Yesterday was the “progressive dinner” of high school college fairs in this area of Massachusetts. If you’re not familiar with the term, a progressive dinner is one where the participants move from one houses to enjoy different courses- the Jennings for cocktails, the Gorbenski’s for apps, Jenny and Rob always serve the roast beef, you get the idea.

I had to be a Milton High School at 8 am, followed by Braintree at 9:30, Blue Hills Regional Technical School at 1, and Randolph at 220 pm. I had a lot of company, about fifty to sixty other colleges attended, some from as far away as Florida. We all wore comfortable shoes, lugged portable suitcases stuffed with tiny phone chargers, stress balls, little notebooks, flyers, viewbooks, pens, inquiry cards, invitations, business cards, pop up signs and polyester table runners in school colors.

We walked from the parking lot thru Milton High School’s front door like we’d been there before. (I have actually spent a lot of time walking in and out of Milton High School’s front door. My son was asked to leave three months before he was to graduate.) Yesterday morning, I was there to speak to his classmates about coming to school at Quincy College while Colin played NBA All Star Draft in his room.

Admissions representatives don’t speak to each other much, at least that I’ve noticed. Walking in and out of the high schools, we’re rushing, to get to our tables, hoping for coffee, trying to get our display set up and inviting before the first class descends into the cafeteria or the gym, trying to find our car to get to the next college fair, or home, or to a hotel. We are rushing from one place to another, phones in one hand, suitcases dragging behind us. We save our smiles and conversation for the prospective students, that want to us to tell them that Criminal Justice is a terrific major, there are careers for people that study Art, or that they’ll get into Nursing School. I try to be as honest as I can when I speak to the teenagers.

It’s easy for me. Quincy College, where I work, is affordable, so it’s a good fit for most seventeen year olds without a clue. And most seventeen year olds are without a clue. Even if they think they have a clue, they really don’t. Not about the future, anyway. But they do have a hell of a lot of time to figure things out. Not as much time as my son, but they’ve got time, especially if they spend a year at Quincy College, where tuition is affordable, and they can save on housing costs by living at home.

As an Admissions representative, I don’t say much to my colleagues because I’m saving all of my energy for the conversations with the seventeen year olds. I have tired conversations about how Monday’s suck with friends, how irritating work politics can be with people the next desk over, how much I hate the morning with my daughter every morning. The teenagers at the other side get to see Julie, the empathetic, interesting, and interested version. And I get to listen to them, and remember what it was like to be seventeen with the whole world, and a whole life, spread in front of me.

I imagine a few years ago, Admissions representatives might have spoken to each other on the way back to their cars, after the first fair, on their way to the second about the best way to get from point a to point b. But now, we all have phones, with apps like Waze, Google Maps, good ol’ Suri, to guide us to the next stop of the route. So we walk to our cars, separately, calculating if we have enough business cards, summer schedules, and pens for the next stop. In between, Suri does the talking.

During the events, we listen, ask the right questions, and thrust inquiry cards at the students, saying- just fill out your name, email address, high school, interest and date of graduation. The cards they give back are hard to read, and a lot of the time, the workstudy who enters the address gets it wrong. Soon, we’ll have tablets. Soon the inquiry cards will be as automated as our directions.

I’m grateful for Suri. I can’t find my way to the corner store some days. My work study will say a prayer of thanks when we start having prospective students type in their information on a tablet.

Hopefully, there isn’t a technology waiting in the wings to take over the conversations with juniors. They look me in the eye, they listen to my answers. They tell me their plans, they tell me their other plans, sometimes, they tell me they’ve got no plans. I could spend all day going from high school to high school, five days a week.

 

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In Sophie’s Opinion

April 5, 2018

    It’s my last semester of school, and one of the assignments is to write two to three times a week in a Communication Technology journal. The idea is for us to recognize the day to day impact technology has on our lives, and the way we relate to each other.

    For the record, I’m pretty aware of technology, and the impact it’s had on human interactions. I own two teenagers, and work at a college, where I am surrounded by many, many teenagers, all looking for chargers, lost headphones, or the wifi password. I work at a place where colleagues and I will email each other information when sitting less than three feet from each other. I work at a place that has about twenty times more screens than books, and understand, that is the way things are now, so I don’t need to be reminded that technology is the almost the norm in most day to day conversations.

    I sound grumpy about this, and I’m not. Technology has allowed me to share my essays and poems with an audience that doesn’t consist of Mom and my friend that just lost his job and will to listen to anything. It’s an easy way to remind someone to clean their room, without having to listen to the response or the lack of one. I enjoy crafting a well written email, I appreciate always having a camera, (I never had a camera, or if I did, I could never find it. Now, if I can’t find my camera, I can call it.)

    My own issue with technology is once I’ve started, it’s hard to stop. Right now, I’m wrapping up this assignment so I can go downstairs and spend some time with my dog, Sophie, the Most Significant Child, because she will remain one. But I just noticed a text from a student on my phone, my laptop is already open. If I answer the text, I’m going to end up on the website. If I look on the website, I’ll spot an incorrect date, or remember I was supposed to email the woman from Madison Park about a tour. Once I email her, I’ll remember I haven’t called my mother yet today, because the woman from Madison Park is named Cindy, and Mom is Sheila, and I really do like talking to my mom. She’ll ask me how Sophie is, because she’s afraid to ask about the kids this late at night, she’s a worrier, and I’ll feel guilty because Sophie will be downstairs, waiting, and has been since I started this entry.

    So, I’ll prove myself wrong, and just stop. It is hard to walk away from technology, but at the end of the day, I’d rather spend some time with Sophie, the Silent. She’s aware I’m spending too little time at the park, and too much time chattering, one way or another, on screens. Sophie is not a fan.

Bedtime story

March 19, 2018

Before bed, there used to be requests for water, stories, searching for tomorrow’s outfit, digging under the bed for dirty clothes, I would collapse in a chair at the end of it all, and just sit long enough to hear a voice from above call out “Mooooommmm”.

Tonight, I climbed the stairs, uninvited. I knocked on doors, and waited. i went in and leaned over for a kiss on the cheek, a kiss on the hair. I looked around their bedrooms, and thought about saying something about the dirty clothes, the half full cups of water, the nail polish smudge on the rug. 

I told them both, in the same voice I used ten years ago- “tomorrow’s going to be a big day. Get some sleep.”

I did not tell them how much I loved them, or to clean up their rooms or else. 

After all this time, they know dirty clothes go in the wash and that they own my heart  always and forever.

But i still feel the need to remind them, and myself, of all of possibilities that will be waiting in the morning.

Image may contain: sky, tree, outdoor, nature and water

 

 

 

 

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.

 

At the end of the day, after so many days, it is my job to let them go, and wait for them to fly on their own.
Whether they smash spectacularly into tree, soar into the sun, or crash into the waves of the coldest of oceans on the coldest day of the year, my job is done.
I am the audience. The one who still needs thoughts and prayers, because both of mine are still here. Soaring, crashing, and trying to find their way, even when they have no idea where it is they want to be. Or maybe they do know, but keep smashing into walls because they’re too busy staring at some stranger’s Finsta account.
Be kind. Be loving. Watch out for low flying wires, people that tell you something is too good to be true, and dark alleys that reek of, you know what they reek of.
Try to remember a little bit of what I told you. If you forget every damn thing, know that I’m a phone call or a heart breath away, waiting to hear your voice, asking to hear the sound of mine.

A List and A Prayer

December 15, 2017

The other day, I was putting off writing these words, and I went to CVS, a great place to go when there are ten blank pages weighing on my brain. (Relax, the outcome was more like five. And I talk fast.) The woman behind the cash register was brand new, but she was familiar because she had been ringing me up at 7 11 for years.

I don’t know why, but seeing the person that I’d been buying coffee from since 2010 working in the drug store right down the street thru me for a loop.

You know the feeling? You’ve had it. That moment when something or someone changes, and you weren’t expecting it. When one of your favorite people announces they’re moving out of state. When two people that you love tell you they are getting divorced.  When you find out someone is sick, or wake up to discover someone unexpected was elected president, even though everyone said it could never happen.

There are great surprises in store too- there will be babies, amazing job offers, or full scholarships to top notch schools. Your favorite band might get back together after a nasty, public, breakup on Twitter.

Even considering the good kind, I am still not a huge fan of change.

When I’m going to the Cape, I immediately move all the way to the left, to the lane that merges with Route 3, so I can stay in the same lane for the entire trip. When our neighbors move, even if I don’t know them, even if I don’t like them, I grieve. I still watch Gray’s Anatomy.

For those of you that are like me, I’ve put together a list of things I use to help cope with the endless fluctuations, cancellations, and curveballs life will throw at you. If you have any to add, please feel free to email me. I mean it.

  1. Go to the gym. Ride your bike. Or take a walk. Do something with your body that helps you stay strong for all of the mind blowing, fantastic, and terrible stuff that is to come. There are so many options, from yoga in straps, to hiking, lifting weights, kickboxing, dancing- explore. Mix it up. Ruts are for the unimaginative and lead to other ruts.
  2. Get off the phone while you’re at the gym, riding your bike, or taking a walk. Okay, listen to music. Just don’t scroll thru life. No matter what you have heard, it is not necessary to tell your 872 Instagram followers every time you pick up a weight or climb a hill. It still happened. If you are going to deal with the world, you have to be in the world, not watching it go by on your newsfeed.
  3. Decide who matters to you. Make a list. We don’t have all the time in the world. Choose your people and choose well.

4.  You are driving your own bus.

I was planning my wedding with a good friend of mine. I complained that I was going to miss a concert that weekend. She pointed out that I had to get married right away I was six months pregnant. It was my responsibility to make sure that the baby wasn’t born out of wedlock. I agreed and stopped whining. Eighteen years after that wedding day, I’m still pissed I missed Springsteen.

If you want to go to a show, or out to restaurant, or to a ball game, on your special day, listen to that inner voice. YOU ARE IN CHARGE OF YOUR OWN LIFE. People will try to hijack your plans, or the route you choose, but remember- No one else should be driving your bus but you. You can ask for directions, you can give people a ride, but at the end of the day, it is your journey. You are going a long way. Don’t let somebody else take the wheel unless you trust them, and even then, sleep lightly. It’s your damn bus.

What does public transportation have to do with the roller coaster ride ahead? If you are in charge of the changes in your life, you own them. You can’t be in charge of everything- someday you might get laid off, at some point you are going to lose someone you love, but wherever and however you can, don’t let life happen to you. Be proactive, noisy, daring, decisive, and brave. At the end of the day, it’s nice to know you were the one that chose how it was spent.

  1. Be flexible. In yoga, or pilates, they tell you to keep your knees slightly bent during the balance poses. This helps you find stability, keeps you from falling on your face. Flexibility in life means you don’t freak out when the movie you planned to see is sold out, when someone cancels last minute, or when your landlord texts you to tell you they aren’t renewing your lease and you have two weeks to find a new apartment in October in a city that caters to college students. Let’s be realistic, a minor freak out is expected for the landlord thing, but after you’ve done some deep breathing, maybe gone to a yoga class, you’ll figure it out. Spinning your wheels happens, just don’t get buried.
  2. Choose your traditions and embrace them.

The other night, I decorated the Christmas tree alone. I’ve always loved placing the ornaments collected over the years on the branches, and the ritual has been a big part of our holiday since the kids were old enough to stab each other with the little hooks. This year, we tried to coordinate a night to decorate together. Their father was working. Katy had flute lessons. Colin needed to stay after school. Colin needed to go out to eat. Colin needed to spend time on his Snapchat Anyway, Friday night, the only creature stirring was Michael the three legged cat. So, I decorated the tree by myself. It was a little bit sad, not having the company of my family. But at the end of the evening, the tree looked beautiful, Colin and Katy had a wonderful time fixing all of my horrible decorating decisions, and all was right with the world.

You will find traditions, create new traditions, and then they will change as your world changes. But it is wonderful to have touch stones to honor the past, whether it’s your personal past, your faith, or your family. It’s a thread that allows us to step back and appreciate where we have come from and where we might go.

 

  1. Stop looking around. Every single one of us is obsessed with how everyone else is doing. When you were little, your mom was checking out the toddler next door, and going a bit crazy because Jaimie started to speak five months ago, and you were still blowing bubbles and staring at your feet.

This attitude, this constant need to check in on whose doing what isn’t a true or even a semi true, yardstick of where you are at. Joe is killing it on Wall Street, but he’s not posting pictures on Facebook of his partner handing him divorce papers. Jenn just crashed a computer system at work, and is talking about going back to school to learn sign language. All the little pieces of information of how everyone else is doing, what they’ve accomplished, what they’re wearing and what car they are driving, have this incredible power to make us feel better, or worse and have nothing to do with where we are at.

Pay attention to your own path, and you won’t end up face planted on the sidewalk, wondering if someone is going to step on your head or come along and pick you up out of the dirt.

In closing, let me fill you in on the outcome of the uncomfortable interaction with the woman that inspired me.

While I waited in line, I wondered- was it her presence at CVS that made me uncomfortable, or was it the fact she hadn’t mentioned she was leaving 7/11 during one our conversations about Scratch tickets?

.  When I stepped in front of her, I asked why she’d switched jobs. It turns out Gwen, (we exchanged names during our conversation., thank God there was no one behind me,) had been studying to become a pharmacy technician, and the chain had hired her to work the retail side while waiting to pass whatever test pharmacy techs need to pass. So in a couple of weeks, Gwen will be the person I see when filling a prescription for penicillin.

Our lives are as big or as small as we choose to make them. People will come and go, or change positions, or we’ll change the way we define our relationships with them- from lover to ex, friend to best friend, to Christmas card recipient.

Some of you probably love the roller coaster of it all- not knowing what’s to come.

For the rest of usLean in. Reach for the commotion and the havoc.    Uproot everything you know to explore the unknown. Be a part of the changes you’re scared of, embrace the ones that are out of your hands, endure and learn from those that feel like they might break you forever.

     Find faith, and know who you are in this moment.

    Don’t be a person that clings to one system of beliefs, and one way of doing things, but recognize and build on the wisdom around and within you.

     What you discover in the years to come has the power to change you, and transform the world around you.

     Right now, the world needs changing.

     I trust all of you are up for doing your part.

     

 

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.

I remember when I first started writing my blog and began my relationship with Facebook, I’d post vignettes about snow days, dancing the kitchen, swim meets, football games, bedtime rituals, and photographs of first days, holidays, days I had the phone close and the lighting was right.

Then life got more complicated. My children, who had been the focus of my world, who were still the focus of my world, didn’t really want me to talk about them anymore with the world.
I did anyway. I mean, cold turkey?

Lately, I’ve been pretty quiet.

Life is hard right now, glorious, exhausting, magnificent, heartbreaking.

And, then there’s the politics piece. No matter what side you’re on, most of us are carrying around a lot of rage, with a healthy side of fear.

No one expected we’d end up here. It’s the coldest war, inside our own country.

So lately, when I update my status,
I tell everyone to-
Look at the moon,
Listen to this song,
Check out what this guy had to say-(third grade drop out story, google it),
Read my friend’s book.

I am not the only one sitting on the front stoop,
looking up,
barefoot and reverent.
Even though the only sound is the breeze, an occasional car sliding by, and Sophie’s sigh.
Others have taken a moment to watch the night sky;
I have company.

When I sing along to a song in an off key soprano,
I am singing along with the writer, the singer, and everyone else,
Whose been swept up, for a moment or three,
Inside the melody and bass guitar.

On the late afternoons,
while I immerse myself in a novel,
or weep when I hear an old man’s tale of his father,
I have company.

I’d like to be here
for those that need more than the
moon or a pop song
To get thru the night
And say
Thank you for keeping me company.

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.

It all started with church,
This idea of getting ready for Monday-
To try on a different approach
To first light morning chaos.

I’d become one of those people
Who write hymns to their crockpots and can tell you
Which days the children
Need gym clothes.

(I am also a person who knows
Anything
Can happen.
Just because I’ve located
My stockings and checked them for tears
Does not mean I believe
I have control
Over tomorrow
Or anything else,
For that matter.)

I head to the gym for
A swim, some sweat,
and some space
To reach and drop
Stretch and bend.
I think about summer.

Maybe next Sunday,
I’ll schedule a pedicure
to get ready for spring
Or my next time at yoga.
At least once a week
I find myself surrounded
By well groomed women
In two tone leggings
Doing down facing dog.
In position, I’m faced with
Feet that scream neglect
Even louder than my kids
When I suggest last week’s
Corned beef and cabbage for dinner.

This evening-
One extra load, one last check with each kid
Do you need pencils?
Do you need a ride?
Tell me now because
You are old enough to know
I have no idea
When your recital will be, except that it will probably happen between now
and the first week of May.

Let me know whether your first game is at home or away.
Tell me, or text me,
Then tell me, or text me again.
I don’t care you don’t want me to be there.
I’ll put on sunglasses,
Wear the other team’s colors
and probably show up twenty minutes
After it’s over.

Coffee is measured,
Fruit is sliced,
Clothes selected, inspected,
Heels lean in the hallway.

Lunch is tucked inside tupperware,
This is good.
It won’t go bad
When I forget it tomorrow.
The world won’t come to an end.

(I know this because
I’ve devoted most of my life
doing everything I can to avoid
getting ready for anything
and so far… well, look outside.
You know what i’m saying?)

I spent an hour an a half doing
Everything I do every morning
in about twenty minutes.

And I still haven’t brushed my damned teeth.

or had a drink

or read the Sunday paper.

I’m ready for Monday
Though I’m carrying a bit of a grudge.

I like now,
Sunday night,
the moments before the alarm.

I like now.

.