Thursday, September 17, 2015

Destination of a Boy

Today my coworker friend sent me an email with the header: You’re gonna love this. Stars Wars has been selected as theme for the Harvest Fest this year. My heart lifted as a pic of the familiar logo and a costumed Luke and Lea came into view. Then I felt a little sad. Oh yeah. My kids are big now. Teenagers. A Darth-Cole might be more eerie than cute.

Not that my 14-year-old isn't still cute. He is. But he’s stepping out of...boyhood. I’m now a dwarf next to him. Lengthwise anyway. (Still got him on girth.) His once sweet, animated voice has migrated into a lower, monotone decibel. Car singing is a joy. Imagine Steven Wright doing Katie Perry. But the thing that worries me? This bit of cleverness that's steeping in. I'm not talking textbook academic-clever. I'm talking about the intricacy of his stories. In other words, lies. Lies getting more difficult to detect. For example...

It’s 9:00 and he decides to retire.

"So early?" I ask with a bit of suspicion. (I'm not completely clueless. Insomniac kid heads to bed at 9:00....potential miscreant behavior ahead.)  But then he says...

"Gonna read."

"Well! Okay!" I say with a proud smile. My lessons on "how reading will make him great" are starting to sink in!

"Don't stay up too long!" I say, but not really meaning it. Would I really reprimand him for staying up until midnight for reading? Heck no.

After he heads down, I get to thinking. Have I seen Cole with a book lately? The kid painfully relates every part of every book he reads. I'm thinking I haven't heard anything of the sort.

When I decide to sneak downstairs to his bedroom to confirm his bookish pursuits, I discover he has not lied to me. He is reading. A Fantasy Football update on his iPhone. He needs to, I am informed. No longer can he research Fantasy Football at school. He and Jordan got it banned. 

At least he accomplished something this year.

He asked me the other day if his study hall teacher had called me. I said "No, why?" He only replied with a "Oh good." When I pried, he only said, "If you didn't get a call, it was nothing." Then he whipped up a smile, eyes all glimmering. I have a feeling the kid could be dangerously furtive.

But he’s not all grown up. Nor is he completely sneaky. I still relish in every bit of his boyishness.
  • He still favors kicking and shooting balls. More than anything in the world, it seems. I’m assuming this will change any minute and he'll be compelled to become an astute student. 
  • So far, his daily body inspections have not indicated any underarm hair. 
  • He tattles on his college-aged sister like a little kid. Just this weekend he mentioned her “going-ons” at college from her one of her SnapChat stories. When I tried to see them on my SnapChat, I couldn’t. Cole explained I had been blocked, but he was more than happy to share with me. (On a side note, my daughter explained her blocking of me was an act of love—a need for maternal separation. She's getting so smart in college.) 
So tonight I told Cole about the Harvest Fest theme, expecting a teenagey "too cool for that" type response. My heart leapt a little when his eyes grew wide and said, "Awesome! Can't wait to tell Matt."

Strong, stays the Force in the heart of a boy.
A long time ago, in a galaxy not very far away...

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Departure Grief

Here we come Alex!
It’s been just over two weeks since the dropoff and here’s what I know.

Forget wrinkles and achy joints. The worst part of getting old is taking your kids to college.

Yeah, I know. This is why you raise your kids—to be independent and find their way in the world. Blah. Blah. Blah. I simply want my little girl back. The little girl with the big brown, curious eyes and bobbed haircut. The five-year-old, asking me to read Olivia for the billionth time. I'll tell you what I would NOT do if I could back in time: I wouldn’t sigh about rehashing the clever little pig's mischiefs. Nor would I calculate all the tasks required to uphold an averagely-kept house. Nope. I'd let the laundry go undone! I'd leave the dishes sit on the counter! I might even allow the pets to puke on the carpet without throwing a tantrum. Maybe.

Some of you (the few, the proud, the followers) might have notice this blog on hiatus. The break was merely due to my grief. The perpetual lump in my throat and swirl about my guts as I ponder what's going on in my college-bound daughter's world. Everyone keeps asking me how’s she doing? I think to myself, How’s she doing? I DON'T KNOW FOR SURE! GHEESH. THANKS FOR REMINDING ME SHE'S GONE!  

I have an inkling she's adjusted well. Clambered into to her new college life by jumping off the high dive. It’s me they should be asking about. How are YOU doing, mother of student? 

I guess I’m coping. I think about her all the time...probably too much. I wonder if she misses her family as much as we miss her. I’ve reached out to her a few times (quite a few times as she has pointed out), hoping we could Facetime. Apparently, I’m catching her at bad times. Almost always a bad time. Two days ago she said she’d call me back later. I’m still waiting for that call. It’s like I’m in high school again, waiting for the boy to ask me to a dance. And he's just not interested in the nerdy bookworm.

In three days, we reunite—to celebrate the opening season of the Hawk’s football season. But really? It will be a celebration of my endurance. My ability to step away from one of my most favorite people in the world and let her mess up her room without me saying a word about it. Really, I won't. We can simply talk about cool stuff. Like English literature classes. Or if anyone has tempted her to taste a beer. That happened to me once in college.


As I was finishing this blog, I received that call from Alex. Eerie, huh? (She didn't recall she was to call me back a few days ago. Kids!) Anyway, hearing her voice instantly lifted my spirit. And as we talked, it quickly became evident, that my role of mother wouldn't be going away anytime soon.

Maybe I'll bring Olivia with me this weekend.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Bird Brain and Nest Theory

So the other day I went to throw the towels in the dryer. But when I looked in the washing machine, there wasn't one single piece of fabric to be fluffed. I had ran the cycle, but forgot to add the soiled linens. And I had just been discussing (boasting really) on our frugal use of detergent. Never mind I just wasted a whole bunch of water.

Yeah. I'm scattered lately.

Every night in bed, I catch myself just before falling asleep, heart palpitating. Sometimes I get up and start walking around for no apparent reason. My husband asks me what I'm doing. I usually don't know.

I'm forgetting something! Something important! Something more than a load of laundry. I just don't know what it is.

Alex starts college next week.

We went on a girls' shopping trip yesterday. My plan was to leave her some profound, imparting wisdom. But I just blanked. I couldn't come up with anything she doesn't already know.

Get rest.
Be involved.
Know your limits.
Brush your teeth. No, I did not say that. But I will.

She told me her godmother stopped by the other day and gave her great advice on handling herself at parties. Thank god for godmothers. I forgot that she might get invited to a party.

Alright. Enough. The girl is ready. She's beautiful, brilliant and ready to soar....I think her mama will be just fine as long as her soaring routes her back home once in a while.
Ready to Take on World.
Good Lord. This really is going to happen. She really is going to college. It hasn't seemed real. And now we're packing and Cole has dibs on the bed.

At this point, I feel my best use is quit doing laundry and admire photos of my daughter. And of course, thank God for my blessings.


Monday, August 3, 2015


In Seth McFarlane's award winning movie, A Million Ways to Die the West, there's a rumor of a man (from Texas) who actually smiled for a photograph. Sobriety defined decorum in the Old West, apparently. Otherwise, you just might appear a lunatic. Imagine being skeptical of a smiler for the camera! In this age of photo bombs and selfies! Certainly, how good for times to have changed, allowing for folly and joy.

I've been thinking about the topic of smiling a lot lately. It began when I met a group of my mother's friends the other day and was struck by one lady in particular. She wore one of those smiles that made you melt inside and I immediately felt special to know her. All of the ladies were friendly, but her inviting smile was like a soulful, unspoken welcoming. I can attest she made my whole day brighter.

Research shows a smile can activate endorphins within the giver and the receiver. Yeah, I just made that up. But doesn't it seem right? No matter, who could deny the warm fuzzy when someone, anyone, presents you a sincere happy face? It feels like eating ice cream, without the calories.

One day a coworker and I were talking about giving presentations to groups. As bankers, we often have to give information on some pretty dry topics. We do our best to keep the audience engaged. But it doesn't always work, no matter how dazzling deposit compliance or human resources can be. I do become amused, of course, by the sleepers. They have mastered sleep with open eyes. Then there are the scowlers–the "I don't care what you are saying and I don't care what you are telling me" people. Or at least that's what their expressions insinuate. My coworker has given them the benefit of the doubt. She doesn't believe they actually think those things, but has diagnosed them with "resting bitch face."

Resting Bitch Face |restingbichfās|
A crabby facial expression, projected by an unsuspecting person or non-expressive animal. 
Hmm. One of these needs a smiling lesson...

But there is always that tiny group of smiling nodders. You know the type. You love them! You can't take your eyes off them...because you know they're rooting for you!

A nodding smiler. That's who I want to be. It's who I want my kids to be. The type of person who will always root for you.

Award-winning Smiles

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Power of Indecision

What should we eat?
Where should we go?
What should we watch?

Simple questions. Yet. We approach them as if considering the next brilliant chess move. Our family does anyway.

Let me begin with some history, so you get some sense of our household dynamics.

I learned early on that flexibility would be a non-negotiable on the farm. (It should've have occurred to me when the first call for a date didn't come for three weeks after meeting Doug. The story is he had some beans to plant...) As our relationship became more serious, I noticed activities took a backseat to harvest, planting, spraying, etc. I discovered that planning any particular activity was often a lesson in futility. Doug's trademark response, "We'll have to see once" was a euphemism for "don't plan anything."

And it's fine–especially for a reader! But the easiest activities to plan at the last minute are eating and watching movies. Those habits tend to define our family.

Anyway, back to how we make come to any decision. "Compromise"probably doesn't quite cover it. I have realized Doug's "indecisiveness" tends to work for him quite brilliantly. Doug will tell you he never makes the call when it comes to choosing a place to eat or when it comes to choosing a movie to watch. That's because our conversations go something like this:

Me    What should we watch tonight?
He     I don't care. What do you want to watch?
Me    Really? You really want me to choose?

A pause.

He    Sure. Just choose something good.
Me    Midnight in Paris.
He    I said something good.
Me    So what do you want to watch?
He    I don't care.
Me   You do care! How about The Secret Life of Walter Mitty? You've Got Mail?

A pause.

Me    Or Trouble with Curve?
He    Ok. We can watch Trouble with the Curve.

Baseball movies are never rejected.

So the next movie night comes around. Doug will comment how it's his turn to choose since I selected Trouble with the Curve.  (Ha!) Someone like Jason Bourne will adorn the screen.

As for the next movie night? See the conversation above, slightly different movie options. I bought Slumdog Millionaire a few years ago, but haven't seen it yet because my husband pinches his face every time I suggest it. He mentions I can watch it during planting or harvest. But I'm in the camp of "movies are no fun to watch by yourself!" Maybe I'll attempt Doug's "indecisive" strategy on him. Somehow I think it'll fail miserably.

Certainly, there are always those nights when there is absolutely no agreeing on a DVD. That's when we turn to the worst place in the universe for the indecisive: Netflix. Why, you ask, would we do that to ourselves? Flick through the abyss of movie and TV show options?

Two reasons. There's always that glimmer of hope we'll find something to agree upon. And, of course,  Quentin Tarantino. There's always Quentin Tarantino.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Virtues of Vacationing at Home

I'm on the last bit of a week's vacation, which was mostly spent in the luxury of a messy ranch-style home one mile south of Earling, Iowa. While I hate to boast, it was pretty sublime.

Highlights included:

  • Recreational activities in the form of hoops as Mama got made fun of for her alley oop assists on the 9 foot rim, only after proceeding to get her tail whipped at PIG...TOO MANY TIMES.
  • Checkers, after hoops, giving Mama a crown at something.
  • The awesome triumph of the USA Women's Soccer Team, celebrated with gusto and Sam Adams in the Kramer living room. (Beer only imbibed by the adults.)
  • Family bonding with a movie night as we enjoyed the heartwarming saga of Ted 2.
  • The perfecting of a Cuban Sandwich with the slow cooking of a pork shoulder roast as our food truck dream really begins to percolate. (Doug's not quite on board with this yet.)
  • College orientation in Iowa City. Alex registered for classes as Doug and I planned our game day visits and plotted the new bars at the ped mall.
  • Read like it was my day job. And began writing a new novel like it's my dream job. Oh yeah. It is.
  • Slept for nine hours every day. I didn't even know I could do that.
My vacation time did NOT include:

  • Organizing my pictures, as I had planned. That has to be the worst job. Reminds me of the stress of planning a graduation party. Ugh. Damn digital age. But suppose, better get cracking for Cole's 2020 party.
  • Weeding all of my flower beds, as I had planned. I did plant more flowers though! It's my strategy to distract from the weeds.
  • Wash my kids' sheets. I still might do that.
Quinn gets it.
In all honesty, I spent quite a bit of walking, reflecting, praying, and really listening to my family. Admittedly, the busy-ness of my life often overwhelms me. That might comes as a shock for those of you who read this happy-go-lucky blog. (But when entries don't come in for weeks at a time...that is the reason!) I know, deep down, I only have myself to blame. 

This vacation of having no agenda has allowed me to really unwind. And actually laugh with my family as our pets acted like drunken sailors on the deck. It allowed me to stop and watch a goldfinch bob from fence post to fence post and experience the wonder of its brilliance. It allowed me to watch a lizard and a spider dual in my daughter's egress window. (Really!) But here's the thing. I didn't have to be on vacation to enjoy any of those things. It does seems, however, it took actual downtime–stillness–to remember that I could enjoy those things. I've always thought I was kind of smart. But it's taken me a while to realize how simple it is be happy.

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,