The First Pancake

(*an edited version of this post appears on https://www.grownandflown.com)

My Girl.  First born.  YOU are the first pancake.  The test subject.  The guinea pig. Mom and Dad’s fun little expensive experiment.   And I had this thought the other day. Really spent some time on it and then laughed.  I know this is crazy.  I have this regret.

I’m sorry I never showed you the Maldives.

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I think I’m struggling with how we just couldn’t do/see/experience/teach/learn/be everything within the short 18 years I’ve been given before I send you into the world like a dandelion seed.  Woosh.

I have felt time slip through my fingers like the finest sand all leading up to this day.  I had no concept of the finite nature of time until you were 18 months old and my dad died.  After grandpa died, the important things became SO important and I’ve been watchful, obsessively so, of time and milestones and beginnings and endings.  You already know this about me.  The insane picture taking.  I’m so sorry.  Can’t help myself.  And you poor thing, are first and therefore have borne the brunt of my fixations. Don’t worry.  I have plenty of neuroses left to torture your brothers.  Well, at least the older one.  I’ll be a legit AARP member by the time the last one graduates.

How I have dreamt, feared, prepared for, worried over this day in your life and mine.  A milestone of the highest order.  Graduation.  It really does go as fast as they say it does. Are we ready?  Are you?  Am I?

This parenting gig has been so.much.harder than I expected.  While trying to raise you the best I could, I found out I can control and shape so little.  I’m not omnipotent.  Surprise!  I couldn’t always protect you. I didn’t have all the answers.  Sometimes I had no clue what the questions were.  I couldn’t craft the ideal environment.  I couldn’t engineer a perfect childhood.  And I was naive to think my job was to keep you on the straight and narrow.  I had been picturing a foot bridge high above the dangers and discomforts of the world.  And I was the rope railing you could grip.  But my beautiful child…I was fooling myself.

The path of life is so vast, so wide and winding and I am not the barriers on either side nor a safety net below.  Heck, I’m just walking with you.

Did I tell you everything?  Did I show you everything?  Did I set the right example?  Did I set the wrong example so clearly you could learn to do the opposite? Did I prepare you for everything? 

Did I listen to everything?

Damn near it seems.  So many words.  So many lectures from both of us.  So many micro-moments.  So many couch conversations at 12:15am.  The time sitting on the front porch step at night when you told me how brutal 8th grade was, two years after the fact. The nights I spent awake worrying about what to do or not do.  The few times you crawled into our bed to have a good cry.  The many times we laughed until we cried.  The time at 1am you told me you only had 7 more things to say before I could go to bed.  Did I spend the minutes the right way?  Did I do well enough?  Where were the blind spots?  Did you get what you needed?  What did I forget?

What will you remember?

Do you know the VALUE of daily sunscreen and never to mix bleach and ammonia?  If you have to choose one of those-just do the sunscreen.  Please.  SPF all day all over.  Or you will look like a leather football at my age and you’ll only have yourself to blame.  Also, to avoid the cancer.    (also-bleach plus ammonia equals KA-BOOM!)

Do you know the cruelest people often are just broken inside and sometimes you have to extend grace and not take their bitterness personally? Do you know how to run toward a friendship?  Do you know when to walk away from one?  I think you do.

Do you know that EVERYTHING can be improved upon by a long walk in fresh air, a hot shower, a healthy meal and a long night of rest?  This combo works.  I’ve tested it.  Do you know that I believe there is no error, no wrong choice, no mix up or mistake that you cannot come back from?

You can.  And you will find yourself needing to.

Do you know that joy in life can come from hard work and can also come from dumb luck and a lot of good grows from a combination of the two?  And do you understand it’s important not to mix up the two?  Ever. Sometimes you work so hard and good things happen and you can take the credit.  And sometimes you stumble into good things and you cannot take credit. And you shouldn’t. Be grateful when things are good.  Be patient when things are bad. 

Do you know that the very best days are ahead?  They ARE.  You haven’t even met some of your very favorite people yet.  They are out there just wandering around the globe looking for you.  Where are they?  Who are they?  This is so exciting.  GO FIND THEM.

You are going to become more and more of yourself.  But you don’t have to be anything specific.  Let it unfold.  You don’t have to be perfect or gifted or athletic or talented or beautiful or interesting or any of the other expectations the world will place heavily upon your shoulders.  You can just be you.  You are quite filled with magic and value exactly as you are.

You don’t have to be interesting. But please, I beg you,  be interested.  Do not become immune to the charms of the world. Fight hard against being cynical in a very cynical time. Being interested helps.  Be interested in people, places, things, learning, doing, creating, seeing.  If you hit a dead end-just change course.  It will work out.  You already delight in small things.  There is a dizzying supply of small joys in the world. I hope you are able to experience as many as possible.

College is on the horizon.  I cannot wait for you to JUMP RIGHT IN.  Maybe I could sleep on the bottom bunk?  (Just kidding.  They won’t let me.  I checked.) This is such a big change.  For our whole family.  Your brothers are going to miss you in ways they don’t even realize yet.  And while I feel sentimental about it at moments…high school has been- Well, I’m not going to say it’s been a complete sh&t show.  But let’s be honest-  It has not resembled a fun Netflix series.  It’s been a bit more Riverdale and less High School Musical than I would have liked for you. And I have watched with my hands covering my eyes at times. 

You’ve endured tremendous loss.  Unspeakable loss at such a young age. There were 8 student deaths during your four years of high school.  And 3 beautiful souls you grew up with at your tiny elementary are now gone. Gone far too soon and no way to explain why.  I can’t understand it so how could I even adequately help you through it? Brooklyn.  Ana.  Kathryn. I know you carry it around.  Their funeral programs still taped to your bedroom wall.  I’m crushed by it and yet proud that you carry those young ladies with you-never forgetting.  It has sharpened your focus.  It has made you aware of the struggles of others. It has made you more self-aware.   It has made you both more compassionate and more discerning in your relationships.  Your BS tolerance is impressively low.  It has strengthened your resolve to put your mental health and that of others a top priority.  It’s a tough life lesson but a necessary one. 

You ended up at a huge high school that likely was a poor match for your personality.  I hope I do not regret for the remainder of my days the accidental purchase of our home that landed you in that school.   A huge system.  An intense, competitive, achievement obsessed atmosphere.  Now it wasn’t all bad.  There were football games and school dances and dance team and banquets and parties and orchestra concerts and a fun part time job and some cherished friends and some wonderful memories.  There were also long, tough days and overwhelming schoolwork and being crazy busy and migraines.  And there were a couple kids along the way I wanted to take a swing at but common sense and the law won’t allow that.  But on this side of it, I’m truly rooting for all these kids.  The world is better if we cheer on our friends and our enemies.  

You lucked out with a few amazing teachers.   Many good teachers and only a couple real doozies that should have pursued any career not working with kids-or humans.  You were in a rat race against so many in school and you don’t even like to run that much.  I wanted to pull the rip cord a dozen times and get you out of there and try something else.  But you wouldn’t hear of it.  You persevered.   You built up your reserves of grit. It will serve you well.  

And now this chapter in your story is coming to a close.  I once read that dogs can smell time.   They can sense fragments of time based on the intensity level of scent in the air.  They know how long someone has been away and about how much longer it will be until they return.  And I think…how long has it been since that fresh baby smell, the just out of the bath toddler smell, the stench of stinky ballet shoes pulled from the pink quilted dance bag, the sweet smell of cherry popsicle on your cheek in the summers, the scent bomb of cheap perfume from Bath and BodyWorks, the fresh laundered (never tumbled dry) yoga pants, the mixed medley cloud of dozens of powder compacts from Target, then Ulta, then Sephora, the whiff of sugary syrup on a plate with one bite of waffle left in your room (ok-that was yesterday).  The time has been a literal lifetime and yet felt like a minute all at once. Where did all those girls go?   My irresistible baby grew into a girl and then morphed into a woman. 

But perhaps I’ll always think of you like this. I still see this in you, my sweet girl. Child of God. Face full of joy. Light in your eyes.  Hands clasped with anticipation.  With only hope and every delicious possibility ahead…

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And the wide and winding path is now yours for the taking…

Let me know when you make it to the Maldives.  I’ll be here.

I can’t wait to hear all about it.

The Ghosts of Everything Past

The 2018 holiday season has concluded. If you are reading this, I can only assume you survived.  There are 14 (at least) religious holidays alone in the month of December. I celebrate Christmas and can assure you that is plenty.  I have been pondering why holidays are so very stressful and furthermore why we continue to gather when it seems it drives many to the brink of insanity.  My holiday season this year was actually not stressful which gave me some good time to think on it instead of hiding in the bathroom in the fetal position (that was so 2004 me).  But-Why do we do even do this to ourselves?  What is causing all this strain?  So much drama.  There is the obvious.  The excess.  Too much food.  Too much family.  Too much on the schedule.  Too much running around.  Too much alcohol.  Too much money spent.  Too much expectation. Too many personalities. Too large a gap between hopes and reality.  Too much of everything.

I had a mostly idyllic childhood filled with fun holidays.  I know.  Nauseating right?  We had family over.  We had good food.  We had our traditions. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s.  Predictable characters and patterns.  We opened gifts in order of age and on Christmas Eve.  I received Love’s Baby Soft many years in a row.  I ate rolls and cookies for dinner.  We had weird cousins.  My brother wisely remarked one year that we are their weird cousins because if you don’t think you have any in your family…you are the weird cousins.  It’s okay.  Even weird cousins are loved by loved ones and children of God and all that.  And I wasn’t even aware of families who lamented holidays until college.  I was living in a blissful holiday bubble. Also-can we go back to the 70’s?  Bold fashion choices.  BOLD.

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And as I aged and met more and more people, and got married and started to try to meld family traditions and meet all the expectations, I became aware. Acutely aware.  (Commence hiding in the bathroom)

Holidays are not cause for celebration for everyone.

Some are trying to heal from past disappointment.  Some are trying to carry on traditions that are plain unreasonable.  Some are nice quiet people who do not like chaos.  Some people have very difficult names on their guest list.   Some months are tough enough without adding a dinner that includes fatty foods and arguing. Some families are nuts.

A generation (or two) ago families got together and got together often.  Many extended families lived near one another.  (My grandmother lived in Prospect Park in Minneapolis and they had Sunday dinner together.  The entire extended family.  Every Sunday.)  Which is to say that a big holiday like Christmas was just one more on the list of many occasions throughout the year spent with extended family.

But now?

It might be the only time of the year to gather.  People fly all over the country and all over the world to “go home”  for Christmas.  It’s the one time to see the cousins.  It’s the one chance for so and so and such and such to interact.  It’s when we take many more photos because we are all finally in the same space.  Or possibly you are an “every other year” family.  So basically, we have elevated the holiday to either SUPERBOWL or WINTER OLYMPIC frequency and expectation.  And with infrequency comes the pressure to make it the end all be all most special most everything day of the year.  Good grief.  Who wants to try to participate in let alone execute that?

And then layered on top of the heightened sense of expectation can be a thin layer of pain.  Probably for everyone.  This I feel.  I think the common denominator is memory.  The holiday season brings up so many memories of every ilk.  Good holiday memories make me nostalgic and wistful.  Bad holiday memories make me sad and regretful.  Maybe we miss a tradition that got swept away with time.  Maybe we always wanted to start a new tradition but couldn’t.  Maybe we are missing someone around our table.  Maybe we always intend to make Swedish Kringle but couldn’t fit it in this year. (damn) Maybe the joy is missing this year. And ALL of that plus a tired crowd and Uncle Crazy Town starts a political conversation with Grandma.  And….KA-BOOM!

My brother bought me a gift this Christmas.  We are not supposed to exchange per new family rules. But not listening or following any Christmas giving rules might be our most long cherished family tradition.

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The acquisition of this set comes with a great story unto itself.  (he tells it better but I’ll summarize) Tracking one down.  40 phone calls to antique stores.  Research.  An hour drive north to pick it up.  Realizing it was not as advertised.  Colorful language.  But this is the set he gave me and I absolutely cherish it.  It’s at least 55 years old.  And while I am hardly passionate about all things vintage…this I adore.  Because it brings it all back in all the best ways.  My dad.  My mom.  Our family together.  Being young and waiting for Santa.  Being in college and still waiting for Santa.  Did you know Santa still fills your stocking in college?  He does because SHE is awesome and magical.  The Tom and Jerry’s.  (If you haven’t had one, you really must.  The rich batter.  The rum and brandy.  The fresh nutmeg.  It truly is a taste sensation.  I recommend one.  I do NOT recommend 3.)  The joy.  The loss.

So I’m thankful for all the shitty holidays.  All the times it just didn’t come together.  The year we were at the Minute Clinic on Christmas Eve.  The year my son gave himself a black eye 10 minutes before family arrived.  Occasionally when a family member lost their minds and said something ridiculous.  When someone forgot the orange juice or didn’t show up or showed up with extra people or when we were all trapped inside in -20 degree weather.  Because it made me appreciate this year.  It was a good one. I was reminded of so many people I have loved and do love and so many shared experiences and traditions.  I appreciate that each year is steeped in tradition and yet a tiny bit different.  And moving away from the pressure of the perfect experience and toward the gratitude helps me enjoy it.  And enjoy I did.

Cheers to 2019.  May we all focus on the micro moments of joy.  Because not every year is great or becomes a favorite…but every year has moments of greatness and creates favorite memories to be cherished down the road.

 

*Note: LOOK at Santa in 1978 and 1979.  They hired him AGAIN!??? He does not smell like Santa.  He smells like beef and cheese.  For sure.

 

 

88 days of summer

We had 88 days of summer and I was 90% off social media and network tv and here is what I did with my days.  Sometimes it feels like time flies by and nothing exciting happens…but this forced me to record just a snippet each day.  It caused me to pause.  It caused me to be grateful for tiny things.  I apologize for the length.

Summer was long this year and life is full.

  1. Got up early and went and got a box of beautiful doughnuts at Yo Yo’s with my 9-year-old to celebrate the first day of summer vacay.
  2. Took the time to make a nice dinner just for myself.  Also, accidentally watched NCIS for the very first time. Not bad.
  3. Went to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts with my mom to see the China exhibit. Spectacular.
  4. Made s’mores cookies and took a nap on the couch on a rainy afternoon.
  5. Took the dog on a 3 mile walk along the lake. One of us was tired.
  6. Met with the college counselor with my daughter. Watched my son score a goal at lacrosse.
  7. Assembled IKEA shoe storage cabinet without swearing.  Taught 9-year-old how to make a scrambled egg.
  8. Went to a friend’s mother’s funeral.  A sweet lady.  Had some PTSD from losing my dad.  Still.
  9. Made steak gyros for dinner and people ate them.
  10. Picked up Danish dining table from darling store Golden Age of Design. Don’t buy up all the stuff there, I want one of everything.
  11. Drove 14-year-old and his oldest friend to their 6th consecutive year of week-long overnight camp together.
  12. Went to the library with the 9-year-old.  Then walked up the street to get lunch with him and got caught in a rainstorm which he was thrilled about.
  13. Had a moment of real, actual hope about the future.  Made hot fudge from scratch.
  14. Drove 9-year-old to overnight camp with his two besties.  I left living in a grey house, when I returned it was painted blue.  Booked flights for fall trip with the entire extended family.
  15. Watched The Post. Finished the book The Middlestein’s.  Got Mom’s Fitbit and computer set up. ( you can get a lot done with 66% of the children away at camp.)
  16. Was thinking about how heartwarming and depressing it is to see duplicates of everything your parents ever owned at vintage furniture stores.
  17. Went to a party at Lighthouse Island and saw a glorious sunset.
  18. Picked up both boys from camp.  They had a wonderful week. It’s worth the price just to have them off screens for days on end.  Went to a graduation party and was verklempt at how quickly time passes.
  19. Went to church.  Went to niece’s kid birthday party.  Took 9-year-old and pup on a walk and we chased the miniature frogs on the trail.
  20. Went to Gustavus and St. Mary’s with 16-year-old and friends for college tours. Did you know there are cute boys on college campuses?  Someone in our tour group noticed.
  21. Pondered how overwhelmed I can feel when I’m tired and yet how capable I can feel when I’m rested.  Went to bed early.
  22. Took 14 -ear-old to the ortho.  Took 14-year-old to open a checking account. 14 year old has cold hard cash since he is working.
  23. Drove north to Concordia College with the 14 and 16-year-old for a tour.  They both snored most of the way home.  They are both very good car entertainment. When awake.
  24. Learned how to enter an order and an invoice at work.  Did not lose mind.
  25. Got up early to drive 14 year old to work. Went to dinner with friends via boat and sat out on a rooftop. Beautiful night after a full day of rain.
  26. Realized a day late that I joined a step challenge on the SPAR! app. Took the dog on three different walks to fit in 10,000 steps. He wondered what the hell was going on.
  27. Worked in the garden for hours. Learned I love to plant but hate to weed. So I’m really more of a “planter” than a gardener. Held the baby of our former babysitter.  Gah.  The cuteness.
  28. 4th of July. Ate too much of everything.
  29. Went to Adam’s lacrosse pool party. Man, to have the energy of a fourth grader.
  30. Went to brunch and Target with Jack. Kept mouth shut as he bought his 5th pair of ear buds because he keeps losing them. Took a couch nap. All 3 kids were home on Friday night. I miss that. 💓
  31. Watched Riverdale with Belle. Felt youthful, until Luke Perry popped up and I felt ancient until I googled how old he is and he’s got 5 years on me so back to youthful again. And then I saw Molly Ringwald and then my depression returned.
  32. Took Adam to the beach for a few hours and watched him effortlessly strike up friendships with people he has never met. Wishing all of us could be more like that and maybe the world wouldn’t be such a violent place.
  33. Started writing a short story. Kind of funny so far. And if I ever manage to get it published, I’ll probably have to leave the state. Or change my name. Or both.
  34. Accidentally watched the news.  A hate filled line up of stories.  Pondered if I hate anyone.  Spent some time on it… and I hate one person.  An ex-husband of a friend of mine.  Serious hate.  Like if I outlive him, I’m ordering a cake.  For real.
  35. Went to the beach. Had to put my chair in the water because the sand was so hot.
  36. Wanted to organize the basement.  Got overwhelmed and played frisbee instead.
  37. Jack and I went to dinner just the two of us. He somehow managed to order a $17 hamburger. We had a long discussion about parallel universes and I forgot about the cost of the burger.
  38. Minneapolis Farmers Market by myself.  Decided that is probably the best evidence of people from every corner of the earth living in harmony.
  39. Walked 15,000 steps. I could walk forever.
  40. Found a new phrase that pisses me off to no end. When my child says, “I can’t. I’m too tired. From….sailing.” 🙄
  41. I learned something valuable today. Teenagers care what you think. The friends of your children want to be well thought of. They need encouragement.
  42. Belle had her senior pictures taken. I did not cry. I considered crying but I didn’t.
  43. I took Winston on a walk and I met a new puppy with clear blue eyes named Bjorn and because I am a judgmental person I think that is a stupid name for a dog.
  44. Had a few friends tell me to check Facebook because of a particularly mind-blowing thread…I decide the most dangerous 4 words in the English language are :Someone is typing a comment.
  45. Happened to catch a side profile of my 14 son with the light behind his jaw line. He is apparently growing a beard now.
  46. My daughter works a lot.  I think this is helping me prepare for her leaving for college.  I’m starting to gaze at her for long periods.  I’m not sensing she loves it.
  47. Theme of the day today was “natural consequences” and the pain I feel watching other people face it.
  48. Have not been on social media and had to check something on my account today… It got me wondering why I post anything.  Who cares? Do I care?
  49. I packed up and went to Portland.  Alone. Missed a connecting flight and ran through the airport like in a movie.  Except in the movies people are in better cardio shape.
  50. Heaven is a hotel room shared with nobody.  Spent four hours at Powell’s bookstore.  Bought A LOT of books.  Forgot I have to put them in my suitcase. Had delicious dinner with family.
  51. Went to Cannon Beach with a friend.  Saw the Haystack Rock.  Went to a Corgi festival.  It was a whole thing. Went to a movie alone.
  52. Went to a friend’s house in Bend, OR.  Sat on her infamous blue couch.
  53. I made a butterfly. I mean not completely from scratch. God helped.
  54. Took the dog to the groomers.  His haircut costs a fortune.  The kids hate it.  Now he looks like a hairless cat.
  55. Had Isabelle’s 17th birthday.  Rented Princess Bouncy House per her request.  Fricking awesome.  Until I had to deflate it and shove it into the back of my car.  Nearly caused hernia.
  56. Party clean up.  Yard destroyed.  Kids. Dog. Bouncy House. Badminton.  Grass paid the price.
  57. Visited two colleges in Iowa with daughter and husband.  Decided she is a country mouse.  She has no need for a metropolis.  There was a good coffee and doughnut shop.  I think she’d survive there.
  58. Really noticing how the two older kids have asked for nothing all summer because they both have jobs.  This is a good development.
  59. I mowed.  Don’t tell anyone but I really like to mow the yard.
  60. Wondering who to blame for Fortnite.  Can I blame the Russians?
  61. National Night Out.  Fun to meet the neighbors.  People are so nice and a few are really strange.
  62. My sister-in-law and nieces came over.  Doughnut and badminton party.
  63. We cleaned at work today.  Major.  Now if only I was inspired to purge at home.
  64. Church is really eating in to my “sleep until 11am” dreams.
  65. Son started Driver’s Ed. Why is it $400 when I’m the one who risks my life once he starts driving?
  66. Did our monthly volunteer gig. I brought too much food.  I always bring too much food.
  67. Went to the Saint’s Game.  So much fun.  Some people watched the game.
  68. Went to music in the commons in Excelsior. Took me four years to get there.  Worth it.  It was like Woodstock without the sex, drugs or legendary musicians.
  69. Adam had a friend over.  They were busy and not in my hair. It was so peaceful I thought about asking the kid to move in.
  70. We are drowning in college mail.  Someone should tell these people it’s 2018.
  71. Son went to put his two weeks in at work today. They wouldn’t let him quit. I find this hilarious.
  72. I cannot take too many more days of yelling at people with headsets on their heads.
  73. The 9-year-old said he is excited to go back to school. I said it’s getting close to that time… He will be somebody else’s problem. My daughter reminded me that one of my closest friends Is his teacher. Which begs the question… Who are she and I going to complain to about him?
  74. I really love having the kids home for the summer. Also, love the idea that in two weeks I can throw their things away when they are at school.
  75. High school schedules were posted.  I have two in high school.  I’m hoping they can find each other in that mosh pit of a high school.
  76. Went to the state fair. Spent 70 million dollars and ate 70 million calories.
  77. I told my daughter if she just finishes up her college essays I will be done nagging her for a full year. She’s such a good girl. She finished them. Also, she is so naïve. I’ve already thought of the next three things to nag about.
  78. Booked Spring Break 2019. Probably should be doing numerous other things before but my priorities are screwed up.
  79. Went down the Alpine Slide at Lutsen. I’d like one in the backyard.
  80. Dear Lord thank you for devices and headphones to make road trips possible with my flesh and blood.  Amen.
  81. My son went to freshman orientation. Then I went to freshman parent orientation 2.0. I am brimming with false hope about the next four years.
  82. Went on a bike ride into town with Adam. We followed our usual pattern. Ride. Toy store. Treat. Library. I bought a gel cushion bike seat while in town because I’m not 20 anymore.
  83. Took boys for a well check. One has BMI in 22%ile. Other in 77%ile.  In other words, one can beat the crap out of the other in 5 more years.  He is super pumped about it.
  84. Babysat my nieces.  They are some of the cutest humans.  I wish they lived in my pockets.
  85. Wanted to go on a lovely boat ride. Rained all day. Cleaned the house instead.
  86. Took Adam on a 7 mile high-speed bike ride to make him stop talking. It was working until he ran his tire into the back of my leg. Then he had to start talking again to apologize a dozen times.
  87. Jack still hasn’t finished his summer work.  He is not fazed.  I have heart palpitations just thinking about it.
  88. Tomorrow I have a high school Senior, a high school Freshman and a 4th grader. I plan on not missing a minute.

Um Yah Yah

Um Yah Yah.  That is the chorus to my college fight song.  I’d sing it for you but I can’t embed video in the blog post.  Pity.  It’s quite a song and we even throw shade at the other (more prestigious) college in the same town.

It’s been 25 years since I graduated from college. 25 y e a r s.  The college days were a tough four years for me.  I believed at the time that the other 3,000 people on campus were probably having a WAY BETTER AND EASIER time than I was.  Youthful narcissism is so ugly.  A multitude of factors contributed to that rough patch and the final year was a slow low visibility on-ramp to a full-blown clinical depression following graduation but I didn’t know that then.  (A story or novella for another day)

I was relieved to put that chapter behind me and I made it clear I would not return for any reunions.  Ever. Never. And then 25 years passed and a few thousand things happened.  And somehow I end up on the reunion planning committee because a few classmates who I always enjoyed asked so nicely.   People I went to college with always ask nicely.  They are a real civil group.  I love that.  When we met in a larger group in the winter, someone asked me why now?  What changed?  And I told them…it was me.  I changed.  Age is a great equalizer and by now..well…we have all been through one shit storm or another.  Or several.  Or we are in the middle of one now.  Can’t make it to this age unscathed. I was ready to go back because I was finally fully grateful.

And I truly had a magical weekend save for one injury.  More on that later.

We had Friday flowers.  Back in 1993, you could buy flowers and give them to a friend or romantic interest.  This time around we all got them.  That was fun.

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I overcame my deep dislike/fear?  of public speaking for a full two minutes.  But I was among friends so that was fun.

 

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We tried their new award-winning food.  A far cry from 1993 when I saw a white van in front of the student center one time that read “Grade D meat for schools and prisons.” (true story) And they still had Lucky Charms which were an entire food group for me in college so that was fun.

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And we walked around campus and visited all of our old dorms.  That was fun.

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And saw some new improvements. That was fun.

And there were people singing everywhere.  You know how former athletes can start a pick up game of basketball at a moments notice?  Here it is singing.  Only at my alma mater can 12 people decide to riff on Beautiful Savior and do it well.  (Not me.  I just admire quietly so I don’t ruin it.) And there was laughter.  And there were a few tears.  I got to apologize to an old friend.  And I think he forgave me.  And there was very little, “What do you do?” talk and so much more “How have you been?” talk.  While I have no designs on my children going to the college I went to-I hope they go somewhere where they feel this way…even 25 years later, that a great education is never wasted.  And the true value of the experience is in the people.  Damn good people.

And there was simple joy in reliving all of the good old days in all the familiar ways.  Staying up until 2:30 am,  having conversations while showering, having besties help you make cute shoe selections, laughing with friends, telling the stories, eating pizza and sub sandwiches in the familiar haunts and not worrying about the aftermath of any of it.  But as they say, all good things must come to an end.  So I drove home with a friend and we reminisced more and at some point we both realized how tired we were because we kept repeating ourselves. Which brings me to my injury.

I grabbed my bags out of my car.  When my daughter saw me she told me I looked like “The Day After.”  Honestly, she was being kind.  I felt a fatigue so deep I couldn’t even come up with a witty retort.

I marched straight upstairs, dropped my things all over the bedroom floor, clothes and charging cords falling out of bags and crawled into the refuge of my own bed and snored for two hours.

Some 5 hours later I found I was going to bed…again.  I’m 46 and I felt all the years.  It is important to mention here that I never get up in the middle of the night.  Ever.  Not from insomnia.  Not to go to the bathroom.  Not if there is a thunderstorm.  I never wake up.  In fact, when my children were small I felt quite resentful having to see their tiny sweet faces at 3am.  But I was awakened by an insatiable thirst.  Likely due to a steady diet of pizza and popcorn and wine and hoagie’s and chips and freaking Lucky Charms.  On my way to get water I slipped cartoon style on the plastic coated bag from my college bookstore and landed with a loud thud on top of…wait for it…my upturned wedge heels.  I FELL trying to get a glass of water.  Like an elderly woman.  I gave myself a post-reunion hydration injury.

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT AHEAD

DO NOT LOOK if you are squeamish about bruises, middle-aged thighs or if you have 20-year-old thighs and want to enjoy your denial that they will never be 46-year-old thighs OR if you think viewing my injury will irreparably damage our relationship forever.

Consider yourself warned.

Why get a tattoo to commemorate the weekend when you can walk away with a contusion?

So, in the words of writer Tom Robbins, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” You can go back.  You can recreate the magic.   You can tell all the stories.   You can celebrate the good old days with all of the old and some new favorite people.  But for the love of God, show some restraint with the sodium.

 

Sodium is a young person’s game.

 

 

My Mother’s Fabulous Future Funeral

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I wrote this piece to audition for the Listen To Your Mother event in Minneapolis.     I was not cast in the show (and I may try again next year) but in honor of my mom on Mother’s Day.  Here it is: 

So-my dad died 15 years ago.  My brother and I gave the eulogy.  I was like the unknown indie band opening act and he was the big headliner you paid big money for. We got very good reviews and then tag teamed at our Grandma’s funeral 18 months later. And because I’m probably a really bad person, because of 15 years ago…ever since my dad died…and I stood up there in my stupid, rayon Ann Taylor dress…I’ve been thinking about my mother’s funeral.  Note: My mother is very much alive and well and for that I am grateful.  (below in France…yes we have matching scarves)

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I know.  That sounds terrible.  But you can’t have a parent die and not ponder/stress/panic/fear/plan for the other one if you are fortunate enough to have the other one.  I think it’s natural. Maybe?   Or maybe I am a crazy person and this is my darkest side. I mean, I haven’t created a funeral vision board or anything.  Yet.

So, my mom is a fancy person.  Like fancy.  Put together. Chic.  She looked good when we went camping.  Her bandana matched her Dr. Scholl’s sandals.  Also, she was wearing Dr. Scholl’s went we went camping.  Who does that? She has an ample collection of coats.  She has a coat for particular types of snow.  I’m not kidding.  If you need a sharp looking coat for a dry dusting of snow, it’s in her closet.  There might be two in that category.  When she was wheeled into heart surgery seven years ago at Mayo Clinic, the medical staff commented on her beautiful nails.  Her nails were perfect-for surgery.

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So I’m picturing a show stopping church service. Something in a traditional space.  Beautiful.  Stained glass windows.   Strong architectural elements.  Warm wood tone pews.  The flowers. Stunners. But unexpected.  Maybe orchids. Maybe trailing.  Maybe fushcia.  My mom delights in the smallest of details.  She finds joy in tiny slivers of beauty.

I will wear something that would do her proud.  Appropriate but not dour.  Maybe navy.  Tailored to fit. My mother’s most important fashion advice is that fit is everything.  Maybe a Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress.   With a wedge heel.  My mother likes the classics. Honestly, I’m a little stressed about the outfit because she won’t be there to help me with shoe choice.  She knows these things and I don’t know these things.

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She has already weighed in on a few things that are important regarding her funeral. My mother and I have been to way too many funerals.  Man, we have been on the funeral circuit lately.  Once, many years ago we were at a funeral for an elderly relative and it was an open casket.  The woman had a very stark white root line and wore an ill-fitting pale mauve suit. My mother peered over the casket and gave me a knowing look and said, “Just so you know…” She raises her eyebrows.   I know.  “I got you.  No weird suit.  No weird colors. Not one gray hair.  I won’t let you down.” She has since decided on cremation. Maybe she does not trust me.  For what do I know of funeral fashion.

And my mom really wants Debussy’s piece Clair de Lune played at her funeral. She has mentioned it numerous times. She loves that piece of music.  If you can’t think of it offhand, it’s at the end of the movie Ocean’s 11.  Final scene where they reflect on what they have done. It goes, “da da, da da da….”  So, I’ve been thinking…I should totally play that on the piano at her funeral.  Like…that would be a such a tribute.  That I learned that specific piece to honor her and could play it perfectly, wearing my tasteful navy dress, orchids on the baby grand.  Did I mention the baby grand?  She would be so pleased.  She really would love it.

Three problems.

One-she won’t be there to witness how amazing it would be. She won’t see it and be proud and tell me how extraordinary her funeral was.  She will not know that I have executed the BEST and most SPECIAL parental funeral EVER.  There will be no Instagram post from her of her funeral. (to quote one of my daughter’s friends-‘Bruh, your GRANDMA has an Instagram?”)

Second issue is…am I really going to be in the right state of mind to PERFORM at my mother’s funeral?  I’m going to be orphaned.  An old orphan, but an orphan nonetheless. I have spent some time thinking about the orphan thing.  I do not like it.  It nauseates me.  And the other problem—is the big problem.  A really big problem.

I do not play the piano.

At all. Not one note.

And that begs the question…where do I even come up with these harebrained ideas?  Why in the hell would I even think I could learn Clair de Lune on the piano in 3 days time while grieving the loss of my sweet mom and then perform it perfectly at her funeral? I’m going to be in the damn fetal position.

I need to own my crazy ideas.  My unrealistic plans.  Yet…

I think it’s possible.  And some may call it instinct.  Or personality. Or God. Or self-confidence.  But in my case, it’s because of her.  My mother.  This is HER doing.  The little voice in my head that tells me that I could do it, I can handle it, I can face it, I can master it, I can find it, I can survive it, I can make it, I can work through it, I can and I will.

All her.  She started it.  It’s her voice until it becomes my voice.

She has painstakingly paved a foundation of gritty determination in me.  And oh, how I have needed it.  It has been her greatest gift to me.  She has absolute unwavering, unshakeable, unfathomable conviction in her children.  It makes no logical sense.  We have failed her.  We have screwed up.  We have made mistakes.  We have been dumb.  We have pushed back so hard we could knock her down.  We have given her every indication that we probably can’t do it.  We are people who should not do certain things.

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This woman, my mother.  She does not buy it.  She believes in me so fervently that I believe.

And this, in my opinion, is the purest distillation of motherhood.  To be the person who hopes and prays and dreams and fights and believes so sincerely against all the odds-that you raise an adult who can withstand every storm internal or external.

Personally, I love Bach’s Suite for Solo Cello No.1 in G Major. I really need to let my kids know.  Man, that is going to be a son of a bitch to learn. Because none of my kids play the cello.  But I bet they could. My God, they would be brilliant at it.

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Table for one: Join the club

I’ve been thinking about loneliness lately.   I am not lonely.  Or alone.  Nearly ever. The last time I can remember feeling lonely was in college. It was junior year. 1992.  Folks, that is a long time ago.  And the ironic thing is that I was not alone.  I was surrounded by people.  People who I loved.  People who loved me.  Living with my sweet,  gentle, long-suffering roommate/best friend.  I think I felt misunderstood. I was likely depressed. I felt isolated from others. Left behind. And quite full of self-pity.  It passed. Tip: If feeling lonely at 20 years old AND assigned to read The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day AND then choose to fill other hours watching Oprah (often about weight loss or family estrangement) -You will feel worse.

Being alone has never been a negative for me.   I know that some people hate it.  I relish eating lunch alone.  Coffee out somewhere by myself.  Lunch alone. I see movies alone.  That is certain bliss.  I can choose the movie, the time, eat my popcorn without passing it, think my own thoughts and nobody interrupts to talk to me.  (I know I’m so selfish)  I enjoy a long drive alone.  I enjoy a few quiet hours in the house when the dog is at the groomers.  I think this means that although I fall squarely in the middle of the extraversion/introversion scale…I need introverted time.  But also…I’m very spoiled because I have options if I want people.  I have the people. They are everywhere underfoot.  My people are very loud people.

We volunteer as a family at a housing complex a few miles from our house.  We do odd jobs like cleaning windows and moving furniture, flipping mattresses, hanging art and boxing up holiday decorations for residents.  And then we also make and serve them lunch.  This is my favorite part.  That crew loves a good lunch.  I love to try to serve a good lunch.  I am always struck, every single time, how lonely people seem.  They are desperate for connection with others, with us.  They are excited to see us and see our children.  They just want to watch and talk to my children.  What classes are they taking? Do they LOVE school?  (they are begging my children to lie to them)  Do they like to fish? Do they play football?  They love our stories about pedestrian things.  They ask where we bought our spinach leaves and where I got the recipe for the egg bake.  They want to know if I know that HyVee will cut whole fruit for only a $1. I did not!  Many of the residents are elderly.  Most live alone.  Some are good at joining in.  Some are not as comfortable doing so.  There is a cool table.  I kid you not.  There is a cool table at the senior housing complex.

But when we leave, and this may all be in my head, I feel a lift in the mood.  The energy is good.  They have had a meal together.  Literally broken bread together-some of it gluten free.  They have had camaraderie.  A laugh. If someone is under the weather, someone brings up a plate.  They discuss the new changes at the building, the weather, politics.  They have heard a new story from outside the four walls of their apartment and shared a story of their own. (below a 2015 photo of dessert service)

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We all end up there, if we are lucky.  Living more on our own and with more strangers than family. Such is the cycle of life.  Some people seem better cut out for it than others.

I wonder how much craving a sense of belonging contributes to the strife in our crazy world.  Humans so desperate to belong that they will belong to the wrong things.  Young kids who don’t stand up for a classmate who is bullied.  Teenaged girls who get drawn into a rumor mill out of fear they too will be cast out of the group. All the hurt and vitriol when the student athlete doesn’t make the top team.  Neighbors who don’t include “that family” at the BBQ.  An employee who goes against personal ethics because coworkers expect them to protect the company.  Groups united by hate against something/anything/anyone because being united in rage is more important than being civil, moral, compassionate.  Is membership more of a survival skill than empathy?  It was MLK day two days ago.  I think he might openly weep at how few strides we have made.  If I read too many news stories, I think we are sliding backward if not standing still as a society.

Last week I dropped off my middle schooler at school in the morning.  There were groupings of kids standing around outside.  Girls with matching hair and matching backpacks and matching everything.  Boys playing basketball.  Kids at the curb on their phones.  My son had his backpack, his ski bag, his skis, and 3 other things in his hand.  He awkwardly hauled it out of the car, banging his bag on the side of my car.  A lot of the kids were watching as he got out of the car and I was thinking how lonely middle school can be.  I imagine there were lonely kids on that curb standing in a group but not invited to a birthday party.  Left out of the group text. Not included at the lunch table.  If loneliness was ever a mental construct , surely that age group has nearly perfected it.  Lonely plus narcissistic is a deadly combo.  As he shut the car door and juggled all of his things I heard someone yell, “JACK!”  Then another, “Jack!  with a wave.  He smiled.  And it made me smile.  And I held back any tears since Jack really needs me to ‘calm down’ these days.  Someone was happy to see him.  Someone called out.

Is that all it takes to not feel alone?

We need to have someone call out our name.

We need to call out to one another with a wave.

We look like a normal family. Kind of.

Long before Instagram and Facebook and Snapchat and all other filtered projections of our most perfect and curated selves there was the annual holiday letter.  Letters full of updates and accolades, achievements and vacations and job promotions.  Somewhere along the way this morphed into photo cards.  I LOVE holiday cards.  LOVE.  Love sending, love receiving.  I like seeing the families morph.  I like seeing the clever frames and banners and card styles and shapes and colors.  Shoutout to anyone who pays extra for scalloped edges.  They.look.amazing.  And I really, really like the weird ones we get and we get them almost every single year. Weird cards RULE.

One year I got a Christmas letter from a family member.  I am related to this person. The entire letter was about the deep and somber symbolism of the candy cane.  It was long and detailed.  According to this letter, the white of the candy cane represents the purity of Christ and the red represents the blood of lamb who was slain. (Insert surprised and barf emoji here) Uh…what?  Needless to say, I needed a very long break from candy canes and those relatives.

I had a friend who was divorced and got remarried.  A wedding photo was their holiday card.  But her name was the same.  I didn’t get it.  Did she keep her name?  Did he take her name?  I ended up having to place a phone call.  She married someone with the same last name the second time.  What are the odds? Note: Super convenient if you already have Pottery Barn monogrammed towels.

One year we got one from a colleague that worked with my husband.  It was a photo of a man and a woman on a horse.  They were on a beach.  It was signed: (I’m using aliases for their own protection) Tom, Linda and Gwen.  There were only two people in the photo.  Was it Tom and Linda?  Was it Tom and Gwen?  Why two female names?  Do they have a daughter not pictured?  Is the horse named Gwen?  Did they name their horse?  Is Linda more of a horse name? Why do you have a horse featured in your holiday card?  It remains a mystery.

I have a friend who has referred to the annual holiday card family photo shoot as “The Worst Day of The Year”.  He is a boisterous happy-go-lucky type so if it can take him out, it is certainly capable of making any of us crazy.

For years I have obsessed with the holiday photo card.  It’s a sickness.  Mainly because it is a complex multi-step process during a busy time of year and I am in charge of all the steps because I am the only one who cares WAAAAAAY too much about the result. The setting, the outfits, screaming at the people to get ready, hiring the photographer, the scheduling, the editing, the ordering, the addressing, the culling of the addresses from 23 places, the mailing, et cetera et cetera.  I do it to myself because I do like having a family photo from each year but in retrospect-none of them are what they appear and some years, I may have sent the wrong one.

I was going to send this in 2003.  I thought it would be funny because this year it felt like we were perpetually desperate for sleep and the kids were perpetually awake that year.  But I thought I looked like hell and I didn’t like the drool all over the baby onesie. My husband feels he has “fat face” in this picture.  Should have sent it.  I still think it’s funny.  Look at that tough guy look with the power fist on a 2 month old.

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I always loved this picture but I didn’t use it for the card because the wind got into her hair and the baby pant leg crept up over his chunky leg and his diaper was way past slightly wet.  Now I think…Ahhhhh… we look young.  Babies having babies in that photo.

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Couldn’t use this for the card because I thought we looked “too sweaty”. And again the boy wasn’t looking directly at the camera.  It looks like us.  We were chasing young children while sweating.  …And we were just a simple family of four…

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This year I yelled at my son because he was eating pretzels in the car making his shirt a mess.  What kind of lunatic dresses kids this age in white?  Later in the day he slipped on a rock and stepped INTO a pool of water filling his shoe. (Mud on right pant leg) I thought it was complicated getting them both to pose and stay clean until…

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Now…I did use one from this group of photos…but not this one because the boy is AGAIN not looking at the camera and the baby looks squished and I look so tired which I was because of well…all of them in the photo.  I literally have zero recollection of these photos being taken.  The whole day is lost. Oh hell…the following year is missing from my hard drive. I guess thank God I have the photo.  That’s a nine mile stare and a cry for help expression on my face.

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I didn’t use this one because I didn’t like the way two of them had on shoes and one didn’t.  And my daughter had a weird spot on the knee of her jeans.  What on earth??? Who cares?  Now I can’t pick up any of them like that.  They can nearly pick me up!

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I should have sent this one that year.  There was a lot of me begging and pleading for everything to JUST SMILE NORMAL.  All we did was wait for the baby to join us that day and that entire year.  He was not having it.  And I’m smiling but I was seriously irritated.  Hurry up kid.  We have a photo shoot with a paid photographer right.NOW.

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I was mad.  At that face???  HOW?  How was that even possible?

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So I used this one.  This is my favorite holiday card that I have ever sent.  EVER. More than five people asked me if I photoshopped it.  Uh…No.  I had to physically wrestle/bribe/beg him to get him to just wear that shirt. He insisted he put it over the shirt he was already wearing.  I had used up all my energy trying to just get people dressed. Not photoshopped.  But…from the same day the one below…

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THIS captures more about the family dynamic. The domination of a large personality packed into a tiny person.

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This is very close to the one I did use.  More than one person asked me where we got the “cute vintage car with the tree” for the photo.  In the driveway.  Our driveway.  That was just my husband’s car.  He didn’t know he was being vintage cute.  Also…that’s our tree that we cut down that day.  Do people borrow cars and trees for their holiday card?

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Ok. I used this one.  I wanted a real snowball fight photo so we had a real snowball fight.  However, I specifically and LOUDLY told them to not aim for faces or someone would cry and then we wouldn’t have any photos.  As you can see, they listened so well.  You can also see that my daughter was struck in the back of the head as well.  We went home tired, wet and cold.  But it did make for a good photo.  Also, I spent an hour on the phone with the printer so they would move the text box. Because I’m crazy.

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I didn’t use this one because our legs looked weird to me and the wild man’s shirt wasn’t showing and it said, “Silent Nights are Boring”.  I like this photo though…because 30 seconds after it was taken…we broke the hammock completely and all fell screaming onto the ground. Max weight limit on that hammock < Our family.

Note: The photo I did use had full frontal dog nudity.  There was a dog penis in our holiday card that year.  For.real.

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Last year.  I sent a collage of imperfect shots because I.was.tired.  I did not include the ones where 2/3 of the kids turned and bent over to feature their butts.  Because we are classy.

This year…a panicked text message to a dear friend that it was snowing.  Big flakes in November.  We throw clothes on and race to the docks.  She takes this photo on my phone.

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I wanted it in height order because I am moving down the line and the kids are moving up.  Now…I look taller than my daughter but her knees are bent and my hair stands up.  Everyone looking the correct direction.  Even the puppy.  Good work. We look like a normal family.

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Here we are 5 minutes later.  Older brother throws younger brother’s frisbee into the water.  Cue innocent sister laughing.  Cue mom and dad screaming at kid to go retrieve frisbee.  Yeah…we know it’s cold.  Next time, don’t be an idiot and throw something in the  lake.

So…Long after I’m gone and only the photos remain…I hope my children realize, our real lives, family life-the very best of it was all in the outtakes.