Walking With Dinosaurs Again

“Let your age get old but not your heart.” ~Unknown

Joe, likely watching dinosaurs something dinosaur related, circa 2005

Our son, Joe, is a college sophomore. He has been interested in dinosaurs since he was about 3. We are not sure what first fueled his intense curiosity about them, but we’ve narrowed it down to Disney’s Dinosaur film (circa 2000), any of the library of Land Before Time films (1988-2007), or the BBC television production called Walking with Dinosaurs (1999). While we don’t know which show originally piqued his interest, we do know that we spent hours upon hours watching those productions with him. I partially credit Joe’s fascination with dinosaurs with our initial discovery of Joe’s learning disabilities. It made zero sense to us that a four year old who could instantly recognize a specific type of dinosaur and share with us its name, its size, and the period in which it lived, along with myriad other facts about it, could not remember that we told him to pick up his shoes and carry them up the stairs a minute earlier. He had an insanely acute long-term memory and a dismal short-term one. But, I digress.

Over the years since then, even as he discovered new interests (geology, flags, geography, history, world religions, travel, and geopolitics), his passion for dinosaurs was always running in background. As new discoveries were made, he would share them with us. At those times, be he 8 or 14 or 18, he would become so excited and animated and awestruck about his new knowledge that we would transported back to the days when four year old Joe was regaling us with dinosaur facts. Dinosaurs, a link to Earth’s past, have been our link to Joe’s past.

Yesterday, a new BBC series premiered on Apple TV+. Joe texted me the links to the first trailer for this show over a month ago, as soon as it was available online. I hadn’t heard Joe this excited about anything in a while. Joe’s ADHD provides him with this marvelous capacity for hyper focus. When he discovers something that captures his imagination, he becomes temporarily obsessed with it. He learns everything he can about it, and he passes his knowledge along to us, whether or not we find the subject as compelling as he does. So, yesterday, I was asked to join him in watching the first episode of five, one being released each day this week. Yesterday’s show was about the coasts and the creatures that inhabited them during the Cretaceous period. Even if you are not a dinosaur aficionado, I suggest you find this show and watch it. It will obliterate what you thought you knew about these creatures. Everything I learned about the dinosaurs while I was growing up has evolved with the discovery of new dinosaur fossils and the use of current technologies to analyze them. Science is amazing. And although I knew some of the changes that have occurred in our knowledge about the magnificent creatures of the Cretaceous thanks to Joe, I am still learning more through the series.

I can’t explain what a treat it is to watch our nearly 21 year old son seeing these episodes for the first time. After years of railing against the inaccuracies of the plastic model dinosaurs he would see and sometimes purchase (it seems Joe knows more about the dinosaurs than the toy companies that produce their likenesses), it was a delight to listen to Joe ooh and ahh over the depiction of the creatures in this series. He paused the show several times to tell me what has changed and how we know what we know now. He also paused the recording a few times to cry out, “That is speculation, but there is science behind it so it is possible.”

Yesterday morning I surreptitiously captured this photo of our deep-thinking, curious son investigating the first few moments of the first episode of Prehistoric Planet up close. I wish I had recorded it on video because there were audible oohs as he watched. I teared up seeing him like that because, although he is much taller and heavier now than he was when he was 3 and first discovered dinosaurs, for the briefest of moments there I could have sworn he was 18 years younger. I will never be able to hold that young boy in my arms again, but it brings me great joy to realize that the evolution of our human understanding about dinosaurs will continue to offer me opportunities to see that sweet child again and revel in his excitement about the world. My heart is full.

There was audible “oohs” when I was taking this photo

The Best Laid Plans

Hopefully all of this will look better in the rearview

You know what is really awesome? When you are just an hour into your horrific, five-hour drive through lower Wyoming and your son (the one you are heading to pick up) texts to tell you a friend whom he sat next to at dinner the previous evening just tested positive for Covid. This normally wouldn’t be a huge problem, but the next three weeks are big for us. There are two birthdays, scuba lessons, graduation, a graduation party at our home, and then a trip to Rome to board a cruise. We would really prefer to remain Covid-free. We kind of need to.

But, sadly, viruses do not give a flying fig about your plans. They’re jerks that way. So, Joe is going to be wearing a mask at home and eating and drinking and sleeping separately (even in the car on the ride home) until he gets through 10 days symptom free and with zero positive test results. Because a car is such a small, enclosed space, I might decide to wear a mask in the car even though Joe is wearing his, just in case the seal on his mask is not entirely optimal.

It’s possible Joe is fine. He was vaccinated twice and boosted last November. He had Covid in 2020. The same is true for all four of us. I know we are being a bit overcautious, but we are committed to doing everything within our circle of control to ensure Luke gets to attend his graduation in person. Keep your fingers crossed for us.

Stupid virus.

WHYoming

I’m on the road again, on my way to pick up Thing 1 from his college in Washington. This will be my fourth journey to/from Whitman College, which means by the time we reach home on Friday I will have logged approximately 8,800 miles making this trip. And in the roughly 144 hours I will have spent driving from Denver to Walla Walla, about 40 of those hours (or roughly 28% of my travel time) will have been spent driving across Wyoming, a state I shall henceforth call WHYoming.

Five hours of this while being rattled like a rat in a cage

I have driven through WHYoming a lot, which makes sense. If you living in Colorado, WHYoming is the large rectangle that stands between you and other, more-often-visited western states, like Montana, Oregon, and Washington. If you’ve ever driven across WHYoming via the Interstate Highway System, either north to south or east to west, you know everything there is to know about it. First, it’s empty. It’s our least populated state. There is not much to speak of, except for sage brush, rocky buttes, rolling hills, and pronghorn. There are some snowy peaks in the northwestern corner of the state and, while they are stunning, they are completely missed by the Interstate System so you will not see them unless you drive down some state highways through more sage brush and desolate, empty space. Second, it’s windy as hell. Pursuant to the fact that there is literally nothing taking up the almost 98,000 square feet of WHYoming, winds gust through here nearly every day, rattling your car as you haul 80 down the interstate trying to escape as quickly as you entered.

While trying to get my car, bedecked with such non-aerodynamic features as a roof box and a bike rack, out of the state without being over blown over in an endless cycle like another omnipresent tumbleweed, I had five hours to think. I spent a small part of that time comprising a haiku and some potential state slogans.

WHYoming Haiku

More pronghorn than folks

and an endless bad hair day.

This is WHYoming.

New state slogan: “Wyoming: The barren, windy rectangle between you and better western things”

Or how about: “Wyoming: Tipping cows since 1890”

Or maybe: “Wyoming: 80 mph speed limit because we know you’re just blowing through”

Of the towns and cities in WHYoming, Laramie, home to the University of Wyoming, is actually pretty cute. It is also not far from the Colorado border, so I offer this slogan for them: “Laramie: Almost, but not quite, Colorado.”

Okay. Fine. I am being a snob. It’s an easy thing to be a state snob when you are from Colorado, with her plethora of purple mountains majesty (yes, “America the Beautiful” was famously penned here). Do we have our issues? Oh, absolutely we do. Traffic is a big one. (We have transplants from all 50 states who bring their unique driving styles to our highways.) And let’s not speak of the eastern plains because let’s just not. But we are blessed with mostly lovely views and hiking and biking trails galore and tons of sunshine. And did we mention mountains? We have a lot of those. Have you heard?

I have noticed, though, that we have been getting quite a lot of wind in Colorado lately. Perhaps we need to have a conversation about our rectangular, northern neighbor about that. I appreciate your wanting to share, WHYoming, but if you’re looking for a gift for us I think we’d prefer more pronghorn to more wind. Just a thought.

(Post script: Before all 50 residents of Wyoming gang up on me at once, I am just teasing. Mostly. Seriously, though, see if you can do something about your wind. The semi-drivers and I would appreciate it.)

Traveling Back In Time

This weekend I got to be a time traveler. I traveled back to the 1980s with my husband. We flew to LA for the Cruel World Festival, a music experience at the Rose Bowl featuring new wave and classic goth bands. To make the journey even more retro, we attended the pre-show festivities and the concert with a friend I have known since fourth grade, Kerry. This is not the type of concert I normally attend. Over the years after graduating from college in 1990, I embraced grunge and post-punk and then went straight from that into alternative music. Since acquiring satellite radio in 2009, I’ve primarily listened to indie rock. As I tell my husband, the 80s are a great place to visit, but I don’t live there anymore.

Still, I thought it was about time for a visit with my much younger self. So Steve and I boarded a plane bound for LAX Friday morning and headed to California. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew my friend would be an excellent tour guide, as she had kept up with her younger self and her love of 80s music. On Friday evening, Kerry and her husband let us tag along to a pre-concert 80s party co-hosted by Chris Olivas, former drummer for Berlin now known as DJ Christopher J. It was held at Mijares Restaurant in Pasadena, owned by co-host Tom. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but what I got was a fun evening filled with margaritas, great Mexican food, 80s-era new wave hits, dancing, and nostalgia.

Someone had wisely hired a photo booth for the sake of memories, so we enjoyed being silly and making use of it.

I met a lot of Kerry’s friends from the 80s cruises she takes every year. They were a lot of fun and were so kind to let us weasel our way into the celebration. After way too many margaritas, Steve and I walked the 20 minutes back to our hotel and crashed out to prepare for the full-day festival on Saturday.

Saturday morning, after obligatory coffee and some lunch, we caught a shuttle to the Rose Bowl. The festival was held at Brookside, a golf club adjacent to the stadium. The temperature was quickly approaching the forecasted high of 94 under clear skies, so we applied vats of sunscreen and swilled from water bottles because we are old enough to be responsible now. There were three stages to wander between and the sets were staggered, so it was a pick-and-choose menu.

Festival line up

We headed straight to start the party day off right with Dave Wakeling and The English Beat. One of my all-time favorite songs is Save It For Later, which I am sure Dave played especially for me. From there, we went to hear Missing Persons and then it was on to see Johnny Rotten and PiL (aka, Public Image Ltd). We had recently learned that Johnny has been home caring for his wife who has Alzheimer’s, so we appreciated that he took time from his devoted, kind-hearted care-giving to drop some choice f-bombs and share his rebellious alter ego with us.

Public Image Ltd

After that, it was on to see The Church and then Violent Femmes. The Violent Femmes took me right back to bus rides in 10th grade when the alt crowd would sit at the front of the bus (rebels we were against the cool kids at the back of the bus) and sing along to Blister in the Sun playing loudly on someone’s boom box. Next we hit up Devo, which turned out to be our favorite concert of the evening. They pulled out all the stops with videos, props, and costume changes. Devo was never a favorite of mine when I was younger because I didn’t really get them then. I get them now, though, and can understand their idea that humanity is devo(lving).

The famous red flower pot hats, though

After Devo we caught the first half of Bauhaus’s set before finding a spot to see Blondie. I had never seen Blondie perform and knew I might not get the opportunity again. It was pretty empowering to see a 76 year old woman on stage, still rocking out. Girl Power!

We headed towards the shuttle after Blondie’s set because I have already seen Morrissey perform and it was one of the most disappointing shows I have seen. I suppose I could have given him a second chance. Maybe Moz deserved it and would have redeemed his poor showing in Denver years ago, but I’ve never been great at giving honest, open-hearted, second chances to men who broke my heart once. I tend to be cynical that way, which Morrissey of all people should be able to understand since it was he who penned this lyric:“So now you send me your hardened regards when once you’d send me love.”

All in all, my return trip to the 1980s was a success. It was a blast to spend time with my old-school bestie reliving our high school days. And now I fly back to 2022 to rejoin my life, already in progress. It’s fun to find your younger self sometimes to check in and remember where you came from and how far you have come.

The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (Revised)

Saw our last school play

Parting is such sweet sorrow

We will miss these days

Tonight, we attend our son’s last performance in a school play. We loved watching Luke in plays. Although he had zero desire to pursue drama in school, we sure did enjoy seeing him act when he was forced to. Tonight’s play was a hilarious summarization of William Shakespeare’s works, which pleased his English major mom. It was presented by the Honors Literature class, and it was perfection. Cheeky, inappropriate, and hysterical. And, of course, Luke killed it as Juliet.

And as I was watching the play, thinking about how this was the last time I would see Luke perform this way, this lyric was playing in my head:

I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell my myself to hold on to these moments as they pass.” ~Counting Crows

With A Poet’s Heart, I Begin Again

Photo by Álvaro Serrano on Unsplash

I used to write poetry. I was much younger then, with a radical heart, raucous with emotion. Then I grew up. I learned to pull my emotions in, hug them like it was the last time I’d ever feel them because I was sure no one else wanted to hear from them. I stopped wearing my heart pinned to my chest and gave it a forwarding address deep inside. Now I find that with the passing of time and with roughness of the outside world, life used heavy-grit sandpaper on me because now, now my heart is back on the outside where it was before. Everything is raw. I can’t push it back down, and that’s a good thing, I think.

So I am mentally planning a poetry comeback. Until the inspiration hits me, I’m reading others’ poetry. Good Bones is one I feel with all my heart. I have on many occasions apologized to my children for the state of the world and my part in making it what it is now, what they will inherit and have to fix (or create a rocket in which to leave forever).

As I start down the poet’s path again, I share this work with you today. Perhaps it will resonate with you as well.

Good Bones, a poem by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.

Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine

in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,

a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways

I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least

fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative

estimate, though I keep this from my children.

For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.

For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,

sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world

is at least half terrible, and for every kind

stranger, there is one who would break you,

though I keep this from my children. I am trying

to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,

walking you through a real shithole, chirps on

about good bones: This place could be beautiful,

right? You could make this place beautiful.

I Look Good, Now Pass Me My Readers So I Can See

It’s amazing as I get older what I am willing to convince myself is acceptable in terms of my appearance. People over 50 will tell you with age they’ve learned not to care what other people think. That is untrue. You simply get to a place where you acknowledge you’ve just wasted a precious 30 minutes (and time is a commodity at 53) trying to make yourself attractive and discovered you look the same as you did before you started. But you still have to go to the store, so you explain away your lack of effort with the preposterous notion that you are comfortable with aging. Sure you are.

I was reflecting on it today and I think I’ve figured out what happens to older people. You hit a certain age and suddenly you are farsighted. Your near vision is GONE. In a restaurant, you are screwed without your readers. You pull out your phone to see if the flashlight will help. You complain about the font on the menu, as if it’s the font’s fault your eyes no longer work. You can’t see. It’s okay. It happens to most everyone at some point. But I think this is why older people look the way they do when they go out in public. They did try to make themselves presentable. Indeed, they thought they were presentable. They just have no idea what they really look like anymore because they can’t see themselves very well.

Some of us gifted older folks actually manage to convince ourselves that we look good the way we are. Today I pulled the top of my hair back with an elastic band, curled my eyelashes, put on my tinted sunscreen and my progressives, and went out in public. Just. Like. That. It’s not that I didn’t care what I looked like or that I didn’t care what others thought of how I looked. It’s that I thought I looked just fine because I can’t see. In fact, I had myself convinced that I looked rather adorable in my little glasses with random wisps of stray hair breaking free from their elastic confinement when, in reality, I looked like a lazy, hot mess with bad eye make up and thinning hair. And that’s okay. It’s part of the journey, right?

Go ahead and judge, youngsters. If you’re lucky, someday you will be over 50 and eating out in a restaurant, thinking you look pretty good for your age. Then you’ll pass your readers around the table to all your friends because no one remembered theirs and none of you can read the menu without them. And you will order a whole bottle of wine because, once you can read the menu, you remember you know how to choose a nice bottle of wine.

There are some good things to getting older. You can’t see as well, but you can afford greater quantities of better wine, which helps you forget about your failing eyesight. Where God closes a door, he opens a window.

Don’t Mess With The Senate

First day of 8th grade

When our youngest was in 8th grade, his teacher told me he thought Luke had a good shot of becoming his class valedictorian. I thought it was sort of a crazy thing to say to a parent, but I took it to heart because Mr. Beckwith was a no-nonsense, honors literature teacher with high expectations. He was not the type to throw around undeserved praise. At the continuation ceremony, each homeroom teacher spoke briefly about their students. Mr. Beckwith said this about Luke:

“We call him The Senate. That is what he liked to be called*. But unlike the Senate that the adults are accustomed to, Luke works really, really hard. He is a diligent, quiet leader, but don’t let that fool you. He has a powerful, powerful voice in class. And his work ethic, I can’t stress this enough, it sets the bar for everyone around him. He raises the level of excellence by just walking into a room. It’s pretty profound. Luke, you will be missed but never forgotten.”

As a parent, I was blown away by Mr. Beckwith’s words of praise and by his assertion of where Luke might be able to take his high school career. When we left the ceremony, I told Luke what Mr. Beckwith had shared with me about being valedictorian. Luke’s eyes lit up. In that moment, I immediately regretted my words. Luke is a formidable person who sees a challenge and makes it a goal. He’s like a border collie with a job: get out of his way and watch how quickly and efficiently he lines everything up and puts it away. Like Mr. Beckwith, I knew well how hard Luke works, and I wondered if I had just doomed him to a difficult and decidedly un-fun high school career.

Luke started freshman year with honors English and social studies. Sophomore year he added honors math and science. Already a student ambassador, Luke joined Student Senate. He was inducted into the National Honor Society and became an officer for that. By senior year, he was Lead Ambassador, NHS president, and a leader on the cross-country team in addition to maintaining straight As in all his honors and elective classes. I regularly asked him if he wanted t have friends over. He regularly declined. My worst fears were realized. He was working too hard, I thought. I told him repeatedly he could try giving 90% sometimes instead of 110%. My words went in one ear and out the other.

Last Friday, the dean of the high school announced the senior awards. When he was about to name the valedictorian, he noted there were two this year and said he would announce them in alphabetical order. I held my breath since our last name begins with W and I know Luke is the last kid in his class alphabetically. The dean named the first student and went through his academic and community achievements. Then he named the second valedictorian. It was Luke. Although Luke had carefully been monitoring his progress towards his goal and thought he had a good shot at it, you never know until the fat lady sings, right? He scanned the room for us, looked right at his father and I, and waved, just like he did when he was on stage for the Christmas program when he was in kindergarten. He was beaming. He’d done it. He’d locked his gaze on his goals, rounded them up, and escorted them, one by one, into the pen until he saw the gate close behind them. Mr. Wood later announced that Luke was also voted Senior of the Year by the teachers because, of course, he was.

I recount this story about our upward climbing Luke not to brag or because I had anything to do with his accomplishments (other than being his chauffeur). I tell this story because 9 years ago, I sat in my kitchen and wept after I heard a dyslexia specialist quizzing Luke and realized my 3rd grader skipped letters in a recitation of the alphabet, couldn’t name the days of the week in order, or name even half of the twelve months of the year. I cried because before she left she told me Luke needed to go to a special school. She told me his dyslexia was severe, and he was years behind other students. Years. He would likely never read well. Looking back now, though, I know I shouldn’t have worried. That specialist knew a lot of things, but she didn’t know Luke. She didn’t understand the power of The Senate.

(*Luke liked to be called The Senate in 8th grade because of his love of Star Wars. It was a joke he made once with his classmates and it stuck. He’s as powerful as Palpatine, but he has no desire to join the Senate.)

The Me I Am Comes From The Sons I Had

“Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them.” ~Lady Bird Johnson

Mother’s Day is upon us. It’s a mixed bag for me because of how I was parented, but one thing makes my Mother’s Day perfect every year. It’s my sons. I don’t care what happens in my life going forward, my sons made my life better. Actually, they made my life. Period. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t give thanks for what their presence on this earth did for me as a person. I’m who I am because of them.