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.

A Stone’s Throw Away From Compassion

I’m a little riled up over the continued erosion of the constitutional right guaranteed to women in 1973 courtesy of the Roe v. Wade decision. I can’t believe we are still talking about a woman’s right to manage what is going on in her own reproductive system. It’s 2021, but we seem to be moving in retrograde.

In 1973, there were nine men on the Supreme Court. Seven of them voted in favor of Jane Roe, and six of those men were Republican. But, for the past 48 years, conservative religious groups have made it their steadfast goal to overturn the decision of those men. And each and every year in recent memory, conservative states have worked to make obtaining an abortion virtually impossible despite its legality. From instituting mandatory counseling and mandatory waiting periods to discourage women, to slowly diminishing the number of abortion clinics (six states currently only have one abortion clinic) to create a logistical obstacle, women’s right to choose is slowly slipping away state by state. Outlawing abortion, however, does not solve the problem of unwanted pregnancies. We could greatly reduce the number of abortions in this country if we made reliable birth control widely available and affordable. But since many religious groups also believe any form of birth control is anathema and instead promote an abstinence-as-birth-control stance that simply does not work for most humans at sexual maturity, it seems to me that abortions must remain legal.

At its heart, the current abortion debate centers around the religious views of some being imposed upon all women, whether or not they hold those same beliefs. When Governor Abbott of Texas signed their latest, most restrictive anti-abortion legislation on Wednesday, he said, “Our creator endowed us with the right to life and yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion.” What does the “Creator” have to do with citizen rights in a country that was built around the separation of church and state? Religious communities have decided that life begins at conception, making abortion akin to murder. As a non-religious woman, however, I believe that life begins when the fetus is able to survive outside the uterus, which falls somewhere after 24 weeks in most cases. And, even then, a baby delivered at 24 weeks will need medical intervention to thrive. If we agree that a fetus is dependent upon the woman serving as host for its survival until it can viably exist outside the womb, then its rights should not surpass the rights of the woman carrying it. In this case, the chicken comes before the egg.

A plurality of Americans support Roe v. Wade, and a minority are pushing to expunge it. That seems undemocratic to me. If you think abortion is murder, don’t have one. No one is forcing you to abandon a pregnancy you would maintain. And unless your religious group is planning to financially support all the future babies it wants to save from abortion, then we’re kind of stuck because it seems the people who are against abortion are also against creating a welfare state or funding Medicare for all so the baby will have guaranteed healthcare or ensuring affordable childcare so women can work to support the life they must keep. Children are expensive.

I believe in the separation of church and state. I would deny no one their right to practice their own faith according to their beliefs. If you follow Jesus or Buddha or Allah or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, it’s no business of mine. If your faith says abortion is a grievous sin, you are free to make your sexual and reproductive decisions accordingly. That said, however, I’ll need to you to keep your faith off the body of anyone who isn’t you. You have a right to your religious beliefs, but you don’t have a right to impose them on anyone else, least of all a woman who needs your faithful compassion rather than your judgment. After all, wasn’t it Jesus who said let he who is without sin cast the first stone?

Patching The Small Hole In My Heart

Car loaded and ready to go

Today was D Day. That is shorthand for Departure Day. Today was the day Joe and I began our trek back to Whitman College so he can begin his first full year. It’s a 16-plus hour drive that we break down into two travel days. Today we headed to Boise. It is my third time this year making this 1,100-mile trek. But I love road trips, and time with Thing 1 is at the top of my list of favorite things.

I won’t lie. I cried a little last night. It’s the weirdest sensation to be so happy for someone and excited to hear how their college experience and life unfolds and at the same time be sad for your loss of their daily presence. I could not be any prouder of or happier for Joe. And I am proud of any action I took that helped him achieve his goal of being college ready and getting accepted to a quality, respected institution of higher learning. But, I will miss him tons.

The other day, during another short pre-departure cry, I told my husband that sometimes parenting hurts so much that I think maybe it would have been easier if I’d never had children. But that is just silly because my sons have been the single greatest joy of my life. I would have missed out on all that love, laughter, and learning if I hadn’t been their mother. They are everything to me, and I would not take back one single moment of the life I have led because of them. Not even the ones that made me cry.

Today during the drive I recalled this story. When Joe was about 7, he had a plethora of Webkinz stuffies. One day he came to me with his stuffed rhinoceros. He pointed out a tiny hole in one of the seams on his furry, light blue body. He was visibly sad. I told him I could fix that small hole and he would be fine. Joe, reflecting on how the hole came about, said “I think I must have loved him too much.” As I was discussing this story with Joe and got weepy again. I told him that this is hard because I guess I love him too much. He told me it is all good and I don’t need to cry because he’s not really going anywhere.

This time, I guess, it was his turn to sew up a hole in the thing he loves.

In the olden days

I Wanna Rock N Roll All Night — In Person Again

Last night my family and I did something we haven’t done since February of last year: we attended a concert in person. What seems like ages ago, we purchased tickets to the Hellamega Tour featuring Weezer, Fall Out Boy, and Green Day. The show was supposed to be last July, but then we all know what happened. So, it was rescheduled. The concert was held outdoors at a soccer stadium and we are vaccinated, but still we were a little wary about attending because of the crowd size and our knowledge that the vaccine we got is only 66% effective against the prevalent and more contagious Delta strain of Covid-19. Since Joe is heading off to college tomorrow and doesn’t want to end up in quarantine, we decided as a family to wear masks just in case someone we encountered in the 20k people crowd was contagious.

The show was held at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, which shall henceforth be known simply as “not my favorite.” We paid $20 to park in Egypt and walk a literal mile to get to our seats. The venue’s web site listed that you could bring in one factory-sealed water bottle per person. I don’t normally buy water bottles because, well, single-use plastic, but I bought one for each member of our family just to be told at the gate that they were not permitted. Grrrrr. Once inside, we ended up spending $20 for four bottles because capitalism. Not certain I will clamor to see a show here again.

That said, the concert itself was AMAZING, easily one of the best shows I’ve ever attended, and I have seen somewhere around or above 100 live concerts in my estimation. Due in part to the parking nightmare and the cross-country trek to our seats, we were a little too late to catch the majority of the Weezer set. We saw Weezer in July of 2018, though, so we decided to make our peace with it and adjust our attitudes accordingly to prepare for the rest of the show.

Fall Out Boy

Luke and I had seen Fall Out Boy together in 2015, so we knew what to expect. Patrick Stump had zero trouble with the altitude that often trips up other singers and belted out their set list like a Colorado resident. The stage show, complete with all manner of pyrotechnics, including flames shooting from Pete Wentz’s bass, was great. Fall Out Boy performs true to their album sound and with twice as much energy. I started listening to Fall Out Boy in 2005 when the boys were just 4 and 2, so it was fun to have Luke turn to me during some of their older songs I was singing along to and ask, “What is this one called?” It’s always good to surprise your kids with your knowledge about anything. And I loved when Pete Wentz called out a person in the front of the stadium for being on their phone too much. He reminded the crowd that we’ve been locked up looking at our phones at home for a year, and it was time to put them down and live life. Preach it, Pete!

As expected, Green Day was the highlight of the evening. Before they came on stage, the speakers blasted Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody for a little pre-show sing along. When Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tre Cool started the show off with an oddly appropriate American Idiot, they set the tempo for the rest of their set. They were rocking like it was 1991 and they were still 19 rather than 49. I had to marvel that I have been listening to this band for THIRTY years. I couldn’t decide if that made me really old, them really old, us all really old, or all of us just incredible cool. Billie Joe made a point to remind us all several times that we were alive and finally here to enjoy live music and that we should all be basking in the joy of the moment. So, we did. When they covered Kiss’s 1975 classic I Wanna Rock n Roll All Night, the crowd was a haze of jumping, clapping, and singing along. At times it felt like the entire stadium could be heard miles away. And during a couple particularly punk songs, I was transported back to the person I used to be, the one who would end up in the middle of a slam dancing group on the venue floor. (Mind you, I didn’t do that in the stands because I’m 53 and that might no longer be a wise choice.) We left physically exhausted but mentally energized, without a second thought to the ticket price that initially had given me sticker shock.

It had been 18 months since I had seen a live show, long enough that I had nearly forgotten how much being in person at a show is in my DNA. I have been seeing concerts since I was 15. Some years I could only afford one show, while other years I saw upwards of ten. There is something magical about attending a concert, knowing that all the strangers there have something in common with you. They also like this music enough to invest in it. There is nothing like singing and dancing along with thousands of other people who share your love of music. It’s intoxicating. It brings me to tears at some point during every single show. How lucky we are to have music to remind us that life is worth living even when it’s been challenging and somewhat dark. Last night was a good reminder that those who enjoy live music are never truly alone in a crowd.

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.

Food For Thought About Volunteerism

We rise by lifting others.” ~Robert Ingersoll

For the past couple weeks, Luke and I have done some volunteering at Food Bank of the Rockies. Luke needs 50 hours of volunteer work to graduate next June. When he and i were sitting down and weighing his options for volunteer opportunities, we decided on the food bank because we wanted to make an impact for people who are struggling with food scarcity, whether it be as a result of the pandemic or homelessness or other unfortunate, unseen circumstances. We are a lucky family because our biggest decisions regarding food are whether to stop at King Soopers or Target for groceries and whether to cook dinner at home or hit up the local food truck. But we aren’t blind. We see the growing homeless situation in Denver and the lines at food pantries since April of last year. So, the Food Bank of the Rockies it was.

Over our three shifts so far, Luke and I have sorted food, loaded and moved pallets for shipments to food pantries, and even prepared school lunches. And we enjoyed it. A lot. We walk in for our 3-hour shift and the next thing we know we are finished. The employees, as well as the other volunteers, have been helpful and kind. There is something about giving back, even in the smallest way, that can make a messed world seem more positive. Like the quote above, my spirit is raised when I do what I can to lift someone else in their time of difficulty. Instead of wringing my hands at the sky over things I can’t control, I can contribute in a positive way. It feels good. Maybe it’s the endorphins from lifting and carrying cases of food but, dang, that warehouse brings me joy and peace of mind.

Turns out you really can’t buy happiness, but you can step up and volunteer to get it.

The Last First Day Of School

The big blue bear at the Denver Convention Center is one of my favorite sculptures in town

We went downtown tonight for the first time since Mother’s Day to take our rising high school senior to a college fair. It was at the convention center, and they staggered arrival times to keep the crowds down. Everyone was wearing masks. Still, a college fair is a college fair, and it was fun to watch Luke as he interacted with admissions personnel from five different small, liberal arts colleges. Luke has always been ready for this. He famously told us when he was seven that he was, and I quote, “Ready to find a wife, have some kids, and just get on with my life.” He is so ready to start his adventure. And I am almost ready to witness that amazing transformation. I’m a little shocked that we’ve made it to his senior year, but then I still can’t seem to fathom that I’m 53, so there’s that.

I spent part of today washing bedding for Joe to take to his dorm room. I am trying to help him get his head in the game about what he wants to bring with him because I don’t want to be shipping things to him that he should have brought on our thousand-mile voyage to his college. He’s excited about going back. He only had one semester of college last year, so this will be his first full year experience. The sophomore dorm at his school is brand new, though, and quite posh. They have nine section lounges, each with their own full kitchen. The third floor, where he will reside, has a glass-encased meeting room (a fishbowl), a huge room with game tables, and a balcony with a fire pit to make S’mores. He will get a single room with a full-size bed and built-in shelving. He’s already bought wall art and a small, smart projector so he can watch tv and play video games in his room. Now, if he can remember to go to class we’ll be in good shape.

All of this got me thinking about how back to school used to be for me and what it is now. It used to consist of buying school supplies and a couple new outfits for them, taking a photo on the first day, and then relishing the peace and quiet at home. Things have changed. Now I will drive Joe out to Washington while Steve stays home to get Luke settled into his senior experience. Steve is still not back in the office, so even when Joe is gone and Luke is at school for the day, I will not be alone at home. If the past year has taught us anything, it’s how to be flexible and adapt. So, I should be totally ready to deal with the chaos next year when both boys are heading off to college at the same time. I’ve been training for this.

Do I miss the days when I dropped them off together for the first day of school, filled with anticipation about the year ahead? Maybe a little. But I’m finding that each new stage is replete with its own excitement and challenges. College is a short four years, nothing like the first twelve years of schooling. I am certain that by the time I get this adjustment worked out and am functioning like a well-oiled machine, Luke will be graduating. They already told me I can’t take first-day-of-school photos of them, so I will just have to make sure to get in an extra hug before I send them off into their futures.

The only question that remains is what will I do with mine?

This Wouldn’t Have Happened If A Mom Had Been In Charge

A mom would get everyone their own easy-to-spot but still coordinated luggage

A couple weeks ago, I was watching MSNBC and saw an interview with Marine Corps Major Thomas Schueman and the young Afghan interpreter who had worked with him when he was commanding troops in Afghanistan. Major Schueman has spent years keeping in touch with Zak (code name), trying to make sure he would get the US visa he was promised in exchange for his putting his life on the line to aid and protect American troops. Major Schueman said Zak had saved his life several times. Zak spoke on camera from behind a mask. He was in hiding after he had recently received a letter from the Taliban reminding him that they knew his whereabouts and would be coming for him shortly. Zak sounded terrified, and for good reason. He and his wife have four children under the age of 5. Zak knew they would not survive if Afghanistan fell and the Taliban took power. And then this week they did.

As good journalism will do to a person, I became invested in Zak’s story and the thought that there are thousands upon thousands of Zaks in Afghanistan who helped us and deserve their shot at freedom. When Kabul fell, the impending doom for these interpreters became palpable. Tonight Rachel had Major Schueman on again. He has spent the past couple days trying desperately trying to get Zak and his family out of the country. Texting Zak and his contacts in Afghanistan, Schueman tried to coordinate an escape for the young family. Twice he got close, but no go. Then finally today Zak and his family were able to board a plane out of Afghanistan. Major Schueman isn’t sure where they are headed, but they are safe. Zak might at last get the freedom for which he risked his life.

I write about this tonight for two reasons. One: It’s crucial that we as a country remember those who help us and that we honor our word to them. It’s the right thing to do. The interpreters left behind will be killed by the Taliban if they are unable to escape. That is unacceptable. And that is on us as a nation. Period. Two: This story has a happy ending for Zak and his family, and there isn’t enough good news in the news lately.

Beyond this, though, I’ve been thinking about what an absolute mess our withdrawal from Afghanistan has been. And this is what I have decided. There are not enough women involved in these types of decisions and operations. Fine. We needed to get out of Afghanistan after 20 years. It is unlikely that staying there longer or investing more money would have changed anything. But, the timing and planning for our withdrawal seem haphazard at best. I mean, even if Afghanistan fell to the Taliban at a rate far quicker than most experts imagined it would, why hadn’t we planned better how to remove the over 15k American citizens still there and why hadn’t we done more to secure the safety of our friends, the interpreters who risked their lives to save American ones? We’re the United States, goddammit. We have resources and money and trained professionals. There’s no excuse for this crap.

So, I started thinking that maybe we need more moms involved in planning the actions of our government. Moms plan for contingencies. Moms think of everything. I guarantee that you have seen this in action. You have been on a picnic where utensils were forgotten and your mom conjured up six sets of plasticware with napkins from the depths of her car. Or you’ve been to the pool and your kid got a scrape and a mom who was sitting nearby pulled a bandaid and Bactine from her purse. Or you’ve been in a parking lot before a concert and you realize your beer is not a twist-top bottle and you have no bottle opener, and your wife grabs the bottle from you and removes the cap using the door catch on her car. Women are amazing that way. We’re undaunted and resourceful. It’s the reason we’re often the last one out of the house before a family trip. We’re thinking about disasters and contingency plans. We consider potential rainfall or diaper blowouts or sunburns and we turn around to grab the plastic ponchos, clean onesies, and sunscreen. With women, it’s not just leave no one behind but also leave nothing to chance by making assumptions. So, should we have had a momma bear or six involved in preparations for our withdrawal from Afghanistan? Definitely. We’d have had Plans A through Z lined up and ready to knock down. And we probably would have had snacks and matching luggage too.

Rat Pizza At A Child Casino

Anyone up for some Skeeball?

Sometimes I see things on Twitter that make me think. Other times I see things on Twitter that make me laugh. But I especially like posts I can relate to. So for everyone who, like me, has been inside of a Chuck E. Cheese, I present this beauty:

You’re welcome.

The Burger Brawl And Pickle Problem

We have two sons who were born three weeks less than two years apart. We have been fortunate. Our sons have been best buddies from Luke’s arrival. I don’t know how. People used to ask how often they fought. The answer was almost never. They like the many of the same things, but they are not alike in personality so they balance each other out. This is not to say that they don’t bicker, debate, tease, or torture one another. It’s just that it’s never been mean spirited. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They look out for each other. They love each other even when they are acting like jerks.

They are 20 and 18 now, which means they are legally grown. And yet their conversations often sound like the ones they’ve had forever. They love to argue about nothing. They have argued about nothing for as long as they’ve been brothers. Tonight in the car on the way home from In-n-Out, they were arguing about burger toppings. Luke, the purest, said the best burger was the basic one, just meat and bun. Joe’s burger choice, Luke said, was too complicated. Joe thought this stance was insane. A burger with pickles is NOT complicated. So, he began hazing Luke about a burger without pickles. The guys despise anything made with vinegar, but for some reason Joe’s vinegar aversion stops at pickles. Luke finds them disgusting. But, Joe has ADHD and that gives him a superhuman focus when he is invested. He was invested in arguing about pickles.

“What is wrong with pickles?” he prodded.

“I don’t want your vinegar cucumber chips,” Luke snapped.

And they were off. Bickering about nothing after a previous argument that was also about nothing…again.

Joe goes back in college in Washington in two weeks. Although I chided them in the car about their constant arguments about nothing, I will miss hearing them. Don’t tell my sons, but those arguments make my heart smile even as they make my mouth grumble. I think it’s because I know that no matter how old they get or how their lives change and grow, they will continue to get together, make each other laugh, drive us crazy, and squabble passionately about pointless things. That’s just what they do. It’s a gift.

I don’t know that Luke will ever like pickles, though. This argument might come up again.