Thursday, August 18, 2016

After August

This is a violin, not a viola.
And this is not the sixth symphony.
But you get the idea.
A while back, our two oldest children left for college one week apart. 

Jarring, yes. And yet, I remember thinking, I'm not upset enough.  It reminded me of when I was child and wanted to cry at a funeral because everyone else was.

July rolled into August. Suitcases filled, rooms emptied of posters and books and CDs, and while I found myself looking longer and harder at my children, I was still not weepy. Nor was I second-hand weepy around the mothers who couldn't get through a discussion about the coming goodbye.

I was even a tiny bit more cheerful as September came into view.  No more details, no more shopping. No more saying, "Did you," at the start of every sentence.

One brilliant green and yellow morning, I listened to the last movement of Beethoven's sixth, a piece my violist-daughter and I adore, and one I'd watched her perform the previous summer. I thought about that lilt in the beginning, the part she really loved, and wondered, where did it actually begin? I went to her room to ask her, and got halfway. In a week, I would not be able to do this.

I still remember my face getting cold, and a feeling of being hollow. And did I cry hard enough to make my best friend come over in her pajamas? Yes, I did.

As new parents write of lost identity when babies come, veteran parents write often of disorientation when babies go. What of the next relationship we ask ourselves, when we aren't yet those people we will be for each other?

This canyon of "now," between "were" and "will be," is a thing that makes the prospect of separating a tiny bit like a death. And it's talked about that way, in terms of what is over for good. There is grief over truncated moments, regret over unrealized joys and sadness over endless "lasts." There is halting in the hallway, there are cold faces. There are thoughts of who will we be instead of us?

I have come to understand the answer to this, and it isn't something I would have understood at all had someone tried to explain it before August.

But it is this: my relationships with our four adult children, are more rewarding today than at any other time  because today, they demand more of me as a person than a parent.  

They are different people, but share a tolerant, kind view of the world. They require this of those they trust. More than once they have made me examine my heart and change it, close my mouth and open my mind, discuss hard truths, question wrong assumptions, update my views.

I've started more than one conversation with, "Help me change my attitude about something."

I've never found it this easy to laugh at myself.

Today, our daughter  lives 650 miles away from us in Cleveland. There, she directs a program which offers violin lessons to inner city children. Small children. Children who arrive tired and cranky and are more interested in my daughter's earrings than the piece upon which she must focus their little attention spans. 

She took me to tour the facility. When she left to take a call her boss resumed the tour, explaining the programs they offered and the value my daughter has brought to them. 

"We love her," said this man who has only known her as an adult, a kind, talented, professional woman. "She's a natural."

Later , we shopped for groceries and prepared dinner and talked in her kitchen about things we thought about, worried over, looked forward to, dreamed about. We had as much fun as two grown women can have when one is no longer – nor yet – dependent on the other. She is healthy and committed to intellectual, physical and spiritual balance.  Today, we are more alike than we aren't, despite the twenty-plus years between us.  We share a mother-daughter relationship, but have adult lives in common.

My August hallway question is long behind me but I have learned this: children leave, and they travel as far as they must to become their individuated selves. But then, whether they move down the street or text us from their living rooms across the country, they will come back not in need of answers or approval, but as people with experiences to share, in need of comparison, in need of commonality.

The fall is coming. Parents will miss their college freshmen perhaps more than they imagined. I say, let the memories come. And as you remember the times you'll always cherish, also remember the times you wouldn't revisit for anything.

Above all, be joyous about the certain possibility of times to come, when love will grow right along with you and connect you, long after August has come and gone.

This piece was originally published by in August of 2015.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Pet peeves #2: any irritation is worse after you've spilled coffee on your face

Here is my pet, Gus, and here is his
peeved face.  It was a perfect storm for a graphic. 
I knew I would write a pet peeves post after I misjudged the fullness of my coffee cup last week and spilled it on my face. Oh, haha, I thought at first, look what I just did.
But then I dropped my toothbrush paste side down. And then I found a very old life insurance bill under many pounds of clutter in my giant purse. And then I forgot to bring my artfully organized and lengthy list to the supermarket. And then I parked too close to a curb and gave my tire a boo-boo, for the second time this year. 
It was one long-ass week of hold music and missed calls and things I forgot to write down, I'll tell you what. 
Usually, I look outward to feel better. But a perfect storm of poor attitude on my part and inconsiderate or clueless behavior on the part of others made me look inward instead, where I found this list of pet peeves already writing itself. 

Herewith, things that are easy to overlook unless you started the week googling "spatial awareness issues."
1. People who say "perfect storm," a serious and rare meterological event, to describe things that are just coincidental.

2. People who approach a door to enter a place while someone on the other side wishes to leave, and go first anyway.  I think some of us may not know that is has been the rule since God was a toddler to let people come out with their bags, before you go in with your nothing. Ditto elevators. Let them come out, and then go in. Them out, you in. 
3. It's not "could of," it's "could have." It's not "your being a jackass," It's "you're being a jackass." "Expecially" is still not a word, and neither is "irregardless" even though the dictionary finally gave up and said, "Okay, fine but we're putting informal next to it." If people lose it on Facebook, they should avoid undermining the credibility of their rant with errors like these. Maybe not, though. It's kind of funny when that happens. 
4. People who see that a lane will end a half a mile away,  race to the point where they merge and then huddle in wait for the driver they can cut off  to jump the line, which is five years long. In truth, they save little time as the already annoyed drivers in that line form a collective, massive attitude of "the hell you will." 
5. People who walk very slowly, two or three abreast, in the middle of anything, including aisles in supermarkets, parking lots, sidewalks and everywhere else. I wish I didn't feel as irrationally trapped as I do when I'm behind them and can't find a way to slip past on either side, but at least I'm nice enough to consider them clueless and not inconsiderate. 
6. People who are not clueless but inconsiderate. This includes smokers near doorways, right lane drivers who accelerate as you're attempting to merge, and people on airplanes who occupy their space and yours with too loud talk, too odorous food, too much perfume that smells like grapes. In general, people who know it might bother others but not as much as it will please them to have their way. 
7. People who half-shuck an ear of corn at a farm stand to inspect it, then reject it, then do the same thing to one ear after another until the bin is left full of half-stripped corn, which is off-putting for other customers, and probably mortifying for the corn.  
8. People who enter a parking space via the one in back of it to enter the space nose-first. People, (well,  I) tend to pull into spaces quickly, and I know if I'd collided with someone after giving my tire a boo-boo, I would have been worse than unpleased. 

That's it, it's only eight. After a week that nipped at my heels like an annoying dog after the coffee cup incident, I thought it would be longer. 
I must be on the mend, mood and fate-wise. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

While the spirit is a puppy

Here is the man I never married
and these are the kids I never had and 

I look nothing like that woman either.
When I was eight or nine, I went on regular trips to a local amusement park with some best friends. Inside the park's giant arcade, across from the rows of pinball machines were coin operated machines that produced things like fortunes and predictions, like the machine that sends Tom Hanks into adulthood overnight in the movie "Big." 
One of them, for a quarter, would show you your future spouse and children. The weird, grainy photos were all 1920s era and featured unsmiling, long suffering souls who looked like they'd been forced to pose for the picture or else. 
Usually, the men sported handlebar moustaches and suspenders and the women wore long skirts. Standing between them were always a gaggle of morose kids who stared flatly into the camera as if it had ruined their lives.   
Forget the roller coaster or round-up,  this was the attraction we hit first in our summer shorts and striped shirts, our overbites not yet corrected, our quarters gripped by fingers sticky with cotton candy. 
Photos in hand we'd huddle to view, and then argue with the results: 
"Mine looks like Curly from the Three Stooges."
"Mine's all dressed up but he's next to a tractor and a bale of hay"
"What'd you get?"
"Lemmee see yours."
And so on. 
Because young children worry about things like being kidnapped by spies, or attacked by bears, I wondered briefly what would happen if my future family were anything like this.  I remember thinking about that while walking barefoot to a store to buy candy because walking around town in bare feet wasn't horrifying yet. 
What would I do if he had a moustache? 
Eventually, my head was turned by a boy on the bus and I was able to advance to more serious things, like what if bear jumped out of the woods near the bus stop? 
There was horror in the world, both of the natural and manmade variety. There was a fire in France that killed 142 people. There were hurricanes and tornadoes and trains that ran over people.  For a while, everyone talked about Charles Manson. There were the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz.
My biggest problem however, was what would happen if my cat Mittens went out and never came home? 
What would I do without Mittens? 
Fifteen years ago, in the ghostly aftermath of 9/11, I watched our young kids watch us, watch their teachers, react. I worried that they would now begin to see the world as we adults did at that time – unpredictable, terrifying, a place that seemed impossible to control and where it would never again be possible, not really, to completely relax. 
But it struck me then and now, that to watch young children at play, particularly when they  don't feel watched, is to witness spirit as a puppy, in its most hapless and sprawling state, not yet curbed, still so infused with curiosity, imagination, and spontaneity, it can have the power to dwarf the hardest reality.    
For a while. 
I wish for us to make it last. To not over-inform. To not caution too much. 
I wish for us to know that despite incomprehensible changes in our adult worlds that fray the edges of our own spirit, we are still former children. For the sake of our current children, I wish for us to remember the days when we were more fascinated by what we didn't know, than fearful of it.   
Children did then, and children do now fill their minds with fantastic predicaments of their own making – of cats not coming home and  bears popping out of the woods and what kind of a husband that boy on the bus would make – all completely believable in the dark before sleep. But a child's spirit is a puppy, warm and irrepressible, a steadfast ally with the answer to everything and the power to show them a future worth dreaming about. 

To honor and shield that spirit as a puppy is one of the best things we parents can do to honor our child's time in life, and, the memory of the children we ourselves needed to be at such a time. 

Back when we worried about noises in the woods and marrying people who hadn't been around for several decades.