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. 

Birthday wishes

This morning I started coughing in the shower, and then I couldn't stop. I coughed and coughed until my field of vision started to close in with shimmery black diamonds. I sat down on the floor of the shower, thinking, "I am going to pass out, and at least from here I won't hit my head on anything."

But no, it passed, and as the dark receded from my view, I thought, "I am feeling SO MUCH BETTER today."

Then I sort of studied those two thoughts, side by side, and came to the conclusion that I have Stockholm Syndrome with my own body.

The truth is that I am feeling a lot better. I've been sick, really sick, for something ridiculous like three weeks now. I actually spent over a week in bed. Isn't that ridiculous? Clay was running around like crazy, getting everything done. He really is Superman. 

Oh, that was a close call. I almost launched into a description of my illness. That was a narrow escape from something deadly boring. Suffice to say it started out with one thing, then morphed into something else, and ended up with bronchitis. Like I said, ridiculous. 

At one point, early on, I ended up in the emergency room, mainly out of panic. I got all the tests they had on special that night, including a spinal tap. Two, actually, because the first one didn't work. Nothing showed anything because nothing ever does because I have yet to meet the doctor that took Kira Studies in medical school, which is just rude if you ask me. But after the second one was successful, the doctor told me he was done, then apologized again for missing the first time. Apologized! He was a peach of a guy, and seemed really sorry to hurt me. I shrugged it off and said it wasn't that bad, because it wasn't, and they gave me dilaudid and that was worth the entire trip. The nurse kept checking on me and I'd wave at him with a beatific smile and say, "Nothing hurts! At all!" and then I would fall asleep again. Poor Clay had to sleep in a plastic ER chair, and they didn't offer him ANYTHING.

I have a point here, what was it? Ah yes. Tomorrow is my birthday! God willing, I will wake up to be 44. 

44. Huh. The way I feel about that is this: unnerved. I know I'm supposed to be embracing my wonderful, wise self, but I feel like I was pretty brave about that when 40 struck. And then 41 came right on its heels, and now - doesn't this seem to be a little out of control? Can we just PAUSE for a minute?

But apparently we can't pause. Maybe I am actually getting wiser, because it occurs to me that's actually a good thing. The only reason I get to wake up and be 44 is that I didn't pass out and drown in my shower this morning. I have successfully rejected all the opportunities the world has offered me to die, and so I get to be older than I ever have been before.

And life, well, it's the only game in town, isn't it? It's so good, and so grueling, and occasionally you even get dilaudid moments when nothing hurts at all, and the hurting that came before was worth it just so you know how sweet that is.

In case it's not clear, I'm not actually advocating drug use. Just say no. You know. Mostly.

But I do advocate celebrating the days we're given. So tomorrow I will celebrate 44 years of not dying. My family will fuss over me and it will be very sweet. Happy my birthday to everyone!

Out in the air

So, remember when I told you that Sophia was fine? I seem to have spoken too soon. 

She's edgy and emotional, bursting into tears over issues like the "thank you" bite she's required to try at dinner. She doesn't want to go to school. She fights with her brothers, which is frankly not that unusual with the 13-year-old, but bewildering with the 19-year-old. And in the middle of the night she bellows into the dark, reciting her side of scary dreams that she doesn't remember in the morning.

All of that sounds pretty grim, but I suppose it could easily just be the pressures on a five-year-old who is realizing that life can be a little battering and school just. keeps. happening. There is, of course, that pause. That frisson of fear that something truly dark has dripped into her life, into her heart.

I hate the pause. I don't know if it's worse because she's a girl, or because she's gone, in the watch of others, all day. But it's worse, and I hate the pause. 

For what it's worth (I wish I knew what it's worth), I don't think it's anything more than too many stresses at once. Sick and then sicker, followed by hurt and then hurt worse. She's weary. She's the one who needs a vacation. Or something.

Today was a beautiful, sunny day. After school, Sophia begged again to play on the playground. I reached out and hooked a finger through the loop on top of her backpack, and waved her away. She ran off, her hair a cloud around her bobbing head. 

I found a spot with a huddle of moms on the side, and tried not to watch Sophia too closely. She dashed back and forth with her friends, shrieking in delighted fear during tag. And every few minutes she was back at the monkey bars, one hand on the bar above her, the other wrapped tightly around the safe bar next to her. She would lean out, testing her weight on her toes, and look down the row of bars. Then she'd tip back onto her heels, turn, and run.

I thought about the day she got hurt. She fell, and then she scrambled back up and tried again. She fell again, back up. Again. Again. At some point she faltered, turned to me and asked, "What if I fall?"

"Then you'll get up and try again," I said. And minutes later I was holding her and watching her fight for air and some way to comprehend all the pain.

It was just a fall, just a playground fall, with no permanent harm done. But life, it's full of unexpected falls. And not all of them have happy endings. This is the bar I am testing my hand on - is it my job here to urge her on toward greater potential pain? Or am I supposed to hold her back, safe and able to breathe? All I want is her life to always be full enough to light her up, yet never hit hr so hard that it extinguishes the light in her eyes.

After several passes by the monkey bars, I caught her eye. She balanced there and looked back at me. I moved over into place next to her, right next to her. Within arm's reach.

"Go ahead," I said, nodding at the bars. 

"What if I fall?"

"Then I'll catch you. And eventually, you'll figure out how to fall without getting hurt again. Go ahead."

She leaned forward, paused, pulled back. Looked at me...


...and swung out into the air.

Making it all about me, as all the best moms do.

So last week, minutes after leaving a birthday party attended by her whole class, Sophia turned to me and said calmly, "My throat hurts. And my head feels spinny."

This may not sound like a startling thing to say, but Max had been diagnosed with strep not two hours earlier. So. That was good. I reached over and felt her forehead, and I swear I could feel the temperature rising under my fingers. 

It was 5 PM on a Sunday, so I spent the next fourteen years (three hours) trying to find an open and functioning urgent care. We got there, and she promptly lay down on the floor to look wan.


Did you catch that part about how she had just left a birthday party? Attended by her entire class? Yeah. I'm ascending the ranks of school mothers. Totes. THAT was a fun, grovel-y email to write!

Well, needless to say, it was strep. So she missed the next day of school (the first day of ITBS testing! Ha! Schools love that!), then went back, fortified by penicillin and an obliviousness about shade directed at her mother in the drop-off line. All was well.

The next day I got a call from school, saying she'd collided with another kid on the playground, and although she was fine, there would be a report on a head injury in her backpack. 

Let me just say that I question this policy, in terms of reassurance. 

When I picked her up, the "head injury" turned out to be a nice bump on her forehead. She barely paused long enough to let me look at it before she shoved her backpack at me and begged to be allowed to play on the playground for a while before we went home. 

Off she ran to the monkey bars. She's making great progress on them, able to swing out to the third or fourth bar reliably, which is very exciting to everyone. She tried, and dropped to the ground, and tried and dropped and tried...

...and fell hard on her butt.

I could tell right away that she hurt, by the frozen look on her face. I ran over and scooped her up, and she gasped at me, "I can't breathe. I can't, I can't breathe."

"It's okay, baby, you will. I promise," I muttered, and I held her and rocked. After an eternity, a thin wail finally escaped her throat.

Let me tell you, friend, with nearly twenty years of mothering under my belt, I have never seen a child in so much pain. She could stand, she could walk, but she could not hold still. Her skin was chalk white, except bruise-like dark circles under her eyes and that bump on her head. I carried her gingerly to the car and strapped her in. She had settled down by then, and wasn't crying so much as moaning as she writhed in her seat.

"Hey," I said with deliberate calm, "can you tell me something? On a scale from one to ten, with one being no pain at all and ten being the worst pain in your life, how bad does it hurt?"

She pushed up on the arms of her seat and whimpered, "nine."

Long story short, I took her to the doctor, who told me that it looked like she had probably cracked her tailbone. She spent the rest of the week toting a pillow to school, which I'm entirely certain did wonderful things for her test scores, so thank GOD the powers that be have settled on such a reliable way to gauge our children's progress, can I get an amen?

So that's my report from last week. In the space of a few days, Sophia had strep, an official head injury, and a cracked tailbone. She's fine now, but I need a vacation.

Bacon, briefly

Today Raphael took a six foot slice of bacon to Monday school. 


It was paper mache, and if I'm telling the truth, it was more like 5'7". Six feet just sounds better. He made it because they were studying 3D art in art class, and the class had a contest to see who could make the largest piece of art. He won, which means he gets extra credit in the class.

Thank God for that, because he was previously squeaking by with an A. Plus.


He's picked a high school for next year, and the truth is that I'm almost as ready as he is. It's time. He's so sparkly and interested in everything ahead of him. He's the kind of person who makes practically six foot bacon on a whim. He needs more at his fingertips than I can give him anymore. He's excited about the school he's picked, and I'm starting to make plans about what I'm going to do next, and that's fun. 

But every now and then, I have a moment. Like the other day, he was working out an algebra problem on the chalk board. I don't know why the chalk board and not his paper. But nonetheless, he was standing there, in his blue hair and jammies, and I just sat and watched him for the moment. These minutes of quiet calculation, in the peace of our home and the sunshine, they're almost over. 


But today he brought bacon to Monday school. 

A Proper Education

This morning it was snowing, big, fat, fluffy flakes, so instead of lining up outside, the students at Sophia's school were huddling in the cafeteria. They like to do that three times a week or so, and act surprised by the weather like we don't live in Denver or something. We get snow, is what I'm saying. Why are we even trying to line up outside in the morning after October? Why isn't there a tunnel directly from the parking lot to the cafeteria, and would it kill someone to hand out coffee to the parents? Is it just me?

Ooooookay, then.

On my way back out to the parking lot, I started chatting with another mom. Almost all the other moms, by the way, are about twelve. There is one other mom my age, and a grandmother who does dropoff and pickup that I really get along with. But most of the time I'm chatting away with some nice young woman, paying no attention to what she's saying, because I'm wistfully remembering when the skin under my eyes had that lovely satiny texture, instead of looking like soggy tissues. Ah well.

So the lovely young mom says hesitantly as we pick our way across the ice, "So, um, how are you guys doing with the homework?"

How are we doing with the homework? I've considered faking my own death to get out of helping Sophia with the reading group journal. I may or may not have written scathing letters to the inventor of Singapore Math (in my head). When I unzip Sophia's backpack and pull out the homework folder, the cat runs and hides, the lights dim, Sophia's pupils contract, and my heart rate speeds up. 

"Homework. It's...a lot. We have tears," I said mildly, because I thought a more sincere reply might get me pulled into the counsellor's office. AGAIN.

"US TOO," she answered, relieved. We exchanged coping techniques for a little, but that quickly died off, because hers were mostly things like, "I have her write her spelling words on index cards in the car," while mine were more along the lines of, "no, seriously, I think I could pull of the whole 'faking my own death' thing."

"Well," she sighed finally, "I guess it will all be worth it. Next week, when they take the standardized tests, I'm sure we'll see the results then."

I sort of froze for a moment, thinking about that. I looked back over the years at the boys' standardized tests, and I tried to imagine anything that could matter less than a kindergartener's test scores. Then I thought with horror, what if it DOES matter? What if it affects the groups she's in or the class she moves on to? What if people ACTUALLY THINK IT MEANS SOMETHING?

I muttered something that was meant to sound positive and agreeable, and staggered off to my car (WITHOUT COFFEE). I don't know much, but I'm pretty sure about one thing here: SOMEONE does not have this whole education deal figured out.

Just today

I find it hard to write these days. I even find it hard to read my old posts, which I used to love to do, odiously enough. It's not that I'm drowning in some debilitating depression, although I just barely skim that surface some days. And yes, I am too busy by far, but that's not why either.

Today we drove up into the mountains and went inner-tubing. All six of us, and it was a perfect day for it. We pulled into the parking lot and piled out to yank on snow gear. That's when I discovered that, due to an ass-expansion issue, my snow pants wouldn't fasten. I stood there in the parking lot, frantically trying to shove myself inside the pants, like trying to tuck biscuit dough back inside the ruptured can. Not doable.

For a split second I considered stripping those damnable snow pants back off and stomping away to the lounge, where I could sit by the fire and feel viciously bad about myself. But all around me my sons milled, like a flock of noisy birds, and my daughter sat on the car seat in front of me poking her sock-clad foot in my direction and holding her boot and the hope that I would fix everything. Clay stood by my side, and asked quietly if it would be okay. 

I pulled my coat down over my midsection, and tried to smooth everything as securely into place as it would go, and proceeded to wrestle with a purple boot and a foot that resisted it emphatically. 

This is where the writing falls apart for me, because I teeter on the edge of a story here, a beginning, middle, and God help us, an edifying end. This is what happened, I'm tempted to tell you, and this is what it meant.

I am no longer so sure of what any of it is supposed to mean. Life has surprised me, over and over, and I am no longer so sure where I am in the narrative. I glance back at the past and hear my own voice, telling my stories, my own sureness, and I cringe. 

My kids are at an age where their lives are more complicated, too, and I struggle with how much of their story is mine anymore.

Tre is not going back to college this semester, but taking classes online. He hopes to return in the fall. There has been no great crisis, but an unexpected bump in the road, and he is recalibrating. I am persistently not hoping for any specific outcome, while still believing he can find his way to a wonderful one. When people ask me how he's doing, I don't know how to answer, exactly, although the answer is that he's doing just fine. He's doing what he needs to be doing right now, and I love him fiercely.

Max has decided not to wear the hearing aids, after all. That story is long, and convoluted. In the end, suffice it to say he made the choice not to use them. I disagree with that, but it turns out that they're his ears, and even if I'm right, I don't get to choose what he does with them. Which sucks. I am learning a lot about where the lines of responsibility fall with this one, and it's hard. And I love him fiercely.

Raphael is in his final months of homeschooling. He's picked a high school, the only one of all my kids who will be attending school in the actual town we live in. Miraculous. The days he has left doing school at home dwindle and fall away, but he is also 13 years old. He is a good and dear boy, blue-haired and persistent in so many ways. I love him fiercely.

Sophia hated school at first, then loved it, and is now somewhat ambiguous on the subject. I don't feel like her teacher gets her (at parent teacher conferences, the only thing she had to say about her was, "Well, you know Sophia. She's no trouble at all."), but it's not an adversarial relationship either. There is too much homework, and too much getting up early in the morning, but we persist. There is enough to love about it, I think. I hope. I love her fiercely. 

Today we sailed down a hill in bright inner tubes. We gripped each other's handles so we could slide down in a group. The snow stung our faces and the sun slipped in and out from behind deep gray clouds. We laughed and screamed and retrieved lost gloves. The boys dissapeared at times, then reappeared. Every time I stood up, I yanked my unfastened pants back up, and grabbed my inner tube, and headed for the top of the hill again. Clay (whom I love fiercely, and securely, and as naturally as breath), took my picture, because he thinks I'm beautiful. 

And whatever is true, or isn't, that's what we did today, and I'm glad we did.

All I want for Christmas survive.

Yesterday Clay and I met with a Realtor. I don't know what the difference is between a Realtor or a listing agent or whatever. I just know Realtor is capitalized, and that the one we picked to sell our house brought us coffee. She also has a cleaning crew, which lawsy. That, right there, justifies every penny of her commission.

We really needed that cleaning crew, because the house we're selling is our old house, our tiny little jewel of a home (I'm completely rational and businesslike about this whole deal, btw), and for the past couple of years, we've been renting it out. Renters, man. Wow. I don't even know how you get carpets that dirty. Seriously.

So anyhow, there we were yesterday, talking over the work the property needs, and looking at "comps" (which is Realtor technical speak for "houses nearby that are nowhere NEAR as lovely as yours, but somehow determine your house's price, the jerks." See what I mean about the businesslike rational deal? Totes.), and making marketing plans. I suggested we list it at 150% of what she did, and she just chuckled at me. That makes her the third Realtor to think I was being funny. But really. It's a GOOD HOUSE.

Everything seemed totally doable yesterday. Then this morning I woke up and hauled a morning-weakened Sophia downstairs and propped her in front of her breakfast. As I stood there, hands cupped around my coffee, staring bleakly at my girl, who stared bleakly at her breakfast, Raphael looked at the calender. 

"Hey, it's exactly three weeks until Christmas!" he exclaimed. I looked at him, then focused and looked at the calender. And you know what?

It is three freaking weeks until Christmas.

At least, it was this morning.

I started to sweat, thinking of all the Christmas duties and events before me, plus Sophia is Star of the Week at school next week, so I need to find a craft for her whole class to do, and the house-selling chores on top of that. Painting and cleaning up the yard and picking out new carpet and...

I had me a little red and green glitter panic attack.

There is no way. There is simply no way. And yet, here we go! Yeesh, life is crazy stuff.


Given, and taken away.

This morning we arrived at Mass just barely in time to sneak into one of the back rows before the processional. Some would call that late, Clay and I gave each other fist bumps. It was the 9 AM Mass, after all. The crack of dawn. Early birds were rubbing their eyes sleepily and glaring at us for making so much noise. Did I ever mention that I'm not a morning person? No, really. I'm not.

Anyhow, since we were what some would term "late," we were in the back of the church, with the rest of the families with little kids, since everyone knows that it's all their fault that we're late all the time, amIright? Sitting right behind me was a family with two young kids, one of whom was a preschool aged little boy. He was wearing a fire fighter costume. I swear to you, the child walked an entire marathon during the service, all on the kneeler located directly behind me. I'm pretty sure that attending Mass while being elbowed in the back of the head regularly grants one something along the lines of God Points. Not sure how those are calculated, but I assume I got a lot of them today. 

Actually, the unnecessary force using fire fighter didn't bother me. I spent a moment getting a little nostalgic over the churning energy of a preschooler, remembering Raphael in particular, how he was forever in costume and never sat down ever at all, world without end amen. Those days, being over, look kind of sweet now. I was forever fretting about him bothering people, and I wish I could go back and stop worrying. He absolutely was bothering people. I didn't have to worry about that at all.

But now? Now he sits still for entire minutes at a time! He was sitting on my left, as a matter of fact, and as I mused about this, he leaned over to ask me a vital question about the burn on the back of his hand? And how it's shiny over here? And not on this side? And why is that, exactly? I shushed him, then realized that it was probably the fourth time in the last five minutes I had shushed him. He still never shuts up. I gave him frowny face, which is a totally valid and constructive parenting technique that I can't seem to stop doing.

About this time I heard whispered chattering on my right, and I turned to see Sophia, talking away with my mom, who happened to arrive at the same time as us. I dished them out some frowny face too, but neither of them took any notice at all, being safely separated from us by Clay and Max. I shifted instead to give Clay your daughter is talking in church face (also valid and constructive). He shrugged back and mouthed, Her GRANDMOTHER. Then he rolled his eyes. 

Raphael leaned over to tell me something else, this time about how one of the altar servers had messed up, and I realized that everyone was standing up for the gospal reading, and I hadn't heard a single word in the last ten minutes. Fire fighter elbowed me in the head, and I stood up, sighing. 

So much for all those God points. 

The hope of empty arms

I know I've told the story before, of how Tre was born and everything changed. Bear with me, please, because those days are on my mind right now.

I was barely more than a child myself, really, and I knew I wasn't ready to be a mom. I cried every single day of that pregnancy. Well, every single day from 10 weeks on, when I finally relented and woke up long enough to take a test. I bounced the rent check the week before I found out I was pregnant. I was newly married, and we had no health insurance. 

What was more, I had all sorts of plans. Two year plans, five year plans, ten year plans. A baby didn't fit in there for a minimum of six years. I knew what I was supposed to be doing. I think that's the main reason I cried. I knew what I was supposed to be doing, and it was all upended. 

But he was there. He was just plain there, and there was (as my grandmother used to say) no way around it but through it. The morning of his birth, I hauled myself to the hospital with more of a sense of duty than breathless anticipation.

But when they handed him to me...oh, that moment. I was forever changed, from a girl with a fistful of plans, into a woman with a life's purpose. My arms were full of the most delicious being I'd ever seen, and I knew why I was born.

A mom. I am a mom.

For nineteen years I've answered the dreaded "what do you do" question just like that. I'm a mom. Sometimes I mention the homeschooling, but mostly I'm a mom. Not just a mom, either, but a mom.

Last week I was standing by the playground after picking up Sophia from school. I'd promised her she could stay and play, so there I was, chatting with two other moms. The talk turned to work. One of them works I'm not entirely sure. But she mostly works from home, on conference calls, which sounds like a horrifying kind of hell to me. All meetings, no coworkers to vent to? I can't even imagine. She says it's worth it, because she hardly ever has to wear business clothes. The other one does medical billing, also from home. I listened, genuinely fascinated, because people's stories about how they ended up in their line of work are really amazing. Almost no one says, "Well, I went to college, and my major prepared me to do this, and that's what I've done ever since." Off the top of my head, I can only think of one person. Anyhow.

Eventually, the question swung my direction, what do I do? And for the first time in nearly two decades, I faltered. 

"'ve been homeschooling. This is my last year..."

I AM homeschooling. And that plus driving children to schools should be enough. IS enough, for me. But for the first time in this whole lifetime of being a mom, I didn't feel like enough. 

The truth is that the very best parts of my job, as a mom, are being outsourced. Teaching and exploring and talking for hours. These things are being handed over to teachers and friends. As it should be. But even though my days are impossibly full, increasingly my arms are empty. 

I've been debating about including this aspect of it, because it feels a little naked to me, but it is the truth, so here it goes. I wish that my childbearing years hadn't been ended by miscarriage. As I move out of everything I've known, as a mom and a homeschooler, I am dogged by a feeling that I've failed at the one thing I was ever any good at. The one thing that really mattered. That my baby would be alive if I'd done it right. I know that's not true, but knowing it doesn't erase the feeling of it. Also, whether it's hormones or grief, the loss of an unborn baby has left me with an indelible feeling in my arms of longing for a tiny body I should be holding. My arms are not only metaphorically empty, but literally. It aches.

I think it's possible that I haven't really grown up that much since I was a crying knocked-up 23 year old. I find myself again with everything I thought I knew I was supposed to do...over. It leaves me weepy sometimes.

But I also remember that I have been here before. And the last time I was so unmoored, my arms were so beautifully filled. I still do not know what I am supposed to be when I grow up, but through the tears and the fear, I watch in hope of the next astonishing thing.