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!

20 Questions

Originally published here on September 8, 2015 ~ Enjoy!

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show hostAnnouncer:  Hello and welcome to the inaugural edition of “20 Questions”!  Insightful anecdotes await, so let’s get to it!

She’s a 51-year-old writer from the Chicago suburbs, mother of a 16-year-old boy, partner to The World’s Most Interesting Man, and Guinness Book record holder for ‘The Most Trips In — and out — of a Room in Less Than 6 Minutes Because She Can’t Remember What She Went in There For’!  Let’s welcome… Dana McKenna!

<insert thunderous applause here>

Announcer:  Welcome, Dana!

Dana:  Thank you so much, Nigel.  It’s a real pleasure to be here.

Announcer:  Let’s get right to the questions, I know our readers have a lot of them!  First, from Tammy in Weehawken, New Jersey —

Tammy:  You write a lot about being an over-50 woman navigating the twists and turns of life as a mom after a nasty divorce and reinventing yourself.  I’m about to get married. Any advice?

Dana:  Honey, why on Earth are you asking me?

Announcer:  And we’ve got Sarah from Naperville, Illinois —

Sarah:  Have you published anything yet?

Dana:  Well, yes, my twice a week blog column and my columns for the Huffington Post.

Sarah:  No, I mean for real publishing.

<a beat of silence>

Dana:  Have you published anything?

Sarah:  Well, no, I…

Dana:  Ok, when you publish something, THEN you can ask me if I’ve published for real yet.  In the meantime, I’ll just keep writing and editing 4,000-6,000 words — that’s approximately 15 pages — a week (try it sometime — it isn’t as easy as it sounds) and getting them out in front of thousands of people each week, including on an international news outlet.  I’m sure Arianna Huffington will be surprised to learn her publishing empire isn’t considered “real.”

microphonesAnnouncer:  And here’s Nathan from Detroit —

Nathan:  Do you date younger guys?

Dana:  Next.

Announcer:  Becky from Orange County —

Becky:  Like, I know having kids can be, like, real hard sometimes, but like, er mehr gerd, you’re like really hard on your son sometimes!  What has he, like, ever done to you?

Dana:  Well, Becky, it’s like this: most days I really, really love him and know he’s the best thing that ever happened to me.  Other days, I’m ready to ship him to Timbuktu, still knowing he’s the best thing that ever happened to me.  Being a Mom is funny like that.  He can drive now, so I can send him out on errands when I don’t feel like going out, so his stock has gone up there.  I was in labor with him for four days, so he still owes me for that.  Listen, the long and the short of it is, if I didn’t write about him, I’d have to work a lot harder at coming up with ideas for my blog.

Announcer:  Hello, Peter, from Schenectady, New York —

Peter:  Why do you only use first initials for the people you write about?

Dana:  Would you want to be identified in the columns I write?

Announcer:  Hi there, Sharlene, from Bloomington, Indiana —

Sharlene:  Your biography says you grew up in the theater.  Is that true?

Dana:  Absolutely!  At 6-weeks old, I was tagging along to the high school theater where my Dad taught and directed students.  Later we moved where I was SO fortunate to attend school where the arts are encouraged and supported, and is also home to a fantastic community theater facility that had equally fantastic talent to draw upon.  I was onstage there from age 9 until I left at 29, as well as performing in high school.  Summer stock productions (3 each summer) were mentored by the adult talent in the community with students doing everything from performing onstage, to playing in the orchestras, to lighting and set design, costuming, stage crew — everything.  My family was never into sports, we did theater; so that’s where I learned how to be part of a team and work towards a goal together.  It was also where all my friends were, so it was an ideal way to grow up.

Sharlene:  I thought it meant you got to see lots of movies.  Never mind.

Announcer:  This is Letitia from Boise, Idaho —

Letitia:  So what do you do all day?

Dana:  Well, write and edit mostly.  There are some business aspects to attend to with a blog and social media.  And “real life” still happens in that occasionally there is a dentist appointment, or one of the pets needs to go to the vet, or I need to go out and buy a birthday gift for someone, or run to the store.  I am lucky in that my time is my own to schedule.  But, if I take time off during the day, I need to work into the evening or through weekends to catch up.

Letitia:  But you get paid weekends off, right?  And holidays?  Sick time?  Lunch hours?

Dana:  Um, no.

Letitia:  Well you work for yourself, right?

Dana:  Yes…

Letitia:  Then what’s the problem?

talk bubblesDana:  <eye blink>    My boss is a real slave driver.

Announcer:  Dylan from Tempe, Arizona —

Dylan:  Is there much money in writing?

Dana:  TONS!  Millions!  More than I can count!  Yes, indeedy.  Unfortunately, my name isn’t Stephen King or Diana Gabaldon.

Announcer:  Here’s Candy from Portland, Maine —

Candy:  Do you know J.K. Rowling?

Dana:  We’re tight as thieves.  We get together every week.  Wonderful guy.

Announcer:  Mikey from Baltimore —

Mikey:  So you want to get paid for sleeping in til noon, rolling outta bed and sitting at your computer for a coupla hours and then going out shopping?

Dana:  Yes!  Absolutely!  Where do I sign up???

Announcer:  We have time for one more question!  How about Jerry from Toledo, Ohio —

Jerry:  So how do I break into this writing gig?  It sounds like a sweet and easy way to go!

Dana:  Oh Jerry, sweetie, it is so easy:  first, you agonize over whether or not you have anything of substance to say.  Then you make the terrifying decision of whether to keep your day job and stay up all night and spend all weekend hours to write; or, quit your job with benefits and focus entirely on writing all day and all weekend.  Then you need to set impossible goals for each week of how many pages you need to churn out in order to meet deadlines.  Then it’s off to an editor where you just need to withstand pages upon pages of red ink slashing through your heart’s work, reading page after page of edits that totally run counter to the earth-shattering words you wanted to impart to the public.  Then breeze through rewrites trying to make everyone happy.  Finally comes publication and you can start the process all over again in order to make a living at it!  Easy as pie!

stick figuresAnnouncer:  Delightful, delightful.  Well folks, that’s all the time we have for today!  Let’s give Dana a big hand (just to humor her)!

Dana:  Thank you, Nigel.  Thank you, readers.

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Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

 

 

 

My house is haunted

This was originally published here on August 18, 2015.  It seemed appropriate to post at this time of year.  Enjoy!

 

Nigel, our resident ghost is back.

I know this because as I was walking past the downstairs bathroom this morning, the toilet paper began unrolling itself faster and faster.  I was alone in the house, save the pets, who were not anywhere near the bathroom.  No windows open, no fans blowing, and I wasn’t walking nearly quickly enough to cause a stir.  Have you ever tried to re-roll toilet paper?

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When T and I were signing the closing papers for our house, I noticed they had his middle initial wrong on a page — an “N” instead of an “M”.  I said, “You’ll have to change your name — your middle name is now ‘Nigel’!”  I had no idea why that name came to me.

The ghost kept his presence secret and let us celebrate the closing that evening with take out pizza and champagne in plastic cups on the front porch in peace.  I think he was sizing us up.

The very next day is when the weirdness started.  I was working at the new house by myself, and the downstairs hallway smoke detector started going off.  I was cleaning cupboards, so I dragged the step ladder to the hall (did I mention we have 10′ ceilings?) and tried resetting the detector. No luck.  I finally pulled the battery out.  Sweet peace. As I dragged the ladder back to the kitchen, more beeping!  Only this time it wasn’t the hallway, it was coming from upstairs!  I raced up, worried that there was something on fire for real, and checked the house from top to bottom.  Nothing!  I dragged the stepladder up the stairs, reset….reset….RESET!  Ripped the battery out of this one, too.  Silence.  Until… basement beeping commenced.  AAAARRRGGGGHHHH!!!  With the ladder bump-bump-bumping down the stairs behind me, I located the smoke detector in the basement and without hesitation, ripped out that battery.

I related this all to T, who was working at the house the next day.  He replaced all the batteries with fresh, new, out of the package batteries.  Later he texted “Well, we’ve certainly made an impression on the neighbors.”  A photo of 2 firetrucks and a rescue truck parked in front of our new house followed.

There was no fire.  No smoke.  But the smoke detectors started going off again.  T thought it was better to be safe than sorry, so he called the fire department.

After they left (after a thorough sweep of the house and garage), he went out and bought all new smoke detectors.  While relaxing that evening with a bottle of wine, sitting on the bare wood floors in our new home, we decided there must be a spirit in the house messing with us.  The name “Nigel” came back to mind, and thus our ghost was recognized.

Things went along smoothly for a while.  Keys and cellphones disappearing and reappearing in other rooms, lights we know we turned off before leaving the house were on when we came back, things like that still happened and we just accepted it.  We co-existed just fine, until Nigel decided trapping ghost1me in the garage would be great fun:  I was getting in the car parked in the garage — I had opened the garage door via the button by the back door as I walked out of the house — when suddenly the door SLAMMED to the ground and the light went out.  I shakily got back out of the car and turned on the overhead garage light — I expected to see a broken coil or something.  Nada.  I used the emergency release cord so I could get the garage door open and the car out.  But before I let the garage door slide back down, I whispered loudly “That wasn’t nice, Nigel.”  Later that night I told T we’d need to get a garage door repair guy out soon.  A few days later (of NOT using the garage), we had someone come out…but he couldn’t find any problems with the door or the mechanism.

Z had headed to camp up north just a few days before we signed the papers.  Once he was home, we brought him over to the new house so he could think about how he wanted to set up his room and we could complete the move-in.

Upon entering the kitchen, Z looked around but then pointed to the oven and said, “What’s with that?”  Both T and I looked, but didn’t see anything except the very cool built-in slide-out spice racks on either side of the oven — and we looked a little closer:  the front pieces are carved like ornate spindles, wider at the bottom than at the top…at least on one of them; on the other, it was wider at the top.  We looked, and looked again.  Sure enough, one of the “spindles” was upside down.  Z swears they weren’t like that before, and no one else had noticed.  Hmm.

Oh, and there’s a hidden room in the house.

When we came over after closing, it was a beautiful day, and I decided to open windows in all the rooms to let in some fresh air.  I finished, and joined T outside where he was taking pictures of the house to send to friends and family.  I looked up at the house and immediately saw I’d missed raising a blind.  I went back inside, up the stairs, and could NOT find the window that was still closed!

Back outside.  Back inside.  Went back out and asked T to see if he could find the window.  He looked at me strangely, but went inside to humor me.  A few moments later he, too, came out of the house puzzled.

What we did find is a dormered window that leads nowhere in our house.  As best as we can tell, there is a small room behind one of the bathrooms.  And no way to get to it.

Obviously, that must be Nigel’s room.

There have been numerous other weird things that have occurred since we moved in.  Nothing ever dangerous or mean since the garage incident, unless you count driving the pets insane.  Yes, Gracie the dog and Murphy and Coco the cats apparently see Nigel, and he can really spook them, which in turn spooks me sometimes.  You know the look your pet gets on their face when they see something they believe they can stalk, but then decides it would be a really, really bad idea?  Yeah, I hadn’t seen it either until we moved here.  The cats especially will stare intently at a spot in the room, and look like they’re about to pounce, but then they get a wide-eyed terrified look on their faces and then dash madly from the room.  If they could, their little kitty paws would be up in the air as they screamed “Run for your lives!”

ghost 2It had been relatively quiet for the last couple of months in terms of ghosting activity, so when I saw the toilet paper unrolling, I was actually kind of relieved.  It’s good to know even our family can’t scare off a ghost.  I think we’re well-matched.  And it’s certainly a good conversation starter.  Regardless of how you feel about ghosts, we feel fortunate to have Nigel to blame for anything we can’t explain.

Until Tuesday, Friends.  BOO!

Amazing Gracie — Amazing Carolina Dogs — Part III

Continued from 7/31/15 Amazing Gracie — I have a what?

Gracie head onLike everything else in my life, my dog isn’t “typical.”  So, she fits in just fine.  We have a Carolina Dog.  Who knew?

Certainly not the shelter, who classified her as a mix of collie, shiba inu, and possibly lab.  Not our vet.  Not our dog training teachers, nor our agility instructor.  And sure not me!  Like most people, I’d never even heard of the breed.

The Carolina Dog (affectionately known as a ‘CD’) was originally a land race, or naturally selected, type of dog discovered living as a free roaming (wild) dog.  CDs are probably best known by their nickname of “Old Yellow Dog” in the Southern US.

Dr. I Lehr Brisbin, Jr., a Senior Research Ecologist at the University of Georgia, first came across CDs in the 1970s while working at the Savannah River Site — a swath of isolated and undeveloped pine and cypress swamps in the Southeastern US.  Dr. Brisbin had seen many rural dogs hanging around porches and doghouses in the nearby towns, and just assumed they were normal strays adopted by the residents. Many of these dogs roamed the woods and would turn up in humane traps, and he began to wonder how many more of these dogs were in the wild. On a hunch, he went to the local dog pound to further study these dogs, and was surprised by the strong resemblance they had to dingos.

IMG_1826The CDs’ physical appearance actually suggests to the scientific community this  dog was created by, and preserved through, natural selection to survive in the remote lowland swamp and forest land in the Southeastern US. Apparently, they closely resemble the type of dog first encountered by Europeans near Indian settlements in the region, evidenced by paintings, drawings, and written descriptions made by these early explorers and settlers. Perhaps most telling is that fossils of the Native Americans’ dogs have similar bone structures to present day CDs.  Most often, CDs also have a ginger-colored coat that is found on other wild dogs, including Australian Dingoes and Korea’s native dog, the Jindo.  Dr. Brisbin found a resemblance between ancient dog skulls and those of the CDs, but concluded that there was too large a difference to prove any scientific connection, even though a preliminary DNA test pointed to a link between them.

imageDr. Brisbin explains, “We grabbed them out of the woods … and if they were “just dogs” their DNA patterns should be well distributed throughout the canine family tree. But they aren’t. They’re all at the ‘base’ of the tree, where you would find very primitive dogs.” This was not conclusive, but it did spark interest in more extensive DNA testing.

And, in 2012, the ancient Asian origin of the Carolina Dog was confirmed:  CD mitochondrial DNA was found to be unique and closest to East Asian dogs.  This makes sense, as CDs are thought to be the first dogs who came across the Bering Straits land bridge over 10,000 years ago with the first human settlers to North America as they made their trek to the warmer climate of the South.  Even more compelling, a team led by Peter Savolainen, at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, reported in 2013 that several dog breeds in the Americas — such as the Carolina Dog — are without some genetic markers indicative of European origin, which suggests they also arrived in an earlier migration from Australasia, which explains why other DNA testing shows a strong genetic link between Carolina Dogs and other primitive breeds like the Australian Dingo.

All of this history and scientific research comes down to one thing:  Carolina Dogs are unlike any other dog here in the United States, and could be considered the first Native Dog.

CDs are typically a medium sized dog, that comes in all different shades of red ginger, buff, fawn, black, and even black and tan, and often have small white markings on their toes, chest, tail tip, and muzzle.  Once full-grown, most dogs will reach a height of 17-24 inches, and weigh between 30-65 pounds.

{2066FABD-9E65-4BDF-8901-1C69CF330612}-Gracie and Froggy (2)Overall, Carolina Dogs seem to include the best traits of all breeds and they make excellent house pets!  CDs are smart, and easily housebroken, easily crate trained, and are not destructive as long as they are kept mentally stimulated with toys, training, play, and attention from the people they love.  They are terrific with children, and genuinely enjoy attention from kids, and are protective of everyone in the family pack.  They bond very quickly with their human “pack” and love to be included in family activities — even if it’s just a ride in the car or a walk around the block.

CDs also tend to get along well with other pets. They are good with cats, as long as the CD is introduced to them while still a puppy.  Gracie even accepts that the cats are higher in the pack hierarchy than she. The best advice I was given was to pick up each of our cats with Gracie present, pet the cat and tell Gracie “This is Mama’s kitty.”  My son even did that with some of his stuffed animals that Gracie tried to G and C2sneak off with, and it worked!  She gave up trying to kidnap any of Z’s toys many years ago.  Gracie has never snapped at the cats (warning, low growls only when she’s had enough of their cat shenanigans), and never once has she bitten a person.  A CD’s temperament is even, and they are not high strung or nervous dogs.

According to multiple owners of CDs (myself included), one of the best things about a CD is that they do not smell. Even when wet, CDs don’t exude a “doggy smell.”  As one owner says, “they are Teflon-coated dogs.” On the other hand, CDs do what is aptly named “blowing out their coats.”  Twice a year, these normally soft and smooth looking dogs get wooley and lumpy looking.   Owners can “tuft” their CDs:  literally just pull out full tufts of fur, without the dog even noticing.  As another owner says about it, “I’ve come to accept that it is a textile; a fashion accessory; a condiment; a way of life.”

The Carolina Dogs I’ve been fortunate to “meet” online with their owners not only do well in, but thrive happily in obedience and agility training, frisbee competitions and any other physical activity their pack enjoys together. Gracie and I participated in dog agility, and she loved it (the weave poles were her nemesis, however). Although they are not classified as members of the “herding” group, a CD’s drive is pretty strong to get his or her pack in order (although Gracie has pretty much given up trying to herd the cats) and sometimes I swear I’ve got a Border Collie instead of a Carolina Dog.

IMG_2172Best of all, CDs are a healthy breed.  So far in the captive breeding program with licensed professional breeders, there have not been any inherited defects encountered!  There are now 6th and 7th generation captive-bred pups that are strong, healthy, and of perfect temperament. There is a strong desire in the CD community to continue breeding programs that ensure a wide-ranging variety of genetic “material” so the breed can grow safely and in the healthiest way possible. In the meantime, we CD owners are blessed with very healthy dogs, unfettered by traditional pure-bred ailments such as hip dysplasia, vision issues, and others found in popular breeds today.

At this time, Carolina Dogs are recognized by the United Kennel Club (UKC) and the American Rare Breed Association (ARBA).  ARBA classifies CDs in the “Spitz and Primitive Group.”  This group includes the dingo and Canaan Dog. The UKC has classified them as a “Pariah Dog”, a class which includes other primitive breeds such as the Basenji of Africa and the Thai Ridgeback.

Although they aren’t currently recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC), there is an application pending for inclusion into the American Kennel Club Foundation Stock Service (FSS) program, which could eventually lead to full AKC recognition.  For those unfamiliar with how the AKC “recognizes” breeds, the main gist is that there should be a large enough breeding pool (number of dogs) in existence.  However, once a breed is recognized, it effectively shuts the door on any other dogs in that breed to be registered unless they are born from the established stock.  There are, of course, exceptions to every rule.  As a true fan of any breed, you actually hope the recognition comes later rather than sooner to include as many different blood lines as possible.

All this history of the oldest known breed of native domesticated dog, and yet such a “new” breed by our own standards.

IMG_1226I’ve never known a dog like Gracie before. Would I have another Carolina Dog?  Absolutely!  But in keeping with our family’s commitment to adopting, we would contact a rescue or shelter.  Too many loving animals are waiting for a home.

Webster’s dictionary defines serendipity as “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.”

I’d say the entire Carolina Dog breed defines serendipity; but I think our journey with Gracie is the definitive illustration!

Until Friday, Friends.  From me and Gracie — Cheers!

P.S.  I’ve had several questions as to whether or not I included any pictures of my own Gracie-girl; every picture in this series is of Gracie, from puppy-hood to present.  The only exceptions are 1) the grey cat curled up with Gracie is my cat, Miss Coco, 2) the 3 dogs with the caption “we’re adopted?” are not my dogs…

If you would like to know more about Carolina Dogs, here are a few good websites and groups to check out:

www.dogbreedinfo.com/carolinadog.htm

www.carolinadogs.com

www.greatdogsite.com/photos/list/Carolina_Dog

on Facebook:  Carolina Dogs

on Facebook:  Saving Carolina Dogs Rescue & Adoption Network

on Facebook:  Carolina Dog History and Research

 

 

Amazing Gracie, how sweet the hound — or, How I became Alpha — Part I

Betty White said it best: “I just don’t know how I would have lived without animals around me.”  Amen and amen.

I grew up with a dog and cats, with other dogs and cats around me.  But after I left for college, I didn’t have a dog in my life until Gracie.  I’ll save you the math: for over 20 years my home was dog devoid.

We rescued each other (because it’s not just the doggy being adopted, you know) from one of our local shelters, Animal House.  It serves a large area, and is about half an hour’s drive from our neighborhood.  Z was 5 years old, and I knew I wanted a dog with some herding instincts.  I grew up with a sheltie, and around collies and other herding dogs.  By far my favorite group of dogs!

We were met at the shelter’s front desk by a lovely young woman.  She talked with us about why we wanted a dog, why we wanted a certain type, and most of all why I was asking about older dogs.  You see, I just couldn’t imagine going through a puppy phase.  Getting up every couple of hours all night long, cleaning up messes, teaching good manners, potty training… in other words, I wasn’t sure I was ready for another baby.  I told her all of this, and she nodded, definitely understanding.  She said, “let me show you the dogs who are waiting for their forever homes,” and pulled out a large binder notebook.  Animal House is not a “walk through” shelter, and wants to be sure there’s some counseling involved in adopting any pet.  She leafed through and pointed out several dogs she thought would fit our needs and wants.  “Unfortunately, we don’t have many herders right now.  The only two are puppies.”  I shook my head right away at that, and we read about the dogs she had pointed out.

We chose two who looked and sounded like they might fit into our family.  Then we were escorted to a separate room that looked like a family room you’d find in any suburban home, minus knickknacks and family photos, but stuffed with dog toys!  A volunteer with the shelter brought in the first dog — a charming boxer mix who was likable and pettable right away!  We even got to take him outside on a leash.  We liked him … but he just didn’t “feel” like “our” dog.  He apparently felt the same way, because he licked our hands “goodbye” and then walked out happily with the volunteer.

The second dog they brought to the family room for a visit was a mix of all sorts — no telling what was in there!  She was quiet, and had great manners.  She really preferred to watch us instead of interacting.  We took her out for a walk, too, in case that turned out to be where she felt most comfortable.  She enjoyed being outdoors, but you could tell she didn’t think we were quite right either

I was about to go back to the giant binder, when the young woman from the front desk said “There is a dog I think you should meet.  But just to be fair, I should tell you she’s still a puppy, about 4 1/2 months old.  We rescued her from a kill-shelter downstate, so we don’t have a lot of information on her.”  I was very hesitant.  But Z was adamant that we needed to give this dog a chance to visit, too.

<sigh>  Fine.

The young woman smiled and disappeared around the corner.  She came back a few moments later with a fluffy furball on a leash.  “This is Razzle,” she said, and left us to get to know her.

Razzle came and sat down in front of me, looking up with the biggest, deepest brown eyes I’d ever seen.  She tilted her head one way, then the other, obviously sizing me up for a potential Mama.  She had the biggest ears I’d ever seen on a dog.  Her eyes were mesmerizing: it looked as though someone had lined her chocolate eyes with black liner.  And the smile.  Oh my God, that smile.

Then Z called to her.

The joy in the dog’s face upon seeing a small child was simply astonishing!  She turned and went directly to him, prancing across the floor.  That’s when I noticed she didn’t have a tail — just a furry nub.  “Oh please,” I silently prayed.  “Please let that be natural…”  The thought that some sicko could have done something so monstrous immediately made me feel ill.  One of the reasons I just can’t volunteer at animal shelters is because I don’t handle the abuse some of these beautiful creatures have had to endure.  I simply don’t have the fortitude and bravery it takes to work with rescued animals.  I’d want to bring each and every one of them home with me, hoping love was the answer to it all.

What transpired next still leaves me speechless:  although Razzle was wiggling from head to toe upon reaching Z, she sat down, and didn’t break eye contact with him.  He proceeded to lavish love and praise and pets and hugs all over this dog he’d just met, as if he’d known her for years.  Animals love Z, and are quite often moved to return the lovies in the form of sloppy kisses, or big rumbly purrs and such.  That’s not what surprised me so much.  But when I told Z to walk over to me, he turned to the puppy and said “come on, Razzle.”  And Razzle heeled.  All the way across the room.  Stunned, I said quietly, “Z, turn around, call her, and walk back.”  He did, and she heeled again.

At that point, I turned to the window and motioned for the volunteer to come in.  When she did, I said “I thought you said she was only 4 1/2 months old?”  “She is,” said the volunteer.  “Our vet can tell by their teeth, by which ones have come in and which haven’t; how much wear they have, things like that.  Razzle checks out as a 4 1/2 month old.”

Holy cow.  This was a smart puppy.  This puppy reads human body language and knows what we want.  Holy cow.

And then we left.

As I handed the leash back to the volunteer I said, “She’s great, really just perfect,  but I just can’t handle a puppy right now.  Thank you for your time, you have a lot of great dogs here.”  She smiled at us — somewhat cryptically — and we walked out of there.  I couldn’t look back at the dog.

As we drove the half hour home, my son wailed.

“But I looo-oooo-oooved her!” he’d cry.

“She was perfect for us! She’s the dog I want to be in our family!” he’d sob.

“How can we leave our dog behind like that?!”

The last thought was my own.

Only five minutes from our driveway, I turned around in the Meijer’s parking lot and headed back north for another 1/2 hour drive, all the while worrying “what if someone else adopts her while we’re gone?”.  We made it back in 18 minutes.

When we walked in, the lovely young woman just smiled and said “You’re back for her.”

Absolutely.

She went back herself to fetch Razzle.  When they walked through the door, Razzle on a braided lead, she wiggled all over and ran right up to us.  Z was on the floor immediately.  I knelt down, and looked into those eyes, and said “Your name isn’t Razzle, is it?”  She looked at me, tilting her head, encouraging me to go on.

“You’re Gracie, aren’t you.”  Wiggles, kisses, dancing ensued.Gracie first day home  The dog was pretty happy, too.

And THEN we drove home, all the way, all together.

 

Please come back to read more of Gracie’s story on Friday, Friends.  Until then, cheers!

A day in the life…in pictures because words are failing to describe this day of mine

I’m having one of those days.

IMG_3620This was an accomplishment.

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Nothing is working, including my brain the way I need it to today.

And that makes me crabby (which is a really nice word for what it really is).  I don’t like being a witch.  Or bitch.

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Depends on your point of view,  I guess.

 

 

 

I wonder if menopause is just playing with my hormones like marbles?

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It would explain a lot.

All I know for sure is I have a headache in proportion to the amount of laundry sitting, staring me down, waiting to be done.  And nothing is helping.  Not even the 3rd Diet Coke.  Or the piece of chocolate cake.

 

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And I can’t get to the ibuprofen….

I can’t find my lightsaber.

 

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Thank goodness for cats and dogs.  Bless their hearts, they really do try.  It makes me smile.  Usually.

 

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I really do try to put myself in a good mindset when I first wake up!  I have my list of to-do ready!  But sometimes….

 

 

And this is the result.IMG_3811

 

 

 

 

 

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The crux of the matter is this:

 

 

 

 

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But in reality, I believe this is what really happened when I wasn’t really paying attention.

 

 

Which isn’t a bad way to spend time at all.  It’s just when reality intrudes with that “to-do” list and my brain won’t work the way I need it to.  Some people say then it’s time to try something different — shake things up a bit.

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One of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott says:

 

 

Maybe that’s the problem: I’ve thought “Oh, I can do that”, “oh, and that too”, and “oh yes, of course, that won’t be a problem at all”.  And typically, they aren’t.  But perhaps I just need to put it all down for a few minutes (days?).  Unplug.  Then try again.  Reboot the system.  Clear out the cache.  Make room for new ideas.  After that, THEN we can look at rewiring the Matrix and find new ways to do things.

IMG_3878I’ll keep you posted and let you know how that’s working for me.

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

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!

 

 

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.

 

 

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!