Missing…

Every now and then, I get a glimpse of one of the things that my children have missed in their lives. Because my children have been brought up almost exclusively by one parent, there will always be things that I could not provide and attention that they did not get.

This weekend, I took my daughter out to buy a prom dress. The dress was one she had picked out several weeks ago, and one that we almost didn’t get. Not because she didn’t want it, but because it almost wasn’t available.

As we walked into the store, we found only two of the desired style on the rack, and both were the wrong size. My daughter briefly seemed to think she could make the smaller of the two work, but I was doubtful. Nevertheless, we made our way to the fitting room to try it on. Because it is prime prom dress season, there were piles of cast-off dresses littering just about every available surface throughout the store. As we walked by the register, I spotted another dress like the one she was about to try on. Amazingly, this one was her size!

When we arrived home with the dress, I had this crazy flash of memory that caught me off guard and allowed me to glimpse something from my past that my kids are missing. When I was young, Mom would take us shopping for clothes (new school clothes, special occasion dresses, etc.). Later that day, when Dad got home from work, we would model our new clothes for him. He always had some approving comment like, “That looks sharp!” or “That’s a great dress!” Always, he was positive and supportive of our outfits and our emerging sense of style (no matter how odd or colorful). Always, he was supportive of us.

Back at home this weekend, I had the thought that my daughter should have someone so encouraging in her life, someone for whom to model her new dress. Every kid needs more than one person who will say, “Wow! That’s beautiful!” or “What a great choice you made!” or “You make me proud!”

Every now and then, I get a glimpse of what is missing, but I pause and remind myself of what my children have. Not all children have the same memories, but they will still have memories that are unique to them and to their experiences. Hopefully, no better or worse. Just different.

A Random Cardinal

These days, there is always some random something lurking around every twist in the road that can flip the switch that allows grief to flood through me like a downpour.

Today, as I drove home from work, it was a cardinal that flew in front of my car as I navigated down the same street I drive every day. In fact, I was enjoying the routine of the drive. I was relishing the late afternoon light brought in by the weekend’s time change. I was enjoying the snow-less ground with its brown grass and scattered leaves left over from autumn, as it seemed it would be only hours before the landscape is once again buried under the heavy weight of winter’s last hurrah. (It’s almost spring, I have to remind myself. It won’t last long.)

But then it appeared—the cardinal. The vivid red bird flew across my path, dipping slightly as it crossed the road and disappeared into a row of bushes. My breath caught as I was simultaneously reminded that spring is near and that Dad is not. He would have noticed that bird before I did. “Look, at that cardinal!” he’d say, pointing. Sometimes it would be an oriole, or a bluebird, or a redwing blackbird. He always had a keen, birds-eye view that spotted them first.

It was that bird that brought the tears today—a random cardinal on a sunny Monday at the end of winter. While spring may bring the promise of new life and increased light, the newness will be intertwined with a million more random somethings just waiting to slip in and spark the grief anew.

{Image credit: FreeImages.com / Mike Munchel}

Vacuuming

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Last month, I had a very interesting text exchange with my oldest child. He started out, “Do you remember the time you got that chest for my room back in the old, old house and you picked me up from school and told me you got something for my room and it was a surprise, but you said it was something to help keep my room clean?”

In fact, I vaguely remembered how I presented the situation, but as soon as he mentioned it, I knew what he was talking about. He was just a little kid at the time, probably four or so. After all, we only lived in that house until he was five. I had found a “treasure chest” at the Christmas Tree Shop, and I thought it would be the perfect addition to his room to contain his toys.

He went on with the text exchange to let me know that at four, he had thought he was going to get his own vacuum, and he was very excited. Now, on the one hand, I wish I had known that he wanted a vacuum because I probably could have capitalized on that. But on the other hand, I know he was likely only three feet tall, at best, and I doubt he would have been able to handle a vacuum of his own.

I wonder why it is that we don’t create child sized working appliances, like vacuum cleaners? Instead, we create toy vacuums and toasters, blenders and lawnmowers. I understand why some of these things could not be actual, functioning appliances (lawnmowers, for example). But hey, it seems my kid would have been all over vacuuming his own room at four years old because at four, a vacuum is a pretty cool item.

And if he were vacuuming himself at that age, he might have saved me some time on cleaning. Then again, I might have had to spend an inordinate amount of time searching the vacuum bag for trinkets that were accidentally run over and sucked up in his youthful excitement and inexperience.

Sadly, I will never know. But at least now I know what to get him for a housewarming gift!

Teachable moments

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This weekend’s not-so-fun activity involved a morning trip to the Laundromat. After his last camping trip, W announced that his winter sleeping bag was “developing a personality” and needed to be washed. I don’t know about you, but when a 15 year-old announces that his sleeping bag is “developing a personality,” I sit up and take notice. And since his next camping trip is coming up quickly—next weekend, in fact—it was pretty much this weekend or after the upcoming trip.

But a winter sleeping bag is one of those items that cannot be washed at our home in our normal-sized washing machine. It has to be washed in a large capacity, front-loading machine, hence the trip to the Laundromat. Since we were heading there anyway, I decided to bring the comforter from my bed—another item that I have to launder outside of the house.

Of course, there was the need for tennis balls. I have never used tennis balls in the dryer with my comforter because I typically go to the Laundromat on a very windy day and I dry my comforter at home, outside. However, January is not such a friendly time for drying a heavy comforter outside, wind or no. So a stop at Target was necessary.

We picked up two containers of yellow tennis balls and took them to the checkout, where a gaggle of teenage workers was congregating, socializing. As we stepped up to the checkout, one of the teens broke away from the group to take her place at the register and ring in our three-dollar purchase. She thanked us and went back to her “social” group. As W and I walked by the group to exit the store, one of the teens announced to her friends, “I think I’m going to get a different job.”

Well then. There were so many things I could have said in that moment, but I walked past as if I hadn’t heard.

We were not even out the door before I turned to W. “You know what you don’t do?” I posed.

“Talk about how much you don’t like your job while you’re at your job?” he responded without a split second delay. Ah! He, too, had heard the young woman as we walked by. “I noticed that,” he commented.

“That is so not a good idea,” I told him, though from his quick response, I was certain he knew better. “It’s fine to want a new job. Not so much to announce it while you’re at your current job. And while you are standing around doing nothing….”

“Yeah,” he said. “I get that.” Some things are best left for when you are in the privacy of your own home, and perhaps complaining about your job is one of them. Then again, if you complain in public, I may just use it as a teachable moment.

{image credit: Freeimages.com/Ben C}

Snow Day Hyperbole

 

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Tuesday was a snow day for us. When I woke up in the morning, the radio mentioned school cancellations, but I was half asleep and didn’t believe it. Through my five a.m. fog, I reached for my iPad, pulled up the local television station website, and scrolled through the cancellations. Sure enough, our town had cancelled school. The town in which I work had also cancelled school, though there was nothing yet from the university.

I stumbled to the kids’ rooms in the dark to turn off their alarms, trying my best not to disturb them more than necessary. I went back to bed, armed with my phone to take the “alert” calls that would inevitably come. Nowadays, it is so easy to tap into the school cancellation list, and with multiple schools and school districts involved, that can be a good thing.

But later that morning, when I finally looked outside, we had about two inches of snow. Two inches. And a snow day? Clearly, this must have been an oversight on someone’s part. A day off means, the kids will have an extra day tacked on to the end of the school year. Sigh.

In a text to my sister, I told her I suspected the world had grown wimpier since we were kids. I remember schlepping through snow up to my thighs (though I will admit, I was a bit shorter then) to get to school. Occasionally, my boot would become lodged in a snow crater when I tried to step, and I would have to reach my arm all the way into my leg-long footprint to retrieve it. Once, a storm closed school for two consecutive days, but that was a memorable spring storm one April when winter was supposed to be over. That storm dumped three feet of snow, and I can still tap into the feeling of wonder and excitement I had walking through the labyrinth of shoveled pathways.

On days when the world seems wimpier than in years past, I tend to become one of those parents, just like my parents before me, and their parents before them. You know the ones I mean…. Back in my day when life was simpler, we trudged through three feet of snow every day to get to school. Maybe it was a two-mile walk to get there. And it was definitely uphill both ways. And maybe it was 10° below zero every day during the winter because back then, it was commonly believed we were entering the next Ice Age.

Or maybe—just maybe—I tell hyperbolic stories because here in northern New England, a snow day for two inches of snow feels ridiculous, and it’s not something responsible adults feel the need to encourage.

And even though my children roll their eyes at my stories, there is no doubt that 20 or 30 years from now, they will be telling their own hyperbolic childhood stories to their own children, their nieces and nephews, their students. Because this…. this is the way we express to the next generation that we think they are getting too soft around the edges and too wimpy in the middle. And this is the way we let them know that maybe, just maybe, things aren’t quite as bad as they like to believe.

This Moment

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[I began this post last week, right before my son left for college, but I wasn’t able to finish it. Until today.]

The car is packed and sits waiting for the inevitable morning drive to college for freshman drop off. I stare out the window, watching the silent car sitting in the drive, wondering if I will be able to sleep.

Over the past few days, I have lived in a state of internal panic. My mind is bombarded with all of the wisdom I have neglected to impart to my son, the lessons I didn’t remember to teach, the “teachable moments” that have slipped by as I carelessly thought, Next time, I’ll teach that lesson. As a single mother, the burden of guiding and teaching has fallen solely on me, and I know there are things (many things) I have forgotten.

Yet, this day is one that has been looming on the horizon since the birth of this child. It has been talked about, planned for, worked toward, and encouraged for as long as I can remember. As long as my son can remember. My son, my first-born child.

This is the child who taught me how to be a mother. When he was born, the weight and solidity of his tiny infant body in the transition between womb and world was unexpected to me. In the early days and subsequent weeks—months… years—he taught me to sleep lightly, so I could hear the murmurs and cries when he woke. By sleeping lightly, I could hear the disturbances, the coughing, the bad dreams, and the nonsensical phrases uttered in the depths of sleep.

He taught me to watch carefully to protect him from dangers. He taught me to stay a step or two away, so he could explore on his own with me always ready to catch him—physically or metaphorically—if he fell.

I pushed this child gently, urging him to step away when he held tightly and wouldn’t let me out of his sight in his first days of preschool.

He taught me to be brave in the pediatrician’s office—most notably when the doctor was painstakingly and painfully placing four stitches into his three-year-old lip late one February night.

He taught me that my instincts for him, for all of my children, were as valid as a single teacher’s decree. When his preschool teacher advised me to hold him back so that someday he might be a leader, I chose to keep him with his age-peers. He became a leader on his own schedule.

He taught me to love fiercely because childhood is just a blip on a parent’s radar.

This child is the one who taught me how deeply a parent can love.

I now realize that over the years, this child has been teaching me to let go, a lesson that will continue through his college years and beyond. Now, this child is teaching me one of the toughest lessons of all: to say good-bye. Again and again.

Now, it is my job to step back, get out of his way, and watch him continue to grow, with guidance from afar, as he gains independence and finds his path.

This child…. This young man…. This moment.

 

Challenges #atozchallenge

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Years ago, when I was facing a difficult time far from my family and support system, a minister said to me, “Bloom where you are planted.”

In fact, we all face our own unique challenges, and oftentimes, we forget that. We snap at the cashier at the grocery store who is moving too slowly because she has just returned to work after surgery. We honk at the teenager stalled at the intersection in front of us because we don’t realize he hasn’t quite adjusted driving a car with a manual transmission.  We sometimes get so caught up in our own lives that we forget others are dealing with their own struggles.

On my way to work this morning, I had to make a stop at the grocery store. Of course, I was running late. And it was snowing. I picked up the three items I needed, and I found myself debating which too-long check-out line to pick. Did I mention it was snowing? Because of the weather, the early morning shopping crowd was larger than usual.

I chose a place in the express lane. At one of the check-out counters, an older, somewhat disheveled man was loudly conversing with the cashier. He wasn’t angry, exactly, but he might have seemed so to a passing observer. He was questioning the charges. Each and every one. And as he did so, he was holding up the line.

I turned to survey the shoppers in my line, and I flashed an amused smile at the man directly behind me. He smiled back. “What do you think he was when he was younger?” he asked me.

“Hmm. That’s a tough one,” I responded, turning back to the man. I observed his gesticulation as he opened his wallet and displayed the contents (or lack thereof) to the cashier. She nodded and talked in a manner that was soothing but authoritative.

“School teacher?” he asked.

“No,” I shook my head. “I don’t think so.”

“College professor?” he asked.

“That’s possible,” I responded. “Absent-minded type.”

“Sculptor!” he said, this time definitively.

“Yes! I think that’s it!” Truly, this man could have been just about anything.

“Guess the occupation,” the man then said to me. “It’s a new and amusing way to pass the time in line.”

“Well… that’s all well and good,” I told him. “Until someone looks at me and says, ‘I wonder what she did when she was younger.’” We both laughed.

Sometimes, the best way to handle challenge is through humor. Sometimes, the challenges we face make us stronger, and we are able to bloom more beautifully.

 

C