Tuesday, May 4, 2021

I Think COVID Fatigue Stole My Cinco de Mayo Mojo

Cinco de Mayo always gave us an excuse to act like college kids. Imagine a bunch of forty-year-olds running around in bathing suits and giant sombreros, posing for pictures with inflatable, human-size Corona bottles, licking salt and sucking lime wedges to soothe the tequila sting right before jumping into the pool. My girlfriends and I would spend the few weeks prior scouring Amazon, Target, Walmart, and Etsy for THE Perfect Cinco De Mayo Adorable Tank Top. My husband and his friends would spend the same weeks growing out ridiculously unattractive mustaches. You'd never guess based on these descriptions that we are mostly all incredibly respectable, often quite Type A, never-late-on-a-mortgage-payment, sometimes even a little boring grown ups. Which is probably why we love throwing these parties: they let all of us loosen up and have a good time with each other. (The tacos are a bonus.)

I spent Cinco De Mayo of 2020 moping. I longed for my backyard to be filled with tipsy friends and loud music and itchy, stick-on, dollar store mustaches that would always inevitably get gross and sweaty and fall off. 

"When this is all over, I'm going to throw The Biggest Damn Cinco De Mayo party EVER!" I declared. "I'm going to throw a July 4th party too! And St. Patrick's Day! What about Easter?!? Can I throw a loud Easter party? And I was thinking of a luau...!"

I swear, I am not exaggerating. That might have even been a direct quote.

That's how I got through COVID Cinco: planning all the parties I was going to throw in 2021.

Yet here we are. There are no stacks of tacky sombreros or liters of tequila sitting in the pantry waiting for the party guests. There are no five-pound bags of shredded cheese in my fridge. There are no plans being brainstormed to convince the local grocery store manager that we must have the Corona store decorations with the face cut outs for a cultural project for our schools (yes, those stories have worked every single time).  And I realized recently that there is also no desire for this party. 

I can't figure out why. COVID is definitely not "all over," but things--and life--are definitely more normal. We have found a way to live within this new (hopefully still temporary) normal. I don't have a reason other than: I just don't feel like it. 

I am realizing that I just don't feel like doing a lot of things lately. Some of it is life, its hectic-ness, the end of the school year. Some of it (I admit this begrudgingly) are these new hormones that seem to be insisting on warning me that my 50s are approaching. But I think that some of it is the mental and emotional fatigue of this past year...the sensation that I am still getting my bearings after these last 14 months.

I just don't always feel the lightness and frivolity of my pre-Covid self.

And I think that I'm going to give myself permission to be okay with that for now.

So this year, I'm going to dig out my perfectly adorable Cinco de Mayo tank top circa 2019, have a margarita (or a few) with some friends, and possibly plan The Biggest Damn Cinco De Mayo Party EVER for another year. Maybe it will even be next year. Don't worry. I'll give y'all enough notice to order your shirts and grow out your mustaches. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

A not-so-private love letter

I wrote this in 2010 and it was originally posted here, as part of a love letter blogging challenge. Eleven years ago, and this--all of this--still rings true.

Happy 19 years to the man who will forever remain my buzz long after last call.

Dear P, 

When Momalom put out a challenge to write a love letter, you immediately came to mind. I hesitated, though, because really...what would people think...that I am choosing to profess my love to my husband? And on the Internet?? Seriously, how corny and codependent is that? I thought of so many other clever "loves": my stilettos, my cocktails, my pillow. Even writing a love letter to my children, although very predictable, would have been more acceptable, I suspect.

But I chose you. I think I owed it to you and to Us to be honest. To put it out there. You have never been afraid to shout it from the rooftops. And as loud as I usually am, I think you deserve a little more noise from my side.

Plus, our love affair started on paper...post-its stapled shut, letters on notebook paper...the lines impossibly and frantically filled with confessions, promises, and fears.

So let me just say it...the cliche...the thing so often found inside greeting cards this time of year: I don't know how I got so lucky.

I don't.

I look around and find it impossibly delicious that you are mine.

There was something about you, from the beginning, that made me stop breathing. Literally. I would stop breathing when you walked into a room. What is that? Really. What is that? And although I can say I think you're hot as hell, and although I am sure you'd love to hear that it was your amazingly rugged good looks that did it to me, it wasn't. It was something else entirely. Although, even now, ten years later, I still can not name it.

The absolutely most amazing thing about it is this: when you walk unexpectedly into a room, and I look up and am surprised to see you, in that moment when the realization hits that it is You, I still get a flutter...there is still a very slight, very shallow, very sudden intake of breath. Oh. It's you.

Some of my love is shallow and silly. Sometimes, when we're out on a date night, I scan the room. I look at all the men there and I pretend I don't know you and I am always amazed that you are the only guy I would want to buy me a drink. And probably take me home.

Some of my love is the kind that can only grow from the everyday: raising children, paying mortgages, real life. When the children are sick, you wake up right alongside me (sometimes without me), you take the temperatures, you clean the vomit, you hold them close until they fall asleep. You make them feel safe. When the house needs cleaning, when the dinner needs cooking, when the laundry needs doing, you just do it. You don't point it out. You don't ask for props. You never call it "helping."

But even more than my partner at home, you're my partner in crime. There is no one I have more fun with...no one I'd rather get slammed drunk with....no one makes me laugh as much as you do. How is it that I have married a man who can be at a club with me til 4:00 in the morning, partying like a frat boy, and then be Daddy the next day, so often better than I can be Mommy?

You love like no one I know, yet you don't offer it easily. It's hard to get to you. It's hard to matter in your life. As sensitive and passionate as you are, you reserve that for a very select few. You simply don't have time, you say. And, as you so honestly put it, just don't care. You don't care about being politically correct. You don't care about what others want or expect. You answer to nearly no one. Yet for those of us who have been lucky enough, your loyalty is frighteningly intense. You will go to the ends of the earth for someone you love, but always expect the same in return.

From the beginning, you put me first. That was our deal. Above everything and everyone, we would make Us our priority. And even after the kids came, even after life became more and more difficult to juggle, you've held me to that. You've held Us to that. When I get caught up in Life: the bills, the responsibility, the kids, the general noise inside my head, you call me on it. You want to talk. To drink wine. To listen. To love.

I love you as much for this constant desire to make time for us as for your absolute refusal to put up with my shit. I can be tough. I can be clingy. I can be whiny. I can be bitchy. You call me on that, too.

Yet despite your total and complete commitment to me, you have your own life. You have your passions outside of Us. You need your time away, your time alone, to be your own self, separate from being mine, or ours, or theirs. Your love for the outdoors, for your bikes, for testing your limits, makes me love you even more. You are, without question, your own person, apart from your family. And so you understand why I need to have my own things, too. It is what makes you understand all of me...my blog, my friends, my interests, my latest crazy idea.

That is the best thing about you, I think, if I had to pick one (other than those forearms of yours): you understand me. Really, and truly, you understand me. You've seen my absolute best and, embarrassingly, my absolute worst, and everything in between. You not only accept who I am, but you want me to be more of it: you are the one who constantly reminds me to stop being afraid of myself.

So, no. I don't know how I got so lucky. I don't know what happened or how it happened or why it happened. Sometimes I look around, at you, at our kids, at us, and I still can't believe this has worked. I can't believe we are this happy...this in sync. So, yes. My love letter had to be to you. Because there is nothing and no one I love the way I love you.



Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The More the Merrier (as in more friends, but yeah, more writing too)

I've been revisiting a lot of my old writing lately.

Since I recently started taking online writing workshops, I needed to carve out some sort of daily work space for my writing and lessons. Silence has always been big for me. And no clutter. I like a space that feels my own and is silent.

Reality check.

I live in a tiny, noisy, love-filled house that I share with my three favorite humans. (Two of those humans are boys--teenage boys.) They are all amazingly respectful of my writing time: they turn down their TVs (to still-audible-in-the-other-room-levels), always apologize after they interrupt me, and only roughhouse and bond loudly over inappropriate jokes with their dad until they remember I'm sitting there.

I realized the writing had not been happening for way too long, so it was time to stop making excuses and find a way to adjust (anyone who knows me probably chuckled right there..I'm not known for my flexible adaptability). So here's what I did: I completely commandeered the dining room table (which is literally only used for actual dining when it's my turn to host book club and the rest of the time is the holder of all things random and pending). My shiny new red laptop and adorably kitschy turquoise mouse now sit there, along with printed reminders of my writing. My writing notebook. The 9 instructional books I wrote. The anthology in which one of my essays was published. And my blog books which hold 12 years worth of my writing.

Twelve years. Lately, every time I looked here, on this blog, instead of noticing how much I had written over the years, I would focus on the gaps of time between posts. I would focus on how many ideas never got put to paper (or screen). So while taking these courses...recreating and rebuilding my writing practice...I needed some reminders of what I've created through the years. Now, when I sit at my no-one-ever-dines-here-dining-table, I feel like it's my space. It is far from silent and somewhat cluttered, but I'm using the noise in my head to tune out the gaming noises and episodes of "Breaking Bad," and the clutter that sits on this table inspires me to remember what I have done and what I can do. 


The following essay was published in The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship (edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger of The HerStories Project.) It was originally posted here on September 30, 2010.

The More the Merrier

I've been thinking a lot about friendships lately.

My dearest friend's 7-year-old granddaughter is having some issues on the playground. She can't quite understand how her best friend can be her best friend one day and completely ignore her the next.

"That's just rude, Gram. And it hurts my feelings."

It's tough being a girl. Women are difficult creatures. We desperately need each other but we push each other away, claw and snap and bitch, and talk behind each other's backs.

My friend assured her granddaughter that "one day" she'd find that one true best friend:

"Really, Gram? You promise?"

"I promise."

I told my friend that I thought that had been a terrible promise to make (we're honest like that). I'm not sure I really believe in the notion of a best friend anymore, although lately (and here's the truly ironic part) I feel I am in some of the healthiest relationships of my life. The notion of That One True Best Friend--the promise that little girl is holding out for--puts a whole lot of pressure on her and especially on the girls around her. No one person should be responsible for being every thing to anyone.

That little girl may be so busy looking for that One Girl that she may miss out on all the ones skipping happily around her on the playground.

* * *

In spite of the fact that most people would probably describe me as very outgoing, I've actually spent most of my life being somewhat anti-social. Growing up, I was never accepted into any of the Cliques Of The Moment, and more often than not, I'd find somebody who was "like me" (read: a little too loud or a little too dramatic or a little too awkward or a little too whatever I happened to be at the time) and I'd latch on. I'd found her: my friendship soulmate! And eventually, as is almost always inevitable with females, she'd screw me over. There was Marilyn in 3rd grade, who one day came back from lunch and abruptly and silently pulled her desk a few inches away from mine and refused to speak to me. I remember Lena, in middle school, who decided hanging out with "the other girls" was way cooler than hanging out with me (she was probably right). The list goes on and on. I realize there were probably many times that I, too, had disappointed them...I don't doubt that I said something completely inappropriate to Marilyn that day at lunch, but couldn't she have told me what that something was?

What I've come to realize over the last couple of years is that all that time I spent excluding everyone else to be with my One True Best Friend, I had missed out. A lot. On people, outings, experiences, adventures, life lessons.

I now find myself surrounded by a lot of really remarkable women...some I had pushed aside for years because I simply "didn't have the time" to spend with them. I am more open, less judgmental, and having a whole heck of a lot more fun. My "collection" of girlfriends are all incredibly different: with some I can discuss, in great details, Marc Jacobs's personal make-over...others shop "exclusively" at Walmart and Target. For some of my friends, sweating is restricted to dancing and sex...others are game for anything from a 5k to a full-out adventure race. I would not call any one of these women my Best Friend. I know who I can call in the middle of the night when my kid is running a fever of 105. I know who I can call when I'm desperate for a night of dancing and drinks. Some of these women know secrets about me that the rest of the world would be shocked to know. Others, I'm just starting to truly trust.

Today, I "asked a girl out." Well, that's what it felt like, anyway. I recently started to talk to someone at work who seems to be so amazingly interesting and intelligent and just plain "cool," that I stepped out of my old comfort zone and, after 30 minutes of chatting about designer galoshes, world-wide travel, Christian Louboutins, mamas' boys, marriage and children, I decided to make a plan to get together next week. This may seem like a totally normal thing to do. But for me, it felt foreign. This woman may become one of my girls. Or, perhaps we will get together and have absolutely nothing to talk about (although after that 30-minute-all-inclusive-chat, I doubt it!). But the point is that I have finally figured out that I don't need one Best Friend. I need lots of really fantastic friends. I am no longer disappointed, because I don't put all my eggs in one basket. I have lots of baskets, and I'm skipping happily around with them on the playground.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Returning to my writing and my self

After taking another hiatus from my writing, I realized (yet again) that I simply cannot not write. As it so often happens with The Universe, something perfectly timed landed in my lap (or my inbox, really), and I jumped back in. After completing the writing course with The Herstories Project, I decided to go down the memory lane of this blog and found this poem, which I wrote--how appropriately--after another one of my writing "breaks." I don't even remember writing it, but I thought: what a fitting way to come back here, to this space, and put my voice back out there.

Wish You Were Here

if you come back

to your words

your space

after a very long time

if you come back

does it matter

if anyone missed you

or only if

you missed yourself

if you come back

do you have to explain

to yourself

or anyone else

why you were gone

*originally posted here on October 4, 2014

Saturday, August 8, 2020

When your baby boy turns 12

Aidan Kai turns 12 today. Our baby. The post below from his 2nd birthday still pretty much covers his personality. We knew he was special and funny back then. He still is. But as he's grown up, we've realized that he's also one of the kindest souls ever. Our "gentle giant." We are so lucky he picked us.
Love you Kai-sy, all the way to the stars. Happy Birthday. 

Originally posted here on August 8, 2010
No matter how many times we told you not to bite the candle, you just didn't listen...

Dear Aidan Kai,

You were born 2 years ago today. It was dramatic, your entrance to the world. It was so silent, that moment when they took you out of me, and we couldn't see you or hear anything, and from the other side of the blanket, we heard your shrill, powerful cry. I looked up at your Daddy, and his face crumpled in a way I had never seen: fear, stress, joy, relief. "He's got red hair!" the nurse pronounced, and I wondered: 'Where the hell did you get that?!?' but I didn't care. You were okay. I was okay. We'd be okay.

Then...and here's where it can get kinda funny...not funny in that ha-ha way, but funny in that ironic kinda way...that shriek we were so excited to hear when you were yanked out of me so violently became the soundtrack of our day-to-day for the first four 1/2 months of your life. And that is only a very, very slight exaggeration.

No reason, apparently. You just cried. All the time. It makes sense to me, now, when I look back on those early weeks, and I see you now, the little boy you are turning into: you cried because you could, because it drew attention, because you have a flair for the dramatic, because it matches your personality, which is big and loud.

You are an incredibly funny kid. I don't think too many people know that about you yet. You tend to be somewhat reserved around people, and you can be pretty stubborn in your anti-social behavior when you want to be (hmmm..wonder who you get that from). But you are hilarious in a way that I didn't really know toddlers could be. It's a subtle, clever humor, with a bit of "stick-it-to-ya" mixed in there for good measure. Your Daddy and I like to think of ourselves as pretty tough parents...consistent and firm with high expectations...but you...you have managed to pull all kinds of stunts and then get yourself out of them with this sly, dimpled grin and these squinty, knowing eyes.

If the methods you and your brother use to get out of trouble are any indication, he will grow up to be a lawyer and you will be a stand-up comedian. You manage to answer our rhetorical questions with the most unexpected answers, like tonight, when you bit me playfully and I said "Hey! Are you a dog?" and you immediately responded with "Yes" and then proceeded to show me your teeth, make biting noises, and go straight for the sofa. Never in a million years did we ever think we'd find ourselves saying the sentence: "No biting the furniture!" Of course, all such behaviors are punctuated with a wide grin on your proud face.

It's been an interesting couple of years, to say the least. We're still waiting for you to "get easy." We joke that perhaps you're getting in all your punches now and in a couple of years, you'll become the Easy One. You just never stop moving. You wiggle off the chair in sushi restaurants and manage to hang off the edge of the table going "Monkey! Monkey!" before we have a chance to put down our chopsticks and lunge at you. You fall off bar stools and practically bounce right back up onto them. You make your swim class teacher carry you around the pool on her back while she works with the other kids, because when she'd put you on the step to wait your turn, you'd run out of the pool, indignantly stomping "All done!" You stand at the edge of our own pool at home and put your head straight down on the concrete, insisting you can "Flip! Flip!" like your brother. And you would, if we'd let you.

It's been an interesting couple of years, to say the least. You certainly wear us out on a regular basis. But you're special, in a way that, I think, only your Daddy and I can truly understand. You make us laugh, a lot. You are silly and goofy and we can already see that you don't take yourself very seriously. You've brought an energy and life to this house that we didn't know was missing, and you've completed our perfect little family.

Happy Birthday, our littlest boy, the last baby, our fireball...we love you. Thank you for picking us.
Love, Mama


Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Travel blog continues: Outer Banks, NC

Once again, we find ourselves not quite where we were "supposed" to be.

We originally planned Outer Banks as our first "real stop" on our 5-week, semi-spontaneous RV road trip. We had 10 days scheduled there and then we were moving on to Charlottesville, Va., Myrtle Beach, SC, Tybee Island, NC, and finally, Cocoa Beach, Fl. Well, after three and a half days of driving, 2 ferries, and 1000 miles overall, we arrived in our blessed OBX campground only to have four consecutive days of rain and record low temperatures. In spite of (once again) making the best of our situation, this was definitely not the OBX blissful experience we remembered from past years. We decided to extend our stay by a couple of days, but once the sun (and all the other campground kids) came out and the waves kicked up, the boys asked to stay even longer. In total, we spent the last 17 days at the Cape Hatteras KOA in Outer Banks, where there was an excessive amount of daily surfing, sunning, Dairy Queen-ing, and boozing (the boys did the DQ part and Hubby and I drank our calories). We decided to cut out the middle portions of the trip, head back home to South Florida for a few days, and then go back out as scheduled to Cocoa Beach, Fl. We were "supposed" to be in South Carolina right now, but instead, we are only a couple of hours away from home for our unexpected (and actually, very welcomed) mid-trip break at home.

This trip, admittedly, was very different from our other RV trips. The boys, now nearly 15 and 12 years old, are changing: they bicker more over stupid things, crave more time with other campground kids, and are not quite as eager to sit around playing Jenga and eating s'mores with Mommy. Because of COVID, some of the places and activities were closed or limited. After having quarantined at home together for so long prior to the trip, the four of us were not quite as good at being in a tiny space together for so long. And those first few days of crazy rain and cold definitely put a damper on things. But there's still a magic, for us, to this place. Even with an experience that was short of perfection, Hubby and I noticed it...it's the vibe, the energy, the feeling there, in that space. The first time we visited Hatteras, I said that if Hawaii and Key West had a baby, this would be it. That feeling is still there, and if this is our "consolation prize" for losing our pre-Covid planned Hawaii trip, then I am certainly not complaining. 

At Cedar Island, the campground where we catch the ferry early in the morning for OBX...
burning off some energy after sitting in the RV for a couple of days on the drive north.

No matter how many times we've done it, I'm still always amazed when we load up the RV and truck onto the ferry for the two water crossings over to the cape

Making the best of the rainy days with sightseeing

They surfed pretty much every day while I drank and read...
probably why I'm the only one who gained weight on this trip!

One of our traditions: nighttime crab hunting. They graduated from catching tiny ones with nets while squealing to catching huge ones with their bare hands.
Part of the magic of this place: the sunsets on the sound side of the campground

One of my favorite moments of the trip...
 the boys and I watching Daddy finally kicking ass on a kite board

Homebase for 17 days

Campfire plus the traditional OBX stilt houses lit up in the background equals magic

On the last night, right before bed, the boys thanked us for "an amazing family trip," so I guess in spite of the spontaneity, bumps, weather, and bickering, we did all right...

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The travel blog returns: where we were supposed to be today

We were supposed to be on a plane right now, heading to Kauai. We had planned it and saved up for it for almost 2 years, but then the bizarre situation that is our world these days stepped in. It sucks. A lot of things suck right now, but I am not so delusional or spoiled that I don't understand that my Hawaiian getaway is not nearly even close to high up on the list of Sucky Things Happening In The World Right Now.

But even though we are incredibly grateful that we have not lost loved ones, jobs, or our minds (although that last one really depended on the day), we are still, admittedly, incredibly sick and tired of being cooped up and having our lives put on hold. (Have you seen those pandemic memes about the introvert friends needing to check on their extrovert friends because they are most certainly, absolutely not okay? Yeah, that's us.) We, as a family, are rarely home. We rarely sit still. We are always out and doing, and when we are not, we are planning the out and the doing. So when our big trip to paradise had to be postponed another year (no, I am not even contemplating the possibility of 2021 being as fucked up as 2020), we sat down and said "Okay, so what can we do instead?" 

We are lucky that when COVID pretty much shut down every kind of travel option, we were able to resort back to our usual mode of summer adventure: our RV. We usually spend at least a year planning and organizing our summer road trips...from the stops to the activities to the daily mileage. This time, we turned to the kids immediately after canceling our flight to Kauai and asked "If we can't go to Hawaii this summer, what would make a good runner up?" Luckily, this was one of those rare times when all four of us had the same response: Outer Banks, NC...where our oldest learned what the word "bliss" meant many moons ago. So in an unprecedented and very non-type-A-personality move, we threw together a 5-week road trip with the only non-negotiable being a very long stay at our favorite beach campground in Outer Banks.

We loaded up and headed out yesterday, driving about 8 hours from South Florida to a little campground in Georgia where we just spent the night. Today, we were supposed to stop to sleep at South of the Border, the infamously tacky and frighteningly similar-to-a-cheap-horror-movie-set campground where we stayed a couple of years ago.  But after making really good time and only driving about 5 hours, we all agreed we'd stay on the road a few more hours.

But first, the boys humored me by recreating some cheesy pics from our last stop there: 


...and THEN


...& THEN


...& THEN

We'll be staying somewhere in North Carolina tonight and head out tomorrow to Cedar Island, where we will kill time in a very isolated and oppressively hot beach area while we wait to get on the ferry to the Outer Banks early the next day.

Since I woke up this morning, I have been thinking about where we were "supposed" to be today. After all, the date June 10, 2020 had been figuratively circled on my calendar for more than a year. I even had one of those silly vacation countdown apps on my phone. It had a little Hawaiian-themed suitcase graphic on it. I am incredibly aware of how lucky we are...driving to spend all these days in our second favorite place in the world, and then moving on to spend more weeks discovering new places and revisiting old faves. So even though I was "supposed to be" on a plane right now, I am pretty damn happy and grateful that I am where I am, with my three favorite people around me, healthy and well.  And maybe...just maybe...on the road all together in our beloved RV is where we were "supposed to be" today all along. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Graduating during the pandemic: this is not the way it was supposed to end

On the first day of kindergarten, Ben walked up to his teacher, unprompted, stuck out his hand, looked up, and announced, "Hi, I'm Ben. It's nice to meet you."

When he was about 3 or 4, he asked me, "Mommy, if I'm holding your hand when you die and go to heaven, will I be able to go with you?"

He's always been this intense, special, old soul: wise beyond his years, sensitive, headstrong, outspoken. So bright, it's scary. The kind of kid who would question everyone around him all the time---his teachers, his friends, his parents--not out of disrespect, but simply because he was probably seeing some loophole in their rules or suggestions that did not make sense to him, and he, quite frankly, just wanted to know why... We have spent years trying to teach him how to keep that self-confidence and sharpness, but not step on the toes of those in authority (too much). There have probably been an equal number of days in our parenting lives in which we have had to say "Damn it, you're right," and "Damn it, 'cause I say so." So often, he is the one calling us out, making us look at a situation in a different way, bringing us together as a family in the midst of an argument or a disagreement or a moment of discipline. Sometimes when he is driving me craziest, I have to laugh and shake my head and remind myself: "Mannnnn, this kid could rule the world..." 

He and I are so alike, it's startling. There are countless times when we notice the same exact detail about something, make the same comment, understand each other's thinking in a way no one else can. How often does Hubby say "You two are exactly the same person." And so, we have a bond that's unique and comforting. But when we clash...you can almost see the energy surging around us. I imagine we must look like two fighters literally dropping the gloves and coming at each other, or those bighorn rams you see butting each other on the heads on the nature channels...but we come at each other with our words, usually powerful, often sarcastic, and always indignant. It scares me, sometimes, how alike we are, how connected I feel to him, but the true beauty of it is when we come out of it on the other side: the battles usually end up bringing us closer. 

And now he's about to finish up his elementary and middle school years. He is "graduating" from 8th grade and crossing over to being a High Schooler. (How in the hell did I become the mom of a high schooler?!?) He has spent the last 9 years at the same school (the same school where Hubby and I teach). From that kindergarten first day when he pretended to be all grown up meeting his teacher to this final year, he has excelled. (Did I mention that when he earned his first B on a report card in 3rd grade, he literally threw himself on the floor of our kitchen crying? When we tried consoling him, he sobbed: "Well, maybe it's good enough for you, but it's not for me!" Luckily, he's loosened up a bit through the years...) He's made every honor roll and been inducted into every honor society. He's won competitions in his STEM classes. He's missed (maybe) one or two homework assignments the entire time. This year, he took the award for Top Algebra Student (I can't even add tip to a restaurant check, so this is the one area in which we are absolutely nothing alike). But the ending of these years is not only special because of his academic achievements. He's made friends. Good, tight, special friends. He's played football. He was on the jump rope team. He built robots and made award-winning paper-mache masks. It's been a really, really good 9 years. 

And now he's closing this chapter of his life and is the only one leaving the area's school to go to his neighborhood high school. He's excited. ("I want to do ALL the activities!" he whispered to me at the high school's open house.) He's ready. We all are. This school will open a whole new world for him---one that includes not only academics, but sports and socializing and learning who he is in isolation of all those kids he's literally grown up around. 

But--it wasn't supposed to end like this.

Like so many other parents, students, and teachers, we are heartbroken by how this pandemic has affected our school lives.

He spent the first three semesters of this school year busting his butt to complete not one, but two, online high school classes so he could "play" in phys ed the last semester with his best friends. The day the last semester was supposed to start, we were already in quarantine. So here's this kid---my kid---who made the responsible choice for himself: "I won't take phys ed on my last year with my buddies, even though I really want to, because I should get high school stuff out of the way, but I'll make sure I get it all done early so I can have those last 9 weeks to hang out and enjoy myself..." and...nope. He was supposed to go on a graduation cruise with his best friend. There was a 3-day field trip he was especially excited about to the state colleges. Two trips to Orlando parks for the honor society kids and the graduating class. A graduating ceremony. He had already picked out his tuxedo (John Wick style, thank you very much) for his 8th grade prom.  

That's how it was supposed to happen. 

But as we know, nothing is as it's supposed to be these days. Nothing.

And so we have done like so many other families: we have made the best of a terrible situation with small socially distant gatherings with only his best friend and his grandparents...with car parades with posters and balloons and honking horns...with promises---oh, how we've made promises--of future trips and sleep-overs and beach days with his friends...all his friends...any of his friends....as many things as he wants to plan when this is "all over" (whatever that means). 

Of course, he has handled it all beautifully. Remember, he was born an old soul. Wise and sensitive and sharp. He understands he can't complain about a canceled field trip when there are people dying around the world. But somehow, that makes me hurt even more. Because--and I know I'm super biased here-- I feel like: Man, if there ever was a kid who deserved to go out with a bang, it's this one. My boy. 

Congratulations, Ben.  Words cannot express how proud we are...not just of your school achievements, but even more so of the young man and amazing soul you are. We love you. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

20 years ago

I walked away
from a life I thought I was supposed to want
from the plans I made because I thought I was supposed to
from the picket fence dream that was someone else's
from the expectations everyone had for me
and the ones I forced on myself

I walked away
from always feeling out of breath

my voice was always too loud
my clothes were always too bright
my ideas were always too outlandish

I thought what I wanted was not what I was supposed to want
I thought who I was was not who I was supposed to be

I thought I was not strong enough

I walked away
20 years ago
a lifetime ago
just yesterday

and walked into a life I never thought possible
a life I thought I was greedy for wanting
a life I thought existed only in movies or books or my dreams

I was strong enough to walk away
to refuse everyone's opinions
to trust my own
to trust you

I walked away from a life that was never mine
and walked into ours

I am still in awe

and although you still take my breath away
now I can breathe

Friday, February 14, 2020

I miss those little Valentine's Day cards

My knees barely fit under the table. It was my boys' coveted Little Einstein's arts-and-crafts-and-everything-they-wanted-to-do-table. There were accidental scribbles on it, and pieces of dried up play-dough. The cubbies underneath had mommy-assigned and boys-ignored designations: one was for the crayons, another for construction paper, and another for puzzles. (Needless to say, those cubbies were always a mess and it always drove me crazy.) I spent countless hours at that table. First with Ben, then with Kai, and sometimes with both. We drew. We colored. We made pizzas out of clay. When Ben had to decorate a t-shirt with 100 things of his choice to celebrate the 100th day of school and he absolutely insisted on making 100 paw prints (his school's symbol) in the alternating school colors in glitter, I sat at that table with him: I dribbled the 5 little globs of Elmer's glue with painstaking precision and he sprinkled the blue and gold glitter over each one. It took us days. But it came out perfect.

Today, the first Valentine's Day in which I have two middle school boys, is also the first Valentine's Day that I did not have to buy cards and candy for class distribution. Maybe if I had realized that last year would be the last year, I would not have complained so much about spending money on candy and cards for his classmates. (But isn't that the thing with parenting? You never know when those tedious tasks you rush through and sometimes dread...bedtime stories, bathtub battles, carrying them asleep to their rooms...will be done for the last time.)

I feel like it was simultaneously yesterday and a million years ago that I sat at that little table, for a few consecutive years, helping them form the letters of their classmates' names and making them fit on those teeny Valentine's Day cards. There were the years in which one or both would insist on finding just the right cards: they had to be Mickey, or Transformers, or sports, and we would have to go to multiple stores to find them. Doing those cards with them was one of those tasks that took forever, and I wondered over and over again why I wasn't doing what so many of the other moms would do: simply label the To/From myself. But it was one of those things that mattered to me. As a teacher and a mom, I felt that these were those important moments when your 2 year old kinda learns how to write and your 5 year old kinda learns some patience. It was tedious and tried my patience probably even more than it tried theirs. I don't really recall with absolute certainty the last time I did it with them. I think I was on the couch instead, and they were kneeling at the coffee table. It was more of a making sure they were following through and their handwriting was neat enough to fit within the card than actually doing it with them. I was probably a little impatient then, too.

This morning I excitedly placed their Valentine's Day gift bags and cards on the breakfast counter. Bags filled with nonsense that took me almost an hour to find at Target yesterday. (Do you have any idea how hard it is to find something cheap and Valentine-y to give a 14 year old who is now shaving?!?) As I roamed the store aisles, I debated skipping the whole thing. Why spend $40 or $50 on cards and junk and candy they really don't need? But the truth is, they're still my babies and I actually miss sitting at that little table and being annoyed and wondering how much longer it would take to go through that darned preschool class names list so I could go deal with dinner or watch TV or take a frickin shower. Those days felt endless. I felt like I was trapped in a perpetual fog of little kid responsibilities and mommy minutiae. And yet here we are now: I am spending my Valentine's Day remembering that little table and those little hands with the dimpled knuckles clutching the fat pencils and clumsily forming the letters of their names.

What I realize now, all these years later, is that all those hours I spent torturing myself by making all those Valentine's Day cards with them weren't just about their handwriting and spelling skills. It was about Me and Them Time. Days like today, when their time is spent in a whirlwind of adolescent distractions, and I am but a blip in their day, I can think back to the days at that table and sit with those memories. I can miss them. I can relish them. And I can know that even if they don't think that those days were particularly important, they were for me. Much more so, in fact, now that they are long gone. Don't get me wrong: I want no part of parenting little kids anymore. I love the young men they are becoming and the relationship and life we all have now, but those days filled with messy art tables and Transformer heart cards are forever etched in my heart. And those two big kids right there...they will forever be my little Valentines.

A blurry picture I managed to find of THE Table