Turn, Turn, Turn

The college freshmen walked toward the student union to check in. She was excitedly focused on what was in front of her when she heard her name called from behind. It was her mother. “I didn’t get to hug you good bye.” The freshmen was startled, she gave the obligatory hug and continued on her way. The mother returned to her car at the curb, and she and the father drove away.

This morning on my walk my neighborhood was full of moms and dads taking first day of school pictures of kids. The children smiled at the camera, depending on their age, with big excited grins or embarrassed “can we get this over with” grimaces. There were no pictures at my house for the first time in 20 years.

This morning I ran into my daughter’s ,now retired, kindergarten teacher in Starbucks. She asked if I noticed all the little ones lining up for school. I told her I had dropped my little one off at college yesterday. She clutched her heart.”How was that for you?” “It feels worse today.” I replied. She shared a memory of my daughter from all those years ago. I remembered how much my daughter loved K4 and this teacher. I remembered how I had tried to talk her pre-school teachers out of advancing her to kindergarten. “She could stay, but she’d have to co-teach the class,” they laughingly told me.

I know that this next phase of our lives will be just great. But right now I’m feeling nostalgic for hands to hold and parent teacher meetings. I know I’m not alone. If you’ve ever dropped your oldest off at college you understand. If you’ve dropped your youngest off at college you feel my pain.

I know what I need to focus on are the blessings this day represents. Two healthy, mostly happy kids who worked hard to get themselves into college. Two young adults starting the next phase of their young lives. The boy I dropped off at the university 6 years ago is on his own now, a college graduate. He’s a different person than the boy who asked us as we prepared our exit, “You mean you’re leaving now?” His little sister and I had made his dorm bed and hung his clothes. His father laughingly said “Yes, we won’t be staying at college with you.”

I can only wonder at the growth and changes that the little sister will experience during her college years.

I’m not the first parent to realize that everything we do as parents to love and nurture our children is to get them ready for this day. My husband was only half joking when he shared his thoughts to a young neighbor mom. Her little darling in the pixie bob with the almond eyes, a beautiful gift from China. She showed us her little pink glittery shoes and and told us how kindergarten started next week. “You ‘ll love them so much, buy them hundreds of shoes, and then they’ll leave you.” he predicted. And in the end that’s what happens.

But it’s a wonderful journey. One I’m sure we would never want to miss. And It’s timeless. It will be repeated next fall with others, by  this year’s high school seniors. And 18 years from now by the moms pushing the buggies down my street today. You see the clueless freshmen who forgot to hug her mother was me. I never dreamed I’d be in my mother’s  shoes one day. Sad, happy and grabbing one more hug from a girl focused on what was in front of her. I’m just say’n.

Better Than Chocolate

Who’s your Valentine? Who do you send a card to, give a hug to, remember fondly? February is hearts and flowers time. As the 14th draws near I can’t help but think of love and chocolate. Although, to be honest I purposely looked away when the stores displayed all the Valentine gear before I had swept up all the New Years confetti. But now “V” day is around the corner and I have some “sweethearts” to celebrate, multiple sweethearts. I hope you do too.

I’m talking about those people who have slipped past friendship into a zone I’ve named “framily.” Twice recently I’ve been caught by surprise when someone with whom I share no name or DNA, has referred to me and mine as “family.” After the lump in my throat subsided I gave the designation some thought.

The first “framily” label occur ed when the college age daughter of friends announced at my Thanksgiving table that spending the holiday with us was simply spending it with family. The 2nd occasion was in a hospital’s surgical waiting area. The son of our long time friends was undergoing serious surgery and we had come to sit with them early one morning after Christmas. When the surgeon came in to talk to the parents he looked at my husband and I and said “Are you family?” The mother without a moments hesitation said “Yes, they are family.” And so we are.

I recently read that we build the family we didn’t have from the friends we choose. This framily creation may happen accidentally. But if you are smart, you will build this “framily” over time with effort and love.

My husband and I are both from small families, we’re low on siblings and cousins. And, we both live out of the states we were raised in. Over the years our “framily” has been through a lot with us; the addition of our children to our families, the drama of adoption, the loss of our own parents. They have come with us to court, lent a hand when a trip to the emergency room was needed, helped pack up a parent’s last household. And I like to think that we have been there for them as well. Their children may call us “Aunt” and “Uncle.” They call for advice. My son asks about them when he calls home. My daughter has their numbers programed into her phone. They both know their “framily” is a “contact person.”

So this year I’m sending them all a Valentine. To the childhood friend of my husband who lived on my floor in college, to the neighbor who visited my parents when they were ill and I was out of town. She moved out of state but maintains our relationship with love,long distance. To the former co-worker and neighbor who says my kids were her first “grandchildren”, and to all the others, Happy Valentine’s Day. A proverb from Ghana says “A family is like a forest. When you are outside it seems dense. But when you are inside each tree has its place.” Thank you for adding us to your forest, for letting my saplings gain aunts and uncles, cousins, “framily.” Happy Valentine’s Day, I’m just say’n.

Keepsakes and Memories

When is the right time to discard or find a new home for memorabilia? Every morning when I brush my teeth (and for that matter every night too) I see it. A small stainless steel cup, a raised teddy bear face on the front, my son’s name engraved on the back. It is somewhat like the sterling silver cup on the windowsill over my kitchen sink. One is filled with Q-tips, the other houses lip balms, assorted sewing needles and other small items. They were both gifts to my now 23 year-old son. I don’t think he realizes they are actually “his.” And while he does use Q-tips, he does not have a kitchen sink window in his Chicago apartment. But I wonder, at what time should I relinquish ownership to the rightful owner?

I have nooks and crannies all over my house that hold someonelse’s something. And while the two cups are emblematic they do give me pause. The collection of school art work, report cards and his National Honor Society certificate are all safely housed in a Rubbermaid container. Will he ever want them?

I’m not the first parent confronted with these questions. When I had been married 2 years and my husband and I were moving across state lines my parents had us stop by to “pick up a few things.” Let’s just say that it was a good thing we already had a truck. Some of the items I was ecstatic to take, like the antique oak curio my father salvaged that had been in my room since I was 10. Other things like paperback books were just things I then got rid of. But, I feel like my mother must have back then. She could not just dispose of the items of my past no matter how large or insignificant. It would feel just wrong.

I have a friend who helped her mother-inlaw move from a home of many years to a condo. In cleaning out the basement they came upon the dental retainer of my friend’s husband. That’s really a piece of personal memorabilia. That story prompted me to dispose of both my children’s retainers when they passed out of the land of orthodonture. But I hold on to other things.

I have small remnants of both of their “transitional objects.” Otherwise known as security blankets. They remind me of a sweet time in their lives when a soft cloth could ease their hearts and give them comfort.

The reverse of this story is of course the keepsakes I inherited from my own parent’s lives. The box of really old photos of nameless unknown people from the lives they had together and separate of each other haunt me from my attic. I just could not get rid of them.

These are not things I cherish, I just feel like releasing them is too close to erasing my parents lives from history. Periodically, I am able to get rid of something. The last winter jacket my dad wore hung in my basement for years until I could put it into a coat collection barrel. But that bowling shirt with his name on it, his driver’s license, I still have those.

And so I think I’ll keep the baby cups for a while longer. They really don’t fit into a 20-something’s decor. But there will come a time I’m sure when they will have to go to their true owner. But somehow I’m sure they will always mean more to me than they mean to him, I’m just say’n.

Do you have a treasure trove that is not quite treasure? Please comment and let me know.

Golden Time

Summer time is “golden” time. And I’ve enjoyed getting to know the Golden retrievers who have been part of our “pack.” They’ve all been unique dogs, possessing the central characteristic of a golden. People-love. A vet treating one of my dogs summed it up this way. “He’s a golden so he will mope when he’s not with his family.”

Our first Golden was Kalahan. Selected from a shelter as a gift for my husband, basically the smartest dog I’ve ever known. A friend once told me “he’s not a dog he’s a person in a dog suit.”

Kalahan, could open a peanutbutter jar, and not leave teeth marks. He opened drawers, and rearranged stuffed animals-neatly-under the dining room table. He also retrieved items on command. An especially helpful trick, when my hands were full of baby. He never growled or frightened children. But he guarded his “charges” loyally, always placing himself between them and approaching strangers. Eating the babysitters dinner seemed to be a small price to pay for such devotion. When it came time to help an aged Kalahan on to his next home, we were all bereft. But he looked at us with his typically wise eyes and bid us fairwell with grace and dignity.

The children were young and I missed a walking partner so seven months later we brought home Yankee. He joined our family at two-months old a few days before the Fourth of July. Hence the name. (Which my husband came up with in fear that the kids would name the dog “Guy.”) Although only a puppy, Yankee was always ,to put it simply, huge. He grew taller than any other golden I had ever seen and though I kept his figure svelte ,he weighed in at over 100 pounds. Other golden owners would stop me and ask where I had gotten such a mountain of dog. Yankee just smiled his golden smile and waited to be petted. And that was Yankee’s gift. A large heart just wanting some love. If Kalahan was one part of the canine IQ scale, Yankee sat on the other end. I never had to clear the counters of food. Cookies out of the oven could cool on the kitchen table and I could leave the house! Yankee seemed to have no faults except for his inability to fit places. Which was fine with me since that included most of the furniture. He just lumbered through life. My son, a teenager at the time called him “Sweets”. And never was a nickname more justly deserved. When Yankee did not wake up last July 5th the entire neighborhood was shocked and saddened. No one could belive he was 12 years old he seemed like such a puppy. One neighbor remembered how just a few days earlier,Yankee had appeared on his back porch gave one bark to be petted, and than trotted home. “As if to say ‘goodbye” to me , he mused.

“So,” my husband said as this year’s Fourth of July neared, “we lost Yankee last year at this time and a few months later you brought home Ethel Merman.” Well, her name is actually Bella. Named by the family who turned her into a local Golden rescue group. And like Ethel Merman she sings. It’s loud, really loud, and untrained ,and full of gusto. It’s a fullthroated song of joy when any of the family returns home after a prolonged abscence of say 5 or 10 minutes. She also sings when friends arrive. Bella is also our retriever most likely to truly play fetch -for hours and hours if she could. She is, my husband says, our most athletic dog. To use his basball analogy , Bella is a centerfielder, Yankee was a DH, and Kalahan was a baseball executive.

Loving a golden means sweeping up soft mounds of golden fur, having a large supply of tennis balls , and keeping track of your socks. It also means unconditional love, and being the recipient of that daily “golden smile” that means “I love you, and it’s so great we are all together.” What more does anyone need? I’m just say’n.

Worst Mom Ever

A friend lamented the other day what an awful mom she was because after working two jobs, her volunteer duties and taking care of her two at home kids and dog she had taken her son to his Sunday track meet to discover one problem. The meet was Saturday. She just felt awful sure that she was a “bad Mom.” Her comrades in arms/Spanx all assured her she was not a bad mom and that “we’ve all been there.” But what is it that makes Moms so hard on ourselves?
Mixups and forgotten bake-sale cupcakes have happened to most of us and we all have felt the pain of self-censure. Nobody’s perfect. And nobody expects you to be perfect; except you.
Some time ago a Dad-type person I know took his daughters to Six Flags for some summer fun.
After the usual morning-time chaos and the hour drive to the park they arrived. Only for Dad to notice that his youngest, 6 or 7 at the time had forgotten her shoes. Without to much wringing of hands he drove to a nearby discount store and bought her some sneakers. Problem solved.
I don’t remember him telling me his daughter’s lack of shoes reflected on him as a parent. And it didn’t. (He did laugh when he told the story and call his little darling “goofy.) He did not think she would be forever scarred or damaged. He was right. And , she grew up quite beautifully. Now she peaks into patient’s brains as part of Hospital’s Neuro-surgical team. Not so “goofy” after all.
I think my girlfriend is a victim of what I call the syndrome of “Too many shoes.” It goes like this. You’re doing what you need to do working, managing the household, baking the cupcakes. When someone comes crazy-eyed into the room asking “Do you know where my shoes are?” They maybe 6, 16, or 26 years old and they have no idea where their soccer/sandals/ dressy black shoes are. You are equal parts frustrated with their inability to put things where they belong and frightened to realize you  do know where their shoes are.
You know where everyone’s shoes are.
Your head is full of footwear location information. And you are worried. Worried that they will never be able to manage their own lives if they cannot even find their footwear. Is it any wonder that sometimes a detail is overlooked or an afternoon double-booked when your head is full of all those shoes. Yes my friend has too many shoes.
I also think Moms are hardest on ourselves because we really know how much we loved our own Moms.  We try so hard to be that kind of Mom to our kids. And hind sight being 20-20, we now appreciate the little ways we were loved and nurtured by our own mom. Ways we never noticed while they was happening.
A year or two after my mom had died I was in a department store buying underwear. Nothing exciting just underwear. There was probably a sale. While waiting in line with the other women, all different ages, someone remarked that they liked it better when new underwear just appeared on your bed after school. Provided by Mom. We all agreed. This simple purchase for many of us, symbolized the intimate relationship of Mom caring for us like no onle else. Those day -of-the week underpants meant more than their cost in dollar and cents ever could.
So on this Mother’s Day I want to tell my friend she is a good mom too. She wanted to be at the track meet, she forgot the day. She does so many other small and big things for her kids that on this one occasion she confused the days. But she hasn’t once confused her children. They know shes loves them. They will know years from now that she always was thinking of them. She always knew where their shoes were. Because she always knew where her heart was. I’m just say’n.

Transition and Tafeta

This is shaping up to be one interesting week in our home. On Sunday a friend and I took my daughter on the mystical, magical hunt for a prom dress. This rite of passage came with it’s own feeling of one part nostalgia and two parts of disbelief. On Monday our 22 year old son accepted a job in Chicago. It’s his first post-college job not meant to be a “summer” marking -time job.

When I look back at the events in a family’s life that seperate the stages of life I am interested to see how we are all connected by these transistions and how alike my experience is to that of my co-workers and friends who have traveled this same road.

The friend who told me over and over “they’re only little for such a little time. ” When I was exhausted by lack of sleep and my days were ruled by nap-time and wipe-downs it seemed that they would be needy little sponges forever. But now it seems, as if those days just flew by. And oh that reminds me, “the day’s go slow the years fly by” was another pearl from another Mom I know. The truth is if we are on any level awake as parents we are continually having the kind of moments where we are surprised by the passage of time and our own transformation into “grownups.”

Because in my mind (and by that I mean your mind too) it was only yesterday when I was picking out a prom dress or starting a job I would keep past Labor Day. But somehow here we all are. And if your’e not on your way to the promwear department this week don’t worry you will be soon. I’m just say’n.

Innaugural

With time on my hands and spring doing it’s re-birth, re-fresh number in my mind as well as the landscape, I’ve begun this blog. I wanted to have a place to jot down thoughts and ideas for a long time now that I could share with friends and family. Much of what I want to write about will be pretty basic stuff. I’ll be pretty informal. Community, friends, kids and of course ( if you know me you know I’ll work in) dogs will often be the topics of my musings.
The things that I’ll write about will interest you I hope. Since you may be a part of my experiences you may even appear in this blog. But I promise to be discreet. (And to try to work the kinks out of this whole blogging/technology thing.)
It’s been over a year since I’ve lost my forum for sharing insights ,thoughts, and laughs with many people every week. I’ have missed that. This blog is my attempt to re-connect and share that experience again. No big political discourses, no toplofty pronouncements, just the musings I have as I walk the streets of the ‘Bay. You may be thinking about some of the same things, or I may trigger a similar chain of thought in you. I hope at least to share a grin or two as we meet in this medium. Bear with me as I ramble/blog.
I am “just say’n.”