Wouldn’t Take Nothing

FullSizeRender
Experiencing the Great Salt Lake

Back to school has changed me. When my sons were younger and full of ill-advised helpings of sugary treats with food coloring, I could not wait for the school year to start. Sure it would mean I’d have to wake up early, cart them across town in my SUV school bus, and go through the dreaded rigamarole of homework, but the house would be quiet all day. I would have time to myself again. I’d be getting my life back, jumpstarting my summer-neglected workouts and my writing, and revisiting my peaceful hours in SuperTarget wandering the aisles of things I didn’t really need but felt helplessly attracted to all the same. Lately, though, my mood about back to school has gone from Yippee to Oh crap.

I was perusing my news feed this morning and found myself buried in a wave of photos of moms jumping for joy (quite literally in some cases) at the prospect of divesting themselves from their offspring for six hours each day. I was that mom once, gleefully depositing my children at school before heading for the hills for the first transcendent hike of fall, feeling liberated at the prospect of rediscovering the me I had left behind when school let out in spring. So while I scrolled through the endless display of children in first-day-of-school photos this morning, I remembered all too well that joy of potential freedom. I just didn’t identify in quite the same way.

My sons start 7th and 9th grade next week. And, as enticing as the notions of getting our house and my life back on track are, I feel like the mom dreading dropping her child off at full-day kindergarten for the first time and acknowledging the impending loneliness. My buddies are leaving me. It’s an end-of-days feeling. I spent my summer staring wide eyed at my sons, floored by their minute-by-minute growth both in height and in maturity. They are the same kids who once left me for kindergarten, but they are so much more now. They are their own people. They are no longer mine. And it sucks. Well, it’s great and amazing and incredible and awesome and it still somehow sucks. Life is weird that way.

When I decided fifteen years ago to quit working my paying job and focus my plethora of natural energy on my infant son, I didn’t give much thought to where it would lead me. I only knew that I had a newborn who seemed hell bent on never sleeping or napping or giving up colic who would probably drive me to an early grave if I attempted to maintain a career and figure out his sleep schedule if he even had one. He didn’t. I had no idea where this journey would take me. Today, though, as I sit here contemplating back to school with a middle schooler and a high schooler, my chosen path makes sense. All the sleepless nights, endless testing, and struggles to figure out how to help them, all the missteps, flubs, and pitfalls of parenting, all the little milestones, the small steps forward, and the minuscule personal triumphs, they were all worth whatever sacrifice I made in savings, earnings potential, and career advancement. I’ve got the tears of gratitude to prove it.

How lucky am I to have had this experience, to have been able to stay with them, suffer alongside them, search for solutions with them, and monitor their progress? To have been able to catch them in the first few minutes after their school day and see their disappointments and triumphs before they faded? And how fortunate am I that I have had them for 13 and 15 years and been able to witness their transition into actual human people when some parents are tragically robbed of that opportunity? I have no idea what path I will take if I get to see Joe graduate from high school in four years. No clue what career I might find or how I might re-enter the workforce after a 20-year hiatus. No sense of who I might yet become. All I know today is that I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now. I don’t just love my children. I actually like them, even when they are acting like little creeps with skills I am positive they honed while watching me not have my best moments. I’m going to miss them in the coming weeks when I am once again wandering aimlessly through SuperTarget in a dress rehearsal for my life without them. Still, I wouldn’t take nothing.

Wax On, Wax Off

FullSizeRender
The would-be scene of a grisly murder

Parenting is sticky business. There are days when I am acutely aware that I may not be cut out for this gig. Those are the days when I blow my parental gasket and slam doors and caterwaul with unbridled enthusiasm at my children over socks left on the floor right next to the laundry bin or half-empty cartons of yogurt stuffed behind a couch cushion. Those are the days when I am the very definition of insanity, once again doing the same thing that has failed before to achieve the desired result. Then there are the days when, through the grace of some unforeseen divine intervention, I pull it together long enough to do something that is nearly the right thing in the right situation. Like, for example, on the day when my fourteen-year-old son came to me fresh off watching a PG-13 comedy video on You Tube where he learned a new word, a word describing a sexual act that makes many grown adults shudder (or tilt their heads not unlike a cocker spaniel after hearing a word unfamiliar to their floppy ears). On that day I managed to swallow my shock long enough to offer a generic explanation of said act hoping to delay for him what would be an eye-opening if not wholly disturbing Google search on the NC-17 subject matter. On the days like that one, when I manage to keep my wits about me, I celebrate the alignment of the stars and enjoy it because I know moments of parenting clarity have, in the past, been few and far between, and my next ill-conceived, epic, parental meltdown could be right around the corner if I get too cocky.

A couple of days ago, my youngest son presented me with an opportunity to rise to the occasion again. After doing some more unboxing and cleaning in the basement family room the boys have designated The Teen Zone, I turned on one of those flameless, scented candle warmers to try to defunkify the place in their absence. (Teenage boys are smelly.) Not long after they had returned from a friend’s house, a panicked cry emanated from their space. Through a pained whimper I managed to make out phrases like “this is bad” and “oh no.” You know those moments when you think your child might be bleeding profusely and there is a fear of what you might find when you come face-to-face with them? That’s where my brain was. My son was about to present me with a mostly severed appendage or a head wound so deep I would be viewing his bony skull. When he made it to me, though, I could see no visible signs of trauma. Simultaneously relieved that he was okay and terrified at what that meant with regard to his cries, I asked him what was going on. The words came through breathless cries…spill, wax, accident, sorry, mistake, carpet, bad.

FullSizeRender
Not blood splatter, but it could have been.

Now, this house is new to us and we have been working to make it our comfortable home for months. And, to that end, we had the worn basement carpet torn out in mid-January and replaced with fresh, super plush carpeting that is a bit like walking on heaven when your stocking feet touch it. As Luke and I hit the threshold of the family room, I could see why he was panic-stricken. Directly in front of the bookshelf where the candle warmer sat, still glowing innocently and without any sign of guilt or remorse, there was a sizable splattering of eggplant-colored, cinnamon-and-vanilla-scented wax. A flurry of words escaped my mouth, most of which were interrogatives and none of which (surprisingly enough) were screamed, but I never listened for the answers because I knew none of them would help. I knew I needed a minute to get my mind in order before I said or did something I would regret. I turned and walked up the stairs, Luke trailing on my heels. He kept talking and explaining while my mind reeled and I muttered my disappointment quietly. I got to the door of my room.

“You stay out here. I need to be alone for a minute,” I told him as I began to close the bedroom door behind me. “Don’t touch the wax. It will only make it worse,” I added as an afterthought as the door clicked solidly shut.

I paced for a minute trying to get my bearings. I whipped off a quick text to a good friend to get my feelings off my chest silently. Luke just spilled purple candle wax on a big spot of our basement carpet. Huge stain. Heartbroken. I took a deep breath. The one thing I knew for sure was that the mess would set with time, and I didn’t have the luxury of a full-scale devolution into parental disgust. Through the door, I could hear Luke talking to himself under his breath. I knew it was an accident. I knew he was simultaneously horrified, frightened, and wondering if the $100 he had earned at the craft fair would get him very far in his soon-to-be life as a hobo. I stood for a moment registering his feelings. Suddenly, I wasn’t an angry parent freaking out about a stain on recently installed carpeting. I was in Luke’s soul, scared and sad and feeling worthless. How many times had I been in his shoes, wondering what punishment would be meted out after my colossal error in judgment? My heart ached for him. I opened the door.

“Come on, Luke. Let’s see what we can do.” 

A text came through from Heather. Try ironing it out? Put a rag or old t-shirt down and then iron over that. Medium heat. Then try rubbing alcohol to get the color out.

FullSizeRender
Slightly less horrific

It sounded like a plausible solution. A quick Google search yielded the same advice. Luke, desperate to make amends, asked how he could help. I had him fetch items for me while I labored to free the new carpet of its unwelcome waxy coating. As I worked, I talked to Luke and reminded him that we all do things like this. Accidents happen. Most of them matter very little. I could see him begin to relax, his hobo life fading into the background for the time being. Little by little, after some icing, scraping, ironing, and blotting, the wax seemed to be coming out. I began to exhale too. This might be fixable after all. After about thirty minutes of triage, the carpet looked only slightly stained. I was hoping that some form of chemical solution could ameliorate that condition. Sure enough. An hour after the tragic incident, the carpet looked nearly uniform or at least good enough that someone might not even notice if they weren’t directed to search for a stain in that area. The carpet, Luke, and I had all survived, only slightly worse for the wear.

FullSizeRender
We shall live to see another day.

In the past, I’ve been too quick to anger in situations that warranted no anger at all. I’ve cried over spilled milk. I’ve fussed over holes in new jeans. And I’ve had full-fledged tantrums over doors left open while the heat was on inside. But as time with my sons living under our roof dwindles, I’ve become more aware of how big my “little” meltdowns can feel to my sons and how little even the “big” things in life are in the grand scheme. If our carpet had been permanently stained, would that have sucked? Absolutely. But I’ve been thinking about how much worse things would be in my life if I had created a situation in which my son no longer felt comfortable coming to me when things went wrong. I know I was that kid…the one who was afraid to be honest about accidents and mistakes. The one who would rather hide things and lie to escape censure. The one who spent far too long avoiding challenges, afraid to make a move lest it make me appear foolish or, heaven forbid, human. As an adult, I continue to work to overcome these fears and embrace my humanity. I’m not sure what grace intervened Sunday when Luke came to me, but all week long I have been hearing the phrase “wax on, wax off” from The Karate Kid in my head. Mr. Miyagi has been speaking to me, reminding me that patience, presence of mind, and repetition are the keys to success. My ability to go more slowly, tread more lightly, and think more carefully in difficult situations with our sons is improving. I have hope that these skills will someday transfer to other situations in my life as well. I’m not quite skillful or patient enough to catch a fly with chopsticks yet, but I’m feeling a bit more Miyagish with each small parental success.

 

 

Good Enough

_DSF3764
Me and three of my favorite things

The seven and a half years between when I turned 40 and today have been the best seven years of my life. They have not been the easiest. During this time, I learned my oldest son has ADHD and my youngest has dyslexia, and I struggled to gain acceptance and create a better situation for them at school and in their lives. I had a devastating falling out with a person very close to me that caused years’ worth of complications in my family. I began experiencing the unpleasant side effects of early perimenopause. I was depressed for a while. And I went into counseling for the first time in my life as I wrestled with the external changes messing with my reality and the internal battles being waged in my head as a result of aging and staring straight into the face of the midlife beast. As a result of all these things, however, I am more at peace than I ever have been. I live in the moment. I have greater perspective about what is important to me. And I couldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t trudged through the quagmire of muck that now lies behind me.

This morning I saw a meme that riled me up. It said, “Addicted to Bettering Myself.” I’ve seen that saying before, but it has never elicited as strong of a reaction from me as it did today. Today it just didn’t sit well. So, I have been reflecting on it, and I think I finally have it figured out. When I turned 40, I was concerned about being 40How in the heck did I get so old? Is this the beginning of the downhill slide that comes with being over the hill? How can I make 40 better? What do I need to do before it’s too late? I was consumed with answering these questions. I became addicted to bettering myself. I became more concerned about my physical appearance as I noticed more readily the effects of having lived 40 years. I became intensely interested in physical exercise. I monitored my workouts and chided myself when I fell short. If I put on weight at the holidays, I hated myself. I took classes in things I thought I teetered on the edge of being too old for, and I did things that were out of character because I thought my time was running out. I expected more of myself at a time when the events in my life were requiring more of me as well. I stressed myself out racing against a clock I could never stop.

Then an amazing thing happened. I let go. I can’t say when it happened or why, and it doesn’t matter. Suddenly I was grateful more often than anxious. I was tuned in more often than tuned out. I stopped letting others tell me what was best for me. I stopped taking myself and everything around me so goddamned seriously. I chose to let go of control more often. And I stopped looking outside myself for acceptance. I decided that trying to be “better” was more harmful than helpful to me. I accepted that my existence has power, worth, and value even if I never do anything other than breathe. It sounds Stuart Smalley of me, I know. But I decided I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And, doggone it, people like me.

I am positive my friends who have escaped the clutches of the midlife monster are nodding their heads knowingly at me now. You were right, Leanna. Things did get better. I’ve let go of the situations, misconceptions, and lies that tortured me for years when I felt time was running out and I needed to be more (whatever that means). I’ve learned to not give a flying fig about most things because most things are background noise we choose hear over the symphony we could be enjoying if we let ourselves.

I don’t mean to belittle people who are addicted to bettering themselves. We’re all on our own journeys, and there is no right or wrong way to travel our individual path. And there’s something to be said for making the most of the time you are given, for being restless and ambitious, for wanting to age with grace and in good health. I have zero intention of going gentle into that goodnight myself. The Grim Reaper had best be prepared for a wrestling match when he comes for me. The difference for me at 47 than me at 40, though, is that he’ll be coming for a woman who doesn’t want to leave because she’s too happy to step out and not a woman who feels she can’t leave because she’s not finished becoming something she never realized she always was…good enough.

Even The Great Ones Die

FullSizeRender
Closest I ever got to David Bowie. Section E, Row 36, Seat 2

“It never even occurred to me that David Bowie *could* die.” ~Michael Ian Black

Yesterday was a weird day for me. Like many people my age, I imagine, I spent the day steeped in memories, stunned by the loss of David Bowie. David Bowie has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Literally. One of my first memories is waking up hearing Fame on the radio in my bedroom. I was seven. I remember it so vividly because I’d been dreaming and that song was playing in my dream. When I awoke and heard it playing in my room, I honestly thought I had some sort of psychic powers. It was much later that I learned that happens to everyone and I did not have the gift. Oh, how it sucks being average.

David Bowie was the anti-average. He was the coolest man who ever lived. That is how I will always think of him. He was bold. He didn’t apologize for who he was or what he did or what he created. And he did all this without being a self-absorbed, self-serving jerk. He was talented, elegant, handsome, enigmatic, and yet somehow accessible. His music made me feel and reminded me that I belong to the universe. It made me think of things beyond myself. And that is just so damn cool.

Right after I saw the news of his passing, I was scanning my Twitter feed and I saw this tweet from Michael Ian Black. It took everything I was feeling and put it into a convenient package. It never occurred to me that David Bowie could die either. Legends don’t die. And they certainly shouldn’t pass away quietly from cancer at the relatively young age of 69. My big takeaway yesterday was a kick-in-the-gut reminder that we all die. Every last one of us. Even the coolest man on the planet.

Last night I was a bit more circumspect than usual. I could not look at my husband or my sons without acknowledging what we all know but bury deep inside. Death happens. It’s the only guarantee life presents when you are born. You will die. People you love, people who inhabit your soul, will die. I stood in the doorway to my sons’ room last night, staring at them while they slept. For a few moments, with teary eyes, I remembered things outside myself. I remembered to breathe and to feel and to take it all in.

“There’s a starman waiting in the sky, he told us not to blow it ’cause he knows it’s all worthwhile.” 

What I Teach My Children About The Illusion of Security

IMG_1733
They might have guns but we have flowers.

Ever since the tragic events in Paris last Friday, my mind has been tempest tossed. Coming immediately on the heels of the deadliest bombing in Beirut in 25 years, the senseless murder of innocent civilians in the City of Light was a tough blow, the second poignant lesson in the fragility of life in two days. It seems I can’t sift through the news anymore without reading about another heinous act. While I know that countless acts of murder, rape, and violence have been perpetrated for as long as humans have existed, the constant barrage of stories about the dark side of humanity elucidated by the news media over the Internet and forwarded around the globe via social media can take a toll on even the most hopeful souls.

As a mother, I have struggled with what to share with my sons about these events and what example to set for them with my words about them. When they were younger, I cautiously shielded them from gratuitous details about natural disasters, shootings, and suicide bombings, proffering just enough information to make them aware but not enough to cause them sleepless nights. Parenting is a non-stop balancing act, and I regularly walk the high wire between too much information and not enough. Our sons are 12 and 14 now, plenty old enough to be aware of world events and form opinions about them. At school they watch news clips from CNN, an education I am grateful for because it provides an opportunity for open discourse at home about the world. I welcome the invitation to engage with our sons and answer questions and concerns as they arise. I like to think that in doing so my husband and I are raising informed, thinking, and engaged citizens of the world.

Today, during my daily run through of my social media news feeds, I read that governors of 27 states have declared they will not welcome Syrian refugees due to security concerns after the Paris attacks. I scratched my head. Regardless of the fact that states do not have the right to refuse refugees our federal government chooses to accept, I marvel at the naiveté of leaders who presume that refusing refugees is the surest way to keep their citizens safe. But many people in this country harbor the illusion that security is an entity we can guarantee and enforce because, well, we’re the United States of America, dammit. But we can’t. We never have been able to and we never will be. We can’t stop bad things from happening. Bad things are as certain as the sunrise, and security is merely an illusion we cling to as a means to mitigate our fears.

I live in Colorado, one of only seven states that has said it will welcome refugees displaced by the atrocities in Syria, which have left over 250,000 civilians dead and nearly half of its population of 22 million seeking a safe haven elsewhere. While many are against this, I am pleased with our governor’s proclamation. I don’t believe that turning away victims of terrorism will keep us any safer than we are now. Could an ISIS sympathizer be among the refugees who end up in Colorado? Probably. There have already been arrests of suspected ISIS militants and supporters in the US, and there is no reason to imagine we will be able to stop more from seeking to harm us if that is what they intend. Even our best attempts at national security will leave unexpected holes for terrorists to slip through. We are not capable of squelching every plot. We didn’t foresee the attack on Pearl Harbor or the attacks of 9/11. Is that a reason to turn away hundreds of innocents who are displaced and suffering, seeking a better, safer place for their family? I don’t think so. I like to think that we are a better nation than that.

The truth is that life is tenuous and fraught with peril, and there is little to nothing we can do about it. This is what I tell my sons daily. You could lose your life to a terrorist suicide bomber in a crowded cafe or to a mentally disturbed individual in a movie theater, to a drunk driver on their way home or to an incurable cancer. You could be the healthiest person out there and keel over from a heart attack. You can do everything right, take all the proper precautions, but you will still fall someday. Not one of us is getting out of this life alive, and we can’t guarantee that security to our children either. But the legacy we leave with our actions can and will make a difference in the lives of others. I would like my children to witness from me love, generosity, and bravery in the face of life’s sometimes scary realities rather than fear, isolationism, and cowardice disguised as protectionism. I would rather my sons learn to take a calculated risk for the sake of goodness than to shun others for an imagined sense of security.

Right after I read that article about the governors unwilling to welcome refugees, I found this video of a Parisian father and his young son being interviewed at the site of the Bataclan attacks where citizens were gathering to leave flowers and light candles in memory of the lives lost there. The father tells his son that there are bad people everywhere and that the flowers and candles being placed are there to protect him. I won’t lie. I get weepy every time I replay that video, and I have watched it at least a dozen times already. In the most beautiful way possible, this father is teaching his son that bad things happen but we don’t need to fear them. We need to accept them, focus on the good we can do, and go on with our lives. If we operate from a place of peace and love and hope, we are freer from fear than if we barricade ourselves in to hide from it. Fear can become an inescapable prison or our impetus to live in the present.

I showed my sons the video of that father because it speaks more eloquently about security than anything I’ve seen on the Internet since the attacks on Beirut and Paris. I’ve felt my heart shrivel as I scanned comments from friends about why we should not open our nation and our hearts to those who seek peace because we might regret it. While I understand their concerns, I can’t believe that this is what we have come to. We citizens of the United States forget how fortunate we are to be here and the sacrifices made by previous citizens that afforded us the luxury of birthright and the illusion of security. We forget that most of our ancestors arrived on these shores disillusioned, frightened, and clinging to hope promised by a lady standing in a harbor, the same feelings the Syrian refugees now hold. My husband and I are supporting our governor as he opens the doors to our incredible state. We are talking to our sons and teaching them that the inscription on Lady Liberty does not have caveats. It’s not “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore but only if they aren’t coming from a war torn Middle Eastern country or from a south-of-the-border neighbor with drug problems because we don’t want any of THOSE.” We are telling them that life is scary. Bad things do happen. But the more good we put out into the world and the more we focus on that, the better things will become. My silent parental prayer today and every day is that our sons will grow to love this world despite the negatives and to live boldly in it without fear for as many days as they have.

That Time Whip-Nae-Nae Saved The Day

Nothing stinky here
Nothing stinky here

As our children grow, most of their changes occur imperceptibly. One moment you are gazing into their chubby, little cherub face and the next you are looking directly into the eyes of a slender-faced, high-cheekboned teenager and wondering what wicked sorcery changed them overnight. And while their adult appearance seems to develop in the proverbial eye blink, the transformation in their personalities as they mature from tantrum-tossing toddler into too-cool-for-school teenager seems to take forever. My sons both pitched fits in public places that I swore would last longer than the Cenozoic Era. I watched with grateful glee as the tantrums decreased in duration over the years, evolving from epic, hour-long fuss fests into eye-rolling disgust lasting two seconds from start to finish. It was marked forward progress and it was much easier to notice because it directly impacted the level of peace and quiet in my daily life. Over the years, I have become guardedly optimistic about my sons’ potential to become respectful, open-minded, kind, and decent adult humans because I have witnessed their emotional growth firsthand and been present to overhear other adults as they remarked on it too.

On Halloween evening last weekend, our oldest son did something that proved he is more mature than his meager fourteen years might assert. Right around 6:30 pm, as costumed children began serenading us with Trick-or-Treat calls from our front step, our sons finally decided to get their teenage acts together and get into costume for what Joe proclaimed would be his last year trick-or-treating. For the auspicious occasion, he had chosen a demented, shiny skeleton mask in his first-ever attempt to dress in a costume that could potentially unnerve small children. As he was donning his scary costume, however, there was a wardrobe malfunction with the mask that required last-minute triage with super glue. He put the mask on after the quick-fix solution and discovered the fumes from the not yet dried glue made his eyes water. Not good. We waited a few minutes for the glue to dry and he tried again. Still no go. Everyone else in the trick-or-treating party was ready to hit the road, but Joe’s costume was suddenly out of the question. I immediately apologized for not foreseeing the potential sticky situation in my instant glue fix, but he brushed it off without another thought.

In years past, our ADHD son would likely have in the same situation devolved into a weepy mess and declared the holiday a total loss. He might have thrown himself on his bed and cried in frustration. This year, though, was different. I was the one who was irked and disappointed about the worthless $25 mask that could not be worn. He was calm and collected. Reasoning that he was already dressed in full black, he decided he could easily transition his costume from scary death apparition to scary mime with some white face paint. (Mimes are a freakishly scary Halloween costume, you have to admit.) I dug around in the costume bucket only to discover there was no viable white makeup to use for his transformation. Dammit. Joe and I started brainstorming. I ran to the basement to my containers of old Halloween costumes and searched for something he could use in a pinch. The least feminine item I was able to turn up was a headband for a skunk costume. I brought it to him.

“What about this?” I asked, adding, “I also have a black cat headband, but the ears have a glittery, bright pink in them.”

“I can be a skunk,” he announced confidently and without the slightest hint of teenage embarrassment or disappointment.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “I can probably figure out something better if you give me a few more minutes to dig around,” I explained.

“Nope. The skunk is good. I can be a skunk.”

We found some white felt fabric in my office and safety pinned a stripe down the back of his otherwise all black outfit. I pulled out a black eyeliner pencil and drew a skunk nose and whiskers on his face. He put on the headband and checked the mirror.

“I look a little bit like a girl,” he assessed, “but I don’t care. I’m not missing trick-or-treating. Luke and Anthony might make fun of me, but I can deal with it. I’ll just tell everyone I’m doing the stanky leg,” he said, giving a nod to Silento’s Watch Me song.

(Thanks to Joe, I spent the entire evening with the watch-me-whip-watch-me-nae-nae chorus running through my head. And now it is probably in yours. You’re welcome.)

I handed him a flannel pillowcase and he was off, taking on the mantle of leader of the pack with confident aplomb. We’ve spent years working with Joe, both explaining and demonstrating ways to transform lemons into lemonade and chicken shit into chicken salad when things did not go his way. While Luke has always been capable of adjusting quickly when things went awry, Joe has struggled for years, full of sulks and things-always-go-wrong-for-me woe and hours of perseveration. Each meltdown has brought with it an opportunity for growth, and we’ve watched it occur slowly. But this time was markedly different. This time there was zero meltdown. This time he pulled a page out of my fix-it-on-the-fly handbook and adapted to the unfortunate change in plan without a second thought. I’m not sure I have ever felt prouder than I did as I witnessed his determination to jump over this pothole on the greatest of all kid holidays. He did at fourteen something I was not able to accomplish until my mid forties. He made a conscious choice not to take himself so damned seriously. And he rocked it.

As for me, I am going to follow Joe’s example and continue to work at not taking myself quite as seriously. Also, I will never again hear that ridiculous Watch Me song without thinking about the way inspiration and strength can come from the oddest things…like the stanky leg.

Aging Is Not For Sissies

 

Celebrating 47 years
 I recently had the good fortune of marking 47 years off the calendar. After so many journeys around the sun, I’ve become much more adept at celebrating in a way that suits me. This year that included a hot, uninterrupted shower, a venti latte accompanied by a cinnamon roll, some light shopping followed by a leisurely drive into the hills, a pedicure, and a picnic and concert at Red Rocks. And while I could not keep Mother Nature in line (the cranky bitch caused a thirty-minute storm with extreme lightning and heavy rain that delayed our outdoor concert and forced us to seek shelter in our car), overall my day was damn near perfect, securing my position as my number one, all-time-favorite, personal birthday-party planner.

The 1980s sex symbol, Bo Derek, recently said in an interview that aging is not for sissies. Although Bo has about ten years on me, I concur with her assessment. While 40 freaked me out seven years ago, what has happened to me physically since that reaching that milestone makes me shudder. I’ve acquired floppy arm syndrome, crepe-y neck, and sagging knees. Stray chin hairs pop up like wretched dandelions that require immediate plucking under the magnification of a lighted mirror to aid my tired eyes. The gal who used to roll out of bed and attend her college classes somehow managing a bright complexion without makeup is gone. It takes twice the effort and the bankroll to maintain half the fresh-faced appearance I exuded a decade or two ago. I try not to think about it too much, but the reflection in ubiquitous glass reminds me anyway. My inescapable doppelgänger follows me everywhere. Damn her.

As I drove up into the foothills the other day, though, I had something of an epiphany about my age. Even with all the physical changes in me that are less than grand, I like myself. So much. I am more genuinely me now than I have ever before been because I have stopped putting other’s agendas for me ahead of my own. I have accepted my negatives and begun acknowledging and owning my positives. I no longer heed the caterwauling of naysayers. I spent my first forty years becoming what I thought I was supposed to be. I will spend the next forty years excavating the me that lies buried under the sediment of other’s wishes. I grew up a closed-off, fearful Chicken Little, but that’s not who I was meant to be, and it’s not who I will stay. While I am good as is, warts and all, I am open to growth and positive change. If others don’t approve of my new direction, I will leave them in the dust as I speed away and watch their figures fade in my rear view window. Moving on.

To my friends who are a few years ahead of me on this journey, thanks for talking me through my midlife insanity and reassuring me that I would emerge better for it. You were right. It does get better. Little things are easier to let go. There’s freedom in relinquishing baggage and traveling light. And the more baggage I drop, the happier I become. To my friends who are a few years behind me, hang in there. I go before you as proof that the stress, change, and angst you’re experiencing are survivable. The slow, steady climb at midlife is the precursor to the feet-off-the-pedals coast that follows. And, yes. I know you don’t want to hear it. I didn’t want to hear it either, but that didn’t make it any less true. 

I’m in life for the long haul, for as long as I’ve got, through the messy and the beautiful and the complicated and the serene. I am not afraid of getting older, anymore. I am afraid of not getting older. There is so much of life I was uncomfortable about experiencing when I was young and chicken-hearted. I am braver now. Oh, sure. Doubt still finds me, but now it comes in the muffled whisper of a pesky librarian rather than the soul-shaking shouts of a doomsday soothsayer. I know the potential for growth still exists, and I know it ain’t over until the Fat Lady sings. I’m not going out quietly. Look for me. I’ll be the old lady laughing too loud, hugging too long, and crossing things off my bucket list. I’m many things, but I’m no sissy.

My Tibetan Monk Cupcake Lesson

Image
They were necessary and then they weren’t. Om.

Tomorrow is our youngest son’s birthday. Don’t ask me how it’s possible, but the little guy will turn 12 at 11:18 tomorrow night. When I was pregnant with him, Denver was hit with a massive, March snowstorm. We were trapped indoors with a toddler for three days with 54″ of snow in our yard. Thirty-one weeks pregnant, dying to get out, and stubborn as a mule, I refused to let my husband do all the shoveling and my fat, reflux-tortured, pregnant self landed a sentence of five weeks on bed rest. While I was reclined on the sofa, I would rub my belly and tell the little being in there that he (I was determined he was a he) could not be born before May 21st because I had been promised another Gemini son and this Gemini mother was determined to get what she was promised. I repeated to him over and over the date of May 21st and told him I did not want to meet him before that date. Luke, being a natural-born pleaser with minimal patience, arrived as ordered on May 21st just before midnight. Since then, I’ve spent my days ensuring I am as good to him as he has been to me.

Yesterday, Luke requested birthday cupcakes for his classmates. Noting that one classmate is allergic to gluten, Luke asked that I provide gluten-free cupcakes so George could participate in the party too. I thought about heading to the bakery to purchase cupcakes, but decided that today was a perfect day for baking. It was cold and rainy yet again, and our house would benefit from a hot oven and the smell of baked goods on such a gloomy day. So this morning I headed to Target and swiped up gluten-free yellow and devil’s food cake mixes, butter, and powdered sugar and headed home to commence baking.

I ended up with 48 cupcakes and, while they cooled, I whipped up some homemade, vanilla buttercream icing. I pulled out the natural food coloring and tinted the frosting Luke’s favorite color. Using my pastry bag, I lovingly piped beautiful swirls of orange. I stood back to survey my work. For someone who bakes as infrequently as I do these days, I thought I’d done quite well. As I was getting ready to pack them into cupcake tins so I could haul them to school in the morning, an unwanted thought began knocking on my brain. I tried to barricade the door so it could not get in, but it was powerful and the door came down under its weight. Due to food allergies, no homemade baked goods will be permitted in the classrooms anymore. Son of a bitch.

That was the first of a plethora of expletives that escaped my mouth as I stood there facing 48 cupcakes that could neither go to school nor in my mouth. I had spent three hours mixing, baking, transferring, cooling, measuring, monitoring, beating, coloring, and decorating this confections. Three hours I could never get back. Three hours I could have used wisely on other necessary pursuits. My chagrin escaped in a semi-controlled, adult tantrum, witnessed only by my dog who decided it would be in her best interest to vacate the vicinity post haste.

The meltdown moved on like a fast-moving thunderstorm on a hot summer’s day, and I took a deep breath. I remembered the Tibetan monks who create and destroy sand mandalas as part of their symbolic meditation on the transitory nature of material life. The monks use colored sand to create intricate works of art. For days and sometimes weeks, they work tirelessly as a group on these stunning creations, chanting and meditating over them to bring out the healing energies of the deities represented within the mandala. Once the mandala is finished, in an equally ordered and painstaking manner, they dismantle their work of art, pour it into a jar, and release the sand into a river so the healing powers held within each grain of sand can flow toward the ocean and disperse their positivity.

This afternoon, the cupcakes were my mandala. I diligently created them. And during their birth, I had been fully present in the moment, incorporating all my love for my son into my task. The cupcakes were not about me, and they were not for me. They were an act of love, positive energy, and goodwill. I chanted a mental Om, scraped the superfluous icing into the disposal, washed the dishes, and wiped down the counters. I packed up 24 cupcakes and launched the rest into the trash lest they end up in my belly. We will share the spoils with friends tomorrow. But today I will recognize this experience for what it is, a sticky-note reminder that life is full of discomfort, disappointment, suffering, and change. To find peace, I’ve got to learn to let go and let my inner Tibetan monk guide my thoughts. I wonder how I can get him to the surface more often? Maybe he likes cupcakes?

Imagination Or Not, A Shark Is Not a Plane

In a world of his own
In a world of his own
I caught our son Joe out behind our house the other evening and snapped this photo when he wasn’t looking. As much as he loves hanging out with friends, sometimes his deep thinking mind needs space. When that happens, he heads outside by himself for a while. This night he was out near the open space on the dirt path with a small, metal plane that his brother bought from the school store. Sometimes, when he can’t find his favorite plane, he uses a stand in…a Lego creation, a rubbery toy shark, a game console remote. I’ve even seen him use a pen taken from a hotel room as his imaginary ship. I’ve often wondered what he’s thinking about when he’s out there. For as much as he talks about Pokémon, I assume that he retreats into that world. But, he’s also a kid who reads atlases for fun, so there’s that. And he recently mentioned, out of the blue, a documentary he watched about a year ago on Netflix about transgender individuals and their struggles. Though he is honest and straight-forward about so many things, his mind is a lockbox. Try though I might to understand him, he remains a mystery to me.

Tonight, out of sheer curiosity after looking again at the photo I took on my iPhone, I asked him what he’s thinking about when he’s out there flying whatever it is he is flying. He told me he is making up stories, and the planes, game remotes, Lego ships, and even the pens are the impetus for the stories. They are the aircraft in his make-believe world.

“So…when I saw you out there with the rubber shark earlier today, was that an airplane too?” I asked. This made perfect sense to me because every other item he’s used has been a plane.

“No. It’s a shark. That would be ridiculous,” he replied.

“Of course,” I answered. “How silly of me.”

Sometimes I forget who I am talking to. Joe is creative, but he is also a bona fide intellectual working on becoming more so each day. When he was 5, he was talking to me about God and shared this bit of hopeful wisdom. “I’m not all knowing yet. But I am knowing.” And that he is.

He’ll be 14 in less than a month, and I turn into a weepy mess whenever that thought enters my head. In five years, I will be throwing a graduation party for him. I’m not sure where the time has gone, but damn if that kid hasn’t taught me more about volcanoes, reptiles, prehistory, geography, sharks, and love than I ever thought I could know. The part about sharks not flying, though? That part I knew on my own years ago, before he even mentioned it.

Unload The House And Upload The Memories

Happy boys visiting San Diego
Happy boys visiting San Diego

As my husband and I have gone along together over the past twenty years, one thing has become increasingly apparent to us: we spend too much money on things that don’t matter and not enough money on things that would truly increase our life satisfaction. We try not to dwell too much on money we’ve thrown away on pointless items because…well, it’s depressing. (I mean, seriously. A panini machine? Like we were going to be whipping up Cuban sandwiches on a daily basis? What the hell were we thinking?) We both agree, however, that the best money we’ve ever spent was for traveling or taking classes or participating in events. This is a very real phenomenon. Scientific research has proven that our satisfaction in life is tied more to experiences than possessions. A new possession might make us feel good in the beginning but, as soon as we adapt to it, the thrill is gone and that item becomes just another thing to take care of. As many couples our age are settling into bigger, nicer homes, we have spent long hours discussing our desire to downsize, to reduce the collection of crap we use once a year, to unload our baggage, and to make room in our budget for the things in life that stretch our minds and not our square footage.

Now, I say all this as if it’s going to be an easy transition for us. The truth is the exact opposite. We are long-time early adapters. When the new iPhone comes out, we’ve got it. Our thirteen year old son has already begun asking for the iWatch. We realize that as parents we’ve set a bad precedent, and we’ve got a long road ahead of us if we want to teach our children to be happy with what they have and to value life experience more than shiny, new toys. But we’re heading that direction, and we’re committed to proving to our children that it’s the best way to live.

Everything is awesome at Legoland!
Everything is awesome at Legoland!

To that end, my husband jetted off with our youngest to California this past weekend for a three-day, father-son trip made possible by a small bump in our income tax refund and my decision not to use it for a selfish, solo beach vacation. Luke had been telling us (for about six years) that he wanted to visit Legoland and, as he approached his 12th birthday next month, I realized he might just outgrow it before we managed to get him there. Deciding I could not let that happen, I booked a surprise trip for them. Last Friday, Steve and Luke headed to the airport bright and early to board a cheap, Spirit airlines flight to San Diego for Luke’s first trip to California. Over the three days, father and son visited the San Diego Zoo, Legoland, and the beaches in La Jolla and Carlsbad. Luke took his turn piloting the USS Midway. They enjoyed a harbor cruise. They walked on the beach and nearly stepped on sea lions that were resting in the sand. They skipped chain restaurants and sampled local cafes and coffee shops. As they went about their days, I received texts and photos. Each time a photo arrived, my heart smiled. Even though I wasn’t there with them, I couldn’t help but feel gratitude for their opportunity to experience new things together. And while the Lego set Luke procured at Legoland will eventually be broken apart and end in pieces in a large, plastic, storage bin in the basement, this trip will remain with him throughout his lifetime and will hopefully inspire him to reach continually for new experiences and to voyage to different places.

"Please except this doggy pen." Best thank you note ever.
“Please except this doggy pen.” Best thank you note ever penned by Luke.

When I awoke on Monday morning after their late-night return, I found a small treat they had purchased for me in California, a $5 token of their gratitude for my unilateral decision to send them on a trip they hadn’t planned on. The note, written by my thoughtful, dyslexic son, read: “Dear Mom, I love you and I am so greatful [sic] that you spent your trip money for me and dad to go to San Diego and please except [sic] this Doggy pen.” If I’d needed any proof that our decision to move from possessions toward experiences was the right choice, this was it.

Our sons are growing up so quickly. We’re inches away from the day when it will be woefully uncool to hang out with Mom and Dad, so we’re focusing now on using our time with our sons wisely. At the end of May, I will be taking our oldest son on a mother-son adventure to celebrate our birthdays. We too will be heading to California for three days so we can experience the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a place Joe has talked about for years. We have no plans other than to visit the aquarium and to drive along the coast to enjoy the ocean we are sorely lacking in Colorado. I’m looking forward to living in the moment with my teenage son as we both make discoveries on our own adventure. Hopefully, when the trip is over and only a memory, we will be able to see our lives with a new perspective, one that will remind us that it is not he who has the most toys in the end that wins.

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” ~ T.S. Eliot