Design flaw

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

That explains a lot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

A great agony, and other things about writing“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
~ Maya Angelou

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

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

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

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

…as in speaking, I’m long-winded.

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

…I have a strong voice.

…I have a need to dwell on the positive.

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

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

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

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

…that I will never write like Nora Ephron.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

drawn heart

Gracie’s summer vacation

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then OMG…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


*Horsey conversation overheard in the stables later:

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

“Yeah, was it a dog?”

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

“Too small to be a full-grown deer…”

“Too big to be a fox…”

“What do you think it was?”

I have mixed feelings about this

4… 3… 2…

As of tomorrow, I have a Freshman in College.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!



I think I’m getting the hang of this


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Countdown commencing

10, 9, 8…

Z picked up his cap and gown this week.

…7, 6, 5…

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

Oh boy.


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

It’s me.

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

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

Then came middle school.

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

And then there’s high school.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until Friday, Friends. Cheers!

Say cheese!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until Friday, Friends.  Say “CHEESE!”


Tuxedos and Corsages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!drawn heart


Love all

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

I have mixed feelings about this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next Friday, Friends!