Preparing for the Push Off

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I’ve been in denial about this for months.

It’s almost here. Three weeks from this past Thursday will be it. The day my first, my oldest son pushes off for college.

It started out subtly enough, the departing. In May, he had his final soccer game of his pre-college life. The U-19 league. So, soon after that last game I found myself repressing a lump in my throat as I confronted a simple thing. Just a swipe, really, but it felt as though my hand were made of iron and it was dragging along a magnet. Trying to move, trying to get my finger to drag over my laptop’s touchpad to deliberately press the “delete event” prompt from my family’s calendar and alerts for his soccer practice reminders.

I shouldn’t be so maudlin. I hadn’t been driving him to practice for months. He was a late-blooming driver. It was my pleasure to take him to practice or ride shotgun as he drove. Our conversations in the car varied from laughing about a Ben Bailey stand-up routine to talking about his friends, class work, or social disappointments. Sometimes it was just silence. Or really loud Kanye West. But those days are over. I no longer need to see the alerts on my phone about his practices. So I drag my right hand with my left hand to click “delete” on the alerts.

I don’t want to click “delete.” It is really hard to click delete on that alert.

I couldn’t possibly be prouder of the young man he’s become. He’s handsome, funny, really smart, creative, clever, sensitive, caring… all the things I wanted him to become. I didn’t do it though; he came with that software already installed. I suppose I helped him learn to use it, but we all know our kids are pre-formed before we get them.

I met him in the middle of the night more than 18 years ago. He was just eight pounds and almost 21 inches long. I remember, he was so quiet, the doctors thought there was something amiss. Perhaps he wasn’t breathing well. Maybe his brain was misfiring. But his eyes… his father knew he was just fine. His eyes were bright and blue-green and so serene. So calm and observant. “I knew those eyes the minute I saw them open,” his father said. “They were your eyes. They were just like yours…”

They put him in the “french fry warmer” as we called it, to keep him cozy. They invaded him with their suction devices and wiped him of his vernix. Soon he let them have it, a robust and brief goat-like bleat from that enormous head. It was just after midnight when he was born and I was totaled. I’d been dealing with dormant but annoying labor for about 25 hours. I wanted to see him.

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They did their tests and pokes on him. They were stupid, I think now. “Haven’t you ever met a mellow baby?” I remember thinking about them the next day. “Look at him, he’s perfect…” I would sigh and stare at this beautiful son… “Connor. Hello.” I met him in the morning, around 4. It was dark and he was hungry, so I learned to try to breastfeed him. It took a few days, but we figured it out.

Look at him now! 5’10” and 150. Hair almost as dark as mine when I was his age and his big green eyes.

“You should write Batman’s in My Shower now, Mom,” he said about a month ago. Batman’s in My Shower is the title I decided to give to a memoir back when my boys were 10 years younger than they are now. I wanted to write about becoming a mother and how it’s changed me.

The title comes from the truth that in my bathroom shower for years was at least one Batman action figure for my sons to play with while they bathed. The book would be about how my life melded with theirs and how my space became theirs as we grew into one another and gradually apart from one another. I remember holding one of the boys while he played with the doll and I washed his hair and cleaned his little squirming body as he would have Batman and a squirting goldfish battle it out under the Water-pik shower head typhoon.

Washing a child in a shower is like trying to wash a hairless cat that won’t scratch your face off because it actually likes the water spraying in its face. The cat is animated, no doubt, but it’s not deadly and it’s writhing and hissing joyous coos of delight as the baby shampoo (remember that smell?) lathers and runs down their faces.

The sole remaining Batman has a layer of soap scum in his armpits and crotch; his cape is hard and stiff like a chamois that’s been hung in the sun. He’s covered in a layer of dried soap and hard water residue from years of torrential cleansing. He’s perfect.

I haven’t dared to write more than a page of BiMS because that would mean that I’ve crossed over a benchmark, that the “memoir” is activated because the moment is past; that the “mothering” is over. So I sit here, in wait. Wondering when the feelings of the intensity of his impending departure will pass and I will feel light and airy again.

“Raise your hands if you have a student who will be living on campus and you live in the area…” said the admissions person at new student / new parent orientation last week. Her eyes scanned the ballroom. At least 30 hands, including my own, went up; some sheepishly, some defiantly.

“Make no mistake. If it’s five minutes or five hours or across the street or across the country, your child is leaving home,” I almost broke out into tears at that moment. I had to keep it together. She was right, that hag. My kid is leaving home. He is about a good run’s distance, 4 miles, from home, but he’s not going to be here every day when I wake up. Nor will he be here when I avoid making dinner.

You see, Connor has been my wingman for better part of a third of my life. He has grounded me, helped me chill out, provided a better reason than a paycheck to get up every morning, and has generally made me a better person. He has made me a better mother for his brothers. He has made me a better friend to my friends and he has made me a better daughter to my parents. I don’t want to foist too much upon him because that’s not fair. I’ve done a lot of Work too, he just made it a fantastic reason to do it.

I’ve prepared him a bit I hope too. I stopped washing his clothes for him about four years ago. He’s got it down — brights with brights. He’s good at it. That transition began subtly enough too, and I will own that I’ve relapsed a few times. Like a junkie, I’ve slipped back into Mom-mode for him and folded his t-shirts or even turned them right-side-out when they come out of the dryer. I have to stop myself sometimes from unbending his jeans from of the mind-boggling twisted rebar-like clump they’ve morphed into as I heave the next crate of wet clothes into the dryer. Some articles are easier than others to let go. Socks for one… I would rather eat McDonald’s, no. I take that back. I would still sort his socks over eating McDonald’s.

My father said to me about two weeks ago that what I’m about to experience, my child leaving home for college, is in his estimation one of the most emotionally arduous and profound experiences in my parenting. “I don’t know what it’s like to watch a child leave for college from such a deeply loving and supportive home, so you’ll have to excuse me as I soak all this in vicariously,” he admitted during that conversation. “My own mother, she was difficult. I couldn’t wait to get out of there, but she made it awful hard on me. I never looked back,” he added, “when I left for school.”

I never left home for college. I went to university locally. It was part of my life I suppose: my mother needed my vigilance. I would’ve loved to have lived on campus. I remember visiting my friends who lived in the dorms. Music, “The Cult” was always playing and the halls smelled like popcorn, pot, ramen, vanilla body spray, coffee, patchouli, Dr. Pepper, Finesse shampoo… beer…  I promised myself that if my kids ever wanted to live on campus — even if they went to school locally — that they would live on campus. I’m really glad we have chosen this.

I asked Connor about his own thoughts and impressions; if he’s ready to go, if he’s looking forward to it. “I’m excited. It’s nice though, to not want to leave, too. I’m lucky to be going, to be able to attend college, and I’m lucky to be not terribly ready to go… That it will be hard to go and nice to go… Does that make sense?”

He couldn’t have said it better.

I know I haven’t been writing here or personally anywhere is because of this. How do I go from being a hands-on, non-helicopter Mom of three to this? It is really perplexing. I bought a comforter set for his bed; sheets, pillows, all the towels and textiles. A 28-oz size bottle of Pert (his favorite) is in a bag and waiting for that first pump somewhere in his shower. Without a Batman, likely. I thought I was finished shopping and then I caught up with a bestie today who’s oldest son is also heading out soon for the first time (he’s very tight with my son) and I realized I don’t have pens for him. I didn’t buy pens or notebooks or a stapler. WHAT KIND OF A MOTHER SENDS HER KID OFF TO COLLEGE WITHOUT PENS??

I’ll tell you: the mother who really doesn’t want her kid to leave. Sure, he’s got a computer, but who needs that? We all know learning happens with a pen and paper. No. The “real learning” my son will experience will not be contained between the end papers of a textbook or in the hushed whirr of a hard drive. It’s waiting for him in the dormitory, in the lecture halls, at the dining hall, and in the random conversations with exhausted students in late-night study groups and eating fests.

Really? Did I just write ‘the real learning  … will not be contained between the end papers of a textbook’? Someone shove then trip me when I leave this room. I deserve it. Who knows where the real learning takes place? I hope it’s been taking place all along.  

I expect I will be an emotional disaster worthy of FEMA assistance when I leave him on the 25th. Every time that damned song from “Narnia” comes on my playlist, “The Call,” I start to blubber and sob, really deep ugly crying. It’s not ok. When he walks in the room, I’m all super sunshine and smiles! No, I’m not, and he gets it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from witnessing my mother, it’s that “the show must go on, kid” mentality is a one-way ticket to Xanaxia. I expect the music at the dorms on drop-off day will be Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” or some unknown genre which will pulsate and grind and moan. It will be played at a precise megahertz to annoy the shit out of aging parents and get them the hell off campus tout de suite.

There’s a part of me which needs to go for a drive, a long drive to, say, Charlottesville or somewhere similar so I can process the reality that he’s out. If he were a challenging kid or obstinate or disrespectful or basically horrid, this would be so much easier. He’s not. He’s a GEM of a human. I’ll be real with you, we argue at times, and I think it might be happening more a little now than it ever did, and I wonder if that’s because we know what’s coming.

Is it like one of those “distancing-prep” dynamics wherein people begin to isolate and curl into their corners before a big departure? I am not sure, we are pretty real with each other. He’s all-too ready at times to tell me I’m the reason we are SPEAKING LOUDLY AND CURTLY AT EACH OTHER.

Maybe not Charlottesville… Maybe  I’ll go to the parking lot of his college and stalk him.

My youngest asked me the other day, “Do you think Connor will come home, Mom? You know, just to hang out…?” I honestly didn’t know what to say. I have no expectations. My youngest and my oldest are very similar in temperament. Five and a half years rests between them; we refer to those two as “the bookends” because they are so grounded and rational.

Connor needs this though, to have his own experiences, and I’m so happy for him that he will have them. I’m equally happy that my other sons will miss him a lot. My middle son is excited for him, and he’s really bummed out. “It will be weird around here, without him,” he said. “Like, for every morning of my life, he’s been here to play with or annoy or learn from. He’s taught me so much…” he turns away, stops talking and leaves the room. I start to well up. I know he’s welling up. It’s a frequent occurrence, these bloated, trailing-off conversations about Connor leaving for college.

We talk, we parents, about how we’re robbed of time with our kids. How they grow up and change so fast. How the days drag on but the years fly by… All the clichés and adages and truths. In the end though, we don’t want them here when they’re 33. We want them out and about and falling in love and starting their own families maybe or going to graduate school or getting married… we don’t want them in our basements. We don’t want them in their footie pajamas all their lives — EVEN IF we could have them at cute and floppy, sticky-fingered, sweet-smelling 22 months, all their lives, we wouldn’t want that. Not ever. Don’t tell me you would. “Just one more day… like this…” No. You want them to grow and learn and thrive and shave.

Another friend and I were talking last week. Her son who is Connor’s peer is her youngest of four. He and Connor “played soccer” together when they were five. He is leaving too, for a college five hours away. She was telling me about their conversation they had about his “drop off” at school. She said she asked him if he thought it would be like hers, when her parents helped her unpack her room and they made her bed, and put her posters on the wall and hung up her clothes in the closet… they met her roommate, and then they all went to dinner and walked around the town a little… then her parents spent the night in town and had breakfast in the morning together before they left her alone with her “new life.” She asked him if it would be like that for him or would it be the type of situation where they unpack their car, drop off the boxes and leave him in the dorm to figure it out. No lunch together, no walk around town, no overnight at the local Marriott. She waited, she said, her eyes uncertain, a twitch betraying her calm.

“He said, ‘It will be the second one, mom. Dump and drive. I’m ready. You’re ready. I’ll be back…'” and she sighed after she told me what he said, and we laughed about it, because it was so “him” to say that.

“But I’m not ready…” she said, quietly, her lips pursing as her eyes gazed around her roomy kitchen. Empty of chaos and crusted mac & cheese pans.

And the friends are leaving too. That’s a part of this gig that no one really tells you about: that when your kid takes off for college, his friends are likely doing that as well, so all those faces and sounds and cups you cleaned up and backpacks you danced around won’t regularly be in your way again, either. We’ve been blessed to know lots of his friends, and his girlfriend? Don’t even get me started. Every time I think of her leaving too … it’s not good. I am like Mike Myers playing Linda Richman and having to take a break during “Coffee Talk” and ask you all to tawk ahmonst y’seves becawse I’ve becohm verklempt.

Right now, it’s late. I’m up writing and he’s in the other room watching “Bob’s Burgers” and I can hear him snorting and giggling. It’s really late. He should be in bed.

I’ve got 20, shit, 19 days before my father watches my son eagerly leave his home reluctantly. God help me. If it’s so good for him, why does it hurt so much?

Thank you.

 

Goodbye, Terra Centre

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After 13 years of near daily walks to our elementary school, it has finally happened. We are no longer part of the TCES community; we have “aged out.”

It started in 2003, when my oldest began kindergarten. My youngest was still inside me; he had a few more months to bake. Save for those early postpartum winter weeks after my youngest was born, and about 30 days to use Kiss & Ride on “weathery days” I walked my kids every day to and from school.

The path to school is gorgeous.

 

It was perfect to quiet the mind and give the body just a little jump start to the day. Often it was leisurely and we did see all the things in the images above. I am not a huge believer in stressing out being late to elementary school. What do we miss? Perfect attendance? Or the little TV show they broadcast each morning which announced the cafeteria menu, the weather outside, TC birthdays, and anything else of note … but … please. All of my kids say no one ever listens to that broadcast. I could often be overheard saying to the boys, “It’s not Harvard. We have time. Look around the path… look around this place…” And we would.

Once the final baby came along, so came the daily use of the double stroller, that godsend and albatross. I remember grabbing the leash of our faithful golden, Maggie, wrapping it round the handle of the stroller and pushing off for school as she would keep perfect pace with me, never wavering from her parade. My middle son who is my mirror, often made the experience more melodious than many people were likely ready for so early in the morning. Because he wasn’t a student there yet, he saw little need in going to school to drop off Big Brother. We disagreed daily.

We had a song for him,

Oh I won’t ride my stroller to school
I told my mommy I’d walk
But now my mommy won’t pick me up
So I’m gonna screech like a hawk.

More often than not, we were just on time.

Our first year at the school, around winter break, it was struck by a Norovirus outbreak. Norovirus is a vomiting illness. I was walking home the first morning back from break and a TV crew was outside on the main road leading to my house. A well-known female roving reporter, Gail Pennybacher, asked me if she could interview me. With her cameras. I was a new public school mom, recently postpartum with Thing 3, and she wanted to talk to me about the outbreak.

“Are you a parent at the school over that way?” she asked, pointing to TC which you could see now the the trees were bare.

“Yes… what’s this about?” I asked, I’m sure.

She talked about her intentions.

I had no clue about the outbreak. It was over. I guess there was some form of communication from the school before it opened after winter break but I was barely functioning.

I noticed that the disgusting low-pile industrial carpeting was replaced by shiny linoleum tiles, but that was all I knew. Gail told me about the outbreak and asked me if she could film my then-kindergartener son and me washing his hands. I said yes, immediately followed by the caveat that my student son wasn’t home and that I had to put my kids down for a nap. It being a Monday, a half-day back then, I assured her he would be home in three hours.

But I felt weird, as though I was betraying the school. Being a new mom and knowing NOTHING about FCPS and Terra Centre from a parent standpoint (plus people can be assholes), I didn’t want to make enemies over there. During the meantime, I reached out to the principal to let her know that the news crews were stalking the neighborhood.

That was my first interaction with that principal. She called me back and asked me for intel. She said I sounded like I was someone who was media savvy. She was gooood. I said I had worked in PR and was a freelance writer. She said I would be helpful to her. She prowled up to her saucer, got down on her haunches and wrapped her tail around her hips, slowly lapping. “Tell me more…” she said. I told her about me, and then she asked me how to handle the news crew.

That night, the news was on and I saw our segment. My jaw hit the floor when I watched that woman OWN that reporter. She played me. I was so naive. Over the remaining nine years, she and I barely spoke. Outside of the Carter administration, I considered her one of the least effective leaders I’d ever witnessed. I learned over the years that parents had tried unsuccessfully to oust her at least twice before we got there.

I made friends through Terra Centre. Some I still know, others have faded away or moved away. But while I have faded some, I have not moved, which is an oddity here, in one of many communities referred to as the Pentagon’s bedroom.

Most families who roost here are military or somehow entwined with the federal government in public service, civil service or as a contractor.

Once again, my team is an anomaly of two anomalies. I do not hail from a government family, nor does my husband. His family, I think a third-generation Washingtonian tribe, was in private business and my family was in journalism. I feel confident saying there are not many of us around here, those who’ve been here consistently as long as we have.

We moved into this house in 2000. I met this home when it was under contract.

“It’s under contract and it’s higher than your range. Forget it,” Barb, my ever-enthusiastic realtor said.

“I don’t care. I have to see it. Get me in there.” I said.

Barb used her keypad and we were in. I felt dirty, as though I had to whisper everything I said and thought. It was like breaking into a bank vault.

The house wasn’t well-appointed, but it had my requirements: a fenced flat backyard and a basement. It also had other things I didn’t know I had to have: hardwood floors, a playroom, a main floor bedroom with full bath. It didn’t have what I really wanted: a garage, but I’ve found over the years that those just get stuffed with crap no one uses.

“It’s under contract. You can’t be here…” a little woman whisper-shouted in broken English from the top of the stairs. I remember her to this day: graying hair in a bun, half glasses perched on her nose. A floral quilted housecoat. She thought she was protected by the UNDER CONTRACT sign on the post outside her house.

“I understand. I had to see it. I’m compelled to be here. I have a son, he’s 2 and I’ve got another one on the way,” I said, patting my newly swelling belly with the same hand holding my toddler’s wet sticky palm. He flashed his enormous green eyes, long lashes and deep dimples at her.

Her shoulders softened. Her voice warmed and she descended the stairs to just three from the main floor. She was Filipina.

“My name is Corazon,” she said.

“That means ‘heart?’ I said back, smiling. We nodded.

“If the contract falls through,” I said, “Please call my realtor. She’s leaving her card. Please. I need to be here.”

Corazon gestured to the kitchen and said, “the yard … for him.”

For them, I thought to myself. Peering through the windows, I agreed, “it’s lovely.”

“Shade,” she said.

I continued out the kitchen door on to the “deckette” to look at the flat fenced back yard, feeling a little breeze and cooler air than the front. We were nestled beneath a canopy of Oaks, Dogwoods and Sugar Maples. I tried to keep my composure. I needed to be in this house.

It was August. We were still in our bright and airy seven-year-old townhouse. Well, sort of.

Y’see, we don’t have much luck with real estate endeavors. Long story short, our first buyer was under-qualified. I knew it when I saw him cross the threshold late during our open house. When you’re pregnant, you don’t ignore your gut. They wanted to close within 30 days. They were hot to trot. We hadn’t found a house yet. So we got cooking.

Most of the houses around here don’t last long on the market, but it was a weird time. The ones that lingered were absolutely horrendous, smelly, dark and dreary as though the people in them were having to leave against their will. “Aren’t these people motivated to sell?” I would ask my agent, shaking my head and feeling lost every time we unlocked a door.

After living here, in Burke, for almost 16 years though, I get it. People DON’T want to leave here.

Eventually our townhouse sold. It might’ve even been larger than the house we’re in now. My husband likes to think so. I heartily disagree. Doesn’t matter. The first buyers of each house fell through. Our buyer was a cabbie. I knew it was him and he was a cabbie when I saw him drive by in his work vehicle and slow down in front of the house, indicating to his riders (I think his mother and wife or sister) that this was going to be their new home.

My stomach fell out of my body, My vision honed and I got prickly all over my skin witnessing his gestures and sitting there in front of my house under the hot sun. There was no way they had the money. I panicked. I called my husband, he was certain I was wrong. I called our agent, she was telling me I was pregnanty-nervous. She used to be a nurse. I’m really glad she got out of that gig, she had no empathy skills. She listed “weight lifting” as one of her hobbies.

I knew it would fall through. It did. It fell through likely about two weeks after our contract on this house was accepted. The good news is that I wasn’t nuts and pregnanty-nervous. I pointed at my husband and chided my agent. The bad news is that we were effed.

The first buyers of this house walked on the contract because of a Radon issue. Two days after we dropped our card for Corazon, they walked. Her agent called my agent at night. My agent called me. The next morning we went to put an offer on the house contingent with Radon remediation, which she had a contractor there installing that afternoon. My husband hadn’t seen the house until we wrote on it.

Our agent was all “this school and that school… and oooh and shopping and oooh metro… and banks and conveniences…” and I was all, back yard. Shade. School? What do I know of schools… It turns out we landed in a really good school district.

I remember when my husband first stepped on to the tiny deck, “Land!” he said. It’s not a lot, but it’s ours. The kitchen is modest. When my children were very busy and smaller, it was manageable. We did finger painting and conducted general mayhem in the kitchen. Now that they’ve grown, it’s a little tight a lot of the time, even after our renovation. They “eat” (it’s more of inhaling and grunting) at the breakfast bar. We don’t have as many family dinners as we used to. I have two man-childs and another one, the one who just left elementary school, burgeoning. Soon though, the biggest man-child will be off to college so it will be less man-childs.

I’m not sure I’m ready for that either. It feels like it’s all happening so fast.

Terra Centre used to be underground. Well, not really underground, like sub-level, but it was covered in grass. We used to call it the EduCave. But it’s been renovated and that renovation came with a new principal who is leaving…. TC teachers are strong, many of them have been there for at least 10 years and despite the administration being yet again in flux, I have very few reservations about TC’s promise. The class sizes rarely hit above 28 because our neighborhood is 30+ years old; all gross residential development is over. It’s a good school. It’s so good that it’s hard as heck to find a house in this ‘hood.

The other day a realtor came to talk to me about the house next door to me that sold in 4 hours. I had met her clients when I was staring down my sprinkler. They asked me questions about drainage and the walk to the school. They didn’t win the bidding war and the husband was in tears. They loved the house. They loved me too.

The walk to Terra Centre, for me, was part of my routine too. It is 1/3 a mile door to door. Going there and back twice a day ensured I saw other people. It meant exercise, community, sisterhood. I volunteered at the school to assist the teachers, absolutely, and to help the children, no doubt. But I also volunteered to improve my life. To not feel like a failure for not having a job, and for not sitting on my ass eating bon-bons.

I’m not a nostalgist in the least. I’m a “GSD” (Get Shit Done) person. But I am sort of taking my time here. I think that makes people nervous: when someone like me, who’s normally driven, Type A and a go-getter, decides to sit, feel and write and emote… it can be off-putting. Luckily for me, my boys know how I value feeling the feelings so we can process them and get through them. They know I’m not going to run off to the basement with a bottle of vodka and deny myself into oblivion.

The fact of all of this is that I’m a little blue. I feel like I’m losing a part of myself. And I guess I am. Will I get over it? No, I will get through it. I don’t want to “get over” anything; I want to process things.

Undoubtedly, people tell me to think of the happy memories. That change is good! That I should remember to concentrate on the tremendous growth the boys have achieved. It’s hard to witness it all, frankly. There was a time when I felt that their growth meant I stagnated, but I see it now, we’ve all grown.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: EVERYTHING and EVERYONE we encounter is our teacher. Sometimes they are teachers reminding us to hold our ground, and other times, they are teachers telling us to get our shit together. Terra Centre taught me about service, friendship, neighbors, boundaries, and duty.

I remember early in my volunteering that it had occurred to me that I wasn’t much of a volunteer. I sort of got down on myself a little about that. I grew up in a largely narcissistic environment, so I was conditioned to deal with and for myself because, well, that’s how a kid survived narcissists. You had to be a narcissist… When in Rome…

But I also gave myself a pause. How do we change? By changing. So it was at Terra Centre. It was the first time I was a mom of a student somewhere. At the preschools, they’re all about getting moms out of their houses and out with others: shopping, doctor appointments, taking care of themselves. They are purposely short days 3-4 hours apiece so the kids don’t get antsy and the moms can maybe get a nap.

I was nudged by a neighbor to volunteer at Fun Fairs (think mini carnival populated by  drunken toddlers). She is a child of service members and married to one. I learned that Fun Fair isn’t my jam. So she suggested a dance. Tried it. NFW. Movie night. Nope. I realized eventually, while jumping through the proposed hoops, serving on the PTA, presiding over the PTA and other involvement that I’m more about GSD than telling kids to stop running or to “put that down” and getting other parents to see me as a performer.

While I’m an extrovert, when it comes to getting shit done, I’m a silent partner. I bought a tiger suit for the school mascot. Either they hadn’t had one in a decade or they never had one (since the present principal at the time arrived). So I bought one and the PTA paid me back. I’ll never forget the first day I wore it. It was after school. The Friday before Columbus Day in 2008 and a young teacher was walking the halls and I was in the tiger suit. She screamed and JUST ABOUT passed out. She almost fell down running away. She left the school after that year. I want to say TC Tiger had nothing to do with it but … phobias be powerful… The story is that got engaged and moved to Ohio…

I had no idea she actually had “masklophobia”: a real phobia of people in costumes / mascot suits. She told me about it later. She wasn’t around to see me when I took the tiger head off my head and said “It’s OK! It’s ME! It’s Molly!”

I wore that suit for school events for little over a school year. It didn’t fit me. I looked like a malnourished fake tiger. “TC Tiger” was the mascot name and the kids simply could not get enough of TC Tiger. I was ready to pass the baton despite my obsession to make sure TC Tiger was well-handled: you can’t see less than 4 feet in front of yourself in a mascot suit and so accidentally mowing down a kid is entirely too possible.

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This is me in the mascot suit the day it arrived: the Friday before Columbus day 2008. It’s from an album titled, “TC Tiger Visits School and Molly Loses 4# in the Process.”

The funny thing about being inside that suit is that you’re smiling but people can’t see you. So when tiny children run away traumatized but you’re in there cooing and making “It’s OK Toodles, it’s just me, Molly,” faces, they can’t see that. All they can see is a giant head, fangs and a stupid smile and huge hands trying to hug (NOT GASH) them.

The principal at the time wasn’t too thrilled with the PTA being so “school spirit-y” she felt that was her job. Sitting in her office, hiding most of the day, biding her time until retirement. She was lukewarm to TC Tiger. Or maybe it was me she was lukewarm to. It was most likely me… By this point, I think all three of my kids were in the school and she and I had cooled from that first encounter when she gaslighted me after Norovirus. Often she was content letting the school be “cleaned” by employees who’d rather be hanging out smoking at Starbucks across the street… Truth. We had issues with that. Hence, the Norovirus.

I learned that exercising my talents: writing, public relations, empathy, awareness of our connection to others, art, rallying for a cause to benefit all, enthusiasm for other people, their right to live on Earth and their promise, is really what works for others and what makes me hum. Doing all the volunteer stuff I was talked into doing didn’t further anythig of any value, for me or them. I learned to advocate and get the attention of the County on important matters such as hygiene, safety and communication.

At Terra Centre, as in any school environ nestled in Power Play central, the real work can be in dealing with adults.

Now I’m talking about the parents… persons with multiple degrees, fancy letters or abbreviations before and after their names, ranks, and connections. I also learned about projection, inadequacy and self-esteem issues, drama, need for excitement, and the predilection for some of those parents to stand on the narrow shoulders of or behind the gentle chests of their children.

The children? They taught me kindness and patience. They taught me boundaries. You have no choice when a little girl grins at you through her gapped teeth, “I GOT IT I GOT IT” when you try to help her with her milk carton.

In May, my youngest banished me from the walk because he wanted to walk alone to school for the last three weeks. A helicopter parent, I am not, but the kid seldom gets out on time, and I like the exercise. We also use that time to chat about stuff. He banished me from the walk home back in November, “I’m 12 now…” so … yeah. There was no excuse / little brother onto place my interest. He was the excuse. He was the little brother.

So we made a deal: he gets out of the house by 8:27 and he could walk by himself. He did alright. But on the last week, I pulled rank. I told him I would be walking with him on the last day of school. To and From. He didn’t balk. I think he got it. For 6th graders, the last day is traditionally a “recognition” ceremony. The kids get “certificates of achievement” of being a student at the school and passing 6th grade. Other awards are given out — it’s lovely actually.

The morning of the last day, it rained, so his dad drove us. The walk home though… I was not giving that up. I would NOT make the day before my last walk home from school. I did not give up a career in corporate communications and PR to miss this moment.

Here’s how it went:

If you watch that video until the end, you’ll see he turns around to look at me. The fades in the video were not my doing, it was the light coming in as we left the shade of the path. The house in my comments is not mine.

At first I was self-conscious about doing it but I quickly put that away. As you will see, our walks to and from school are Rockwellian. I’m good with the video now. I didn’t discover his backward gaze until I watched it last night. That it’s 1:43 in length, “143” being our code for “I Love You” makes the capture all the more lovely to me.

In a sense, I grew up here at Terra Centre. I learned that persistence overcomes resistance and that a gaggle of noisy parents who give a damn can effect real change on a busy over-traveled street. I learned that school principals are just people too and they come with their own dreams, fears, alliances, and hesitations. I learned that rational people can run a school and that kids needn’t be afraid of principals.

Most of all, I learned about myself. I learned that it’s ok for me to miss the school. After 13 years, I felt like family. To my kids, it’s a place they where they learned to tie their own shoes. To me, it’s a place where I liked to walk. I always appreciated my walks to Terra Centre.

I will miss it very much, and so I get it when I see moms of kids in high school or college or medical school or living in Manhattan on their own with a family walking their dogs with the moms of kids in third grade… just to see a little kid again or to mosey beneath the shade on the way to another day to ourselves.

Thank you.

Mindfulness can be Confusing and Political Correctness Fatigue

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The thing is … Life is not perfect nor predictable and that’s the only predictable part of it.

That clichés are often true doesn’t help.

Alert: Stream of consciousness commences … now. 

I’m starting a Mindfulness course tomorrow.

Gosh, just that sentence makes me laugh. There is no easy way to “be” in the moment. “Being in the moment” means there is no moment to be in as it’s always fleeting. If we say to someone, “be in the moment” — to her, or him, or whatever pronoun is least offensive (more on that later), that moment could be really shitty. So saying “it’s [that shitty moment] over” isn’t really true because we are not the person who experienced it, even though we know the quickest way to recover from that shitty moment is to realize it’s over, but for the person who experienced it: it keeps coming back, looping.

That looping, however, is totally addictive and most people like it because the brain doesn’t really know the difference between pleasure and pain — it just knows how to dump chemicals which are responses to stimuli. So more and more adrenals pump and we are on heightened states of alert and that alertness makes us feel important.

To someone…

“Be in the moment” is bullshit. But it’s also the Zen riddle, isn’t it?

Next … I am calling in sick due to political correctness fatigue (PCF — it’s a thing).

I wanted to say to someone today, because we’ve had an abbreviated week with Monday off for most of Americans, “The good part about thinking Tuesday is actually Monday is that Friday comes much sooner.” Thoughts like that happen often and I like to think are very Winnie-the-Pooh of me.

But I decided against saying that, or anything at all about it because I’d quickly be chastened to remember “Some people still had to work on Monday… and we should be grateful to them, so there is no such thing as thinking ‘Tuesday is actually Monday‘… there is no sooner Friday for those people…” the implicit next thought I’d infer from that astute person is that I should go fuck myself because I’m an insensitive jerk for assuming all Americans got Monday off.

I’ve recently received an email from a person I respect. Sort of. Well, I mean, I do respect this person because this person is a human being and deserves respect, but now I’m feeling all silly about it because this person has at the end of its email a signature (I shit you not):

3rd Person Pronouns: they/their/them

Item of note, this person’s name is the Spanish feminine for “the.” Knowing what I do of languages and of culture (limited but with aspirations of growth), I TRULY and SINCERELY wonder if a more appropriate PC name, and one in keeping with the English use of pronouns (so it’s already exclusive of all cultures seeing as how it’s English and all English are bad, just ask the Amish): “they/their/them” would one be lacking in any culture and would simply be Prince’s adopted glyph for his name:

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But because that’s clearly already taken, we could make a new one like this (it’s just a prototype):

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But even here, I’m constrained by the eventual truth that I will have left someone out. That I’m being exclusive. That I’m not truly open-minded. That it shouldn’t be mostly pink. Well, what you call pink, I call magenta (which has a lot of blue in it). See?

I hope I’ve covered everything though. That heart-like looking thing is supposed to be a heart, for love, but also for the actual heart in all artichokes, but then I didn’t want it to be unclear that I wasn’t including gamblers, so I drew a “club” in it, which of course could be exclusive because clubs are exclusive by nature, right? I mean the clubs one joins, not the ones dealt in a game of poker (or any card game! I mean to include all!) or the ones used by cavemen or golfers.

I was inclusive to all agronomists, grassists, turfists, sportos, Biarritzists, and potheads over to the right with that patch of grass (it looks like grass, but you can call it whatever you want, ’cause free world right?).

The far right is the tail of the Ichthus, which is that fish glyph one might observe on the tailgate of a car driven by a person who follows Christ — not in traffic, follows (however, you never can be sure), but you know, a person of faith.

Moving on.

The sun-like looking icon is a splattered egg. You are wrong for thinking it was to include helophiles. You are a fool. I shun you. Eggs aren’t just for breakfast.

That thing that looks like an “I” is for egoists and narcissists. And for people who like architecture because it resembles a column. It’s also a letter, so writers (POETS, TOO!) are included.

On the upper part, we have something that looks like waves in the water. That’s for hydrists. I made up the word.

Those who are stoned, or whatever, can find representation in the far lower left area — the scattering of dots, which can be interpreted as atoms, the insides of a capsule of Oxy, or dust motes in the winter coming through the southernmost window in a dilapidated abandoned crackhouse — OR — just places where I left my stylus too long.

The swirl-like item near the narcissist’s mark is a swirl. It’s for ice cream lovers. But only soft serve. The hand-packed ice-creamists will simply have to fend for themselves. Or it’s for recovering addicts because life feels swirly for them… but not just them, it feels swirly for all of us. So it’s for ice-cream, toilets, and addicts everyone.

That thing to the left of the hydrist’s glyph is a surfboard. Everyone has to catch some tasty waves.

And to the left of that is not a tree. It’s an atom bomb exploding. Look, where is the love for our nuclear engineers?!

Is that sort of a yin/yang thing going on center left? You tell me. I’d like to think so, but I’m open to whatever you think feel.

Those two dark “round-shaped” images near the yin/yang (“ish”) thing are supposed to represent Newton’s cradle. Just in case some of you refuse to accept the tree thing is NOT an atomic bomb. Or instead of being Newton’s cradle, it could be a smirk. RIGHT?!

There’s a paw-like looking thing. That’s where my cat stepped. But I do eat meat, so there’s that too.

That star-like part in the near-center (or maybe too far left for some of you) is from the early beginnings of this drawing. I can’t remember. But let’s make something up right now: it’s the “less than” sign. For all of us in our moments of inadequacy and self-doubt.

I think the reason why most of the world has a headache is because we are lost; lost from trying to do all things and follow all people and be nice to everyone and give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and let everyone have a 50th chance and wait and see and #hashtag.

We all have our sense of right and wrong and count on it: they will clash with others’. I say we own our shortcomings, notice the shortcomings of others without really getting overworked about it and move on and do what works best for us.

Here’s me: if we’re worrying about being nice to everyone, we’ve lost our boundaries and when we lose our boundaries we become codependent and when we become codependent, we lose resilience and then it’s a free-for-all and everyone gets to be included and excluded.

That’s… sort of life. Tell me when you are constantly feeling included.

It’s a sad state of affairs when we worry more about offending others than we do our own sense of self and what works for ourselves.

What I’m saying is NOT about excluding others; it’s the opposite: it’s the taking into consideration that you’re definitely always going to be pissing off someone else at any turn, and to learn to be OK with it.

ANNNNNND for the people who are constantly working to look for ways to be excluded and to be offended: to get over yourselves. Person up. I won’t say “man up” because that’s mean. That’s gender specific, and being gender specific is limiting and so now I risk being seen as acerbic and mean and exclusive and horrible and WRONG even though we all know what the hell I mean.

I mean this: grow up.  Stop taking emotional selfies. Stop sharing. Stop. Draw a boundary and discern.

You’re going to let so many people in traffic ahead of you you’re going to be late. You won’t ever get there.

Polarity is a real thing. Accept it. Get used to it. Without it, our compasses (not metaphorical — yet) wouldn’t work.

I need a nap.

Thank you.

 

Blue Monday: The Day After Mother’s Day

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I bet the boy who asked me to prom 30 years ago is glad the post I wrote about that experience is being replaced…

Yesterday was Mother’s Day. I have long disliked Mother’s Day. Not only because my relationship with my own mother was complicated (show me a mother – daughter relationship that’s as smooth as silk and I’ll show you two medicated people), but also because well, it’s stupid. My own mother also disliked Mother’s Day, especially going to the Catholic Mass on Mother’s Day because she heard the mewing of the priest on the altar talking about his own sainted mother. Let me tell you… nothing like a supposedly chaste and godly grown man spewing unrealistic honoraria about his own mother to make you vomit in your mouth a little.

The very concept that everyone has to cool their narcissistic jets to be nice to their mothers (who may or may not deserve the homage, quite frankly) for one of 365 days of the year is jacked.

Who is Mother’s Day really for? Is it for the kids… to feel like they did it? They spent a few hours on one day thinking and being nice to Mom? Is it for the mother? Surely that can’t be it. If this poll is correct, most moms just want to be left the heck alone.

I won’t bother with the notion that it’s all about Hallmark and Our Lady of the Shopping Mall, because it’s no notion, it’s a verified fact. Last year, people spent $2.3 billion (B) on flowers last year. Flowers die. Just sayin’…

I can’t wait for the Home Depot ads to start up for Father’s Day… Actually, I can wait.

What matters to me most of all, and is the best barometer of an authentic Mother’s Day homage is the condition of the kitchen after Mother’s Day ends. 

I will not share photos I took.

My father suggested I not write this post. He started out our chat today friendly enough, asking me about my Mother’s Day. “It was fine; I just spent about two hours cleaning the kitchen from it…” and he HOWLED with laughter. Thanks. Then he started to tell me about how my mom didn’t care for the “holiday” either.

He suggested I not write about my kitchen because well, that would tarnish the good feelings that came from celebrating Mother’s Day.

Yeah. I’d hate to tarnish that good feeling of my family lovin’ on me all day yesterday with cleaning a sink, scrubbing the counter tops, hand-washing the expensive kitchen knives, loading the dishwasher, wiping down and shoving the kitchen table back to where it belongs, putting the fondue pots back in the boxes and bringing those boxes back to the basement where they live, but only after the forks are cleaned from the dishwasher.

The years of my kids bringing home handmade trinkets and tissue paper flower bouquets from school are over and I’m a little sad about that. My oldest son tweeted me last night, around 11pm telling me Happy Mother’s Day and that he loves me.

 

Maturing Mother

Because our kids are children for a finite period of time, the work of Mother’s Day largely rests on the shoulders of adults in the picture. It will be interesting to see if and how my kids choose to celebrate Mother’s Day with me as we all age.

I have a neighbor who has one child. A son. He used to spend all day Mother’s Day with her, but now he has kids of his own, so I’m guessing he’s busy being armchair QB for his kids to remember their mom. To make up for being absent on Sunday, he visits with his mother all day Saturday and I think that’s pretty cool.

I’m not writing this to shame anyone. I’m writing it to do all I can to preempt an error next year and to keep resentments in check manage expectations. If you really mean to honor your mother, clean up. Do it without asking. Do it because it’s the right thing to do. Even if you do it semi-completely, all is forgiven because you tried.

Little kids who are cogent about holidays love Mother’s Day because they get to participate in it even though they have no clue about how much we do behind the scenes for them.

Usually my kids serve me breakfast in bed; I get a few flowers from our garden and it’s a sweet and cozy experience. They sit on the bed and talk to me and we have a nice time. This year, I didn’t get that treatment because I attended a brunch hosted by my mother-in-law.  Upon my departure to the brunch, my middle son hugged me awhile and said, “Thanks for putting up with me for the last 15 years” which was really nice to hear because he’s a tempest in a teapot at times. When I told my older son, who dashed down the steps and out the door to bid me farewell in his bathrobe, what his younger brother said and asked him if he’d like to say anything to me he said, “Hello” which is pretty appropriate because this kid so far has been a freaking dream to raise. My youngest didn’t make the dash to the driveway.

So this year, instead of my kids bringing me breakfast (and they would do their best to clean-up after themselves before I would come downstairs), my husband quietly honored my mothering of his children with a cup of coffee and a biscuit and strawberries. It was really sweet.

Don’t Steal My Thunder

The narcissism of people / groups who think they should get in on Mother’s Day action really chaps my hide. Political correctness and fear of marginalizing during these benign holidays have butchered the intention to the point of being unrecognizable. My simple day of recognition has been hijacked, co-opted and morphed into a feeling of isolation for people who DON’T directly celebrate Mother’s Day but are somehow involved in a kids’ life.

This day is mine. Get your own.

Mother’s Day is for mothers. Adopted mothers also count. Plain and simple.

Don’t make my SINGULAR holiday about your sense of disenfranchisement, and don’t try to get in on my action. Single dads don’t count. Aunties whose siblings are still raising their own children don’t count. If your great aunt or grandmother raised you, she gets massive props and you better dish them out. The thing is: let the kids decide who gets the flowers. That’s when it’s real.

Human pet owners who fancy themselves “mothers” don’t get a nod here, either. You didn’t squeeze out that cat or fill out adoption papers with a judge in an official legal court to take in that animal. If you truly identify yourself as the mother of a dog or other animal, you need help. You’re not educating that animal, you’re not walking it to school or folding its laundry or wondering if your animal will meet the wrong crowd and start taking drugs. You’re not teaching it how to ride a bike or to clean its room or helping it select classes for the following academic year. You’re not driving that animal to soccer practice or voice lessons. You’re not sweating paying for college for that animal. Oh God… maybe you ARE…

So… let’s get that shit straight. Pets aren’t children.

I’m sure what I’m saying chaps someone else’s hide. Welcome to the 21st Century. That someone who owns a fish wants in on my day chaps my hide.

The way I see it: if you have a uterus that either successfully birthed a baby, or tried to host one but couldn’t and you are raising the human product of someone else’s uterus, you’re mothering.

I know what mothering is. I’m acutely aware. A successful Mother’s Day –to me– will give me a pause from that acute awareness. And let’s get real… that needs to extend into the following Monday too.

So uh, peeps, let’s get this right for next year. Don’t make your mother clean up after your homage to her, because that’s no different from the other days of the year, when she is absolutely mothering you, and mostly without complaint.

Thank you.