Hustling on the Bridge Between Today and Adulthood – summer 2012 – a flashback

English: Ryan Jergensen bare footing on Lake B...

English: Ryan Jergensen bare footing on Lake Berryessa in 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am the mother of a boy who loves summer. I get it. We live in an emerald city surrounded by water and mountains. But good weather comes late, if at all, and when it does it is a golden reward for surviving the rest of the year and makes us forget the trials we endured for the reward.

The boy is now 17 years old and heading into his senior year of high school. Before this summer began, he said to me dreamily one day “what i love about summer is being on the lake or beside the lake, hanging with my boys.” One of my favorite summer photographs is of the lot of them lined up on a dock in their bright swimsuits in the early evening July light. 15 year old limbs and bravado everywhere. The confidence that the summer belonged to them and always would hung in the air. I remember that summer. Mountains of damp towels, sleeping in tangled combinations here and elsewhere. It was before they could drive.

But that is not this summer. Senior year is like a train barreling toward us on the tracks ahead. And he is being recruited for a college sport. There are three teams, one-on-one work outs with coaches, a trainer. And he is criss-crossing the country in a series of airplanes playing in “showcases”. He and his best friend have emptied their bank accounts and taken on investors to start a business: they are ice cream men. There are sober conversations between them across our kitchen island about insurance, routes, sources, and how to keep a circa 1979 U.S. Mail truck cum ice cream wagon on the road.

I wish someone had told me this last summer. I miss the damp towels.

I am a full time mother. You are too.

“Blessings on the full time mothers and fathers.”  — comment from an unnamed mothering blog earlier this week

I am in training for the empty nest.  I have a few good coaches in the mothers who have gone through similar nest remodels before me.  Some are my dearest BFF’s or my loving mother-in-law who has never grown stale despite the fact that her youngest, my husband, is now 51.  And just yesterday I discovered this great wordpress blog written by two sisters :  http://afterthekidsleave.com/2012/08/03/where-i-introduce-karen-to-a-list/  .  You know they had me at the subtitle for their site:  “First you rent out their rooms.”

Part of my summer training has been early  morning musing, reading and some times writing while the rest of my full house sleeps deeply and snores lightly.  The writing part is elemental for for me: a part of my makeup, one that the crush of daily life  has forced me to neglect for too long.  But I don’t want too get too maudlin here because “Mum Neglects Mum in Her Zeal to Care for Everyone Else” is a tired headline and beside my point this morning.    I have taken a lot of inspiration and laughter from other mothers’ blogs.  And occasionally I also take a hit of irritation that makes my short hair stand on end.    See the quotation above for example.

I know what the writer was getting at and that is exactly why I did not respond.  I do not need the maelstrom of the stay-at-home vs working-mother debate at this stage of parenting.   As mothers of a certain age,  we shredded that issue to pieces ages ago and with it, at times, unnecessarily shredded each other.   The process was divisive and sometimes even cruel. I remember so well the tension.  It was like a lacrosse face-off over the ball of motherhood.  Only one side  would end up with the ball.  Or so we thought.

   Aside from my maternity leaves, I have worked continuously since before I started reproducing.  It created a chronic low-grade anxiety when my boys were small – one that found me in awkward places pumping milk with an industrial strength machine or up before dawn decorating homemade sugar free cookies with raisin faces and then slipping out to the bus before they awoke.  There were elementary school play costumes held together with staples rather than thread, dinners at McDonald’s ( a  memory so strange that it still makes my organic sons question whether I was mature enough to mother in my 30’s), emailed conferences with teachers, showing up to chaperone field trips in suits and pumps and then raced back downtown.  I was crestfallen when my oldest came home from a playdate during the first month of kindergarten and said, “I just learned you  have it all wrong.  Dads are supposed to get up in the morning and go to work.  You are supposed to stay home.”

 One of my husband’s three stay-at-home sisters remarked early on that it was “heresy” for me to believe I could raise my children as well as our mothers did when I spent 10 + hours a day at an office.

Eventually that sister went back to work, reluctantly but necessarily.  We did not talk about “heresy” anymore.  Because a funny thing happened to all of us between there and here.  As the miles increased on our mothering odometers, judgments about other mothers sprang more slowly from our heads and lips.  It turned out we were better off banded with other mothers than we were alone.  We came to know that we are all “working mothers”   and we are also all “full time mothers”.

When you think about it, have any of us ever met a mother who wasn’t “FULL TIME” no matter how old her children are?  I am not as sure about fathers, but every mother I know is a “full time” mother.  From the moment the babe is placed in our care – whether in utero or later, we are mothers 24/7/365.   There is another program and agenda running constantly in the background of our minds and hearts.  Whether we perform brain surgery, clean other people’s toilets, drive heavy machinery or run countries or run our own homes, we are always mothers first.

And the full-time demands do not stop when they can wipe their own bottoms or even drive themselves to school.  In some ways they intensify.  I laugh when neighbors with small children cruise by our house tugging their youngsters along and sigh when they spy my husband and I reading the newspaper or having a glass of wine as if we are leaving under a lucky star because we have teenagers.  Ha !  Little kids / little problems…. you know how that saying ends.   You know how it hurts.  And how the kids’ program keeps running in the background on your personal hard drive.

“the weather in NC makes me miss Alabama”

sea grass at the wild beach           “the weather in NC makes me miss Alabama”    This is a text I received Saturday morning.  A deep text – at least in the lexicon of the 17-year-old boy.  My 17-year-old boy, whose texts are usually short, direct and pockmarked by a reluctance  to reveal too much.    Here, though, in eight words – he spills volumes of our shared family history.   Because I miss Alabama too.

We live in an emerald city, trapped happily between a very large lake and an even larger body of salt water.  Geographically, we are about as far from Alabama as one can get while remaining in the continental United States.  Politically and temperamentally, we live even farther away.  But we love Alabama.  Twenty-odd years ago my in-laws retired to the granulated sugar beaches of Gulf Shores from their urbane life just outside New York City.  And for a time every summer, we have sunk into Alabama’s arms.  The air choked with lazy heat.  Thunderstorms building angrily over the gulf.  The rise and fall of the tides from Mobile Bay, filling and draining the Boggy Branch.  Red clay soil.  Straight dirt lanes lined with grand live oaks.  The swish-swish-swish the straw of the sea grass makes in the late afternoon.  Salt water as warm as a summer bath.  The hurricane cycles: destruction, renewal, destruction. An occasional alligator.  Fire ants.  Sweet tea.  Flip flops.  Beach towels that never quite dry on the line.  The mullet net.  Crabbbing.  Billy’s Seafood.  The Floribama.   The Galilean service Sunday mornings, sifting the sugar between our toes as we fling our voices out across the Gulf.  Our annual food rituals: Granny’s table set with favorite family dishes  and cooled with key lime pie.  Ribs + reds.   Po’ boys @ Behind the pines, Hazels all you can eat breakfast for Dad.  Throwed rolls, sometimes.  Lulu Buffet’s place (yes, THAT Buffett).  Fried alligator.  Deep fried sushi.  The quiet of the boathouse and a book.  Loopin’ Louie.  The club all to ourselves.

These are summers past now, at least for our family.  Last month, Mom and Dad shuttered Alabama and the lives we shared there  to open up a new life up north, back in the heartland where they were born.  “We wanted to make the decision before someone had to make it for us,” Mom wrote before she unplugged her computer for the trip ahead.  A reasonable and healthy intention. For them.  But we were selfishly disappointed.  My husband was bitter even.

But when the text, “The weather in NC makes me miss Alabama,” pinged my iphone the other morning, I realized that the swish-swish-swish song of the Alabama coast continues to play clearly, even here in the air of  an emerald city about a million miles away.

Live is Messy So You’d Better Man Up Now # 2

To teach is to touch a life forever

Image via Wikipedia

This entry falls into the category of “Things My Children Teach Me,” which is usually an odd scramble of good, bad, ugly, poignant, amusing and “I-could-have-gone-the-rest-of-my-life-without-knowing-that-and-been-far-better-off”.   Now that I am a deacon of Advanced Parenting, however, sometimes the things my children and their friends teach me are just plain gold.  Learning to “Man Up Now” is one of them.    

Last night I floated off my yoga mat to my i phone where I found this txt from my 16 year old: “I got a speeding ticket.”   This is a high school junior with a crowded life, a good attitude and a Toyota Land Cruiser that is nearly as old as he is.   He hasn’t had his license six months yet.  The immediate mother reaction: thanks be to the gods of all faiths that he is safe and so is everyone else.   Followed quickly by: WHAT THE HELL? Why was he speeding?  Was he late?  Reckless?  Or worse just plain cocky?  Should we take away the car? Ground him?  And off course he had to pay for it! I’d paid his first parking ticket but this was way different.  I fumed.     I was nearly 30, dating my husband and in graduate school before I got my first speeding ticket.  And my husband – who is often late, reckless and cocky – was even older!   I wanted to text my son all of this  immediately IN ALL CAPS  but imagined any new driver who would speed down the freeway in a 2 ton truck  would also  text while driving.  

Thirty minutes later my son walked into the kitchen and silently handed me the green ticket and $ 175.00 in bills still crisp from an ATM.  “I was doing 80 in a 60 zone.  I knew as soon as I saw him pull out I was guilty and caught.   I was respectful to the officer.  Here is the fine.”   He paused, “I am mad at myself, but I think I needed the lesson.  I am going to shower.”   He left the room, with our admiration in his now very empty wallet.

Vibrating Love and the Power and Politics of Stuff

Moving van and lift, Germany,2007
Image via Wikipedia

Tuesday 6th September ♥  On Saturday morning, like most Saturdays, I was on the mat.  Yoga-like.  The theme of the class was “vibrating love” – as in “love is all,” “love is all you need,”  “what if we all vibrated love at once,” etc.  I dig this stuff.  I believe in it.   I am also devoted to our teacher.   His voice is smooth; his wisdom is even smoother.   I call what he delivers on Saturday morning The Weekly Homily and I mean that in the nicest sense of the word homily.  And I usually need what he is delivering.  This Saturday was no different.

Earlier in the week I’d taken a different delivery – the delivery of a moving van’s worth of stuff from my mother’s estate in NY.  I will be crystal clear.   I don’t need “stuff.”  I don’t like “stuff.” I don’t want “stuff.”  I think living within 3 miles of the Goodwill in our city may be one of the real estate high points of my life.  I am a frequent flier in the drive through drop-off there.  And when my children and husband tell the story about the time I nearly donated a Tiffany box to that Goodwill with the Tiffany necklace still in it, I do not even cringe.    My motto the past few years has been “Shed! Shed! Shed!”   Then the moving van arrived from NY.

I did not go to NY to dismantle my mother’s household.  I gave my sisters carte blanche. Blame me. I should have know better.   I had been adamant that I wanted very little.  Three nineteenth century beds, one 2004 Subaru and the dinner bell my mother called us home with back in the old neighborhood.  I agreed, when pressed, to accept delivery of “some” boxes of books from the basement that, my sisters claimed, contained “a few” books from my husband’s and my graduate school days.  I was led to believe that the “some” and the “few” would fill 2 or 3 cartons.

When the moving van driver called from the road the afternoon before the delivery, it was clear he had been charmed by my sisters.  Men who are easily charmed by my sisters are LIFELONG REDFLAG NUMBER ONE for me.  “I think your sisters have a few surprises for you on there,” he chortled.  My head sunk into my hands.  “Oh goody,” I said weakly.

I will cut to the chase.  The “surprises” included 22 sealed boxes.  My husband, who routinely adores my sisters even when I don’t, was furious. I good naturedly chalked it up to Family Humor and could not wait to dig in.   And after yoga on Saturday I did.  And within an hour I was fuming.  My sisters had sent me 22 boxes of books.  Not just my books.  Not just my books and my husband’s books.  Everyone‘s books for all times.  As one of my neighbors said as he surveyed the collection we spread out on the sidewalks in front of our house, ” I feel as if I am looking at someone’s entire intellectual history,” he paused, “…. or maybe several people’s?”  Yes, several people’s.   I had books stamped with the names of colleges and high schools I had never attended and in languages I do not speak.  I had books from professions in which I am not licensed to practice.  I had my mother’s books, my father’s books, books belonging to sisters, books belonging to grandparents.  My personal favorite category was a large one: books belonging to the old lady my parents bought our family home from IN THE 1960s.  By noon I was pissed and my husband was laughing, reminding me that it was Family Humor.

I spread the libraries out on the sidewalk, listed the mess on freecycle .  It was a holiday weekend and we live near the entrance to a popular park path down to the lake.  I sat back on the porch  to nurse my annoyance think dark thoughts about my sisters and their motives.   I located The Story of Stuff link www.facebook.com/storyofstuff  and posted it on my Facebook,  then tapped this out: “I have spent the day with Stuff – The Stuff and Politics of my family’s personal histories.  It was enough to push me to seek out this link and post.  My current motto is ‘shed, shed, shed.'” Six minutes later I realized I was madder than I had conveyed, but the situation was also a lot funnier than I had conveyed, so I posted this:

BTW if you live in [THIS CITY]  and want 22 boxes of hardcover books – stop by.  History, cooking, classic novels, politics.  Nature.  Art history, spy novels.  Text books from Our Lady of Mercy, Niagara, Georgetown, Mt. Holyoke, This City Academy, Amherst.  Books from the 1940s thru the early ’80s our specialty (apparently).  Women’s studies! The Making of a Liberal 1-2-3 (that’s a category, not a title).  Old SAT scores, awards.  Handwritten letters from many of you relating old loves and emotions, old scores, diets, anxieties and hilarity – but mostly long tracks of friendship.

Really?  The mess and what it represented were getting to me.    A long lost middle school friend now living in Ohio wrote back, “Always hang on to the long tracks of friendships ~~and, oh, the Mercy text books~~hugs to you.”  I softened my heart a little and my head a lot. I was beginning to vibrate love.

The next night I posted the following :

After sounding a bit grouchy about the politics of stuff and my fresh-off-the-moving-van 22 carton book collection  – I thought I should report the delight of watching two boys discover the 1970s Time Life series on ancient civilizations and cart all 12 volumes home in their skinny arms. Most of Judy B s cookbooks have also walked off the sidewalks into new kitchens.  Most importantly, the weekend front porch giveaway  also inspired dozens of conversations regarding books, reading and life with passers by. 

Emme, one of the pillars in my life, wrote back wisely, “Books always bring their own magic.”  And Elle, another pillar, wrote, “Judy B is creating a whole new batch of cooks.  Her legend lives on.”  

I rescued a few of the remaining volumes from the sidewalks and went to bed, vibrating love.

If a mother cries out in cyberspace, will it make a sound?

Quai des brumes...!!!

Image by Denis Collette...!!! via Flickr

Subtitle:  “Born to Blog Under a Pseudonym” or “My Path to Now”

I was born to blog.  Some  might say I have been blogging since long before “Al Gore Invented the Internet.”  Harriet the Spy was my childhood heroine.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harriet_the_Spy  Yes, I was the one in the hoody, hunched over the notebook chronicling the late  1960s and the 1970s in Upstate New York and Ontario.  My family rolled eyes, cringed and made paranoid comments in stage whispers.  The compulsion continued and I have innumerable volumes tucked away in locked trunks and sealed envelopes on my property in An Unnamed West Coast City.  One of my sisters and one of my best friends are under strict orders to destroy them when the earthly me disappears.  Most of the volumes are too tender for me to revisit.  And I have warned everyone who might be implicated in them, journals entries are moments in time.  Those moments weren’t intended for you and I can’t help you if you take them forcibly from the pages.  My husband of 21 years read one of those journals once.  25 years ago.  I married him anyway, but the moments in time he took away from them still rear their ugly heads occasionally – so many life chapters later.

But that is a soft launch to what this blog might be about.  I am a mother.  Oh yes, I am a licensed professional too.  A wife, daughter, friend, sister, citizen of the planet, neighbor, school volunteer, yogi, runner, short order cook, reader, board member, credible downhill skiier, left wing liberal, and investor too.  I am over-opinionated, sometimes razor-tongued, maintain friendships and business relationships “forever” and have a high tolerance for the chaos and hilarity of raising children and my past. For a long time, I think many would have looked at this snapshot and said, “Lucky.”  Lately , however, I   learned that  my eldest (18) (1) has regularly used drugs of varying strengths since he was 13;  and (2) stolen from us to support the habit; and (3) dropped out of h.s.   We then  (4) put him in rehab on an emergency basis; (5) got a call telling us  he had been kicked out of rehab ; and then (6) had to pick him up also on an emergency basis.   Then  I (7) returned to work 4 days later after holding him prisoner for as long as I could at our cabin, only to (7) receive a call that my 74 year old not-ill mother had died peacefully  in her sleep.  From there I  (8) raced  East with junkie in tow, rest of family following; and   (9) celebrated, eulogized and cremated my mother (not necessarily in that order).  Only to get, by week’s end, to (10) having junkie son relapse on deceased mother’s alcohol.  (11) Attended a dizzying number of AA meetings with son who seemed to have at least drunken the AA Kool Aid before he was kicked out of rehab; and (12) got him re-enrolled in a program that would allow him to finish h.s. almost timely – for  a price.  Somewhere along the way he decided; (13) “Sobriety is not for me at this time of my life,” and (14) Neither is family life, at least not this family’s life.  So he (15) moved out to the streets, he says, until he (16)    found an apartment with a girl who apparently has no last name or job ; and (17) discovered food stamps.  But he did (18) graduate from h.s. And all this before the summer solstice!