Tuesday, May 19, 2015

There She Goes

Dear Alex,

You graduated from high school yesterday. It's so weird, because you were just born yesterday.

Your last seventeen years have stormed my brain these past few months as I've combed through pictures for the almighty graduation party. The picture-gathering turned out to be a fairly profound experience–something more than therapeutic, bordering on spiritual.

You might be surprised to know this, but I often wonder if I've done everything right...any thing right. Or if you're armed with all the appropriate bits of knowledge and personal mantras as you step off into the world.

I think you are. You've always seemed ready to take on the world. But when you find yourself alone, in a situation wondering what to do, think back upon your life growing up here. Memories can be a well-spring.

Do you remember...

  • telling me being "brave doesn't mean you go looking for trouble"? Circa. 2000, quoting Mufasa at age 3, around the time of your Lion King fixation? Keep that piece of advice nearby, especially when you decide to accept that journalism assignment overseas.
  • wearing your "people" shirt for weeks on end? Despite my attempts to hide the dingy, psychedelic tee, and my introduction of new fancier garments? You'd always manage to come strolling out of your bedroom, copping that bold three-year-old attitude in that unrelenting people shirt. We certainly had our share of clothing debates through the years, but you always held your ground. And what a lovely sense of style you've developed by not listening to me. Always hold your ground. Unless you want to start dressing like your banker mama.
  • venturing off to find the restroom in a crowded mall when you were only four? While I was securing Cole in a stroller? Maintain that conquering, wandering spirit. But don't forget your mother's frantic expression when she found you. Dangers lurk.
  • asking me, repeatedly, if I still loved you after Cole joined the family? I will always, always reassure my love for you. Take my lead. Always reassure your love to the people you hold dearest.
  • your attachment to unconventional objects? Justine's blanket. (The Cabbage Patch doll accessory more loved than the actual doll.) The ferret photo you carried around for months. "Pretty" candy wrappers you'd save in your room. Five trillion stuffed animals with varying textures to vex your already awful allergies. I can still walk into your room and find a trove of eccentricities. Forgive me for admonishing you for touching every product on the shelves when we entered a store–clerks are weird about that stuff though. But don't ever lose that innate curiosity and ability to find value in the overlooked.
  • wanting to become an artist and a worker at Dairy Queen? Of course, you had many other aspirations, but I couldn't wait to tell you, when you grew up, that reaching your dream of working at Dairy Queen would be very achievable. As for the artist thing, I never once thought that you wouldn't be some kind of artist during your lifetime.
  • creating, creating, and creating some more?  Such as the music which should've been performed on YouTube or American Idol, as expertly judged by me. Or the paintings which have adorned so many of our walls.  Or the stories that only slightly resembled the Harry Potter plots. No matter what you do, don't EVER QUIT CREATING.
  • finally, the tears you cried? I remember them. Vividly. Sometimes they were loud. Dramatic. Other times, they were quiet, meek. Too often, I didn't feel you wanted my compassion, either out of embarrassment or your straight-out toughness. But I forced it on you anyway. And I prayed more urgently for your peace. Mothers are meant to be cried on. Forever. Set me up on Snapchat again before you leave for college so I can be ready for your tears.

Proud can not begin to describe how I feel about you, Daughter.  Your intelligence, your beauty, your kindness and your wisdom will guide you to the stars. I am sad you will be moving out of the house, but I can't help but be excited for you. How can I not? This is what we have raised you for–to make your imprint on this earth–or beyond if you choose. It seems you've been ready since you were six...I think we can finally let you go.

Well, sort of. You can leave, but we'll never let you go.

Love always,

Mom

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Ready for this?

It seems we're always getting ready for something, aren't we? But really, I'm beginning to think, we're only really getting ready for one thing.

Alex's graduation.

Or, to be fair, our children's graduation.

I had always assumed I would be an organized mother. The perfect mother, making wholesome snacks, videotaping concerts, taking award-winning soccer photos. That isn't quite what happened with a penchant for Doritos, the loss of two video cams, and a lower-than-average aptitude for photography.

But I did have a plan.

By the time the kids graduated, I would have all commemorative items in place. Photos, awards, and trinkets would all be displayed in clever, eye-catching scrapbooks. But time and talent trumped me. I've only ever started one scrapbook containing approximately three completed pages of a St. Louis trip. However. I have saved lots of papers and clippings. Lots and lots of papers and clippings. And photos. We have photos!

Everyone always tells you things like "enjoy the journey." I typically nod my head, thinking, yeah, kinda busy. Now my daughter will be gone in a few short months. And I have heartburn. Or maybe it's heartache. But I wonder, was I really kinda busy? Or too busy...which is what I meant.

For a person who is always making lists and giving herself deadlines, going through the history of my daughter's first eighteen years of life has been the most remarkable use of my time. Hours evaporated while sifting through papers and revisiting family memories. As I fumbled my way through a scrapbook for the graduation party, I had an important epiphany–one I'm almost embarrassed to confess. Most parents probably already know this. But it's very real to me right now. As my daughter verges on creating an ambitious new life for herself, my sense of purpose has become abundantly clear. No matter how many community service hours you spend, or how many work hours you toil, nothing compares with the amount of time you've done preparing your kids for their independence.

In just a few short weeks comes the big day of graduation. We're still preparing for the party, the commencement–all that jazz. I'm thankful for this time of preparation. I am. Because I'm truly enjoying the last trip of this particular journey. And I might not be ready when the day comes to say goodbye. But I know my daughter will be.
She's been waiting to graduate for awhile now...

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Getaway Takeaways

While in #Key West, I learned:
  • My phone will survive without constant hovering.
  • Educational elements can be removed from a trip without losing a sense of enrichment.
  • Pina coladas are tasty. Very tasty. Apparently, I do like coconut.
  • I don't seem to have a chronic stomach disease after all.
  • My hair seems to really despises ocean air. But I don't care! Eat your heart out Medusa.
  • I love sunshine and warmth. I suspected this.
  • Family vacations can be stress free...with enough Pina Coladas, methinks.

Biggest Takeaway: It won't kill me to relax more. As a matter of fact, it just might save me.

At the Southernmost and Quite Awesome Point of the US. I love those kids.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Metamorphoses

It's probably Disney's fault. Maybe my mother's. But despite my feminist inclinations, I can't resist the draw of a pretty dress. Frilly. Glamorous. Sophisticated. Whatever. I see pink sequin plaited on tulle or taffeta, I gush. It's an illness that began at a very young age. And it has remained...at a not-so-young age.

Every so often, an occasion comes along which necessitates the need for a fancy dress. The Oscars. A Kardashian wedding. Not that I've been invited to either of those events. Not yet anyway. In the meantime, as I await an invitation, I know someone who does have fancy dress written in her future.

Senior prom is a-coming

It's one of those precious times when Alex prefers to shop with me over her friends. Probably because she respects my impeccable taste and uncanny fashion sense. Or, maybe it's her affection toward my debit card. In this case, I'm quite glad to be the benefactor. I'm a sucker for any bit of her time.

Saturday was the day. We set off to find the dress. My mother even came along because it just felt like an event we should all share together. As we strolled through the mall together, I became wistful–especially at the sight of a Gymboree, recalling those glorious 2½ years when I had complete control of dressing my daughter without a skirmish. Things turned abruptly when my toddler established her voice, and consequent rejections of nifty outfits. I had always intended to raise a confident and independent girl. But I still wanted her to wear what I wanted her to wear. Nonetheless, I lost a few "what to wear" battles. More than a few, really.

I tried a number of techniques. Threats. Reverse psychiatry. Nothing worked. She was too smart. Eventually, I realized Alex needed to express through fashion, in various phases as most young people do. Interestingly enough, I have really come to appreciate her current sense of style. Now, I find myself stalking my 17-year-old's closet for tops and jackets that won't look ridiculous on a 40-something. Methinks there's been just a tiny bit of a style convergence! She might be mortified by the idea.

Anyway, back to the dress. My eyes kept floating to fantastical designs. Baby blue princess ball gowns, flowing organza, billowy skirts.  I COULDN'T HELP MYSELF. I begged, pleaded for her to give one of them a whirl. She refused–not even slipping one on to amuse me. Eventually I conceded my efforts after being lured into her more sleeker selections. (She seemed to know what she was doing.) The day was so successful, we narrowed the selection to two very pretty options. The final choice will be picked up on Friday when she and her father go for a fitting. (Isn't that sweet?)
The runner up dress...

Truly, I believe a transformation takes place when mothers takes daughters shopping for something...like a prom dress, the obvious precursor to something bigger. As they transform into royalty, we see their spiritual beauty emulated as they announce themselves to the world.

I'm really not interested in ever wearing one of those dresses again...even if my Oscar invitation does arrive. It's now her time to shine, while I sit back, smile, and adore the person my daughter has become.

Monday, February 2, 2015

#Lessons from a 13-Year-Old Boy

My thirteen-year-old boy is fascinated by his changing self. If only I could be half as fascinated with my changing self...
Last Summer
Now

As Cole inches upwards at full sail, I inch outwards–boasting a fresh layer of blubber around my middle. It's like I've placed an inner tube under my shirt for a humorous effect. But it's not funny. Except for when I laugh...and it jiggles. That's kind of funny.

While Cole scans his legs, underarms, and chin for "man" hair, my tresses are spewing out grays like an angry volcano. Perhaps my follicles are protesting from years of color jobs. I wish I could feel as elated about my gray strands as Cole feels when he's certain of a whisker on his chin. But I can not. I can only wonder how long my dye jobs will last. And if the color is damaging my brain. (BTW, Cole's whisker-discoveries are typically illusions only perceived by him. Or a pesky pet hair.) Needless to say, I'll admit I'm too vain to worry about brain damage for now.

Cole and I do share one common affliction, which I suppose is kind of special for a mother and son. Skin blemishes. Zits. Blackheads. Sure, his skin is still pretty beautiful–not quite as unyielding or age-spotty as mine, but both of us sport a few red spots here and there. It's really the only thing that makes him sort of look like a teenager–and the fact that he's almost taller than me now. AND, it's about the only thing that makes me still feel young! Acne!

The other day Cole shouted out, "Oh Mom! I had a great day! Guess what happened?"

I paused from whatever important task I was tending to. Cole had been studying pretty hard lately. Perhaps it had finally paid off! Perhaps he had been selected for something special! The tone of voice indicated something great...

"Well, Mrs. Schaben called out to me in the hallway and said 'Cole?'"

Mrs Schaben was going to recognize him for something! I was already feeling proud, wondering what he had done and what honor he was going to receive.

"She said, 'Your voice is really getting low.'"

Cole just looked at me and smiled.

"Was that the story?" I asked.

He nodded with a big grin. "Isn't that awesome? It was like the best day after she told me that."

I nodded and grinned. To be so enthused with one's own maturation? Well, perhaps it is a gift–a gift I could learn to appreciate myself as well. I guess. After all, aging isn't the worst. Not the best, but not he worst. It can be humbling, but it does teach us to laugh at ourselves. It should anyway.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

#PlayBall!

              The other sports are just sports. Baseball is a love. ~Bryant Gumbel, 1981


Football. Basketball. Soccer. Lots of sports in the headlines right now. Never a lack of something to watch for your average sports fan. It's only natural we turn off ESPN to watch the 18-hour Ken Burns documentary on...baseball. If you haven't seen it, and you're missing the crack of the bat and the comfort of a juicy hot dog, search it out on Netflix now.

Before I met my husband, I barely knew a thing about baseball. Three strikes, you're out. That was about the extent of my knowledge. But with marriage, comes appreciation for other passions. Admittedly, I was mostly impressed with how my boyfriend (future husband) donned a baseball uniform. (Our early dates consisted of a few town team games.) Now, twenty years later, I can honestly say I've grown quite a fondness and fascination for the past-time.

Strategy is still a bit beyond me. I get there's some psychology, but usually I need to ask a bunch of pesky questions to the expert in the room. Shifts. Pitches. Suicides squeezes–whatever that really means. Once in a while, I'll surprise Doug with a statement like, "he's probably gonna throw a sinker, huh?" Usually though, I'm fairly clueless. HOWEVER...I'm not too bad at identifying heros. And I do believe hero-spotting is one of the most fun parts of this game. Ask any kid.

Much of baseball is the same story. But the story is great. And it never gets old. An unlikely kid from a common family becomes a baseball legend. The hapless team with an unsavory history rises to the top. Fill in the blanks with your favorite player/team. Babe Ruth. Lou Gehrig. Joe DiMaggio. Jackie Robinson. The St. Louis Cardinals. The Brooklyn Dodgers. I'm not allowed to give space to any other New York baseball teams. Except of course, the Giants and the Mets. Anyway...

Ted Williams once said:

"Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer."

One journalist noted that perhaps baseball is really more about losing. I've given some thought about that statement. While I get that the long season can involve scores of losses and that a batting average includes a heckuva lot of strike-outs, I'm not sure I agree the game has more to do about losing. I think the game is about democracy and opportunity. Once Jackie Robinson began to break the color barrier, reflecting an overdue shift in our nation's sentiment, baseball seemed to carry on its roots as being the the great equalizer...granted this didn't happen overnight. But eventually, it did happen.

It seems everyone knows of someone who had their shot in the majors. The game offers individuals, with any background, opportunities.  And the game never runs short on hope. Down by ten runs in the bottom of the ninth? No problem! There's an entire half an inning left. And guess what? No time clock! The game might go past midnight...or for three more days. And the faithful who watched the entire game would wear the honorary badge for not missing one single play or nuance. These stories tend to brighten spirits in the room when discussion eventually magnets to...baseball. How can they not, with themes of opportunity and hope?

Three months until opening season. Enough time has now passed since the World Series as I watched the excitement bubble in my diehard Royals fan–only to be heartbroken in the bottom of the ninth on the seventh game. It's time to kindle hope and begin the search for more heros.


Monday, January 12, 2015

In Memory Of


It’s been nearly thirty years since I stepped into the church where I attended Sunday School and was confirmed. While I live a mere fifteen minutes away from that quaint place of worship, I feel I’ve journeyed a thousand miles from it–and my childhood.

As I rode along with my parents to a funeral for a family friend, I began to sense a settling of my past and a regret that perhaps I had forgotten who I was and where I came from. We entered through the basement of the church where the musty smell wrapped around me like a favorite blanket. When my eyes set upon some of our oldest, best friends, I couldn't hold back my smile–despite the sad circumstance.

When we took our seats in the pew, my dad had to tap me on the shoulder to inform me he’d be sitting by my mother. Apparently, I had fallen back into my childhood, when I always took center seat between my parents. And as I listened to the tribute being given to the cheerful woman who died too young of Alzheimer’s, I decided to be thankful for my own memories. A crocheted Lord's Prayer, still hanging behind the alter. The Christmas programs, arranged by the ladies of the church. The potlucks, which ended in unfortunate gastric events from my inability to stop eating.

After the service, we had lunch in the basement where I attended my Sunday Schooling. I tempered my food choices this time. But I also felt an enormous amount of gratitude as I ate the open-faced sandwiches and cookies, staring at the paneled walls, listening to my father and his cronies. They still made me laugh, now poking fun of their age and reflecting on their wilder youth. I had heard the story of the pony in the basement of the church before. But there's nothing quite like listening to people share stories during those moments when we really appreciate our lives.

As I got up to refill my glass of lemonade, I noticed how many of the same ladies from my youth were providing lunch, with the same generous, loving spirit. I never would've pictured myself having such an engaging conversation with my old my old Sunday School teacher. But I did! I would've, should've  visited with her longer, actually, but everyone in my family (including me) has an incredible itch to always leave gatherings early. There are always tasks to be done.

Needless to say, I no longer belong to that sweet, little church. I've converted to Catholicism, even teaching religious education and serving as a lector in my new parish. But when we left the funeral at the Methodist Church in Kirkman, I not only felt sad about saying goodbye to our friend who had passed away, but I was quite sentimental about walking out of the church and driving out of town. There's something very peaceful about visiting the  place where much of your identity is formed.

Memory is precious. Memories should be cherished. And most of all, we should share them for as long as we can.