I came up from my bedroom this morning to the vision of Katy, my daughter, eating a large bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios. I open with this piece of information because Kate has been struggling with a stomach virus all week. Five minutes later, when I began my morning diatribe about the importance of punctuality and dental hygiene, Katy looked at me. She looked guilty. “Mom, my stomach hurts again.” She didn’t have a fever. She didn’t look pale. I had the suspicion that her pain had more to do with my lecture than her health. But I tucked her under some blankets on our bed and took Colin to school.

I got home to find Katy curled up on our chaise next to the bed. Then I noticed, Katy had erupted; half digested milk and cheerios were all over our quilt. I washed her hair, put her in some clean pajamas and brought her upstairs to her bed, which I had just finished putting clean sheets on last night. Katy throws up in bed. Not in the toilet. Or on the carpet. Never in a bucket. In bed, most of the time while she is half asleep.

Next piece of business, I got a phone call from my sister in law. My husband’s mom was dying. Today. Margaret has been staying with her daughter Debbie in North Carolina. She is, was, 93 years old, has, had cancer and dementia and failing lungs. So it wasn’t a surprise.

I spoke to her last week. We haven’t been talking as much as usual. I used to call her every day to fill her on every little thing my kids did; she was the only person that never, ever got tired of hearing every little detail. About how Katy loved ketchup more than the cheeseburger she put it on. How Colin would come downstairs 5 times a night to say good night and tell me just one more thing.

So when I called her last week, it was awkward. I couldn’t start talking about what we had for dinner last night, or Katy’s new passion for the recorder, after not talking to her for almost a month. So I told her about school, about my grades, about the weather. She was tired, her voice cracked. Before we got off the phone she said “Julie, don’t lose my number.”

I called her every day after, and I think I only got to speak to her once more.

Right after I got the call that the priest was on his way to give her last rites, the turtle turned up in our tv room. About a week ago, he had disappeared from his bowl. We all thought the dog ate him.

During dinner, conversation went back and forth from Margaret’s death to the discovery of Picasso Roadkill, (he’s a painted turtle found on the side of the road). Dinner was quick, just Katy and me. We had to drive over to Roxbury to pick up Colin from basketball practice.  I wasn’t happy about driving to Roxbury at 8 o’clock. I have a lousy sense of direction, I can never find a parking space, and I always get lost coming home. To make matters worse, on the way to pick my son up, (while I was trying to figure out a way to get mad at my husband for asking me to do just that, even though his mother had just died hours before) in a sudden moment of clarity I remembered today was the day I had to start cat/snake sitting for a woman in Cambridge.

Change of plans. Katy and I drove to Cambridge. We couldn’t find the house. I finally parked the car, deciding that we would walk up and down Harvard Street until a building looked familiar. Or until a key fit in the front door.

We found the house. We fed the cat. We left food for the less friendly cat. We looked at the snake. We scooped litter.

Then we left, to go back to the car, and return to our original errand. Picking up Colin from basketball.

One glitch. I had lost the car. We walked and walked and walked. I gave Katy another speech about something stupid, picking up her feet, or not jangling the car keys, or to never leave the house in her pajamas. We walked, and walked, and walked. Katy tried to ask me questions. She wanted to know what her Nanna had been like as a young woman. She wanted to know who my high school boyfriend was. She wanted to know why she was named Kaitlin and what I would have named her if she was a boy.

I don’t think I answered any of her questions. I think I shook her off a few times, she was holding my hand, and sometimes I just couldn’t bare to be close, to be clung to. I just wanted to march forward fast, without speaking, find the car, pick up my son, and get home.

She kept reaching out, though. And she was the one who reached in my back pocket and grabbed my phone the 34th time it rang. She told my husband where we were. He’d picked up Colin. He came right away. On the way to get us, Colin spotted the car just blocks away from where Katy and I were standing.

On the ride home, in the dark, in the tunnel we call the Katy tunnel because it was completed just before she was born, I told them about Margaret. I told them about how one night Marg and I stayed up late, got drunk, and plotted how I could convince Sheldon he really did want a baby. I told them how she always announced that she didn’t like bread with her pasta, and that she always had bread with her pasta. I told them how their Dad used to call her “Mumsy” and how that would make her smile.

They are both in bed now. Colin’s probably awake, he’s watching the turtle in the dark and trying to remember how his Nanna used to rock him to sleep. Katy is sleeping, soundly. I hope she doesn’t throw up tonight.

I’m sitting here trying to figure out if this is a night for a sleeping pill, or a night for a walk in the dark with my memories. I think Katy and I did enough walking for tonight. So I think I will sit on my stoop for a while with Sophie and think about things.

I do need to get to bed soon. I need to get up early. I want to have breakfast with Colin. And I want to walk Katy to school. I will hold her hand, and ask her questions, and she will shake me off, and skip ahead,  and tomorrow will be a wonderful day.

Long F#$%%^^ing Day

May 19, 2013

This morning at 5:30 my son was driven by his father to meet his basketball coach. Colin had a game to play in Fitchberg today and since neither his Dad or I were able to take the time off to drive him, (it’s about an hour and a half away,) his coach kindly offered to give him a ride. I didn’t say good bye to him. Or maybe I did. Five thirty in the morning feels like a very long way away from now.

Long story short, and I mean very long story, short, until 9:30 tonight I didn’t speak to my son. Or his coach. Or any of his fellow team mates. I called the director of the basketball program. I called my son’s other coach, who knows my son’s current coach to find out what he thought of the man that drove my son to Fitchberg at 6 o’clock in the morning. At about 7 pm I took an opinion poll at a going away party I was at  to see if people thought I should be concerned at not being able to reach him. I called my mother. I told the woman behind the register at the CVS.

He finally called  at 9:45. Even though he left with only eight dollars in his pocket a fact I told every one when I was telling them my tale of woe and worry, he said he had had enough to eat. He said he had fun at the games, that he had played well. He said he would be home soon, and would call me when they was getting close. When we hung up, he told me he loved me. That was kind, I’m sure he was a little horrified at the flurry of text messages and voice mails from me, his father and head of the AAU program.

When I talked to my mom, she chuckled. Not hysterical laughter, or obnoxious you-are-a-craz-idiot- guffaw, just a quiet, beneath her breath, low kind of chuckle.  Maybe she thought I was too busy inside my hysterics to hear it.

She told me “He’s growing up. Colin’s smart, and he’s fine, and he’s had enough to eat. I promise.”

And she was right.

She also told me I couldn’t bury one of those satellite gps’s under his armpit while he was sleeping. Or make him quit basketball and take up ping pong in the neighbor’s basement.

She told me Colin is growing up, and there isn’t a helluva a lot I can do about it.

And she didn’t say it, but I got the impression she was trying to prepare me for the fact that this is just the beginning. It is going to get much, much worse, at least from my point of view.

I’m hoping that if this whole teenage growing up thing makes me utterly panicked and miserable, that he has a wonderful time. That he scores many, many baskets, survives a thousand crushes, makes a few true friends, eats his vegetables and shares his pizza, swims, and runs, laughs like an idiot, and cries when he needs to. Personally, I would like him to do all of this, and get enough sleep, but that’s reaching a bit.

But I am going to get him a charger for his damn cell phone.

I don’t care what people say, unless a woman lives under a rock, she is probably prepared for childbirth. And everybody knows that time goes by quickly, that one day they are babies and the next, they are slamming doors and smoking pot, (or so I’ve been told). These are two truths that are always brought up when the conversation turns to the things in life that surprise us, and tell me, is there anyone you know that isn’t aware that having a baby hurts a lot, and time flies, even if you aren’t having fun.

What no one ever mentioned to me when I was younger was all the people I would lose as I got older. I’m not talking about death, or break ups. I’m talking about the friends and family that have quietly disappeared from my life. I was talking to my daughter the other day about a  photo we have on the mantel, she is a baby, swaddled in the every girl baby must have, a pink blanket, and she is held by a smiling Uncle John. After admiring herself, she pointed at the smiling Uncle John. “Who’s that?”, she asked. “Uncle John, you remember Uncle John!” “I don’t remember Uncle John. Is he your brother, or Daddy’s brother?” “He’s a friend of our family. He’s, he’s, he is your Uncle John. He lives in Dorchester.” She stared at me blankly. Katy doesn’t know where Dorchester is, she doesn’t care where Dorchester is, and she can’t figure out why I seem to expect her to figure out who this smiling man in the picture is based on a location she only hears about when her father is talking about traffic. “He gave you that blanket,” I remember. I watch her face.

“Mom, I was a baby then. I don’t remember getting that blanket. I can’t even remember what I had for lunch last week. When was the last time I saw him?”

And I thought about it. And I thought about it some more. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen my dear friend John. A long, long time since I’ve seen Simon, or Alex or talked to Patricia  on the phone. It’s been years since I discussed literature with my cousin Daniel. Decades since I laughed with Andy, listened to Kent play the guitar or listened to Andrea whine about her husband.

So many people have slipped out of my life when I wasn’t looking. I know everyone is connected these days, and almost anyone can be found, but how would I start a conversation with some I haven’t spoken to in twenty years- “Hey, having a baby, really hurt, hunh? And did you check out how summer seems to go by in a week these days?”

Some people fade away because of geography, some disappear, or fall out of touch as one settles down, and one climbs the corporate ladder. And what makes me sad, when I think about these people that I have loved and lost, is that I miss them. I miss them when I hear a song, or glance at a photo, see someone driving down the street with a familiar profile. Some many of these people are always just on the edge of mind, like a lost library book, or a dream hours after waking up.

Honestly, I don’t have the time right now to reach out to these people whose numbers filled my phone books (remember phone books?), sat across from me in restaurants, got me on guest lists, toasted me at midnight, and brought me aspirin in the morning.

My life is fuller than it’s ever been. Two kids that have reached the ages where I drive them around a lot. And I’m happy to because some days that’s the only time I get to speak to them.

In the past five years, I’ve created a whole new circle of friends, in the town where I live. They are wonderful people, they appreciate good books, often offer me really nice wine, and read the NY Times.   lot of them have kids too, and commiseration can be fun. I love these new friends of mine fiercely, and make sure I let them know as often as I can without seeming either needy or stawkerish. I only wish sometimes they knew a little more of my history, who I was before I became Julie, mom/writer/student/lousy housekeeper/sometimes funny, usually kind, when cranky I don’t speak much. The Julie from before was an interesting woman but kind of a mess.

I guess it’s not surprising I’m missing some people from before. And even though Julie 2.0 has things a little more together, I’m sure there are some friends that will fall off the radar as I move forward thru the rest of my life.

I just wish I had known when I started to make friends, real friends, not those based on proximity or the first letter of a last name, that I wasn’t going to stay friends with most of them. I would have liked to have been a little more attentive, taken more pictures, maybe told a few what I found so special about them. I wish I’d known, just a few times, when I was spending time with someone that I was never going to see again. Or that I could have been a little more aware all along that not everyone we love stays on our speed dial forever.

No one warned me about that so I just told you. What you do with the information is your own business. Maybe you were in a sorority 30 years ago, and text your sisters every time you are at a stop light. Maybe your families is just like the Waltons. Maybe you don’t have any friends and you don’t want them. But you’ve read this far, so I’ll end with what I’ve been trying to say all along.

Everyone always tells you to hold your kids close, they grow up so damn fast. All I’m trying to say is hold all the other people in your life that you love close by too.


May 1, 2013

I am a fifty year old woman. I am at an age when I should be gardening, or sorting thru cruise brochures, or joining a wine tasting class.

Instead, I am quite often surrounded by boys. Teenage boys. One of them is my son, who, like most 13 year olds, has begun to travel in packs of other thirteenish year olds. I spend a lot of time with the son of friend of mine, he’s on the cusp of 16, I think. He doesn’t look like a boy, anymore, but he is one. I am blessed that I get to see that side of him. I drive him places sometimes, and over time, and out of sheer boredom, I’ve gotten to know him.

Tonight, I was bringing this young friend of mine home from a class. He had his head stuffed between earbuds. He had a bag of Wendy’s on his lap. He had a scowl on his face and a french fry in his mouth.

A song came on the radio, and the ear buds came out. And he sang along. Not softly, not under his breath, out loud, each word clear, each note on key. He didn’t look at me; I didn’t look at him. I harmonized, or attempted it, during the choruses. I slid glances at his face, and saw his eyes were wide open inside the dark of the Grand Marquis. I still can’t believe he let me hear him sing. When the song was over, he stuffed the earbuds back in place. He popped a french fry in his mouth, he sighed and closed his eyes. Back in position we went. I drove the car, he went somewhere else in his head.

About a half an hour after I got home, my son came in from a basketball practice. He laid on the sofa, protesting he was too tired to make it up the stairs. His dad tried to wrestle with him, and he rolled over, closed his eyes. (What is it with boys and the shutting of eyelids. Is it some adolescent version of peekaboo?)

I waited for his father to go downstairs. I told him it was time for bed. “Don’t you want to hear about practice?” he asked. He didn’t sound hopeful. He didn’t sound mad. He wanted to know if I had the time to listen. I did.

He told me, little by little how his practice sucked. One kid announced to everyone he didn’t  want to pair up with him in a drill because my son was no good. Another kid swore at him for fouling him out. I don’t know exactly what went on, I don’t speak basketball. I just know that my son was squeezing tears out his eyes, and his lip trembled, and his shoulders shook. I know that he wouldn’t let me lay down next to him. We spoke face to face.

I said what I could. I told him how much I respected him for his drive, his determination. That the most I did sports wise growing up as a kid was join the swim team. I stayed on it until I was eleven, then quit when we moved and I found out I’d have to swim in a lake. Perseverance  has never been my middle name, hasn’t even been an occasional visitor in my life.

I don’t think I helped. I did get a smile when I reminded that body spray is never a substitute for a shower. I think he was smiling because he thinks I’m wrong and that body spray is even better than a shower.

Boys, these mysterious creatures that clutter and lift up my life. I watch them struggle, and I really want to make everything all better for them. And I can’t. I shouldn’t even attempt to.

I just need to make sure I’m around when their eyes are open and they want to talk.