Fairly okayish!

Tomorrow I start classes again, and so today I had planned to get everything I need to accomplish out of the way for the next four months.

I didn't quite manage it. But Sophia's lunch is packed for tomorrow, and I cleaned off my desk, so let's call that a win. 

Last semester when classes started I felt like I just fell off a cliff. I watched helplessly as the tasks I'm so used to dispatching without even thinking about just whizzed past me. When I was home I was mostly parked on the couch, in a nest of papers and books, or sobbing into Clay's chest that I couldn't do it, it was just too hard and I was just too old.

There was one class last semester that I found so very intimidating that I spent a portion of the first two weeks of classes doodling in the margins of my notes,"Don't cry. Just don't cry. Don't cry." I'd write the letters one on top of the other so no one would know what I was saying to myself, because that was convincingly normal.

I was so overwhelmed by it all that I did things like get on the wrong train to come home. More than once. I forgot to eat, which is not a thing that I do. And one night I finished studying for a big biology test and tried on a shirt I'd just bought. This was the first time I'd put it on at home and two buttons just fell off, so irritating. But I knew the idea of getting it all the way back to the store to return it was absolutely laughable. ANOTHER TRIP! HA! So instead I sewed the buttons on myself. 

When I got up in the morning and put the shirt on, I found I'd sewed one button on right, and the other on the opposite side of the shirt. I...don't even know how I managed that. I just stood there for a moment, looking in disbelief at my buttons. And then I just wore the shirt that way because that's the level of my decision making skills at the time. 

I went to my biology test, and you know what? I completely DOMINATED that test. Not only did I get an A, I got the highest grade in the freaking CLASS. LIKE A BOSS. 

I promptly decided that the button thing was just evidence that I was one of those absentminded geniuses, like Einstein. I bet he never sewed anything anywhere, or he would have made hash of it all, right? And then I went and got on the wrong train to come home.

I'm not kidding about the train thing. 

This semester I'm not quite as terrified. I know it's going to be a tough semester, but I also know that it'll all be okay. It's hard to let things go around here, but I've found that when I do, sometimes magic occurs. I think before I went back to school Clay had done...maybe three loads of laundry in our entire marriage? That's not a complaint. That was just how we did things. In the fog of the new semester, one day I realized that I was discovering clean clothes in my closet and that I hadn't put them there. Without a single discussion Clay had quietly taken over laundry and it turns out that A) he is SO GOOD AT LAUNDRY and B) OH MY LORD I LOVE NOT DOING LAUNDRY. This whole school deal is worth it just for that.

I figure this semester will be more of the same: exhilarating, terrifying, exhausting, sometimes humiliating, but mostly just fine. Fairly okayish, even!


Weird/not weird

Let's play a game, shall we? I'll tell you a little something that is happening in my life, and you tell me if it's weird or not. Okay? Okay!

 

Sophia's first grade class has been talking about the idea of temptation (those crazy Catholics, amIright?). Sophia is very taken with the concept, and was delighted to discover that I had bought popcorn at Target this afternoon! Because I was tempted! This is awesome!

Tonight, as we all sat on the couch to say bedtime prayers, she knotted up her little cupid mouth like it was drawstringed, balled up one fist, grabbed that wrist with the other hand, and looked at me with crazy eyes. "Oooooo," she whispered, "I have SUCH a temptation to punch Max!" As soon as prayers were done, she ran over to the punching bag the boys got for Christmas, and gave it a great pitter pat of a pummeling with her tiny little fists. Then she scaled the big metal frame it hangs on, to slap it mightily from above. It was, she explained, the only way to keep others safe from her powerful temptation to punch. 

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Little angel, my foot.

 

Max's favorite snack currently is Doritos and sour cream. Not a sour cream dip, just a bowl of sour cream, scooped up with Doritos. Makes me gag and gain weight, just looking at him. He says it's delicious. I say it's disgusting, and yet I have not felt the same temptation to punch him.

 

I'm not speaking to my dog. Because she ate my lip balm. A whole entire pot of lip balm that my niece made me, and half of the plastic container. I tell her every time I give her a treat that I'm not speaking to her. She is...remorseful? Okay sure, she's remorseful.

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"GOT ANY LIP BALM? YUM."

 

Finally, how about me just jumping into blogging again, like there hasn't been a five month silence in this conversation and I haven't ignored some very lovely emails from wonderful people? Now THAT would be weird.


College 2.0

Saturday morning Tre packed up his car, gave hugs all around, and left for College 2.0.

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That car there? He's been working ridiculous hours as a shift manager to earn enough to buy that car. When he brought it home, he was so proud that I started referring to it as my grandcar. 

I know. Grandcar isn't a thing.

I keep thinking about the night we discussed him not returning to ASU. It wasn't what he wanted, and at one point he bellowed, with tears in his eyes, "But I DON'T WANT TO BE HERE!"

It didn't even hurt my feelings, at least not for myself, because it was just so true. He did not want to be here. My mom told me once that our children are born with their faces turned away from us. I don't think I ever understood that, until now. 

I have to give him credit, though. For the last seven months, as he found his way through this time, he was kind and pleasant and helpful. Well, when we saw him. He really did work a lot. But when he was not at work or with his friends, he was so good. He did as much as he could of the driving to get his siblings where they needed to go. He helped out when asked. Only a few times, when I reflexively started to lecture him on something or other, did he look at me and say evenly, "Mom. I'm an adult."

Yes, sort of. Yes, mostly.

Yes.

I know. 

He decided not to return to ASU, which was such a relief to me. It never was the right fit. The university he picked after all is in New Mexico, and happens to be my alma mater. Wait, can I call it that when I left two semesters shy of a degree? Anyhow, this factored into his decision exactly not at all. He will be travelling in vastly different circles than I did, since I was in the College of Education and he will be in Engineering. We visited the campus in June, and although I saw my memories overlaid on so many views there, it was clearly his campus now.

I think he is ready now in a way he wasn't last year. There is the obvious maturing influence of having to make a course correction. There is the months of working as a shift manager. There's one more year slid past him. But there's one other thing too.

After a few months home, he asked to be tested for ADD. He'd been reading about it, and thought it would explain a lot. Genetically, it makes perfect sense. Both his brothers have ADD. But I didn't see it. Not Tre. Tre was the linear one. The one who had it all together. Compared to his brothers (not that I would EVER compare any of my kids - heh), Tre is a paragon of orderliness and scholastic achievement.

Except, as it turns out, he also has ADD.

I'm trying to forgive myself for being surprised by it three times now. It looks so different in each of them. Tre is mostly inattentive type, which is different from Raphael's hyperactive type, and different again from Max's combination type. The point, I assure myself, is that he now knows. He now has strategies. He has a path forward.

Last year, when we left him in his dorm room, it felt overwhelmingly sad. The end of his childhood. And yes, I was also excited for him, but that was tempered by a niggling anxiety for him that I couldn't quite identify. 

What I discovered was that even though he came home at the end of that semester, it didn't undo the leaving. He lived here again, but he never did come back to his childhood. He was just marking time until he could start again.

On Saturday, he started again. I will simply miss him so much. I was so blindsided by the grief that I forgot to give him the gift Clay and I got him, a key chain that is a metal guitar pick stamped with the GPS coordinates of our home. Just so he doesn't forget. 

But with a few days to clear my head, I find that I am mostly so very happy for him. There he goes. Isn't he just beautiful?


Back to school

The summer is waning. Have you noticed? The light is thick and golden in the evenings, and the grass in the front yard is turning crisp and tawny. Sunflowers bob beside the road. This portion of summer is like the saved last few bites of frosting from your favorite cake. That is, if you love frosting more than cake. I do. Right now tomatoes are ripening and mornings are just cool enough to start the day beautifully, and I wish it would never never ever end. 

Of course, it will end, and very soon, because school is bearing down on us all. This year is different, because not only are all of my children going to school this fall, I am too.

I never finished my degree. I have a ridiculous number of credits, but no degree. I could teach you The Kira Method for achieving this (change schools at least once, change majors often, change minors like a madwoman), but it might be easier to just flush money directly down the toilet. Heh.

THIS time, however, I am only about a year and a half out from finishing my degree for realz. Of course, first I have to navigate the...everything about returning to college. I had to take a math placement exam, because the "Math for Educators" class that I barely squeaked by in twenty five years ago (!) somehow won't do anymore. So I studied up for the test, took it, was told my score was too low, then found out that my score was plenty fine, but they'd put in my student ID number wrong, which is a problem that could never possibly be solved, so I'll have to take the test again. 

For reals, higher education. For. Reals.

There's a lot I'm nervous about here. The schedule, gracious. How am I going to get three kids to three different schools and pick them up again? If that was all I did all day, I would still need at least one more of me. Clay and my mom and dad are all on board to help, but they all have jobs and whatnot and gar. I just don't know.

Also, I'm going to have to let go of a good deal of the stuff that I habitually do around here, like cooking and cleaning and...wait, this part is actually great. I mean, yeah, I know it's not going to get done like I like it, but on the other hand, I won't be doing it. I would pretty much prefer to set my hair on fire over cooking another meal. So this actually is just fine.

But you know, time will be tight, money will be crazy tight, my elderly van absolutely must live another two to three years, and the kids may absolutely not have any crises until I'm done with school. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Sorry. That's parenting teen humor there. It's not actually funny.

But one of the hoops I had to jump through to register for classes was to see an advisor about my major (English, with a writing emphasis. Please don't everyone jump up at once to hire me). The English advisors are a massive pain in the butt. They don't make appointments, so you just have to show up during office hours and hope they deign to see you. Then they act like you're clearly interrupting their ART by existing in their office. It's great. It gives me an opportunity to use that old Lamaze breathing.

Nonetheless, this meeting went fairly well, even though he sent me off to get a copy of my transcript from the bursar's office because he doesn't like the computer system that he could use to look up my transcript (deeeeep breath). When I returned and handed him the requested transcript, he looked at it, squinted, cocked his head, then said to me, "I...I'm just not sure what you were doing here. With all these...classes?" 

That would be The Kira Method. Don't be jealous. I managed to convince him to move past all that, and just tell me what I needed to take to finish already. Turns out I'm in good shape, really close to finishing up my major. He handed the papers back to me, then fixed me with A Look. He leaned back in his chair, folded his hands across his stomach, smirked ever so slightly, and said, "Well. It must be pretty intimidating, isn't it? To come back after all these years?"

And I smiled, thinking of the chaos at home, of the years and mountains and traumas and triumphs I'd weathered in the years I've been gone. I thought of my babies, sprawling and stomping their way out into the world, and of my steadfast husband, weathering it all by my side. And I smiled right back at him.

"Nope. Not a bit."


Torrential life.

You guys, Typepad just made me sign into my account, that's how long I've been gone. I hate that.

But then again, I hate everything tonight, because I just got home from a trip to take Tre to orientation at a new university, which happens to be my alma matter (which he didn't realize when he became enamored with it), and if there is anything that will give you All The Feels, it is seeing the campus your baby will be leaving you for. On top of that, because this is his College Experience 2.0, I'm holding all this hope in my heart for him. And also, there I was, on the campus I haven't seen for 23 years, remembering those days and thinking about how I'm going back to school in the Fall to finish that same damn degree, and what happened, exactly? And I got to spend the day with my college roommate (who is my sister, for reals), because she's an instructor there. 

All The Feels.

And then I got to spend a million years in the car with Tre, coming home. And we got caught in a torrential rainstorm and it was scary. And I barely made it home in time for bedtime shennanigans, which made Sophia extra squirrely. And we have an extra cat in the house, and Melody, our in-house cat doesn't like him, and one of them is peeing on clothes that are left on the floor, which I am SO DONE WITH.

All of which is to say I just hit the wall, emotionally, and cried at Clay. While I was ordering a pair of glasses online to replace the ones Max lost at his friend's house. 

Life is torrential, and I am just barely afloat tonight.


Next

Friday was a busy day, but aren't they all? With Max and Sophia's school years finishing up, I seem to be expected to be somewhere always, and don't forget the extra special performance tomorrow! Yeesh. It's a lot. 

Of course, Raphael's school year is finishing up too, and on Friday he brought me a stack of books and one essay to check. I shuffled through it all, noting this and that, here and there. I shoved a couple of books back to him so he could redo some problems. He was on it, all concentration and scribbles, and he shoved them back at me in minutes.

"Yup..." I said, scanning his algebra work, "...looks good. You're done."

He grinned at me like I'd said something particularly clever. Took me a minute. Oh. 

He's done.

Friday was his last day of homeschool. MY last day of being a homeschooler. In the fall he's off to high school, and I'm actually going back to college to finish a degree I began 26 years ago. 

After 14 years of homeschooling, it's over. 

Feels a little like stepping off a cliff. Free, yet free-fall. Can I do this? Can he? How will we get through the changes ahead?

It's time to move on, I know. He's restless, ready for something harder, something new. I'm excited to go back to school and actually achieve measurable results again. 

It's just that I feel like I know how to do this now. If I could start over at the beginning today, I think I'd be pretty good at it. If life only worked like that. If there were some other way to live than relentlessly forward.

I reached out and shook his hand, and my voice only cracked a little bit.

"Raphael, you have officially finished eighth grade. You are hereby promoted to ninth grade, and out of homeschool. Good luck, well done, and I cannot wait to see what you do next."

And with that, we took the last step in this long, lovely journey.

And into the next one.


Sophia is SIX!

This morning Sophia woke up to find that she'd turned six. 

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This called for twirling.

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As you can well imagine.

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Lots of twirling.

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After all, it wasn't just her birthday. It was finally the day. The day she got her ears pierced. In case you're wondering, she's pretty much the ONLY GIRL IN THE WORLD who doesn't have pierced ears yet. And so we went.

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She got there to discover that she was a bit more nervous than she'd thought. But she picked her earrings, hopped up in the char, and sat still as a stone.

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The first earring went in, and she didn't so much as blink. She was so still, Clay asked, "Did you even feel that?" She glanced at him and said evenly, "Yes. It hurt." Not enough to stop though.

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She saw it through, without a word of protest. And when it was all done, she thought about it...

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..and decided it was well worth it.

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Happy birthday, sweet girl! You are my squirrel, my heart, my joy. You are fierce and kind in equal measures, and I couldn't love you more. Thank you for sharing these six wonderful years with me. Now your birthday is over, so take off your Easter dress already.


Good news

At church this morning I settled into the pew with the usual family chaos swirling around me. For me, though, I was mute and angry and sad in the way that only an argument before church will leave you. I knelt and tried wanly to turn from myself and toward the joy of the day. Easter. All has been made new.

In the pew in front of me was a couple I know, with their two small children. It's a terrible habit, people-watching during Mass. Especially on those days when it's harder to raise my eyes like I should. The husband reached over the head of their youngest and placed one warm hand on his wife's shoulder. She turned careful eyes to him.

"I love you," he whispered. She nodded, and mouthed the words back. She started to turn back, but he rubbed her shoulder again. She looked back. "I'm sorry about this morning," he whispered.

You know how some animals' skin can change before your eyes? Like an octopus or a chameleon? To camouflage them or display aggression? Women's faces do that too, only instead of protecting them, it exposes them.

Her cheeks flushed, and the muscles under her skin tightened. Her chin tipped up, to trap the tears that pooled in her eyes. She nodded wordlessly, and they both turned back toward the front of the church. 

I watched shamelessly, tears rolling down my own cheeks. The choir burst into song, and we all rose to sing our welcome of the good news, the death and the life, the love and the loss.

My own husband's warm hand reached for mine, and I wept and sang too.


The dance of parenting a young adult

Today Clay was home from work, so he came with me to the student's Mass at Sophia's school. I love the student's Mass. The kindergarten class sits right up front and when they kneel, they grip the back of the pew in front of them, their noses barely reaching over it, like they're clinging to a bit of wood in a storm-tossed sea. And then they do random things, like today, when Sophia took a break from looking reverential to play rock, paper, scissors with the little boy next to her. She's a shark at that game.

Just a few minutes into Mass, my phone buzzed in my purse. I glanced at it. Tre. I silenced it and put it back in my purse. He was at work, and could wait.

After Mass, I pulled the phone back out and saw I had a message from him. "Hi, Mom. I cut the heck out of my hand. I'm at the emergency room getting stitches." He sounded shaken, and I stopped walking to call him back. 

In the time that had passed since his call, he'd regained his calm, because he sounded positively breezy. He'd been sharpening a knife, and did he ever mention how terrible the knife sharpener was? I asked if he wanted me to come to the ER, and I could almost see him waving me off.

"Nah. I'm fine. I'll let you know when I'm done."

Throughout the day, he called or texted me occasionally to let me know what was going on. They determined that he'd sliced a tendon, and decided to transfer him to another hospital with a hand surgeon. Once he got there, the hand surgeon cut open the stitches he'd gotten, put five stitches in his tendon, and another eight or something in his hand. He had pictures, if I wanted to see them. No, don't come. His friend from work would give him a ride back to his car. He was fine. No, don't come. 

I know. I know, I know, that this is the time for this sort of thing. For him to face the "effect" side of the causes, on his own. It just feels so strange, because a year ago I would have been negligent to leave him to sit alone in a hospital room. And yet, today my job was to wander the rooms of my house, with my phone in hand, waiting to hear what he was doing next, and not interfering. It was distracting, unsettling.

It felt wrong.

He came home by the afternoon, and after a couple of hours, left again to hang out with some friends. His only capitulation to my anxiety was to consent to drive Clay's car, instead of his own (Tre's car is a manual transmission, and I stand by my assertion that you need two hands to shift, because if you do it when you're stationary, you're doing it wrong). 

I'm unreasonably exhausted by the whole thing. Who knew it required such energy not to do anything? It is a disorienting land I find myself in. My primary job is non action. I wish with all my heart for him to know how risky life really is, to respect the dangers around him, and at the same time, I would do anything to save him from learning that.

I wait to hear him drive in the driveway, and turn my light out so he won't know I'm waiting.