The Next Chapter

IMG_0011-2

This weekend we dropped number two son off at college. This is not my first rodeo so I was somewhat prepared for the flood of emotion that comes with this process. Despite the fact that I’ve been feeling weepy for the last week or two, the actual separation went surprisingly well, even though I did feel that familiar lump rise in my throat as we watched him walk away.

If we moms had to explain to our kids why we get misty-eyed, we’d say, or as I can only speak for myself, I’d say:

My heart is so full of love for you that it aches like a physical pain and it’s that almost unbearable fullness that brings tears to my eyes.

I will miss you and almost everything about you, your sense of humor, your long, rambling convoluted diatribes, even your closed bedroom door. But it’s not just you I’ll miss, it’s the light and life you brought into this home and your friends who also became dear to me over the years.

I will miss the way we were. Things will change between us now. We will always be mother and son but I will become an increasingly less important person to you, as it should be.

I will worry about you because I desperately don’t want you to ever feel lost or alone but I am certain that you will experience those “lost and alone” days. Everyone has them. Thinking about the times that you will not be okay and the fact that I can’t make you okay makes me terribly sad.

I am not worried that you will not succeed. In fact, it’s just the opposite. I have no doubt that you will succeed and that success will lead you further from me. Again, it is as it should be, but sad, nonetheless.

That moment when you walked away from us, we went one way and you went the other. You walked into a bright new chapter of your life where the possibilities are almost endless. I was walking away from a piece of my heart and the poignancy of that moment is not lost on me.

I know that we will all soon adjust and I will be able to see this more clearly as a beginning for both of us and not as an end and, as we drive away I look back and hope that I’ve done most things right or right enough, that you make wise choices and that fortune goes your way more often than not.

What I Wish I Had Known

IMG_0025

With high school in the rear view mirror, my middle son prepares to embark on a three month pre-graduation trip, and as he gets set to fly the coop, here are five things I wish I had known as I held that six and half pound bundle in my arms eighteen years ago:

1) The child they hand you in the hospital is not a blank slate.
Not by a long shot. That infant you take home has all the trappings and qualities of the adult he will one day become. You cannot make them in your own image. My children were uniquely themselves, in a way I couldn’t even fathom, on the day they were born. All you can do is help them become their best selves and embrace them as they are.

2) This parenting gig is not a sprint, it is, most definitely, a marathon.
You are going to be parenting for a long, long time. If you enjoy it, it’s a journey and if you detest it, it’s a very long haul but either way you need to preserve your stamina and your children’s stamina, so don’t talk to your first grader about college and don’t worry about it either. Believe me, you’ll be jumping off that bridge sooner than you think.

3) It’s hard to screw this up. By the time I had my kids the word “parent” (to parent) had morphed into a verb. We were all “parenting” rather than just being parents. When I was growing up, “parent” was solidly a noun, as in what you become when you raise a child. And then it got so complicated with attachment parenting, helicopter parenting, no-rescue parenting. The battles raged on about breast versus bottle, co-sleeping versus not, potty issues, working versus stay at home parent issues. There was so much external noise that I almost missed the inner voice, the one that really mattered, the one that whispered, “He’s yours and you know what’s right for him.” Listen to your gut.

4) Define the qualities that are most important to you. It’s easier to look backward than forward. Try looking forward and thinking about the qualities you want the eighteen-year old version of your baby to possess. These qualities will be different for everyone, so try not to judge others. Some people feel that learning a musical instrument is critical, and others place a premium on sports or religion. Don’t try to convince someone else that your ideas are the only ones or the best ones. If something is important to you, insist that your child puts quality effort into it.

5) It takes a village or at least a few other mothers. In each of my children’s lives, I’ve been truly blessed with fellow moms who have literally saved me. From my first bout with post natal depression to the strangling fatigue of sleepless nights-I couldn’t have done this alone. With my first child, we moms pretended that the playgroup we organized when they were three weeks old, was for the babies, even as we lay them drooling on the floor barely able to hold up their heads. At the end of the day, that group was about the moms more than the kids. You need a lifeline, reach for it and you will be enriched beyond measure.

The New Normal

Image

My son forwarded an email to me the other day. It read,

“Dear Andrew and Roommate,

Congratulations, your applications for rental have been approved.  Thank you for choosing XXX for your new home!”

Your new home address is….”

Could the email be any clearer, putting into words what we already understood to be true? Our eldest son, soon to be a college graduate is moving on, not in a temporary, “I’ll be home for the summer” kind of way but in an “I no longer live in your house, and if all goes well, never will again,” kind of way. He’s moving to a new city in a new state to do exciting things with his life and this development, while joyful and thrilling is also a bit heart-stopping for me.

get-attachment-5.aspx

It is not startling because our son is not ready to make his world debut. He is. He is as prepared for this transition as any young man his age can be. More prepared than many, I would even say. Often the most responsible person in the room, he is THAT kid, the one who at sixteen made copies of his teen tour itinerary for his group of friends before they set out on their journey. We moms laughingly reminisce that his friends had no worries as they fully expected Andrew to have copies available for everyone on the trip.

There is much written about the angst of sending your children off to college and indeed college is a huge step in a young adults first foray into independence but truth be told, when kids go off to college their home address is still your home address. Family vacations are planned around school breaks. Certainly college affords parents a break from daily hands-on parenting but in reality even though your children may be physically away from you they continue to be “all yours.” When someone asks a college student where he/she lives most will still give their parents’ address.

This post graduation move feels palpably different. It is different. This strikes me as a “Wonder Years” moment: a moment beyond which the new normal lies. The problem with all of these “milestone” moments is that while they happen bit by bit, they come upon you suddenly and leave you not knowing quite what to make of them.

When my son was barely bigger than a babe in arms we had a bedtime routine. I would place him in his crib and then I would sit in his rocking chair and I would prompt him, “Let’s talk about your day.” He would begin with, “I woke up this morning…” and often would get no further than that before he would digress and eventually chatter himself to sleep as I slipped away. As he got a little older, in a classic bedtime stalling tactic, he would beg, “Don’t go yet. Talk about my day.” He knew that I was a sucker for developing “communication skills” and his plea would always get me to stay at his bedside for just a little while longer.

I’m glad I stayed those extra moments. Perhaps he and I have always known that the hardest part of our relationship would be the letting go.

Public Enemy Number One-Not Me

About a month ago, with husband and kids in tow, I was returning to frigid New Jersey from balmy Palm Beach, Florida. I was already in a funk when a TSA agent pulled me out of an airport security line for “extra screening.” The agent pointed at me and said “palms up.” With my usual smooth eloquence I said, “huh” so the TSA agent repeated, “palms up,” at which point I complied and she swabbed my hands with some device and told me I needed to wait for the results before proceeding. It was neither humiliating nor terrifying but it was, and here’s the understatement of the decade, preposterous.

Image

Security is a serious business. I understand that sometimes it can be inconvenient, intrusive and seemingly arbitrary and really I’m down for all that. In light of the fact that TSA doesn’t know me I thought I should let them know that when it comes to extra screening they are not only barking up the wrong tree when it comes to me, they are not even in the right forest.

Here are the top five reasons why TSA need never again swab my hands for traces of explosives.

5) As a child I cried and begged for a chemistry set because I thought that they looked like such fun but when I got one as a gift I cried all over again because that chemistry set was, without exception, the most disappointing gift I’d ever gotten. It was not even a little fun. You see chemistry has never been my ish, leading inexorably to the conclusion that my fate as a person incapable of making a bomb was sealed long ago. 

4) I am a fifty-year old woman whose perpetual state of being is drop-dead exhaustion. Removing my shoes in a security line while standing and at the same time getting my coat off, my electronics out of their cases and onto the conveyer belt and my pockets emptied with people breathing down my neck is the stuff of my nightmares. By the time I’ve done all that, I’m all in. Doing all of the above whilst simultaneously master minding criminal activity…for goodness sake, I can’t even remember where I packed the toothpaste.

3) I can’t even maintain a lie about my Starbucks alias (see previous blog posts). If I were up to no good would I be waltzing through security without breaking a sweat? When the Israeli security agents for El Al Airlines ask me if I packed my own suitcases, even though I did I get so nervous I feel like I’m going to vomit.

2) I travel with my children, the very children whom I’ve spent the last 22 years cherishing and nurturing. I take care of every last detail of their lives. From years of sleepless nights, loose braces, badly broken out skin to hellish school projects, I have poured body and soul into these children. I have given them my life’s blood and I can assure the TSA I am most certainly not building explosives and stewarding my children onto an airplane with those explosives. When I decide to take these kids out they will know it. There will be no ambiguity and there will be no trace of explosives on my fingers because I will be ripping their hearts out, as any self-respecting Jewish mother would do, not blowing them up on an airplane. Common sense, people, common sense!!!

1) To be perfectly honest, loud noises followed by puffs of smoke terrify me.

TSA, you have my admiration, respect and thanks but you can just go ahead and cross me off the list of people you need to worry about because, trust me; you’ve got bigger fish to fry.

I am not now, nor will I ever be #publicenemynumberoneorevennumbertwo.

 

 

bombeck writers workshop

To Blog or not to Blog

To those who think blogging is easy, I’m here to tell you it’s not.

Image

In blogging, as in life, I try to live by the adage “know your audience.” It’s never my intention to hurt anyone’s feelings but trying to get it right makes writing a tougher gig than I thought it would be.

There was the hilarious post I wrote about airport security. After being stopped by security I listed several cogent reasons why the TSA need never pull me aside for extra screening because I promised that I had no intention of ever skyjacking a jet or blowing one up mid-flight. Unfortunately, five minutes before I went to hit the “publish” button on that particular post, Malaysian Airlines 370 went missing rendering my post perfectly inappropriate. I mean the whole situation was probably a tad worse for the passengers of 370 than for me but you have to admit the timing was awful.

Then, there was the blog post about the sixth grade state report and that one had me chuckling the whole time I was writing it. But when I showed it to the hubby who likes to ask me questions he already knows the answers to, maybe because he thinks I’ll have an easier time answering them, he asked, “Are you on the Board of Trustees of the school?”  “Yes.” “Do you think it’s appropriate to mock the teachers who are trying to teach your child?” “Well, I guess not.” And then, the sad realization that, crap, another blog post bites the dust.

The blog post burial ground is starting to look like a landfill in Staten Island without the seagulls.  Don’t be offended Staten Islanders. First there are the nascent ideas which I often get while driving or in the shower and those ideas are frequently brilliant. Yet as soon as my hair is dry or I reach my destination the kernel of brilliance has disappeared deep into the recesses of my fifty year old brain. There are the posts that tried to be funny and utterly failed, the ones that started off promisingly and two sentences in forgot where they were going and never found their way back.  Then there were those posts that even for an open person were a bit reminiscent of a gaping cesspool and were fortunately subject to the family veto for over sharing.

Image

And, while we’re on the subject, there are the friends and family who periodically read over a blog post for me. Thank you, I adore your feedback and I love you but sometimes…The feedback often goes like this, “I would flesh that out…” You would?” I ask.  “What would you write?” “I don’t know but I would just…you know…beef it up a little bit.” Hmmmm. Or my middle son shrugging his shoulders, “just not that good mom.” “What would you do?” I ask plaintively  “Make it better,” he says helpfully. The hubby’s feedback is often my favorite because of it’s startling lack of nuance and complexity and he can’t be bothered with the flesh it out concept…his response is often just “NO.” It’s hard to misunderstand that comment.

And, then there are the critics. It’s amazing how easy it is to be cruel on the Internet.  I wrote a post that if I had to raise my eldest child again I’d be less of a jerk. Someone commented something to the effect of you certainly seem like a jerk or once a jerk always a jerk. Was that really necessary? I’m actually surprised that there haven’t been more of those types of comments but I do wonder why people bother posting nasty comments. Seems somewhat pointless.

So during the weeks when it seems that there is no post, rest assured blog fans there really is one and it’s quite clever and ingenious but alas it did not pass the smell test.

It’s making friends in the landfill.

Slip of the Tongue

Kindness matters.

I’m not a huge Oscar fan but I was watching with half an eye on Sunday night when I heard Lupita Nyong’o’s brilliant acceptance speech and I was touched when Jared Leto looked directly at his mom and spoke about her struggles as a single mother in his acceptance speech. A little later I squirmed in my seat when John Travolta mangled Idina Menzel’s name. Correction, he didn’t just mangle it he chewed it up and spit it out, rendering it unrecognizable. It was a cringe worthy moment.  I’ve never liked slapstick comedy and this reminded me of slapstick, watching people humiliate themselves has never struck me as entertaining or funny. It was an unpleasant moment which should have been allowed to pass into history, but never in my wildest imagination did I think that that moment would become the most talked about moment of the evening.

The following day I woke to a Facebook wall with a smattering of people wanting to know what their names would sound like if John Travolta had an opportunity to mutilate them. Use this widget “to Travoltify your name,” was the line used to encourage others to participate.  And as the day wore on more and more people hopped on board that bandwagon. Isn’t it everyone’s worst nightmare to be onstage with a billion people watching and you flub your line?  Have we no compassion?

Image

That night on the national news they showed a clip of Travolta’s error.  Was it really national newsworthy? With everything going on in the Ukraine it hardly seemed worth a mention that John Travolta screwed up his line on the Oscars.

Granted Travolta is no ordinary humanoid.  And I know there are those who will argue that he’s a highly paid professional who has put himself out there but that doesn’t mean he’s not a person and I’m less concerned about Travolta than I am with the lesson we are teaching our children.  From a very young age we teach our children not to make fun of each other.  We tell them it’s wrong to mock other children.  Can you imagine if we told our kids it’s okay to make fun of children with speech impediments? If we truly believe that it’s not okay to mock others, how can we, as adults, be okay with this?

It hardly matters whether or not Travolta has Dyslexia, what matters is that we, as a collective are being cruel and we are being cruel for shits and gigs and because it’s easy. We can be cruel without seeing the hurt we’re causing which doesn’t make it any less hurtful. Come on, we are better than this.

Kindness matters.

What’s In A Name?

ImageMy name is Helene.

Once upon a time I lived in a nice little town with a Starbucks. I visited almost every day and ordered my usual. They knew me so well that after I gave birth to my third child my husband went in and ordered my drink and based solely on what he ordered they asked, “Did Helene have the baby? How is she?” They cared or I thought they did. Then in an ironic twist, one day they began to ask customers for their names to put on their coffee orders. It was ostensibly a move that would help the baristas get to know their customers better and distribute the drinks more efficiently but in fact the new methods proved to me that they didn’t know me at all. It was a new company policy they said. Well, none of us liked the new policy but what were we at the store level, consumer or employee to do? In the words of Yul Brynner’s Pharaoh, “so it is written, so it shall be done.”

The first time they butchered my name on a cup I was deeply disappointed but not enough to correct the barista. They had enough problems keeping up with the drink orders, didn’t they? Deeply disappointed, you ask? Over a misspelled name?  What, after all, is in a name? Just everything; identity, belonging, all that you are.  It’s the first thing your parents do, they name you. And, as it turns out the number of ways you can misspell Helene are as limitless as the stars in the sky and many of the ways were so creative that I wish I had kept all of the cups with my misspelled name just for a hoot.

Time moved on and so did we, to a new town and a new Starbucks and I had the opportunity for a clean slate. So at the new Starbucks when they asked for my name, before I could stop myself I said, Pam. You can’t get Pam wrong. It just can’t be done. And, each time thereafter when they asked for my name I said Pam because once you’ve fallen into a hole unless someone hands you a ladder it’s hard to climb out. They never ever misspelled Pam but I never for one second felt good about this foolish, petty deception. A friend saw Pam on my cup and asked why my coffee cup said Pam? And I was compelled to launch into the whole asinine explanation of my Starbucks alias and then in yoga class they saw my cup and begin to call me Pam. The effort to avoid spelling H E L E N E has ended in long explanations of why my coffee cup said Pam. What in the end have I gained?

Then after three years of frequenting this new Starbucks the workers there start to become familiar with me and after a three-day absence the barista says, “I’ve missed you Pam.”  That’s when I crack. I’ve never been a good liar so I lean across the counter, “My name is really Helene I whisper. “What?” she asks. “My name is not Pam,” I say a little louder this time, “Pam is my Starbucks alias. My real name is Helene.” Oh she says looking at me oddly.

But, no matter, because I feel lighter, no longer burdened by my alias.

Make that a tall, skim mocha, no whip for H E L E N E

Let P A M  get her own damn drink.