You can’t take it with you-But it appears I’m going to try

Have you ever read the book by Tim O’Brien ,”The Things They Carried”, about the Vietnam war?  Great book.  Completely unrelated to this blog post.  But for some reason whenever I am amidst the piles and piles and PILES of things to sort through and I feel overwhelmed, I think I should write an autobiography called “The Things She Saved”.

I’m a saver.  Keeper of memories.  Storer of crap.  Collector of random objects important to people who are no longer on earth.  Holder of things other people intend to claim. I’m not going to make it onto the Hoarders show but I can and do save things for an unreasonable amount of time (forever) and (considering the dire storage situation in our house) an unreasonable amount of things.

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I am drawn to magazines like this.  I love them.  I like books and blogs and articles and Instagram feeds and all sorts of information on organizing.  But I am not organized.  People seem to think that I am.  I don’t know what gives them that impression.  I have been “getting organized” for decades and have finally come to grips with…if you are getting organized you can still find your own stuff and somewhat function.  If you actually ARE organized-someone can find it when you die.  Sorry kids.  I will never get there.  (side note: Just read a long article about Swedish death cleaning…riveting. Too bad I’m mostly Danish)  And for all my reading about decluttering…

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Yep.  So embarrassing.  I took the photo and then recycled it.  Promise.

I have boxes and bins and baskets full of crap.  And I always mean to let go of it but then I start to look through it and then I fall in love with keeping it all over again.  But I am getting better.  Truly.  I got rid of 50 books last year.  Nobody even noticed which gives you a window into the scope of my problem.  But I’m always looking for a system.  A “once and for all solution”.

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Have you seen/read that little gem?  It’s depressing and shaming and impossible.  I hope she has triplets some day.  Call me Marie after the triplets.  I can’t wait to see how and where you will neatly stack the sippy cups and diapers and toys and then later the sporting goods and school paper avalanche and electronics and cords.  My GOD the cords. You won’t be emptying out your purse each night.  Your sunglasses won’t be honored and ‘getting their rest’.  You will be clinging to your sanity by a thread.  You will eat questionable food from the bottom of your Birkin bag which will be right there in a crumpled Ziploc next to your bent sunglasses.  I tried her little system.  I made it through pants.  I tried on all my pants.  Got rid of over half.  woo.hoo.  And shouldn’t this only be an E-book?  Because now I’m storing that thing too.  Also-I don’t have the right pants for certain occasions now. I have got some feelings about Marie.

I have all sorts of reasons for saving things.  Thinking I might need it again.  Thinking someone else might get use out of it…someday.  (True crazy story…I’ve saved holiday cards because I have considered if someone had their house burn to the ground…I would still have their card and they would be so happy when I delivered their holiday card from 2009.  WHAT!??  Why trust Shutterfly when you have me on your card list? And a lot of the cards I have saved…the COUPLE has broken up.  I don’t think they are going to want that card.)  Other saving rationale includes-Guilt I spent money on it.  Guilt someone else spent money on it.  Guilt someone else wanted me to have it even if I didn’t want it in the first place.  Guilt that I actually need the thing but it is a piece of crap so not useful but I don’t have a decent one so I save it until it can be replaced but then it never gets replaced.  Sentimental reasons.  Ooh.  That’s the one.  There. That’s the one that gets me.  The feeling like the object holds the memory for me.  I fear I will forget if I don’t have the object.  Which is only slightly ridiculous because I come across things now and again and it brings back all the stories.  It works!!! T-shirts from high school.  Programs from shows I saw as a child.  Figurines that belonged to my Grandma.  A wool shirt my dad wore in high school.  In high school. In the 60’s.  Officially vintage and only 45 or so years away from being an antique.  So touching right? Then again…I also have my kids first haircuts.  I oddly also am storing my brother’s first lock of hair that was cut off.  And I have teeth.  I have my kids’ teeth.  What I’m saying is I have hair and human teeth in random places in my house.  So basically I’m a sociopath.

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Here is Junk Drawer #1.  1 of 2.  I spy a hotel key card that never got returned.  By the way…great hotel in Midtown Manhattan.  A backup to the backups pair of glasses-because a prescription from 15 years ago is so handy.  A tooth box with a few visible teeth.  A Dora the Explorer PC game for a computer that is no longer used. A junior ranger patch from Yellowstone National Park. A restaurant gift card to a restaurant that went under financially.  A peppermint Chapstick that burned his lips when my child tried it. A $5 bill.  Canadian.  Pokemon cards. Staples.  Erasers. A tear off tab to a life insurance policy my grandmother bought in the 70’s. Jewelry. A bronzer. I’ve never used bronzer. See? See how fun it is.  Every day is a scavenger hunt. The problem is everyday is a scavenger hunt.

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Oh…remember Blockbuster?  They were militant about you having your card when you rented movies. Until they started closing their doors…5 years ago.

The problem is I have always been like this.  I saved rocks. Cards. Tiny mementos from vending machines. Gifts from friends. Costume jewelry. Movie stubs. Notes from 6th grade. Notes from 11th grade.  All the flyers I had tacked up on my wall freshman year of college. Shells from beach walks from vacations in the 80’s kept in a green and black canvas Snoopy tote.  Do I still have them? I’m so glad you asked.

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Once I took a writing class and the assignment was to write about what was in the garage.  One woman wrote about a picture that hung above her bed for years.  It turns out it was a Van Gogh sketch that was pilfered during WWII and brought across enemy lines.  And years later, she found it in a box in her garage.  This really made an impression on me.  WHO has an actual Van Gogh IN THE GARAGE!!! I don’t.  I do however have sporting goods of every ilk for sports that nobody in this house participates in any longer.  So…

So I am on a mission.  Fall cleaning.  I already went through the garage.  And now onto the interior.  I’m finally fed up with living in a thrift store.  30 bags in 30 days.  Join me if you like.  Or don’t.  I’m too disorganized to start a national movement.   I’m starting with easy broad categories because I am a professional.  Clothes that I haven’t worn in FIVE years. Objects with no FUNCTION.  Toys that are BROKEN-(also known as garbage). Shit that belongs to other people.

I know I will never be organized.  I’m an abstract random.  I likely have ADD.  And I clutch things for good and bad reasons. I’ll never have an alphabetized spice rack. I have a friend with an actual alphabetized spice rack.  I just found that out and I still like her because she has a lot of other good qualities.  I’ll never have dozens of open spots on the bookshelf, or the basement shelf or any shelf.  And I’m really looking forward to finding and then selling the 3 Picasso pieces that have somehow slipped my mind.  And I likely will leave my family members with the burden of unnecessary crap.  I give full permission and my blessing to have a massive bonfire after I’m dead.

It was a busy week in our house.  The girl got her braces off and the dog got neutered. So I guess the theme of the week is “Let Us Let Go Of What No Longer Serves Us”.  Who is excited!!!???

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This Old(er) House

I read that in the Nancy Meyers films (It’s Complicated, Somethings Gotta Give, The Holiday, Father of the Bride, etc.) that she feels that the homes themselves become main characters.  I feel exactly this way about my house.  I know it’s silly because my house is neither grand nor unique nor historic but it is where all the most important plot twists unfolded for me and my main characters.  Let me tell the story of how we bought this house…

One weekend in 1997, my husband and I got into an argument over something really stupid.  I can’t remember what it was about but it’s a very safe bet it was very stupid.   He came into the room holding the newspaper and said, “Let’s go look at this house I found.”  I said, “I don’t even want to live HERE with you right now.”  He said (sigh), “Just get in the car.  Let’s go look.”  I got in the car and crossed my arms.  I was determined to hate everything.  We drove out to the western suburbs and looked at the listing.  4 bedrooms.  Two way wood burning fireplace.  1 acre lot. Above ground pool.  Octagonal library with a ladder.  We loved it. We jumped up and down.  Argument forgotten.   Then we invited all of our parents out to see it and they collectively killed all of our house dreams.

Seriously.  None of them thought it was a good house for us.  There were concerns we couldn’t afford it.  (The bank thought we could and we had confidence in the bank)  There were concerns about the size of the lawn. (We thought mowing sounded fun)  There were concerns about the pool and the miles of redwood decking that surrounded it. (We liked the decking- decking is pretty and pools are super cool when you don’t have one) There were concerns about the cosmetic changes we mentioned we wanted to make. (How much could a few hundred changes possibly cost?)  Oh…and this.  They all seemed to agree that we weren’t “maintenance people”.  What??? We owned a townhouse and we painted rooms and changed the air filter regularly and my husband had changed a microwave fuse himself (while I watched encouragingly).  Sure we took naps EVERY Saturday and Sunday but we could become DIY/handy/maintenance people if we wanted.  They didn’t even know us.

We left there depressed and offended.  So in my infinite 26-year-old wisdom, I thought we should buy it and we get the pool, the library, the land and the satisfaction of sticking it to all of our parents proving them wrong. My husband, who is less prone to revenge purchases than I am, took a different approach. He thought we should look at 3 more houses in the area in the exact same price range to prove to them that this house was a great idea and a great deal and by far the very best of the four.  I was on board.  Now we would have research to back up our spite purchase. They’d be sorry.  But they weren’t.

We bought house #2.  We walked in and I made a beeline to the view out the bay window and couldn’t contain myself.

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Then my husband wanted to “talk her down” on the asking price but I dry heaved into the toilet and sobbed and begged him to “PAY HER WHAT SHE WANTS, THAT HOUSE IS OURS I CAN JUST FEEL IT’S THE ONE”.    Much to his dismay, as a sales guy and as a man…we did just that.

So we purchased this house in February of 1998.  It was built in 1988 so it seemed fairly new. It was so large. I remember thinking it was so much space, I would likely lose a future child here and I probably would have to yell loudly just to find my husband in our suburban castle.  The reality now is that I feel like we are all on top of each other 24/7 and we all own way too much crap to fit in this house and I can hear someone clip their fingernails two floors away.  It’s not large or new and the hideous oak vanity in the kid bathroom stuffed with both superhero bath toys and Smashbox eyeshadow palettes is proof of that.

In the marketing materials, this house was portrayed as a ‘charming doll house on a picturesque lake’.  This turns out to be code for quirky, poorly constructed house with zero storage, paper thin walls and a pathetic basement laundry hovel on a picturesque lake.

It’s okay though…because I freaking love this house.  Love.

Over the years we have looked at hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of other houses on the market.  Houses with mud rooms.  Houses in cul de sacs. Houses with laundry rooms that you could turn all.the.way.around.360 degrees.   Houses with less square footage and better layouts and more square footage and higher ceilings and windows that open correctly.  Houses with insulation.  Houses that are 2 million dollars out of our price range.  Then I typically find 24-73 flaws in each and every one.  We have always felt that if we moved we would just be trading the devil we know for the devil we don’t since every home has issues. Every single one.

We have had some crazy stuff happen at this address.  We are in the woods and on a tiny lake.  Before we moved here, a movie was filmed on the lake behind our house.  Sometimes when I’m out there freezing to death playing boot hockey, I like to think that Natalie Portman and Matt Dillon both froze their asses off in the same spot.  We had an epic carpenter ant infestation.  (had to replace two large windows) We had a spectacular nest of 13 red squirrels in the rafters of the porch . (Dad and husband + case of beer+ 2 BB guns and all but one was removed.  I shot the last one myself from inside the kitchen. Dropped him like a sharpshooter.)  There was a time that a raccoon was trapped in the garage and had a panic attack which caused him to knock every single thing off of every single shelf.  There was the chipmunk that ran into the basement when the babysitter was here. The rogue moose on the lawn that a neighbor tried to convince me was a deer.  Lady…I know the difference between a MOOSE and a DEER.  The year the beavers built a sizeable lodge and therefore mowed down all the trees on the edge of the yard. The hundreds of dollars and hours we have spent trying to stop the voles from building a subway system under our grass.  The red fox. The red fox that was foaming at the mouth.  The time I caught an opossum on the deck licking the grill tools.  (There was some talk about sanitizing them in boiling water and they ‘would be fine’.  No-they’ll never be fine. I’ll never be fine. Garbage.  Bye tools and disgusting opossum saliva.) The wild turkeys. The coyotes.  My favorite great blue herons stalking the spring frogs.   The theme here seems to be us enjoying nature while keeping nature at bay.

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So…it turns out we are not maintenance people.  Our parents knew us.  We hate it.  We like naps better.  But we do the best we can.  We have had some things remodeled.  We have left some things be.  We have made some concessions.  We gutted the kitchen when I was pregnant with baby #2, also the year my dad passed away and I had a 2 year old.  I don’t recommend that.  We spent a bundle on a new roof and flashing because apparently the builders thought rain coming in the house was optional.  We got a new front door.  We have painted and repainted and painted again.

But the best things that have happened here are the human stories.  The stories that have unfurled within these four walls.  The memories made.  The changing cast of characters and all of their small and large experiences.  This house is where we brought home each of our three tiny babies.  This is where the crib was put up and taken down 3 times and in two different rooms.  This is where all three of my children took their very first steps.  This is the house that my dad and brother painted one summer laughing and laughing. This is where part of my dad’s cancerous tumor (he called “the alien”) fell out of his leg.  My grandma sang in Swedish holding my infant daughter in the rocker on this porch.  My mom played badminton on this lawn with her grandchildren. These are sacred places for me now.


This is where great celebrations and great tragedies and showers and parties and fun holidays and so-so holidays have been shared with friends and family.  Our sweet dog Grover was buried in this yard. He slept in that corner. He curled on that couch.  This is where the average family dinners and the special introductions to future family members has occurred.  This house is where long standing traditions have been kept and new ones have been started.  This is where the kids have played and grown and read and  crafted and slept and had their friends over.  Sleepovers with 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11 kids happened in this basement.  This is where the family photos were taken.  This is where we baked the cookies and made the popcorn balls and grilled homemade pizza and had game nights and movie nights and bonfire nights and Halloweens and ice skating parties and trampoline games and basketball games and fireworks.

Here. Here. Here. Here. Here.

I have now lived here longer than any other place. In February, we paid off this house.  This old house.  We made our final payment exactly 19 years to the day we moved in because I like ceremony.   I have come to realize that it is not common or popular to pay off your house these days.  This is because it is not common nor popular to stay.  Stay.  But we had been working toward this day diligently as we plan to stay right here.  Forever.

I’ve hugged and kissed and held hands and laughed and cried with all of my favorite characters in this house.  And as it grows older and falls apart all around me…it just becomes better. More important. More appreciated.

It’s my favorite place of all time.

Parents of Teenagers: You need a hug

(an edited version of this essay now appears on http://www.grownandflown.com)

About 14 years ago, I sat in a church service with my husband and tiny  daughter.

My mind settled on the family in front of us.  Two parents and three teenagers. I have thought about this family so many times over the years and even more often recently.  It was the early service.The teenagers were awake but looked rumpled. Two boys and a girl.  And I looked at them with envy.  That woman, the mother, she had done it.  She survived (it appeared) 17 years of raising children at least.  I had just barely begun.  And she got three teenagers at church sitting with their parents on time.  One of them had their head on her shoulder!  She did something right.  They looked like the perfect family. How did she do it?

Now I am moving into that stage.  I have two teenagers and an eight year old.  (Yes, we do teach family planning courses for couples who enjoy weird challenges and intricate school schedules and carpool planning that would make your head spin. Contact me for details)

Let me tell you something.  I had no idea about the teen years.  None.  This is some PhD level crap to deal with and I have a 4th grade level of preparation.  I am stunned and overwhelmed by the twists and turns of parenting teenagers.  This is hard work.  DIFFICULT.  Mental Jedi level parenting.  Nearly all of the stereotypes have really become true to one extent or another and I just didn’t want to believe it. All of that was surely not going to happen in this family. Pfffft.

They are moody. The moods.  Wow.  It feels like hugging some cacti over here. Lately I feel the need to announce that I might hug them.  It goes like this. Hey, it will be ok.  I’m going to move toward you now.  I’m going to hug you.  It’s happening.  I’m your mother and since I birthed you I feel you owe me this much.  Feel free to stand there woodenly and hold your breath until it’s over.  But make no mistake.  I am going to hug you…3,2,1.  

It’s hard not to take things personally when they are so crabby.  It’s a combination of their random malaise and my lack of sympathy that causes the rift.  I mean, sometimes their day- to-day lives are akin to what I associate with the afterlife.  Pick ME up in sub zero temps in a warm car within 34 seconds of my activity ending.  Hand me a cocoa.  Heaven.  Force ME to go to bed at a reasonable hour in fresh sheets in a clean room.  Heaven. Wash my clothes. Invite my friends over. Make me breakfast. Make my friends breakfast.  Leave me alone when I’m on a Netflix binge. Give me cash from time to time.  Ask me how my day was and soothe me when it wasn’t a good one. Heaven, heaven, heaven. And yet, I sometimes still get the large moods all up in my face.

They are self-focused.  They stand at the epicenter of their very own universe.  If I had a dollar for every time “It’s not all about YOU” was uttered in this house (by us parents) I’d have enough to actually visit the epicenter of the universe and fly first class.   The narcissism works against them.  I try to point out that literally nobody else notices their hair/skin/scowl/braces/pants/test grade/shoes/mistake/social gaffe because all THOSE people are self-obsessed too.  They don’t believe me.

They do stupid things.  Their friends do stupid things. They all are doing stupid things together.  (I’ll choose not to elaborate…wherever your mind is running off to right now-it likely happening with my kids, your kids and/or the kids they know or it will or it already has)  And they think nobody will know about some of these bad choices and parents will never find out which is just so painfully naive.  Newsflash: Everyone will know (faster and wider spread with the assistance of social media) and all parents find out everything eventually.  Whether we find out within minutes of the event or on our deathbed…we find out.  We parents are just one generation older who already did all the stupid things or were with other people while they did them.  Hellooooo. We invented and perfected stupid just like our parents did before us. Duh.

They think I am yelling if I ask them something or tell them something.   Example:  Could you please bring these dirty clothes to the basement so I can wash them?  This is met with large sighs, hunchback body language, eye rolls, a chorus of “I KNOW!!!!” and this…”You don’t have to yell at me!”  Um-what?  I wasn’t yelling.  Why would I add to the din of this house with yelling?  When I yell, you will know.  I could blow the roof off with the yelling. Do not test me.  You know not what I am capable of with yelling.


They act like typical teenagers.  They play their music.  Loudly. Early in the morning.  I  have some negative feelings toward Lil Uzi Vert at the moment.  Will he be the Prince of their generation? Nope. No he will not. And yet I suffer through him now.  They watch tv. Some of it is absolute crap. They know things about the Kardashians. Makes me want to cry. My son recently answered a geography bee test question correctly.  He learned the answer by watching 324 episodes of Modern Family.  I’m so proud.  They leave water bottles everywhere.  They argue with me for sport. They leave food wrappers on the floor of their rooms.  They fling their shoes in every corner-and sometimes they reek. They embarrass me sometimes.  I embarrass them sometimes.  We are in a cycle of mutual inadvertent embarrassment.  They get mad when I take their photo.  (see above) They eat all day.  A meal schedule means nothing to them.  A sleep schedule means nothing to them.  I’m awake when they are asleep.  They are awake when I am asleep.  They change their minds on a whim.  Their phones are an appendage.  They move chargers around the house and then lie about not moving the chargers.  They wear earbuds around and then act surprised when they can’t hear us.  They glom onto a ‘catch phrase’ and can’t stop.  If my son doesn’t stop saying the word ‘savage’ soon…I’m going to attack him ferociously.

Their friends are everything. This I remember well. It’s hard to shine a light on the fact that some of these friendships will be lifelong.  They might have a friend now that would walk through fire for them.  They will see them through good and bad and they will have their back and it will be unfathomable how life could continue without one another. Other friendships are all drama and destructive and exhausting and an avalanche of negative bull$h*t and when they finally figure it out and walk away, it will be like removing an anvil from their neck.  And sometimes as a teenager, you can’t figure out which friend fits into which category and it might take years to gather enough evidence to sort it out.

They think I “just don’t understand.”  And I don’t.  I don’t understand all of their experience and I really wouldn’t want to.  I remember the teen years but it this ain’t your mother’s teen years. I think it is worse.

My 15 year old often puts in 16 hour days.  She isn’t running a Fortune 500 Company…just going to high school.  On December 15th she was at school by 7:30am.  She had something before school during ‘zero hour’.  She had 6 classes (complete with tests/lecture/notes/presentations) and then went straight to dance team prep for a jazz meet.  She danced her time slot at 7:10.  Then she ran down the hall, changed into her orchestra dress and jumped into her spot in the concert orchestra (rocking some serious eye shadow and fake lashes) to play the violin at 7:43.  (We are now at 12+ hours spent in that building) Then she ran back and changed back into her warm ups to cheer on her team in their dances and be present for awards.  Then she hauled 50 pounds of cookie dough (music fundraiser), dance team bag, costumes, school backpack, etc. into the car to head home.  Home at 10pm.  Then she ripped out her bun form and hairnet and peeled off her false eyelashes at the kitchen table and ate something and finally sat down to start START on a few hours of homework.


OH MY GOD.  Who can live like this?  The teenagers.  They live like this.  A lot of them.

I’ll tell you, the modern teenager has full days but sometimes I wonder how much living they are doing.  They are on some sort of high speed treadmill and it’s nearly impossible to step off of it. The intensity level of school, activities, friends is relentless.  When they say “I don’t have time” they actually mean it.  They run out of hours in their day-often.  In some ways, it’s no wonder they shut down and lose civility once they get home.  This is the last bastion of relaxation.  Home.  Where people love you but then nag you about picking up your wet towel.

Needless to say, I have had to adjust my expectations.  A lot.  It is not my carefree adolescence of the 80’s.  They can’t just complete their homework on the bus or skip it all together (like I did).  They don’t have 45 minutes daily to devote to outfit selection and hair prep (like I did).  They can’t bomb 3 tests and make up the points with cute extra credit or daily work (like I did). The pressure they feel is product heavy and process light.  Achieve, achieve, achieve.  There are posters at our local high school boasting that it has been ranked “One of the most challenging high schools in America.”  Maybe that inspires?  It only depresses me and I don’t even have to go to school there.  Teenagers are under a lot of stress.  I had stress in high school…92% of it was self-inflicted.  I wasn’t bombarded by a competitive results focused message from my parents, my friends, my extra curricular,  my school district, my phone.  The pressure is taking a toll on their mental health.  How could it not?  It has somehow become my job to be the counterweight to ALL OF THAT and foster a “do enough” approach.  I never thought that would be my role.  I never thought I would want them to achieve less and work on cultivating more joy.  I thought I would be cracking the whip.  But the world is already set on whipping them.  They need encouragement.  They need a freaking break.

And this stage isn’t all bad.  They are fun.  So much fun.  And funny. Oh my God…funny! I enjoy their stories and they read better than any screenplay or novel.  I can’t even tell the stories here or they’ll never speak to me again. (I asked)  I should get a Finsta.  I could tell all my secrets there.  But I wouldn’t.  All that can be screenshot and saved-and it is.  I can talk to them now about the big things and be straightforward and they get it.  In some ways, I can be more myself than I could when they were little.  Occasionally they do their own laundry and cook their own food.  I love watching them learn.  Sometimes minor miracles happen and they load the dishwasher or help a neighbor or play with their little brother or make a positive but tough choice without input or without a death threat from me.  And sometimes they show glimmers of the adults they will soon become and it gives me great hope and energizes me to last through the day.

I think about that family in church.  Maybe one of the kids had to be dragged out of bed to make it on time.  Maybe one had been grounded for a week and slept in the clothes they were wearing. Maybe one was there of his own free will but was about to pick an epic fight on the ride home. Maybe all three of them had headphones in the entire ride to and from.   Maybe that mother was just sitting there for one quiet hour like I do now and think…

-Well (*sigh)…at least we are here.

What I did on my summer vacation

This summer kicked ass.  Not like…”Dude, this summer was so kick ass.”  More like…”Wow. This summer really kicked me in the ass.”   If I were returning to school tomorrow and had to write the 80’s classic “What I did on my summer vacation” essay, it could be easily summed up with eight simple words:

I spent my summer vacation in my car. 

In this particular season of parenting, with a 15, 12 and 7 year old, our family finds itself wanting to go in 5 different directions and apparently four of us expect I’m going to drive everyone to and from.  I was just not home very much this summer and when I was, it was for a 92 minute interval to drop off groceries, drop off a kid, drop off the dog, start a load of laundry and pick up the next round of riders to get them off to their next marvelous event. I’m like an über cab that also provides you with petty cash and a ‘making good choices’ lecture.  Summer was full. Very, very full. (I loathe people who say they are busy.  Who isn’t busy? So I try to say full to convey gratitude, weight and still troll for sympathy)

In the best moments of the summer, I really felt like my kids were able to experience things that they will remember for a lifetime.  The school year is such a grind and I really want their summers to be for exploration and recreation and rest and earning some money (when possible).  We spent an unbelievable amount of money on camps this summer between all 3 kids.  I do know the exact amount but I’m not going to publish it.  I’m neither proud nor do I want it carefully documented.   The actual cost needs to fade from memory because it was a necessary evil. It meant they could try things without a giant time and/or financial commitment during the school year and see their friends and try something different and get out of each others hair (this is critical to my summer survival).  There was sailing camp (1 week Pram, 1 week Hartley rec, 2 weeks Opti learn to race!), scouts camp, dance camp (twice), vacation bible school, basketball camp, ninja warrior camp (no-I’m not kidding), YMCA day camp and old school church camp (which my son rated an 11 out of 10). There was some serious fun that was had.

In the worst moments of the summer, I felt like I was running a tiny Make-A-Wish chapter in my own family, yet none of the participants were terminally ill and they all had complaints to file.

Summer as always is far too short and fleeting so I am going to choose to remember the good and forget the rest.  This is what I am choosing to remember about the summer of 2016.

This is the summer my two eldest children passed me up in height. I went from the second tallest to the second shortest in our house just in the last 10 weeks.

This is the summer that each of the big kids took the little one on bike rides and walks with “NO parents”.  He found this quite adventurous.

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This is the summer I read The Boxcar Children and Pippi Longstocking to the youngest and he loved them as much as I wanted him to love them.

This is the summer that it was both a royal pain in the butt to drive my daughter and her cadre of friends everywhere and it was special because I know next summer she will be driving herself and I will miss her even more.

This is the summer that my older son and his friends biked (so adorable…shhhhh…) with fishing rods and bait in tow to fish under the bridge, off the dock, at the beach.

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This is the summer that I sat on the front step with my daughter until nearly midnight talking about all of the important things while the only other sound was the cacophony of frogs.

This is the summer that it rained so much that we grew accidental large strange powdery mushrooms in the backyard and my husband spent hours (days really) trying to eradicate the local vole population.

This is the summer the 7 year old requested that his stuffed animal Bunsers come and watch him play soccer.

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This is the summer that my two eldest starting getting along better. Neither of them take things as personally anymore.  They had some really nice moments that I witnessed.  Some inside jokes.  Some genuine give and take ‘asking for your opinion’ exchanges.  Some bonding over music.  It was like watching 2 caterpillars morph into 2 butterflies.  Butterflies that get along. It was strangely breathtaking.

This is the summer that we went to Madeline Island for the very first time and the little one went on a paddleboard by himself for the very first time. Also-I can’t explain his biceps in this photo.  I guess if you run everywhere and you have 0 percent body fat you are blessed with those.

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This is the summer that my 12 year old turned to me and said, “You are a pretty baller mom.” I’m quite flattered.

This is the summer that our 9 year old goldfish died, the front porch got redone, we had 3 monarch butterflies in the front garden, we were out on the lake frequently, the kids lost one fishing rod and broke another, our next door neighbor got 2 tiny daschund puppies, the boys obsessed over Pokémon go, we put up the new tree swing, Grandma moved just 3 miles away, we spent 8 hours in a row at the beach several times, my daughter and I did yoga on stand up paddle boards, I baked pies and sourdough bread, the youngest wore a swimsuit sans underwear to church, we went to 2 wedding receptions, we played cards and Ticket to Ride together, we went on bike rides, we drove long distances to try new doughnuts, we took naps in the middle of the day.

My 3 kids are not so little anymore.  It seems that each day is packed with activity without many long pauses…This is the new normal and I’m not entirely sure I like it all the time but I think they would say it was a very good summer.  And if the summer I envisioned had more long walks, quiet contemplation and unplanned stretches of time…

 

My summer starts tomorrow.

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Delta Chi Latte: Accepting late pledges

I have never had a huge group of friends.  I have many good friends.  Cherished friends. But generally, even as a little girl, my friends were not all friends with each other.  The biggest group I was ever part of was maybe three or four girls.  Groups of friends in elementary school formed pretty naturally driven by activities or geography or moms.  But by middle school I had narrowed the field quite a bit.  I think I almost preferred it that way.  I’m a secret introvert and even now if I go to a party where I know I have to make small talk with 30 people, I feel a little ill.  I want to grab one person and hold their face in my hands and discuss their relationship with their mother at length.  I know.  Now you won’t invite me for coffee.  It’s ok. I just generally suck at making ‘light conversation.’

In late high school when we were actual women making friends with other women, I had one ‘best friend’ and we floated between groups of other friends and hung out with a group of boys as a duo. This totally worked for me.  The guys were a blissful counterweight to any drama she and I might attempt to stir up.

1989 and 2014 below…


College was similar.  Again, I had lots of women I spent time with but not a sorority atmosphere certainly. I have several friends from those four years-but they aren’t friends with one another.  I found my future maid of honor in college.  We disliked each other a great deal the first few weeks of freshman year.  She found me bold and over confident.  I found her shy and irritatingly not wanting to be the center of attention.  Plus, she wore mysteriously preppy rugby shirts and I was trying out my REI meets goth look with all black clothing, dark red lipstick and hiking boots.

We must have pushed past all that since now she is the executor of my will.  Below you will find a montage of our early relationship and no, no alcohol was involved in striking any of these poses. Sadly, no mood altering chemicals were involved when I chose any of those haircuts either.  I can own it.

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Then I made “couple friends” and anyone who is over 14 knows how difficult that is to navigate.  The odds of both people in one pair really enjoying both people in the other pair are well…let’s just say even match.com or tinder wouldn’t dare try to code that algorithm.  And then large groups of couples who all enjoy hanging out together?  Even more tricky.                                                                 (note: 3 of my favorite couples to hang out with in our 20’s…all divorced now-maybe it was me?)

Graduate school.  In two years of seeing the same people every.single.freaking. day, I made a few friends.  Three.  And I made one lifelong close friend.  We were like hecklers at a comedy club except we were in Psych classes.  I’m not sure everyone appreciated our bond.  We thought all of the same people were exactly the same kind and same amount of crazy.

Work.  Various settings.  Various people.  Please.  I have yet to find an adult human who relishes attending their own company party let alone hang out with their co-workers every weekend. Worlds colliding.  It rarely works out ideally.

Church.  Surely church is filled with a lot of nice women.  I never did find 6 that all wanted to hang out together though. Never.  Acquaintances yes. Cohesive friend group?  Nope.

Neighborhood.  No.  We live on a street that ranges from newly married to retired couples. There are no block parties.  No progressive dinners.  No pool parties.  Last year we had 0 trick or treaters.  One banner year we had five.  They must have gotten lost. My closest neighborhood friend lives next door and I surely couldn’t have survived the last 18 years without her but we have our differences.  She is 69.

So-over the years when I see on social media photos of 8, 10, 12, 15! women together on trips or dinners or book clubs or scrapbooking weekends or reunions or 5k’s or wine tastings or etc…I always think…really?  How?  How did I never end up having a group of friends?

And then I realized I have one now…my first friend group.  At 44 years old.

I have finally found my sorority.  Accidentally.  It’s my ‘mom friends’.  The extensive group of women who surround me who are raising their children alongside me are my tribe.  Phenomenal, intelligent, strong women.  They know me.  They know each other.  We have a lot in common and the kids bond us together even though some of our kids are different ages and don’t even hang out with one another.  Doesn’t matter anymore.  They are women who work outside the home and women who work inside the home.  They have one child, they have four children.  They are single, married, widowed, divorced.  They are estranged from their parents, have ailing parents, have dead parents, have under involved parents, have over involved parents, all while parenting their own kids.  A few are over the top optimistic and a couple are intensely sarcastic and a couple are so wicked smart and a couple are wild procrastinators. They are volunteers and coaches and organizers and entrepreneurs and piano teachers and writers and religious and not religious and some are great cooks and some are ultra crafty and some exercise and some talk about exercising but never actually do and some are loud and outgoing and some aren’t and I value and cherish them all for their gifts and their challenges and their grit.

These women, they make my life so much better.  My circle of trust.  They make the grind of life tolerable.  They are my go to when I have a question about what the heck is wrong with my kid(s) or to tell when something goes well with my kid(s).  They celebrate my successes and lament with me when it all goes to shit.  Some of them I see in person 3 times a year, others I see weekly.  We go on mom field trips and do important ‘doughnut research.’  It is my first experience of having a large number of women who make me feel “we are in this together”. I have 20+ women who would drop everything and pick up my son if I needed it.  I would do the same for them.  They are my emergency contacts.  I have cried with them in Target.  In Target.  Right there next to the light bulbs and laundry detergent and bananas.  That is friendship.  It is an intricate but strong and supportive web of friendship that holds me together some days during these intense parenting years.

These women…they teach me.  They educate me on camps to look into, where to buy something for less, why a particular teacher is so valuable, what to open my eyes to and when to shut my ears.  NO KID REALLY NEEDS TO BE 6 YEARS AHEAD IN MATH.  They know stuff.  They recommend books and doctors and websites and restaurants.  They gently explain the reality of why I could never actually survive being a hockey mom and how many things are likely going to turn out just fine and probably don’t need my micro-management.  They point me in the right direction when I need to get whipped about something and present convincing arguments for when I really need to calm the hell down.    (It’s almost always the second one)

This photo was taken on my birthday last year.  Not even nearly everybody who is important to me is in the photo (obviously)…and I didn’t even have a chance to talk to everyone this day and hold their face and delve into their inner soul.  But it’s ok.  They know I care what happens to them.  I’ve got their backs.  I’ll catch up with them at school or on the soccer field or in the church parking lot or over lunch or maybe at Target.

We will cry at Target.  Together. Sisterhood.

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I am a Cross Country running champion (spectator)

If you are a parent, one of your primary jobs seems to be serving as a witness to the lives of your children.  I’ve witnessed a lot.  Although if you ask my youngest son, he will tell you I missed one preschool field trip to the apple orchard and ALL the other moms were there and he was completely and utterly alone.  So-we both have to live with that failure.

So far, my children have participated in what feels like 1,000 school, church and extra curricular activities that include t-ball, soccer, football, dance, choir, scouting, orchestra, cross country, knowledge bowl, and a few others I have blocked from my mind.

A lot of it has been fun.  Some of it has been not so fun.  Some of it has been downright irritating.  I’m not a great spectator because I lack a fiery competitive spirit and yet am sitting amongst the superfans.  I don’t care who wins.  I don’t get any great thrill when one team wins over the other or when one person beats out all the others.  When I watch the Olympics, and I LOVE the Olympics, I fall in love with the personal back story of all the athletes.   I will always root for the person with the toughest personal history every time. I will pray for the athlete with a compelling twist in their journey where they almost didn’t make it to compete after years of effort. I will root for the athlete who tells a story about how his mom drove him to practice for 15 years without complaint. (maybe I’m rooting for her)   But I’m not a great spectator. My cheers are very vague, “Oh go YOU!”

Until I discovered my love of spectating at cross country meets.

At most kid sporting events, you can hear spectators cheering/yelling at the kids, yelling at the coaches, yelling at each other. There is lots of yelling.  More yelling than cheering sometimes.  It took up all my yelling energy just to get everyone clean, packed, dressed, fed and in the car and at the destination on time. I suspect by the time we arrive at the event, I’m all done with yelling. It’s time for me to sit in my chair with an iced tea.  But I can hear a lot of other parents that have plenty left in the tank to scream on the sidelines. Calling plays. Making position suggestions. Lamenting the amount of play time doled out to their kid.  Complaining about the referees’ ability, a particular call, their age.  Screaming at their own kid to PUSH themselves.  Reminding their kid (loudly) that they will get ice or or $5 or other such incentives if they score.  I heard a coach on an opposing soccer team tell his team, “Swarm them like angry bees. Swarm them!”

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Dance is no better.  Studio dance culminates with a recital. There is a quiet subversive chatter at those events.  Kids didn’t get the part they wanted.  Kids got put in the back that should have been in the front.  Wrong kids featured.  Kid with poor attendance got the lead. Music choice sucked. Recital is too long. Teacher wasn’t good so choreography is too hard/too easy/too jazzy/too old/too young/too much.  (I should know the teacher critiques-I taught dance for years.) I love watching dance.  But even I find it difficult to watch a 3 hour recital where I can see 2 minutes of my child after they have put in a year of instruction.

I watched competitive dance this year for the very first time. That’s a whole new world.  It’s not your mother’s dance team.  There are some phenomenal dancers on high school dance teams.  Seven, eight, nine consecutive pirouettes.  Please.  I bow down to you.  However, I sat next to a mom who clapped when a student on a different team fell down.  Seriously.  She clapped.  She followed it up with verbally blasting her own daughter because she missed a turn.  We can’t be friends now. Ever.

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Music.  Generally not too bad.  Choirs is virtually painless.  Orchestra?  It’s almost an endurance test in the early years.  Have you heard a 9 year old try to play the violin? I have.  Two different kids.  Please no. No.  My daughter has played for 6 years now.  I have to say…it didn’t sound like music until 7th grade. That was year FOUR for those of you keeping track.  Even at the music concerts there is chatter about private lessons, what ensemble group to audition for next year, who got the solo, first chair, practice habits.  I’m coming clean.  Kids in this house-they didn’t get in their 5,438 minutes of music each week.  Never.  Math comes before music. I can’t fight ALL the battles.  I’m only 1/4 Chinese rendering me virtually useless when it comes to being a Tiger Mother.

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Knowledge Bowl.  Have you witnessed this craziness?  Hundreds of kids from everywhere battling it out to answer questions like, “In what dystopian novel could you find the quote ‘We stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought'”?  Buzzers are rung all over the room while I try to think of more than one dystopian novel.  Wow.  By the way…It’s from Fahrenheit 451.  These kids are middle schoolers who are well versed in Bradbury.  I was reading the Sweet Valley High Series in 6th grade.   Those crazy Wakefield twins and their romances NEVER said anything deep or memorable and I liked it that way.  Hundreds of parents are walking up and down the hallways watching kids answer questions and discussing how their school runs practice, what teams are the best, and other things I’m not interested in.

This brings me to Cross Country.  Watching cross country is my thing.  Finally, I’ve found my sport.  Truth be told-I cried at nearly every meet.  Cried.  This is why.  It’s all outside at a school on (mostly) lovely fall days for about an hour.   They run in huge groups divided up by grade and gender.  I can pick out a couple of kids I know in the blur that go by but I’m keenly watching for my son who is fairly easy to pick out since he refuses to wear actual running shorts because (“Mom-they are insanely short”)

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On both sides of the course, the spectators watch and wait and cheer.  And everyone cheers and claps and smiles.  For everyone.  I learned some things from the high school runners who were there watching the younger kids.   They yell, “Pace yourself!”  “Pass a couple!” “You’ve got this!” “Go go go!” “Finish strong!”  Now I say those things.  I can belt out a really good “pass a couple”-it’s such a reasonable cheer for a non-competitive person.  And when they are finished…many of the runners go back to cheer on those behind them…their teammates and those who are competing against them.  And some of the kids have buddy runners who run with them and encourage them to keep going and to finish. This makes me cry every time.  The kids who need the extra help giving it everything they have and the kids who are giving the extra help giving it everything they have make me cry in equal measure.  And everyone cheers those kids on until the very last one crosses the line.

This. This is what appeals to my deepest sense of what I think is right and important about athletics.  Participation.  Being part of a larger team.  Belonging to the group.  Get out there and do something and try even if you are not first, or second, or twelfth.  Do this with joy.  Do we not all benefit when everyone crosses the finish line?   The pure joy of participation is not exclusively owned by the winners.

Next up for my professional spectator role: Track!?  My son said he would like to try track.  I said, “Great.  I’ll sign you up. What made you decide to try track?”  He said, “It sounds fun.  It’s all the cross country kids.”   I hope he does his very best.  I hope someone in front of him is pulling for him and mostly I hope he turns around at the finish line to root for anyone still running.

I plan on swarming them all with cheers. An encouragement swarm. Finish strong!

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All I Don’t Want For Christmas

 

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This post is about Christmas.  If this offends you, I can’t help you…it said it IN the title.

This time of year…it’s full of joy. Joy and insanity.  One of my friends says, “Ah-the holidays. That time of year when nobody gets their way.”  She gets it.  It feels like there are a thousand extra things to do and the goal is to bring yourself to the brink of lunacy emotionally, financially, spiritually, mentally and physically. There are demands on how to execute the holidays, where they should be held, who should be included, who should be excluded,  when it should be done, what should be served, appropriate gifts to be given, events to attend, and what type of cheerful elf-inspired mood we should all be in. Except many of us aren’t.

Well I’m not doing everything this year and I’m typically crazy for Christmas. I’m in love with Christmas but sometimes I’m giving way more in this relationship than I am getting. (Don’t email me people: I know Jesus is the reason for the season) What I mean is-I can end up missing the whole thing in my efforts to do it all. I’m learning my lessons from the ghosts of Christmas past.

One year I cried (while drinking a Manhattan) while I assembled a wretched Playmobil Zoo until 2:00am so that my son would be overcome with Christmas cheer and fall down bawling with surprise and feverish gratitude and love for his mother.  The next morning when I waited for his delight, he strolled by and patted the tiny miniature seal and then sat on the floor to eat Hershey kisses for 2 hours.

One year I wore myself down so much, I got the stomach flu the day after Christmas and was confined to my room for 4 days and watched the kids ice skate from my sick bed.

There was the year Jack tripped and gave himself a seriously black eye Christmas Eve morning. While serving food, I rotated bags of peas on his face.

There was the year Isabelle had strep and we were at the clinic on Christmas Eve.

The year(s) people said they would show up and they didn’t and also a year they showed up when they said they weren’t going to. Yeah.

The years I’m pinned in the kitchen and can’t even see what people are opening after spending hours upon hours searching, purchasing, hiding, and wrapping.

So here is what I am not doing this year:

I’m not over-decorating. I’m not going to put up every single blasted thing I have collected for Christmas. It’s too much. I have my things, things I’ve inherited, things I’ve been gifted, heirlooms, things the kids have made. Things I can’t get rid of for a variety of reasons.  If I display everything it looks like Christmas puked and it makes me go pattern blind for it is WAY too much to look at and WAY too much to put away.  See favorite decoration below.  I smile every time I see it.

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I’m not letting the kids help me with everything. I know. Bad Mommy. I don’t care. I want to put things where I want them. I want to handle some of them gingerly so that they remain in one piece. Last year an ornament was broken that had been in my family for 40 years because it was tossed like a baseball.

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Also-please don’t help me with all the baking. No help necessary. I like to bake for the holidays and I love to have the kids help me with some of the baking. We usually make a gingerbread house.  It’s so fun and almost always involves a glue gun and a long discussion about the merits of cedar shake shingles (cinnamon toast crunch).  But I really don’t want their help with all of it. I get distracted and then things aren’t right and don’t turn out and taste like crap AND I really don’t need help from one certain helper elf that occasionally LICKS his hands. Gross. Nobody needs saliva in their baked goods.  He can busy himself opening and shutting the 25 doors on the advent calendar. And he does.  It’s like a cardio workout the way he handles that thing.

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I’m not going to fixate on loved ones that aren’t here. Now-touchy subject.  This is one of many, many reasons that this time of year throws people into a complete tailspin. Too many reminders. So much grief. The empty spot at the table. All of these loved ones will be on my mind. I will miss them. But this year I’m not going to obsess to the point that I miss out on all the people that are here including myself.   I’m going to focus on this year and this experience and this time that I have and try to not let it slip by as I rush through to January. It doesn’t serve anyone else well in my family if I curl up in the fetal position under the tree.

I’m not spending weeks dealing with the holiday card.  For real. I usually do.  I can’t even explain it.  But this time I had to let a few things go.  We had a lot of nice photos taken, I had an idea of what I wanted it to look like but concessions were made.  Actually, here is what happened this year.  I’m just going to say it out loud.  There is a penis on my Christmas card.  Yep.  A penis. Nothing says “celebrating the birth of Christ” like full frontal nudity. Jesus was nude in the manger right?

Ok-it’s the dog.  But still.

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I’m not going to see the Nutcracker Fantasy. I LOVE the Nutcracker. (maybe I should not have had this paragraph immediately following the penis one) Anyway, it’s as big a part of my holiday memories as anything else but this year I’m going to skip it. I just have to. I went last year to the big anniversary hullaballoo but trying to cram it in this year doesn’t look likely and I’ve nearly made my peace with it.

I’m not going to make up Christmasy excuses that I’m too busy to fit in a few things that I really want to do. I really wanted to host a holiday breakfast for a few friends. NO.BIG.DEAL. I have 35 people on Christmas Day so 8 women is practically a vacation.  Except it is one more thing to do and one more thing to ask of them just to show up. But I am going to make it happen and not talk myself out of spending 2 little hours with people I really enjoy. I also had a few things that I wanted to make myself to give as gifts. I’m not going to let myself pretend that it cannot possibly get done.  I’m going to carve out a little time and have some fun making my funny homemade gifts. (I’ve already said too much. :))

I’m not going to cut down our Christmas tree this year. We have gone for years now to cut down the tree together as a family. We ride on the wagon, trudge through the snow, bring the saw, I take dozens of photos. (below) Here is the thing though…If I wait for the perfect 6 hour window…the tree will be here January 5th. So we are going to the tree lot. 20 minutes. Easy peasy. We still will all be together.  We will have a place to hang the ornaments.

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I’m not going to beat myself up if I don’t find the perfect thing for every person. I know there is a lot of “remember the reason for the season” platitudes. It’s not about the gifts. But to me, the giving has always been central to the very spirit of Christmas.  It is a symbol of the celebration and the care in which I choose gifts has always been important to me.  It should not be careless.  I like people to feel well loved. I show love through thoughtfulness.  But I’m cutting myself 3% slack this year.  Sometimes the exact thing I’ve conjured up simply does not exist. I will have to give a few people an extra hug.

Oh- And I’m not going to get sick. Do you hear me God???   I am NOT going to get sick.

I don’t want to miss the forest for the tree.  (hee hee) The truth is that there is a pressure to keep up ALL the traditions. And then the family gets larger and there is more to keep up. And then everyone has their own set of expectations and it grows to a level that would drive even the most grounded person to run and drown themselves in the punch bowl. And really, every year is different. Every single year. The decorations, the traditions, the events, the people gathered around the table are a changing cast of characters each time.

And that is ok.

So Santa, if you are reading this: This Is All I Don’t Want For Christmas