The Transition Trip

I love seeing my sons together, even if it is via a Snap map

As a parent of a high school senior, the college search is often on my radar. After successfully launching Joe in person at his college of choice in January, I began to work with Luke on his search. To that end, back in March, I took Luke to get a feel for a Reed College in Portland, which at the time was his number one choice. Then, in June, we flew to the northeast because he wanted to visit Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. After that, I decided he needed to see some schools in the middle of the country, a little closer to home, so we visited three colleges in Minnesota. The schools on Luke’s list have largely stayed the same, but the order he has them ranked in has evolved several times. It’s been kind of exciting to see his process at work.

This weekend Luke is in Walla Walla, Washington, visiting Joe at Whitman College. Today he toured the campus and sat in on an information session. Initially, Luke had no desire to attend his brother’s school of choice because he was intent on finally setting himself apart from Joe. The boys have attended the same schools together since Luke started kindergarten, so I didn’t blame him for wanting to step out of his older brother’s shadow. Still, I couldn’t help but selfishly want them to end up at the same place again. They would still be a thousand miles from home, but they would be there together, at least for part of the time until Joe graduated. They could share a car and have family there for emotional support. It made sense to me, but it was never my choice to make so I decided to let it go and let the chips fall where they may.

Luke told me recently that Whitman had moved into the top spot for him. I think after doing a cost/benefit analysis of his situation, he realized that he would have time to make his own way as an upperclassman after his brother had graduated and gone on. And, in the meantime, he would have a support system at school, someone who could give him advice on professors and activities and dorms. He could start down his own path, make his own friends, but not be taking such a huge leap on living across the country alone. Joe could be a safety net for him as he branched out for the first time as an adult. Luke, for all his ideas and occasionally stubborn views about his future, usually lands squarely on the wisest choice.

Nothing is definite until the five schools Luke will apply to make their decisions, but I am solidly behind his selections and don’t think he could go wrong with any of them. Would I like it if he ended up with his brother in small town Walla Walla with its charming downtown, 140 local wineries, beautiful scenery, and pleasant weather? No. I would love it. I fell in love with Walla Walla two years ago when I toured Whitman with Joe the first time. But I will have to pull back my enthusiasm until the dust settles. It’s hard to be a parent as your kids transition into adulthood. What was once settled and routine and in your control gets upended. It’s your turn to go along for the ride. I keep wondering where we will end up.

For now, I will just be grateful that the two are together again tonight. All is right in my world. And probably in theirs too.

Exorcising The Ghosts Of The Past

What I used to record portions of the Live Aid concert in 1985

In the days before the Internet and FaceTime and Zoom and texting, people wrote letters. A stamp, a pen, and a piece of paper were all you needed to share the contents of your mind and heart with someone who was worth the effort of your time and questionable penmanship. As is the habit for many people, I saved quite a few of the letters I received over the years from friends and boyfriends. I kept them in a box that once held my cassette player (back in the days when cassettes were a thing). Over time, that box got rather stuffed with random correspondence. I didn’t open it very often to read its contents, but I dragged it with me each time I moved. It would relocate from the top of one closet shelf to another, from apartment to apartment. There was something about knowing those letters were there if I ever wanted to trot down memory lane or perhaps clarify a memory that had become distorted or foggy.

When my husband and I got engaged and decided to move in together, he was helping me move boxes into my car when he came across that one. He asked me why I was bringing it. After all, if these letters represented relationships that had long since gone defunct, why was I clinging to them? I honestly could not give him a suitable answer. If I’d said I was keeping them for sentimental reasons, that would only make the box more of an issue in our relationship at the time. I didn’t know how to respond. In the absence of a viable response, he asked me if I could add them to the dumpster along with the wooden case holding 100 cassette tapes I no longer needed since he had a CD player he was willing to share. I acquiesced because he had never asked for anything from me, we were getting married and he was my future, and it seemed like a small sacrifice I should be willing to make for someone who had never been anything but kind, loving, supportive, and patient with me. With a pang of disappointment, I lobbed them over the wall of the dumpster, turned around, and tried not to look back. I was twenty-six then, he twenty-four.

In the years since, we both have felt deep regret over that event. He has felt horrible for asking me to toss a box of papers because he felt a little jealous about its existence. I have felt anger at myself for not defending my right to keep them because they were harmless mementos from my youth. But there is no unringing that bell. They are long gone. So now we just carry around the shame regarding that missing box instead of carrying around the box itself, which we have both agreed is so much more emotionally cumbersome than that damn box ever was.

This decision, made in our youth when we were not emotionally mature and had no real experience to gift us with greater perspective, has laden us with invisible baggage that we have hauled for decades. It’s something he doesn’t like me to mention because he feels just that bad about it, but I don’t blame him because the box is gone. I blame myself for not being self-aware enough to tell him it was part of my life I wasn’t ready to jettison. But it’s time for us to unload our disappointment in ourselves and the choices we made when we were younger and not able to see so far into the future. Seriously. Who can see twenty-seven years into the future when they aren’t even twenty-seven yet? The guilt and shame we feel needs to go. That box has long since been replaced by countless wonderful memories and experiences as our life together has been filled with love and fun and two absolutely-perfect-in-nearly-every-way adult sons, not to mention dozens upon dozens of cards and notes we have written to each other and saved. Therefore, I am declaring it time to move on. I may not be able to read those missives again, but I have something much more important. I would never trade my current life, our family, our shared experiences for those pieces of paper and neither would he. It’s way past time for us to toss the shame and self-flaggelation in the dumpster and move forward.

Puppies Can Cure Almost Anything

It has been a day. I’ve been all over the place mentally. So, rather than try to form coherent sentences, I shall just share this video with you of our future furry family member. Try not to die from the cuteness of six, five-week old corgi puppies running outside for the first time. When the world is going to hell, puppies still have the ability to make things better, even if temporarily.

A group of corgis is called a consort. After seeing this video, though, I’m thinking maybe it’s a chaos of corgis.

You’re welcome.

The Next Step Is A Doozy

“You don’t need to take all of the steps. Only the next one.”

For thirteen years, we’ve lived with a beautiful, anxious, determined, crazy, personality-plus border collie. We have adored her 95% of the time. The other 5% of the time we were wondering what planet she came from and pondering how to deal with her quirks. Dogs are something else. They are furry animals. Animals. And you let them live in your home and sleep in your bedroom. You buy them food and put them on ropes and walk them around outside. You travel with them. They become part of your people family, but they are still animals at the end of the day. Short-lived animals at that. It took us about ten years to understand our border collie, and now we’re on the precipice of losing our sweet baby girl. It’s been a rewarding (and now heartbreaking) journey.

We’ve never had one day in our home without a dog, so when we learned Ruby is losing kidney function we decided it was time to get a second dog that at some point will become our only dog. This is how Ruby came to us. Buddy was our senior dog who began having seizures and other problems. We saw his suffering and knew he wasn’t long for this world, so we selfishly got a puppy to ease our sadness around his transition. A funny thing happened when Ruby came along, though. Buddy (who Luke said was “on death’s doorstep”) suddenly perked up. He initially wasn’t thrilled to have Ruby around, but soon enough they settled into an arrangement. As time went on, Buddy became a bit more active. He played. It’s as if he saw the new dog and said to us, “Hey, hey, hey. I see what you’re doing here. Not so fast. I’m not done yet.” Luke said Buddy “must have drank from the Holy Grail” because he lived a year beyond the seizure we thought would be his end. I suppose now we are thinking that a new puppy might also give Ruby a new leash on life in her final months.

So today we did a thing. We made a commitment to purchase our next, greatest furry family member. Not a replacement for Ruby, as there will never be another dog like her, but a successor. We will be getting a BHT (black-headed tri-color) Corgi from an AKC breeder in Utah before the end of September. When we pick him up, he will be 8 weeks old. He will have been socialized with his five littermates and the breeder’s children, other dogs and pets, and farm animals. He will be cute but he will not look like the dog he will eventually become. He will be an energetic, active, ball of shedding fluff that will keep us awake at night for a while and keep us on our toes for years. We don’t know who this new family member will be or what role he will fill in our family unit, but we know he will bring new life into our home and shake us up. It’s scary, but it’s also exciting as hell. It’a a big commitment, but our kids are grown and we’re ready to experience some youthful energy again.

So, without further ado, meet our future family member, Loki.

He has a seven on his head, so we’re thinking he will be Loki Seven.

And In My Next Life…

I am going to take a break from my melancholy to say that, in my next life, I would like to come back as my son. This is not some sort of weird, Freaky Friday swap idea. I’m just saying that my son is currently living his best life. He would agree with me. Ask him. After a summer break when he flew out of town three times, climbed multiple 14ers, spent time with friends, logged hundreds of miles on his bike, and played a thousand games of corn hole, the kid moves to college where he his dorm room is a single with a full-size bed in a residence hall opened in 2018. His room also has a decent sized closet with an actual door and full-length mirror, a built-in desk/reading light on the wall, and a floor-to-ceiling window. And did I mention there is a small wall with built-in shelves too? My college dorm had none of this.

Basic sophomore digs at Whitman College

I knew the dorm was posh. It is directly across a lawn from the dorm Joe was in over the spring semester and right next to the dining hall, which was also built in 2018 and deserves its own post with its coffee house, sushi chefs, and wood-fired pizza oven. Joe had us watch a YouTube video about his hall before he headed back to school, so I was well aware what would await us when we walked in the doors with Joe’s belongings. Still, it was something else stepping inside the building.

Main floor hang out space complete with fireplace and grand piano

After this welcome, we ascended two flights of wooden stairs to reach the common area, which they call the “section lounge.” It has a full kitchen, a long table for sharing communal meals, and another seating area for casual meetings. Everyone has to to pass through the section lounge area before reaching their rooms, which facilitates conversation.

There are nine of these separate sections in this building, each with its own kitchen and lounge area. I look at this and I can imagine my son stumbling out of his room, pouring himself some cereal, and sitting down on one of the sofas and spilling Cinnamon Toast Crunch. It’s going to happen.

Oh…and the bathrooms. The bathrooms are behind the kitchen further down the center of the hall. There are four showers with changing area, shower stall, and locking door.

I think the look says, “Really, Mom?”

After we had moved everything out of the car, set up the bed and mini-fridge, and made a trip to Walmart for a couple last-minute items to spruce up his space, I took my leave so he could finish up himself. He likes setting up rooms and making them his own. I’m looking forward to the reveal tomorrow.

I am enjoying living vicariously through him. I’d like to come back as my son not just because he’s got cool dorm digs for this year. I’d like to come back as my son because he’s in a lot better place at 20 than I was, literally and figuratively. If I can’t come back as him, though, I hope he’ll keep living his best life because that is really all that matters to me.

Looking For a Close Second

“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” ~Josh Billings

Our family pet, a beautiful, smooth coat Border Collie is thirteen. We recently learned, not surprisingly because she is 13, that she is in kidney failure. We’ve got her on a special diet and have been doing all the recommended things to make sure she is healthy for as long as she can be, but we know that she is not long for this world. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s part of the great journey each living being undertakes. While losing any pet is devastating, this particular situation is even more difficult because we’ve had this puppers since the boys were 8 and 6. Our girl has grown up alongside our boys, and soon she will be leaving us the way the boys are now that they are grown. I’m grieving her already, the same way I’m grieving seeing our sons grow up and move on. It’s a bit much to pile on one momma’s heart.

Ruby is what my friend Kari calls our “heart dog.” A heart dog is the best dog you’ve ever had. It’s the one that, above all the others, was your favorite. She is very much a typical Border Collie. She is energetic, She is independent and keeps to herself until she is ready to be loved on. And she is wicked smart. When we weren’t training her, she was training us. When she was younger and we had to leave for a while, we would try to put her either outside or in her dog crate. She quickly figured out what the normal course of events were when we were leaving and she would decide for herself where she wanted to stay while we were gone. Once she had made up her mind, we were stuck with her decision. Still, I’ve never considered her stubborn. She’s simply a strong, independent woman who knows her own mind and won’t be cajoled into doing something she’s not interested in. Like I said, typical Border Collie.

As much as it breaks my heart that Ruby is in her final year and as much as I wish we could keep her forever, I know it’s time to start looking for our next pet before Ruby crosses the rainbow bridge. Steve and I have never been without a dog, not for one day since we met in 1993. So, we have been considering what comes next for us. Previously, we owned labs and lab mixes, but we have fallen in love with herding dogs. We are finished with sporting dogs who love to be wet, have no interest in toy breeds who want to be in your lap and sleep in your bed, and are not ready to take on a terrier. Hounds can be smelly and they like to run off after things. We don’t want any dog bred to have a smooshed face and breathing problems, so no pugs, French bulldogs, or Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. And we don’t want any dog that needs haircuts, so that eliminates anything with “oodle” in its name. We’re currently going back and forth between another Border Collie (since I no longer have young children to worry about, I have plenty of time to train, amuse, and exercise a smart, active dog) and a Pembroke Welsh Corgi. We’ve thought about a rescue and have rescued in the past, but we’re specifically wanting a puppy, and puppy rescues are hard to come by.

I am throwing this out into the universe. Does anyone have a dog breed we should consider that you can sell us on? Tell us about your favorite dog breed. Why are they the best? Please don’t bother suggesting a cat. My husband is highly allergic. I can’t have him and a cat, and I still want him around.

We will never be able to replace Ruby. She will forever be our heart dog. But, we’re open to finding a close second.

Thought Experiments

Every night we take a walk with our thirteen year old border collie, Ruby. I like to think it’s the high point of her day. Often the walk is just Steve and I, but sometimes we can cajole the boys into coming along. Tonight we got to enjoy their banter. Luke was world building, designing a college. He calls these imaginings “thought experiments.” Joe was, of course, bickering with him about some of his ideas, and I had to jump in and tell Joe that he doesn’t get to tell Luke his ideas are misguided. I’ve been telling him that for as long as Luke has been his brother.

We often walk the same route. We look for the toads that appear after dark. Tonight we saw a tiny one and a big boy we decided to name Chonk. The moon was full and small clouds glided in front of it intermittently. At one point, the moon had a cloud handlebar mustache.

When the world is crazy, these walks are my zen. Ruby has done her best to keep us going out into the world, even and especially during a pandemic. For thirteen years, she has been our constant keeper. She reminds us how lucky we are to be a family, to have each other, to have someone looking out for us.

Times are changing, though. Joe goes back to college soon. Luke is applying for colleges now too. And, sadly, our beautiful puppy girl is nearing her unfair end. Our days on this earth are the same as the clouds floating over the moon tonight. They’re sailing by, indecipherable from one another, here and then gone.

I said these walks are the high point of Ruby’s day, but they’re actually the high point of mine. They remind me of all the good things still left after childhood’s end.

Peace Is Where You Look For It

“All good things are wild and free.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was raised to be an apologist, so forgive me if I apologize for the short but sweet post tonight. I do try to take time to write, but sometimes you have to take time to live.

All is right with the world when you get to spend time with people you love. My sister is in town from Connecticut with her family, and we took them out for a late afternoon of paddle boarding on a nearby lake. Afterward, there were some non-competitive corn hole games, followed by some long walks. Sometimes you get caught up in the busy business of life and you forget the simple pleasures. I am guilty of this too often.

I’m grateful I took time today to be present with people I love, to get out into nature and feel the cool water on my feet while I paddled across a windswept lake, and to remember what it’s like to be free, to be comfortable, to be loved just as you are. I should remember to do these things more often.

The Stagnant But Not Yet Stale Sci-Fi Saga

“Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today – but the core of science fiction, its essence has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all”. ~Isaac Asimov

On July 11, 2015, I had a crazy, elaborate dream. It was so visceral and bizarre that soon after I woke I grabbed my phone and created a note about it, recalling every detail that I could still gather to capture what happened before it was lost. I don’t make notes about my dreams, but this one felt like the story could be a publishable work of fiction. I am primarily a memoirist. That is my wheelhouse. I have never been big on writing fictional stories because they require a honed imagination and careful story planning and dialogue skills that I have not developed. Fiction is frightening. Telling honest stories about my life is natural for me because I began my writing life with a collection of journal entries. My blog posts are a continuation, my online, open-to-everyone journal. I strive to tell it like it is, not make stories up.

So, I have sat on this dream/story idea because it starts in a dystopian future and has science fiction elements. Again, not my forte. Four years ago, on a whim I found some inspiration and managed to pen a first chapter. It felt foreign, forced, and feeble. Still, I managed to get three-thousand words on paper and a couple characters introduced. Then I put it away again, not sure where to go next or if I should even bother.

About a month ago, I rediscovered the beginnings of this story. I printed it out and took it to my son. Luke is a voracious reader of all things, but especially science fiction. I gave him my printed pages and said that if he had a chance and was interested, he could read what I had written. I had zero expectations but, since he is our resident sci-fi nerd and the other writer in our four-person clan, I thought perhaps he would find value in it. He read it and came to me immediately to discuss it. He was excited about the idea. I was excited he was excited. I still didn’t know, however, how to proceed. So, I shelved it again.

Yesterday, Luke came to me with a printed page of his own. It was filled with suggestions about my story from the sci-fi perspective. On the document, he had outlined proposed themes, information about the sci-fi aspects, and a suggested sci-fi book he thought might help me get unstuck in my process. At the top of the page, there was a heading (A Few Suggestions From Your Nerdy Son) followed by this introductory paragraph:

Dear Mom…You are a great writer. I want to see you and your story succeed. You have helped me improve my writing and I want to return the favor. Your story’s premise is fascinating and your writing is clean and elegant. I have a few suggestions, which may improve the science fiction aspects of your tale, however. I am not trying to impose my will on your creative process. I love the concepts you have instilled in your narrative and I want to see them brought to their fullest potential. Please keep me updated on your progress, and I am always ready to help and brainstorm. Love you, Sincerely, Your Son

Seriously? I shed a couple genuine tears over his thoughtful kindness and eagerness to help. I couldn’t decide what to feel the most proud about. Was it that my son was being my support, cheering me on about writing a work of science fiction that frankly scares the hell out of me? Was it that he had taken his own free time on summer break to come up with a page (front and back, mind you) of science fiction insight, themes, and encouragement? Was it that he had done such a great job formatting and presenting his information? Was it that I felt loved and seen? Was it that the one chapter he read a month ago was still churning around in his head? Was it that there might actually be some value in my narrative idea? So much to consider.

I hope Luke will continue to embolden me to write, to move beyond my comfort zone, get some knowledge of the genre, and stop telling myself it makes no sense for me to write a dystopian, sci-fi story focused on a lost and struggling, middle-aged female protagonist. Every writer needs a Luke in their corner, someone who not only provides encouragement but is also a valuable sounding board and idea person. If I ever do finish my story and publish it, you can be sure that Luke’s name will appear prominently in the Acknowledgments section and probably in the Dedication section as well. Writers need other writers. And how much better does it get than being a writer with another writer in your house and your corner?

How awesome is co-creator?

Uncaged And On The Loose

“I was wild until I was tamed by shame. Until I started hiding and numbing my feelings for fear of being too much. Until I started deferring to others’ advice instead of trusting my own intuition. Until I became convinced that my imagination was ridiculous and my desires were selfish. Until I surrendered myself to the cages of others’ expectations, cultural mandates, and institutional allegiances. Until I buried who I was in order to become what I should be. I lost myself when I learned how to please.” ~Glennon Doyle, Untamed

Opening myself up to the world (or in this case stunning Positano)

You often hear that people, around the age of 50, come to a place where they run out of fucks to give. (I’d apologize for using that turn of phrase, but that would be giving a fuck and I am working on not doing that.) People who have run out of fucks have stopped worrying as much about what they look like or what the neighbor’s think of their yard or how their opinions and choices and goals and dreams might upset others. They put down the baggage others have handed them, and they pursue their interests because their life tank is dipping below half full and they don’t know when they will hit empty. For most of my life, I’ve known that getting to the end of my life only to realize I have lived someone else’s life would not be an acceptable outcome for me. Still, I was conditioned from early childhood not to be a bother, not to stand out, not to choose myself, not to believe I mattered at all. So these two ideas, to take up as little space as possible and to live my life my way, have stood in opposition. The former has been my default setting since I was 3 because my parents taught me that if I wanted to be acceptable to others, I had to capitulate and do what they wanted. I learned that to be loved, I had to leave myself behind and be the me others could tolerate.

My parents chose themselves before they hit midlife. They chose themselves by ensuring that their progeny didn’t get in the way, that we fell into line, that we behaved and developed in ways that suited their wishes and caused them as little discomfort and annoyance as possible or else suffer the consequences of their displeasure. I learned I was meant to be a good girl and a blessing to them. When I spoke out, when I tried to assert myself, I was told I was foolish and labeled a selfish, self-centered, spoiled brat. This is how I became caged. I’m estranged from my parents now so I can heal and find the inner strength to live my life out loud, as the badass, indomitable woman I am and have always been deep inside. There are days when I fall back into old patterns and feel guilty and cruel for putting space between my parents and I because I know they are confused by it and because I am reminded by others that I am breaking a societal norm by turning my back on them as they near 80. But I am learning how to be my own person and prioritize my mental well being, even if other people don’t understand or approve. It’s absolutely okay to carve out a life for myself on my own terms. No one else has to sign off on it or agree. And, oddly enough, for the first time I am feeling the rush of confidence that comes with moving along my own path. There is power in relinquishing control of the state of others’ feelings. There’s strength in allowing others to weather their disappointment because it means I am finished disappointing myself.

I am working every day to step out of my comfort zone. I’m practicing asking for what I want rather than being told what that is. I’m practicing hearing my own voice say aloud what is in my heart. I’m practicing calming my mind and letting it know it doesn’t have to protect me anymore because I am safe now; I am brave, strong, and awesome exactly as I am and no one can prove otherwise to me. I’m practicing having a choice, or many choices, about how to proceed. And, yes, I am practicing too how to be at peace knowing others are unhappy with my choices. After a lifetime of trying not to make waves, I am learning how to break them, to rise above the surface and revel in my own agency. I’m practicing not giving a fuck in situations where others would tell me how to live my best life. As Glennon has advised, I’m done asking others for directions to places they’ve never been. They don’t know what they are talking about.

Yeah. This probably sounds selfish, and I’m am okay with that too. It’s about time I began advocating for my self and acknowledging my right to do just that. I will see those who truly love and accept me in the future. As for those who would prefer I stay caged in your expectations? Hasta la vista, baby.