Shhh… Don’t Tell Them Where I’ve Gone

I am at the tail end of parenthood. My first two are successfully out of the house and pursuing their lives, both still at university, one engaged to be married. Getting them to that point hasn’t been easy, but looking back I don’t see the bumps and potholes in the road that got us here.

That leaves me with the two teenage boys at home.

Oh, vey!

If you are not a parent of teens, I don’t know a good analogy. Maybe grabbing two raccoons by their tails and trying to make them walk forward. Maybe harnessing a lion and a cheetah to a cart and asking them to pull. You get the idea. Give an instruction and either they snarl at you or each other, or, best case scenario, they just lay down on the job.

I’m moving to Maine.

I don’t know what makes Maine my nirvana right now. Maybe it’s the farthest I can go within the contiguous United States without bumping into retirees or Micky Mouse. Maine seems remote, quiet, devoid of people who would snarl and slam doors. (Well, the boys don’t slam, but my daughter sure did!) It seems like the last place they would come looking for me.

I had four wonderful, exuberant, loving little kids. I was the sun their little planets orbited. I took them places, made them cookies, read them stories, and tucked them in every single night with a hug and a kiss. Their smiles lit up my world and their tears shook it to the core. I was their rock, and they were my wings.

Until they got wings of their own.

As my kids hit puberty, they began to look at me askance, as if they were questioning how they could have ever held me in such high regard. Our talks became fraught with underlying meaning, and I tried to verse myself in reading between the lines. I even considered taking a course in mind reading, such was the vast desert of communication. Our lively game nights became fewer and farther between, eventually replaced by everyone sitting silently in front of the television in the living room. Finally they just left the living room altogether for the safety of their respective caves. Any forays into the cave were met with stilted conversations and requests for me to close the door on my way out.

My youngest was still cuddling with me at ten.

I know about child psychology and cutting the apron strings and flying the nest. I know that there is a push-pull relationship between parents and teens. I understand all of that. I don’t want my sons to be mommy’s boys. But head knowledge and heart knowledge don’t always jive. I still want to be important to my kids.

If I’m not, I might as well move to Maine.


brentdanley / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “If You Leave.”Life is a series of beginnings and endings. We leave one job to start another; we quit cities, countries, or continents for a fresh start; we leave lovers and begin new relationships. What was the last thing you contemplated leaving? What were the pros and cons? Have you made up your mind? What will you choose?

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A Frozen Moment In Time


Krisztina Tordai / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

If I could freeze a moment in time, it would not be this moment. At this moment, Goose is hunched over a bowl of oatmeal, staring at his phone, Maverick is still asleep, and Mr. A is bustling around in the small space of time between one trip and the next.

If I could freeze a moment in time, it would be lying on the blanket in the back yard with Smartypants and Sunshine, reading books while the dogs snoozed next to us. We would turn over and gaze at the mass of leaves on the giant backyard maple, leaves that provide a summer blanket of cool and protection from the intense sun. The house was newer, with a wonderful skylight that provided much needed sunlight in the winter, but the effect in summer was oven-like. Still, that heat drove us outside, to fresh air and family time.

I would not freeze yesterday. Maverick came to eat a quick dinner after soccer practice with his Beats headphones covering both ears. Goose spent what time he wasn’t doing homework for his new college classes in his room on his computer. Mr. A came home from one trip and immediately got on the phone, while I, his taxi driver, drove in silence.

If I could freeze a moment in time, it would be tickle fights with Goose and Maverick. I would be the tickle monster and have Goose firmly in my grasp, to great gushes of giggles, when I would be attacked by little Maverick, aka Scrappy Doo at the time, coming to save his brother. The tickle monster would switch out one for the other, grabbing Maverick, to loads of laughter, and Goose would run and stand in the doorway, safe, unwilling to risk himself for his younger sibling. Ah, such is the nature of birth order.

I would not freeze last week. I asked the boys to give me 20 minutes of cell phone free time, just 20 minutes. We’ll put our technology away. We’ll talk. With the protests that ensued, you would think I had asked them to give up a kidney (which I think they would be much more willing to part with). I insisted, and they put them away, but they watched the clock. To their credit, they did make an effort to communicate, but as soon as that 20 minutes was up, they scrambled for the phones. My plan was to try again, to extend the time until we were technology free for about 2 hours of the day, but that genie is fat, and squeezing him back into that bottle is going to take some effort.

If I could freeze a moment in time, it would be pulling on rubber boots and walking through the muddy field behind our house with the dogs, Oreo the cat following us. Splashing through puddles, walking and talking, though I couldn’t tell you today what the topic of conversation might have been. Maybe school drama. Maybe the days the teacher made them practice walking in a line because some student (you know who you are) wouldn’t behave. Group punishment is not fair to kids like mine, kids who listen attentively, bright kids who want to be in school and want to learn.

Later I would walk the same field with Goose and Maverick, though now drained of its wonderful, stinky puddles. Goose found a frog one day and carried the poor thing the entire length of the walk. He showed it to me when we neared the house. He must have held too tight somewhere along the way, poor thing.

I would not freeze my 50th birthday, a day we were traveling with the robotics group. The boys woke up and came to my hotel room to wish me a happy birthday, and I didn’t see them again all day. We sat in the stands together, me below with the parents and Mr. A, and them above with their friends.  We ate at the same restaurant, me at the end with the parents and Mr. A, and them at another table with their friends. It’s okay, I thought. We’ll celebrate tomorrow, I thought. Tomorrow came, and we suggested a trip to Seattle. We’re tired, they said. I have laundry, Goose protested. So we just went home. It’s no fun celebrating with people who want to be somewhere else.

(Though I think it’s not so much that Goose didn’t want to celebrate as that he hates big cities, thinking the crime statistics will sidle up to him whispering, “You’re next.”)

If I could freeze a moment in time, it would be one of our walks down the beach, probably the one where a young Maverick, walking backwards, fell into one of the salt-water puddles created in the sand. It was fairly deep, and he was drenched. He wasn’t amused, though the rest of us were, and he carried his anger back to camp. Hopefully he can look back on it and laugh now. It’s these little harmless mistakes that give life spice.

I might freeze the time Mr. A picked up a kelp crab. If you’ve never seen a kelp crab, they are nothing like the oval, awkward Dungeness you are used to seeing in the store. Kelp crabs are small bodied, with these long, long legs. So long, in fact, that the trick of picking a crab up with your thumb and forefinger by the back, a trick that works perfectly fine for Dungeness, doesn’t work for them, as Mr. A found out. The crab easily reached around and grabbed hold of his hand. He flailed a bit and dropped the crab, but then to my astonishment he picked it up again the same way…with the same result. What was he expecting?

So many days, so many wonderful memories. Sometimes I feel that they are being overlaid, like too many layers in Photoshop, with other, newer realities, causing distortion. I have to fight to remember the good times, the love, and the laughter.

If I could freeze a moment in time, I would go back and search the days prior to 2004.

I would not freeze the day I got the call one week after my 40th birthday that my mammogram looked suspicious, and could I please come in for a biopsy.

I would not freeze the day I got the call that yes, it was cancer.

That’s the day my moments in time took on a whole new meaning.


graymalkn / Foter / CC BY

Fifteen

Photo courtesy of Grammar Ghoul Press

The cake sat on the table, candles burning to the nubs. The festive, edible confetti covering the top of the cake suggested hope, but the yelling from the other room was not promising.

A door slammed in the distance, rattling the old house, wavy glass windows shuddering at the disturbance.

Grace returned, tears streaming down her face. The house seemed to fold around her as darkness fell outside. The streamers and balloons lining the small dining room danced slowly overhead in the drafts from the windows. Some of the candles had burned out. She blew out the others, leaving the cake in the middle of the cheap, plastic tablecloth.

She sat in the semi-darkness. If someone had told her things would be like this, she might have made a different choice. She shuddered and retracted the last thought superstitiously. They were just going through tough times, she told herself. Things would get better.

She surveyed the room. Behind the cheery balloons and crepe paper streamers, the walls were covered with school pictures and awards. In the secondhand china cabinet, a baby picture stood proudly between tiny, white, patent leather shoes and a threadbare stuffed animal.

Grace thought back to the night, a lifetime ago, when she had told her then boyfriend of two years that she was pregnant. He had scoffed, then had gotten angry, then had insisted on an abortion. He was a lesser star on the football team, the son of a prominent town doctor. She was the daughter of a pastor. What would people say? There had been yelling and harsh words, and she had stormed off.

Abortion. The quick fix. Her parents would disown her. Frightened and alone, she sat on the park bench, knowing this decision was up to her. After Luke’s reaction, she couldn’t count on him for anything. How could she have been so trusting? How could she have been so stupid? She was barely seventeen.

A small spark awaited her decision, its life hanging in the balance. The realization gradually overtook her. She would have this baby, and she would work as hard as she could to give it the best life possible.

Three months before her eighteenth birthday, Grace gave birth to a baby girl. She named her Athena, after the goddess of wisdom – and warfare, she had found out later. Teenage Athena was now demonstrating her warlike aptitude. Perhaps wisdom was coming.

Athena had never been a calm child. As a fetus, she had pummeled her young mother from the womb. Grace sometimes blamed herself, thinking that wavering over Athena’s life had influenced her temperament. Once she was born, Athena had greeted Grace’s hopeful face with a wail that lasted for the next three months. She fussed at nighttime, never wanting to sleep. To calm her, Grace walked her up and down the road – a new road, in a new city, where no one judged a pastor’s daughter.

Yet Grace remembered the good times. Athena’s birth, though complicated and unexpected, had ushered her into the club of parenthood. She had looked down on her little, wailing daughter with her red, squeezed-up face and her balled up fists and fallen totally and completely in love. Those tiny toes, that shock of hair, the gasping breath between wails were all proof of a miracle. In an instant, the spark had flared into a flame. Where before no Athena had existed, a tiny, blustery, little presence now proclaimed itself to the world.

Standing, Grace smiled and wiped her tears. How could she ever second guess her choice? Today she would celebrate, even if she had to celebrate alone. Through the difficult past fifteen years, the depth and warmth that came from loving her child had filled every crack and crevice in her heart.

As she cut into the small, cheerful cake, the door down the hall creaked open. The streamers danced in the gust of air.

“Mom?” a hoarse voice called, hesitantly.

“I’m in here,” Grace called back, slicing through the frosting and into the rich chocolate center.

Athena stopped in the doorway, arms crossed. They looked at one another with red, puffy eyes, then both burst into laughter.

“Is that my piece?” Athena asked, enfolding her mom in an awkward, distant-yet-desperate, teenage hug.

“You bet it is,” said Grace, lighting a candle nub and placing it on top. “Now make a wish!”

But really, what more was there to wish for?

Driver’s License!

On the day after my 16th birthday, I was first in line at the DMV. I was so eager to drive, to get my dad’s red Cutlass under me and hit the road. I passed with flying colors, thanks to my dad’s expert instruction and a lot of time in a school sponsored driver’s education course. I was as excited as a child on Christmas morning, and I wielded my new license like my own personal trophy.

Despite having my license, I wasn’t allowed to immediately grab the car and go. My parents reluctantly let me make the small forays into driving independence with errands, including trips to the store right up the road. My parents created the provisional license long before the state mandated it. No friends in the car. Limited trips. But it wasn’t long before I was driving all of my friends around.


Georg Sander / Foter / CC BY-NC

I didn’t always handle my new-found independence with a great deal of responsibility. I drove too fast and at one point raced a co-worker down a road on the way home from work, something I’m sure my dad would be thrilled to hear. And once I backed his car into a pole at Fred Meyer. But overall, life was good, and luckily I didn’t hurt myself or anyone else.

At sixteen I also had a part-time job at KFC. My co-workers were my friends, and we had a good time at work. We laughed while we worked and ate chicken on our breaks and drank endless graveyards. Though I disliked coming home with my brown polyester uniform smelling like stale grease, I had fun with these people and enjoyed interacting with the public, AND I was getting a paycheck! I could buy the clothes and shoes that my parents said were too expensive. That was also the year that I bought my Pentax SLR camera and taught myself how to take pictures, creating a lifetime of photographic enjoyment.

Sixteen was a good year. Having freedom, money, and no financial responsibilities, how could it not be?

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Only Sixteen.” Tell us all about the person you were when you were sixteen. If you haven’t yet hit sixteen, tell us about the person you want to be at sixteen.

Postcards

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “From You to You.”Write a letter to your 14-year-old self. Tomorrow, write a letter to yourself in 20 years.

Dear Angsty Teen,

You are embarking upon a marvelous journey called life. As you head out, the scenery looks bleak. Glorious mountain peaks are shrouded in fog. Fertile valleys are subject to intense rainstorms. Sometimes it will feel like you are standing on a precipice alone, with nowhere to turn.

Blog2015rs0216Climb the mountain. Wait for the fog to clear. Mountains are hard to climb, but the view from the top is spectacular.You will see for miles in the distance. The air is clean and clear. Cars on the road below are mere ants, plugging along from point A to point B. You may even look down to see an eagle soaring above them. When the fog rolls in again, you will be above it, and you will see that though the fog may be dense, the sun still shines.

Blog2015rs0218Walk through the rain. Accept getting wet. You may find yourself huddling in a rocky alcove or under a tree with fellow wanderers. You are not alone in your travels. When the rain lets up, you will be amazed by the greenery and the profuse blooms that follow. Around you life will buzz with activity, and you will be a part of the picture. Even the desert blooms after a rain.

And on that precipice, alone, raise your eyes to the heavens and wait for the sun to rise. Look up. Feel the thinness of the air. See the world before you. Look in the direction you wish to go. Walk on the edge if you must, but resist the fear of falling. Look down and do not be afraid. Find the place you wish to be. Anchor yourself to the precipice itself, keep hold of your rope, and gently rappel yourself back down to safety. As you continue on your path, the precipice will become a beautiful scene in the distance, the dizzying heights no more than a fading memory.

Angsty teen, life is a journey, not a frozen moment in time. If you are willing to weather the storms and overcome the obstacles, you will see the beauty that surrounds you. You just have to get through the tempest.

In love and wisdom,

Your future self

Sometimes You Have to Lose to Win

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “The Perfect Game.”

We lined up the life size chess pieces in the brutal sun, and I thought to myself how much of life was strategy. This was just the latest of a series of many failed attempts to connect with my teenage son during our latest family camping vacation. I had picked a campsite with as many amenities as possible for the teen set – boat rentals, wi-fi (though limited), swimming, and games, like the one we were attempting now. Yet he had thwarted my attempts at conversation and had spent much of his time camped out in front of the little campground store, sucking energy and wi-fi off the campground grid. He refused to sit around the campfire and talk, preferring online chatting with his friends back home. He grudgingly hiked with us, quickly leaving us in his younger, more agile dust. Even when I suggested a game, he simply stated that his brother wouldn’t want to play. When I emphasized that I meant with me, he paused, then reluctantly accepted.

Once the pieces were laid out on the lawn. He indicated for me to begin with a somber nod of the head. I looked at my son, once a smiling, curly-headed boy who used to cuddle up on the couch with me to watch a movie, who used to lay out on a blanket under the tree as I read to him. Here he stood, tall and strong, confident in the knowledge that he would surely beat me. I half rolled, half picked up the heavy pawn and moved it two spaces forward. He quickly made his move. I scanned the board. I made another move, followed quickly by his. This pattern continued, and I managed to hold him off for a while, but soon he began to take out my key pieces. First my knight was lugged off the board, followed by a bishop. I managed to keep my king and queen safe for quite some time. At some point in the game, a preschool girl approached with her mom and started putting pieces back on the board. He was unfazed, and continued his assault as I removed them. Her mom lovingly distracted her into a new investigation, and our game continued.

I thought how odd it was to play chess with such a large board, and with such large pieces. The perspective was different, skewing the strategy. Playing on a table-top board gives you a good vantage point to see what’s coming, allowing you to plan for the next move. This life-size game was throwing me. Parenting this stranger was throwing me. Like chess, everything was much easier on a smaller scale.

My son started closing in. He lined up his bishop, but I thwarted his move. He grabbed his heavy rook and lined it up as well. I maneuvered my remaining bishop into a defensive position. I could tell my options were quickly becoming limited. I had my remaining pawns arranged to take out his key pieces should they make an attempt, but he was one step ahead of me, lining up his flanking moves. I made a misstep, he moved his rook, and with a subtle smile said, “Checkmate.”

I just smiled. For me it wasn’t about winning. It was just about playing the game.

“Ping-pong?” he asked.

I smiled again. Sometimes you have to lose to win.

Familiar campground scene