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

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

All Dressed Up With Some Place To Go

With our senior set to graduate in 39 days, 17 hours, and 30 minutes (not that I’m counting), last night we attended our final Denver Academy Gala as parents of a current student. Because the last two gala events had to be held virtually, we were thrilled to learn this year’s event would be in person again, and at The Ritz-Carlton, nonetheless. I’ve missed this event because it is my yearly excuse to get dressed up and prove that I know which fork to use at a full place setting. I get to wear a lovely dress and heels and see my husband looking dapper in his suit. And raising funds so more students can attend this private school that teaches students with learning disabilities the way they learn best is a passion project now. Steve and I will likely continue to attend these events after Luke graduates because the school changed our sons’ educational trajectories so dramatically. Luke entered 7th grade at the school reading more than a year below grade level, but four years later at 17 he was reading at post graduate level. Joe, who struggled in nearly every subject in elementary school, now attends a competitive liberal arts college and has a 3.6 grade point average. You can’t argue with that success. This year the school celebrates fifty years changing lives for these neurodiverse kids. We were happy to dress up, show up, and donate from the deepest corner of our pockets.

It’s not hyperbole when I say Denver Academy saved our family. Once our sons started at this school, there were no more homework battles; in fact, we were rarely asked to help with homework at all. Parent/teacher conferences no longer made me cry. The boys started believing they were capable. Smart, even. This was new territory for them. They began getting involved in sports and clubs. For our part, we attended a seminar that simulated what it’s like to live with learning disabilities and gained a better understanding of our sons’ struggles. We showed up for every lecture and presentation DA held that we felt could help us do better for our kids. We bonded with other parents whose experiences with their children were eerily similar to ours. We no longer felt isolated in our situation with our children. We found a home, and nothing in our lives has been the same since.

Thank you, Denver Academy, for teaching our kids how to be successful in their skin and for teaching us that learning differences are something to appreciate, not fear.

Rubber Ducky, You’re The One

As we count down the days to our youngest’s high school graduation, the festivities are picking up speed. We’ve got plans for a small party for our son and his friends post graduation. There will be a tent campout soon for the future graduates on their school campus, which will be followed by the infamous and ever popular Senior Ditch Day. Prom is a couple weekends away. On May 6th, the school will have their annual Senior Signing Day, where the students share what they will be doing post graduation with their classmates and teachers. And then there is the annual senior Shakespeare production, which happens before the Senior Breakfast, graduation practice, and then the final hurrah at graduation. All of this is overwhelming and hard to keep track of as a parent, but Luke is so here for it. Senioritis is in full swing at our house.

This week, Luke and his classmates began with the senior pranks at school. Luke has been dreaming about this for years. YEARS. When Luke was a sophomore, he told us what prank he would like to oversee before graduation. As long as we’ve had Luke (going on 19 years now), he has been an aficionado of cute things. So it is very appropriate that Luke’s contribution to the senior pranks at his school would be cute. To that end, I give you Luke’s senior prank. A Deluge of Ducks.

A deluge of ducks

I’ll admit I was a little less than thrilled when Luke originally floated (from here on out there will be duck puns) the idea of amassing a plethora of rubber ducks to display in the office of the high school dean. He wanted 300 rubber ducks. I thought he was quacked, but I agreed to foot the bill. I mean, the kid is getting ready to fly the nest, so how could I make a flap about his wish? When the two large boxes of rubber ducks in various sizes arrived, I picked them up and waddled my way in with them and set them down. Luke didn’t want to put all his eggs in one basket, so he asked some friends to help purchase more ducks so he wouldn’t be in hot water with me. They took the ducks to school early Monday morning, gained surreptitious access to the dean’s office, and got busy. Thye were winging it and having a blast with the duck placement. Then Dean Wood arrived.

The reveal

There was quite a bit of nervous laughter as the kids tried to decide if they had ruffled the dean’s feathers, but it all went down just fine. No fowl response here. In the end, Dean Wood proved unflappable.

Sometimes it’s worth it to give into your kid’s whim when he presents an idea. Sometimes you just have to say, “What the duck” and give them some cash to help them fulfill their crazy dream. It might just become a fun memory for both of you.

Everything was just ducky

Perspective From Two Hours On A Flight Next To A Hungry, Tired Toddler

This was once my reality

Sitting in the small airplane, four seats wide, sharing the row with a young mother of three with a screaming toddler on her lap. Toddler is tossing everything she is handed onto the floor.

“It’s been a while since I had littles,” I tell her with as much patience and understanding and motherly wisdom as I can muster, “but I remember those days well. No worries.”

Her four year old son sitting behind me kicks my seat the entire flight, stopping only to push both feet long and slow into my lower back. Six year old daughter next to him bugging him for the iPad. The mom next to me looks exhausted and, boy, do I get it. Her toddler thrashes in her arms, grabs my hair and pulls. The mom is mortified and apologizes, and I nod with understanding. It’s been seventeen years since I last held a wailing toddler on a flight, but that experience never leaves you. The muscle memory of the anxiety and embarrassment remains fresh.

The toddler in her lap, likely desperately tired and frustrated, begins howling with increasing ferocity. The mom hands her off to her husband who is sitting next to their oldest daughter across the aisle from the young ones behind me. As her daughter thrashes like a shark in shallow water, the mom shrinks, puts her head in her hands, and shakes it slowly back and forth. I know she is counting the seconds until her tiny creation at last succumbs to the sleep she needs.

As she is doing this, I look out my window-seat rectangle with its rounded corners. I am grateful to be wearing a mask as the silent tears slip behind the fiber filter on my face. You see, I said goodbye again to my almost 21 year old this morning after I passed him the four bottles of wine we couldn’t fit into our checked luggage. And I’m heading home to my high school senior who will be moving away in four month’s time. The ache this mom is feeling as she wishes the time on this two-and-a-half hour journey would pass more quickly is a similar ache I am feeling as I wish these last few months would pass more slowly.

I would never tell her these things, as she will be in my shoes far sooner than she can fathom. She will discover in her own time the way childhood speeds up as it approaches puberty and adulthood. What starts as seconds moving as sand grains, imperceptibly draining through the narrow tube in an hourglass ends as deluge of sand dumped from a toddler’s beach pail. And this mom will learn, as I did, that those prayers for time to speed up aren’t selective. Time doesn’t speed for the rough moments without also speeding for the good moments. Time is brutal that way. Lucky parents will learn this the hard way, seeing their children mature in the blink of an eye and move on. We’re the fortunate ones, the ones who get to see their children reach adulthood. Many parents don’t have that same good fortune.

This is my reality now

For now, I say a silent prayer for this mom in opposition to her prayer to speed time up. I pray that she will embrace all the moments with some quiet, inexplicable gratitude for what they are because she will be like me sooner than she knows, with greying hair and reading glasses, hugging her adult son and handing him wine bottles. She will be both excited to get home to her high school senior and afraid to get there because she knows there are 46 days until graduation.

Parenting is the greatest purveyor of perspective I’ve found. It simultaneously breaks me and saves me over and over again.

Believe In Your Potential To Pop

I’ve spent part of my morning doing something I don’t do often enough, reading other blogs. I recognize that I am part of a community of writers on WordPress, but in my daily struggle to find enough headspace to write and publish one post of my own, I usually neglect to read others’ works. It’s not a great plan, honestly, because other writers can provide food for thought, inspiration, and unexpected wisdom. I recognize I need to employ the Ted Lasso way of being. I need to be more curious with regard to other people. I am already a curious person regarding most things, but I’ve never been very curious about others because my childhood taught me human beings are unreliable and not necessarily worth my time or trust. This year, however, I decided to take more risks and that includes taking more risks in my experiences with others.

I found this quote today while reading someone else’s blog, and I thought it was brilliant.

I wish I had seen this quote when our sons were young and I was trying to figure out why they couldn’t do what other children their ages were doing. Parents read the What To Expect series of books about childhood development and, if our children don’t measure up according to the charts and graphs, we immediately assume something is “wrong” with them. There is nothing wrong with our children. They are simply on their own path. Some will be on target with the milestones in those books and some will not. They are individuals, and individuals come to this life with their unique set of gifts and challenges.

Because my sons are mostly grown now, I am looking at this quote with a different perspective. I learned that lesson about my kids, that they would eventually find their stride on their separate and beautiful path. It never occurred to me when I was giving my children the grace to get where they were headed in their own time to do the same for myself. From the beginning, I’ve imposed unnecessary, stringent guidelines on myself with regard to what was appropriate in my life and when. I cried hard on my 25th birthday. Why? Because I was upset I reached that milestone without having my master’s degree. Shit. I’m still aiming for unnecessary and contrived goal posts. I wrote the other day about what a person my age “should” be wearing. I am an adult. It doesn’t matter what others think is age appropriate and acceptable for me to wear. It only matters what I feel comfortable in and what I feel makes sense for my life. I don’t even have a job with a dress code. I could wear a Disney Tigger costume every day if I felt like it and not get fired. (What would I fire myself for? Being too cute?)

We are all popcorn. Some of us don’t pop as children, however, so it’s unfair to put that expectation in place. We will pop in our own time or we won’t. There are those among us who will remain the same coming out of the pot as going into it. Maybe our goal should be not to worry about when the pop will happen but to believe instead we will reach that potential when we are ready. Some of us might just need a little extra time in the pot to get there. Patience is key here. Don’t count us out.

Sadness Is On Me, But I Am Not Sad

Senior year for our youngest has flown by. I know this is how it works. Senior year is heartbreaking, expensive, and fast as hell. I tried to keep it together while standing there watching the photographer take his senior photos. I struggled when I had to compose his senior page for the yearbook. He applied to five private colleges (University of Denver, St. Olaf, Reed, Whitman, and Skidmore), received acceptances to all of them, and then committed to attending Whitman in Washington with his brother, which gave me a measure of comfort while still making me sad. With that decision made, I designed his graduation announcements. And today I created a graduation collage for display at his high school in May. Jesus help me. It feels like the universe is trying to break me.

I would like to think all of this is preparation so I can cry myself out before the actual graduation ceremony, but I know that is a false hope. Graduation is rapidly approaching. So I went ahead and made a countdown clock to the ceremony because I need to prepare myself. As of today, we are 60 days out, which means I have 60 days to cry myself free of tears lest I end up an ugly-crying, embarrassing, Alice Cooper look-a-like at the ceremony. I don’t want to be that momma. Luke deserves better.

I have a distinct memory of a time when Luke was around six months old and woke up in the middle of the night. I remember sitting with him in a rocking chair in our living room, rocking and waiting for him to drift back off to sleep. When Joe woke up in the night, I would get so frustrated about the sleep interruption. As he was my first and I was not used to missing out on sleep, it was a struggle for me to be present when all I wanted was some damn sleep. With Luke, though, I knew it would be my last time to hold my sleeping child, so I tried to focus on the moments, to appreciate that this little person needed comfort and I was that comfort. It’s such a different feeling now as I focus on my present moments with Luke because I know he is almost finished needing me. I suppose this is what drives the sadness I am feeling. We have come full circle, Luke and I. My baby is ready to launch. And although I knew this day would come eventually and have been preparing for it since Joe’s graduation, the reality of it happening now is something I’m not sure I would ever be able to prepare for.

So, perhaps, I will go to graduation and cry like the soft, mushy person I am on the inside because this too is part of the experience. I don’t have to like it. I don’t have to stay dry-eyed for it. I have to be there in it because there are only two constants in life, growth and change. Wait. I forgot taxes. So I guess that makes three constants. Growth. Change. Taxes.

I found this on Facebook the other day and it offers a different perspective of sadness:

So I am recognizing now that sadness is upon me. It doesn’t have to live here. It’s just here now. It doesn’t define me. I am not a sad person. I am a happy person with sad moments. And it’s okay to be sad sometimes. We’re meant to be sad sometimes. It means we’re fully experiencing what life offers. Sometimes we want it to be offering lollipops, unicorns, and rainbows, and it instead presents us with pain, overwhelm, and darkness. That is when we need to remember that if the sadness can be upon us, so too can the rainbows. I have 60 days to figure out how to find those rainbow-covered unicorns that hand out lollipops. If I can’t find one, maybe I’ll just have to become one. I’m sure the other parents would appreciate a lollipop at graduation. I think they’ve earned at least that.

The Box Of The Me Who Was And Is Still

In this dusty box, my history lives

I was going through a plastic tub of memorabilia today. It’s full of things I collected while growing up. I dug the box out of the basement hoping to find some remaining buttons from bands I liked when I was in high school. I did find some, definitely not as many as I had at one point, but some.

The box contains some items my mom saved from my childhood and then other items I held onto for myself. There is an album someone else compiled with cards given to my parents both when I was born and on my first birthday. There is a local newspaper with a photo of me in 1976 when I was 8 and won a coloring contest sponsored by a bank. For that feat, I earned a $25 savings account and a liberty bell bank. The headpiece to the veil I wore at my first communion is in there, as is the memory card from my confirmation and photos from church trips. There is my Brownie uniform, my Girl Scouts membership card, and all the Girl Scout badges I earned but never sewed on my sash. There are report cards from elementary school, junior high, and high school. There are two random field day ribbons, both for the high jump, one fifth place and one third place. There are the literary magazines I contributed to and edited in high school, along with information about the band trip I took to Florida my junior year. There’s a letter from my orthodontist about how to care for my braces. There are wallet-size photos given to me by friends in junior high with their written dedications to me on the back, along with some notes that they passed to me in classes. My eighth grade yearbook is in there, which is odd because the rest of my yearbooks reside in a separate box. There is the corsage I wore to prom. There is a Junior Passport for Disneyworld from 1983, cost $9.50. There are envelopes containing my ACT, SAT, and GRE scores. There’s the letter I received when I was waitlisted at the only college I applied to. So many parts of my life that would be forgotten if I hadn’t saved the specifics to remind me when I hit 50 and discovered my childhood memories fading like the ink on the photographs from my youth.

Of all the items I unearthed, among the poems, paintings, and artifacts, I found one that stood out. It was a note I wrote to my mother when I was 7 years old. On a morning when presumably she didn’t wake up in time to help get me ready for school, in my second grade handwriting and with my second grade spelling, I wrote a note so she wouldn’t worry about me when she woke up and realized I was no longer home. It read:

“Dear Mommy, I got Kathy and Julie quiet. I left the house. I wost up and brust my teeth. I got my cloths on. Rigth now Im in scool.”

I wrote my name at the bottom in case when she found the note it wasn’t completely obvious it was written by her seven year old and not her five year old or two year old.

Everything you need to know about me is contained within this short note. 1) I started my writing career early. 2) I have always been quite responsible and self-sufficient. 3) I look out for people I care about. 4) I don’t want to be a bother. 5) There’s a reason why I didn’t go into art.

I’ve changed a lot over the years, but the person at my core remains the same. I’ve been writing for too long to stop now.

Bless His Little Heart

A little over a decade ago, we had young children and a young dog. So it was a happy accident when we discovered that our border collie loved chasing the bubbles we blew with our kids. It makes sense. Bubbles float carelessly on the breeze, disorganized and wayward. They are a herding dog’s dream chase. I was pleased to learn that little herding dogs like to herd bubbles as much as their larger counterparts.

Herding bubbles is pure joy for Loki. He loves the chase and will stand on hind legs trying to reach one that goes too high. I found it so charming when our border collie, Ruby, ran after bubbles. She was so determined, focused, and dignified in her pursuit. But there’s a different energy when Loki does it. He’s fast, but his height is a hindrance. He’s accurate, but not always the most graceful. Still, his spirit is in it. You can see it in his eyes.

Loki…King of the Derp

He tries so hard. Bless his little heart.