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photos:
1) my beamish boy, 8 years ago when we were good friends
2) spot the tattoo
3) no mas!

Last night as I pulled in the driveway I felt a pang in my heart when I noticed the white Christmas lights on in my son’s upstairs bedroom window. I turned the lights on when he went back to school so his room didn’t look so cold and empty. I really miss him. And I don’t. We are both happy, doing good work where we are; me in Ann Arbor and he in Chicago. But still there is a pull on my heart.

My son started his freshman year at DePaul University in Chicago. He lives on the Lincoln Park campus but takes the El to take classes downtown (13 floors above the Barnes and Noble on the Loop) a couple of days per week. On those days he says he eats breakfast overlooking Chicago as the sun rises. It makes him happy.

The summer before he left was neither fun nor pretty for us. So many fights. Go ahead, join the other hundreds of friends who told me not to take it personally, that he’s just separating, that he will come back. I know all of this. But it still hurt. Deeply.

And when he turned 18 at the end of July he announced he was going to get a skull tattooed on his bicep.

I said, not a skull.
I said, not yet.
I said, wait until you’re 26 and your frontal lobe is fully developed.
I said, wait until you’ve made friends at college.
I said, a skull on your bicep says, f-you! I’m a tough guy and I want to fight you!
I said, okay, get a tattoo but not something that is so negative and scary and visible.

He said, yes a skull, yes on my bicep.

I said, NO.

He said, you have no say, I’m eighteen and can do what I want.

I said, I’m paying for you to go to college so I think I do get a say.

My husband said, don’t tell him we’re not going to pay for him to go to college.

I said, that’s not what I said.

My son got his badass tattoo the week before he left for college.

I didn’t speak to him until two days before he left when he came up to me and hugged me and said, I love you mom.

I said, I love you too, dummy.

He said, whose the dummy who wouldn’t talk to her son the week before he leaves for college?

I said, whose the dummy who got a skull tattoo the week before he left for college?

He said, my skull tattoo is amazing.

So he got a tattoo. No one died. But as a friend noted, after having had the same experience with his daughter, something shifted. Something broke.

Looking back, I think it’s okay. I likely did something that broke my childhood relationship with my own mother at some point. Like when I would blare Elton John’s “The Bitch Is Back” when she intruded on my teenage life. Or any of the millions of other transgressions I made against her.

Now, I have a wonderful adult relationship with my mom. I hope I will be able to have a similar relationship with my son one day. In the meantime, I am getting better at not taking his transgressions so personally.

His first week of college my skull-tattooed son had a Discover Chicago immersion class where they visited different neighborhoods, learned about their histories, ethnicities, etc. He texted me one day and said, three of my four professors have tattoos, I don’t feel so special.

When he was home for break he was talking about getting another tattoo. I said, well I would be okay with that one, pointing to our refrigerator where I had posted a paper heart with a banner baring the word “MOM”. My daughter had made as a label for a gift for me.

He said, that’s actually one I was thinking of getting.

Oh my beamish boy. I hope no more tattoos, but I’m keeping my mouth shut this time.

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I was looking at photos for a quick post and found these. Puppies. Cheap shot. I know.

The first two were taken in Wisconsin when I was visiting my daughter. We were leaving a Target and my daughter saw signs that said “Puppy Sale” in a pet store window. She asked, “Do you think they have actual puppies?” I said, “Likely just puppy supplies, but no harm in looking.” I was right, and I was wrong. They had puppies, but you know what she is saying with her eyes, “I NEED him Mom. Please?!”

The last one is my handsome Finny modeling what my son calls, “shameware.”

Can you see Finny’s wonky smile? So few teeth. So many directions, rows and angles. My neighbor Maddie was sitting outside on the grass petting him the other day, staring into his mouth. I said, “Are you enjoying Finny’s teeth Maddie?” She replied with a little wonder and dismay, “There’s just so much going on in there!”

Back to the shameware. The morning of our trip to visit my daughter for her birthday I left a large bag of gifts on the floor by the kitchen door so I wouldn’t forget to pack them. Then I left for work. I came home two hours later to drop my son off and he motioned me to come into the house— the bag of gifts was empty and ripped and the gifts were all over the kitchen floor. Only one was ripped apart. Decimated.

There was no food among the gifts so I had no idea why he got into the packages. I realized the one he ripped apart was a gift from another Ann Arbor mom to her daughter, Sarah, who attends the same school as my daughter. She had asked me to deliver it to Sarah and had included another identical looking gift box for my daughter. I knew the one for my daughter contained a t-shirt, so I assumed the identical package for Sarah was also a t-shirt.

As we searched for the t-shirt from the torn apart package, my son noticed something like black dirt on my dog’s cushion—TEA! There hadn’t been a t-shirt in Sarah’s package. It was tea. Which my dog had consumed. Yum.

Since my old dog is now deaf, he cannot be shamed by the disappointed quality of my voice when I try to scold him. He just stands and happily wobbles his donut tail. My son decided to make shameware out of the bag Finny had torn apart. When that fell off too easily, my son fashioned shameware out of a smaller bag. Perfect fit.

Does Finny look shamed to you? Not to me either. More like plotting to make a dash for his cushion so he could lick up the rest of that tea.

Later I emailed Sarah’s mom to apologize and she said no problem, but in addition to the tea, there had been chocolate covered espresso beans in the package. Yes, he ate those too.

It would likely have killed a lesser dog, with better teeth, but Finny has survived eating a pound bag of m&ms (nearly killed my husband though, I was out of town) and a bag of Reese’s peanut butter cups, foil wrapping and all. I didn’t even take him to the vet for this one. I had to leave town after all…

(Don’t worry! He seemed pretty normal when we left at 5pm, and we had a dog sitter who I checked with several times over the weekend. Finny is alive and well and overweight according to last week’s visit with the vet. And yes, I do realize that if anyone should be wearing shameware…)

back in the hammock

May 15, 2013

051513sassyhammock051513hammocktreesback in the hammock

We have had a hammock in our backyard forever. I think it started as a first father’s day gift to my husband, which is a mean joke since he is the person in our family who uses it least.

We usually have to buy a new hammock each year, as the squirrels have a great fondness for chewing the rope to bits. Our current hammock is up for the season and is going on its third summer. Haha squirrels! One point for the humans! (Though it’s likely the squirrels may be avoiding it because it’s made from some unknown toxic substance so maybe, Haha humans!)

I cannot stand to just lie in a hammock, and say, nap, or read. I am not wired that way. I used to give my kids terror rides in it when they were little, which they have loved. (I am wired that way.)

Every now and then, over the years, someone says to another, “Want to go lie in the hammock?” And on warm summer night at midnight, they lie in the hammock, side by side holding hands, or head to foot, always complaining of the foot, listening to far off sirens and dogs barking and doors closing in our little town, trying to see stars through the heavy canopy of the giant maple that hold one end of the hammock.

Usually the two in the hammock would be my daughter and me.

Last August, on a very emotional morning when she said goodbye to her little bedroom, house, backyard, town and family for her first year away from home, the last thing we did before she left was to lie together in the hammock, side by side, holding hands.
That was hard. She was so sad and so uncertain.

And look at her now. She conquered her freshman year and all of the challenges it threw at her, which were many. She made the dean’s list both semesters. She sang, studied science, made new friends and learned what it’s like to attend a very small college (1,200) in a very small town.

And now she is home.

And we are back in the hammock. Side by side.

catching up

May 14, 2013

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photos:
1) the best birthday package
2) birthday heart from my 15 year old son, clean kitchen included
3) My dear mom and my dear sister Jen

Back from my blogging hiatus. I hope. Something had to go. I have been away from most of the past 4 weekends.

My dear sister from Seattle was here for a too short visit. Our family spent a weekend with my daughter for her birthday at the end of April. I had my final exam for my photography class. You roll your eyes, but there was a great amount of technical information to learn, such as the electromagnetic scale and length of the color waves that is viewable to the human eyes (400 – 700 nanometers in case you were wondering).

Then it was my birthday. Guess what was in the package from my amazing friend Cathy? A vintage red purse and a Catherineholm fondu pot! As I told her, I hugged them to my chest when I opened them! That woman! I have to be careful about what I post on my blog!

The night of my birthday my husband and I went to the simulcast of “Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me!” a nerdy NPR radio show that we love and have seen live several times. I came home to a giant chocolate chip heart-shaped cookie/birthday cake, made by my 15 year old son. Even more of a gift– he cleaned the kitchen when he was finished! Yes, my son cleaned the kitchen after baking. What?! Who is that manchild?!

The next day it was back to my daughter in Wisconsin to pack up her dorm room. Before leaving Ann Arbor, I went to pick up a rental van and was asked if I remembered to renew my driver’s license, which expired on my birthday, the day before. No van for me. Still haven’t renewed that license. Yikes. So we packed up my Prius, and what couldn’t fit we had packed and ready to go for my husband, who (new plan) would now be renting a van midweek, when he had planned to travel to get her anyway (after her last exams). While in Wisconsin my daughter and I drove an hour to meet my friend Cathy for lunch. I wish I could see her every weekend.

Back to Ann Arbor. The photography class ended. (A on the final, A- in the class. Gah! A MINUS?!) Two days later my daughter returned home. Hooray! My mother got in a car accident, not her fault. Her dear car which was old but low miles and pristine condition was totaled. Airbags deployed and she is fine.

Then it was mother’s day which included too short of an overnight with my mom, and too quick a visit with too few siblings and their families, shopping for teenager clothes (gah!), taking the dog to the vet, and a too short visit with my mother in law. Mother’s day weekend also included– white steamed pudding with raspberry sauce (made by husband), a peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake (made by mom), blueberry pie (made by husband) and lilacs— which are finally out and smell like the start of summer.

The last month also included nights volunteering at the Ark, an attempt to exercise more and oh yes, work— my busiest time of the year at work. I won’t sleep well again until my summer programs end on June 28.

Next up? Renewing my driver’s license. Helping my daughter find a summer job, and helping my son decide on how he wants to spend his summer (in addition to his volunteering at a zoo). Helping my mom get a new car—a team effort with her and my siblings. Putting my dog on a diet. Working on my flower beds. Exercising more. Maybe I’ll clean my house and do laundry one of these days! Oh yes, then there’s work…

In the spaces in between, I plan to blog…though it may be about how to get my whites whiter and how to get a pug to lose weight…That’s my life. And I’ll keep it, but I’ll understand if you need to move on in order to stay awake…

lockdown

February 23, 2013

lockdown

Yesterday we learned via robo call that our daughter’s college had an emergency and it was on lockdown. I don’t even have to describe the images that came into my head. You know the images.

I texted her, “Please call me when you can.”

She replied, “I can’t. I’m so scared.”

With no additional information, we, and she, and her fellow students and professor, had no idea what was going on. They only knew it involved a gun.

The incident turned out to be less threatening than we were all imagining. Someone just a block off campus, not a college student, had threatened to shoot another and was locked in his apartment. The police were trying to get him to come out, which he eventually did.

While I think I did pretty well in crisis mode, I felt like wailing and gnashing afterward. How do I protect my daughter, and my son, in this crazy world? How can I care and comfort her in such a situation from so far away? I wanted her home. I wanted her here where I could protect her. I wanted to impose my own lockdown.

But even at home, I can’t protect her from these situations. When she was a freshman in high school we had another robo call about her school being in lockdown. This was not at some college in another state, but at her sweet little high school in downtown Ann Arbor, just a 10 minute walk from my office, in a relatively safe and comfortable community.

A robber who was holding up a jewelry store downtown had run from police toward the area of the school. That time we received good information throughout the crisis via more robo calls. We knew what the situation was. We knew the police were immediately inside the school with tracking dogs (the police station is about 3 blocks from the school) and we knew when the lockdown was lifted when they found no robber.

We also learned after the lockdown was lifted, first via text from our daughter, that someone in a dance class noticed a man’s feet sticking out from behind the curtain of a storage area. As the teacher tried to get the students out of the room, the robber realized he had been discovered and yelled, “I don’t want to hurt anyone, I just want to get out of here.” The students stood aside as he bolted from the classroom and the building. (He was found shortly after hiding, wrapped in insulation, under the porch of a home.)

I can’t protect her from everything. If she is going to live in the world, if she is going to do meaningful work in the world, if she is going to change the world for the better, then she will have to live, LIVE! in this sometimes-dangerous world. Keeping her under my wing safe from all that is scary and hard would just make for a miserable person who is unable to cope as an adult. So, no home lockdowns.

My comfort in these lockdown situations is that in both cases she was not alone; she was with friends and with kind strangers. Some of the strangers are now her friends. Yesterday she and her classmates were in it together. They shared information; she shared her jolly ranchers. They tried to make each other laugh. They took care of and comforted each other.

Our children are not alone and it’s best for them, and for us, to learn that they can find strength, comfort and compassion in the people around them, and in themselves. All of the love and safety we have provided them when they were young, they can find and cultivate in others as they get older.

I will always drop everything to try to comfort and to be with my children when they are facing a crisis, now and 40 years from now. But I am learning that I will be part of a bigger support team, with members who will be right by my children’s side much more quickly than I can be.

transitions

February 17, 2013

Transitions

This is the note we found on the refrigerator when we returned from dropping our daughter off at college last August. If you can’t read it, it says:

Dear family,
I love you incredibly.
I will miss your faces, voices, hugs and selves terribly.
and I think that is all there is to be said.
thank you for being wonderful.

It does pretty much tell our story. It was hard on all of us to separate. And with my 15 year old son being understandably less interested in spending time with his mom, my life where I put most of my energy into being a mom is changing. Thinking about those days when my kids were younger and would prefer my or my husbands lap over any other sitting option available makes my heart ache knowing they have passed.

I loved being a mom to my kids, and have always been acutely aware that our days were numbered. Every birthday I made a calculation of just how few birthdays we had left with them; when they would still be ours. I remember when my daughter was a day old, being awash with hormones and intense love as I watched her sleep in her car seat. I sobbed to my husband, “You know, she’s just going to grow up and leave us!” And here we are.

No, no one has died…I know, I know. But give me a chance to adjust. I will and I am. I talk to my daughter daily. My son still mostly enjoys my company. I laugh with both of my kids almost every day. They are both doing great work becoming loving, kind, smart, beautiful adults. I am so proud of them. And I am exploring new ways to fill my time. I’m taking a photography class at the local community college, and love it. I’m volunteering at the Ark, an amazing small music venue in downtown Ann Arbor, I’m exercising more, I am still enjoying my day/paid  job and here I am , starting a blog. Hooray for me!

But still…