Humbled

November 13, 2017

I can tell the temperature,
within a degree or two,
first thing, every morning,

when I open the door
to let the cat in.

When I hear my best friend’s voice
over the phone,
all she has to say is hello,
and I know if it’s time to reach for my car keys,
make some soup,
or find a spot to listen.

I read body language,
talk to dogs,
and understand why
the three year old boy next door
finds poop endlessly amusing.

But I don’t know what’s going on with my 17 year old son.

I know where he is-

a flight of muddy stairs
a damp towel outside
a closed door.

I eavesdrop on his conversations,
Not to hear the words,
But to try to recognize his voice.
It hasn’t worked.

He is steps and oceans away.

I am here,
with clean laundry.

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 An assignment for writing class (in other words, I don’t usually define myself in the third person).

Julie is 50 years old. She was happy to hear the instructor refer to a demographic as 25 to 54; it made her feel better to be part of a group that includes 25 year olds.

Julie is a mom, a daughter, an employee, a writer, a walker of dogs, a lover of pop songs, a gym rat, and a couch potato.

Julie is funny, selfish, kind, creative, moody, optimistic, outgoing, and introverted. She is concerned about social justice, global warming and Justin Bieber’s tattoos.

She spends too much time worrying about whether her baseboards are clean, or if her kids are wearing wrinkled shirts. She spends too little time worrying about the floors, or cleaning out her refrigerator.

She spends too little time in the woods, and, according to her dog, too little time with her dog.

She spends too much time outside, and, according to her cats, too much time with her dog.

Julie has room in her heart for her cats and her dogs, her kids and her mom, but will never find a space to appreciate the bliss of clean cabinets, or drawers that make sense.

This is Julie in October 2017, on a Tuesday night, writing for a Communications class.

There is alcohol. Wine, fancy cocktails with basil floating in them like pine needles, and beer.

There are long, dark wood walks with a dog that follows, lingers, then sprints to a pile of damp leaves. There is the observation of joy, as she thrashes in gold and rusty brown and dirt. When she jumps into the van, my sweet girl smells like she was out all night, and it’s Thursday afternoon.

There is work, swallowing handfuls of chocolate chips from the fridge meant for Sunday pancakes, dinners out at restaurants I can’t afford, where we share appetizers and order just one more.


There is splitting the check even though I ordered just one more, and knowing it’s understood. I needed that.

There is time with friends.

There are phone calls to mom, and not calling mom, because I don’t want her to know details. There is knowing she is there to listen to the details if it comes to that.

There is music from when I was his age, and his own music, the inappropriate language, the grinding bass, the beat. There is time at the gym, lifting metal, finding downward dog in a room full of women who look they don’t have a clue even though probably half of them have been where I am now.

There are impassioned conversations about Trump, the Supreme Court, moving to Canada, the latest from Trump.

There the memes of Obama and Biden.

There is tv and slippers and sleeping pills and falling asleep with the tv on so I don’t have to think about anything but the carefully written dialogue written by writers on another coast that belong to a union and  are probably talking about Trump right now.

There is knowing, somewhere, in my head, this is not cancer. It is not Alzheimer’s, or living without heat, or living alone, or being old, and wishing for what will never come again.

When I find myself dealing with another variety of grief, I may or may not turn to the same these things I have found  along this journey.

Inside this life of mine, right now, I still find bliss and laughter, even though this heart of mine weighs more than my whole house, weights more than anything I have ever carried.

I have found a way to lift this heart and love this child and move forward into the tomorrow and next month.

Sometimes I can’t. Sometimes my knees buckle and I lean knowing I have lost it all. I find myself on the sofa, wishing I had softer socks, or a magazine, or a softer pillow, or it was ten years ago.

Then my daughter asks me to sign her permission slip. A student calls with a question. Sophie sighs in her sleep and I know she is dreaming of bunnies.

So I pull myself up and I take myself down to my bedroom. I find sleep, I do not dream of bunnies, that I know of anyway.

But I wake up next to Sophie and that helps.

My family is home with me tonight. I’m a little bit angry and totally blessed.

Well, mostly blessed.

I hope I dream of bunnies.

Don’t forget about the dog poop- I warned you  
If things got bad
And they got bad
There would be repercussions.
Scoop it, bag it, sneak it into the Starbucks dumpster.

And the dog.
Walk the dog- 
not around the block-
The pavement burns her paws,
Take her to the park.
It’s not soccer season yet,
Bring a bag in case someone sees.
Use it
Even if 
nobody’s watching.

Check the website for your summer work, 
Do it.

Email your coach,
Tell him what he wants to hear
and do that too.

Brush your teeth, 
Floss,
Don’t only eat food flavored 
Buffalo
Or from a bag
Or orange.

Respond to all the girls that sent you
Snapchats.

Be kind to everyone that asks to 
Follow you.
(I haven’t asked but I know
Better.)

I remind you 
to empty dishes, 
walk the dog,
Sweep a floor.

I don’t ask you
To follow or accept or friend me.

I keep our conversations about
The dishes in the sink.

I update you 
About what 
The world expects.

I text instead of call.

You talk to friends on FaceTime.
You laugh 
And ignore everybody else.

I read books, 
Solicit prayers from strangers,
And send you bullet points 
so what I need from you
Is clear 
And listed by
By priority.

-Call me.
-Do your homework.
-Clean the yard.

I check my phone
For your response
All night.

(Sent from my iPhone

which is well aware

The iPhone

to which the message

has been sent

Is currently quite busy.)

 

Here it is, the Friday of July 4th weekend. It’s raining. I’m home alone.

My fifteen year old son is at the mall. Instead of being happy he’s not in the woods, all I can think about is that he’s decided to expand his career as a juvenile delinquent to include shoplifting.

My twelve year old daughter is at a friend’s house. She knew I was staying home this evening to take care of some homework, so she made me dinner. Then she spoke with me at the dinner table. I call her my little miracle.

After explaining to me for the fourth time that nothing had happened at camp all day, and that she thinks we should never, ever discuss Donald Trump during a meal, she picked up my take home exam for Writing for Communications. It’s due on Tuesday, July 5th. Yup, the day after July 4th weekend. Did I mention it’s the Friday before July 4th weekend?

Tomorrow night, we are packing up and going to the woods for a week. We will have a cabin with four beds and an old fashioned grill, the kind that uses charcoal, by the front door. We will share an outhouse with the thirty other campers. We will keep our food in coolers that will swallow ice like it’s beer at a ball game. The perishable food will  get warm  quickly so I need to pack a lot of granola bars. And peanut butter. And bread.

That’s the thing. I need to pack.

My daughter pointed this out to me while she gazed with horror at my exam. It consists of about five different assignments to cover everything we discussed in class.  I need to transform four newspaper stories into thirty second radio spots. Next on the list is to explain what it takes to write a good proposal, and I’m pretty sure he’s not looking for something that would work on the Bachelor.  Before I’m done I need to create a cover letter as a person applying for job as a Student Employment Director. (I am not thrilled with the cover letter portion. I don’t want to be a student employment director, not even a little bit and I’m afraid my lack of enthusiasm will show.)

Did I mention it’s Saturday of July Fourth weekend and I don’t even know if I own a flashlight and we are going camping for a week?

For the grande finale, I need to write a complete story- not a partial story, a novel, a comic book, an article, a Facebook post, a tweet, or an epic poem- a complete story. It must contain the words mentor, autonomy, conflagration, enigmatic, pithy, contrarian and pedestrian. (I’m surprised he didn’t give us the option to turn it into a radio show, my professor does seem a bit partial to radio.)

I’ve been writing stories for a long time now, and I like to write them in my own voice. My own voice is not pithy. It is everything but pithy. This is why I stay away from Twitter and people that like to tell me to get to the point.

Let’s  take a look at enigmatic as a place to start. To be clear, I love enigmas. I love being around enigmatic people. They tend to lurk in shadows wearing mysterious cloaks or impeccably cut suits, have perfect eyebrows and great back stories they’ll share if they have enough expensive whiskey in their system. But enigmatic people aren’t really crazy about me. I’m not pithy enough and I can’t afford even cheap whiskey. Even if I could, I wouldn’t buy it. Cheap whiskey is kind of gross. So I don’t think even the kindest of enigmatic souls would give me enough material for  a whole story and since they make me nervous I don’t want to ask.

I might be able to write a story in my own voice about being a pedestrian or I could talk about the beginnings of a conflagration I found in Colin’s bedroom the other night.

I walk a lot of places, and have rather strong feelings about pedestrian rights.   I, as a pedestrian, have the right to cross into the middle of the street into oncoming traffic if a. I successfully make eye contact with the driver, b. it is either under thirty five degrees or over seventy degrees, fahrenheit, or c.) I am wearing heels higher than three quarters of an inch.

That would be a pretty unpopular story, even with me, because the majority of us are drivers most of the time. Walking out into oncoming traffic is pretty stupid. I wouldn’t make a very sympathetic narrator.

I can’t talk about the fact that at one thirty in the morning I was woken with a very strong feeling I was overseas in Amsterdam, I think. I dreamed I was perched on a bar stool in the middle of a bar that had been open without closing for business since 1987. As soon as it became clear I was actually in my basement in  Milton, Massachusetts, I crept upstairs to investigate.

My son was holding a pipe with a bowl big enough to fit a baby’s head. It was overflowing, a tiny bonfire of sorts, and he was lifting to his lips when I opened the door. Until he gets a little smarter, or a lot older, he hasn’t earned the right of anonymity in my stories, photographic absence from my Facebook page on the first day of school and allowing me twenty four access to his cell phone. “This is not the path to autonomy!” I whispered to my son and his friend. I didn’t want to wake up the dog. The smell of pot makes her chase her tail and bark at the rug. This would then wake my daughter who was sleeping with the dog.

Even though he hasn’t earned any rights to privacy, I’ll respect them anyway and leave that story out.

The word that really concerns me is contrarian. I have always defined myself as a pacifist, so I’m not really comfortable with the contrarian point of view, though I guess one could be contrary and peaceful at the same time.

My son might disagree, basing his opinion on my position on mobile devices. According to my son, every other teenager on the planet has their cell phone available at all times-while they are in the shower, during final exams, at Aunt Margie’s funeral.

I am also a party of one when I insist he put the phone inside the phone case. According to Colin, it shouldn’t matter that the device cost seven hundred dollars if the teenager has a strange and steadfast position about not needing a phone case. Other parents don’t make their teenagers use phone cases, ever. It wouldn’t bother other parents at all if they went out and spent thirty five dollars on a phone case the girl at the Verizon store with the really cool tattoos, pale pink hair and bubble gum heels recommended.

It bothers me.

Why did I believe this unusual expert in retail telecommunications? I believed her because I am firmly convinced that everyone in the world knows more about my son than I do.

I bet he would have bought and used the case if he’d gone to the Verizon store without me. He would have listened to her.

I bet he’s a pot smoking, rule breaking, dirty clothes under the bed hiding, community service avoiding teenager because he saw me jay walk so often when he was a child. Actually, I’d grab his hand and and drag him across the street, while he squeaked “Mom, shouldn’t we wait for the light?”

Next time I have the urge to parent someone, I’ll mentor a cat. I think it’s pretty safe to say most of them are already screwed up, or at least they are so enigmatic, no one will be able to tell if I do any damage.

I’ll visit the online Quincy Animal shelter after I write this story. I think I could  use a cat.

Did I mention I need to pack?

I’m a jaywalker and a procrastinator.

Considering that I was his role model, I’m lucky he’s nice to animals, does well in school and talks to me from time to time. He’ll even discuss politics over dinner.

 

 

I said in my last post that I wouldn’t ramble on about my teenager, but the past few months, my heart has been filled with joy, grief, guilt, bliss, fury, love, hate, gratitude, mostly all within the span of five minutes .

I’ve had to spend a lot of time at the gym so that it didn’t explode. After two hours of yoga or weights or zumba or lateral x, or whatever strikes me as what I need that night, I’m spent. When I return home, I don’t have much to say about all this stuff that is going on in my life.

Some people sit in front of the screen and outline their workouts, but for me exercise  is just as much for my head as it is for my pecs.  Analyzing my time would defeat the purpose, which is to come home,  pet the dog and kiss a kid, (without wanting to kick the kid).

A lot of what’s been making me so overwhelmed is adjusting to life with teenagers.

I’ve sailed thru parenthood pretty smoothly up until last year, with some blips, (“what is that tone?” “Did you really just say that to me?”.)

Next thing that I remember happened around the fall after he turned twelve .We were on our way out, and I said, in my always cheerful, upbeat, patient, voice- “FIVE MINUTES!”.

Five minutes passed. “Excuse me, what’s going on?” I asked, cheerful still, maybe not upbeat really, but patient. I didn’t mind missing the beginning of zumba or not having time to stop for the coffee.

“I’m busy with something.” This statement  was delivered from behind a closed bathroom door.

What are you doing in there? “Is something wrong with your stomach?”  He didn’t sound sick. He just sounded like he was busy with something and really didn’t care if I missed zumba or had to drink dad’s leftover coffee or never got anywhere at all ever. At least until after he’d completed whatever mysterious business he had in that bathroom.

“SOMETHING! And nothing is wrong with my stomach. Nothing.”

“Okay, I didn’t want to this, but-   Five, four, three… three and a half… two… two and an eighth… ONE!”

“I’ll be down in a minute. I’m almost done. Calm yourself.” My son didn’t get flustered by the countdown that had worked before he knew what numbers were, ignored the countdown, and then told me to calm myself. Calmly.

It’s been downhill ever since.

Recently, he’s struggling with some mistakes that he made, and trying to figure out why, if he’s filled out three job applications he hasn’t gotten a job yet. At any given moment, he’s laughing with me at The Middle, leaning on my shoulder surrounded by broken glass, asking why he is who is, confused because none of  the neighbors he talked to at Christmas about potentially doing some yard work for them this spring, have come knocking at our door, worried about his latin grade, frantic to find the axe body spray and convinced I hid it, begging me for a ride, begging me to leave him where he is, reaching to hold my hand while we sing along to the Fray, explaining why knowing what the words mean to White Iverson isn’t really necessary to appreciate the song.


I wanted him home tonight. Tomorrow is the Mother’s Day March for Peace, we go with FirstParish Milton, we’ve gone every year. All day long, text, after text, call after call, he pled to be allowed to stay at his friends house.
We have to be at the church by eight am.


All day long, text after text, call after call, i threatened to pick him up now, pick him up at 10 pm, bring his bags to his friends house and let him finish the school year in Canton.

It’s been fun.

I cancelled Mother’s Day.

I just got word, he’s meeting me at the church at 8. He said I’m important in the world, but that I’m overestimating myself if I think I can cancel Mother’s Day just because I sleep better when he’s upstairs.

So it’s on.

I almost marched without my son tomorrow because I wanted the day to start the way it started last year and the year before that.

The times they are a changin’ and that’s not going to stop. Ever.

Happy Mother’s Day, to mothers, future mothers, and caregivers all.

It’s hard, but sometimes, I think I make it  even harder.

(Don’t tell him I said that.)

 

 

 

Tonight was all about dogs, daughters and dads.

I took Sophie the sweetest and a puppy named Gunner to Turners Pond for a ramble under the moon.

Katy and a friend followed behind, i don’t know if they agreed to come along because Katy is kind, and I spend a lot of time alone walking the dog. Or if the simple fact that the wind had stopped and the moonlit fooled her into thinking it was warmer than it was- I don’t know.

Ahead, the dogs and I ran, and slowed and sniffed (they sniffed, I watched them sniff and tried not to think about what they were sniffing) and ran and jogged and trotted and stopped.

I was listening to Neil Diamond.

I grew up listening to Neil Diamond. My dad died when I was 20, yet when I put the headphones in my ears, and put on Cracklin Rosie, and turned it UP, I could hear Dad’s voice, singing along. There was the most subtle hint of the South in his voice, and he stayed right on key.

So I walked around the pond five times. I was watching the dogs, running alongside the dogs, waiting for the dogs.

I was catching little pieces of Katy and her friend’s conversation. They are 12 year old girls and they do not giggle. At least not when I’m within earshot. I think they were discussing a science test, or how Katy never lets the power go below 1% on her phone, or what kind of dog they want when they grow up. Twelve year old girls, smart 12 year old girls, aren’t the most interesting subjects for eavesdropping.

Maybe they were speaking in code.

And right next to me, inside my head, was my dad. He was singing alongside Neil Diamond, and actually sounded better than the pop star. I was listening to one of more recent albums, way after Love on the Rocks.

I thought about switching to one of the records Dad and I used to listen to- Tap Root Manuscript, or Stones, so I could remember what Mr. Diamond sounded like in his prime.

But I wasn’t listening to “Solitary Man” or “Sweet Caroline”. I was remembering my dad’s voice, how he used to always sing “Something” by the Beatles in the shower leave records all over the dining room table, how proud he looked while he watched me play my flute and the night he spent four hours listening to the “Wild and Innocent and the EStreet Shuffle” in attempt to try to understand what I liked about Bruce Spring. “Julie, he can’t sing. I mean, really, he can’t sing.”

I hadn’t remembered my father’s voice for a long time until tonight.

Dogs, Daughters and Dad.

The last song I listened to was “Thank The Lord for the Night Time.” Dad always liked that song, I think it was pretty much his party anthem.

My wild nights are home with kids, or at the gym, or following Sophia around with a bag in my hand.

But I am my father’s daughter. I may go to bed early by his standards, but I never wake up until after dark.

That’s when I’m wide awake. That’s when I make time to listen.

One Night Stand, But Brief

December 30, 2015

Blue, come on by and take a seat.
I’m lonely, and I want to be left alone.
I’m sad and I wanna be sad.
I want to wallow long enough to carve a curve in the sofa from the night julie went blue,
Cause that’s all I’m giving up to you, the night, this night.

By 930, I’ll be brushing my teeth.
931, I’ll remember to floss.
10:00 pm, Ill be in bed, next to the most beautiful dog, the Princess Sophia.
(She hangs with you sometimes, I think,
When I leave for work or when the rain falls cold.)

We’ll be together, Sophie and me,
Soon enough.
No room for you.

Don’t leave just yet.
It’s nice, sinking a little.
It hurts, but this body of mine is finally relaxed.
I’m not holding anything back or anything up.
I’m not holding anything back or anything up or anything in.

Good night, my friend.
It might be a good idea to learn how to let things go,
Without leaning, or falling, or weeping, on you.

It’s worth a little time on cold Tuesday night,
It’s not time to brush, or walk, or wander about to look for whatever I’ve lost in the course of this particular day.
It’s still early.

 

My husband never sees the kids. So when he pulled in the driveway at 7 pm, and announced we were going out for fro yo, it was a Big Deal.

Of course, I had to finish writing a letter for work.

And Katy wanted to pick out an outfit for tomorrow. Because tomorrow is Monday. And it’s important to pick out Monday’s outfit in advance.

Colin needed to find the right pair of sneakers. The forty pairs of shoes in the bottom of his closet were not the right shoes for fro yo consumption with the fam.

We left the house by 8. We took the dog. Sophie the Best Dog Ever doesn’t really like rides in the car. None of us are good at sharing dessert. But since was such a unique situation, (I mean he’s never, ever at the house at 7 pm, ever) there was no precedent. Sheldon wanted her to ride in the trunk. One step away from a Republican, I’m afraid.

Sophie rode in the back seat. She sat in the middle so that she was able to devote equal attention to Colin and Kaitlin while they licked and nibbled and spooned and dripped. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched her watch them ignoring her.

She didn’t even get to lick the cups.

So we took her to Andrews Park. It was 830 on a Sunday, one dog peeing on the baseball field, one dog owner on a smartphone.

Colin ran out first, Sophie followed. Katy, in hot pursuit behind Sophie. Katy back to the car for a sweatshirt. And to tell her mom to get out of the car. Now.

I followed Katy, and Sophie, and Colin.

I thought we’d play some kind of catch, or walk around the field arguing about who had to the dishes when they got home, or even just look up at the sky, agree that none of us can recognize a constellation and go home.

Colin had unlocked the gate to the play ground. Katy was twirling around on a swing, one of those big swings, with a reclining seat for a chair. When I asked her to push me, she hopped off. She pushed me. She pushed, heaved, twirled, I was spinning around, rocking from side to side, swinging up, crashing down, laughing and nauseous. There was no time to look at the stars.

I pushed Katy on the swings as hard as I could. I wasn’t able to make her twirl, swing,crash and rock all at the same time. Katy will be a better mom than I am. I hope she’ll take me to the park again.

Colin had taken Sophie to the jungle gym. When I walked over, he was perched at the top of the slide, Sophie seated on his lap, paws up, tail wagging. It wasn’t their first time.

And then we decided it was time to go. We got back to the car, realized Sophie had taken a detour, and Colin had left the leash on the monkey bars, and that none of us wanted to help find either, but we did.

I didn’t write down the last time Katy asked to hold my hand while crossing the street. I didn’t take a picture the last time Colin opened a present he thought was from Santa Clause.

Tonight, I went to the playground with Colin, Katy, Sophie and Sheldon.

I can’t tell you what the stars looked like, or if they’ve filled up the sandbox yet.

But I can tell you that tonight I found out Katy is incredibly strong, and Colin is still the magical boy who can convince Sophie the Scared to sit on his lap and slide all the way to the bottom.

Then get her to do it again.

The Day After Winter

April 19, 2015

Sunday April morning in New England, I am at Houghton’s Pond, in Canton, Massachusetts.

Even though only it’s fifty degrees, (in reality it’s maybe fifty degrees in direct sun, probably more like forty if you actually checked on a thermometer, I don’t have that app on my phone yet,) people wear shorts, or tank tops, or flip flops.

Everywhere I look, there are shivering shoulders and chalk white thighs, pale feet, curled toes, owned by faces pointed upwards towards the sun.

While I take Sophie the Sun Starved round the water, I find myself squinting. I’m not used to all this light. I get warm fast, and tie my sweatshirt around my shoulders.

On the way home, I will pick up lawn bags, bulbs, dirt, stuff to feed the dirt, maybe a book about what to do with the bulbs and dirt, and I will celebrate the way Home Depot intended.

Or at least until I’ve gotten the yard cleared of Sophie’s leftovers, mysterious shards of plastic, and sweet musty piles of leaves. There is no snow left in our back yard.


I can handle the leftovers.