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.

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.

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.

Raking it all in…

Not sure if you heard-but there was recently an election here in the U.S. If you haven’t heard, I am completely jealous of you and your lifestyle and could I please come visit ?  I bet you are a really serene, happy American or live abroad and are a serene and happy person there.

My candidate didn’t win. I’m disappointed (which is putting it mildly) but I’m not moving out of the country. You’d have to drag me out of Minnesota let alone the U.S.  I am also very surprised at the outcome but I blame my own denial about the America I thought I lived in.  I.had.no.clue.  I also hope and pray I am dead wrong about the President elect.  If the ship goes down…we are all on the same ship and I won’t root for that.  Ever.

I have considered that the true travesty of this election could be that marijuana wasn’t legalized everywhere in this great nation because I sense growing bipartisan support for a deep collective inhale followed by a super long stretch of “Let us all calm the hell down.” Maybe that’s just me.

My mind has been in a tailspin.  I really am interested in talking to people (50% of Americans estimates say) who didn’t vote and hear their opinions on why they didn’t participate in voting and their views on the outcome.  But I need a break from the talking.  I need a break from social media, media, and talking to people about the election.

This one, it’s over.

I have been trying to sort out what I should do, if anything. There are many options but many of them just aren’t resonating with me. So I had chosen to do nothing until I found the right thing. Media coverage offers numerous examples of possible action.  Sign a petition. Wear a safety pin. Attend a protest. Write to local legislatures.  Wear a t-shirt. Donate to a cause. Donate to a cause that the other side opposes. Get involved in local elections. Join a like-minded group.

And then, I figured something out. I made a tiny shift in my own headspace.  I figured it out at a Boy Scouts event. Yeah. This is very ironic, since I find Boy Scouts to be an avalanche of red tape and paperwork with a patriarchal 1950’s attitude about a lot of things. It’s not my deal. Sometimes wisdom develops in the unlikeliest of places.

The Boy Scouts had a raking event at a house in the area. The homeowner had recently undergone surgery and the boys (who need service hours) were going to rake and bag leaves from a substantial yard for a few hours. I stayed to help and oversee (with 2 other parents) because with that many boys ages 11-15, it felt it would be further pain and suffering for the homeowner to manage that whole circus. Boys that age can be absolute squirrels. They raked. They bagged. They wrestled. They pretended the trailer needed leaf crushing (which consisted of them jumping in and smashing them down over and over again). They took breaks and leaned on their rakes. They fought over the leaf blower. They asked if they were done. They weren’t. They raked more. They picked up sticks. They stole each others hats and flung them into the trees. They cleaned out the gutter. They worked together and pulled heavy tarps from the backyard to the front yard over and over again. And so did I.

Three hours later and the job was finished.  The yard was not perfect but it was better.  The needs of the homeowner were met. The result exceeded his expectations. I daresay, the boys had some fun.

And it hit me. I want my country to be the best it can be for my children and children in general. I am only here for a blink of an eye and it won’t be perfect in my lifetime or otherwise.  America is imperfect as it is composed of imperfect humans.  There will never be a candidate that I agree with 100%.  Sometimes I disagree with myself.  Sometimes I change my mind.  I had thought it was important that my children see me fight for what I believe in. I thought it was important to have my kids fight for what is right.  I thought we were fighting for good.  But…I don’t want to fight for it. I want to work for it.

I want to work for good.

I want them to see me work for good.

I want them to work for good.

Fighting feels like getting a huge group of like minded people together to convince another group of like minded people that they are wrong.  Fighting is also easy.  I can quickly gather a group of middle-aged white women in MN with Master’s degrees and two car garages and fight for or against something.  Trust me.  We could take somebody down and still be home in time for lunch.

My children can’t feel me donate or sign a petition or write my legislature. They might not get it if I walk in a protest or attend some meetings or post political articles.  It’s the old “Don’t worry that your kids aren’t listening, worry that they are watching.”   My children are watching. All the children are watching. I am committed to setting a good example.  They can watch me serve. Serve neighbors, friends, family. I can work with other people of all different race, class, religion and creed and they need to see it. They can and do and will serve alongside me.  They can watch me exercise restraint in my words yet still employ miniumum standards of behavior for others in my life as well. I expect them to do the same.  They can watch me work out plans to include and empower and stand up for others that doesn’t involve ire. They can help. Let our service spread good and love like a wildfire.

Some of my best work so far is them. No election and certainly no singular individual in Washington could ever cause me to give up working for their good or the greater good.

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