Sunday, August 5, 2018

Herman Melville and My Two Dads

My dad was a reader. My whole life, he had a book in his hand and we had full shelves in our house. He loved classics and war novels and history and fiction and mysteries. I became a reader too. We made countless trips together to bookstores and the library over the years, and he introduced me to many of his favorite authors. Among them was Herman Melville and he particularly loved the book Moby Dick. At his repeated recommendation, I tried to read it. I swear I picked up that book at least three times but could not get into it.

Sometime in the last year, I had a premonition that my dad wasn’t going to live much longer. He was sick and he was trying so hard to get better but it wasn’t going well. I made a resolution that when he died, I would read Moby Dick. I think I needed a tribute in advance.

On the morning of August 1st, I was awakened by a phone call from my step-mom that she couldn’t wake up my dad. I went to their house immediately and stayed with her while the police and the coroner, and eventually the mortuary folks came. Later that day, looking at my dad’s bookshelves, I remembered my plan to read Moby Dick. Now it was time.

Also later that day, my birth father called from New York and left a voicemail. I love him, I love talking to him, and I knew I would call him back as soon as I could, but I had this feeling of mild awkwardness. It felt strange to think about calling my birth father back to tell him that my dad died. There’s a sentence maybe not a lot of people say: “Dad, my dad just died.”

When I did talk to my dad—New York Dad – I told him about the Moby Dick commitment. He said he has read it two or three times and loves it. That was cool to hear. I bought it on Kindle while I was on the phone with him and started reading that night.

Isn’t it funny how you can pick up a book and it does nothing for you, then another day -- another year -- it’s entirely different? I don’t believe this is the same book I couldn’t slog through in the past. Only two chapters in I can perceive why Las Vegas Dad liked it so much and several passages have reminded me of New York Dad. There’s some great balm in this, to have one book connected to both dads.

And I need a balm right now. One dad just died and I left the other one in New York two weeks ago. It was a 2,770-mile road trip from New York to Nevada via Tennessee. I drove mile after mile relishing the scenery and pondering my old family, my new family, and where I belong and how. Those miles passed too quickly. I can’t get everything figured out and no amount of miles could make it easier to be without the father I just met. Similarly, no number of years makes it easier to say goodbye to the father who raised me.

So I’ll read Moby Dick, of all books, and think about these two fathers. They have more in common than Melville, including boating and woodworking and art. (We won’t talk about politics or women.) They also have plenty of differences, but those don’t stand out as much. For my purposes, it means everything that they read. And that they had me.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Stream of Consciousness at the Las Vegas Airport

An airport is a prime location for people-watching. I try to tell my children this, but they are perplexed. Apparently I've never exposed them to the concept of observing strangers for fun.

WHY is that woman in a down jacket? It's 110 outside! Maybe she flew in from... where is it cold right now?... Alaska? Maybe she flew in from Alaska en route to Antarctica and she won't step outside the airport so it's perfectly normal she'd be wearing goose feathers. 

The air outside Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf is fragrant and happy. 
The air around the gates where people are gathering to board is expectant and, oddly, a little stale. Air shouldn't be stale at an airport (of all places!) because people are moving! Traveling! Going places!  

And there’s a Pokestop here. I’m out of Poke Balls and need to stock up before I get to Chicago-O’Hare where I anticipate finding all-new Pokemon. Of course, this could be like the ants in India. Shortly after arriving in India, I went for a walk around the retreat where I was staying and noticed ants on the ground. When I crouched down to get a closer look, they looked just like American ants. It was disappointing. I will feel let down unless I see new Pokemon in the Chicago airport.  

Besides people-watching and air quality and Pokemon, we’re here for the take-offs and landings and historical sites and visiting far-away states and lands and climates. Which brings me to the next bit of advice for my kids: look out the airplane window! See those brown mountains? See those no trees? Pay attention! We will soon move over mountains and plains and trees will appear and there will be rivers and more trees and - more trees than you've ever seen. I think I'm doing this for the trees. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

My First Year of (Parenting) High School

My high schooler cleaned out his freshman year binder. Much of what he learned is in this stack of papers. Much of what I learned is in this blog post.

High school can be a memorable part of a person’s life. However, it’s so long ago in my own history, I only have fleeting flashbacks of lockers, exams, and my electric blue prom dress with silver shoes. Until last summer, it took a chance hearing of OMD’s “If You Leave” (or really any song from the Pretty In Pink soundtrack, or Breakfast Club’s, or Ferris Bueller’s) to take me back more vividly. But as I was prepping for my own son’s freshman year in high school it was an odd thing to suddenly recall those years in refreshed detail. It was also mind-boggling to have reached this milestone with my oldest child. Now the year is behind us, and I learned a lot.  

Lesson 1) I’m not in control.
I want to make sure my high schooler is hard-working, serving, organized, balanced, well-adjusted, healthy, popular enough but not too popular, strong, confident, virtuous, kind, humble, astute, aware, and active. The problem is, I can’t force those traits. I had much more input in toddlerhood, for example - but even then, most of it was out of my hands. And high school is very unlike toddlerhood (news flash!) as my child functions more and more independently. As a high school parent, I’ll do well to accept this, and quickly. I’m trying to relax and affirm the kid I have. 

We’ve established some standards over the years, and hopefully they will serve my son and those around him — and I can guide him, carefully — but I can’t dictate anymore. Like I said, I probably never could, but it sure seemed more like it when I spoon-fed his vegetables and held his hand on walks.

Lesson 2) I shouldn’t try to re-live my own high school years.
There might be a very very very tiny part of me buried deep down (or not so deep down) that thought I was going back to high school. I recognized this is by analyzing my feelings and behavior on “freshman back to school night.” I may have done one or more of the following that evening: 

  1. wore my trendy shoes rather than my sensible ones 
  2. flossed
  3. felt shocked when I realized the other parents looked “old”
  4. experienced vivid flashbacks during class presentations
  5. casually told the track coach I thought I could make Varsity

I have to work hard once and for all to accept what I did and didn’t accomplish in high school and move into these high school parenting years with confidence and breeziness so that I can help my kid be confident and breezy. My most valuable mantra: “IT’S NOT ABOUT ME.”

Lesson 3) Friends with high-schoolers are vital.
I can’t overstate how important my friends are. Friends at all stages of life, parents or not, no matter their age, have been a joy and support. But having friends with kids in high school has kept me sane. I’ve benefited from the sharing of resources, ideas, and therapy. Note: by “therapy,” I don’t mean endless criticism of our kids, but rather having someone to talk to about the highs and lows of daily life with a teenager.

Lesson 4) Control the fear. 
With an older child, certain dangers in the world appear magnified. For example, with my son behind the wheel of our car with his driver’s permit, I’m suddenly more aware of all the idiots on the road and the many ways you can die in a motor vehicle. 

It’s necessary to discern which fears to ignore and which to heed. Experience and personality seem to contribute to teen parent fears. For instance: one of my friends allowed her daughter to walk home from school but refused to allow her to ride in a car with a teen driver while my other friend was happy to allow his daughter to ride in teen-driven cars but NO WAY would allow her to walk home from school for fear of sexual predators. 

In addition to reading scripture, self-help books, and seeking professional counseling (all have helped), I have chosen to be brave. I recognize that I’m not in control (see Lesson 1); I pray a lot; and I talk to those friends with high schoolers to get feedback on what is reasonable and what is paranoid anxiety.

Lesson 5) Be there.
When it comes to time with my older kid(s), quantity beats quality. Even car rides and weekend afternoons sitting around on the couch become opportunities for conversation. I’ve had to be willing, as much as possible, to have my kids’ friends over to our house whenever they ask (within reason, this isn’t a hostel) and to be the driver to and from school and social activities. Some of the most revealing, important, and even humorous moments of this year have taken place in our car. Not being face to face removes conversational pressure, and a van full of high schoolers guarantees fascinating topics.

Parenting a high schooler has been educational, and I look forward to many lessons ahead. But I got this! I think I'm doing okay. I may be even more successful as a parent than I was as an actual high school student. And that's saying a lot, because I ROCKED that electric blue prom dress.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Things Are Going Fine

I hate running out of paper towels. Inevitably, the dog barfs whenever I have no paper towels. I will clean up a lot of gross things with cloth towels, but dog barf isn't one of them. Well... thanks to Amazon's "Subscribe and Save" program, and my itchy trigger finger on the "order now" button, I will never run out of paper towels again - ever. Never ever ever. Look at them! They've multiplied like rabbits and no longer fit in the pantry. I'm going to have to build an addition onto my house to store paper towels! Who has time to build an addition onto the house? Not me! I'm too busy doing... what AM I doing? Certainly not improving my computer prowess --- all those paper towels but our family of six is only a few rolls away from being out of toilet paper... good thing I've been to India and can proficiently wipe with my hand because I'll be DAMNED if I'm going to buy any toilet paper in an actual store. It will arrive on my doorstep via UPS from Amazon or we will all just have to go potty at other people's houses.

So --- back to that question - what am I doing with my recent huge supply of free hours?

Activity 1) Being down on myself about my lack of online ordering skills
Activity 2) Spending a lot of time on Facebook
Activity 3) Not cleaning the house
Activity 4) Wondering who will brush the dog already! And trim her nails! And walk her!
Activity 5) Feeling guilty about all of the above PLUS the fact that I haven't finished writing a book, reading a book, or organizing the linen closet which has been on my chore list since late August
Activity 7) Painting my nails
Activity 8) Un-painting my nails

I know I've been on Facebook too much. I can barely hold a conversation with anyone, even my dog, without mentioning someone's Facebook post or comment. Last night, I found myself sitting at the table after dinner unable to move. I was transfixed by Facebook, ignoring the dishes, the laundry, the kids' homework, the 43 Cub Scouts about to arrive eagerly at my house. I spoke slowly to myself, in a gentle, reassuring voice: "Teri, set down your phone. Look your daughter in the eye and reassure her that the math will get done. Now... clear off the counter... easy does it... no sudden moves... and hit "wrinkle release" (for the fourth time) on the dryer then move carefully toward the dishes. That's it. You're doing a great job. Now get out there and take a walk to burn off some of the sugar from the candy bars you were sneaking."

Later: dishes done, counter clean, clothes put away, and Cub Scouts having had a successful meeting - my husband and I have bleary "How much freaking longer can this week BE?" looks on our faces. We watch one of our guilty pleasure TV shows (YES! Instead of spending romantic time working on that linen closet!) and then fall asleep milliseconds after climbing into bed.

Today, glorious Friday, I drop the kids at school, buy myself a coffee, and sit down to look at Facebook. (I know, I know. Shut up.)

I see this post from a dear friend:

I have been to a wedding and a funeral this week....Life is precious, it's worthy of celebration. With all my kids in school and more "free time" than I've had in years, I'm spending more time thinking about stuff, less time on Facebook, more time walking the dog, less time comparing myself to others, more time reading and less time "hustling for my worthiness." It feels good.

I smile and I cry, simultaneously. Her circumstances are similar to mine but NOWHERE IN THIS POST DOES SHE MENTION PAPER TOWELS TAKING OVER HER LIFE! 

That "less time comparing myself to others" part gets me. On any given weekday, I'm falling short of a hundred people's expectations: people who have no expectations of me! It makes no sense. I'd join this friend on a walk with the dog to glean some life wisdom but she lives in another state. Instead, we set up a phone date. I know she will be gentle and encouraging and real - she always is. Her Facebook post is beautiful for that reason - she never tries to be anything she's not -- and her words today are good news and encouragement. I just need permission from myself to relax. We are in a brand new place in life. It takes a while to figure it out and navigate. Her words "hustling for my worthiness" stick in my brain. I've been hustling for weeks - trying to prove to myself that all is well. The hustle doesn't work anyway and then I turn to social media and candy bars. Might as well take a deep breath, say another prayer, and remember my worth is already established - whether my nails are painted or not - and even if we don't have toilet paper. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Wouldn't it Be Funny?

Wouldn't it be funny if, now that I'm free most of the day, I hired myself out to homeschooling moms as a tutor/schoolwork supervisor so they could have extra time to themselves? I don't think my kids would think it was that funny. Some of them (I won't name names) are asking (regularly and loudly) to go back to homeschooling. I am standing by my decision to send them to public school despite the teeny incidents involving other children who: eat hand santizer; act like total brats; don't take their meds and therefore are exceedingly disruptive. Yep, in three weeks I've seen each of those things and more! Just ask! I've been telling the stories non-stop and I have them honed so they're pretty funny when you're not crying about them.

Anyhoo.... back to the subject at hand, which, contrary to appearances isn't homeschooling or public schooling -- but hiring myself out. Let me catch you up on what I've been thinking:

I gotta get a job.

I gotta take some time off now that I'm not full-time mothering small children or homeschooling.

I gotta get a job.

There's no way I can work and still deal with the drop-offs, the pick-ups, the homework, the meal-planning, the grocery-shopping, the errands, the housecleaning, the laundry, the Facebook, the coffee-drinking, the book-writing, the...

I need to work to earn money because suddenly I have a kid in ninth grade. Ninth! He's an official high-schooler with official plans to be a college-goer and before you can say "Geez, he's tall! I remember when he was a wee lad!" I'm going to need some resources to at least partially support him in his pursuit of higher education. After all, I want him to be successful and happy so I can finally let go of all the guilt over how bad I think I've botched this most days AND so he can help support Kevin and I on our trips to Europe in our senior-citizenhood since we could never afford it when the kids were growing up.

If I work, I will be miserable and bored because I can't think of one single job I would enjoy that doesn't require another degree or two. And if I take the time to pursue another degree or two - there goes all that time I could have been earning money! And there goes all that money I could have put aside for degrees for my kids! Today, as I poured my coffee, I had a revelation: If I get started now, and work my butt off, I can have a Master's degree before my oldest reaches his junior year. Then I have TWO FULL YEARS of earning before that same kid graduates and requires help with college. But then I remembered all the Master's degrees I'm interested in and how the jobs they're associated with don't pay squat - and how people who use phrases like "don't pay squat" probably won't even pass the GRE. Hell, I couldn't even remember what the GRE was called and had to text my friend for a reminder. I'm doomed.

I've read *several* (read: one) studies that say that teenagers need a parent's presence even more than young children or else they will devolve into sociopaths. If I'm going to work, better to choose something I'm not passionate about and educated for so it's not hard to leave it at the end of the day to go home and supervise the homework and the lunch-making.

If I don't work, I will find myself mid-day on a Tuesday writing a blog viewable by the public which outs me as a bored, neurotic, over-thinker who is CLEARLY drinking too much coffee.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

On Mammograms (and therefore Frigidaires, I guess)

Right on the mammogram machine there are two packets of smelling salts* taped at eye level. "Do you need those very often?" I ask the technician.

"No, not often, but when I do, it's good to have them close." She reiterates that a mammogram isn't that painful but people sometimes get "worked up" and pass out. I'm glad I'm not "worked up." I'm standing there with a gown draped first over one shoulder, then the other, trying to seem nonchalant about having my breast maneuvered onto a tray and then flattened by what really resembles a refrigerator drawer. It does, I swear. I could remove it from the machine, take it home in my purse, and fill it with fresh vegetables before installing it in my Frigidaire.**

I find myself thinking about how this is what this woman does all day long. She dons her gloves, positions other people's breasts onto the tray, then stands behind a shield and pushes the button that takes the picture of the breast. Over and over and over again. And presumably, goes to lunch mid-day and is able to think about other things. I don't envy her job, I really don't. I don't want to have a job where I may or may not have to deal with people passing out. And... I'm losing sight of the bigger picture here - I also don't want to have my hands on other people's breasts all day. I hope she earns a good salary.

Days after the mammogram experience, women get their results. I've done this before, and thankfully,  last time there wasn't anything abnormal. But my friend in California had her first mammogram within days of mine and her results were different. And then she started her cancer treatment. I'm happy to say she is here today, having survived the cancer. I sat with her after her first reconstructive surgery and thought back to when she got her results and I got mine and our paths diverged.

More recently, two more women I know got breast cancer diagnoses. So, today when I stood there trying to relax as the machine clamped down, I thought of them. Prayed for them. It hurt a little at one point and I remembered my friend's husband's description of the skin stretcher she was coping with at home as she recuperated from her mastectomy. I can handle a little pain. Especially compared to a skin stretcher. If it comes to it, I'll deal with the skin stretcher, too, if it means I get to live a little longer with my family.

Why am I talking about mammograms and breast cancer? I'm certainly not a good advocate for regular mammograms. Today's was my first in three years. I'll know the outcome in a few days. But the experience, whether it brings relief until the next one, or produces the news that changes your life, is something many of us women are going through or being encouraged to go through once a year, much like dentist appointments and pap smears. And I like to talk about things like that. Unpleasant but common experiences. Just to reiterate the "you're not alone" message that so often gets me through things like mammograms.

*ammonia inhalants, or ammonia carbonate if you want the fancier, more medically accurate term

** I do not actually own a Frigidaire-brand refrigerator but I'm not writing from home and can't actually recall what brand I own. And I'm in good company this way. Shel Silverstein used the Frigidaire brand in his lustrous poem "There's a Polar Bear in My Frigidaire." Go pick up a copy of "A Light in the Attic" and read it. It might help get your mind off the subject of mammograms.

Friday, August 28, 2015

End of a Big Week

Monumental week this week. If it weren’t for the coffee shop I love so dearly, I might be wandering aimlessly somewhere talking to myself. Prayer has helped, too. Let’s be honest, it takes more than coffee to keep me going. But it’s Friday and my four kids and my husband and I got through the first five big days of public school life after six years of homeschooling. Additionally, we have a high school freshman - it might take months for me to acclimate to that. There have been victories (out the door every morning on time! good teachers! time at the coffee shop! homework done! lunches packed by a miracle of Jesus!) and defeats (slight bullying incident! tears and nausea on the way to school! lamenting early wake-up! why am I putting exclamation marks on the defeats?) But we did it. One down, thirty-something to go. Let’s not think about that right now.

The experiences of this week have been peppered by those of our friends. We know four families who just took their eldest kids to college. One navigating the world of college sports for her hopeful high-school senior. Some with new Kindergarteners, a couple marveling over full-day first-graders. A few in the earliest stages of motherhood with newborns. Plenty, like me, looking wide-eyed at their high-school freshmen and wondering when they got so tall… so opinionated… so old. 

The variations in parenting circumstances from newborn to college are staggering. But the similarities are undeniable and poignant. My mom-of-a-middle-schooler friend was buying school shoes and teared up when she realized her daughter’s feet were suddenly only one size smaller than her own. At the same time, our neighbor “forgot” she’d just dropped off her daughter at a campus hundreds of miles away and went ahead and got out a dinner plate for her, too. When her husband pointed it out… tears. The tears are a result of similar goings-on in our hearts - this parenting thing is never-ending change! Why does it hurt so much? I’m not prepared to delve into that question. What I do know is how it stood out to me this week all that we have in common. Weird how Katie’s Kindergarten boy posing next to his new teacher looks remarkably similar to Annette’s son in his just-set-up dorm room. Maybe only in a mother’s eyes, I’m not sure. All I know right now is that the coffee and the prayer are helping, and thank God for friends.