Sunday, August 24, 2014

Don't Be a Cliche

It's difficult as a parent to not want to offer up a million pieces of last-ditch-effort advice as our kids go off to college, at least it was for me.  Here is a portion of the letter that I wrote to Jacob as he left for State today:

Okay, so here goes, my attempt to cram useful advice in one last time – are you ready?  Here goes.  Don’t be a cliché.  What do I mean by that?  I mean, a penny saved is not enough.  Save some dimes and quarters and a few bills, too.  Always be saving and working toward a goal.  Love is near-sighted.  Keep your loved ones close – not only physically, but emotionally.  Don’t build walls out of fear.  Silence is fool’s gold if it means you left heartfelt things unsaid.  Never pass up an opportunity to say, “I love you,” or “I’m sorry.”  You only live for a really long time so make decisions you’ll be proud of.  Money can’t buy anything that truly matters in this world.  The early bird might have gotten a big fat crunchy grasshopper if he had been more patient and not so impulsive.  Sometimes it pays to wait.  If at first you don’t succeed, get more people involved.  Success isn’t achieved in isolation.  Keep your friends close and buy your enemies a cup of coffee. We can learn a lot from people we disagree with.  Take the road not travelled by.  Forge a path that leads where you want it to go.  Don’t rock the boat unless you know everyone in it can swim.  Sometimes we need to stop playing it safe and just get wet.  Don’t judge a book (or people) unless you’ve read it and thought about it and considered its purpose.  If the shoe fits, it still might be ugly.  Find your own style.  The glass is rarely only half filled anyway.  Life is overflowing with blessings if you take time to look.  Stop to smell the roses and the fresh cut lawn, the ocean, the mountain air – be present in the moment and savor where you are. A picture is worth a thousand words, but that doesn’t mean they are complimentary ones (read that: be careful what you post on the internet!)  A bird in the hand should be released.  Don’t cage anything that is meant to be free.  And we are all meant to be free.  An apple a day gets old even to doctors.  Don’t get stuck in a rut – be adventurous!!  Absence makes you jobless.  Show up every day, even when you don’t feel like it.  Hell hath no fury like a grandmother who didn’t get a thank-you note.  Express your gratitude for all things to all people.  The grass is always greener when you pay a lot for fertilizer and lawn care, but it’s still just grass.  Spend your money on things that are truly worthwhile.  Make hay if you’re a farmer, make music if you play an instrument, make pasta if you’re a chef.  Figure out what your talents and passions are and do that for a living.  Don’t put off to tomorrow anything you can afford to do today.  You might never get the chance again.  If you love something, don’t let it go.  Fight for it – every day.  When the cat’s away, the dog will nap.  Take a break every now and then.  Rejuvenate!  A man is only as good as his effort.  People will forget what you said, but they won’t forget how you made them feel.  Diamonds should come from a girl’s best friend.  To be a great husband, you have to be a great friend.  The best things in life are different for everyone.   Don’t let others tell you what should be important to you.  When life hands you lemons – learn to juggle.  Do unexpected things just to make people smile.  Don’t count your chickens, or your awards, or your degrees or your belongings or money.  It doesn’t matter how much you have, it matters how much you do with what you have.  Failure is not only an option it’s an opportunity to learn.  Allow mistakes to shape and refine your choices and actions – they will bring you closer to success.  If something’s too good to be true, don’t be the one selling it. Insist on quality – in what you buy and what you make and do. A watched pot never overflows or scalds or curdles.  Focus your attention on the task at hand.  It’s always darkest in the woods at night without a flashlight.  Be prepared.  Laughter is the best medicine unless you broke a rib.  Be appropriate for the situation.  There’s no place like Rome.  Or Paris.  Or Japan, or Montana or Dubuque.  Travel every chance you get.  Finally, it isn’t about the destination, nor is it about the journey.  It’s about how you react to the puke in the backseat.  Life is what you make of it and how you react to the things that happen to you.  React with kindness, a generous spirit and a heart full of gratitude.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Getting Ready

We went shopping last weekend.  One more time in eighteen years that I have been ever so grateful to have a boy.  "Do you need hangers?"  He threw a pack in the cart.  "Do you think you might need more than a dozen?"  He threw another pack in the cart.  "Do you need a laundry bag?"  He grabbed the nearest one and put it in the cart.  The Mister pointed out that maybe Flash would rather have a bag than a plastic hamper that may or may not fit in his closet.  Flash put the plastic hamper back and we found a bag.  He threw it in the cart. 

And so the day went.  We bought clothes, shoes, dorm supplies, laundry supplies and lunch - with Flash and his new girlfriend (also off to State).  We made lists and we crossed things off and we added more and we grabbed things on the fly we hadn't even thought of.

Isn't that how it is, this parenting thing?  We prepare and we think and we parent with a certain integrity and set of morals but then we cross off what doesn't work and we add in new things that do make a difference and we add a whole lot of things on the fly. 

And we wonder, as we look at it all, packed up and ready to walk out the door, is it enough?  Is it all the right things?  Is this all unnecessary?  Is the balance between necessities and fun things in check?  Does he have what he needs to be successful or will he be scrounging to catch up when he's on his own? 

Sigh.

In a week, we will finish packing it all up, and we will drive him to his dorm and help him arrange and unpack (I suspect it will be much like shopping - toss this here, toss that there, call it good!) and we will leave him to fend for himself and to forge his life down his own path.

The Mister and I have big plans when he is gone.  Much-needed repairs and rennovations to the downstairs bathroom, reorganizing of the bedrooms, cleaning out cabinets and making the space our own again.  I'm doubled up on grad classes in September and the start of a new school year is always a busy time.  The Mister has a couple projects he's gearing up for and has been looking into maybe taking a cooking class to fuel his passion.

I wonder if I am ready!?  Do I have all the right things to handle life without the teenager?  Do I have enough of the necessities and enough of the fun things to keep a good balance?    Are we prepared for this next chapter in our life? 

Sigh. 

I suspect, just like Flash, we will be making up new lists of things to do and try, and crossing off things that don't work or we don't like along the way.  And there will probably be a whole lot of things we add on the fly.  Sometimes, those are the best kinds of things. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

In Search of Majesty

We set off on our "Bucket List Vacation" with a cooler of snacks, cameras and a general sense of our route.  We had reservations in Maine, but our stops along the way were left to the spur of the moment.  And what moments we had!

 The Mister had been to Niagra Falls as a child, but neither Flash nor I had ever been, so we turned left and spent a little time soaking up the view.
 We drove across upstate NY, up through the adirondacks.
  It made us all miss Pennsylvania with all the hills and trees.  

We took a ferry across Lake Champlain. 

The view of New York behind us...
 

and the White Mountains of Vermont in front of us was stunning!

The Mister loved the view.
 There was beauty everywhere we looked.
 A beautiful New England town.

 
We stumbled upon one of the tallest observatories in the world. 
So, we had to go up, of course. 


And when we stopped again when we crossed over this waterfall. 

 When we arrived in Maine, The Mister tried out his moose call.
(It didn't work.)
 Sunrise from our balcony.
 Starting the day looking out across Frenchman's Bay in Bar Harbor, Maine can't be beat.
 The view from the top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park was breathtaking.
 We stopped to take it all in.
 The boys I love and the view I was longing for.
We loved watching the waves crash at Thunder Hole.
And everywhere we turned in Acadia, there were amazing things to see.
We saw puffins...

...and whales...
...including a mother and her calf! 
 We saw lots of lobster boats!

Which sure made two boys happy!!

 
 There were lighthouses everywhere...

 ...and an eager photographer ready for the next best shot!

 
We took a tour of Fenway Park...

 ...where we sat in some of the most famous seats in baseball...

And we wrapped up our New England vacation with a "slice of heaven" from Mystic Pizza!


I cannot say enough about our trip.  We set out to "see something majestic" and filled our hearts, souls and photo albums with more scenes that fit that description than we could have planned for!  We savored every moment of our family time, filling the time with laughter and joy at every turn (well, except maybe when we were all freezing on the whale watching boat!) 

Thanks to both of my boys for such an amazing time together!  
And thanks be to the One who made it all!!

Saturday, May 03, 2014

What do you call a dinner conversation that involved hearing about how your husband can identify which guy in a parking lot will have tools so he could crawl under his Jeep and fix the starter?  Or when Flash talks about some punk kid that goes to school with him flippantly calling Flash "buddy" at the tux shop, and your son's equally sarcastic response?  Or learning that your husband may have been on speaker phone instead of hold at Auto Zone when he said, "Man, I have to piss like a racehorse?" Or how Flash had to think of how to delicately remind The Mister about the button in the Jeep that he had just recently told us about when The Mister couldn't get it into neutral?  Or when the boys try to explain why The Mister smells a little perfume-y.  Or when the teenager starts singing along to Bonnie Tyler's "I Need a Hero"?  What do you call conversation over dinner where your husband and teenager have you laughing so hard you cry, recounting the events of their afternoon?  Well, at my house, we'd call it, "typical."

WWYD?

If you're stopped at a light and some guy in the lane next to you jumps out of his car and walks over to you and unexpectedly slams the hood of your car shut and then gets back into his car and drives off, do you try to catch up so you can thank him or do you laugh thinking about how odd the whole scene must seem to everyone else on the road, when you know that guy was actually your husband shutting your hood  after you had to jump start his Jeep?  

Friday, May 02, 2014

Eighteen

I remember birthday parties and themes over the years.  A construction cake, sleepovers, building a stand for a new fish tank.  Giggles and smiles and celebrations of an amazing child.  But this one is different.  This one is hard.  This one is eighteen.

I think about it every year, the drive to the hospital, the complications in delivery, the  blue of his little feet and his cry, when it finally came.  I remember missing my mom with an ache that hurt more than giving birth.  The days following are the proverbial blur - summed up by saying I had never before felt so unprepared.  For a girl who had graduated with honors, I had no idea how to get this child to stop crying - something that seemed like it should be so fundamentally easy at that point.

We've journeyed through life - through divorce and relocating, through the Year of the Death Glare (12 was tough on us both), through first girlfriends, hard classes, learning to ride a bike, then drive a car; and most recently applying for college.

We have yelled, cried, sobbed, laughed, held grudges, forgiven each other, hugged, smiled, winked, smirked and wrestled.  We've consoled each other, made tough decisions together and forged our way through life together.  He's been my constant companion for all the years.  

His nickname has never seemed as appropriate as it does today.  Eighteen years?  They've gone by in a flash.  It isn't possible for me to be the mother, a woman in her early forties trying to balance college money and retirement savings.  And when I look at him, it doesn't seem possible that he can be the same boy as the little blonde boy walking around the house with an audio cable - "plugging" into the couch cushion and speaking in martian to the other end.  It's easy to say, "Where did the time go?" but if you're a parent, you know the answer.

It was spent holding a crying baby with tears running down your own face because you can't figure out what's wrong and you just wish he could tell you.  It's spent trying to figure out what your preschooler is trying to tell you from the back seat and finally realizing he's talking about a yo-yo - something you've never shown him or talked about - realizing he's now learning without you for the first time in both your lives.  It's spent holding onto the back of a bike and lying to your child when you promise you're not going to let go, you're not going to let him fall.  It's spent pouring over a math textbook that might as well be written in Greek knowing that despite your education degree, you cannot figure our your middle schooler's math assignment.  It's spent worrying about him letting him in to the house and staying safe until you get home from work.   The time is spent shopping for new shoes and new sweatshirts (red when he was seven, orange when he was a teen, and now green).  The time was spent in parent teacher conferences wondering if you've put too much on his shoulders at such a young age - is freshman English too much for a seventh grader?  The time is spent driving to the apple orchard, the strawberry patch, Bowman's Tower, the shore, Tennessee, Michigan, back and forth to Cleveland so he can meet up with his grandparents... the time has been poured, moment by moment, hoping that everything you did would amount to something.  More than making memories together, you prayed all along that you were making a man - helping to create a human being that would be loved deeply for all of his life (by more than you just you!)

It's not that he's not ready to be an adult and to move on.  It's not that I think he's not prepared, or that he'll fall flat on his face. No, it's that he is ready.  That he'll do just fine.  He's going to be better than fine.   It's just that he won't be here.  I won't hear about his day every night.  I won't sit around the dinner table with him and hear about all his friends, his Calc test, his work schedule or his plans for the weekend.  I won't have him around, cracking jokes at my expense or wrestling with The Mister.  He won't be here playing cards, mowing the lawn or riding with me on our drive to school every morning.  I'm going to miss him so.  We are going to miss him so. 

And so today, we will celebrate this milestone birthday.  Tomorrow is prom, next month graduation and in the fall - well, let's not even talk about that today.   For the one thing I've learned over all these years is that as painful as giving birth was, as much as I cannot truly think too hard about all that happened that day or how truly terrified I was, I know this: giving him wings is proving to be as painful and as terrifying.


Happy birthday, Flash.  I love you!! 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

We don't make waffles very often around here, but this morning I thought they sounded delish.   I made up the batter and then pulled Mom's waffle iron down from the top shelf in the pantry.  I set it on the counter, plugged it in and just stood for a moment, thinking about Mom.

Julie and I got her this waffle iron for Mother's Day or Christmas or her birthday, I don't remember now the occasion, just that we knew she'd love it.  And she was so excited when she opened it up!  Somewhere in the cleaning up of all the wrappings and the box, however, the instructions were accidentally thrown away, and Mom wasn't sure how it worked.  She didn't know how long to cook waffles.  And so the waffle iron sat, in the way back of the cabinet for years.  

After Mom died, Dad asked Julie and I to take anything from the pots and pans that we might be able to put to use.  When we came across the waffle iron, I decided I would take it home and see if I could figure it out without instructions.

It was probably weeks later when, as a young bride, I decided to try my hand at making waffles.  I followed a recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook and then plugged in the waffle iron to preheat.  I was looking through cookbooks trying to see if any of them said how long to cook a waffle, when a loud chirping sound came from the waffle iron.  

The tears just rolled down my face.  I couldn't stop.  My husband came in to the kitchen to find me sobbing.  He couldn't understand why a chirping waffle iron would make me cry.

So every time I get it out, and especially when I hear the chirp, my heart aches for Mom.  Especially today.  

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Jim vs. James

There is quite a difference between Jim Nantz calling the Matser's golf tournament at Augusta this weekend, and The Mister's running commentary...

Nantz: "...that ball needs to slow down...slow down...."
Mister: "...that ball needs to f'ing stop!"

Nantz: "That shot came up woefully short!"
Mister: "What the hell was that?  Hit the ball!"

Nantz: "That was definitely too much wood."
Mister: "That's what she said!"

Ahh, The Master's will never be the same.

But Mom, why did you have to fertilize the lawn today?!?