IMG_7831My son turned sixteen 13 days ago.

I think I’m still getting acclimated to the idea. Or maybe I am just so glad we are here. There was a time when he threatened suicide, tore into me with such anger and malice I didn’t know who he was.

He went to therapy resistant, but left after six months with something…settled.  He has never talked to me about those sessions.  He has said only, “Thank you for making me go. It helped.”

It’s not that he isn’t mature enough to be 16.  This is the kid his sister and I call our “80 year old.”  He accuses me of being a middle-schooler.  He’s my rock, my common sense, my partner in crime.

At 16, grounded, ready to tackle his future even if it terrifies him, able to accept my leadership in the house and respect me for who I am and what I do, supportive of me and his sister even while accepting and needing our support, I can easily call him a good friend.  We are fully able ot navigate the boundaries between mother and son and friends.

I’ve felt a kinship with him since around the end of my first trimester, when I first felt HIS presence: something that went beyond his fluttering movements and–what I am certain were his–cravings for meat, meat and more meat.

This kid will never be vegetarian.Image15

There was a way he looked at the world, if you can say that, even then, when my womb was
his home.  I could feel him still and listening.  If he could see–maybe he could see light and shadow–he would be watching.  Two years after his birth, we spent inordinate amounts of time sitting on our hill outside the house watching cars go by, birds twitter in the trees, clouds move.

He will still lean onto the back of the couch and look out the window for moments at a time.  He looks like a man, leaning there, the hint of a beard glinting in the sunlight, his shoulders wide.

His infant self would fit across the breadth of his back.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, a friend gave me a photo of my son and I walking in the lake that last summer it was just the two of us.  We were holding hands and obviously in as intense a discussion as you can be with a three year old.  I have no idea what we were talking about.  But we did that a lot, just walked and talked.

Later still, when I started letting him take walks around the neighborhood, he liked me to come with him at least three times a week.  We haven’t held hands since he was 8 or 9.  But we still talked, anything from his ideas for stories to the current state of politics.

Now he comes upstairs when I get home from school and sits at the kitchen counter while I ready dinner and talks.  Or he calls me when I am doing errands, if I won’t be home until late.  Or, my personal favorite, he emails me during class at school, usually when he’s bored and often when he’s supposed to be doing something else.

DSC_0590He’ll run on about what is going on in his world, and then he’ll say, “Enough about me.  How is your day going?”

Someday, he will make an excellent relationship partner.

When I woke up 13 days ago, I remembered the first moments of his life outside my womb: he never cried.  His eyes were open: big, wide, baby-blue.  He just stared at everything going on around him, and then he laid his eyes on me.  He didn’t do anything miraculous or amazing.  He just stared.  But even then I felt like we recognized each other.

Even then, I felt like he was just waiting for the moment he could tell me about his day.


Walk the Line

Going on an adventure with teenagers is always like walking a tightrope.  Maybe I’ve said it before in this blog.  It’s a running reminder in my head, so I probably say it a lot.

It doesn’t matter if they requested said adventure.

If something gets up their butts before the adventure, or on the way to the adventure, or during the adventure, the entire adventure turns into THEM.

If you happily blocked out all memories of being an adolescent as soon as you were able to legally drink, I’m jealous.

I remember my own adolescence vividly, at least the enormity of many emotions: how HUGE and ugly I felt my body was; how DESPERATELY I loved the boy who sat in front of me in Spanish.  How HORRIBLE my day became when I reached out to him and he did not return the favor (my expectations were so blown out of proportion he would have needed to declare his love for me in a song while playing guitar on one knee.  And then I would have been HORRIBLY embarrassed).  How PASSIONATE I felt when I was singing, acting, building sets, writing, or anything that let loose my creativity. How DIFFICULT the day was when anything didn’t go the way I had envisoned it (and since I was way, way high on manic mode or way, way, low in depression, my visions were usually out of whack anyway).

So, I get my own teenagers’ angst.  I do.  Which is maybe why I can easily sympathize and, when necessary, ignore.

A lot of ignoring is required, but it also needs to be subtle, so they don’t really notice. Because I also remember the shriek of my adolescent soul when I was convinced my emotions were being ignored.

The kids were all for the hike, until we arrived, when my son was struck with stomach pains (me, pre-hike: “Perhaps you should have some protein with those six cinnamon rolls?” Him: “I’m good”) and my daughter saw all the dogs on the trail and realized what a HORRIBLE person I was for not inviting our dog.


The Beginning, when The Teenagers Suddenly Realized Life Sucks.

Our dog, a Chihuahua/Basenji mix, would not have liked the gravel path, cold, or rain, but that was not the point, OMG.

I offered sympathies and apologies, but when they are deep into their angst, I am no longer allowed to touch them.  Or walk with them.

For at least the first mile everyone had their own space.  My son stalked ahead of me, occasionally stopping (when I was in eyesight) to lean over and groan; my daughter lagged behind me, dragging a strip of bark like a sad tail and singing songs about her sad dog alone at home.

I listened to the wind through the trees and the birds in the trees.  There really is no better music. Plus I rewrote the lyrics to Johnny Cash’s “Walk the Line” (which, also, I realize now, has some Guns n Roses in there…OK, so not an original creation….):

I keep a close watch on this child of mine.
I keep my heart wide open all the time.
I love to see that smile hiding in your eyes.
Because you’re my child, I will walk the line.

I find it very, very easy to wait for you.
I find myself alone many days we go through.
Yes, I’ll admit that I’m a fool for you.
Because you’re my sweet child, I will walk the line.

At some point, my daughter decided to join me, mainly so she could whisper smack about her brother’s drama.  I was careful how I pointed out that it takes one to know one.  Soon, my son joined our group, too; he either felt better or decided to suck it up so that he could harrass his sister, who had obviously gone lone enough without being harrassed.

The return trip was full of laughter and cameraderie and friendship, and that didn’t even change when our first choice of restuarant was packed and we had to drive another 15 minutes to get to our second choice (I’d add photos, but WordPress apparently no longer allows vertical perspective photos, or at least I can’t figure out how to rotate them once in this blog).

But home, now, is quiet: we’ve spent enough time together–for a little while, at least.  One is in her room making videos on music.ally, and the other is in the office laughing at what are probably political boards and memes.

And here I am, thankful for the strong memories of my own adolescence, despite the juxtaposed, sharp angled shadows of fear and pain that goes along with them, and later reflection on it, so I can be the main point of balance while my kids walk their own line.

Soft Focus

When talking about this blog to a friend recently, she said, “You just need to decide what you want to focus on.  Parenting?  Being a writer?  A teacher?  Education issues?”  (Disclaimer: I’m paraphrasing, but this was the general meaning).

I’ve been lax in writing this blog because I’ve been thinking about that question. My answer?

I don’t focus. Not in writing or life. To use a cliche, I want it all. Or maybe a better phrase is…I don’t want to close any doors. I want what I want when I want it. And sometimes what I want, when I want it, is just as much a surprise to me as it is to everyone else.

Life is my bucket list.

I have goals I am working towards now, and I do have things I want to do later. But…will I actually finish those current goals? Will I ever get to those things I want later? Maybe. Sometimes what I want shifts before I am done with what I am working towards. If I were looking at a photo of my life, I’d start to drift away from the subject in the focus in the foreground and want to find out what the hell all that life in the background was about. I don’t lose focus so much as shift that focus.

When I left high school, my focus was to become a world-renowned photojournalist, specifically interviewing/photographing both musicians for Playboy and victims of war  for Time (one brings me up, one brings me down; I’ve always liked balance). I would live in Paris with my three adopted children and many lovers and write fiction novels on the side.

I can’t say that was a pipe dream anymore than the rest of my life. As life unfolded, the background of my self-portrait changed. The background of a Paris cafe with my adopted children scampering around the Eiffel Tower while I interviewed Axl Rose shifted, and I wanted to see what that was all about.

Thirty years later, I am here: single again after being married for 25 years, two kids, former PTSA president, a house in the suburbs, teaching again after being a stay-at-home mother for 14 years, becoming re-acquainted with the music scene, looking at a path ahead which soon enough includes fully independent children.

There’s a lot in the background of my self-portrait right now, a lot I want to do. And a lot is a blur at the edge of the photograph. I’m curious about that, even if I don’t know what it is. Will I do any of it? If it feels right. If there is a path, a spark of light, that takes me to it.

Perhaps if I could maintain focus, I’d have the follow-up to Reunion at Lake Whisper, completed already. Perhaps I’d be a premier journalist with press passes to every show that graced Madison Square Garden. Or be on the Senate floor advocating for educational issues.

But…perhaps I’ll hike through the Olympic National Forest. Or publish a book of poems and go on tour, travelling from indy bookstore to indy bookstore reading to my twelve fans. Perhaps I’ll find a lover in Paris. Perhaps I’ll shuttle between suburban home and a condo in the city, writing, teaching, travelling….learning.

So…what is my focus on this blog?



Gorilla Bones

This morning, I awoke to news that Alan Rickman had passed away.

Ealier in the week, I had broken the news to my kids abou David Bowie, not really expecting any kind of reaction, because they usually have no interest in my “old people” music or “old people entertainers.”

However, my son surprised me by being a closet-Bowie fan and being about as upset as a 15 year old boy will admit to being about this sort of thing.  Or, anything.  He said, and I do quote exactly, “Yeah, I’m really upset. I really like him.  Especially ‘The Man Who Sold the World.’ When are we eating?” The reason I know he was definitely truly upset was because he asked about dinner after he stated his emotions.  If you have a teenage son, you will understand this.  If you don’t…trust me.  It’s a huge emotional give, putting food AFTER emotions.  I was worried about him.  Thankfully, his appetite didn’t appear to be affected.

So, this morning, when I read about Alan Rickman, I was immediately concerned for my daughter.  If her brother was so highly emotive about David Bowie, I feared my daughter’s reaction regarding Alan Rickman.  She was a huge Harry Potter movie fan.  And, she also feels everything.  EVERYTHING.  Someone is always saying something/looking at her weird/making her happy/making her sad/everything in between.

It doesn’t take much for the end of the world to be imminent for 12 year old girls.

How would she take Professor Snape dying?  I had no idea.  My son surprises me constantly.  My daughter often scares me.

However, morning was not the way to go for sharing, since she wasn’t exactly a morning person under the best circumstances.  When I was a kid, my sister would burn holes into my soul with a single glance over her cereal bowl.  My daughter had inherited that skill and taken it up a notch.

This morning, after having to literally rip the covers off of her in order to get her to wake up, I pushed her French Toast in front of her and then studied my emails intently so as to avoid her devil glare and jutted out lip on which she could land aircraft carriers.

Suddenly, she cried out, “No.  No!  Noooooo!  I can’t!  I.Just.Can’t!”

I looked up and said, “Sweety?”

But she is gone, running to her room and slamming the door.  Then the heaving sobs begin.

Shit, I think.  She found out about Professor Snape.

I debate just going about my business and hoping it will pass.  It’s worked before.  Well, OK, not really.  But I am nothing if not an eternal optimist.

Maybe she just needs a hug, I tell myself

Tentatively, as if approaching a rabid dragon’s lair, I knock on her door and enter.  “Sweety?” I say.  “What happened?”


“Oh, sweeety,” I said. “I’m so sorry you’re feeling this way.” Right now is crucial: she let me in, but if I mistake what we’re talking about, peace will not reign. Even though I am certain a friend texted her about Professor Snape, she needs to tell me for herself.  With a pre-teen girl, “assume” means “Assume a defensive position because you are about to die.”

“Can you tell me what happened?”

There is a long pause and then she growls out something that sounded like “blue blooded mewling.”

OMG, I think.  It’s definitely Alan Rickman.  He was a knight, wasn’t he?  At least British.  There’s the blue blood.  The mewling?  I don’t really understand.  Perhaps some new lingo that she and her friends made up.  It happens all the time, slang flashes in and out of existence as they develop private jokes between them.  She comes home and tries them out on me and her brother, until we explain to her what she is REALLY saying.

Still.  She needs to say the words.

“So awful,” she mutters.  And then something that sounds like “The mounds are blueing and blueing and blueing!”

“Oh, sweety,” I say.  My go-to in all situations anymore.  “I’m sorry.  Come on, let’s go eat, and we’ll talk about it.”

“Nooooooo!” she cries, raising her hands to ward me off as if I am the livinng embodiment of the pox.  “I can’t bare it!”

“Oh, sweety.”  I have no idea what she is talking about, and time is ticking.  It’s time to make a move and hope for the best. I move closer, try to wrap my arms around her shoulders.  “He would want you to eat.”


Her head lifts.  Eyes like dark emeralds turn my veins ice cold.  “You aren’t LIStening,” she snarls.  “You don’t UNderSTAND.”

“No,” I say with what I hope is conviction and yet humility.  “But I’d like to.”

Then I pray to Hera, Athena, Bast, Freya, the Virgin Mary, and generally any female spiritual entity that might be listening and take compassion on me.

Luck was with me: my daughter heaved a deep sigh, scoots backwards, and looked up at me with tears glimmering in the corner of her eyes.

“It’s your chewing,” she says.

“Oh, sweet–wait.  What?”

“Your. Chewing.”  My daughter blinks up at me.  “I didn’t want to tell you.  But I can’t stand the sound of it today.”

“My–wait.  You didn’t get a text from Marisa?”

She stares at me.  “Why would Marisa text me NOW?”

“I–well, I thought it was bad news.  Like, homework.  Or a test.  Or–I don’t know.  You said you couldn’t bare it.  You said you couldn’t go on.”

She stares some more.  “Could you go on if a gorilla was eating bones next to you?”

“Bones–.”  I was eating eggs.  Like every morning.

“It’s what you sounded like.  I kept waiting for you to shed your skin and show your gorilla self.”

I take a deep breath. “OK,” I say.  “Well, I’m done.  So you come in and eat, and I’ll go get dressed.”

Another deep sigh is unleashed from the ancient weariness within her 12 year old chest.  “OK,” she says.

Later, when I do tell her about Alan Rickman, she has a moment of silence before informing me that he was also the bad guy in ‘Die Hard’ and he did a lot of other thing, YOU KNOW, besides just Harry Potter.  Then she scrambles for her phone to text her bestie the latest.

No sighs.  No cries of “I can’t bare it!”  Somewhere, I am certain, Alan Rickman is not only giving her a thumbs up for her performance, but totally understanding that he just doesn’t rank with gorillas disguised as mothers eating bones for breakfast.






I’ve had the most fantastic Christmas break.  Truly.  My kids have been with me practically 24-7.  My daughter has moved back into my room.  My son has spent several hours a day (if we add it all up) talking to me about politics and history and things he’s reading and games he’s playing and stories he’s writing and….you wouldn’t know to see him at a party, hunkered in a corner with his DS, but he’s quite the talker when he feels comfortable.

Yes, there have been moments I have locked the bathroom door and spent an inordinate amount of time in there, so that one day my daughter asked if she should call someone for me.

Yes, there have been days when I have practically run out of the house for coffee/groceries/a walk with a friend.

And, after taking them down to Portland to see their dad last weekend, and very actively listening to their issues regarding that visit the entire three hours home, I almost literally dumped them at the house and went to meet friends for a birthday celebration, from which I did not return until after 2 a.m.

But overall, I’ve enjoyed every minute of our time together.

When I do go out, old and new friends will often say to me, “You managed to get away from the kids?!” or “You spend a lot of time with your kids…”

My replies range from humor to an attempt at humorous anger to distraction, depending on my mood, honestly.  I realized recently, after a newer friend said something similar and I answered in my similar way, that I don’t ever just say, “Yes.  Yes, I did ‘manage’ to get away from them.  They are 15 and 12, and I can literally leave random food in the fridge for them and they will figure it out.

“And yes, yes I do spend a lot of time with them.  Because they are fucking fantastic and amazing and funny.  And if you put the time in, they let you do what you want when you want to do it. And…I LIKE them. ”

We’ve been through a lot together.  And when they take off to find their own dreams–because I know they will, I have not raised them to NOT–I will be so, so proud.  And yes, I will miss them horribly.  But I will know they will be OK, because I will KNOW them.  And they will keep me in their lives, because I will keep them in my life.

There was a painting of a beautiful lady surrounded by children in a field of flowers hanging in my aunt’s stairway when I was growing up.  The lady and the children were joyful, and it was clear to me they had an amazing, loving bond.  The painting, I felt, reflected who my aunt was with her kids.  I went up and down that stairway dozens of times a week until I was in my teens, and I always stopped and gave that painting a few seconds of my tyime.  As I got older, and I started babysitting, I began to understand the amount of time the painting lady had to put in to find that joy with her children.  I also understood the story at the edges of the painting probably had the kids screeching and crying and the lady drop-dead exhausted and wanting to rip all the flowers out of the damn field quite often.

But I still wanted what she had, what my aunt had.  And, while I may not have 6 children, I have that with my two.

So, yes, I ‘manage’ to get away from them.  Quite a lot, some weeks.  They are OK with it, because yes, I do spend a lot of time with them.  It’s an investment.  For the now, when I want it, and also for the future.

You see me stuck in that painting.  I see the entire story.



Source: The Risks of Critical Thinking

I recently read an article in which the author, a professor of science, deplored the pitfalls of teaching students critical thinking skills: eventually, the students begin to doubt everything, even the techer’s knowledge and experiences. When I read the title of the article, my thoughts snapped out of “Mom in her PJs Drinking Coffee” to my alter ego, “Defender of Teaching Our Students Conscious Choices and Critical Thinking.”

I’m working on the name. But this persona is really tall, she wears super cool boots and can run really fast. In her boots, even. Not that she needs to run. She spends a lot of time standing in front of schools and ranting about how we teach our students in this country. Or don’t, as the case may be. She wears sharp fitted business suits and her hair always looks fabulous. Plus, her children are standing beside her in support and awe of her, not telling her “the hamburgers taste funny” or “you forgot to put money on my lunch card” or “by the way, the dog peed on the carpet awhile ago but it’s not my turn to clean it up.”

You see the difference.

The Defender wanted to write a rant-y response to this article on Facebook RIGHT.THEN. She’s rather impetuous. Instead, I advised that we actually read the entire article first, because that would be really funny, if we went and ranted about another author criticzing teaching critical thinking skills when we never actually read what was written.  Get it?

I got the author’s viewpoint, after reading the article, and The Defender, while not backing down completely, settled for a quiet rumble in the back of my head.

Basically, the author states that, after spending a lot of time teaching his students not to believe everything they read in regards to scientific discoveries, they don’t just doubt the sketchy things they read; they doubt everything.  Instead of believing we are on the edge of discovering the secrets of the universe, they are doubting we are truly gearing up for a future manned Mars mission, much less actually landed on the moon. In fact, they don’t even trust the author’s word now.

I like the part about the students learning not to believe everything they read. Love this, actually. But.

(You knew there would be a ‘but.’)

The Defender is all up in arms again (she really is quite excitable).  She has a lot of questions: were only the skeptical viewpoints pushed? Did the author tell the students what was hinky about certain stories in the media or let them figure it out? Did he bring in opposing viewpoints and let the students work through it, or tell them what he thought?

Getting students to question what they read, hear and see is stellar.  It is fabulous. But, see, it’s not necessarily teaching critical thinking skills.  It’s teaching one side of things.

I calm down The Defender by reminding her that she has no idea what went on in that classroom. Jumping to conclusions is, again, not effecting good critical thinking skills. After all, the author’s article is written with his goal in mind, so how he actually taught or what he actually taught is going to be one-sided. But IF just one side was pushed in that classroom, that’s not teaching critical thinking skills. That’s teaching opinion.  Opinion can be backed up, but that still doesn’t mean it’s a fact. If true critical thinking skills WERE taught (providing both sides and allowing students to draw conclusions), then maybe a different title is needed, because as isthe title could cause inflammatory responses just like the media being criticized does (The Defender cannot be the only excitable one out there).

True critical thinking skills are not just showing students that the opposite of what they think is true. It’s teaching them to question, and then to make their own decisions. It’s teaching them to evaluate texts or media, or actions of people, consider the sources, and draw conclusions not based on what the teacher, their parents or friends say, but what they believe based on their inferences, deductions and observations.

It’s giving them both viewpoints–or multiple viewpoints, if there are more than just two sides–and discussing them. A teacher teaching critical thinking skills does not actually want to teach his opinion. He or she is just the moderator, the presenter of all information. Is there a lesson the teacher is trying to get towards?  Possibly. It shouldn’t be hard statements, though, such as “Science is not evolving as fast as the media makes it sound like, or “Shakespeare is the best playwright ever.”  Lessons that teach critical thinking skills should be more along the lines of a theme, a main idea: “The media wll exaggerate stories to draw readers.”  “Shakespeare’s plays have lasted through time because of the humanity he brings to his characters.”

The rest is all opinion, and you and your students should all have one.

Does this mean they will sometimes start to question their teachers, parents and friends?  If they’ve been taught correctly, yes.  Yes, please.  Does this mean sometimes they will draw conclusions that are different from yours?  Yes, please.  Does this mean that, at some point, they will actually begin to question your lessons and teachings?  Oh, please, yes.

If we are doing our job as educators, we will learn just as much from our students as they will from us. And yes, sometimes they will walk away, as a group, doubting everything. Even you. But, as The Defender will impress on you if you give her half a chance: going out into the world and doubting everything is so far, far better then simply believing anything.


liam drivesBeing a parent is scary.

Today was the first time I drove with my son when I didn’t have to clamp my mouth shut to avoid screaming.

I started him driving last July in parking lots.  My son could care less about driving.  If we lived in a town where public transportation could get him to where he will be going for classes next year, he wouldn’t bother.  But after we looked at the bus routes, he decided learning to drive was the lesser of two evils.

The only memory I have of driving with either of my parents was the very first time my dad put me behind the wheel: both my younger siblings were in the back seat.  My dad stopped at one end of a straight road a block from our house. He made me drive to the stop sign at the other end, probably about a quarter of a mile, if that.  My sister ducked in the back seat and screamed the entire time, and my brother was yelling, “Help, help, help!”   It wasn’t a fun memory, for me.   The only other memory I have of learning to drive involved getting on what passed for the highway in my little cowtown, with my Driver’s Ed teacher and two other students in the back.  Apparently I was approaching a red light without slowing down.  That’s what I was told, anyway. But it was the only stoplight in town, and it was my first stoplight, so, I wasn’t used to it.  My instructor had to step on his special right hand instructor brake.  There was screaming that time, too.

I wanted to give my son better memories.  And how difficult could it be? I’m a good teacher.  I’ve taught people to do things I don’t even know how to do (calculus; spreadsheets) simply by asking the right questions and giving them confidence.

We started out in parking lots. He did great.  He’s logical and practical and cool and calm in a crisis.  More importantly, I did great.  I didn’t yell at him even once, even though I really wanted to, many times. This is easy, thought the Live-in-the-Moment part of me.  And on its heels would come my Wise Self, saying, Don’t get ahead of yourself.  You’re in a parking lot.

As my son gained confidence, I found larger and larger parking lots.  The last one we drove in was the parking lot of a church that appeared to be a small city unto itself.  There was the church, and then several other outbuildings. There were bus terminals for shuttle pickups and one way lanes and a lot of cars there, even at night.  When my son stopped saying, “This church scares me, Mom,” while we drove through its many parking lanes and aisles, and he began pretending he was a shuttle, pulling up to the empty bays and looking around for any “brainwashed cultists,” I knew it was time for him to hit the streets.

My Live-in-the-Moment self scuttled away, to the far recesses of my mind, because I felt sudden and surprising terror in my heart at the idea of driving on the streets with this child who could not find the orange juice in the fridge if it was hidden by the iced tea.  My Wise Self told me again to calm down, but she was kind of snickering, too.  Sometimes, she’s not very nice for a Wise Self.

The first time I let me son loose on the actual streets, I had him drive through our neighborhood.  He almost took out a mailbox, and in a cul-de-sac, lined with cars parked at the curb, I thought I might faint from breathing yoga-style too fast, mouth clamped shut, one hand gripping the jump bar of the car door and the other tucked under my thigh where it wouldn’t grab the steering wheel.

The drive was spontaneous after I picked up my daughter from school.  My son said it was fine that his sister was in the truck, but without realizing it, I’d re-created my own first-driving experience.  My daughter huddled in the back seat and alternately laughed, screamed and cried out “Help, HELLLLPPPP!”

But my son’s been doing great.  So have I.

The one time he almost took out the parked car was partially my fault, as I was bereft of words when he took the corner too wide and fast and the rear of the Prius loomed large on my side of the truck.  My hand gestures and weird strangled noises in the bottom of my throat apparently made no sense to him.  Still, he got himself out of the near-problem while laughing at me.

Like I said, cool and calm in a crisis.

Me? I find myself longing for a cigarette quite often.  I don’t smoke, but even a straight shot of tequila wouldn’t, I am certain, be what I need.

Today, I felt something new about my son–something more confident and easy in his manner.  So I suggested we drive to the next town over, which involves going 40–yeah, 40–mph and more traffic as well as several blind curves.  I’d offered this before, and he’d said “NO.”  Today he said, “OK.”

“Oooh,” he said as we hit the 40 mph sign.  “This is fast.”  Then a few seconds later, “It’s fun.  Wheeee!”  I said nothing, except when we got into town and needed to slow down and he wasn’t.  Then I just said easily, “Slow down.”  And he did, without jerking the truck or making me suck air through my teeth.  He did great.  But he’s always done great at anything he’s decided to do, whether or not he actually wants to do it.

Me? I might not need to take up smoking after all.

Stay the Course

Warning: clumsy writing ahead.  If I wait to write this until I’m done processing, decades will have happened.

The mother of a dear friend passed away last week.

I have known the family since I was 6, when my friend decided she saw something worthy in me worthy. We lived down the street from each other, so I would spend quite a bit of time at her house, and vice versa, all the way through junior high, at least. It was my friend who introduced me to cheesecake, or rather a healthier version of it, which her mom made from scratch and used to pack in her lunch or let us have for after-school snack.

My friend’s house was so calm compared to mine. Her parents were laid back and low-key.  Not without an energy–they had plenty of energy–but it was strong and steady versus herky jerky, vibrant versus vitriolic.

I wasn’t there 24/7, of course. Perhaps my friend and her family had knock-down drag-outs several times a week, as my family did. My house had moments of calm, too, but there was, I felt, underlying tension often. I know my friend’s dad could and did raise his voice, as could her mother, when it was warranted. But it was warranted; it made sense even if I didn’t like it.  I felt at peace when at their home, as if I were floating down a strong, steady river versus navigating the clashing, banging white water rapids my own home often felt like.

My friend and I drifted as got older, quite possibly because I began to seek the clashing, banging rapids with which I was familiar, and the calm–any calm– made me nervous.  We fear the unknown, even if the unknown makes more sense.

Still, my friend and I stayed in touch, and I always tried to see her and her parents when I was in town.  The parents became first names as we grew older, and Judy–my friend’s mom–and I emailed here and there, upon the birth of my children, her grandchildren–she was so very proud of her son and daughter, their spouses, and each and every one of her grandchildren.

Judy had a whole life that I was only marginally aware of: she sang at gigs regularly around town with a partner and friends, she had a huge circle of devoted friends and family, she and her husband were the inveterate team. And yet, Judy never failed to be interested in my life, what I was doing with it, where I had been, and she also never, ever failed to ask me about my writing. As long as I’d known her, she stopped me in my tracks, held me in the moment, stilled my own crackle-and-pop-and-let’s-move-to-the-next-boulder need, even if just for a second or two (that’s a lot, for me).

When I saw Judy last summer, exhausted and weary from my own recent life changes, she was vibrant energy that seeped into my bones versus ringing against them.  We sat in her living room that was both so familiar and so different, with her daughter and granddaughters.  Her husband wandered in and mentioned he might have “wiped” the computer.  “He’s always wiping it,” one of the girls said.  I was holding my breath, waiting for someone to explode or for the energy in the room to shift into negative. Judy met my eyes and smiled.  I let out my breath.  We slipped around the next bend in the river at a pace that let me breathe.

And I thought, I want this….

In the last year, I have found my way to a strong, steady river.  My kids and I aren’t riding out the current with the hope that it’s the last, only to find out there are even sharper-edged boulders just around the bend. Don’t get me wrong: we all love to sink our teeth into a good rapids every now and then (erm…probably me and my daughter more than my son).  But we are capable of sitting in the living room, just being.

Whenever I’ve doubted my ability to find the balance, I think of eating graham cracker crust cheesecake in Judy’s kitchen after school, running around her house with her daughter and son in a crazy game of tag–doors slamming and feet pounding and no one getting angry, overflowing their toilet one time and Judy laughing about it (overflowing toilets in my house were not laughing matters), sitting in her living room with her daughter and her granddaughters, holding the moment, staying the course.

I wanted to attend Judy’s memorial back home last week more than anything. I could have made it work. It’s in my nature to go for the rapids, force the chaos.  I can always make anything work.

But I’ve been trying to slow down, let the moments unfold instead of forcing them, pay attention to how I feel about entering the rapids whenever I have a choice.  In this moment, I’d be dragging my kids, several close friends and their kids into the rapids with me, and I didn’t like that.

Crying, I whispered into my hands, “I want to do this, Judy, but I just don’t think I can.”

And I heard her.  Clear as the waters that run from the mountains out here.  She was in my head and my heart and ran through my soul like a warm spring day.  She said, “Just take care of your kids.  Spend this day with them.  Don’t worry about this.”

The day of Judy’s memorial, I took my kids to the fair. My daughter spent an enormous amount of time petting a baby donkey, and my son ate much of what was available along the main causeway. We talked about music and books and the best parts of the summer and what the next year would bring.  We drove for an hour round trip and spent an hour and a half at the fair.  My son snapped at me, and I rolled my eyes and smiled and we moved on.  We sat in traffic and I schooled them in U2. We did not go on any rides.  This year, we weren’t interested in the adrenaline. We laughed.

There are, I’m sure, plenty of jagged rocks ahead of us that we can’t see yet.  And plenty of rapids that we will choose to sail into. I know Judy had her own rapids–her life wasn’t all gentle waters, and I am certain she didn’t live nearly as long as she wanted to.  But she also chose her rapids as much as she was able, and choice or not, I believe she faced as much as she could with grace and humor.

So.  I will hold my own course along this wide, steady river, even when the quiet makes me nervous. And I will face as much as I can with laughter and grace–and, as often as I can, cheesecake.



Beauty and the Beast

I went school clothes shopping with my daughter.

She is…gorgeous.  And she knows it.  And is thrilled with it.  She did a little dance in the fitting room, and then I had to take several photos of her posing.

Much of her newfound self-appreciation has to do with how confident she feels about herself after working as a stablehand all summer.  She fed, watered, and mucked out stalls for 15 horses.  She tacked, untacked, and cleaned tack.  She rode a horse that was not the one she grew up with, and she finally learned to get past her grief over her childhood horse’s death.  She learned to accept the current horse, Ginger, for who Ginger was, baggage and all, by realizing she has her own baggage, and perhaps she and Ginger are kindred spirits.  There will never be another Tex for my daughter.  But there can be more horses.  The end of Tex doesn’t mean the end of riding, after all.

She felt her body get stronger, carrying water, dumping troughs, tightening girths.  And she realized it didn’t matter if she had a big booty or a short torso or maybe she wasn’t as tall as she wanted to be.  She was strong, and strong girls get things done.

She felt worthy, and needed, and loved, and she stopped being afraid that, if she did something wrong, people would leave her alone.

I watched her shed her baggy athletic clothes she’s been hiding in for several years after a boy at school told her she had a “fat butt,” and girls at school told her “You’re no skinny minny, are you?”

I watched her hold her head high while wearing a dress and stare at her profile in the mirror and flex her biceps.

I watched her grow from the inside out.

I didn’t think we’d ever get here. Her confidence was shot when her dad moved out.  She felt at fault for his departure, because she takes on the weight of the world.  She and her best friend whom she’d had from the time she was three drifted apart.  A family friend, whom she had bonded with and thought of as something akin to an uncle, began pulling away at the same time, for his own reasons that had nothing to do with her, but she didn’t see that.  She only saw everyone around her leaving.  And she was certain it was because she was fat, and dumb, and ugly.

Her therapist worked with her, and I worked with her more.  Her brother stepped in to take the place of her father and her “uncle” and her best friend.  Don’t tell me I shouldn’t have let him: that’s who he is.  It made him feel good, especially when she started to laugh again.

At middle school orientation last week, most of the moms I was with were teary-eyed.  Our babies were growing up. I appreciated the sentiment but didn’t feel much more than that.

photo 3Watching her dance around in the dressing room, wearing skinny jeans and a close-fitting top, singing, “Who’s hot? I’m hot; that’s right, I’m hot!” to the mirror, I teared up.

I didn’t think we’d ever get here.

“Oh, Mommy!” she said, seeing my expression and mistaking it for regret versus teary-eyed pride.  “Hugs! It’ll be OK.  I wish you were young and beautiful, too.”

My tears dried up.

The last couple of weeks have hit me hard in various ways.  Her comment, meant as reassurance, dug deeper then it should have.

I struggled for patience and grace and also bought key lime pie truffles.  “You are beautiful,” I said to my daughter as I snarfed 4 truffles in under five minutes. “But a lot of it is your inner beauty shining through.”

“Uh-huh,” she said, eyeing me and my truffles.  “Do you feel beautiful, Mommy?”

“Most of the time,” I said, Unless little pre-teens who think they are all that tell me otherwise, I thought, but didn’t say.

“But,” she said, with a touch of regret on her face, “you’re kinda not young anymore.”

There was no whiskey on my person, or I would have done at least one shot.

“No,” I said.  “But there are things to be said for not being young anymore.”

“Like?” she said.

I struggled for patience and grace and rummaged for a truffle, but I’d eaten them all.

“Headstands,” I said.

“Headstands,” she repeated.

“I can do them,” I said.  “I couldn’t when I was your age.”

“Oh, Mommy,” she said again. She rolled her eyes but in a loving way.  “Go ahead,” she said.  “I’ll take your picture.  Why don’t you change into your new yoga top?  You look hot in that. You should wear your yoga clothes all the time.  It would help.”

Help with what? I wondered, but didn’t want to ask.

I thought of where we’d been even a few months before: low self-esteem, no confidence, self-hate. I’d done too good a job. I really wanted that whiskey.

Instead, at home, I turned upside down, flipped up, held. photo 1

“Good job, Mommy,” said my lovely as she patted me on the arm.  “Now.  When you come down, can you send me those pictures you took of me in my new outfits?  I want to show my friends.”