The smack of a basketball against the driveway just before dinner
The back door snapping shut as my son runs inside for a plate of spaghetti,
The sun falling down,
the smell of a dark, wet, sky,
Dishes, cat food, liquid detergent,
The sound of leaving, and staying,
The smack of the basketball just after dinner-
I lean on the sink, close my eyes.

 

All that has happened
Has not.
It is just before spring.
He is my boy.
I am the mother of two,
With lunches to pack,
Who needs to make plans for camp.
The basketball smacks against
the driveway, against his hand.

 

There is no noise
When he makes a basket.
Never was.

 

I don’t know what I’m waiting for,
So I turn the radio up,
While I wash the pot, wipe the plates.
He stays outside.

As long as the music plays,
He’s making
One basket

After another.

 

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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.

My son was due at a game at 8, so we left at 7:30. The Parish where his team plays is only a mile away, but he wanted Gatorade and I wanted to take my time.

When I tried to pull out of the driveway, I got stuck in a snow drift. I gunned the engine. I spun the wheel. I tried to reverse. I spun the wheel. I snarled at Colin to get out of the car and “do something.”

He hopped out, ran to my side of the car, watched my wheel spin in mountain of ice and more ice, thru his hands up in the air.

I told him to get back in the car.

Well, I didn’t tell him anything. I think I honked, twice.

He got in, eyes looked straight forward. I gunned the engine, hit reverse, thru the car into drive and somehow, something somewhere gave. The car rocked forward, then shot back, straight into a snow bank six feet high.

I put my foot on the gas, and we lurched forward towards the gas station, toward the church, toward all the other mini vans shuttling their boys to the game on a night that really should have seen everyone home wearing flannel or footsie pajamas.

I said- “Colin, you gotta believe in me. I’m a complete bad ass!”

I had broken a wall of snow and ice. I had conquered my minivan and made it my b^&*ch.

“Mom, bad asses don’t tell people their bad asses.”

All of the sudden, there I was.- a suburban mom in a 2008 Dodge Caravan with an unfortunate predilection for listening to Eminem at the gym.

I dropped him off and wished him luck.

So maybe driving in the snow doesn’t make me tough.

But I got him to his game on time. And I didn’t bang my fists on the steering wheel, or curse New England in February or try to run over a squirrel.

So maybe I’m not a bad ass.

But this winter has made me fierce as hell.

Bring. It. On.

I was driving to the grocery store this evening and went right by a playground. It was just after 7, dusk here in New England, windy and cloudy and warm. It was crowded; spring has been a long time coming and some of us are not quite convinced it’s here to stay.

And a thought came to me- My kids don’t go the playground with me anymore. Colin is 13, Katy is 10. They go to the park these days, all by themselves or in packs with other kids from the neighborhood.

I hadn’t even noticed the passing of playground days, and they are gone, along with mornings of helping them pick out their clothes for school and the Thursday night phone calls in search of a sitter.

I remembered our trips to Andrews Park. Katy would clutch my hand, which would then smell like peanut butter until I got home. Colin would race ahead, clutching a frisbee or a football or a backpack with snacks. I would juggle my phone and my iced coffee and a book, all while one of my hands was clenched inside Katy’s warm, smudgy grip.

When we got there, I swear, it took us twenty minutes at least, and Andrews is three blocks away, I’d find a bench and settle down with the book and the drink and the phone. I’d make nervous conversations with other mothers, who all seemed to know each other, while eyeing my kids to make sure they didn’t hijack the swings. I’d wish I’d brought wipes, or bottled water. I’d look at my phone and calculate how much longer we’d have to stay until I could safely give them the five minute warning. I’d wonder what was underneath all the sand in the sandbox, if that was even sand in the sandbox. I’d call someone, anyone at all who might pick up the phone, and wouldn’t mind helping me kill some time until I could safely check the time again. Finally, Katy would make me push her on the swing. Then Colin would make me throw him a ball, or shoot baskets, or teach him how to make a frisbee sail thru the air. And I’d wish I was just a little bit better at doing any of those things while looking around to make sure no one was watching. And they weren’t. Until whatever I was throwing hit someone in the head.

Today, I took Katy to SOWA, an open air market with food trucks and art galleries and one stand that had an entire display of 19 different kinds of cheese. Colin went with me last week to the Y, and we worked on the new Keiser equipment. I can’t get a basket, well I can, but it’s not that often, but I can work with him on strength training to help his jump shot. Next month, I’m going to take them to see Lion King, The Musical, which is a helluva lot more fun than watching the Disney video four times in the same afternoon, (not that we ever spent that much time in front of the tv.)

So tonight I was sad for a bit that the playground days are gone until I thought about it. Now, I’m mostly relieved. Though I’m thinking that for Mother’s Day, I might request a sentimental journey over to the swing set on Castle Island. And I will let Colin and Katy take turns pushing me.

So much of Facebook is filter and crow. Tonight I’ve had a few beers and I’m feeling a little dangerous so this was my most recent entry.You will notice there is some crowing but I left the filter off.
My Day.
Mango, Banana Carrot smoothie.
Church. A conversation about the devil and some amazing words from Parisa Parsa.
Friends at church and hugs and promises and amazing coffee. The faces there are family, chosen family. I know why I chose them and I am constantly in awe of the fact that chose me.
Home.
Yoga. With Nathalie Bellemare Elfer. Our downward dogs were so true to the canine spirit of the pose they are going to put us on a poster for the amazing benefits of yoga for middle aged women. Or on the cover of Love Your Pet, Be Your Pet, not sure which.
Home. Pork roast in going to be in the oven a looooonnnnng time.
It smells good, it’s making me hungry.
Time to visit the inlaws, drink beer and watch basketball.
The kids are sick, so I really should leave the house, drink beer and watch basketball. That way they’ll rest.
Basketball. Two beers. Phone call from Colin. Nice job, leaving us home alone while you party.
Made me careful way to the store, long conversation with the clerk about Keebler versus Pepperidge Farm.
Cab.
Home with cookies.
Roast for dinner tomorrow.
Tonight it’s cheese toast and chocolate chips and water. Lots and lots of water.
I could have just told you I went to the gym.

Basketball Boy

February 8, 2014

My son is in 8th grade. Somehow, there was some crazy genetic mix up and I gave birth to an athlete. He can throw a football as easily as I spill coffee on my shirt. He beat us all at mini golf when he was eight. He can run faster than a greyhound, and oh my, my kid can play basketball.

I haven’t seen him play that much this year. I’ve been out sick with a chest cold that left me stranded on the sofa for weeks. Before that I was busy working three jobs, and since then, trying to keep those three jobs after being sick for weeks.

In other words, I’ve been walking around slightly hunched over, weighed heavy with the guilt of being the mom to the one kid without anyone in the bleachers to cheer him on. (Though if you know anything about 13 year old boys and organized sports, cheering from moms is not acceptable behavior. An occasional shout of either “Defense!” or “Nice play” is allowed as long as not specifically directed at offspring. Though I should probably check in because the rules are always changing.)

The season is coming to an end next week, so I made some adjustments. I raced thru work, enlisted another parent to drive my daughter to swim team, had a long conversation with my dog to explain that I really would take her for a doubly long walk tomorrow, and would try to do something about the temperature, and drove over to the Middle School. My gas tank was on E, but if I was going to rearrange my life to go to the game, I wanted to see the whole damn game.

I fall in love a little every time I watch Colin play ball. He races across the court so fast my heart quickens . He throws a pass to the guy that’s open without hesitation. He guards with a fierce scowl on his face, he steals the ball like it was meant for him all along. At one point he caught a pass, someone tripped him and he fell to the ground, ball clutched to his chest like it was the valuable thing in the world. On the court, my son is someone I don’t see at the breakfast table in the morning. Today I was so happy to sit on the sidelines watching this young man do something he loves so well.

At half time, his team filed out of the court for a meeting in the locker room. I stood outside the door so I could say hello as they left. As he opened the door, he saw me. His eyes turned to steel, he mouthed the words “not now-” he walked by me. He took a drink and followed the rest of the team without looking back.

This son of mine I had been swooning over, swooning over! had cut me to the quick. I thought of leaving the game, going out for coffee, heading home to hug my daughter. I just didn’t want to be there anymore.

The next half, I buried my head in my smart phone. I checked Facebook updates.I sent silly texts to a friend, who probably wondered why I was sending her silly texts because I am not a texting kind of woman. I downloaded 10 wonderful recipes for the slow cooker, then deleted them because I don’t want to make cake in a slow cooker, and my spaghetti sauce is pretty damn amazing. I didn’t watch the game. I didn’t try to catch his eye. I didn’t see him make the three point shot while being guarded by some 6 foot 2 behemoth who should have been in college.

The game finally ended. I waited for him in the car, which I did not pull around to meet him, even though he was wearing shorts and we are in the middle of the coldest winter in the history of the world. He walked to car, all swagger and sweat, and hopped in, smiling. He looked at me. He stopped smiling.

“What’s the matter?”

I’m not going to repeat what I said. A lot was the matter, or at that moment, a lot felt like the matter. And me being me, I had to share with him each and everything; words spilled out my mouth quicker and hotter than all of the tears that I’d held back while reading Facebook posts about kittens and restaurants and slow cooker cakes.

And he listened. And he sighed. And he promised it wouldn’t ever happen again. And Colin said “Mom, I’m sorry… Did you see the time that last basket?” And he smiled.

I told him I had.

We negotiated a deal for future games- he is required to say “Hi, Mom” when he is within six feet of me. And I am allowed to respond “Nice job, Col.”

I can live with that.

If he decides at anytime that he can’t, he’s going to have find another way home.

The other night, Colin was sprawled on my bed, watching basketball. He looked up at me. He smiled. He spoke- “mom, come here. I want to watch basketball with you.”
I swooned.

These are interesting times in our house. With Colin, I am often the source of great amusement, for what I wear, what I know and don’t know, (who is Kendrick Lamar?) and how I text.

Then he wants me to listen to a song he loves, or offers to lend me his basketball sneakers to go to zumba class.*

My daughter is 10. She went to see a teacher got married and needed to ask the next door neighbor for eyeshadow, my selection wasn’t flattering to her skin tone. And while I was making dinner tonight, she marched up to me in the kitchen, in front of the stove, thru her arms around me and declared it was time to snuggle.

I packed up all of Colin’s boy clothes last week. A thousand hats, he never wore one. Fifteen different teeshirts from basketball camp and summer camp and football practice. Little boy pajamas with dinosaurs and fire trucks and skulls.

In the midst of all these changes I’ve been on a bit of a cleaning bender. The hard thing is, Colin is thirteen. Katy is nine. They are used to my bi monthly half hearted attempts to get the house in order. They listened to the speech. They made their beds. They put the clean towels into the linen closet instead of on the floor in front of the linen closet. This all lasted about three days, every couple of months. Before.

When Back To School struck this year, I decided we were going to get the house in order. And that meant all of us. I regard clean clothes perched on the stairs the way I used see Sophie’s poop when she’d been left home too long. Socks in the hallway send me into a frenzy. And stuffing all of the offending articles into the closet and then closing the door doesn’t work anymore either. In the old days, I wouldn’t open the door. Now I do.

And of course, along with Back To School, the New Leaf Cleaning Policies, there are all of the Back to School Activities- swim team, football, youth group, flute lessons. And there is my job. And my other job. And two classes at Quincy college. And dinner, and friends, and the gym.

I have to go to the gym. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been struggling with asthma. Mostly at night. My lungs wheeze, it sounds like I have a choir of Who’s from Whoville singing in my chest. I can’t catch my breath. Yoga seems to help. And an extended time spent in the sauna after yoga helps even more.

It’s not surprising, I guess. My family has started careening forward towards the next part, the part where I have to learn to let them go. I can clean, watch basketball, burn dinner while I cuddle on the couch, zumba till the teacher throws me out, and it’s not going to slow down. And when I do slow down, when I lay me down to sleep, I lose my breath.

It returns. And I go back to sleep, and wake up to the most charismatic of canines, Sophie. Sophie groans when I first reach down to say good morning. And then she wags, not just her tail, her whole body. And she shivers, and sighs, and wedges closer to my body. I know she really, really needs to get outside. Even so she will stay in bed in bliss right next to me until I have to pry myself away and return to vertical.

That’s how things are right now in our house.

*Don’t ever wear basketball sneakers to zumba. Ever. They are incredibly hard to dance in, and more important, they look really, really stupid.

Missing

July 11, 2013

It was a tough day. Lost library book.  Hot. Fight with Colin, my son, about  what I know now was absolutely nothing. Three hours ago it seemed important while I sat on my stairs and weighed punishments.

Each disagreement we have now that he is heading toward his thirteen year is dark with danger – is this the moment he stops liking me? Each punishment or consequence is an opportunity to establish important policy. (There are repercussions for not leaving a note, for taking five dollars from my purse, for teasing his sister.) Each punishment or consequence is an opportunity for me to prove myself to be an inflexible ass. (He did call my cell, I’d told him I’d give him a few dollars, and what twelve year old boy doesn’t tease his sister.)

So I removed myself, and his sister, from the battlefield. It is July, there is a pool less than a mile away, and it is open from 6 until 7:45 every week night.

Katy and I swam. I did laps, she chased behind me and grabbed my toes when she could. I taught her the words to a song that begins “There once was a farmer who took a young miss”. I got irritated when she fell behind on our way to the car. She wasn’t happy when I denied her movie request. It was a wonderful, normal summertime night.

When we got home, the lights were out. I called for Colin. No answer. I fed the animals, I reminded Katy that we were not going to add a hamster to our menagerie until I was not the only one feeding the animals.

I called for Colin. It was dark. There wasn’t a note. Most nights, I would have just taken the dog to the park to remind him of the time. But he and I had been arguing. He wouldn’t have gone to the park.

I checked the phone for incoming calls, a telemarketer called from Seattle at 7:30. I checked the phone for outgoing calls. He’d called a friend at 5:15.

I went to the park. It was dark. It was quiet. There was a teenager smoking by the batting cage. The teenager said no one had been there for at least an hour.

I texted the moms of his friends. “Looking for Colin. Heard from him?” I didn’t want to panic anyone, or look like an idiot when he strolled in dribbling his basketball. I don’t like it when he bounces that damn ball in the house. I looked for the ball, couldn’t find it. No word from Colin

I called one of the moms, and kept my tone light. She volunteered to come pick me up, take me out so we could look for him together. I made a joke about not being ready to be “one of those moms”, but if I’d known her better, I would have said yes.

When he’s nervous, everything that he says sounds like it’s heading for a punchline. It’s why by the end of the school year, half of his teachers are in love with him and half of them want to give him detention in someone else’s classroom for the rest of his life.

That is my son. And right after I thought just that thought, it occurred to me. When he’s in trouble, he gets scared. When he gets scared, he gets tired.

He was in bed. Colin was tucked in, under four blankets, behind a door in a room sealed shut, like I told him to do, when he runs the air conditioner. The air conditioner must be ten years old. It is loud. It doesn’t have power saver or even a thermostat. Just high and low.

Colin had it on low. I guess he had heard my lecture on not wasting power and that other charming ditty of mine about not zoning out in front of the tv.  He’d even paid attention to that speech about reading more books; “The Chronicles of Captain Underpants” was just next to him, on top of his blankets, book mark placed towards the end.

He was missing and I missed him so much. And there he was, sleeping upstairs while I worried, cursed, wept and made stupid jokes so no one would know just how scared I was.

There is a lesson here, and I’m just not ready to learn it. I hope I have a little more time.