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.

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

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.

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.

But What If You Hate It

So, I did a thing. I have been thinking about it forever, but I finally decided it was time to woman up. I mean, how can I claim I am ready to take back my power from people who would keep me caged if I don’t take concrete steps to stand up for what I know in my heart to be the right decision for me?

Today, Joe and I got our first tattoos. Before he came home from college in May, Joe gave me the list of things he wanted to do this summer, which included riding his bike over Vail Pass and hiking five 14ers. I asked him when we were going to get tattoos. He has been talking since his sophomore year of high school about it and has had his design picked out since that time. Back then, we told him it would be better if he waited until he was at least 18 before making what is a fairly permanent decision. And then, as the ubiquitous story goes, Covid hit. The tattoo idea got shelved. I think I brought it back up because I was looking for a partner in crime. Someone who I knew would be be wholeheartedly supportive while making sure I didn’t chicken out.

Joe being brave and being first

Joe’s biggest anxiety about the tattoo process was pain. My biggest anxiety about the process was quieting the echoing voices in my head, the voices of those who for years told me it would be a mistake. I could hear them. But what if you hate it? This is the question I have repeated to myself every time I thought I might at last be brave enough to speak for myself. After some recent therapy sessions, I flipped the script on those voices. I asked them some questions for once. But what if I love it? What if every day that little bit of ink reminds me of what a badass I am? What if that small tattoo becomes an outer representation of the spirit inside me? Damn. My inner voice is good when I let her speak up.

After doing some research and talking to a lot of people, we ended up going with a tattoo establishment about 20 minutes away from our home. The artist we booked with had recently done a tattoo for my friend’s daughter, and the tattoo she got was similar to the ones Joe and I were interested in. We needed someone we were confident could do a great job on clean lines, simple lines. Kevin at Clean Slate was exactly who we were looking for. His personal artwork and skill level go way beyond what we asked of him, so I felt a little guilty taking up his time with such simple work.

Joe went first. His tattoo is a compass rose, which symbolizes his love of travel, geography, and adventuring. When Joe’s was finished, Kevin showed me what he had worked up for mine. It was definitely bigger than I was imagining, but after Kevin explained the reason for the size I knew he was right. The detail would get lost if it was much smaller. I looked tentatively at Joe, and he of course told me to go for it. I texted my husband whose response was “Go big or go home.” I was doing this thing.

Selfie of me getting inked

My tattoo is a spiral sun. I’ve had this image with me for about 30 years. I went into a rock shop in Estes Park decades ago and saw a small basket filled with stones etched with Native American symbols. There were bears and arrowheads, healing hands and turtles. None of those spoke to me. I chose a small rock with the spiral sun image because I read that the spiral sun represents power, and I needed more of that in my life. Over the years, I carried that rock with me through multitudes of moves. I called it my Power Jus rock. When I was four months pregnant, I held that rock in my hand during the defense of my master’s thesis. That image on that little rock has reminded me for decades that I am strong, powerful, capable, and ever evolving. Now that image is on my inner forearm where every day it will remind me that I am on my own journey and I have got this.

As for those who will give me crap about it (and there will be those), let them. Maybe it’s bigger than a tattoo you would get. Maybe you think a spiral sun tattoo on a woman of eastern European descent is cultural appropriation. Maybe you think a tattoo in such an obvious place is a bit much for a 53 year old mother of two grown sons. Maybe you have a point.

Then again, maybe I just don’t care what you think anymore. Maybe I can handle my own life and you should just mind your own damn business.

The Hummingbird Parallel

Hummingbird haiku

I was sitting on the back deck today as a hummingbird blew past me on the way to our feeder. I love watching them, so I was grateful when we finally got this feeder up and less than an hour later we had a visitor. I gazed at this speedy creature, mesmerized by its grace and fluidity as its wings fluttered at 53 beats per second, and then it whizzed past me again. It was gone. I realized then what a hummingbird reminds me of. A hummingbird is basically a teenage boy. He’s invisible most of the time. You can’t find him when you are looking for him. But when you put food out, he shows up, blowing past you as if you are of no concern. He devours what you offer. And then the teenage boy, like the hummingbird with its belly full, is gone again. But don’t worry. He always needs food, and as long you provide it you will occasionally catch a glimpse of him, no matter how ephemeral it might be.

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.

Car Talk

Joe and I making car memories with Snapchat on the way to college

During our car travels, we spend a lot of time talking. We’ve so often used car time to cover deep and wide-ranging topics and have intellectual conversations that there have been times when we have driven three or four hours without realizing the radio has been off the entire drive. In truth, our sons often asked us to turn the radio down so they could join the adult conversation happening in the front seat. A conversation can arise from something we see out the window, but it often morphs into another as a kernel of information from the first topic germinates. Sometimes there will be a few moments of silence as we reflect on what has been said, but then someone will reintroduce a previous topic with a new vision that arose from that silence. We can get into some rather passionate discussions and have to fight for an opportunity to put our two-cents in, but it’s definitely one of the ways we learn the most about each other. Usually at the end of a long trip, one of us will remark about how fast the drive went because we talked the entire way.

There was one time when we talked about religion and faith the entire way to Steamboat Springs because our third grade son got into the car worried that we would not end up in heaven together. There was a summer trip home from the mountains when I had to tell our sons, then 11 and 9, that there had been a mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, and we spent the remainder of the ride unpacking that information. Our oldest has led us through prehistory, talking animatedly about geology, dinosaurs, evolution, and birds. Our youngest recently read Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, a book written 50 years ago, and has been discussing it at length by tying it into our current human condition with the speed of change. During the latest trip, we spent a great deal of time talking about vaccine hesitancy and the Delta variant of Covid-19, about racism and sexism, and about the political climate in our nation too. Occasionally we use car time to discuss our future travel plans, but usually we talk about big picture topics in the world at large because those can carry us the longest distance.

We aren’t always serious. Some of my favorite conversations are ones where someone pops off with a memorable comment. Yesterday, I heard a sarcastic “Nothing shows respect for the American flag more than using it to cradle your ball sack” comment. Once, seven-year-old Joe used a car trip to remark, “You know, Mom, to a car, life IS a highway.” And I remember one ride where my youngest, pulling from something he had seen before somewhere, simply commented out of the blue, “Unfortunately for Joe, he’s made of meat.” Another time I was giving Joe grief about something and from the back seat Luke replied, “You’re not gonna throw him out like day old chowdah.” Yes. New England accent and everything. You never know what weirdness you might hear if you’re paying attention. You just have to be paying attention.

Car time is when your kids are a captive audience. We sought to use this to our advantage. We asked them questions to foster conversations, like What are your top three Pixar films or Who are your favorite Marvel heroes (Captain America and Thor for me, if you were wondering). Because our sons never went to a local school, they never had a bus ride. They just had me dropping them off and picking them up every school day, and the commute to school was never less than 20 minutes one way. Listening during car rides became the most efficient way to learn about my kids and talking during car rides became the most effective way to sneak in some valuable information I was hoping to impart. Along the way, our habit of coming up with family discussions took on a life of its own. It helps to be a family filled with idea people who are never short on opinions, but sometimes I wonder if we were always that way or if we evolved into those people because of our car talk.

I like to think our car conversations are one of the reasons our family is as close as it is. We’re heading up to the mountains again soon, then in a few weeks Joe and I will be driving the 1,084 miles back to his college for fall semester, and after that Luke and I will be sharing the driving task to and from his high school as he gets in more hours before taking his driving test. Eventually these chatty car rides will become more and more infrequent, but good lord I am glad we’ve taken this car time together and used it for discussion because it’s made us the family we are.