we’ll take it from there!

I might very well be near a device with an actual keypad (I write/type like I talk: in more than 140 characters for sure), and send a message/email/text telling you I just received your card and thank you so much I miss you and how are you? and you’ll know I’m thinking of you.

If you don’t get that message, please know that if you took the time to send me a card or photo, text or email, FB message or missive by carrier pigeon, I am feeling very grateful that you are in my life but am up to my eyeballs in Life at this end. I know you’ll understand and think to yourself, “no apologies needed.”

image

Until Tuesday, Friends.  Cheers!

Remember this. Please.

When someone you care about is experiencing a loss – whether it’s a death, a tragic accident, someone’s loved one going into rehab, a divorce, a serious illness:
SHOW UP.
SAY something.
LISTEN.  Please.

But I hate to tell you, it’s not enough to say “sorry” and expect the Other to move on because you’re tired of the emotional distress.  Think how tired the Other must feel living with it all the time.  Glennon Doyle Melton, who pens the blog Momastery, says “run towards it, sit in it and soak up some of the pain.”  Even a tiny amount absorbed helps, it really does.  Dropping out of the Other’s life doesn’t.  Be a friend who actively cares for the long haul.  Please.

teddy bearsI’m not saying you have to FIX anything. A tragedy is a tragedy precisely because it can’t be fixed.  Empathize.  Hold a hand.  Bring crazy movies.  Bring chocolate.  Bring Diet Coke.  Bring wine.  Lend some of your strength.  Lend a shoulder.
Help them be strong.
Help them be.
Help them.

Please.

Here’s the good news:  no one expects you to do it all!  Just pitch in.  Give what you can.  Use the gifts you have.  Please.

But it’s not easy.  And it is messy.  There’s no getting around that.  Just imagine, though, if there was no one there to help you in the midst of the biggest mess in your life.

I once read somewhere that children don’t always need a “teachable moment” for every thing that goes wrong.  Sometimes what they really, simply, need is for someone to commiserate.  “You’re right: that sucks.”IMG_3223

You feel what you feel – no one can justifiably tell you HOW you “should” feel about anything.  But sometimes in the deep dark times, you need more.  “I don’t want someone to FIX anything – just validate my feeling as I do!  Let me know I’m not crazy for feeling this way!”

Don’t we all need to hear “I’m so sorry – that really sucks” at times?  And doesn’t it make you feel better to know someone is right there with you, even if there’s nothing to be done? You’re not alone feeling that way.  Who knew “that sucks” could be so powerful?

But it is.  It really, truly is.

I hope and pray no one I care about has a tragedy befall them. (That’s not terribly realistic, but I still hope.)  I’m asking you to just remember you may very well find yourself in the Other’s shoes someday.  And you’d want the people you care about to come to your side.  It’s devastating when they don’t, making the tragedy even worse.

The Other in the midst of tragedy doesn’t have a choice.  You do.  And the Other needs you to make the choice to BE there with them.  Please.

IMG_3597Don’t wait to be asked: when a Big Bad Awful does strike, the Other can’t find their way out of the fog; time is an enemy at that point; and grief is paralyzing.  When getting out of bed is an achievement, expecting the Other to be able to make plans is inexcusable.  I was always the one who made plans and organized for everyone else.  When I did reach out, and was told to basically help myself, I recoiled in shock – and fear.  Some people I thought I could rely on, to whom I automatically turned, suddenly didn’t have time for me.  Couldn’t be bothered.  Didn’t know what to say.  Didn’t want to “choose sides”.  Didn’t want to get caught up in the drama.

But I was beaten over the head with the drama, dropped in the middle of it, and left there.  Alone.  It’s scary.  And sickening.  Debilitating.

IMG_3568Thankfully, gratefully, I did have a greater safety net of loving – and greatly loved – people: T, E, and L were (and still are) my heroes. They and others, stepped up, and into, the midst of this Big Bad Awful.  They didn’t fix anything.  They didn’t solve anything.  They did something greater: they were HERE.

Although I’ve moved on from the Big Bad Awful and am delightfully happy in this life I’ve made, looking back on it, I really did need people to just say “I’m thinking of you” (“I don’t know what to say, except I care about you” is all that needs saying if you’re lost for words).  Or “we’re taking you to dinner,” and it didn’t even matter if it was 1/2 an hour at McDonalds.  I certainly needed to hear “That sucks.”  And I needed it throughout the horrifyingly long ordeal – not just for the first couple of weeks.  I needed someone else to lead.  I needed people to *keep* showing up (yep, I was needy – we all are in times of crisis).  And sometimes just hearing “that sucks” was really and truly enough for me.

What it comes down to is this:  if we don’t have time to be there for the Other people in our lives, then we’re not fully living.  And if you’re not fully living, then part of you is dead.  And THAT sucks.

Be there.  Please.

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

P.S.  What have you found to be most helpful when a Big Bad Awful strikes?  Leave your thoughts in the Comments section.  Sharing ideas can help us all move towards being better versions of ourselves and thus, better friends!

 

 

 

Here’s to the men I love most in this world

Happy Father’s Day!

Regardless of your feelings towards this Hallmark moment, it never hurts to remind the men, especially the fathers in your life, how much they mean to you. And sometimes, we all need an “in your face” moment to remind us to do it.

Not everyone has a positive male role model in their lives. And I don’t just mean fathers, but ANY positive male figure. It’s a very real fact that too many kids in the United States grow up without a positive male role model. Our children deserve all the goodness and positive role models they can get in their lives. We ALL need positive influences!

I know there are many advocates that insist children must grow up with both a mother and a father. And in a perfect world, that would be ideal. But there is nothing perfect in this world. It’s only ideal if both of those relationships are HEALTHY relationships. There is nothing good – and I mean NOTHING – when one of those “parents” are toxic. The court system is still way behind in accepting this fact, and in my own experience the court only managed to muddy the waters and boy alonespend more of my money on a court-appointed “advocate” for my child. She “advocated” that by constantly throwing Z at his “father” the relationship would eventually stick. It didn’t. All that was achieved was hurt and resentment on Z’s part (and countless more sessions with the child psychologist).  The legal system has a long way to go in catching up with psychology and actually doing what is healthy for children.  The key element in any relationship is that it is a healthy relationship.

In the meantime, on behalf of these kids, may I ask something of you? If you are a man and there is a child in your family, in your life, in your neighborhood, who is missing that key element, that healthy relationship, step up to the plate. You don’t have to “fix” anything; no one expects you to take the place of a father; no one expects anything other than asking yourself “if I were that child, what could someone do to help?”

lonely childIt can be as simple as taking notice of the quiet kid you know from down the block when you cross paths and making eye contact with a “hello”; inviting your niece or nephew out for ice cream once in a while; including the neighbor kid whose family life has been in upheaval to join in with your kids’ front yard frisbee game; talking with a female friend whose adolescent son needs to start shaving and offering to give her son a few shaving tips, maybe even teaching him to tie a tie. Supporting the neighborhood kids out selling cookies/wreaths/light bulbs/popcorn/detergent for school or club fundraisers – you don’t need to buy more than one of something to boost their confidence. Taking a few rides around the block with your girl alonenephew or niece as they learn to navigate behind the wheel. Telling a young woman or a young man in your life that she or he is “enough” in their own right, and that they don’t need to accept society’s definition of what is, or is not, “enough.”

Signing up to be a Big Brother or Big Sister – a fantastic program designed to match up “bigs” with “littles” in their own communities who are missing the key element of a positive role model. Keep in mind this is not “replacing” a parent – that’s why they are called Big BROTHERs and SISTERs. Everyone I know who has been a part of this program has never regretted it.

The key in all of this is making sure these kids know they are worth your time; not just one time, but all the time.

And on this Father’s Day, I want to let all the men in my child’s life know how much I love you: Z’s teachers, principals, and coaches; his Godfather and Godbrothers; my Dad (Papa); T’s Dad who has folded Z into the family (bonus Grandfather!); his Uncle J; my neighbors; the crossing guards and bus drivers; our family doctor who holding handtakes a little extra time at Z’s appointments to ask about tennis or drivers ed or what he’s reading;  A, his first “guy” babysitter whom Z thinks is still pretty cool (he is!) and showed him that men make great caregivers, too; past co-workers who have genuinely expressed interest in Z when he’d come to the office and talked with him about all kinds of things; friends near and far who “Like” and comment on my social media pages when I put up pictures or brag (bless you all for putting up with those moments – he’s my first and last, so I’ve gotta get it all in with him) – your positive comments to and about him make him smile, even when he’s rolling his eyes and saying “M-O-m!” in mock exasperation.

The greatest role model, in my mind, is the man who steps up and into an already established family, big or small, regardless of the difficulties, and takes on that responsibility of being a positive role model…and accepts it as a gift.

Keep in mind, I’m pretty biased. T came into our lives and took on that part of parenting I could never really replicate.

Sure, I could have probably taught Z how to shave, but not with any real authority on which blades or shaving cream worked best.  It’s different having a man teach you.

I love that you're my dadI could have put in all the time as passenger to Z’s driving practice, but I still have all my hair and (most) of my sanity because T took him out to practice part of the time, too.

I couldn’t have taught him how to tie a tie – I can’t do it for the life of me. It would have been clip-on city here.

Yes, Z talks to me about all kinds of things, but I know it’s different having a man to talk to about stuff. T has not backed down from any of the more “challenging” issues. Even icky ones.

And simply the fact that I am not a single parent, struggling to make all the right decisions on my own is a huge gift – to both me and Z. There’s something to be said when you can present a united front on some issues, not to mention when another adult compliments a child it goes a long way. After all, if it’s Mom saying it, well, she has to because she’s your mom.

IMG_3606Our family is fuller and richer for having T – a good person, a good man – become part of our crazy little tribe. This is a healthy relationship Z is experiencing, one that I wish every child on this planet could have.

When I realize all the support Z continues to have from all the men in his life, the richness and goodness he has pouring in to him from all quarters of his life, I think both of us know he was never missing anything. And even more, I believe we are both far more aware every day of his being blessed by so much love and caring.

Happy Father’s Day to every man who’s made a positive difference in a child’s life and to those who continue to do so. The World is a better place for you being here.  I love you all.Happy fathers day

Until Tuesday, Friends.  Cheers!

 

 

 

Moments of Grace with Ferris Bueller

I was pedaling fast and hard for so many years; ever since the Big Bad Awful anyway. I grabbed that wobbly old unicycle and never got off of it.

I couldn’t stop – what if I couldn’t get back up?
Couldn’t look around, I’d lose my balance and fall off.
Pedal. Fast. Hard. Don’t look down!
Don’t look up! Look straight ahead!
Just. Keep. Pedaling.

Then the Appendectomy from Hell happened.

Blindsided.

I learned what that really meant, and I learned it the hard way. It knocked me off that unicycle with a two-by-four, and I didn’t realize what hit me until it was too late. I never had a choice in getting off that damn unicycle.  ICU will do that to you.

Some recovery time later, more of the Big Bad Awful attacked, and I was back up in the seat. Starting over again. Pedal. Hard. Fast.

And then I remembered this:

Ferris Bueller                                              ~Ferris Bueller (by the inimitable John Hughes)

There’s a reason that movie will always be around and strike such a true chord with someone; everyone.  Somewhere.  Everywhere.

I’ll cut to the chase and remind us all what the moral of the story is:
Life is always happening. It doesn’t wait for you to pick yourself up after a fall, no matter how far or how serious the injuries.  No matter how busy you are. No matter how many “shoulds” are on your list of to-do.  Even if you kill the car. Life moves pretty fast – not out of spite, not at all, that’s just what Life does. It will still be there after a fall; after your list of “shoulds” is finished – but it will have moved along without you. Life – your life – will have changed.  And you’ll have missed it. Worst of all, you’ll miss things that will never come around again in your lifetime.

But.

Every once in a very great while…seagull

A Moment of Grace occurs.

You look around.
You look up…
You look down!
You. Stop. Pedaling.

And you look up from where you’ve landed – and Life is there waiting for you; even holding out a hand. Saying “look around, you’re missing it.”  And you leave the unicycle on the ground. Behind you.  And you walk with Life down one path, then another; sometimes you even stop and smell those crazy roses or get lost in a painting.

You discover you’ve outpaced whatever it was you were pedaling away from so fast.  And walking is just as good. The view isn’t nearly as boring or as blurry as when you are zipping away. You notice details you couldn’t before because you were moving so fast to stay ahead.

You can look around again. All around!  The only place you don’t look is back.

Life will always move pretty fast. But once you’re standing tall, on your feet, then you can stop and look around without losing your balance.

Ferris

 

Thank you, Ferris. You’re my hero.

 

 

Until Tuesday, Friends.  Cheers!

Roots and wings

I’ve just returned from a long weekend trip with my 15-soon-to-be-16-year-old son.  It was just the two of us.

We’ve made several of these trips over the years, but none before had felt so IMG_3714*delicate* – like a beautiful soap bubble, reflecting watercolor-like images of us.  Knowing it would probably be the last – or at least the penultimate – trip before his life changes dramatically: getting his driver’s license, then getting a job, then going to college….

Our trips would drive others mad.  We don’t plan anything. We pack books, and crazy card games, comfy clothes.  We don’t set alarms, we don’t make reservations (except for a room).  We pack swimsuits, just in case.  We might load the bikes onto the car rack like we did for this trip even though the weather forecast was icky (and it turns out we never did get to ride them). We buy junk food. We watch movies. We sleep until we wake up. We talk. We’re quiet together.

We drive, and drive, and drive a long way from our home for these trips. Once we even flew. The unspoken rule is that it needs to be a place on the water.  Any body of water.  And it needs to be just the two of us.

These trips don’t happen every year, but as he gets older I want a bajillion more of them! What makes them so special to me is that he WANTS to go. Not only that, Z is always the one who brings it up.  And he made my heart sing when he asked a month ago if he and I could take one of our trips.

This year, Z did ALL the driving.  The six hours up to the Northwoods of Wisconsin, in and around the quaint towns, and back home again. I must have looked to my left at the young man driving a thousand times that trip, and all I could think was “It used to be me driving him around…”

Z and I have always been close. It’s been the two of us for most of his young life.  I am his constant. No matter what or who comes and goes from his life, he knows he is stuck with me.  I’ve made sure he knows that. Always and forever.

He still talks to me about all manner of things going on in his life, including crushes and periods of uncertainty. He still asks me questions about sex, and what girls like best about boys. He listens carefully and intently when we talk about “no means no for anyone saying it” and that mutual respect is a key to any healthy relationship.  He listens and asks more questions when I tell him integrity is the quality I value most in my friendships and other relationships.  He asks what integrity envelopes, and we talk about what it means when someone calls him a “young man of integrity”.  I tell him first of all, I think it may be the greatest compliment anyone can ever give him.  Then I tell him I hope he always strives to be a man of integrity.  Always and forever.

But those conversations are for at home. On our trips, it’s nothing heavy, nothing earth-shattering. We catch up with the little things. He asks about the book I’m reading; I ask about how everyone at the lunch table is doing. We talk about music. We talk about cars (well, he talks, I listen). Sometimes we don’t talk at all and are just *together*.   We play card games that devolve into mild smack talk and laughter so hearty our sides-ache-our-eyes-water-and-we-can’t-breathe-together. We breathe. We just are together.

Z is an adventurous kid. He loved preschool the moment I dropped him off. When I mentioned summer sleep away camp one spring, thinking he might want to talk roots and wingsabout it later, he asked how soon he could leave. He was 8 years old (fortunately, the camp we chose had an opening that summer). It’s 3-weeks long and 7 hours away. He’s gone every summer but one ever since. He’s a genuinely nice person, and makes friends easily – both boys and girls. His friends are nice people, too, and as they all get older (and get driver’s licenses) they are off doing more things away from us parents. He is working on earning money for his French Club trip to Paris next spring – he’ll make it to France before I do. He has no qualms about going away to college. He is already planning his semester studying in Europe. And he talks about living abroad to work on his graduate degrees.

All of these milestones, all of these “venturing outings” are amazing and awesome to him. He knows he’s lucky to get to do a lot of the things he does (and I will strive to make sure he can). He has no fear. I love watching him spread his wings and fly!

It also breaks my heart a little bit more each time he flies a little further.

This fall he’ll be heading into his junior year.  God help me. I’m not ready for that and I know it. As long as he’s ready though, it’ll all be good.

And if I get one more trip – one more lazy, perfect trip with Z before he flies off to find his future, I’ll be thrilled. In the meantime, I have all the memories of trips past to cherish. And if this was the last of them, then it will be enough.

Always and forever.

 

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!