So We Beat On, Boats Against The Current

Ummm…yeah. No.

I’ve noticed lately that because we’ve had such warm, pleasant weather, spring fever has hit my boys early and relentlessly. They are already mentally finished with school, and they aren’t actually finished until May 25th. I’ve been pestering, wheedling, bribing, and cajoling to get them to focus on their studies.

Today, I made the boys sit down and get to their homework as soon as we walked in the door from school. Joe had 30 sentences to write for spelling. He did not want any help from me. Before I knew it, he was over at the counter stapling a couple loose-leaf pages together. I could tell from across the counter that his work was nearly illegible.

“Let me see your paper,” I requested.

“No, Mom. It’s done. I’m going to put it in my folder,” Joe replied.

“No, you’re not. Give it to me.” He looked at me, fear in his eyes. “NOW,” I bossed.

He acquiesced. The second the paper hit my hand I knew what I had to do. I was not happy about it.

“Seriously, Joe? Do you really think this is ready to hand in?”

It was a rhetorical question. His handwriting, usually difficult to read, was indecipherable. It might as well have been Sanskrit. While he had managed to capitalize the first word in every sentence, some sentences lacked final punctuation. Many words were incomplete. Most of the sentences did not have the spelling word underlined. Some of the spelling words were actually misspelled.

“No way,” I told him. “This has to be redone. This is not even close to acceptable work.”

“The WHOLE thing?” he gasped.

“Yes. You need to rewrite all thirty sentences. Neatly.”

“But, I’ll never get outside to play,” he cried.

“Yes, you will. It’s just going to take longer because you didn’t take your time the first time through. It’s a bummer, I know.”

Although I could tell he was livid (and sad too), he was careful to select new paper without any sign of tantrum, knowing that would bring down the Wrath of Mama Bear. No one wants to incur that. He sat focused for a while and his second paper was much neater, although still not perfect given his “sloppy Joe” penmanship.

Joe struggles with his schoolwork, not because he’s unintelligent but because his ADHD makes it difficult for him. The great weather and the approaching end of the school year are merely additional distractions he must face. I feel badly for him. It is much harder for him than it is for his classmates, even with the special concessions the school makes for him (like allowing him to print rather than use cursive for his written work). I truly loathe making him redo his work, but if I don’t make him do this now he will never learn. So, nearly every day he has homework we go through this same routine. He does it. I make him redo it. It’s like one long Groundhog Day. And this would frustrate the living daylights out of me if I hadn’t seen him catch on in other instances. It takes four times longer than it would for another child, but he eventually gets it. I know there’s hope.

I used to wonder whether the diagnosis of ADHD with Joe was unnecessary, whether we’d rushed to judgment. I’ve since realized that this is not a phony disorder with Joe. If you ask him, he can tell you that every sentence should start with a capital letter and end with a period. He knows it. He is simply unable to translate this knowledge because his brain thinks differently and he processes things unlike other people. Joe and I have a tacit understanding: I will keep harping on him until the basics become second nature, and he will keep giving me reasons to harp so that I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that he truly struggles because of ADHD and not because he’s lazy, stupid, or unmotivated. He doesn’t want to redo that paper any more than I want to make him redo it. We’re where we are because it’s where we are. Someday we will push beyond this, and there will be another obstacle. But, I have no doubt that we will overcome it. That is what we do, Joe and I.

Careful What You Wish For

The four of us together on a sunset hike

Steve and I like to hike. It’s been something we’ve done together since the very beginning of our relationship. When our boys were small, we took them along in Baby Bjorn carriers and then eventually the toddler carrier backpacks. It was brutal, but we refused to give up on hiking. When they were between 2 and 5, I would take the double jogger stroller to Roxborough or Waterton Canyon and push them through the hike so I didn’t have to carry them. Eventually, we accepted that they needed to be walking the entire time, so we slowed our pace, knowing that if we wanted them to become good hikers we would actually have to let them hike. Gradually their skills improved, and the distances they were able to travel increased.

Last year was a watershed year. They were finally able to do 7 mile hikes without getting too tired. We were thrilled. On our hike up Carpenter Peak, we’d have to play crazy games to keep them motivated (the boys yelling, “Stop…you separatist dogs” the entire time) but they were doing it. Although we were happy with the distances they could go, we weren’t pleased with the bribery that would have to take place to keep them moving occasionally. One day I promised them Sonic for lunch if we could get through a three-mile hike with a moderate climb in just an hour. We made it in an hour and two minutes; I had a cheeseburger and a strawberry slush that day for lunch.

Today, we hiked about 8 miles through Arches National Park with them. We never once had to beg them to keep going. In fact, we couldn’t get close enough to them to talk to them. We had to keep yelling ahead telling them not to run out of our field of view. You know what that means? It means THAT day has come…the dreaded day when you realize the torch has been passed and you can no longer keep up with your kids. This notion is especially depressing when you stop to consider the fact that you’re in the best shape you’ve been in for years. How can we be so good and yet not good enough? I’ll tell you how. We’re old. It’s official.

I guess my point is be careful what you wish for. We were so excited to have kids who could keep up with us. Last year they did. This year they’ve surpassed us. If there’s a silver lining in all of this, however, it’s that in a couple years they’ll hit that sullen, resentful, grumpy teenage phase where they come along and begrudgingly shuffle their feet and complain the entire way. I’m thinking when they get to that phase, we just might be able to out-hike them again. That’s something, right?

Is One Of Us A Mule In This Scenario?

It takes crazy determination to finish a 50-mile walk.

The other day, someone told me that I am stubborn. I disagree with that assessment. In my twisted brain, the term “stubborn” means “unyielding,” and I am not that. I’m willing to adapt and compromise where a stubborn person might not. What I am is determined. I’m resolute in what I want, and I will work diligently towards a goal. Sometimes I work so unwaveringly that I acquire tunnel vision and am unable to notice what’s going on around me that might require me to adjust my plans. It’s not that I’m unwilling to change them. I simply am unaware that I should.

Two and a half weeks ago, I got a cold. No big deal. I have kids. I’m used to it. I got over it and life marched on. Then, about a week ago I thought I might be getting a sinus infection. Sometimes you can get over a sinus infection without using antibiotics, though, so that is what I determined to do. I was going to beat this thing without seeing the doctor. No antibiotics for me. End of story.

One, two, three days went by and I tried to ignore the congestion, headaches, tooth pain, earaches, and dizziness. I rationalized it all away, telling myself that the symptoms were improving. I was willing myself to be well, and it was going to work. No questions. On days four and five, on little sleep and with a fair amount of misery, a small doubt hovered in the corner of my brain. But, determined gal I am, I kept right on doing the same old thing I had been doing. No relief. It was on day six that the dreaded thought occurred to me: maybe I should see a doctor? I’d taken a meth lab full of Sudafed, and my head still hurt. Today, on day seven, knowing I would be leaving the state tomorrow for our family trip and not wanting to spend another three days in relative discomfort, I caved and went to the doctor. Guess what? Sinus infection diagnosis and fourteen days’ worth of wretched antibiotics in my future. So much for beating this thing myself.

There is a time for stalwart determination, for unfailing attention to a predetermined goal. I would guess that I went about four days beyond reasonable determination with this sinus infection situation. So, does that make me stubborn? Some might say so. I prefer to think I got so wrapped up in my goal of healing myself that I refused to notice the signs that were telling me to let go. This is not the first time that I’ve done something like this. Sometimes it takes me far too long to adjust my field of vision to see the whole picture. I like to think we all do this on occasion, trek along behind that dangling carrot without another thought. The trick, though, is to look past the end of your nose once in a while and see beyond the carrot so you can adjust your trajectory and avoid making an ass out of yourself.

Every Little Thing Is Gonna Be All Right

Stress is for the unimaginative.

“Stress is an ignorant state. It believes everything is an emergency. Nothing is that important.”  ~ Natalie Goldberg

I know I’m a day late for 4/20, but I am having a Marley moment this morning. Tonight I’m hosting my sister’s bridal shower at my in-law’s downtown loft for 21 ladies. I’m a bit nervous. I’ve been planning this event for four months. My sister and I decided that a non-traditional shower would be best so I suggested a wine tasting downtown, which I thought would be fun, informal, and unique. I made the invitations by hand, crafted wine charms for each guest, researched and purchased 21 bottles of wine (heaven forbid you run out, right?), and determined proper cheeses and snacks to pair with each wine. I spent a lot of time researching, planning logistics, and micromanaging every single detail. Still, things go wrong. They always do. This thought is what is vexing me this morning. I’m certain I have forgotten something and I won’t know what it is until it’s too late to do anything about it. This is not glass is half empty thinking. This is “Please, God, don’t let anyone spill their wine glass contents onto my in-law’s sofa” thinking. (Note to self: research getting wine out of upholstery.)

I’m trying to remind myself that no matter what happens tonight it will all be just fine tomorrow. I’m blasting a little Bob Marley to lighten my mood because as much as a little 4/20 action the day after 4/20 would likely remove my stress about tonight’s party, I’m home with my two boys today and that’s not the example I should be setting. Besides, as my hubby repeatedly reminds me, those type of activities are currently illegal. (Don’t get me started on how I feel about that topic.) In the absence of mind-altering herbs, I’ve turned to reggae for a mental adjustment. Reggae is sit-around-and-drink-beer-on-a-sunny-summer-patio music. It’s live-well-and-rebel music. It’s mell0w-out-you-crazy-white-woman music.

I need to embrace that mindset right now, take a few deep, hearty breaths, and calm down. Any unplanned mishap tonight is simply an opportunity for creativity, not stress. It’s an occasion to showcase my problem solving and coping skills. People will follow my lead as the hostess. If I’m relaxed and ready to roll with it, they will be too. Tonight I’m going to keep Bob in my head singing “Don’t worry about a thing ’cause every little thing is gonna be all right” because you know what? It will be.

 

Faith, Hope, and Frogs

Swimmy (left) and Splashy (right)

Last night I was holed up in bed, trying desperately to keep my brain focused on writing while my body was using every spare ounce of energy to fight a head cold, when I heard Joe call from their bedroom. It was time for me to say their prayers, a ritual that I’ve carried out nearly every night since they were toddlers. I was exhausted and felt miserable, but I hauled myself down the hall to fulfill my nightly duty.

As I was approaching the room, I heard Joe make a comment about one of Luke’s frogs. My boys have each had two aquatic, African dwarf frogs for about 23 months. I love these frogs as much as any mother can love a frog. I especially love Luke’s frogs because, swear to God, they know me and perk up and look at me when I talk to them. That might sound crazy, but it’s true. Luke’s frogs, Splashy and Swimmy, are full of personality and joie de vivre like the boy that owns them.

“That one has been on the top of the water for a while,” Joe noted. “I’ve been watching him. I think he’s gonna die.”

Characteristically, the frogs prefer to hang out on the bottom of the tank and swim up simply to get a breath or feed. It is unusual to see one floating on top, so I could understand Joe’s concern.

“Oh, Joe. He’s not going to die. Don’t be so melodramatic. Sometimes they just like to hang out on top of the water,” I said, trying to alleviate the fears that were evident on Luke’s face after Joe’s dire pronouncement.

When I looked into at Splashy, though, I could tell there really was something wrong with him. From the top of the aquarium, I could see that his rump was red. I couldn’t tell if it was blood, but I sensed it was not good. I’m no herpetologist, but it looked like he might have an inflammation of his cloaca (yes…I had to look that word up). In other words, he might have had a little something stuck up his froggy butt. I figured that was not something I could help him with and since he wasn’t eating, I got a bit worried right along with Joe.

So, when I was done with the boys’ prayers, we paused to say an extra little prayer for Splashy. We asked God to watch over him, help him heal, and to keep him from suffering too long if this was indeed his time to go. I’ll be honest. I say the boys’ prayers each night because it makes them feel better. For me, it’s more of a habit than something I wholeheartedly believe in. I’m undecided on the power of prayer because I’m not sure that there’s a thing I could say to change events in the universe. I’ve never believed I was that powerful. But, I said that prayer for Splashy because he’s the sweetest little frog ever, and I truly hate to see creatures suffer.

By this morning when I went to check on him (at 5 a.m. because I was worried about Luke waking up to a dead, bloated frog), he was back on the bottom of the aquarium. When I went into the boys’ room at 7, he swimming around and his hind end looked considerably less red. It gave me hope. Maybe God is looking out for him. Maybe our prayers for that little frog helped a bit. I don’t know, but I kind of understand why people pray. It’s not necessarily because prayer will fix everything but because it offers hope that perhaps there’s a chance. In the face of the unknowable, hope is all we have.

 

 

Time Flies When They’re Growing Up

The four boys in 2008

Ever since our sons were small, my friend Celeste and I have been hauling them up Waterton Canyon. Since it has recently reopened and the weather has been so warm, we decided to take them up there again yesterday. It’s amazing the difference from the days when we used to have to push them in double jogger strollers hauling sippy cups, diapers, and changes of clothes. Our boys are roughly 1 month apart in age; Joe is a bit older than Celeste’s Sean and Ryan is a bit older than my Luke. Yesterday Celeste and I joked as we walked about how much more difficult the hike used to be when we each had two boys in a stroller, poking and badgering each other. We would simply pray that we’d be able to get through four miles before any meltdowns occurred and then we would dream that they would fall asleep in the car on the way home.

The boys in the canyon in 2012

Yesterday was an entirely different story. For the first time, there was relatively little complaining, and the boys walked the entire way. We walked up the first two miles, saw some mountain sheep along the way, and then stopped at our usual spot to have lunch and throw rocks into the river. Then we walked down without incident. The whole event was easy and pleasant…and shocking.

Time has flown. I look back at the photos of our boys together at Halloween parties and on these hikes and realize we’re watching them grow up. It’s sad and exciting at the same time. I hope Celeste and I are able to continue to drag our boys up Waterton on this hike as they get older, even if they’re whining and trying to text their friends (good luck with that in the canyon). Someday I want Celeste and I to look back on the photos of our boys standing in the river together. We will miss these times, but we will be glad we started a tradition we could trace together and share forever.

Role Reversal

Adults...not grown ups

“Too many people grow up. That’s the real trouble with the world.” ~Walt Disney

According to the law, I’ve been an adult for nearly 26 years. Why does that not seem possible? It should. I’ve gotten my degrees, we own a home, we have had 16 wedding anniversaries, and our oldest son will be 11 soon. Yet, somehow, my brain lives on an alternate plane where no matter how old I get, no matter the responsibilities I manage, no matter what my reality is I’m still not grown up. There are times when I’m standing at a rental car counter and I’m flabbergasted that they are going to give me a car. I almost look around to see if I’m going to get away with it. Or sometimes I’ll be in the middle of a parent/teacher conference and it will almost be an out-of-body experience. I’ll wonder what I’m doing there. It’s like the plaque I have in my kitchen: “Who are these kids and why are they calling me Mom?” When the hell did I get so old?

Although time keeps marching on despite my attempts to turn the clock back, I suppose there are benefits to getting older. When we were in college, we could buy alcohol but we couldn’t afford anything decent to drink. We might not have had to pay all our own bills, but at the end of the school we had to go home and live under someone else’s roof with someone else’s rules. We cared too much about what our friends thought of us and not enough about what we thought of ourselves. We looked good in our own skin, but didn’t feel comfortable in it.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to relax a bit. I no longer care all that much if people don’t like me or if they think I’m silly or childish. I no longer buy into the idea that an adult should act with decorum 100% of the time. What I find amusing, though, is that just as I am beginning to let go and to live a little, my children are buying into the idea of growing up and acting accordingly.

Last night, we had an intimate wine tasting dinner at our house with a few friends. I have to admit that I felt fairly adult picking out the wines and planning the meal. We cooked gourmet pizzas and had port and chocolates for dessert. Somewhere between the first and fifth bottle of wine that the six of us shared, though, we got a little loud and started having way more fun than our kids thought we should. Truth is, we sort of forgot that our 8 and 10 year old sons were upstairs quietly watching movies. Well into dessert and conversation I heard the tell-tale ping of a text message on my phone. It was from Joe who was upstairs texting me from his iPad.

“Mom…your friends should leave soon. It is 11:00.”

Crap. It’s 11 o’clock? Where had the evening gone? Ping. Another text.

“Very late, Mom.”

Oh okay, okay. Fine. I texted him back.

“We’ll be upstairs in a minute. Brush your teeth and get into bed.”

“We already are. We are very tired. You need to tell your friends to go home.”

I stalled a while, but eventually went up to check on them. Luke was already asleep. Joe was the lone holdout. He looked exhausted and annoyed. He told me that he wanted our friends to be gone no later than midnight.

Geez. Mr. Bossypants. Way to ruin the fun. By the time Andrew and Heather left it was around 12:30 and both boys were, thankfully, asleep. We’d managed to spend five hours in our own house entertaining friends without non-stop requests or care giving. It felt borderline miraculous.

This morning Joe gave us a hard time about our behavior last night. He said we were way too loud and laughing non-stop. He questioned the number of bottles we had gone through. He told us they could barely hear their movie and that we kept them awake. I had to wonder when our roles had been reversed. We spend our entire youth trying to figure out how to be responsible adults and then we spend our adulthood trying to regain our lost sense of youth. Funny the way it is.

 

 

Every Life Comes With A Death Sentence

Netflix is my best friend. It is.

About six weeks ago I started watching the AMC show Breaking Bad on Netflix. I did so on the recommendation of my college roommate, Michelle, who told me that if I like Mad Men I would probably like this as well. I didn’t know much about the show before her recommendation, other than the fact that its lead actor, Bryan Cranston, has won three consecutive Emmy Awards for his part in this show that very few people seem to know about. So, about the time I decided to get on my bike trainer again, I decided to check it out. I need something to watch while I’m stuck on the bike indoors. The show has gotten me through 250 miles so far. I am impressed.

If you’re like most people I know who have not heard of the show, let me fill you in. The lead character, Walter White, is diagnosed with lung cancer and receives an unfavorable prognosis. He is a high school chemistry teacher who also works part-time at a car wash to support his family. He realizes that he’s running out of time and he has nothing to leave to his family, which includes a pregnant wife and a teenage son with cerebral palsy. Through a series of convoluted circumstances, it occurs to him that as a chemist he could make a boat load of cash quickly by manufacturing methamphetamine. I know. It’s a crazy premise for a show, but that’s what makes it so interesting. Walt’s transformation from mousy cancer victim to drug criminal is profound.

The episode I watched yesterday while on the bike trainer showed Walt at yet another doctor’s appointment awaiting a scan. In the waiting room, a newly diagnosed cancer patient strikes up a conversation with him.

“It’s like they say. You make plans and God laughs,” the guy tells Walt.

“That is such bullshit,” Walt replies. “Never give up control. Live life on your own terms.”

How easily we all give up when an impediment blocks our way.  Oh well. I guess I’m supposed to do this now. What else can I do? I’m sure in the face of a cancer diagnosis, the first reaction is to feel bad about the hand we’ve been dealt. The man is saying as much to Walt. Cancer is cancer. What are you going to do? Blah, blah, blah. Then, Walt says this:

“To hell with your cancer. I’ve been living with cancer for the better part of a year. Right from the start it’s a death sentence. That’s what they keep telling me. Well, guess what? Every life comes with a death sentence…but until then I’m in charge. That’s how I live my life.”

Wow. I had to stop the show, back it up, and watch that part again. It was brilliant. It’s got shades of The Shawshank Redemption‘s “Get busy living or get busy dying” in it but it’s definitely a more in-your-face message. Every life comes with a death sentence…but until then I’m in charge. Walt’s cancer wasn’t a death sentence for him but a life sentence. He’d been going along in his daily routine not thinking a thing about it, not truly being present in his life, until the cancer gave him a wake-up call he desperately needed. When you stop to confront your death, you might see your life differently. The cancer took Walt out of his comfortable life. He became less fearful. After all, what did he have to lose?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Walt’s little speech. It’s good to be reminded that we’re only here a short time. We’re not in charge of everything that happens in our lives, but we are in charge of how we react to it. We won’t live forever, but we can live on our own terms.

Don’t Forget to Pack a Sweater

It's not Venice, but it's not home either.

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” ~Robert Louis Stevenson

I spent a couple hours today engrossed in one of my favorite pastimes…researching travel. I get nearly as much joy from researching trips as I do from actually taking them. I love to learn about other places. Like my son, I am obsessed with Google Earth. As much as I love Colorado (and I do love it), I need to escape it three to four times a year. I simply need a change of scenery. It doesn’t matter where I go, either. I don’t have to travel to an exotic locale for it to count. Nor do I have to travel somewhere I’ve never been before. I just need to “Get out of Dodge.”

Today I was captivated thinking about a trip we’ll be taking to Boston in October. The official reason for the trip is to attend our friend Jeff’s wedding. Steve and I have never been to New England before, though, so we have a lot to read up on before we go. I am the type of traveler who likes to learn about the area I am traveling to. I research things to do, places to visit, and historical facts. When I get there, I’m then prepared to go with where the spirit leads me as the mood strikes and the weather approves. I suppose I could buy our plane tickets and we could wing it completely, but I’m not that spontaneous when finances are involved. Although it wouldn’t be the world’s worst thing if we ended up staying in a fleabag motel because we didn’t have reservations anywhere, I’d prefer a reliable and well-reviewed B&B if I can get it.

If my life ever comes to a point when I am unable to travel, I will continue to use books and the Internet to go places in my mind. I will get on Google Earth or pick up a travel book and I will envision being somewhere else. I will travel to Bora Bora and stay in a hut over the water. I will drop myself onto streets in Paris or Vienna and explore. I will glide over the vast wilderness of Africa and put myself into a world without Starbucks, 24-hour grocery stores, and homes with two-car garages. I will still get out of Dodge because I have to. I live for the opportunity to escape. Sometimes the only way to get perspective is to step back far enough that the entire picture comes into view. I know that travel (even mental travel) isn’t always easy or pleasant; but, sometimes you have to put on an itchy lambswool sweater to remember how good cashmere feels.