Month: August 2015
Today is the first day of school for my boys. Maybe I have mentioned it before. It is Dylan’s first day of high school, and Shane’s first day of middle school.
If the transition is tough for them, I can hardly tell. They enjoyed orientation last week. Neither of them wants to go to school, but they are already talking about the friends they want to see, places they want to go with these friends, things they want to do. In other words, like they do every year, they are leaving me again.
I think sometimes that having kids is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It is by far the most rewarding, most engaging, most fun and most exciting thing I’ve ever done, too. I wouldn’t change it for the world.
But I think, almost every day, about the day they will leave for college. Because he’s the first, Dylan’s leaving will be unbearable. And because he’s the last, Shane’s leaving will be unbearable. If I have a hard time with middle and high school, I can only imagine my displeasure when they go to college.
I imagine Dylan standing at the curb, waving. I imagine leaning out the window and yelling one last bit of advice: “If you are craving potato chips, eat a banana!”
(Often a potato chip craving means that one needs more potassium. A banana is loaded with potassium, so eating a banana is a healthy way to help alleviate that particular craving.)
Of course, Dylan doesn’t even like potato chips, so I’m not sure why that would be my last word of advice.
Shane, however, loves potato chips. Maybe I should start feeding him more bananas now.
I can’t even imagine dropping off Shane at college. I try to imagine him waving from the curb, but he didn’t even say goodbye to me on his first day of preschool. He surely didn’t wave – or cry, like I did, in the car all the way home.
I imagine dropping off Shane at college, unloading the car – carrying the heavy stuff up three flights of stairs. I imagine dropping the last box in Shane’s room and him looking at me saying, “Okay, bye,” then running off to explore the campus with his new roommate.
I imagine watching him dash down the hall, then turning to Bill and saying, “Well, I guess we can go.”
I imagine our minivan rattling emptily all the way home.
For now, it’s just middle school and high school. But I can feel it coming like a tsunami on my heart.
I was a quiet child. I was a rebellious teen.
I got hurt a lot. My defensive walls went up subconsciously, and kept me from getting close to people. I married a man who put up with the walls, who could see what was on the other side. I made a few close friends along the way, and a lot of acquaintances.
I tried hard not to care too much about anybody.
But then my babies were born, and the walls crumbled like stale cookies. The love poured out, literally overflowing, whether or not I allowed it to happen. And once the floodgates opened, the rest of the world got pieces of that love, too. I couldn’t help myself.
Over the years, I’ve tried to keep my tough exterior, but I am more like a blackened campfire marshmallow. I cry when I’m happy. I cry when I’m sad. I cry when I realize how much I love a song, or a well-made TV commercial. There’s not much of the wall left to hold back the tears.
But I spent years avoiding people, keeping them at bay, not letting too many people get to know me. I tried not to make too many friends. Not because (as I often said) I hated people, but because of the immense fear of getting hurt.
I knew that, somewhere down the line, I was going to lose the people I loved. They would hurt me or leave me, betray me or abandon me. And if all my attempts to keep away from people failed, eventually they would die. And then I would be alone anyway.
So I tried not to love too much. Even after the kids were born, I tried not to love too much.
Unfortunately, it was already too late.
I forgot that I come from an enormous and wonderful family. My parents come from huge families, and their siblings had families, and so I have so many cousins that, even though I’ve counted them repeatedly, I can never remember exactly how many I have. And my cousins grew up with me, and got married, providing me with more cousins, and second cousins, and first cousins once removed…. And as impossible as it is to believe, they are all really great people. And I have loved them for my whole life.
And now we’re getting older. And things are happening that I don’t like. Beautiful people have died. Some are very sick. And even though I pray and pray, I can’t seem to stop the bad things from happening. And I can’t seem to stop the worrying that is supposed to be buried by my faith.
So I just keep praying. And I cry a lot more than I would like – not because I like a song, but because it makes me sad that we have such a limited time here together. All of us, together. The older I get, the shorter the time seems.
Because it is shorter.
And while I wouldn’t change my life or my past, I realize that all those years of pushing people away were utterly useless. I care so much and so deeply that, no matter what, it’s going to hurt. Bad things happen to good people, and it’s agony.
But instead of pushing away the hurt, today I will feel it. Sometimes it’s the pain that connects us to this earth, to its people, to my family, to Love itself.
Today I want to be here, and live, and enjoy each moment as it comes.
There’s simply no other way to live.
This year, Shane starts middle school. Dylan starts high school. We are having a year of serious transitions.
Luckily the schools have realized that these are “big” years, and they’ve scheduled a half-day orientation for both 6th and 9th grades. The boys will get up in the morning and ride the bus to school, just as they will on the first day – with the notable and significant exception that the older students who attend the schools will not be there.
So Shane, who has never taken a school bus, will be able to have one somewhat peaceful ride. And Dylan, who was shuttled 45 minutes each way in a car last year, will be able to experience a much, much shorter ride. They will both have their schedules and be home by noon – something that makes me incredibly happy.
Something should make me incredibly happy, because Orientation Day is also My Birthday.
A lot of people like to overlook their birthdays, especially as the infernal aging sets in. But I see it as a day where, quite frankly, I can do whatever I want.
Of course I am old, so usually all I want to do is eat.
But I do not want to send my kids off to orientation. I am already sad enough about the prospect of sending them back to school. I don’t need the added emphasis on their transitions on this particular day.
So I am planning to take myself out for breakfast. Because I have signed up for every email list known to man, I am inundated with “free entree” coupons every year. One year, I just spent the entire day (while the kids were at school) running around, spending birthday coupons.
For lunch, I will pick up another free entree – although I will save it for the next day, because I will be too full from breakfast. Then, the kids and I will go to Ben & Jerry’s for my free ice cream cone.
And I will pick up my personally designed tie-dyed ice cream cake. (I get $3 off because it’s my birthday. Ben & Jerry’s gives out two coupons every year.)
In the evening, I will have my mother’s spaghetti sauce. The woman is a saint, and makes it for me every year. And then I will go to the parent orientation meeting at the high school, because I wouldn’t miss that for anything in the world. Even though I already know everything.
So I will eat like a swine and then, as I do every year, I will wait for the school year to start and then I will go back to the gym. I will plan to go every day, to work out furiously five days a week, until I lose 20 pounds.
And by next spring, I will be much more fit and even eating more healthily – although mysteriously those 20 pounds will still be with me – until summer comes.
And then I will stop working out and eat too much all summer long, culminating with my self-indulgent birthday fest, at which point I will decide to go back to the gym and attempt to lose those same 20 pounds.
I love my birthday. Even if no one else does.
After a very full summer with the boys, I am sorry to see them go back to school. And also, I am delighted.
While I am pensive about the huge transitions into new schools for both of them, my delight comes from realizing that they will be back with kids their own age – and someone will think their jokes are funny again.
Both of them have their moments, of course, and I have had some deep and meaningful conversations with both boys. I think they are brilliant and creative, and I love to hear about their thoughts. So this morning, when I was in the midst of one such conversation – or so I thought – I realized that we were in “kid mode” instead.
Dylan: “This is my 11th year of school.”
Me: “It’s your 13th year. You started preschool at age 2.”
Dylan: “This is my 13th year of school.”
Me: “It’s a lot, I know. I still have mixed feelings about sending you to preschool at two. I wanted so badly for you to have a social life, and I didn’t want you to wait. But also, there are studies that say that kids who are in preschool are more prepared for kindergarten, and have an easier time in school….”
[Here I launch into a five-minute essay about when I did my student teaching in a kindergarten, and how parental influences also affect a child’s progress in school. This, I think, is where I lost Dylan.]
Me (still): “…Some kids can’t even count to ten. You were counting to ten when you were two.”
Dylan: “Mom! Mom!”
Me (still): “Actually, one of my all-time favorite memories was on your first day of preschool…”
Me (interrupted): “I wasn’t done! What do you want?”
Dylan: “One shoe tree for five sticks!”
Dylan: “You know, one-two-three-four-five-six? One shoe tree for five sticks!”
And this is when I gave up. I didn’t tell my story about Dylan’s first day of preschool, partially because I was so irritated by his interruption, and partially because he’s already heard it 17 times anyway. Maybe someday I will write a blog about it.
Meanwhile, though, I need to learn to shut up. I forget that, even if I am not lecturing, I talk way too much – both for kids, and for males – and I need to, sometimes, just be quiet and listen.
It’s a lesson I expect to learn hundreds of times, again, before I die.
All of my concerns about Shane are unfounded.
I decided to bake bacon. My mother mentioned it to me in passing, and I thought, hey! that sounds easy!
“Do you have a cooling rack, like you would use to cool cookies?”
“Yes!” I said excitedly.
“You put that inside the baking pan, and the bacon goes on top. It’s really easy. You can find the instructions on the internet.”
I practically raced to the internet. I found an instructional article – complete with pictures – that couldn’t have been any easier.
I dug out my cooling rack, my baking sheet and a pound of bacon. I sprayed the cooling rack with non-stick cooking spray. I sprayed the pan with non-stick cooking spray, just for good measure. I pulled out the proper amount of bacon to fit the pan and lined it up with the thicker side on top for the first, thinner side on top for the second.
“Make sure not to overlap slices!” the article said.
The one on the end fell inside the little slats of the cookie sheet, and partially landed in the pan, which seemed problematic. I decided that my cookie rack wasn’t perfect, and just shoved that last slice of bacon around until it held tight on top of the cookie rack.
I set the temperature on the oven and put the bacon in, set the timer and waited.
Five minutes later, I looked at my creation. The bacon was all falling through the slats of the cookie sheet, swimming in the bacon grease below. Pieces of it were still clinging to the top of the cookie sheet, so the top chunks were getting crisp while the bottom chunks were getting grease-ridden and soggy.
I didn’t have one, single piece of bacon that looked like the picture.
Something had to be done – and fast – or we weren’t having baked bacon with our lunch. And it’s hard to make BLT’s without bacon. They would be sad “LT’s” – and who wants that?
So I whisked the pan quickly out of the oven, careful not to splatter the grease. I pulled out a paper towel and started plucking the strips out of the grease, desperately trying to balance the bacon and make it look like the picture. Nothing was working. It just kept falling through the slats, and there didn’t seem to be anything I could do about it.
I thought the slats were too wide. I thought the bacon was too thin. I thought, geez, I can’t cook anything right!
Then I realized: the slats only run one way.
In my situation, the slats ran vertically. So I put the bacon on the cooling rack vertically. I had aligned the bacon with the slats – which seemed logical, at the time.
But after seeing the disaster that I’d created, I realized that if the slats run vertically, then having the bacon sit horizontally would be far more logical. It might even keep the bacon on top of the rack, instead of letting it drop through the slats!
So I put all the bacon across the slats, horizontally, then plopped the pan back into the oven. Eventually, we ate baked bacon.
I couldn’t help but think about Shane, and the envelope, and the visual aids, and my concerns that there is really something misfiring in his brain.
If there is, it’s misfiring in my brain, too.
A boy Dylan knows from church came over for a few hours, his first visit. We’d been meaning to have him over for months, but Dylan just didn’t seem able to set up the meeting. So when the boy’s mom emailed me, as someone in charge of the upcoming “Surviving High School” small group, I asked if he could come over.
“He would love to come over,” she emailed. And we set up a day and time, no problem.
As I write this, the boy has been here for slightly more than two hours. During that time, the laughter has been constant. These deep, rumbling chuckles and guffaws explode over and over from these kids – and I keep forgetting that they aren’t full-grown men. Their low voices and the “mumble-mumble” things that happen between guffaws sound just like my husband.
It’s amazing how often I forget that Dylan’s voice has changed. I heard him out in the yard playing with Shane one day and thought, “Oh, Bill’s home early from work!” But no – Dylan just sounds like my husband now.
My husband is a wonderful man, and I like his voice, and his low, deep laughter. But conversations can be difficult sometimes.
So I am sitting here, loving the fact that Dylan is happy – his laughter is so beautiful, at any bass level – and also realizing: Hey! This is going to happen to Shane, too! And THEN where will I be?
I am the only female in a house full of males. We got a female dog – which was supposed to help, but didn’t. I am not a frou-frou kind of girl. I don’t care about shopping or dressing up in fancy clothes or any of the stereotypical “girl” things. I have always been thrilled with my good fortune at having two boys.
But the deep guffaws from Dylan and his friend remind me: girls are different. Dylan and his friend are so quiet, except for the mumbles and the laughter. They aren’t having deep conversations. They aren’t asking each other questions, and they take turns when they talk. They are much, much quieter than girls. And I’m fine with that.
Females tend to talk more, and we enjoy female companionship, if only for the reason that we have someone who talks the way we do. Female friends will interrupt us without thinking – and it won’t matter because that’s what we do. We’ll talk over one another, laugh when nothing’s funny, and make beautiful memories, just sitting together.
I realize now – as always, too late – that these are things I did with my boys when they were younger.
So in the future, when Bill, Dylan and Shane have friends with whom to mumble and guffaw, what am I supposed to do?
The best thing about being on vacation, I think, is eating out. All the time. I never have to cook – not that I cook much at home anyway. Better yet, I don’t have to hear complaints about what is being served. So after 16 days on the road with no fast food, and including five – yes, five – all-you-can-eat Vegas buffets, I was saddened to remember that I would have to make dinner when I got home.
My parents, angels that they are, not only took care of our dog while we were gone but also supplied us with a slew of groceries. So we were all set.
As luck would have it, though, Dylan was invited to a friend’s house just before dinnertime. Immediately thereafter, Shane said, “Could we go to a movie while Dylan’s at his friend’s house?”
So Dylan ate at his friend’s house, Shane and I had peanut butter sandwiches on the way to the theater, and Bill fended for himself. (He probably ate out.)
A few hours later, I got a text from Dylan, who was still at his friend’s house: “Omg the food was so good.”
He sent this – did I mention – after 16 days of eating at relatively nice restaurants including five buffets.
So when he got home, I asked what he ate. He went on for ten minutes. “It was this, like, chicken with rice and beans, and the whole thing was in salsa and it was just really, really good.”
“You don’t like salsa. I’ve given you ten different kinds of salsa and you wouldn’t eat any of it.”
“Well apparently it has to be really good salsa.”
“And you hate rice. I’ve made rice 100,000 times and you won’t eat it – not brown rice, white rice, fried rice – no rice. You never eat rice!”
“Well it was okay when it was all mixed in with the other stuff.”
“Like the salsa.”
“Yeah, and the chicken. The chicken was so good, I could hardly stop eating it.”
The next day I went to the grocery store and bought a chicken. We had corn and sweet potato fries with it – but I bought the chicken (roasted from the store) because Dylan had made such a fuss about the chicken the night before.
When Dylan walked into the room, he saw the chicken, corn on the cob (thanks, Mom!) and sweet potato fries (thanks, Bill!). Dylan said, “Oh good, sweet potato fries so I don’t have to eat the chicken.”
“But I bought that chicken for you!” I wailed.
“What? Why? I don’t even like chicken.”
“Because yesterday you said you loved the chicken you ate! So I was trying to get you something you would love!”
“Well I don’t like this kind of chicken,” he said. “I’ve never liked this kind of chicken.”
“You have to eat this chicken anyway,” I moaned. “I bought it for you.”
“Well I don’t know why,” said Dylan. “I don’t even like chicken.”
In the middle of Monument Valley, on our vacation, the kids were acting … well, like kids. It was 115 degrees and the plan was to see Four Corners, Goosenecks State Park and Monument Valley – all in one day.
Dylan, who spins like a human top when he’s bored, had been in the car with very few breaks for nearly five hours. Monument Valley is a drive-through park, so he wasn’t able to release any of that energy. The human top was stuck in “vibrate” mode.
For the uninitiated, the vibrate mode of a human top sounds something like this: Blubbedy blub blub blub! Waaa woooo waaaa miggledy snip!
Because Dylan is musically gifted, though, sometimes he put this nonsense to music — loud, somewhat screechy music. And since there is no way to stop this unless one allows the human top to actually spin, we were all a bit cranky.
Except Shane, who is also a kid and thinks Dylan can do no wrong.
“Dylan!” a parent would shriek every four minutes. “Stop making those noises!”
Wild snickering would emanate from the back seat.
“Shane, stop laughing. Don’t encourage him!”
“That wasn’t me; it was Dylan!”
“It was Shane, too! Besides, what’s wrong with laughing? I thought you wanted us to be happy!” Dylan is always thinking abstractly and negotiating. Always.
“Happy, yes,” a parent would respond. “Totally insane is another thing entirely!”
“Bigglety bop balula-looooola!”
“Dylan, seriously! Just STOP!”
“Stop the lop? Stop the lop, boppity bop….”
More wild snickering.
“Stop everything! Just for one minute, please!”
Suddenly, I spied something I had not seen before in Monument Valley: a guy on top of a rock. It was a huge rock, with four sleek, straight sides and no footholds. It was a rock that no sane human being would attempt to climb.
“Look guys!” I pointed to the guy on the rock. Both kids became silent. The rock climber was just about to jump down, so we pulled up next to him and I rolled down my window.
“I just want to know if it was hard!” I yelled to him. I forgot that nearly every tourist we’d met was from Europe.
The guy – who was about 20 – said in stilted (but very nice) English, “It is very difficult!”
Shane said, “I want to do it!” So we went to the rock and he tried – and tried – and tried. But he was way too short and could only climb up a tiny bit before he gave up.
The European guy said, “I could not do this two years ago, and now I can. Maybe he can in two years.” We all shrugged. Then the European and his family drove away.
Then Dylan jumped out of the car. He raced to the boulder, climbed almost to the top, then threw his leg over the top and sat up.
“You did it!” we all said in amazement. Dylan was only 14. The European had already said he couldn’t do it two years ago – and now Dylan had proven that it could be done.
After Dylan got down, Shane tried again. This time, with a few pushes, Shane got to the top, too. We took pictures galore of both boys, then got back into the car.
Dylan was like a new person – an adult person. He was calm and centered and, for the rest of the day, much more pleasant.
To stop the human top from spinning, we just had to let him climb a rock.
Shane and I were in the car on a glorious summer’s day. We stopped at a red light and heard thumping, blaring booms from the car next to us.
“I wonder what song that is,” Shane said. “Try 95.5.” I dialed the radio accordingly. It was not 95.5.
“Must be a CD,” Shane said.
I looked over to see who insisted on deafening their mobile neighbors with the subwoofer volume maxxed. Two young guys sat in the front seat, baseball caps turned backwards, jammin’ out. All the windows were down – explicit lyrics for all!
And in the back seat sat a girl, blond ponytail sticking straight out of the back of her head, somewhere between the ages of 15 and 25. Next to her sat a rear-facing infant seat. She glanced over and tugged at it for a second, so I know there was a baby inside.
I almost vomited right out my window.
If the baby wasn’t already been born deaf, it certainly was losing its hearing. No thought had been given to the baby’s safety or happiness. Heck, maybe the baby was sleeping. If those teenagers actually lived the way they drove down the street, the baby would have to sleep whenever it could.
I don’t know those people, so I literally can’t judge them. For all I know, they weren’t even the baby’s parents.
But I imagined….
That the young mom thought, I’m not going to let any dumb baby slow ME down! I’m going to live my life the way I want to live it! I’m only young once and I’m not gonna miss it!
I imagined her getting up in the morning (ignoring the cries in the middle of the night). I imagined her lighting up a cigarette and heating up the formula while the baby screamed from its cardboard box in the living room. I imagined her eating toast with jelly before bothering to pick up the baby, then moving it straight into a high chair, never making eye contact or even saying hello.
I jumped straight from that conclusion to the child starting kindergarten, not knowing the alphabet or how to count to ten – like so many of the kids I knew when I taught kindergarten. In an instant, I gave that infant zero chance for a future, other than prison or a career in fast food.
And then I thought, hey, there’s still hope!
That young mom could wake up anytime she wants, hold her baby close and start treating that baby the way all children deserve to be treated. She might start with a quiet moment in the early morning, watching the sunrise and realizing that there’s more to life than rebellion against society.
She might decide her baby deserves more than what she’s offered. She might just turn down the car’s CD player and sing to the baby instead. She might invest in a stroller and walk through a forest, pointing out trees and birds and squirrels to the baby. She might teach the baby to count, to read, to be a loving human.
Or that young mom might overdose on drugs and let the baby starve to death next to her corpse.
There’s a tremendous likelihood that I am utterly wrong, having only glanced at the car for 20 seconds.
Either way, I am trying hard to believe, today, that there is hope.
I am still taking my amino acid, as recommended by The Mood Cure. It’s been quite awhile now, and I take it every day. After Dylan’s continued success, I don’t want to take any chances.
Except one particular weekend, I forgot. I forgot to eat breakfast, so I also forgot to take my daily supplements – which I usually take with breakfast.
During the first day, I had no idea whether or not I’d forgotten to take it. I simply couldn’t remember if, before leaving the house, I had taken 30 seconds to get some water and take the caplet. And I didn’t want to take too many (although I can take up to four a day) so I just didn’t take one.
I mean, I think I didn’t. I didn’t feel much different that day, so who knows? Maybe I did take it.
Or maybe not.
Anyway, the next day, I went out to a really fun mall – nearly an hour’s drive away. I was planning a big day of shopping. (I don’t go to the mall very often, so when I go, it may as well be an all-day event.)
Halfway to the mall, I realized – for sure – that I’d forgotten to take my amino acid. I thought, If I really did forget yesterday, that’s two days without it! I am in trouble if THAT’s true!
But then I went shopping and forgot all about it.
The first time I took it, the difference was so glaringly obvious. I felt normal in less than 20 minutes. I didn’t feel so sad, or angry, or frustrated. I just felt a little more calm than I usually do.
But in spite of how I can’t feel it anymore, I have noticed something spectacular: I no longer bite off the heads of people close to me when I’m frustrated. I don’t scream at the other drivers. I don’t blow up at incredibly small things. Even when I’m really frustrated, I rarely show my frustration by raging at those who don’t deserve it.
(Well, no one ever deserves my rage, probably.)
And so I went a whole weekend without it, and I didn’t feel that much different. I felt relatively calm.
Until around 9:00 at night, when suddenly, I blew up. I directed all of my rage right at my husband, and I don’t even know what I was upset about. And in the back of my brain, I could hear that ever-familiar little voice saying, Stop it! Stop yelling! What’s wrong with you? While the front of my face was still blabbering like an idiot.
This is an occurrence that used to happen quite regularly – often directed at my kids, because they were there. I remembered it all very well.
The next morning I woke up, and went directly downstairs to take my amino acid. I surely hope I don’t forget again.