Category Archives: parenthood

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.

 

Missives from the Mat 16 — 10 Pointers (Lessons Learned) for #Teaching #Kids “How” to #Yoga

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Teaching yoga to children was my early passion as a yoga instructor. I began as a volunteer in 2007 at my kids’ elementary school. The PTA was in need of a teacher to take over one of the classes for its “Sixth Grade Electives” program which was a parent-run (and possibly exclusive to our school) endeavor. The concept was simple: give the 6th graders a choice of what to do with 50 minutes of one day a week for eight weeks in the second semester of their final year in elementary school.

The more memorable choices ranged from “journalism” where they would work on stories of interest, to “cake decorating.” Other classes included “fashion design” and “personal finance.” These classes are taught by actual people with businesses, degrees and certifications in the offerings. Yoga was offered after a couple kids aged out of the school and so did their parents and the PTA president at the time knew I was a practitioner with several years’ experience and that I had kids of my own, so natch, I was a fit.

I hemmed and hawed. I wasn’t sure. I was terrified.

Comedian John Mulaney has a great line about why 13-year-olds still terrify him, mostly because they will be able to make fun of you and be extremely accurate. So, that was me; I wasn’t terribly ready to face up to ten 12-year olds.

But my friend the PTA president persisted and I stepped up.

Fast forward several years, more encouragement from my PTA president friend, more volunteering, more experience and here I am: a certified yoga instructor with a bonus specialization in teaching kids.

I’ve been at it, as a paid professional, for almost three years now, and recently got picked up by the local parks department to teach two after-school classes at two different schools.

While I don’t have a degree in education, or teaching certificate, I am a communications professional and I make clear communication — regardless of the age of the participants — an absolute foundation of everything in which I engage.

Other than the absolute requirement that you have a sense of humor and the ability to be mentally flexible, here’s a list of what I’ve gleaned from teaching yoga to kids as a kid’s yoga teacher. It’s meant to help parents and teachers engage with all yoga kids:

  1. Truth. Active children will always be active children; putting them in a yoga class will not impel them to be less active, it will teach them (hopefully, if they are developmentally ready) to learn how to recognize what they are doing. So it’s all a matter of drawing attention to what isn’t “known.” I have adults in my classes who tell me, “I hear you in my head now, ‘belly button gently pulled toward the spine, shoulders back and reaching down toward the hips… release the jaw…’ and I never knew I wasn’t doing that until I heard you tell me to do it…”
  2. Habits. With particularly active kids, it will take time, consistency and patience to have the children understand how to recognize their urges to move, their inability to sit still, and their tendency to act on impulse. One 8-week session of yoga will not do it.
  3. Expectations. Don’t expect yoga to turn your kiddo into a Tibetan Monk. Just as you have your ups and downs, your good days and bad days, so do kids. Sometimes we as parents don’t really see our kids for who they really are. Sometimes we are the stressed-out ones, and they are just being  … kids. Remember children are supposed to be active and curious and lively and spontaneous. Maybe it’s the parent who needs the yoga, to look inward and give himself or herself some mindful breathing and relaxation, maybe the child is just being his or her normal. It’s all relative.
  4. Breath. Metaphors and visualization are CRITICAL to helping children understand the concept of mindful breath, which is the root of yoga. Always with the palms touching (that joins the two halves of the brain from a sensorial / neural standpoint) we begin our conscious breathing. Getting them to close their eyes is NOT important. They are children, remember. Their eyes are part of their experience. They are all about data collection. It’s good — as long as they’re still and aware, it’s all good. For some kids, closing their eyes means they press them together super hard and that creates tension in the face, then the jaw, then the neck… They look so uncomfortable. that’s NOT what we’re going for. I give all the little hints, “lightly touch the tip of your tongue behind your front teeth” but if I told you, an adult to do that, can you be reasonably assured you’re “doing it right”? So much bliss gets lost in details and our need to “do it right.” For kids, I’d rather have them look around or at a fixed spot on the floor and do their breaths than “struggle to meditate.” For some kids, sitting composed, as if about to levitate, and silently in “criss-cross applesauce with namaste hands” comes super naturally.  For those kids in my yoga classes, I use “Smell the flowers” (not “sniff,” because sniffs are short, like bunny breaths) and say “blow the bubbles” (the kinds of bubbles from a bubble wand, not “motor boat” bubbles in a pool). Before we begin, I remind them by asking, “What happens if we blow too hard through the bubble wand?” Invariably, the kids say, “THEY WILL BURST!” and they’re right. So we go with that. As they are blowing their bubbles, as repetitions increase, I ask them to count the number of bubbles forming from the wand… And then I ask them to blow out just one more bubble. … Maybe two more bubbles? Watch them float away as you smell the flowers to blow more bubbles. I’ve begun with a couple new ones too, “smell the warm cookie fresh from the oven … … cool the warm cookie fresh from the oven…” Either way, we’ve got lots of brain activity going on. After about the fifth round of “yoga breaths” I talk about “that floaty, dreamy feeling in the body… Do you feel like a feather drifting in the air? Like a bubble? Do you feel like you’re safe and so calm?” That’s the feeling we are going for, that’s the bliss I’m trying to impart to them. “And by doing your yoga breaths, no matter where you are — if you’re afraid or sad or surprised or mad or even super happy, mindfully using your yoga breaths will help you feel floaty like a feather…” I say this a lot, during class, but most of all during “savasana” which is our “yoga rest” time.  Using that word that we see so much of these days: “mindfully,” is critical in helping all of us make the link between a sensation (state of mind) and breath (the body doing something it does anyway but now doing it consciously). Getting any of us to slow down our breathing and notice that floaty feeling is the magic of yoga and mindfulness.
  5. Boundaries. Lots of kids in all my classes talk about their stresses. STRESS? FOR A KID?! Man, as adults in this world, we have got to get our stuff together. No child should even KNOW that the word “STRESS” exists. Are we foisting our stuff on to them? We need to save our stories about being backstabbed by a friend, or tales of woe from the office, or the latest headlines for our peer groups. We would all do better to be more mindful of keeping the flow of information from the kids up to us. Goodness knows we don’t want to know everything President Obama knows, do we? No. Say no to that. So let the kids be kids. Answer their questions in a simple way. I have a band-aid on my face from recent Mohs surgery to remove a basal cell from my cheek. All the kids asked about it, and I said as simply as I could: “I have a cut on my face that a doctor gave me to take a boo-boo off my face. So the doctor fixed everything and I’m ok.” Inevitably the next question was, “How did you get the boo-boo?” So I said, “I believe I got it because I didn’t wear sunscreen. So when your Mommy or Daddy wants you to wear sunscreen, you need to let them put it on you.” And then lots of conversations started about sunscreen, relatives who are doctors, going to the pool, swimsuits, beach towels, which beach they love, seeing dolphins, then then I steered that into doing dolphin pose and we were somehow back on plan.
  6. Sharing. One day after playing a particularly arduous game of “rainbow tunnel” I asked the kids to sit on a line in the gym and slow down their breathing by counting the bubbles we were blowing. When they were calm, I asked if anyone had any questions. One asked, “Why do we do yoga?” And I was about to answer, but I paused and let a kiddo answer. It was amazing. The responder said, “because it’s good for us, to learn about ourselves.” Yeah. I couldn’t have answered it that way. I would’ve said “for flexibility” or “for balance”  (which were amongst some of the children’s answers) but I was really not at all prepared for that answer. So sharing time in the yoga circle is really important because it builds empathy, peer recognition and mirroring. One of them answered, “for stress” and then the sharing really began. Some kids talk about: their bigger siblings heading off to college; hearing parents talking about money; parents traveling and the kids feeling like they are having too much put upon them by the babysitter when the parents do travel. (One actually said, “I get scared too when my parents leave, I want the babysitter to take care of me, not just ask me to help out.” I encouraged that child to talk to his parents before they travel.) Some speak about their siblings’ lack of boundaries and physical altercations with their siblings or school mates and how doing their “yoga breaths”(flowers and bubbles) helps them so much. Other kids talk about classmates, even in the yoga classes, who are domineering, interruptive, and make them feel small. Other kids talk about going up to their rooms and doing yoga breathing when their baby sibling is throwing a tantrum.
  7. Feelings. Let the kids talk about their feelings — so often we want the kids to “relax,””get over it,” and “move on.” As an adult, you take a pause for a second with me, breathe in, and relate: How annoyed and condescended to do YOU feel when someone tells you to move on or to get over it? Do you feel rushed, unheard, dismissed, insignificant? So might your kid. The point is, we all have feelings and feelings are just sensations. Sensations are fleeting. Sometimes we get stuck in a rut, but even those can pass. The sooner we can acknowledge and safely allow anyone’s feelings, the sooner we can process them. I’ve had situations in my classes where one child feels diminished or put-upon by another child. I stop things almost as soon as I can, I actually get down to their eye level and say “namaste” to the child and we talk about it. There is real healing going on during those moments: the perceived brusque child is NOT chastised, but rather has a moment to step back and explain herself and the offended child has a moment to hear and feel heard. Sometimes we just bump into each other during a rousing game of “musical mats” (The. Best. Game. Ever.). We always end a quick chat with a namaste to the group and go back to what we were doing. The namaste to me, is like the wave of thanks in traffic when someone lets you in a lane or you let someone in ahead of you. It’s just a kindness — a pause, a moment to simply acknowledge each other. Too much of that, our seeing of one another, is missing these days.
  8. Engage. Just like you like to be asked about your day and you like to hear about your kid’s day, asking about something specific, like yoga is no different. Ask open-ended questions and I get it that some parents might not know what to ask. So here are some ideas: Q: Did you play any games today? Q: Can you show me how to do “downward dog”? Q: How do you do a yoga breath? Q: What does “namaste” mean? (I tell the kids that it means “I am good and I see that you are good too.”) Q: Did you read a story in yoga? What was it about?  If you have a kiddo in a class I teach, ask about: “Teddy Dog” or “musical mats” or “the cricket during yoga nap” or the “thumb piano” or “Jacob’s ladder” or the “balancing birds” or the “sneezing giraffe toy” or what about when we play “super kids” and the things we rescue when we put on our scarves. Ask them what we do during “cat” and “cow” pose (it’s not quiet). Have them show you how to sit in “namaste” or ask them to teach you how to “smell the flowers and blow the bubbles…”
  9. Presence. Give yourself a gift and really listen to him when he answers you. Give her your full attention, even if it’s for five minutes. Let him teach you. Let her show you. Do the pose with your child. If you want to meditate with your child or have her sit with you in a few minutes of quiet, I recommend you light a candle and have her focus on the flame with you. There’s something about the animation of the flame, the unpredictability of it all that keeps everyone entranced. I am not permitted to light a candle during my in-school classes for obvious reasons. I’m repeating because it’s worthy: So when you ask, make sure you’re really able to listen without interrupting; sometimes these concepts are hard for a child to impart to an adult.
  10. Affirm. Back to point number 1: You Must See Your Child Exactly As  Your Child Is. If she really doesn’t like yoga, I’m not insulted. Put her in Tae Kwon Do, or dance. I know I’m bringing my A Game each time we meet. I’m naturally very observant, and as a mother, I know I have to be ready to shift gears in a microsecond. As a teacher, I do shift gears because all it takes is one kiddo to divert the “plan” of class: Say one kiddo is acting like a bumble bee and no one else is, but that one bee won’t stop buzzing. In a traditional classroom, that bee is neutralized, told to sit down and stop buzzing. Good luck with that. In yoga, that bee is “followed”: we will all start buzzing and it’s great. After a minute or two, when I see some kids slow down, we stop buzzing and put our hands on our hearts and feel our lungs eventually slow down from all their amazing work of making us busy bees. Affirming someone’s higher energy gets all the “willies” out and we have a great time. I’ve started classes with two minutes of full-on laughing or 30 “mountain climbers” (which are now being requested, so we’ve got some budding Cross-Fitters out there…) or being “washing machines” (seated in criss-cross applesauce with cactus arms up and twisting side to side very quickly with the breath) to wash our hoodies. If the kids are still active, we put the hoodies in the “dryer” and we tumble our arms as we bow up and down and then we check the dryer to put on our nice warm dry hoodie.

By no means is this an exhaustive list. It’s just my top 10; many other ways are helpful for creating presence with your little yogi. I love to teach kids, they are the best teachers: they show me that even a “grown” woman is a big kid at times… and that it’s nice to not have all the answers.

Thank you and namaste. Especially to that PTA president and those first kids (who are now sophomores in college!) all those years ago…

 

 

Staying in My Lane, The Gift of “xo, Mom”

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Last weekend, my eldest and I drove off to my home state, New York, to tour Rochester Institute of Technology. He is a high school senior, and swinging by Rochester from my cousin’s house in Buffalo, where I grew up, was really no big deal. Except that it was.

My son, as it turns out, loved the school. It’s eight hours away by car.

“We really haven’t looked at any bad schools, Mom, so, it would figure that RIT would be great too.”

Astute. It’s a goal of mine to not waste any time and show him any “bad” schools… I mean, who would do that?

Watching him grow up, is a mixed bag.

I find it hard to stay in my lane.

I find myself channeling my first and best therapist ever, Cooke: “What would Cooke say about this? How would Cooke talk to me about things like this…? How would he phrase what I want to get to the heart of, but not sound like the gestapo?” and most importantly, “How would Cooke help me feel that what he’s inquiring about is really about the person on the couch rather than the person on the chair asking the person on the couch?”

Just when I find myself off the couch, I find myself sitting in the chair across from the couch.

Let me be clear: my son is not in need of a couch; I’m simply stating that when I engage with someone these days, I am finding that I still need to get the hell out of their lane and stay in my own: not make anything they’re saying about me. Keep the streams uncrossed.

It’s hard.

My son is embarking on new chapters and it has nothing to do with me.

Keeping these posts, these essays relevant to him, because he is a human on this planet, makes for interesting story telling, but keeping these posts about me and my growth and not divulging too much about him and his brothers or his father or anyone else, is always my goal. I have to sit back, read and then ask about the relevance of content as my own editor and do my best to ensure the posts are mostly expressive of my seat and perspective in the shared experiences.

It’s hard to not feel like a hopeless narcissist though when I find myself writing in the pathetic bathos tense…

It’s a fine line, a narrow lane.

It’s nearly impossible to relate to life as a mother, a caring person on this planet and an empathetic person without relating to others. So I find myself softening the crayon strokes as I near the edges of what I’m coloring.

Given the alignment of American tradition / history, he will be gone and in some dorm in ten months and I will have to absolutely let go, as he turns from his gentle wave goodbye as I turn my body forward from craning over the back seats and pressing my face against the tailgate window only to leave him there. Maybe I will put his “Momo” — a stuffed baby cow he was given as a toy when he was born (I took Momo to Vegas with me) into a sock and he will find her and smile.

Live in the moment. He’s still home. Breathe. 

I write about him more than the other two boys these days because he has a lot going on. He’s not more important, he’s not more valuable.

He’s my first. He’s my first true teacher of humility, of the dangers of narcissistic extension, of fear and its sneaky cousins: denial and self-sabotage.

Last week when we were in Buffalo, my cousin threw me a birthday party. I’m 48 now. My life is more than half over, as I have no intentions of living to 100, drooling, having my kids wipe my undercarriage and repeatedly asking people to repeat themselves. Those are my intentions… we will see what fate delivers, always, of course.

At the party, I was speaking to someone about age, having kids and the biggest gift of all, the true honor and privilege it is to write, “xo, Mom” at the end of a quick note or text.

I said, “If you were to tell me 25 years ago that I were going to be married, with three sons and everything else I’ve been blessed with, I’dve told you to walk. Writing ‘xo, Mom’ on a note has been my greatest honor ever; words fail to express the journey and its gifts wrapped in lessons.”

So I see him, with his hairy man legs and hear his deep voice and his sharp observations, and words come back to me that a friend recently said of her own experiences watching her son grow up: “Suddenly, there is another man in your house. The step is heavier, the pace is slower, the tone more deliberate and the entire vibe doesn’t so much change because he’s not a ‘man’; he’s your kid who likely needs to tie his shoe or tuck in his shirt to you, but there he is nonetheless: a man.”

And you’re that much older.

So the adjustment must be made. I guess it’s only natural to still treat your child like a child, but sooner or later, you have to look at them as they have always been: separate and individual and capable of their own triumphs and disasters and no matter how deep the desire to meddle, parents can only set up their children for coping with the consequences of their choices. We can’t do anything else… ever.

And it sucks, I think.

We can’t make people be nice to them and see them for the fantastic people we believe them to be. We also can’t be so blind to their humanity that we deny their flaws. That’s the worst thing we can do: pretend they are perfect.

So, as my friend continued about her own college drop-off experience, “I heard the landing gear lock in when the jet cleared the runway, and all I could do was breathe and try to deal with the onslaught of doubts: Eighteen years… did we hug enough? Did I speak kindly enough? Was I patient enough? Did I tell him ‘I love you’ enough? Did I play enough with him under the dining room table? Did we have enough heart-to-heart talks? Did I show him how his choices affect him? Did I tell him enough about the dangers of peer pressure? …”

And I hear my own thoughts compete with hers, Did I instruct him about changing a tire? What about the allure of self-pity and trap falls of despair? About the value of hard lessons? Have I taught him about resilience? Egad! Does he even know how to cut an apple? Make lasagna? HE DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO MAKE LASAGNA!!! I’VE BEEN AFTER HIM FOR YEARS TO MAKE LASAGNA WITH ME…sauce noodle goo … sauce noodle goo …

I still have time. I know he’s going to really want to spend time with me now… at 17. There’s nothing cooler than spending the weekend with your mom while she teaches you how to make lasagna. I know that’s at the top of his list of things to do before heading off to wherever is next.

Can you imagine…?

While we were in Buffalo, he went off for a walk with his cousins. Soon after that, the cake came out and it was time to sing to me.

But I knew he was out.

I was at an impasse… Do I call him back? Do I interrupt his “me time” for my “me” time?

I felt strongly that I knew what my mother would do: she would interrupt him. She would call him in to gather round her with the upcoming generation and venerate her with song.

I decided to wait a few more moments to see if he would come in on his own.

He didn’t.

So I did what I thought was only fair. I decided to let him know, because in my own twisted (yet I’m working to untwist it) and fearful mind, I would have thrust at my mother also a vengeance that she purposely didn’t tell me so that she could thrust guilt at me and I could summarily thrust shame at myself:

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So while I sat there, letting everyone sing to me, which was really nice an’ all, I was quite aware of his absence. And I was aware of my awareness, so I took a breath and let it all go.

And at some point, as aware we are of our children’s maturity and individuation, we must also allow our parents their past and realize that we are our own separate adults now and that they don’t have reign over us anymore, for good. That we don’t have much time left, even in the best of circumstances to live our lives. So, yeah… pull up our own bootstraps.

He came in later, and after everyone was gone, he sang “Happy Birthday” to me all alone. He sang every verse. Even the “dear Mommy” part, looking at me right into my green welling-up eyes and smiling, completely void of any irony, weirdness, or self-consciousness.

“… happy birthday to youuuuuuuu…”

And I sighed, hugged him deeply, almost cravenly, and I softly wept a little because he’s so sweet, and thought to myself, “Just one more year…”

Nope.

This is all we get.

Note to self: stash Momo in a sock.

Thank you.

When You Can’t Shake a Feeling

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This is the last week of summer vacation for me and my team. Next week, routines resume and bedtimes will be argued.

Today, I took them all to get their hairs cut.

My youngest really didn’t want to do it; he was fearful because the last time I took him to a barber, the woman used scissors around his ears and cut his little ear.

But the older boys insisted on a barber; and so it was going to happen.

After about five minutes of telling my youngest, who is 11, that it was going to happen or that he’d lose screens for the rest of the break, he finally complied.

The barbershop doesn’t take plastic. Checks or cash only.

After my youngest was in the barber chair, in the care of possibly the kindest man I’ve ever encountered other than my now late father-in-law, I told the three of them I was off to visit the the bank in the grocery chain next door to get cash to pay the stylists.

While I was withdrawing cash, I asked the tellers to break a twenty so I could leave a tip for the barbers. I saw a man at the Western Union counter. He was short, a little younger than I am, and he weighed about as much as I do. He was wearing a summer-weight ecru suit, and one of those pork-pie hats, tilted to cover a bit of his face. As is natural for me, I told the teller I needed to break the cash so I could tip the barber next door. As I walked by the gentleman in the pork-pie hat, he zeroed in on me as I was leaving the store.

Up went my radar. I thought he might’ve heard everything I said.

I get to the barber and sit down nearest my kids. My middle son was up front near the door.

In walked the man in the pork-pie hat.

My oldest was directly in front of me, seated next to my youngest.

The pork-pie hat man sat facing me. His hat now removed. His face was hard, like its lines were a map to a forgotten place.

His eyes were intense. They blazed mint green, but were also bloodshot red… and his stare was fixed.

He asked for a #1 blade. All over. Which is basically what I like to refer to as the white supremacist cut.

My radar got sharper.

My oldest was released from his seat and sat next to me.

Immediately, I took out my phone. I started to text my son. Who was sitting right next to me.

He said, as he checked his phone, “Rats. My battery is dead.” But he saw that I was texting him.

He read as I typed:

That dude makes me nervous. Just saw him at Safeway. At Western Union counter. I feel like he followed me in here.

My son asked me to hand him my phone; he wanted to look something up.

He typed back:

He’s been looking at us up and down. He’s also had a moderately detailed cut, like a nice haircut, and now he’s getting it all buzzed. Definitely keep an eye on him.

We exchanged a couple more times and we both concluded that we were both feeling ill at ease and that it wasn’t just me.

My youngest was finished with his haircut, his ears were fine. He blushed and thanked the kindest barber ever.

My heart was racing. I just wanted to get out of there. The fact that the man got the simplest haircut of all made me more nervous.

I read the newspaper. People just shoot people for no reason now. Or things go down in a way, that a “wrong” look is interpreted as a stand-off. I don’t operate that way, but I also don’t back down so easily either.

I texted to my son, that if he were to follow us, that I would drive to the fire station just down the road and wait it out there.

So we walked up to the counter, I tipped the barbers and we walked out the door.

My middle son said, “Mom, that dude in the barbershop… He gave me the chills. I saw him watch you. It made me really nervous. And who would get a haircut like that? And…”

I hate that I still can’t shake that feeling. I wish I could trust people. I wish I could be more at ease.

The fact that my two sons felt something too, was oddly relieving. And also a bummer. The fact that my youngest felt nothing but taken care of and heard, is great.

What if we were all wrong? What if the man was just in from a foreign place and spoke perfect English asking for a #1 and …

I’m an imperfect being in an imperfect world. In yoga, we call it discernment (well, in all life it’s called ‘discernment’ but as a yoga teacher, there’s this thought or social concept that we are all like Jesus: super nice and open and giving of ourselves and that we have no boundaries and trust all…let me tell you: we aren’t like Jesus) and it’s an important gift to use.

Just in case, in the vein of discernment, we took the long way home.

Thank you.