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.

There were rides in the Cadillac, top down
Beatles loud on the radio.
After intense arguments
With my brother over
Who got to sit behind
Our father.

There were meandering walks on tree lined streets at the age of 15,
Giddy, stupid, and hungry
For bagels or cookies
but afraid
To go home.

I should have been home.
I should have worn shoes.
I should have followed everyone
else to college.

There was saying goodbye to my dad
For ten years.
There was speaking to my dad In the dark,
ten years after he died.

There were parties, so many parties.
There was takeout for dinner
On nights we weren’t picking at meals in restaurants
With cloth napkins served by waiters
We’d see later on
at the club.

I didn’t make choices,

I was along for the ride. In                                                                                                               between,
I slept like the dead in a
Bedroom cloaked by
Tightly closed, thick velvet
Curtains.

Then, came my son.
I didn’t choose him
any more
Than I chose anything else
In those days.

It took time
For me to make the transition.

For a long time, I was a daughter
Who mourned and drank
And wished she’d said goodbye
And I love you
While my father still knew who I was.

It took too long for me to
Step. The. Fuck. Up.

My dad has been gone
Forever.

I’m losing my son.

It seems like it was five minutes ago
I recognized I was his mother.

He’s known all along and
While he was waiting
For me,
he grew tired
And found
Ways to pass the time
On his way to becoming
A man.

I’m here now.

His shoes are in the hall.

His world is private,
On instagram
Riding shotgun or crouched in the backseat of an uber,
Or inside his dreams.

When I wake him up,
He always sounds surprised by my voice.

He used to cry
As easily
As some boys
Laughed at spongebob squarepants.
He doesn’t cry anymore.

I hear pop songs
About love
And I think of my son.

I want to tell him
Everything
But he’s
Already gone.

I wasted a long time
Waiting for a dead man
To speak.

The rest of my life
Belongs to the living.

When he comes home
I stay as close as I can,
Noting his tone,
Holding my cheek for a kiss,
Watching him as he moves
thru the kitchen and
Smears peanut butter on
bread.

Sometimes,
I don’t know him at all-
His voice belongs to a stranger.
When did he decide
he liked Pad Thai?
Extra spice, light on shrimp.

Once in a while, I see the smile or the way he holds his fork,
And I know to bring him milk
Or suggest he get some sleep.

It was easier,
In the days of
Gimlets versus Cosmos,
South End versus Brookline,
Backgammon or silly conversation.

But upstairs, right above my head,
There is a boy.
He is angry, sweet, and funny.

He calls me mom
even though
He believes with all his heart
I am an idiot
Who doesn’t understand a thing,
And tortures him by insisting
He put away his clothes.
He puts away his clothes.

I hope I am here
To witness
The best of him-
Which is going to be amazing.

My son, by age sixteen,
Has taught me more
Than everything I knew
Before him.

Parenthood 2016

May 29, 2016

Dear Teenagers,

I’ve heard from a couple of parents that they are having similar struggles with their kids based on some stuff that I’ve written on Facebook and WordPress.

So I thought I’d fill you in on our perspective, or at least our perspective from my point of view. I’m going to tell you some things you might not know.

You probably won’t read this. You’re on snapchat, instagram, and a whole of lot other places I can’t even remember.
(I know some of you are on Facebook, but you probably signed up when you were 12 and probably aren’t reading this.)

Nevertheless, here goes-

You know how we’re always coming at you with an angry look on our faces, launching into long speeches about laundry, social responsibility and the importance of schoolwork? While we sit on the end of your bed and peer around your room with an undisguised look of irritation on our faces?

Yes, we are pissed. At least I am. But I’m about 5% mad, 75% petrified, and 20% totally without clue.

I know that all the experts say I’m supposed to be a parent and not a friend. They say it’s important to set boundaries, maintain expectations, hold kids responsible. In other words, be a parent.

I don’t know how to be a parent to a teenager. We want to hug you, you look at us like you want to spit. Or run out the door. Or slam the door so hard it breaks into a thousand pieces, but you won’t do that because then you wouldn’t have a door to slam any more and you really, really like slamming doors.

Many of us did the same stupid things you are doing now as teenagers. Not all us, and not all of you, are experimenting with drugs and alcohol. But a lot us did. And then, as we got older, we were either front and center watching someone we love struggle because of drugs and alcohol. Or die. Or dealing with addiction battles on our own.

How are we supposed to sit by and watch you the same things we did, or watched so many of our generation do? When I see a teenager stumble out of the woods and stagger across the street bare feet, even though 30 years ago I was staggering out of the bathroom, I can’t sit by and say that’s okay. I’ve been to the meetings, picked people off the sidewalk, said prayers at funerals.

What are we supposed to do about all the pictures you post? The bare asses, the clouds of smoke, the n word this and the ho that?

I know not all of you drink or do drugs. I know not all of you post crazy stuff. I know a lot of you talk to your parents, do community service, excel in school, and are amazing people.

I’m also aware thatt there are many of you that drink, do drugs, snapchat pictures that would make a blind person cringe and are failing school will go on to do amazing things. You might even be doing amazing things at the same time you’re getting naked on your finsta and stuck in summer school.

I’m just saying- a lot of the grownups in your life are totally without a clue. We walk around dazed. We have whispered conversations at work, (far away from the childless or the blessed, still dealing with bedtime drama and indelible ink on the walls,) where we compare notes. We try to figure out if we should take away your phones, call in a therapist, or just let you be.

You might be saying- let us be.

Personally, I’d love to. I’d love to step away from my kids, stop nagging, worrying, tracking, and even talking about them.

But what if I did that and something bad happened? Because I stopped paying attention?

So I’m scared. We are scared. And pissed. And hopelessly confused.

Cut us some slack. Put away the laundry.

If you are going to be foolish and silly, enjoy the moment. Laugh with your friends. You don’t need to document every single stupid, funny thing you do.

Alcohol isn’t going anywhere. It looks like pot is going to be legal any minute. Can you just wait a little while? There will be time for grown up mistakes, and you’re going to make lots of grown up mistakes.

You’ve got time. Lots of time.

So if you could give us a few minutes once a while, that would be nice. A smile would be awesome.

I think I can speak for most parents, We’d be thrilled if you could just maybe listen to what we say, some of the time.

I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask.

Love and faith,

Mom

Yesterday it was explained to me that I am actually insane for insisting someone eat scrambled eggs and toast for dinner instead of frosted flakes.

Today, when I picked up the other one from after
school at 4:30- she reminded me about a band concert this evening, except I’d never heard about the concert in the first place.

After we established that- yes, there was going to be concert that every other family with a band loving child in Milton knew about, and my daughter really, really wanted to attend, the possibility was again mentioned that perhaps I’m losing my mind, because of course she would have mentioned it, I mean , Mooooom– (Mom, I have to wear black pants, a white button down shirt, and it has to be clean, mom, like real people’s clean, and I need socks, I forgot about the socks, and shoes, black shoes, and they have to be… )

All explained to me one hour before she was due at the high school to practice.

It was a lovely concert. I was introduced to the band director, had the chance to see some good friends. So many of the kids on the stage I’ve had the pleasure of being in the audience for- either a Celebration of Spring Chorale, or Holiday concert, or Easter Egg Hunt or Isn’t Our Town the Best Town in the Whole World Parade or The Annual Mother’s Day March for Peace .*

The music was unexpected, for me anyway. The different bands performed the works of modern composers. I heard hope, terror, joy, grief, got a glimpse of spring, with just the right touch of “Let it Go”. (I think it’s going to years and years before the fans of that song take the advice spelled out in the chorus.)

The two people the closest to me have told me that I am completely insane and totally losing my mind.

Either one of those two statements might have really pissed me off, except- well, they reached this consensus a long time ago, and somehow I still remember to pick someone up for practice and sign someone else’s test and I’m the only one that ever remembers to feed the dog.

And somehow, I don’t point these points out to them on an hourly basis.

But I am really happy listening to the band, I even plan to tape the recital. I love cheering for the team, whatever the season. “Go Team” is ok, as long as I don’t use any names. Or at least not his name.

It’s been a good day.

And tomorrow, there is nothing on my calendar. No one needs a ride. No one needs anything baked, or bought, or delivered or signed.

Tomorrow’s going to be great.

*At the annual Mother’s Day March for Peace, moms aren’t the audience, we are organizers and leaders, some of us sharing and spilling grief, some of us are there to listen, a lot of us sing. And while we march, everyone keeps an eye on the children, who tag along behind, or limp beside, sweaty sticky palms inside someone’s slightly bigger palm, or race ahead, carrying signs, calling to friends, not looking for us at all, (because they know we are somewhere). Pretty similar to all of the other special days, I guess, except our name is in the title. And for the record, dad’s are welcome.

I love you.

(Just want to make this clear, I am, by nature a very loving person. It’s safe to say I love almost everyone. Well, like almost everyone. If I’m having a good day. You get the point- as I write these words, love is in my heart.)

Even though I love you, it is not a good time when I go to the store at 8:30 at night to buy you earbuds so that you can get pumped on the way to the game tomorrow.

It is not a barrel of laughs standing in the middle of your bedroom trying to figure out how, in 36 hours, every piece of clothing you have ever warn, in your entire life, seems to be scattered on your floor, draped on over sized pillows, dangling from your music stand, or stuffed under your bed.

I understand that you regard it as a kind gesture on your part to accept my help cleaning it up, but this process, well, also not a day at the beach. Or a day at the dog park. Or even an hour in the dentists office reading People.

I’ve established I’m a pretty nice person to the people in my life. And I don’t regret the late night shopping, or the early morning to mid Saturday afternoon attempts to return order. I didn’t even mind the late nights spent with glue and poster board, a map of Ecuador and your friend with the allergies, whose mom made me move every single piece of food that might have been exposed to peanuts or peanut dust out to our shed. Which meant transporting everything in our cupboards, except the spice rack, outside.

Why did we do the project at our house? Because you wanted my help. I think. (Looking back, it was probably because your friends mom wouldn’t let you listen to the radio, but I’m going to choose, for my purposes here, to go with you wanted my help.

And both of you, or all of you, you all out there- Still want my help on a daily frigging basis.

So why you gotta be so rude? (I can hear the eyeballs rolling as I type.)

How can you act like sitting down to dinner of barbecued chicken, corn on the cob, and rice, is a favor? And that I should be thankful to you to eat the barbecued chicken and rice, the corn is too labor intensive, while sitting next to me. And that I shouldn’t complain when after four minutes you get up to leave. After all, you sat next to me. You didn’t point out that you prefer legs, and mashed potatoes. You didn’t even try to bring it down to the tv room. I got to spend four minutes with you, and you even put your dish somewhere near the sink.

Let me point out, I didn’t even serve a real vegetable in honor of your presence. And that I attempted to look wide awake and interested while you explained, for the 89th times, what “special teams” are in terms of football.

And that just sitting next to me for four minutes isn’t enough.

This is what I want from the people in my life- I would like you to be nice to me.

I would like you to ask about my day before you start walking upstairs to bed.

I would like you to laugh at my jokes. Ok, maybe about a quarter of my jokes. We can work out a signal so that you know that a joke is coming, so that you can laugh. Or chuckle softly. Or even not roll your eyes.

I would like you to say thank you and please when I hand you your laundry instead of pointing out that when Michael’s mom washed your socks, they came back “white, actually, white!!! Can you call her and find out how she did it?”

I would like you to know that sometimes you hurt my feelings.

I know that my feelings are the last things on your mind, and I accept that orchestra, and algebra, and going for a bike ride with Amanda, and procuring money for another trip to Milton House of Pizza, that all of these things are probably a little more on the forefront of your mind than my feelings.

I would like you to know that your friends won’t think you are a complete loser if you say hi to me after the game. And that I will rent Spiderman two if you’ll hold my hand when it gets scary.

And I’d like you to know that even when you hurt my feelings, I get over it pretty quick.

And I start thinking about what it would be like if I stopped driving you to practice, or making sure you have enough money for snacks, or reminding you about the project due on Monday.

Sometimes I have a lot of free time. To think.

I’m just sayin”

Here I am.

March 2, 2014

I have finally came to the conclusion that my body is a pretty nice place to live. This after a troubling bout with a never ending chest cold, the onset of my fifties, and a life long wish that I was just a little taller.

All my life I’ve been plagued, not only by height envy, (and look at all of the woman lurching around in high heels, I’m not the only one,) but by the vague idea that I would look so much better if my lips were just a little plumper, my belly a little less so, my hair straighter, my feet daintier… The list goes on and on and on.

And then, while I was on the phone with my mom, listening to her tell me about the latest cruise she’s booked, a thousand pounds of envy crashed down on me. Not only did I want to be taller, with a voluptuous smile, a taut tummy, a sleek mane, held up by a delicate instep, I wanted to be all of that and lounging on a deck chair in the sun. On a boat. With a cocktail, a cabana boy, a slew of really good books and a crowd of fascinating people waiting to hear my latest bon mots.

I pulled in my driveway and looked out the window at the dirty snow, the basketball hoop, slightly crooked, perched at the end of the driveway, and the dog poop in the front yard.

My short legs carried me out of the car and into the house. My face was greeted by the most wonderful of dogs, the smiling Sophie. My daughter gave me a hug. My son smiled and asked if I’d remembered to pick up milk.

I didn’t know what we were going to do about dinner. Pizza three nights a week is a little much. And if I was ever going to do anything about this waistline, it probably wasn’t the best option.

It turns out Katy had made macaroni and cheese, and she explained to me she didn’t even use butter, just low fat milk. And Colin offered that we could round the meal off with the grapes in the fridge I’d bought them to bring to school for snacks, (since they never, ever brought them to school for snacks- “see mom, sometimes it works out we don’t listen to you).

And I decided right then, right there, that this body of mine wasn’t such a bad place to live. With a little help from my husband, it had delivered me these two amazing, surly, sweet, funny people. It has carried me thru a life of heartbreak and bliss.

I have not always been kind to this body of mine. Mostly I’ve actually been pretty cruel. Too much sleep, or sulking on sofas. A long love affair with cigarettes, and some serious time indulging in too much wine or dangerous trips to the ladies room. Bacon. Macaroons. Not enough fiber. Not enough water, too much water.

These days, I’m all about Greek yogurt, time at the YMCA and long walks in the woods with the dogs. I love spinach, I don’t eat red meat much. But that’s only been for a little while.

So all things considered, this body of mine has been pretty generous and forgiving. So I think the nicest thing I can do is stop fretting about the lounge chair that doesn’t have my name on it, and the fact that there isn’t a lip stick that is going to make me look like Ms Jolie.

I can still wear high heels, and dream a little. But at the end of the day, this day any way, this body of mine is right where I want to be.

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.

     Tonight called for a long, leisurely stroll around Turner’s Pond with Sophie, Katy, my eight year old, and her two friends, Thanh and Tue. We took off around 6:30.
     The sun glowed orange and red, the girls raced on ahead playing tag, i think. I was listening to Michael Frante on headphones. From time to time I’d pause for the awkward conversation between fellow dog walkers that happens while our respective dogs sniffed each other’s respective butts.

      At the end of the walk, I left the girls to collect the Wonder Pup so I could catch up on Words with Friends and beat my mother, (another story.)
      Suddenly I heard “Sophie’s looking for something…” Next “Sophie’s chasing chickens. Mom, she’s chasing the chickens and I don’t think they like it.” Immediately followed by “Sophie’s in the CHICKEN COOP!”
     Let me make this clear, I don’t take my family and my dog walking on a farm or anywhere near a farm. This was Turner’s Pond, where at best I thought she’d chase some ducks. Ducks who have wings and know how to use them. Maybe some geese, who might teach her a lesson and bite her on the nose.
     So when I sprinted thru the woods, I had no idea what I was looking for, I was just following the sounds of little girl screams, an occasional bark, and some panting.
     Set back from the path, there it was. A chicken coop, and just outside the coop a yard, the whole thing all neatly penned in with chicken wire. “Katy, where’s Sophie?” “She’s inside.” I lifted the roof of the chicken coop, and there she was, in a space about the size of the inside of a very small oven, accompanied by three very scared chickens.
     Katy ran away crying. Sophie looked at me and tried to wag her tail, though it was difficult, given that chicken coops, by definition, are on the small side. The chickens cowered, Sophie wagged and smiled. She was ready to settle down for a sleepover with poultry.
     “Tue, Thanh, help me!” The girls lifted up the roof the chicken coop so I was able to reach in and pry Sophie, all 52 very reluctant pounds of puppy, out of our feathered friends home.
     The sun was down by the time we left the Pond, Katy’s tears were dry by the time we left the pond, and on our way home from the pond, I promised Tue and Thanh a trip to the yogurt bar.
     But not tonight. I’m still looking for long and leisurely, so right now, I’m heading upstairs for a bath. Tomorrow, I’ll go apologize to the chickens.