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Disengaging from what I love doing is harder than I thought it would be.

I also truly believe I can do everything, so even while I am disengaging, there is a voice in the back of my head saying, “You didn’t have to take this time off….you could have managed.”

The last time I fully disengaged from anything of any sort, I was 20, and my boyfriend paid for my expenses that summer so I could just….read. And write. And not work for the first time since I was twelve. It was a gift of the likes that no one had ever given me before, and while he continued to give me gifts of that sort, he started to have expectations of gifts in return. His “gifts” became no longer freely given, but conditions that we swore we’d never put on each other.

But that summer….I was just free. It was scary, trusting someone to pay for your rent and your utilities and your food and your tuition. For your LIFE. Without anything expected in return. And it was weird, not having to BE anywhere that summer. Not having any expectations of me except those I put on myself. Not having to think of anything that I didn’t want to think about. Reading every book I could get my hands on in a single day and then still having time to write.

I left the “world” again when my then-husband and I moved to Seattle from Chicago, but that wasn’t quite the same. I was actively shopping for houses, and then setting up the house, and then being a stay-at-home mother. It wasn’t so much that I had “disengaged” so much as gone from being a paid Corporate Headhunter/Human Resources Administrator to an unpaid CEO of Present and Future Goals.

Since being a mother and wife, and then mother and ex-wife, and then mother and single working parent, I can’t say I’ve ever truly disengaged from….anything.

There’s a voice in my head–I call her Pompous Patty–that has, until now, not allowed me to disengage.

Last Wednesday, I left my classroom to start a four week leave that would, with Winter Break, basically be six weeks. I walked out missing “my” kids and our nerdy History fun already, but knowing this break was needed. My family and I had a fire in our house earlier that month, and then my daughter, already in precarious health due to abdominal pains in part caused by her autoimmune thyroiditis and the medication she was on (we didn’t know that then), spiraled down to a point beyond self-help, and I admitted her to the hospital.

Living in two hotels in two weeks while trying to find a rental house and driving back and forth to the city to stay with my daughter every night while teaching full time and still trying to make sure my son didn’t feel neglected or lost in the shuffle drained me of every last bit of energy I had. And that’s saying a lot, given usually when my bones feel like jelly I just need a day-long nap to restore what even I admit is sometimes a scarily boundless source of energy.

I signed my Request for Leave papers without hesitation. Even if my daughter was released from the hospital earlier than we all expected at that point, she was going to need home care. Some of her spiral had happened because she was alone so much during all the mess. And while her dad did fly up from San Francisco to help while she was in the hospital, and he did offer to stay in Seattle as long as was needed, he had just started a job he’d been wanting for years. I was here. I had leave. And I’d been selfish before when it came to my daughter: when her dad and I had first started down the path to divorce, I wasn’t there for her in the way she needed me to be. I’ve forgiven myself–I was honestly doing the best I could do; my family of origin took from me as much as they gave, and my two best friends who I would ordinarily seek support from had their own issues and wanted nothing to do with mine. I was alone, suddenly and very, very much so, and it was all I could do to NOT just run.

This was my chance to do the RIGHT thing for my daughter.  Not the thing I could make work–because, yeah, I could keep working full time and find a way to give her what she needed. I always do. But I’ve failed her in giving her what she’s WANTED.

Then my students started emailing me. They wanted to know how to get access to the textbook online for the “test” the next day. They wanted to know why they were having a test when I promised them they wouldn’t be having tests while I was out. They wanted to tell me the sub was letting so and so sit next to each other when we as a class had agreed that was a bad idea for everyone–even so and so. They wanted the sub to stop telling them what they already knew. They wanted the sub to let them teach, as we’d been doing in class lately–and they were good at, and they loved it. They just wanted me BACK.

And that voice kicked on in my head: “You could have made this work. Autumn is FIINEEEE. Liam will be home starting next week. You abandoned them. You could have made this work without hurting anyone.”

Which is a lie, and always has been a lie generated by Pompous Patty.

The problem with Pompous Patty is she doesn’t look out for ME or MY kids  She looks out for other people, because she’s super concerned with how we “look” to the world, and what people think of us. She’s pompous AND insecure. It’s annoying.

She was there when I disengaged some thirty years ago and sat around all summer letting my boyfriend pay my way. She called me a whore and a loser and a lazyass. I went back to work early because I didn’t want to listen to her anymore.

She was there when I left work 19 years ago to be a mother, and she pretty much ruled me after I went off my anti-depressants through the point where I screwed up post-divorce when it comes to caring for my kids.

My regular yoga practice keeps a handle on her as do my anti-depressants, which I happily take every day now. But times like these, Pompous Patty really tries to rule me again. She always wants me to think of others before MINE.

Last night, Pompous Patty and I had a little talk. Well, I talked, and then I stuffed her in a mental box with a heavy chain lock.

I don’t need her. I don’t need to worry about the world or what it is thinking about me. I don’t need to worry about the sub–she is experienced and creative and probably cannot roll her eyes back as much as I can, because I am one with my 8th graders–they are my people, after all–but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  It wouldn’t do my students any harm to have a grown up teaching them for a little while.

I need to take care of my family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Truth Is

for my daughter, the bravest person I know, and for JP, also braver than me, who told me to

This is the reality of chronic pain: you are in pain all the time, all day long, to the point where sometimes you aren’t even sure if you are still in pain.  The pain has become part of you, like a limb, if that limb had its own agenda and didn’t pay any attention to your brain’s attempts to control it. You want so badly to NOT be in pain, you are willing to pretend you aren’t.  You are willing to paste a smile on your face and talk to your friends and when they ask, “How are you,” you say, “Fine,” without a moment’s thought.  Because you WANT to be fine. You want to be OK. You want to be “normal” and just go about your days laughing at stupid memes and worrying about homework and having the worst part of your day, the absolute worst part, be that you think someone was judging you. Because in your journey along this path of all the time every where pain, you have met people who absolutely judge you.  Who make no attempt to hide the fact that they think you are faking your issues. That your issues aren’t really what you say they are but something else. They see you crumpled up in a desk at school and ask you how you are and you say fine because of course you are going to say fine; you are fifteen; and you want to BE fine; and you are tired of saying you are not fine; so of course, you say you are fine, but inside, not even deep inside anymore, you wish someone would look past your pasted on smile and your attempts to be “fine” and just give you an ounce of solace. Just a hand on your arm to let you know they may not understand, they may not know what to do, but they know you are not fine. Just someone who will sit next to you, not to say anything at all or try to “fix” you because no one has that magic, but just to not AVOID you.  Just to not stare at you across the classroom and then look away when you meet their eyes and turn to someone else and start joking around and laughing.  Oh, God, how you want someone to turn to you so the two of you can laugh. And not turn away.  Not whisper about you in the halls.  Do they think you don’t hear it?  Do they think the rumors and the gossip don’t get back to you?  The reality of chronic pain is you need so much, but want so little.  And the world—YOUR world, the people you’ve only known for a year or a month or the people you’ve known since kindergarten, the people who should KNOW you, KNOW if you are letting them see your face in pain, it’s no joke, because you were the one who flew off a horse at ten and kept going, you were the one who broke her thumb in flag football but still took your opponent down and dealt with the pain later, that world, who should KNOW you—that world can’t or won’t or doesn’t see that you need so much but want so little.  That world thinks it’s the other way around.

And the reality of chronic pain is that…you want so very much to be out there, in that world, despite the fact that you now know all the people in that world are cowards. The reality of chronic pain is you would do almost anything to be a coward with them.

Except be in pain.

My daughter has been officially withdrawn from high school part-time. This is a GREAT thing and happened wayyyyy faster than we expected. Shout out to our home high school!!! She’s not keeping the weight on and hasn’t been able to physically make any period after 3rd for weeks. Yes, she went to Homecoming: understand she had to rest for two days prior (not go to school at all) and she was in pain for three days after. She doesn’t regret at all, but it’s not an easy path. From where I stand, she can go to school and make up credits any time. She can’t make up the social memories, and she can’t do any of it if she’s dead. So, we figure out best case scenario so she can live the best life SHE wants to live. I’d rather have her have amazing friends then get a high school diploma or go to college on time. Life, as the three of us learned five years ago, doesn’t always follow a straight line, and turns out, that’s usually better than OK.

She has asked me to put this out here because she (and I) are realizing there is not a lot of understanding of what is going on with her. She skips school but goes to homecoming….We get how it looks. She’s been doing some cool things on her Instagram account to get her followers to feel comfortable asking her questions–and she’s had some really cool conversations with some amazing teens out there; I am grateful to them and their parents for raising them with such love!!

She has an autoimmune disease that will probably settle down once she is through adolescence–we hope–but it’s not being nice to her right now. Some have suggested to me if I’ve considered if she is bipolar. The answer is YES, SHE TOTALLY IS. But not the way you think. She has great days and HORRIBLE days, totally dependent on the TSH, T3, T4 and Reverse T3 hormones infiltrating her body–yeah, all those hormones and your body’s ability to digest them totally control you, more than you know–AND how much her own white blood cells are attacking her because of the above hormones or, you know, just because. Sometimes she has amazing MOMENTS and the next moment she’s on the floor in pain. She can’t eat the way she needs to because her body is basically attacking her stomach, too, so eating is scary pain to her. She and I and her doctors also suspect she has IBS, but we can’t prove that and get meds for it until she is 16 and can get a colonoscopy (unless she starts to bleed cuz, you know, forget preventive medicine at all).

She needs to eat tiny bits and pieces all throughout the day, and WEIRD stuff, which doesn’t work so well when you’re at school all day, AND stay stress free as much as possible, because stress is not helpful to her condition.

She can walk the dog in the afternoon with a smile on her face and joy in her heart, but that doesn’t mean she is not struggling.  It just means she is LIVING and making the choice to LIVE as best she can.

She is not “fixed.” That’s something else she’s been getting. “When will you be fixed already?” And I’ve been asked, too, “So, you’ve found a cure?”

No. There is no “fixing” here. No “cure.” There are meds, which she is on, and she will get them increased as things progress. She will continue to improve. But it will be slow. More slowly than I can stand, sometimes, because I’m her mom, and I have this same disease except it’s nice to me, and I wish for anything we could trade.

But no matter how much she improves–and I have decided one day she will surpass my own good health–she will always have to be healthy, and get the right amount of exercise, and take medication, and watch her mental state. Which isn’t a bad thing at all. And what I’ve had to do for twenty five years. Just being aware and respectful of your own body isn’t really an American thing….🙂

Thank you to everyone who has already given us so much love and hugs, whether they are in person or via social media. It means so much to her (and me). 

Just Right

With my son graduating and all his friends we’ve known for so long doing the same, I’ve been hearing a lot from friends that “it goes so fast!”
 
And I’ve been pondering that phrase, “It goes so fast.” Because, honestly, I don’t feel that it has. And me, being me, I’ve been wondering if I am just cold-hearted and clueless or bad or….I always go for the negatives. But….there is this conviction at the bottom of my soul when I am alone with myself that I’m not any of those things.
 
It hasn’t gone fast. The years, that is. Raising children. My kids, going from in the womb to needing showers and having swearing contests with me and driving me home after I’ve had a margarita at dinner.
 
It’s gone just right. I know how we got here.
 
There are a few days, months, moments, of course, that are blank. But…I really don’t feel like “it” has gone fast at all. I don’t feel like I “blinked.” I feel like I’ve had many, many blinks, and….where they are now…it’s RIGHT. Like, this is of course where we are after 18 years. It makes SENSE. Just like me going from 2 to 6 to 12 to 18 to 25 to 35 to 49 makes SENSE. I’ve LIVED all those years.
 
My beautiful baby boy has grown into a beautiful man, and I can tell you exactly when and exactly how. I can trace every key moment –and many not-key moments–from the day he was born to the now. Same with my beautiful baby girl who is now a beautiful young woman.
 
And yes, I’m tired. A between the shoulder blades weariness that sort of settles into my bones when I stop moving for long enough. And I’ve totally lost a lot of my mind. But I don’t think I needed those pieces anyway. I’ve grown so many NEW pieces to my mind, I often don’t recognize bits of me, and I welcome that shiny newness of it all.
 
The weariness is not like that of those of people I’ve lost or that of my divorce or even the more recent weariness dealing with my girl’s chronic pain. It’s a weariness wrapped in quiet reflection, soft joys and wild chaos that remind me why I’m so tired.
 
It’s a weariness that, in the quiet moments, brings such elation to my heart and mind and soul that I cannot contain it and sometimes laugh out loud.
 
I DESERVE this weariness. I’ve LIVED.
 
We had our grimy, chubby hand holding time. We had our time playing Star Wars and Thomas the Train for long, LONG hours in an afternoon. We had our time, even, when my son spit fire at me for two years and said nothing more than “I’m fine. Leave me alone” if he said anything at all. I’m now in this time with my daughter that…isn’t great. She is spitting knives and bullets, not just the fire, and alternately crying tiny creaking sobs because just crying hard makes her hurt. I don’t like it. But I’m in it. And I’m not looking ahead, later tonight or tomorrow or ever. Because tonight might be it, for all of us.
 
You never know when the zombies might come. Or Trump, I guess, in today’s world. Same diff.
 
So, no, it hasn’t gone fast. It’s gone exactly right. And in the dark every night, on the brink of sleep, I whisper prayers that it will remain so.

Relativity

My kids (otherwise known as The Teenagers) and I are in a new place.  As a parent, you are technically in a “new place” every day: whatever worked one day in regards to motivation, instruction, discipline, management, etc., certainly will not hold the next day.  Especially if you think to yourself, “There.  I figured him/her/it out.  Problem solved.”

Don’t ever think that.

Right now, I often literally do not know who either of The Teenagers are from one day to the next.  My daughter, especially, but my son is joining the fun in his own more quiet but no less mood-shifting manner.

It’s nothing personal.  They have no idea who they are from one day to the next, either.

For the first time in their lives, the Teenagers cannot predict what they will be doing even six months from now: my son will be a senior in the college program through his high school, but what classes will he be taking?  Will he still be interested in becoming a linguist?  Will he still be interested in the University of Washington?  Will he have the job he wants to get, which is interning with a travel service that works with Japanese exchange students?  Will his mother have managed to work with him to get him signed up for his ACT and SAT tests in a timely manner?

My daughter will be an 8th grader at her home middle school, but she is quitting band at the end of this year.  Will she lose the friendships she’s made over the last 4 years?  Will one of her besties have moved, as is a possibility?  Will I be one of her teachers next fall?  Will she have grown any taller at all? Will she and her longtime crush still be friends? Will a high schooler ask her to high school homecoming (the answer to will her mother let her GO to high school homecoming would be NO, but that’s for another day).

When your kid is 3 or 5 or even 8, you know, for the most part, where they are going: to school of one form or another.  Their friends are mostly approved and encouraged by you, often because you are friends with the parents.  You may volunteer in their school, so you know everything about their life in and out of school. They may have friends over all the time, but you and the other parents talk and you know what they do, even if they aren’t at your house. You know they will choose a hotdog over a double cheeseburger, because they don’t eat cheese.

They do not, usually, surprise you by ordering both the hotdog AND the double cheeseburger with extra bacon.  Because, just yesterday, they still made gagging noises whenever you offer them a cheeseburger.  Much less a double one, because they cannot eat enough.  Oh, and they also need two orders of fries and, as it turns out, your order of fries, too.  And a milkshake. No.  When they are 5 or 8 or even 10, they eat off the kids’ menu and usually don’t finish it.

When they are 8, you know they would rather spend their time with you on Spring Break, especially when you are offering them a large FroYo with unlimited toppings.

They do not choose to go talk to their online friends about the bombing in Syria because they just need “serious talk with people who know more about history then you.  Sorry, Mom.”

They do not ask you nicely to not go shopping with them because they are embarrassed to be seen with you at the town center where all the teens hang out. They are, in fact, happy to hang around with you and your adult friends, and even hold your hand in public and not roll their eyes whenever you speak and mutter, “PLEASE STOPPPPP BEING EMBARRASSING….”

They do not ask you to take them to Target and then “go away,” and then get into trouble with a security guard because they were climbing shelves. If they do this, at 2 or 9 or 11, you are probably with them, and YOU are rolling your eyes and muttering, “PLEASE STOPPPPP BEING EMBARRASSING…..”

When they are 1 or 7 or 9, they will not drive you crazy because they use your towel and your toothpaste and eat the red velvet cake slice you bought for just you or steal your jeans or eat all the oranges or never clean their dishes or fill the garbage way past the fill one so that when you finally take it out (after you realize your strike isn’t working), the bag rips and falls apart.

But they will also not be able to control themselves when they melt down because the dog ate their retainer.  They will melt down for hours, if not days, and you will have to cancel your lunch with friends, instead of just getting there five minutes late.

They will also not tell you to rest when you have a migraine.  They will not make dinner if you ask them to, or assure you they can “forage” with their friends and be just fine.

When they are 6 or 8 or even 12, they may not pour you a glass of wine after you’ve had a long day.  They probably won’t tell you to go out with your friends to see a concert and assure you they can get themselves dinner and to bed on time and everything will be “fine.”

They probably won’t give back to you as much as you give to them, freely, and increasingly less as little needy squirrels and more as equals. As people. As people who you may not know from one day to the next very well right now, and as people who often drive you nuts because they are like stoned roommates much of the time right now.  Still….they are people you know you are proud of.

After you have taken many deep breaths, practiced yoga, ate half a chocolate bar and poured a glass of wine and promised yourself, “Still better than the potty training phase.”

 

“My son is so bored in school.”

“She shouldn’t be bored.  She should be excited to learn!”

“Every day she complains of being bored.  I’ve asked her teacher if we can give her more challenges, but I don’t think I’m getting through.”

“I don’t want my kids to be bored at school.  I want them to be engaged and passionate!”

Those are all quotes from friends, acquaintances or even parents of my own students.

I’m not that parent.  I’m the parent who refused to put my son into the Gifted Program during his school career, even though he was bored to tears every single day throughout elementary, middle and high school.

Now in Running Start, a program where he can take college level courses and graduate with an Associates’ Degree at the same time he gets his High School Diploma, he’s still bored.  He’s going to double up on classes starting Winter Quarter so he can graduate a year early and start college early.  And I will bet anyone all my Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic books that he’ll be bored doing that, too.

In fact, the kid will be bored until he’s translating ancient Sumerian texts full time or writing historical fiction while teaching himself Mandarin.  Yes, he does those things–he’ll probably be hired out of college by the FBI or CIA or NSA to translate obscure Turkish dialects.  And to be perfectly honest, he’ll probably be “bored” doing that, at least some of the time.  Boredom to him means it doesn’t take a lot of work.  But that’s OK.

He is challenged every day by the other aspects of life.  Like making friends.  And knowing what to do with them.  Or not walking away in the middle of unloading the dishwasher or cleaning the bathroom because an idea popped into his head or he suddenly understood a phrase of Latin he read.

My daughter has been bored from day one, too.  But she has found solace in the social aspect of school.  She is the opposite of her brother: she is my wildly creative hummingbird who flits from one project to another.  At any moment she may be trying out a new recipe or creating her own method for painting nails or sculpting adorable creatures out of clay.  She has a fabulous squad of tightknit friends, and many more waiting in the wings.

School bores her because it is hard: thinking in such structured methods and sitting down all day, listening to her teachers, not being able to run out in the rain whenever she wants…that’s boring.

It’s been suggested to me that I put her in an artsy private school or one of our district’s Choice schools. But she’d be bored there, too.

A lot of times, “boredom” to a kid means they aren’t getting to do exactly what they want.  Doesn’t it mean that for adults, too?

I was bored in school.  I don’t know many of us adults who weren’t.  And I’m not sure when we all started deciding school was supposed to be amazingly exciting and constantly passionate.  School is SCHOOL.  It’s to learn, and to learn how to learn, and hopefully not be traumatized.

Can we have fun in school?  Most definitely.  Can we do more than just lecture and take notes?  Always. Can we try for some passion?  As a teacher, I do, every day.  But it’s not always successful: I currently teach US History.  There are some fascinating pieces to US History.  Pieces I can do improv with,  or mock debates, or in depth group projects that encourage the kids to really dig deep into a topic.

Then there are the pieces that are really boring and, to paraphrase my kids, stupid.

And yet, often, at the quiet, boring, stupid pieces of US History, my students and I have the best times.  Even better times then when we are all excited and passionate.  Because we are bored, and our minds are quiet, and unfocused, and open.  We find peace in the boring, stupid pieces.  We find discussions that may be slightly off topic but teach us who we are.  We find laughter.

When I worked in the Chicago corporate office of an Engineering/Architectural firm, I had a lot of super boring, stupid days.  The meetings were insane.  I do not like meetings.  Still don’t.  Serious waste of time.  Right?  At least in terms of the business end of things, which honestly could be reviewed or communicated in ten minutes flat.  But I had to get through them, and because I did, I learned about my boss and my colleagues: how they interacted with the rest of us, with the world.  I learned about myself, even though it wasn’t always in the moment that I realized I was learning about myself.

I made really great friends that I still have, even though a lot of the actual knowledge or what I even did in school or most of my jobs is gone.

I learned how to LIVE. And living is sometimes boring.

What are we teaching our children if we are telling them that life should always be passionate, engaging, and exciting?

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Time

Last summer, I blogged about my sweet children driving me insane.  We spend a lot of time together, and a year ago, I didn’t even have work to separate us.

I remember that feeling of, “OMG CAN I READ TWO PAGES OF MY BOOK WITHOUT YOU NEEDING SOMETHING?”  But I also remember taking deep breaths and, for the most part, keeping my swearing only to myself because I knew someday it would change.

Someday, they would have lives.

That day has arrived.

This summer, my son is teaching himself Latin, in addition to continuing his own Japanese IMG_7939language studies.  He spends a lot of time translating Japanese poems and Latin books he finds online.  Starting in a week, he’s working at the UW a couple days a week helping Japanese students.  He’s heavily involved in BloodBourne and Dark Souls , and he’s also watching a lot of Japanese anime, with and without the captions, as part of his Japanese self-studies.  He speaks a lot of Japanese to me, and I either reply in stilted German or bad Spanish.  Not that I know what he’s saying.  But then he doesn’t know what I’m saying, either, so we usually end up laughing.

He walks about 20 miles a week, and he comes out of karate rolling on laughter about inside jokes that he happily tells me, and sometimes I even laugh, but I’m removed from it all.  We used to walk together, and he would tell me all his story ideas and goals for the future.

He used to cry if I left the dojo before his practice was over.

IMG_7953Meanwhile, my daughter has discovered a social life and social media.  She texts her friend travelling in Italy and takes solo bike rides around town. She makes music videos on an app called Music.ally, which is pronounced musically, not Music Ally, OMG.  The music videos are complete with outfit changes, scene changes, sound and video mixing, and sometimes, the dogs’ participations (not necessarily willingly).  I’m horrible at memorizing lyrics. I tend to make up my own.  My daughter remembers everything after hearing it once, and she wants to “help” me learn the real words. But it’s rapid fire, and I am left behind, like I was for years when I would have sworn it was “Amber rain” and not “I’m all right.”

She goes into her room and talks to her friends or stays up until 1 am reading or makes music videos or creates amazing animals out of clay while listening to Rachel Patten, who is her most favorite singer ever.

She still tells me everything she and her friends do together, or what they texted or said and shows me her videos and theirs.  She talks to me about her books in depth and lets me read them and asks me questions that are echoes of questions I have asked her about books down through the years.

Bu she closes her bedroom door when she goes into her room to do anything.

This summer, I am find myself longing for still moment when we can all just sit in the same room for more than 30 minutes.  I find myself wanting to hang out with them and listen to their silly jokes about sex and “out of the mouths of babes” reactions to news, politics, life.

They still annoy me with their lack of understanding for how to put toilet paper on the toilet paper roll or take the garbage bag out of the garbag can before it is so full, it literally explodes when I try to take it out.  They still need me to buy food for them, apparnently, because several independent expeditions I have sent them on have resulted in a lot of not-what-I-asked-for. And they still need me to be there for them when they need me, and tell them everything is going to be OK when they don’t think it is.

They don’t like it when I’m gone too much in one day or too many times in one week.  They miss me when I take a weekend.  They talk to me all the time, and we spend a lot of time together, still, especially given that they are 16 and almost-13.

But.

Last summer, I was still parenting children.

This summer, I would say I am more of a mentor–much loved, I know this– to two amazing people.

And, I hesitate to say this because of all the “DON’T BE YOUR CHILDRENS’ FRIEND” articles out there, but…they are my friends.  Young friends, still.  I still need my own friends, and always will. I still get to make them do things and I have no problem calling them on their stuff.

But…I like them.  As people, as kids…the toilet paper and garbage bag issues aside….I like them.

 

I will be honored if, someday, they choose to call me their friend in return.

Sixteen

IMG_7831My son turned sixteen 13 days ago.

I think I’m still getting acclimated to the idea. Or maybe I am just so glad we are here. There was a time when he threatened suicide, tore into me with such anger and malice I didn’t know who he was.

He went to therapy resistant, but left after six months with something…settled.  He has never talked to me about those sessions.  He has said only, “Thank you for making me go. It helped.”

It’s not that he isn’t mature enough to be 16.  This is the kid his sister and I call our “80 year old.”  He accuses me of being a middle-schooler.  He’s my rock, my common sense, my partner in crime.

At 16, grounded, ready to tackle his future even if it terrifies him, able to accept my leadership in the house and respect me for who I am and what I do, supportive of me and his sister even while accepting and needing our support, I can easily call him a good friend.  We are fully able ot navigate the boundaries between mother and son and friends.

I’ve felt a kinship with him since around the end of my first trimester, when I first felt HIS presence: something that went beyond his fluttering movements and–what I am certain were his–cravings for meat, meat and more meat.

This kid will never be vegetarian.Image15

There was a way he looked at the world, if you can say that, even then, when my womb was
his home.  I could feel him still and listening.  If he could see–maybe he could see light and shadow–he would be watching.  Two years after his birth, we spent inordinate amounts of time sitting on our hill outside the house watching cars go by, birds twitter in the trees, clouds move.

He will still lean onto the back of the couch and look out the window for moments at a time.  He looks like a man, leaning there, the hint of a beard glinting in the sunlight, his shoulders wide.

His infant self would fit across the breadth of his back.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, a friend gave me a photo of my son and I walking in the lake that last summer it was just the two of us.  We were holding hands and obviously in as intense a discussion as you can be with a three year old.  I have no idea what we were talking about.  But we did that a lot, just walked and talked.

Later still, when I started letting him take walks around the neighborhood, he liked me to come with him at least three times a week.  We haven’t held hands since he was 8 or 9.  But we still talked, anything from his ideas for stories to the current state of politics.

Now he comes upstairs when I get home from school and sits at the kitchen counter while I ready dinner and talks.  Or he calls me when I am doing errands, if I won’t be home until late.  Or, my personal favorite, he emails me during class at school, usually when he’s bored and often when he’s supposed to be doing something else.

DSC_0590He’ll run on about what is going on in his world, and then he’ll say, “Enough about me.  How is your day going?”

Someday, he will make an excellent relationship partner.

When I woke up 13 days ago, I remembered the first moments of his life outside my womb: he never cried.  His eyes were open: big, wide, baby-blue.  He just stared at everything going on around him, and then he laid his eyes on me.  He didn’t do anything miraculous or amazing.  He just stared.  But even then I felt like we recognized each other.

Even then, I felt like he was just waiting for the moment he could tell me about his day.

 

Walk the Line

Going on an adventure with teenagers is always like walking a tightrope.  Maybe I’ve said it before in this blog.  It’s a running reminder in my head, so I probably say it a lot.

It doesn’t matter if they requested said adventure.

If something gets up their butts before the adventure, or on the way to the adventure, or during the adventure, the entire adventure turns into THEM.

If you happily blocked out all memories of being an adolescent as soon as you were able to legally drink, I’m jealous.

I remember my own adolescence vividly, at least the enormity of many emotions: how HUGE and ugly I felt my body was; how DESPERATELY I loved the boy who sat in front of me in Spanish.  How HORRIBLE my day became when I reached out to him and he did not return the favor (my expectations were so blown out of proportion he would have needed to declare his love for me in a song while playing guitar on one knee.  And then I would have been HORRIBLY embarrassed).  How PASSIONATE I felt when I was singing, acting, building sets, writing, or anything that let loose my creativity. How DIFFICULT the day was when anything didn’t go the way I had envisoned it (and since I was way, way high on manic mode or way, way, low in depression, my visions were usually out of whack anyway).

So, I get my own teenagers’ angst.  I do.  Which is maybe why I can easily sympathize and, when necessary, ignore.

A lot of ignoring is required, but it also needs to be subtle, so they don’t really notice. Because I also remember the shriek of my adolescent soul when I was convinced my emotions were being ignored.

The kids were all for the hike, until we arrived, when my son was struck with stomach pains (me, pre-hike: “Perhaps you should have some protein with those six cinnamon rolls?” Him: “I’m good”) and my daughter saw all the dogs on the trail and realized what a HORRIBLE person I was for not inviting our dog.

DSC_1192

The Beginning, when The Teenagers Suddenly Realized Life Sucks.

Our dog, a Chihuahua/Basenji mix, would not have liked the gravel path, cold, or rain, but that was not the point, OMG.

I offered sympathies and apologies, but when they are deep into their angst, I am no longer allowed to touch them.  Or walk with them.

For at least the first mile everyone had their own space.  My son stalked ahead of me, occasionally stopping (when I was in eyesight) to lean over and groan; my daughter lagged behind me, dragging a strip of bark like a sad tail and singing songs about her sad dog alone at home.

I listened to the wind through the trees and the birds in the trees.  There really is no better music. Plus I rewrote the lyrics to Johnny Cash’s “Walk the Line” (which, also, I realize now, has some Guns n Roses in there…OK, so not an original creation….):

I keep a close watch on this child of mine.
I keep my heart wide open all the time.
I love to see that smile hiding in your eyes.
Because you’re my child, I will walk the line.

I find it very, very easy to wait for you.
I find myself alone many days we go through.
Yes, I’ll admit that I’m a fool for you.
Because you’re my sweet child, I will walk the line.

At some point, my daughter decided to join me, mainly so she could whisper smack about her brother’s drama.  I was careful how I pointed out that it takes one to know one.  Soon, my son joined our group, too; he either felt better or decided to suck it up so that he could harrass his sister, who had obviously gone lone enough without being harrassed.

The return trip was full of laughter and cameraderie and friendship, and that didn’t even change when our first choice of restuarant was packed and we had to drive another 15 minutes to get to our second choice (I’d add photos, but WordPress apparently no longer allows vertical perspective photos, or at least I can’t figure out how to rotate them once in this blog).

But home, now, is quiet: we’ve spent enough time together–for a little while, at least.  One is in her room making videos on music.ally, and the other is in the office laughing at what are probably political boards and memes.

And here I am, thankful for the strong memories of my own adolescence, despite the juxtaposed, sharp angled shadows of fear and pain that goes along with them, and later reflection on it, so I can be the main point of balance while my kids walk their own line.

Soft Focus

When talking about this blog to a friend recently, she said, “You just need to decide what you want to focus on.  Parenting?  Being a writer?  A teacher?  Education issues?”  (Disclaimer: I’m paraphrasing, but this was the general meaning).

I’ve been lax in writing this blog because I’ve been thinking about that question. My answer?

I don’t focus. Not in writing or life. To use a cliche, I want it all. Or maybe a better phrase is…I don’t want to close any doors. I want what I want when I want it. And sometimes what I want, when I want it, is just as much a surprise to me as it is to everyone else.

Life is my bucket list.

I have goals I am working towards now, and I do have things I want to do later. But…will I actually finish those current goals? Will I ever get to those things I want later? Maybe. Sometimes what I want shifts before I am done with what I am working towards. If I were looking at a photo of my life, I’d start to drift away from the subject in the focus in the foreground and want to find out what the hell all that life in the background was about. I don’t lose focus so much as shift that focus.

When I left high school, my focus was to become a world-renowned photojournalist, specifically interviewing/photographing both musicians for Playboy and victims of war  for Time (one brings me up, one brings me down; I’ve always liked balance). I would live in Paris with my three adopted children and many lovers and write fiction novels on the side.

I can’t say that was a pipe dream anymore than the rest of my life. As life unfolded, the background of my self-portrait changed. The background of a Paris cafe with my adopted children scampering around the Eiffel Tower while I interviewed Axl Rose shifted, and I wanted to see what that was all about.

Thirty years later, I am here: single again after being married for 25 years, two kids, former PTSA president, a house in the suburbs, teaching again after being a stay-at-home mother for 14 years, becoming re-acquainted with the music scene, looking at a path ahead which soon enough includes fully independent children.

There’s a lot in the background of my self-portrait right now, a lot I want to do. And a lot is a blur at the edge of the photograph. I’m curious about that, even if I don’t know what it is. Will I do any of it? If it feels right. If there is a path, a spark of light, that takes me to it.

Perhaps if I could maintain focus, I’d have the follow-up to Reunion at Lake Whisper, completed already. Perhaps I’d be a premier journalist with press passes to every show that graced Madison Square Garden. Or be on the Senate floor advocating for educational issues.

But…perhaps I’ll hike through the Olympic National Forest. Or publish a book of poems and go on tour, travelling from indy bookstore to indy bookstore reading to my twelve fans. Perhaps I’ll find a lover in Paris. Perhaps I’ll shuttle between suburban home and a condo in the city, writing, teaching, travelling….learning.

So…what is my focus on this blog?

Life.