For two decades now, we have gone to the corn maze with our sons before Halloween. It started in 2001, when we took four month old Joe to Anderson Farms. We have been when it was 80 and sunny. We have been when the temperature dropped and we were finishing the maze in the snow. We have been when we had the boys in Baby Bjorn carriers, then in wagons, and then when we raced as teams (boys versus us) to see who would emerge triumphant. It is one of the traditions we made and kept over the years. It was definitely different this year with Joe off at college, but we decided we weren’t ready to let this go.
It was about 60 degrees at 10:10 a.m. when we entered the maze. The sky was full of cirrus clouds, and the leaves on the cottonwoods were amazing. Luke has a crazy good ability to read maps, so he told us we could finish both sections of the maze in 15 minutes. I told him it would take at least 30. With this challenge, he started leading us through the maze. In five minutes he had us through the smaller section of the maze. I was a little shocked. I knew he was good, but this was a little over the top. I started to suspect that this is why he and his brother have beaten us through the maze three years running. We did get close one year, but not close enough. I thought it was because Steve and I were old and slow. It was actually because Luke was Magellan in his former life.
Luke raced us through the second part of the maze. I kept complaining that although there are seven miles of paths in this maze, I was going to get in less than one mile of walking because he was so damn efficient. In the end, I wasn’t half wrong. We reached the exit for the second part of the maze at 10:36. I tried to explain to Luke that corn mazes aren’t about speed, but Luke told me I didn’t raise quitters. He thinks successfully navigating corn mazes it is about efficiency and speed. I tend to disagree. I think corn mazes are meant to be wandered through in awe, with a plan of escaping at some point but not until you’ve sucked every last bit of glory out of fall before dreaded winter arrives. But I was not going to complain about our difference of opinion because any time with our high school senior is a good thing.
I think that when both boys are gone next year, Steve and I will still work to keep this tradition alive, even if it is just the two of us. I can’t see giving this up. At its worst, it’s a cold, wet day in a muddy cornfield. At its best, it’s a beautiful morning walk in nature under a glorious fall sky.
You can’t keep your kids from growing up and leaving you, but you can keep some things in tact so that if they ever return (maybe with their own children) they know where to find you.
Dune by Frank Herbert is Thing Two’s favorite book. And he has read a lot of books. He counts Don Quixote, all 800+ pages of it, another of his favorites. When he saw they were making another movie about Dune, he was excited. He has waited a long time for this. He was worried that the film maker wouldn’t do the book justice. But, he wanted to share his love of this story with us, so in preparation for watching the film he made us a four-page synopsis and outline about the novel, the characters, the major themes, and the family houses. We watched part of the film last night and then finished it tonight, so he had time to pause the movie and tell us what was important to note and to explain things we were confused about. He is a science-fiction geek, who is obsessed with world building, Star Wars, and Legos. He is also a science, history, reading nerd who loves ships.
Some people raise jocks. Some people parent musicians, dancers, and artists. Some people parent popular kids. We reared two sons who are nerdy, geeky, dorks. And we couldn’t be happier about it. They have expanded our world.
It occurred to me today that I have next to no memories of the day I graduated from college. I have a fuzzy recollection of lining up to head into the arena where the ceremony was held. I have another vague memory of sitting with friends, but that memory is based solely around photos I took that day. I don’t actually remember sitting with my friends or taking photos. I can’t tell you which of my family members were there. My parents were recently divorced. My sisters were 20 and 17. I don’t know if we celebrated with dinner somewhere or if I spent time with friends and their families or if I spent the day with my boyfriend. It strikes me as odd, though, that there are no clear or warm memories of that day for me. It seems like the kind of day that many people might remember. An auspicious occasion. I was the first in our family to graduate from a four-year college. It feels like it passed as more or less an ordinary day.
My husband remembers his graduation day. His mom and dad hosted a graduation breakfast for him and his friends. It was near Christmas and his birthday, so his mom had a Santa come to the breakfast. After the ceremony, his parents hosted Steve and some of his friends at a graduation lunch at their favorite college restaurant, the Rio Grande, known for their potent margaritas (limit 3 per customer). At the lunch, his mom had a clown arrive with balloons. Later, a belly dancer showed up and performed three songs for him in the crowded restaurant. He has told me he wished it had only been two songs (enough for his mom to get her money’s worth), though, because three was a bit much. Still, his accomplishment was celebrated and cemented with specific events that he carries with him and always will. It was a fun day for him.
Today we were at Luke’s last cross-country event of the season. There were some teenagers walking near us. One of them, noticing all the parents at this meet at one p.m. on a Thursday afternoon, remarked to his friends, “I wish I had a supportive family.” That comment struck me. I told Steve that young man has a gift he doesn’t realize is a gift. He has self-awareness at a young age. I didn’t realize until my mid forties that I didn’t have a supportive family when I was growing up, at least not supportive parents, to be sure. If you are young when you realize you don’t have a supportive family, you can work to piece together a supportive family of your choosing. You can work to change your narrative for more of your life.
I have done a lot of work trying to piece together memories from the first eighteen years of my life. I don’t have many, but the ones that stick with me and have to do with my parents are predominantly negative. I do have positive memories of my life growing up, but those have to do with friends or my accomplishments. My fondest wish as a parent was to create positive memories with our sons that they would have with them their whole lives. I hope someday they will remember their birthdays, graduations, and other important milestones. I hope they will also benefit from the little things, like dinner as a family every night and deep conversations on long car rides. I hope they will look back and not just know they had a supportive family, but feel the power of that support each and every minute. Moreover, I wish every child had a loving, supportive family because every child should travel through life with at least that.
“Never underestimate a cycle breaker. Not only did they experience years of generational trauma, but they stood in the face of this trauma and fought to say ‘This ends with me.’This is brave. This is powerful. This comes at significant cost. Never underestimate a cycle breaker.” ~Author Unknown
“You are not the darkness you endured. You are the light that refused to surrender.” ~John Mark Green
“Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” ~Dr. Benjamin Spock
Today I was thinking about the times in my twenty years as a parent when I was brave enough to follow my gut, to speak up for my children, to make the right choices for them in the face of opposition from medical professionals, family members, friends, and even random strangers who couldn’t keep from speaking up about something they knew nothing about and that was none of their business. Sometimes I made these bold moves with my voice shaking. Sometimes I made them unconsciously, simply changing a behavior without considering why I had. No matter how I managed to summon the courage in those situations, though, I trusted myself. And, as it turns out, I intuitively knew a lot more than I thought I did.
When most kids their age were starting first grade, I thought it wise to keep both our boys back a year and give them a second kindergarten experience. I simply didn’t feel they were ready. I just kept thinking that an extra year to be a child, to build basic skills, could never be a bad thing. It was odd watching boys they knew from playgroup jump ahead of them in school. It was odder still when boys who were younger than they were suddenly were in the same grade. In the end, both boys ended up being diagnosed with learning disabilities, and the extra year allowed them to fit in with their fellow students until we figured out what they needed. If they had gone to school “on time” with other children their age, they would not have been able to keep up. They weren’t ready then. Neither boy has suffered for the extra time we suggested they take to get to where they needed to be.
When Joe was 7 and finishing first grade, I remember him crying and telling me he didn’t want to go to second grade. He hated school. He actually said to me, “I’m the dumbest person in my class” (that story here). That broke my heart because 1) I knew he was not dumb at all and 2) how do you fix the shattered self-esteem of a 7 year old? So, I went out on a limb and took him to Children’s Hospital in Denver to be evaluated for ADD after Joe’s occupational therapist suggested it. It took less than an hour spent with two child psychologists and one child psychiatrist before they took me aside and told me they were positive Joe had ADHD. They suggested trying him on a low dosage of Concerta, the slow-release version of Ritalin. Joe and I agreed he should try it. Several friends thought I was crazy. How could I put my young son on a Schedule II drug? Three days after he started on it, Joe, then 8, told me he finally felt like himself. That medication changed the trajectory of his life. It allowed him to focus at school, to trust himself, to make good decisions, to grow his self-esteem. It allowed him to graduate high school with a 3.8 GPA and gave him the opportunity to be accepted at a well-respected, private liberal arts college. He and I have zero regrets about this decision.
When I told Joe’s pediatrician at his next appointment about his new prescription, he read me the riot act for not consulting him first. Didn’t I know that he could have evaluated Joe? Why wouldn’t I consult him first? He was his doctor, after all. I looked that doctor square in the face and, with a voice rising from somewhere in my gut I did not know I had, told him, “Yes. You are his doctor. You should have diagnosed this already based on all your visits with him and all the forms we filled out for you and the tests you yourself gave him in your office.” He huffed out of the room. Joe was horrified. I told him everything would be fine, and we would be finding another doctor. Ten minutes later, to his credit, the doctor returned with Joe’s chart and admitted he should have caught it. We found another pediatrician anyway.
The next pediatrician came recommended to us by a couple friends as well as Luke’s dyslexia tutor who knew him personally. The boys were at that office for six years. During that time, they became teenagers. When the doctor conducted his physical exams of the boys, I stayed in the room. I never allowed them to be alone with the doctor during the physical exam when they were undressed, even though they might have felt it invaded their privacy. To combat that, I would turn to face the wall when the doctor checked their genitalia. My main reason for remaining in the room was that the boys were not great at sharing information, and I didn’t want to miss out on what the doctor was saying or finding. My secondary reason was that when I would ask the boys on the way into the office if they wanted me to stay in the room, they always did. I knew it made me seem like a meddling, overprotective, helicopter parent. I did not care. As it turned out, that doctor was one day no longer at the practice. He was being investigated regarding claims made by other parents of inappropriate sexual touching during exams. We dodged a bullet because I stuck with my gut.
If you are a new parent, a soon-to-be parent, or a parent who is constantly questioning your decisions about your children in the present moment, I’m here to tell you that what Dr. Spock said is true. Trust yourself. Trust your intuition. No one knows your child as well as you do. Listen to them. Listen to your heart. Meet them where they are and not where you hoped or wanted them to be. And then do whatever the damn hell you want to raise your child(ren) the way that makes the most sense for your family. Ignore the naysayers, the comment makers, and the nosey Bakers. You know more than you think you do, even when you aren’t aware of it.
A few days ago, I was bemoaning my grocery shopping problem, namely that I go grocery shopping about four days a week. There are many reasons why this happens: my family eats a ton, my family doesn’t remind me about what they are out of, my family eats the food I buy for myself because of my food allergies, and/or my family decides they don’t like what I’ve bought. It’s maddening.
Tonight I went to make a late evening bowl of cereal. This is something I’ve started doing recently because I’ve mostly sworn off sugar, but a little bowl of Rice Chex with oat milk and a half of a banana seems like a treat when I am craving something sweet. I went to grab the cereal out of the pantry and noticed someone had finished off what was in the cereal container. No worries. I had purchased more in anticipation of that. So, I pulled down the new box, got a bowl, and walked to where we keep the counter produce to fetch myself a half of a banana. In a fit of optimism yesterday, I bought eight bananas. I never do this because we like our bananas on the less ripe side and usually if I buy more than three bananas I end up having to make damn banana bread because the stupid things turn brown before anyone eats them. But, I bought eight, gave two to my mother-in-law for her downstairs apartment, and kept six for Luke, Steve, and I. Imagine my shock when I go to the bowl today and find this:
So, I had to go on a hunt to figure out who inhaled five freaking bananas since my shopping trip yesterday at 1 p.m. Steve said he had one for cereal. That meant Luke ate four bananas in 31 hours.
Me: How on earth did you eat four bananas? FOUR.
Luke: Well, I think I ate three yesterday.
Me: Why? Why would you do that?
Luke: Well, my joints have been hurting because of cross-country, and I heard potassium helps with that.
Me: And the other banana? Where did that one go?
Luke: I made a smoothie today.
Me: Seriously, Luke? I mean, it’s great that you’re eating something healthy instead of cookies, but I need you guys to do me a favor. When you are in a banana place, please say so. Then I can buy more the first time.
Luke: What can I say? The line between self-care and self-destruction is often very thin.
No arguing with that comment.
So, it looks like I will be going back to the grocery store tomorrow because Luke is eating all the bananas for my cereal and Steve has suddenly decided to eat a honeycrisp apple with his lunch (previously I was the only one eating an apple a day) and he’s putting my oat milk into his afternoon lattes. If I hit the grocery store on Monday and then again on Wednesday, maybe I can manage to make it to Friday before the next trip? And if all goes well, perhaps I can cut from four grocery trips this week to three. That’s something, right?
A funny thing is happening in my life. People are suddenly deeply interested in my career choice. For twenty years, I have been a homemaker and 24/7 support staff for my children. During this time, when people would ask me what I did for a living and I would respond as I just have, they would immediately lose interest in their line of questioning. I figured that was either because they didn’t want further elucidation on my career staying with my children, perhaps hoping to avoid what they assumed would be inevitable potty talk or presentation of myriad baby photos, or because they figured that I had no intelligent things to say because I was only a homemaker and caregiver with no perceivable goals, accomplishments, or interests. There were many times at parties and social events when I felt ostensibly invisible. In this country, you are only as important as your job. Taking care of children and a home is undervalued when held up to other careers.
Recently, however, it seems many people I know are curious about my future plans. I’m assuming this sudden concern is because our youngest is finishing up the first quarter of his last year of high school. The question posed is always the same: “What are you going to do with yourself once both boys are off at college?” After decades of no one having any interest in my daily goings-on, I have found myself at a loss for a response to this question. I assume most people pose the question because they are wondering what work I will do now that my current employers no longer need me. Some people have asked if I will go back to my previous career as a scientific and technical editor. Some people have asked if I’m planning to go back to school since I have been out of the work force for so long and might need some retraining. Other people suggest maybe I could work at Starbucks or Walmart because my resume is a little lackluster what with the twenty year hiatus I’ve had. Their concern for my future is a little puzzling given their previous lack of interest in the goings on in my life.
So, I am going to take a minute to demystify my plans so people can stop worrying about what I will do with the extra hours I’ll be saddled with once Luke graduates next June. My plan is to retire. My tour of duty is over, so I am going to find myself again. Maybe I will work on writing. Maybe I will practice a lot more yoga and ride my bike. Maybe I will travel and visit friends I haven’t spent time with in far too long. Maybe I will work on creating new recipes that fit my old lady diet. Maybe I will play drums in a garage band. Maybe I will make a bunch of AARP friends and play pickleball. Maybe I’ll get weekly massages. Maybe I’ll get bored with all that and find a part-time paying job or volunteer at an organization that feeds my soul. Maybe I’ll do a little bit of all of it. I have no idea. But after twenty years of having my life schedule filled in with other people’s plans, I’m looking forward to making plans of my own, whatever that might look like. And the beautiful thing about retiring from a non-paying job is that I won’t be missing a paycheck. So, win-win.
I’ve been lucky and I’m still lucky. I get to retire from a non-paying job no one thought I was doing all these years. At least now I’ll have an answer when someone asks me what I do. When I meet someone new and they ask me what I did before I retired, though, I’m going to have to tell them I had a classified job with the US government so the conversations ends there. Life is funny sometimes.
My youngest has to have 50 volunteer hours to graduate next June. He’s already cruising along getting these hours because he is all over deadlines like white on rice. A couple weeks ago, though, he was offered the opportunity to earn two more volunteer hours tonight by serving as a student ambassador at meet-and-greet at another school. He has been giving tours of Denver Academy as a student ambassador since 8th grade. In his sophomore year, he was promoted to lead ambassador. He takes this responsibility very seriously because he is dead serious about everything, especially responsibility. So, when he asked me if he could get these two volunteer hours by doing this event tonight, I had to reward his diligence. About a week ago, he told me that I would need to drive him to this other school for the volunteering. He had to be there from 6-8. I didn’t think another thing about it.
The other day I asked him where the event tonight was being held. He told me it was near Wings Over the Rockies, which is roughly an hour from our house in rush hour traffic. I did the driving math in my head. We would have to leave at 5 (after I just got home from school pick up at 3:50). If I wanted to go home while he was volunteering, by the time I got there I would have to turn around and drive back to pick him up. So I have spent the past two hours sitting in the parking lot in my car while he earned his two hours. Am I angry about this? No. I love this kid. I love his devotion to his school, to his graduation requirements, and to his concern about securing a successful future for himself by (hopefully) finishing as one of the top students in his graduating class. I’m not angry or annoyed about this at all.
But, I do need to pee. I am thinking now that I wish I had a van-life van. What good is a “luxury” SUV if there is no toilet? Just saying.
“Just because you are a little squirrelly, doesn’t mean you are nuts.”
The day has gotten away from me. Most days I keep this blog in mind, trying to plan for what I will write since I promised myself I would write something every day for a year. Most days I have an idea long before 10 p.m. Today, I was so busy I forgot about it completely until 10:40 p.m. I was up at 7:30, fed the new fur baby, did a training and play session with him to wear him out. Once he was secured in his pen, I threw some clothes on and drove Thing Two to school before shopping at Costco and then rushing home to let the fur baby out once again. Then I did some cleaning to welcome my mother-in-law back for her four-month stay in her home downstairs. Immediately following that, I ran to Walgreens (which ended up having too long of a line at the pharmacy for me to get through in time) and then drove back in the opposite direction to pick up Thing 2 from school. I escorted him home, dropped off one car that needed gas, got in another one and drove an hour to the airport to pick up Thing 1 who is visiting for the weekend to meet the new puppy and see his grandmother. After circling the airport a couple times waiting for him, he hopped in and we made the hour-long trip home for a quick dinner. Then we ran back out to Walgreens, which was still too busy, so we went grocery shopping and got gas for his car. When we got home, we exercised the fur baby again, and I finished up some holiday decorating. Now it is 11:08, and with puppy finally worn out, I am writing so that I might actually get to bed before midnight so I can wake up at 6:30 and face another busy day.
Fall is a good time for accomplishing tasks with winter on the horizon and quieter days at home ahead. Our fall is even busier this year because we are in transition, welcoming house guests and helping a high school senior get through his final year, cross-country season, and the college application process. Add a brand new puppy to the mix and you have the foundation for Crazy Town. This is what motherhood is. Still, I would rather be busy than bored when the weather is still warm. It’s a good time to be out and about, taking in the beauty this season of change both in the weather and in my life. I know someday the days will pass more slowly and life will become more routine. So, I am all about reveling in the busy-ness, while looking forward to the day when I can collapse on a sofa, watch the cold weather blow in while I leisurely sip my coffee in front of the fire, and enjoy all I have worked so hard to secure.
I really am a squirrel. I am just trying to get my nuts in order before winter arrives.
My son texted me from college today and told me he had gotten a couple oddly specific text messages from numbers he didn’t recognize. The messages both made reference to his location at college, as well as his first and last name. He was a little weirded out by them, which is understandable because this had never happened to him before. I told him they were likely from someone he knows who is messing with him. He doubted my assessment. I asked for both numbers and told him I would do some sleuthing.
I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday. My plan after I earned my bachelor’s degree was to become a research librarian. And I might have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids. Okay. Okay. You’re right, Scooby Doo. It wasn’t meddling kids that kept me from my research dream; it was the exorbitant cost of graduate school for a young woman who was already in debt after putting herself through college. But while my husband was in graduate school a few years later, I got a job at his school putting together information packets about the companies recruiting on campus. I knew my way around a library and around the burgeoning Internet. I love gathering information. I have all the necessary skills. With a BA in English Literature and an MS in Writing, I have spent an overabundance of time doing research for academic papers. Beyond that, I am deeply curious about all manner of subjects. And I am determined and undaunted like a border collie going after sheep. Just get out of my way and let me go to work.
So, I did. With the numbers he gave me, my first stop was a reverse phone look up on beenverified.com. The first number came right up. I took a screen shot and sent it to my son. It was someone he had traveled with in high school. The second number did not have immediate results, so it was likely unlisted. Knowing the result of the first search, however, I consulted the directory for his high school to see if there were any numbers listed from that area code. There weren’t. So, I did what I had to. I blocked my number and called the second number. A kid answered my blocked call, said “Hey, baby,” and then promptly hung up. Nothing to see here. Case closed. I told my son he should reply to the first message with the kid’s name and his home address (which I had gotten from the directory). He said I was evil. I sent him a GIF of Darth Sidious from Star Wars because, well, Sidious and I have some things in common beyond our wrinkles. He mentioned again that I’m terrifying and that he really doesn’t trust the Internet. I told him he shouldn’t, but the thing is it works both ways. Someone can dig around and find information about you, and you can often do the same about them. Everyone leaves a trail, some are just easier to follow.
My son has referred to me as a “stalker” because of my gift for unearthing information. He came to this conclusion earlier this summer. He had stayed with a friend outside of Seattle and wanted to send her a gift as a thank you, but didn’t know her address. She does not have the same last name as her mother or step father, so he couldn’t just look it up in a phone book. He also didn’t want to ask her for it because he was hoping to surprise her. I told him I could help him out if he told me what info he was starting with. He knew the street her mother lived on but not the house number. After a quick Facebook search, a Google Map view of the street for reference, and then an online phone book search later, I handed him the address. It put the fear of god into him. He knows he has no secret I could not unearth if I felt so compelled. Luckily for him, I respect his privacy. And, while I am a good detective, as a die-hard introvert, I am not nosey. I don’t care about most people enough for that.
Still, it’s important your children know your powers. You don’t want to mess with your mother when you know she and Darth Sidious share an evil genius and a penchant for getting what they want.
It’s been a while since I cared for a young child. Tonight, though, I was reminded of that long since past experience courtesy of our newest family member.
We decided to try the puppy on a short walk not long after dark. He has made it most of the way around our block on leash once already, so we figured it would be good to try again. I should have known our endeavor would not go as well this time because, as I was working to put his harness on, he wrestled and squirmed like a toddler recognizing that his pajamas mean bedtime is imminent. Once we had him outfitted for the walk, we went out the front door and he sat down, bit the leash, and refused to move. Undeterred, I picked him up and walked him down to our yard, where he walked into the grass, and threw himself down in a pouty, dramatic sploot, belly down with feet splayed out behind him, chin on the ground. Still, I thought since Ruby was walking ahead of him, he might perk up so I picked him up and walked on. Along the way, I several times tried again to see if he would follow Ruby’s lead and walk. Each time, he dramatically flung himself onto the grass in a petulant, defiant show of stubbornness. I gave up and carried him the rest of the way so at least Ruby would enjoy the walk.
When we got close to home, Ruby and Steve went ahead. Loki started whimpering. I know that sound might mean he needed to use the grassy facilities, so I set him down in our neighbor’s yard. He walked a couple steps forward and, sure enough, started doing his business. I praised him for his effort, pulled out my iPhone so I could train the flashlight on his deposit, and waited for Steve to come back out. I was afraid if I didn’t mark the spot, we would forget where it was, and I didn’t want to leave our new neighbors (whom we just met last night) an unwelcome puppy prize. While I was waiting for Steve to return with a poop bag, I set our mail on the ground. There was a bag from J Crew. Loki amused himself by gnawing on it. He was dragging it around and as the bag got closer to his mess, I panicked. I tried to grab the bag from him and he resisted, backing up onto his fresh pile, squishing it between his little white feet. Dammit. I’d saved the bag, but now the dog would need a bath.
Steve put the dog in the utility sink while I dug around for the mildest soap I could find. I knew we didn’t have any puppy soap, so I settled for a mild castille soap since we would targeting his feet. It was only his second bath and we quickly discovered bathing is not his favorite. We got his feet washed, both of us working to get the wriggling ball of fur through the ordeal as quickly as possible. We wrapped him in a towel, and tried to dry him as best as we could. He flipped and flopped and gnawed at the towel, little puppy growls of annoyance coming from underneath as if he was cursing us, which he probably was.
When we’d decided he was dry enough, we set him loose. Clean, invigorated, and freed from his unpleasant experience, he started running around the laundry room with increased fervor. He’d gotten his second wind. He went straight for the door stopper, bit at it several times, and barked at it for mocking him. Then he turned around and started chewing on my shirt. It seemed like it might be witching hour and I was out of energy for this, so off to puppy jail he went. Once inside his pen, he crawled up onto his new bed, collapsed, dropped his chin onto the edge, and began to close his eyes. He was done. And so were we. All three off us exhausted and ready for sleep.
Then Ruby pushed her stuffed candy corn toy at me. The rest of us might be out of energy, but this one isn’t. I can’t remember how I survived these nights when our sons were 2 and 4. Earlier today, those days would have seemed like a million years ago. After tonight, they feel like yesterday.