Dealing

April 23, 2017

I’m the parent of a 13 and 16 year old.

It recently occurred to me how much time i waste looking at old snapshots of my kids, tripping down memory lane.

Every time i see Colin or Katy, anytime between the ages of two or ten, in a random picture, I grieve a little. The chubby, flushed cheeks. The easy smile for the camera. The giggle just below the surface, and the memory of the easy hugs, the non stop conversations at dinner, during which I would count the moments till they were in bed.

Then there is the time spent where I reminisce with other parents, friends, or any random tired strangers approximately my age standing in line at Target with a cart full of slim tampons or Axe body spray, about when we were young. There was no Instagram, pot was mostly worthless, porn was Playboy, and everybody played outside. In those days, teenagers didn’t spend all of their time looking at screens. while making really bad choices and posting pictures about the entire experience.

How much time have I wasted missing my own children, albeit the smaller, less complicated versions? Yes, preadolescence is really cute. Everybody under 12 looks adorable, especially to the people that met them as tiny, pink faced, noisy blobs of anger and insatiable demands, wearing silly tee shirts, tiny socks, and the most necessary underwear ever, diapers.

Even the tortured debates- karate or saxophone? Hip hop or girl scouts? Do they stay at the table till they have eaten at least three brussels sprouts or do they go to bed without ingesting anything with nutritional value at all so I can take a bath before Sex and The City? Even in the middle of these meaningful conversations in my  head,  I knew I was playing house.  My policy on vegetable consumption was as meaningful as the decision not to enforce the pants with zippers on holidays rule.

I’m sure both my kids have spotted the look on my face, peering at an earlier versions of them, in photographs carefully placed in CVS frames. They know I miss the days before pimples, charger wars, intelligent arguments that refuse to end because I say so. They can tell there are times when I see them as taller, paler imitations of my babies, my children.

Shame on me.

If I was so entranced with the early years, and not prepared to step aside to celebrate them in all the horrible glory of early adulthood, then I should have signed up to be a preschool teacher and skipped the rest.

As for the rest of it… yes, times have changed.

There is the internet. A million tv channels. Kids have their own damn phones and we don’t have to share one line.The porn is ruder than it ever was, I think, or it’s more easily available.

My kids are growing up and in the present, they can record everything stupid thing they do while the world watches.

I can mourn the way they were and the way things used to be or i can step up.

These changes, and the crazy stuff going on in the world, have given me a thousand opportunities to talk to the beautiful aliens across the kitchen table. They aren’t always in the mood, but sometimes bribery, in the form of expensive chocolate or a trip to an outlet store, works. Sometimes, they take their plates up to their rooms and the phrase ‘thousand opportunities’ seems as outdated as Mister Rogers and Peace on Earth. And sometimes we linger, night falls, our voices carry out over the radio. Sometimes, we listen, while the other one speaks.
.
If I continue to wallow in old snapshots of tiny toddlers, or vague memories of simpler times when I had to cross the room to turn the channel, I’ll only be looking over my shoulder.

Chances are I’ll get hit by a train, a tangle of smelly laundry, a bag of hula hoops and sidewalk chalk, or a thousand pairs of outgrown cleats and basketball sneakers.

I’m better off looking forward- leaning into the hugs and the angry debates, ducking the garbage and ignoring the hormones, and looking ahead].

I’m scared to death and I can’t wait for what’s next.

If I was to step way far to the back of the room, a big room and look at a painting of my life, my whole life-
There would be wrinkled toes and clenched fists, a brilliant green swimming pool littered with nicklels tossed as bribery to slip my face inside the water, my smile on the first day of school in the Simplicity pattern dress my mom sewed the night before. It fell around me like a gown, white and peach daisies, holding my brothers hand inside my own.
There would be Linda Weaver‘s impossibly long legs, tucked under her body while we lounged away the morning in our sleeping bag forts.
There would be birthday parties I wasn’t invited to, and flute music dancing across the canvas, all the way through.
School and homework led me to a lifelong love affair with procrastination,
I’d need to make room for a thousand assignments I started,
and even more space for all of the projects I wish I had begun.
There would be Mountain Lakes, and tan O’Sullivan girls, the Eveleth‘s kitchen ,
The Club would loom over a lake, you’d be able to smell the fried chicken from Sundays.There’d be an inch or two devoted to my red, white and blue sunfish and the time I took a boat out in a storm and didn’t tip. Everyone capsized that afternoon,
or maybe no one else went out that day.
There would be the bathroom at the Tourne,
 the floor would be littered with bottles of Colt 45.
There would be Oniko and Lisa, and a whole lot of boys. (Another canvas, another medium is needed for the boys of this life.)
There would be daddy saying goodbye outside of the Mountain lakes Club and again ten years later.
There was college, and nothing.
There was too much time in bathroom stalls, and not enough listening to the bands we were there to hear.
I love you, Rachel Cohen DeSario. Jeannette de Beauvoir and Paolo Palazzi-Xirinachs,
We’d be hiding in some smoke waiting for Paolo to move his turn in Scrabble. J and I’d be scowling, Paul would zipping Zima.
Fast forward, I’m running out of oil and it’s expensive- you’d see my babies.
My first, my boy, my Collie bear. He’d be high on a rock in back yard in Dorchester
Singing “Circle of Life” from Lion King.
He’d be fencing in gym class, catching snakes outside the pool, Staying awake worrying about where to sit at lunch,
Most of the time, he’d be holding a ball.
Next came Kate.
As an infant, she held onto me, for 2 years, she dangled or clung to wherever I had available flesh.
These days, she smells like milk, her blue eyes smile, her mind is a millions miles away.
When I call her back, she comes back. We hold hands, though these days, not when someone’s watching.
Someone’s always watching.
Blonde, fierce, smarter than all of us put together, Katy is the one in the middle. She speaks to all of us, for all of us.
I’d see the South Shore Y, Walden, Wollaston, Cape Cod, James Paul with a cocktail, a dented mini van, and most recently, Quincy college. Most days, I love to come to work.
In the corner, or behind a moonlit night from last September, you might see Colin, the Colin I will see tomorrow at breakfast. He’d look mad. You’d see me, reaching towards him, and his back, clenched, his fists, clenched.
You’d hesitate a moment at the scene
Then your eyes would take you back
to the sea of color surrounding
the two of us-
Lakes, city lights, bars, stadiums,
rocking chairs, tangled sheets,
Christmas trees and snowmen,
Mountains, oceans, miles of sand,
Stacks of books and record sleeves,
Kitchen tables, covered with platters and pitchers,
and wine and glasses of milk
Surrounded by chairs,
Filled with the people I love.
I am blessed. I am blessed even when I don’t know it.
It’s hard to see-
it’s impossible to step back when I’m bent over weeping
For all the things I don’t know
and all the things I think I know.
I need to find a way back to all the things I know.
Everything’s going to be alright.
I need to take a few steps to the back of a room,
get down on my knees, lift up my head,
Listen.
I have to find the right words for the prayers
and believe the quiet words
from deep inside my shaking heart.
I need to believe.
Everything’s going to be alright.
I need to step to the back of the room
and study the big, beautiful picture.

The Times, They Are…

June 18, 2015

June has been a pretty major month for us.

I finished my degree at Quincy College, a degree I’ve been working on for the past four years.

I left my job at the South Shore YMCA. The Y is one my favorite places in the whole world, and I consider the people of the Health and Well-Being Department family. But I needed to make space in my life, for my full-time job at the college and my kids.

My daughter is graduating on Friday from 5th grade. We are saying goodbye to Collicot Elementary School. There will be no more field trips or cafeteria duty. I won’t be walking her to school next year, or even picking her up from the school bus. She is making her own plans, I’m no longer negotiating play dates and or making delicate inquiries to other parents about whether or not she’s old enough to come home to an empty house. (She’s been coming home to an empty house from time to time for over a year now but I didn’t admit it to almost anyone.)

My son has completed his freshman year of high school. I know that doesn’t sound like an ending, he has three more years to go.

In the beginning of this year, he’d tell me what he had for lunch almost every night, he was excited about the salad bar and the after school options and playing football under the lights.

Now, he won’t tell me what he had for lunch, or maybe I stopped asking. He doesn’t get excited unless he’s mad at me. Then he’s very excited.

Since I’m done with my classes and only working one job, I’ve had a little spare time.

I started cleaning.

It’s spring, I was busy all winter- it was time to put the house in order.

I emptied drawers. I sorted thru clothes. I swept underneath the couch.

I found the Nerf ball we used for games of catch at Andrews Park. I dusted and polished every single one of Katy’s sculptures. I found Cheerios under everything; they quit eating Cheerios a year ago. There were stickers from the dentist and bottles of bubbles from birthday party gift bags.

And there were photographs, some of them curled, more than a few incredibly embarrassing, and all of them more than a year old. These days, memories are stored on the cellphone or on the cloud.

All this cleaning and sorting- I felt like an archaeologist or a nosy neighbor.

I didn’t remember what Colin’s voice sounded like before it changed. I can’t believe Katy ever got excited about Dora Explorer light up sandals.

I spent a lot of time in the past two weeks, (and yes, it’s been two weeks, I’m not kidding when I said the house needed a lot of cleaning,) mourning and moaning about how I missed the two kids in the pictures, And that being a parent means having to say goodbye on an almost daily basis to the people you love to make room for the latest version of the same people, slightly taller and surly.

Some nights, I would look at my children across the table and wish I was sitting across from the people in the snapshots I’d been mooning over.

Today, there was no time for cleaning, or dinner, or a walk with Sophia the Most Patient of Puppies. I had to take Colin to basketball, attend a committee meeting, help Katy find a dress for graduation, walk the dog, and then, at ten pm pick Colin up from the Y.

Colin had had an even longer day than I did. He spent all day studying for finals and finishing projects in school. After school, he played a basketball doubleheader, before heading over to the Y for an hour and a half weight lifting to get ready for football in September.

As soon as we got home, he started his homework.

I went on the computer to check emails and to search for a recipe that will use up the two pounds of ground turkey in the refrigerator that probably went bad yesterday. I was looking for a recipe that called for a lot of garlic.

All of the sudden, Colin yelled. He was sitting on the sofa, pulling papers out of his backpack. looking for a Science packet due tomorrow. He’d been working on it for weeks. It wasn’t there.

I went to him.

He was crying. Tears didn’t fall down like rain, they fell down like torrential rain, one of those Florida downpours that make creeks overflow and cars float.

I found went thru his books and found the packet inside a sleeve.

I showed it to him, helped him take off his sneakers and sent him to upstairs to sleep

I brought him up a glass of ice water and wiped his face with a clean shirt I found at the end of the bed. He rolled over, but kept talking. He told me about how he dropped a weight on his foot at the gym. He told me what he wants for his birthday. He told me thanks.

I put pillowcases on his pillows and kissed him goodnight.

I don’t know why I’ve been grieving. I have two amazing kids, right here with me, sleeping under the same roof.

Yes, their voices are different, their friends are different, and they certainly feel differently about me than they did a few years ago.

Pining over lopsided bowls and faded snapshots is a waste of time.

I might miss something.

I can do that later after they’ve left.

For now, I’m going to pay attention to right now.

Because right now is wonderful.