The Clear View Behind

Just another round of errands driving around town.

Another check yet again.

Yes, it is still true. The back seat of my car is empty and we are heading home alone.

This time, however, confirms the permanence of the clear view behind us.

For over two decades, my rear view mirror was filled with the cultural detritus of everyday life.

It started with mobiles and dangling squeaking things designed to amuse, stimulate and developmentally enhance my babies’ road trip experience. This morphed into the proper classical music to raise their nubile intelligence quotients and prevent them from trying to steal the car keys for a spontaneous roadie.

The roadies would remain confined to hitching our sainted giant dog to the front of the Red Ryder© wagon for a ride up the driveway. This changed into the scenario of two little boys starting at the top of the gently sloped drive to gain Sir Isaac’s gravitational acceleration and cut cookies on the Big Wheels© with their older sister yelling “faster!” throughout…

The car seats and booster seats replaced the infant seat with alarming alacrity. The new models lifted everyone to their properly mandated federal safety standards and gave my husband and I the appropriate glimpse of what they were up to at any given moment. All the while, the dogs were busy licking faces clean of whatever fast food joy box food product that was serving to fill tummies and keep us all on schedule.

And there was the trip to the family fake reunion moment with two eighteen month olds who had had QUITE enough of the six hours in confinement, federally mandated or not. Their five-year-older sister could no longer cajole them through another round of “Ten Apples Up On Top”. We ended up sending back the Wall Street Journal for them to shred just to make that home stretch. By the time we arrived at my in-laws, the back of my SUV looked like a giant hamster ball.

The dogs eventually would never touch another French fry or cereal snack. Aversion therapy does work given enough time and effort…

And now, here we are, my husband and I. We are alone in the car having crossed five states and three time zones. I dubbed this “The Brady Bunch Tour”.  We would pretend to be Mike and Carol while we all happily sang camp songs ALL the way to our destination.

When my husband suggested this venture, (as opposed to shipping and flying and renting and stressing), I accused him of being nuts
But then I thought, “Maybe it’s the perfect way to transition through this change”.

There are no car seats anymore.

For the past five years, along with bouts of seriously malodorous sports gear, my rear view mirror has been gradually filled with boys morphing into men. It became a tool to view their increasingly fuzzy faces. Then nicked faces reeking of aftershave. Finally heads of men who could gaze back in that mirror at eye level.

What went unnoticed by me as the days of high school flew by, were the increasing number of times the back seat was empty. Rather than be seen in my rear view mirror, they would get to their practices, games, and gatherings by themselves.

But they would check to see that we were in the bleachers. They kept that smile to themselves. And, that was okay.

My sons have an amazing cadre of friends. Five had become eagle scouts together never letting anyone give up on this rigorous goal. All were good guys and honor roll members. College selections began to loom large on the horizon that had always been just around the next bend.

BAM! Senior year. Awards banquets, final track meet, final basketball game, senior night. Senior sports banquet. snowball dance, prom. These great guys were so very aware that the sands of time were running out on this phase of their lives.

I, on the other hand wasn’t aware at all.  I was too busy, as usual, to hear the clock ticking.  Too busy in the days of life; planning graduation open house, receptions, reminding them to send in their acceptance letters and trigger their scholarship awards?

“We’ve got it, Mom.”  And so they did.

Each time one of the guys turned eighteen; they were automatically indoctrinated into the “Society of Refined Gentlemen” of which they were all founding members. There would be a mass road trip to the local cigar store in our 1880s town.

“Got ID, son?”

“Yes sir.”

The “SRG” would then convene on our deck where Dad would grill burgers whilst classical music pervaded the forest behind them. Though I objected to the cigars, they were eighteen. They were men.

I’ll get the mustard….

When asked if I would miss them, my response was always the same: “This has been my job for the past two decades. Would I have them living in my basement at thirty? No! I have done my job”.

No one warned me a job could be too well done.

There was the last Ultimate Frisbee Tournament. The last pig roast. It’s time to pack, guys.

“One last barbecue at our house mom?”

“Yes.”  But ever the administrator with her eye on the agenda and a bribe and a threat for every occasion, “But you have to be packed and the car loaded for that to happen.  We need to get going in the morning.”

That morning we were leaving for our trek, there were still two extra guys crashed on our couches. That meant one more round of pancakes and bacon.

It’s time guys.

But mom had to take one last round of pictures. Of course. That’s what moms do — they document the moments that are so precious, so fleeting – even though there are probably some of those fast food fries still stuck in the back of the car for archaeological purposes.

The trip was fun. We had comedy CDs, visited friends from our hometown, laughter, wise cracks, and eagerness to get on with it. The last was from my twins. I was increasingly reluctant, though I did my best to hide it.

Somewhere in there, I, too, began to hear the drip of each grain of sand draining into the bottom of that hourglass.

And I realized I couldn’t stop it.

I had been commanded that I wouldn’t be “one of those moms” who would be clinging to her baby as she sobbed out her goodbyes.

“Not me. I promise.”

And I kept that promise. But randomly I look back in that empty rear view mirror. When no one is looking, I wipe away the tears.

Come home when you can. I love you more.

Me?  I’ll keep my eyes on the road ahead.

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Small Town Sports

Connor on ShouldersMaybe it’s just me. Perhaps this happens in every town where there is a high school and high school sports teams.

Helicopter parents aside, high school sports can make the political arena in Washington look like pikers.

I have a character flaw. I take people at face value. For a very long time, I operated on WYSIWYG.

Okay I was naive. No matter where you are in this world, there is always someone willing to step over you to forward their agenda and to hell with yours.

There was a salient moment when my sons were eight and on a basketball team. I actually watched one of their teammates try and knee another child in the groin. THEY WERE EIGHT AND IT WAS A SATURDAY MORNING GAME! A GAME!
We continued to emphasize fun and sportsmanship but clearly other people had other ideas for their eight year olds. Winning was everything.
Flash forward to now. One of my sons is six foot four. He loves basketball despite the fact that Michael Jordan retired and it has been years since we recovering Chicagoans relished the glory of seven rings. Nonetheless, he (who would sleep twenty three hours a day if he could), sucked it up for his entire high school career when two-a-day practices were mandatory, as was summer basketball camp.
Even with all his efforts, my husband and I spent most of every season watching him support his teammates and warm the bench. There were others in the same position. Each season, the coach would have a parent meeting. To stave off any psychosis, he would announce that he would be happy to talk about anything EXCEPT playing time.
The coach also played his varsity squad on the junior varsity games. And my son sat and sat and sat, along with three of his teammates. Finally, one of the moms in the same situation sent the devil be damned and called a meeting. In that meeting, she talked about rewarding effort. What is wrong with letting your bench warmers have some play time if we are down by twenty points with three minutes left? Her son, God Bless, said, “I’ll give up my time if you play the other three.” We both cried when I heard that. Integrity trumps court time every time.
This is their senior year and final season. No difference. Except that we got to witness how much their classmates went wild when these four fine men were introduced on senior night. Add to that fact that my son had to offer me his arm and you have a golden moment.
But better than that, THESE FOUR GOT PLAY TIME! We were down by 20. The crowd went wild! But that is not the end, not by a yard.
After the game was over, my son was lifted by his brother and a good friend and carried off on their shoulders (no easy task).
Ah, the magic of life.Stretch for Blog

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Small Town Sports

DSC_0037Connor on ShouldersMaybe it’s just me. Perhaps this happens in every town where there is a high school and high school sports teams.

Helicopter parents aside, high school sports can make the political arena in Washington look like pikers.

I have a character flaw. I take people at face value. For a very long time, I operated on WYSIWYG.

Okay I was naive. No matter where you are in this world, there is always someone willing to step over you to forward their agenda and to hell with yours.

There was a salient moment when my sons were eight and on a basketball team. I actually watched one of their teammates try and knee another child in the groin. THEY WERE EIGHT AND IT WAS A SATURDAY MORNING GAME! A GAME!

We continued to emphasize fun and sportsmanship but clearly other people had other ideas for their eight year olds. Winning was everything.

Flash forward to now. One of my sons is six foot four. He loves basketball despite the fact that Michael Jordan retired and it has been years since we recovering Chicagoans relished the glory of seven rings. Nonetheless, he (who would sleep twenty three hours a day if he could), sucked it up for his entire high school career when two-a-day practices were mandatory, as was summer basketball camp.

Even with all his efforts, my husband and I spent most of every season watching him support his teammates and warm the bench.  There were others in the same position.  Each season, the coach would have a parent meeting.  To stave off any psychosis, he would announce that he would be happy to talk about anything EXCEPT playing time.

The coach also played his varsity squad on the junior varsity games.  And my son sat and sat and sat, along with three of his teammates.  Finally, one of the moms in the same situation sent the devil be damned and called a meeting.  In that meeting, she talked about rewarding effort.  What is wrong with letting your bench warmers have some play time if we are down by twenty points with three minutes left?  Her son, God Bless, said, “I’ll give up my time if you play the other three.”  We both cried when I heard that.  Integrity trumps court time every time.

This is their senior year and final season.  No difference.  Except that we got to witness how much their classmates went wild when these four fine men were introduced on senior night.  Add to that fact that my son had to offer me his arm and you have a golden moment.

But better than that, THESE FOUR GOT PLAY TIME!  We were down by 20.  The crowd went wild!  But that is not the best moment.  Not by a yard.

After the game was over, my son was lifted by his brother and a good friend and carried off on their shoulders (no easy task).

Ah, the magic of life.

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Getting the Picture

In a moment of reflection and a struggle to get organized (really?), I spent most of the day going through my dropbox and reorienting my photos.  2013 was fraught with tension, politics, injustice and stress.  It seems that bad guys were winning and the inmates were running the asylum.  Some of it was just life in a small town, but the rest was bad behavior that originated in greed.  It reached a point where I didn’t even want to look at the photos I had taken.

I can procrastinate with the best of them.  Detail work is at the top of the list of things to be put off.  An example would be going through photos on a computer and renaming them one by one when you always carry your camera, have three kids and two dogs who are always willing to ham it up for dear old mom.

So, left with no more excuses, I went to my “cloud” and started digging in.  There were no angels with harps on this cloud.  Click on open, rename and move on to the next photo.

And that’s where the magic occurred.

The glass is not half empty and filled with toxic waste.  It is full to overflowing.  Overflowing with captured moments of joy and we continue down this path called life.  Overflowing with the bubbly water of life, clear and vibrant.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood” as Mr. Frost said.  A reluctant traveller though long I stood, we kept moving forward.  There were moments of insight and remembering that life’s deck of card can be shuffled endless ways and many times.

The glimpses were there and I finally found them.  The college reunion.  The graduation of my daughter with honors and acceptance to graduate school.  My husband and son walking down the street from that ceremony with my son now towering over the old man.  The Boy Scout Eagle court of honor giving homage to five great young men. Birthdays, barbecues, friends and relatives visiting  from all over the country.  Even the more mundane snaps held nothing but smiles and memories for the keeping.  It was an important insight for me and a reminder to continue to look on the bright side.  Everything else will sort itself out.

I get the picture now.

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Landing the Chopper

I have just returned from a whirlwind trip to visit colleges with one of my sons.   He wants to return to his birth state and always has.  It is not that he hasn’t found happiness and friends here; he was just imprinted with a reluctance to change.  It will be up to him to come to understand that change is inevitable.  How you deal with it is optional.  Like me, his childhood friends are the ones he holds most dear and a great many of them still keep in touch.

We toured two schools.  Both are well respected.  Both have accepted him so he is in a no lose situation.  It will be his decision and his alone as to which one will get the present of his presence.

Prior to the trip, I fell into my daily mom mode. It is a mode I have embraced in a knee jerk reaction to parenthood for twenty two years.  Did he have a good pair of pants?  Did he pack a couple of collared shirts? Do you have your ID?  I have the boarding passes.

“Mom, I’ve GOT it.”

Honest to God, I didn’t start out as a helicopter parent.  I am not a “tiger mom”, but I do have adequate teeth.  I hide them behind my smile.

Everyone who accosted me while I was pregnant told me, “Oh, you will love them instantly and feel something like you have never felt before.”

How do you love someone you have just met?  I was very smitten from the moment I met my husband but it wasn’t Hollywood love at first sight.  I was smitten with my daughter in many layered levels, including relief that pregnancy was over.  And, in this case, there were two of them!  Unknown strangers who had possessed my body for eight and a half months.  Further, I had been on bed rest for most of that time and looked like the “Queen Mary”; or at least the “Cotton Blossom”.  They had possessed my body and made me look like a side show attraction at a carnival. I did not glow during my pregnancy.  The rampaging tummy patters knew not to come too close.  My husband blocked the rest of those who were inured to my growls of warning.

Helicopter parenting is a skill that is bestowed, probably via a magic wand, and maybe some pixie dust, when we squirt the little puppies out.  For the first time in months, I could draw a deep breath. They were so feisty yet helpless. As with our daughter, we instinctively begin ministering to their every need.  This time, I had experience under my belt.  But stereophonic wailing can be so much more intimidating.  And there was still no shop manual. I checked, believe me.

So we jump off the cliff and attempt to be better parents than ours were.  Instead of a three channel television, 45s and LPs, we battled the Wii and the x-b0x, homework, and fast food.

Needs change. Often times very subtly.

But somewhere along the path, we became a more intense version of our parents.  Or most parents.  Every child became perfect, special and destined for greatness.

Thus, it became our duty to protect that magic spell we bestowed upon them by bringing them to the planet.

I’m snack mom, I have to bake and do it gluten free?  The cookies have to have smiley faces or I get points off my mom record?  (Whatever that is.)  I’m reading mom.  Is Tolstoy okay? Why not, they need to know this stuff to get into the Ivies.  Why is it too early? Can we make a musical out of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Nights Dream”?  We could stage it with a Barney theme.

Do you have your field trip permission slip?  What do you mean you forgot to tell me that your lunch account ran out two weeks ago and you are hungry?  What do you mean my child isn’t qualified for gifted art?  Where have you had a gallery showing?

But the little buggers keep growing and separating.  And, I for one, lost track that the goal was independence. I fell into hoverers anonymous.  Because you really want to minimize the misery and maximize the goals.  We have every reason to be incredibly proud of our children. They take the checklist away from me.  They won’t even hear me when I am working my invisible checklist.

They’ve got it.

“I’ve got it, Mom.”

Yes you do.  I’ll resew the buttons on.

Maybe I can work on that memoir.

Hugs.

I have landed the chopper.

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Don’t Drink the Kool Aid

It has been “the best of times and the worst of times”.

It has brought many important life lessons to our world. Honesty, integrity, and trusting in God, however you may perceive that source, have been the prevailing theme of the past several months. Keeping one’s hand on the tiller is the other half of the same lesson.

Justice comes in its own form and in its own time.

During this arduous period we questioned just about everything. This included “Why did we do this?”

Why? Because, it is what was meant to be. That’s why.

During this time, I ended up watching “Doc Hollywood” several times. Okay, pure escapism. Then I realized that I watched it several times before we moved from the big City to the Wild West. Sometimes I get the message immediately. Sometimes it takes a while. This was one of the latter.

For the fifteen of you who have not seen this sweet movie (definitely a “date” movie, gentlemen) Michael J. Fox plays a hotshot doctor specializing in plastic surgery. He is heading to Beverly Hills still operating under the delusion that he will be doing this in order to also help cleft palates. If there were a cleft palate in Beverly Hills, it would make the headline of the National Enquirer. If Elvis had been that child’s illegitimate father, it would make the evening news.

On the way to the dream job, Michael’s character, Ben Stone, takes an accidental detour and ends up having to execute community service in exchange for inadvertent property damage. This not only endangers his shiny future; ruining his hot car; but, also, leaves him in a very small town. The town is filled with many people who have been there since Jesus was a small child. What’s more, they have been in the queue to see a “real” doctor for almost as long. The old and beloved curmudgeonly Doc is nearing retirement.

We intentionally left the big city, Chicago. That was almost a decade ago. I have come to broaden my horizons and perspective about people. Oh, there are the usual suspects in the character spectrum in this town. They bring a unique individuality and flavor to the mix. And there is a great deal of value in the amusing diversity and tolerance for “quirks”.

But by and large, you take care of your own and they’ll take care of theirs. In a pinch I can put money in the bank that they will be there to help out if there is an emergency. Otherwise, it’s laissez faire.

Due to the greed and desires of two or three people, we have been dealing with the fallout. However, I found myself beginning to drink the Kool Aid. What happened was because of the narrow vision and immoral behavior.

But I began, after swallowing the fruit drink, to believe that it was all-pervasive. And that is simply not true.

Then, one Friday night, during the weekly block party on Main Street, I bumped into a series of friends and acquaintances, each of which expressed their dismay and anger at the turn of events. They offered prayers and support. Each one gave me the universal message I needed.

“Don’t give up on this town.”

I flashed to a similar scene in the movie and realized that to give into that stinking thinking is to let the black hatted varmints win. I saw the magic that this small town has when the good times and people far outweigh the bad.

We’re not giving up.

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Gifts from the Ashtray

In a recent blog, I mentioned the ashtray of our emotional garbage.  The residue that we allow to linger and grime up our lives.  If there were some kind of cosmic  “Spot Shot®’  that we could douse our lives and cleanse, then every version of a therapist in the world would be out of a vocation.

This was going to be yet another pedantic rant about how emotionally hard my childhood was.  White bread on the outside and turdburgers on the inside.  Woe is me, my parents didn’t understand me even though I was the precursor to something like a trophy kid.  The subject, quite frankly, is overused and boring.

And then, on the other side of the country, with the finish line in sight, there were two explosions, twelve seconds apart…

No more whining.

I usually keep these thoughts to myself.  But as much as I have inadvertently rubbed some of that emotional ash on my daughter, I can wipe it off.  I can do this because I still have arms.  I can stand and reach for her to help us smooth out the bumps in our love for one another — because I still have two legs.  I’m here.  And so is she.  And so are my husband and my sons.  And we can all get up, at any given time, and hug each other.  There are many people who are no longer intact.  They were merely giving themselves a life challenge that would reward them when they crossed the finish line.  With loved ones waiting with hugs and love.

A couple of weeks ago, at Easter Brunch, a dear friend of mine and I were basking in the camaraderie while her youngest was running around amped on sugar with her four year old cousin.  These little charmers were racing around the place and her daughter would periodically stop and hug mommy.

“Mommy is base!”

And she was reassured repeatedly that yes, indeed, Mommy was base.  And if you got to base, you were safe… And Mommy would always keep you safe at base.

To the extent that we can.  And I pray every day that we can to ANY extent.

There may have been a tube in Dad’s throat where the money and sanity was swallowed.  But that is WAS.  The past is immutable.  What IS, are my blessings.  Blessings that are richer and more important than anything else.  And an intact family is the biggest one of all.  What I left in the ashtray of my childhood, through magic and luck and kismet, I have created in the most important of times.  The gift, the “present”.  I’ll always be “base”.  Hopefully I will live up to that honor and gift.

No more whining.  And I will stand on my two intact legs and greet my children at the door and hug them with my two intact arms.

Blessings to all.  Glass cleaner is a good tool for cleaning ash and allowing a clearer view.

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