A Funny Thing Happened After My Son Left for College….

Last week, I’d written an entirely different blog for this week.  It was about the angst I was feeling as a Mom about whether or not I’d prepared my son enough for Life On His Own at college.  I was certain those feelings would follow me into this next chapter.

But after having dropped him off, I don’t feel that angst anymore.  I am angst-less.

How did that happen?

Well, Z did go off to three weeks of summer camp every year for 7 years — and they weren’t allowed to bring electronic devices, so the only way to keep in touch was by old-fashioned letter writing.  Maybe my brain just thinks we’ve dropped him off at camp…

Perhaps writing about the conflicting emotions here on the blog over the summer was a kind of journal-therapy…

Or maybe laying out what I was feeling and unflinchingly looking at the pesky tear-jerking thoughts helped me work through them by the time it came to say “good-bye”… Not to say there weren’t tears and lots of hugs and “I’ll miss yous,” there were, but not long and protracted.  Although part of that may have been due to pure exhaustion…

(I’m pretty sure I’m not a cold-hearted monster who is incapable of feeling, so we’re just tossing that idea out right now.)

Whatever the reason, I’m ok.  Ask me again next week and that answer may have changed, but for now, I’m good!

My kid was one of the first of my friends’ kids to head off to college this month.  And now those friends and friends of older kids keep asking how I’m doing.  Messages on Facebook encourage me to “hang in there,” texts reassure me “it gets better,” emails remind me to “keep breathing”… Normally, I’d be so grateful for commiseration and encouraging words, but I’m rather confused this time, because I don’t need them right now…

I know most all of us get excited for our kids’ new adventures.  Maybe the excitement I feel for Z starting this new chapter has overwritten the sad “empty nest” feelings for me.  Do I miss him?  Of course.  Is it disorienting not being a part of his everyday life?  You bet.  Do I wistfully walk by his bedroom on the way to my office?  Sure, sometimes (but it is all neat and tidy now with the bed actually made, and I do like that part).

Do I expect that feelings of missing him will ambush me in the coming weeks?  Probably.  I’m prepared with tissues at all times, just in case.

What I do know for sure is that I spent the last 18 years raising a kind, funny, smart, curious person.  He sprouted wings and wanted to use them sooner than a lot of his playmates, and I could either accept this as part of the person I was raising, or squelch the fire that fueled his curiosity.  Frankly, having been squelched a lot myself, I had no desire whatsoever to try and change the course of my son’s trajectory.  So maybe I’ve been preparing myself all along for this giant leap.

That little person turned out to be a pretty terrific young man.  Far from perfect, but pretty amazing all the same.  I trust in that.  I also know without a doubt that he will sometimes fall; he will at some point(s) fail; there is turbulence ahead, and he will need to learn to navigate all of that and more.  I trust I was able to teach him to find, and use, the tools he needs; but above all, I hope he learned to trust in himself, in his absolute capability to deal with what Life brings.  He is resilient, and now he needs to believe in that resiliency.

And here I am, cheering from the sidelines now.  Always.  Some days I feel like I’m flying blind — we’re in uncharted territory: Life After Kid.  I’m not abdicating as his Mom, but he is sovereign now.

Until next Friday, Friends!

The Present

To my College Freshman…

The day is here.  

                    And you are ready. 

But here’s the problem, babe: we spent so much time and energy getting YOU ready, we forgot to get ME ready.  

I know this is the life you’re making without me, and you’ll get to make up new rules along the way.  

But I don’t remember what my heart felt like before you were with me!

So please cut me some slack, and be patient as I learn how to Do This.  

Forgive — in advance — the many texts, emails, and phone calls I am going to be making.  Please know they will be just a fraction of the total I will want to send and make.  

I hope the amount of “real” mail you will receive from me doesn’t embarrass you.  

I hope future care packages will smooth over any embarrassment caused.  

I hope you will accept me wanting to see you once in a while.  Either with you coming home for a break, or me coming to visit you.  This is as much to see you as it will be for me to get to know your new environment — and to reassure me you haven’t forgotten where you came from.  

Now, just because I would like that, I know there will be times it won’t work.  Trust me when I say, although I will be terribly disappointed, I will survive it.  I am a tough (yet tender) cookie.  Don’t forget it.  

I hope you will reach out to me, too.  Please call or text or something if you’re feeling down or overwhelmed or lonely.  If you need me, I will drop what I am doing.  I will answer a call day or night.  

Let me know if a class isn’t going well.  Even if you’re failing it.  Remember, I’ve been to college, I really do know what it’s like.  

Tell me the good things happening, too!  I will answer day or night…

Are the other kids what you expected?  What surprises you most about college-living?  What’s easier than you thought?  What’s harder?

Tell me about your favorite place on campus.  

Tell me how the food is, and how the spaghetti isn’t NEARLY as good as mine.  

Once in a while, tell me that you miss me (even if you don’t really). 

This will be one of the greatest challenges of my life: learning how to not be part of your everyday world — and not having you as part of mine. 

I’ve taught you well (I hope; I’m pretty sure) how to be a good person, how to go out into the world and work for what you think is right.  How to work towards what you want.  Now you’ll learn by doing.  I believe in you, with everything in my heart!  But there are going to be some times when you fall…. and I won’t be right there to help.  

It’s in a Mama-bear’s nature to want — and need — to help her cub.  

But I know I won’t always be able to, whether it’s distance, or rules, or because it’s something you need to take care of yourself (See?  I’m learning…).

And you need to remember I am always in your corner.  Got that?  ALWAYS.  ALL WAYS.  

I’m proud of you.  I love you.  And I will miss you —  because I like you.

       Always and forever.           Love, Mama

… before everything changes

Flashback to over 2 years ago….

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

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.

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

Today ~

It was, indeed, the last trip just the two of us took.  Life happened, and he got a job, and a girlfriend, and more AP classes, and and and and….  But I was honest about that trip being “enough” if it was truly to be the last…  I was also honest about wanting more.  So maybe somewhere down the road we’ll have one more trip, just the two of us… before everything changes again.

Unfurgettable

For Steve, Julie, Grace, & Devon today… and for everyone who loved Penny Lane

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“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

The Wish

For my greatest treasure, as you are about to turn 18 ~

Once upon a time, there was a woman who wished for a son.  She knew you weren’t supposed to care whether one had a girl baby or a boy baby, but she wanted a boy.

And she had one!

The years that followed were filled with the ordinary and the extraordinary Life brings.  Good and bad; happy and sad; and a lot of just plain crazy.  But all of that shaped the Mama and the Child into the people they are today.

And the woman wouldn’t change a thing.

~~~~~~~~~~

We can’t write “The End” for that story, because in some ways it’s just beginning, for both of us.  You will find your passions and a path you want to follow; I need to choose another path, as well as learning more along the way.

Some time ago, I wrote about the Big Things I wish for you — and as I read that list again, it hasn’t really changed at all. 

So, my One and Only, My Greatest Treasure, here is a list of what I wish for you, today and always:

Kindness.  Above all else.

Understanding.  Of yourself and others.

Integrity.  Do the right thing, even when it’s hard.

Love. Yourself, others, our World.

Health.  Physical, mental, emotional.

Wisdom.  Physical, mental, and emotional.

Resilience.  Always.

Creativity.  In whatever you do, think outside that box… or rectangle, or circle, or parallelogram…

A Sense of wonder. For everything.

Friendship. Be a good friend and you’ll have good friends.

Gratefulness.  For who and what you do have.

Be owned by at least one rescue pet at all times.  It’s good for your soul.  (I realize this one will need to wait a bit…)

And one more:

Live.  Live in the moment.  Live for what you love.  Live this Life for all it is, what it has to give, and what you can give it.  Be present in your Life, don’t take it for granted.  Love what you do while you live, because Life is really too short to be miserable spending time on this Earth doing something you don’t love.  Really Live.

Always and forever,

Mama

 

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.

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

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