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August 2013

It's too much

IMG-20130724-00465 (1)
This is an actual sign we saw tonight on our actual bike ride. 

Eighteen years ago tonight I went on a walk. It was hot, but then again, everything was hot just then. I was nine months pregnant with my first child. My husband (at the time) and I walked and I stopped every few minutes to grip his shoulder and breathe through a contraction. The other walkers passing us on the trail looked deeply concerned.

But they didn't have to worry, because it was just the pre-labor work of being impossibly pregnant. We arrived home to find my parents there. They'd planned to come up from New Mexico in a few days, closer to my actual due date, but Mom had gotten part way through her day at work and switched off her computer, drove home, and announced to Dad, "We're going to Denver." Dad's no fool, so they went. 

That night I slept well, until the early hours of the morning, when I had a vivid dream. I was riding a motorcycle, speeding faster and faster. I felt more and more endangered as I flew around bends. I came around a sharp curve, and as I leaned into it, I thought, "I can't do this. It's too much."

On that, I woke. And felt the gush of my water breaking.

That was, of course, Tre's birthday. Eighteen. I know I joke about this, about not being ready for my kids to grow up, but I have to confess an actual panic. All week long I've been counting down the days until The Day, as though there were some way I could make it stop. 

It's not that I don't want eighteen-year-old Tre. He's such a fine young man. He's been working a summer job, and now he's gearing up to return to school, and there's so much possibility in his world. Last school year was very very hard, and he rose above it. He took two AP classes, and I had no idea how brutal they would be. One of his teachers urged me not to be too hard on him if he didn't pass the AP Physics test, because lots of kids don't. He put so much time and effort into Physics that he didn't have quite as much time as he would have liked to spend on studying for the US History test. I hoped and hoped that he would at least pass Physics, because that's the one that matters to him most. I cannot tell you how many hours I spent awake in the night, wanting it all to be okay. In the end, he passed both of them, and I was blown away and reminded of how little of this is in my hands.

That's the scary thing about eighteen. It's really his life now. There are so many huge choices ahead of him, and my job is to...not make them. It seems to be a full time job for me, some days. It feels like it's all I can do.

All I want is for him to be okay, all the time. I'm told that's not something I get. All these eighteen years, I haven't been able to keep him from hurt. He's cried, he's bled, he's learned to take loss like a man. If I had my way, I would have kept him a wide-eyed child who thought the world revolved around him. My failure has enabled him to be burnished.

This whole time, I suppose, my efforts to manage his life have been meaningless accessorizing, as he trudged along into his future. I have little control now, over this legal adult, but the truth is I never did. I wasn't driving, I was along for the ride.

I was talking to my cousin the other day, about Tre's birthday. We're having a big family dinner, as usual, and then he's leaving to go bowling with his friends, which frankly stings just a little.

"I keep assuring myself that this is fine," I told her, "that it's perfectly normal."

"It's not only normal," she said, "it's actually a little abnormal that he's having dinner with us all."

I was taken aback by this. Really? We're already there? Because dinner with the family seems like the obvious choice. He's already just indulging me? 

I miss him. But I miss a thousand ages of him, from the slick, floppy newborn they handed me eighteen years ago, to the broad-shouldered young man he is today. It seems like he was just here...

But no, he's off. Through the hazardous conditions ahead and into the joy. Happy birthday, son. 

April13 008
Remember you're loved.

All my powers

This morning Sophia came padding into my room. She prefers to begin every day by tucking herself up next to me, wrapping my arm around her sleep-warm form, and discussing...everything. All the things. Every facet of all the things. 

This morning she twirled her hair with one hand and kicked her feet lazily in the air. 

"Mom? When you were a little girl, like me, could you run faster than the wind?"

I thought about that, and remembered a day when my feet skimmed the ground, when I could feel myself moving so fast that any moment I would land, palm and knee hard on the ground...or I would surely fly.

"Yes," I said, "yes I could run faster than the wind."

"Oh." She kicked her feet and admired them, lit up pink in the morning sun above her. "But Mom? I came and I took all your powers."

Very nearly true, my girl. But that's okay with me.

July13 040

Because you make such good use of them.



Clay and I picked up Max from camp on Sunday. We were leaving Raphael there for a week, so it was hard to fully enjoy the exhale of having Max back. I mean, after all, first I had to have a panic attack at the thought of leaving Raphael all week, in another state, with no brothers around. Eventually, Raphi managed to peel away my last finger-hold on him and disappear into the boys' dorm, so I slunk off with Clay and Max for the long drive home.

Max didn't sleep hardly at all for the eight hours in the car. That's probably because of the decongestant I gave him (because of COURSE he was sick after two weeks at camp), but regardless, he sat in the back seat and talked about camp. 

You know, when you think about a person being distant, in relationship, you think about there being silence. But the feeling I kept getting, as we rolled on and on through the night, with Max's stories scrolling out behind us, was distance. Not that he was rude or unkind in any way. No, but Max has never been able to pretend to be where he's not. And although he and all his dirty laundry (including two towels he didn't leave home with) were all in the car with us, his heart and mind were back at camp. All week long it's been like that. I walk up to him and say something and he blinks, as if surprised to see me. 

I know this is all part of the process, the growing up and moving away process that is good and right. You would think I'd be better prepared for it by now. Tre turns 18 this month. Max is going to school in the fall. Raphael is 450 miles away with no family in sight. I should be coming around to the trend here. Their orbits are widening, and Max is at his apogee right now, with his heart slung as far away from me as his trajectory will allow. 

Tonight Sophia climbed into my lap and curled up tight against my chest. I wrapped my arms around her, enjoying the tidy bundle of her. She told me that she wished she could crawl inside my belly button and live there, because she is four and four knows no bounds of weirdness. I smelled her freshly washed hair and thought, "Oh my girl. You are only passing close to me today."

Why DON'T people come over more often?

This morning a skunk was killed in our yard (we live in a wild and vicious area - and yet, less than five minute drive from the nearest McD's). The smell...oh my lord, the smell. I've smelled skunk before, obviously, being of a hardy and outdoorsy nature (shush. I camped once), but this was a whole new level. It was like...skunk, but A LOT of skunk, plus rotting garlic. It woke Clay and me both up out of a dead sleep, and considering that it usually takes five minutes or so of his alarm clock sounding to achieve that, it's saying something.

Stinky, is what it was.

This afternoon Raphael's youth group leader - actually, I guess that would be recently former youth group leader - came over to visit. She's heading off to join an actual convent and become an actual nun. Actual nuns. So much more effective than virtual nuns. 

Anyhow, Raphael adores Neely, and he'd wanted to say good bye and introduce her to her namesake, the chicken Neely. We'd played phone tag for ages, and finally she agreed to come over this afternoon. We figured it out about 30 minutes before she could actually be there, so there was a bit of race-around-and-shove-stuff-under-the-furniture. Heh. For a change. 

The best part of that was that Raphael got himself into a tizzy, wanting everything to be right for Neely, so he got just as uptight and frantic as I always do. Not that it helped, but it was nice to have the company in the world where Clay calls me his sweet little crack monkey. 

Actually, it did help, because we got the house picked up in record time and Raphael helped whip up a batch of no-bake cookies (a sign of true devotion, because only the best of people are worthy of all that not-baking).

Then, just before Sophia announced there was someone at the door, I realized that the house still smelled faintly of skunk. Now, I don't use air fresheners around the house, because I read something once that claimed the chemicals in them can cause brain swelling, which doesn't seem likely, but who wants to take that kind of chance with their actual brain? Plus, most of them smell like fleur de old people house, and I like to pretend I'm still young.

However, I DID magically have one tiny can of air freshener in the house. It was tucked away on top of the hot water heater, leftover from - wait, let me check the calendar - nope, in very early preparation for Christmas. It smells like a Christmas tree AND (this is the magical part) it is also an odor neutralizing spray. 

I grabbed it and spritzed it around on my way to the door, pondering how I would explain the Christmassy aroma. "We are JUST THAT DEVOTED," I could assure her, "And really, isn't Christmas ALIVE ALL YEAR IN YOUR HEART?" Then I would beam and try to glow a little.

No, I decided, the best option would be just to answer the door and ignore the smell and pretend like it's normal that my house smells like a skunk-bedecked Chrismas tree. Smile and carry on! It's what Julia Childs would do! I don't know why, but I'm pretty sure she would!

I opened the door and greeted Neely, who said, "Your property here is so pretty!" And I promptly responded, "THERE'S A DEAD SKUNK. THAT'S WHY IT SMELLS LIKE THIS. PLUS I USED AIR FRESHENER THAT I NEVER PUT AWAY AFTER CHRISTMAS."

I don't know why people don't come over more often.

Well, Neely was extremely gracious about the whole thing. Plus, she got no-bake cookies, and she got to meet her chicken namesake, and how many people out there can name a whole chicken after you? We're pretty sure Neely the chicken is a hen, making her a no-bake chicken - HA! - but I refrained from saying that in my outside-the-head voice. Yay me!

And that would be the end of the story, but guess what happened to Tre on the way home from work tonight? He hit A SKUNK! And now his car is sitting, parked outside my bedroom window, and wafting its perfume my way.  

I'll just be over here, smelling like a Christmas tree. Carry on.


Once upon a time...

Before I can tell you about meeting Clay, I have to explain where I was. In 2001, my marriage ended. Tre was six, Max was three, and Raphael was four months old the day my ex moved out. The death of my marriage was shocking, violent, and embarrassingly dramatic. And, I came to find out, not that unusual. 

A friend from church took me out for lunch one day. Her kids were teens, and she told me the story of her divorce, years before. Some of the details were eerily similar, something I'd see over and over again as I obsessively discussed divorce with any woman who could relate (pro tip: if your husband announces out of the blue that he doesn't think he ever loved you, he's already sleeping with someone else).

As we sat over the remnants of our lunch, my friend reached across the table and gripped my hand. 

"Women tend to make one of two choices in circumstances like yours. They either run out and try to find another man to make it better, or they choose their kids. I can already tell you're going to choose your kids."

I can't tell you how much I took her words to heart that day. I chose my kids. I wouldn't bring further chaos into their lives with random men. I'd already given them enough pain and loss with the man I chose to be their father. No more. 

And so there just weren't any men in my life. I moved in with my parents so I could continue to homeschool, and the boys became my life's work. I don't know - that sounds more selfless than it actually was, I think. It was good for me to be there for the boys. It was right to provide them as much stability as I could while we all put our lives back together. But I'd be lying if I tried to pretend I wasn't also protecting myself, hiding behind a very effective man-repelling shield of three squirrelly little boys.

Three years later, one Sunday I was at church. It was the end of the service, announced with "Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord," and we responded together, "Thanks be to God!" A beat of a pause, then everyone turned to whoever they were with, to discuss lunch plans, find missing shoes, whatever.

I was standing at the back of the room, just casually watching, when I felt it like a fist to the chest: no one was looking for me. The boys swarmed around me in their usual puppy-pile, but I scanned the room, in a completely illogical panic. Where were the eyes looking for mine?

That evening, back at home, Mom asked me if I was okay. I paused, then just said it.

"I'm lonely." There is just never any way to say that with great dignity, you know. But there it was.

"Oh," she said, "well, sure. That makes sense. If you ever want to pray about that, ask God to send you someone, let me know."

"Okay," I said. She started to turn away, but I repeated myself. "No, I mean - OKAY."

And so we did. She took my hands and together we prayed that God would send a man - just the right man. When we were done, I tried to laugh it off, and wandered away.

Two weeks later Clay packed up everything he owned and left Idaho. He was starting his life over and had been thinking about moving to Nevada, but when he called his brother, he offered Clay a futon to crash on. And so instead, Clay headed to Colorado, to Aurora. The day he drove into town it was his birthday, and it was Easter.

Already, it was inevitable.