Tag Archives: family

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.

The Mad Pooper

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This post contains the use of “shit” a lot.

Something is going on in my neighborhood and it is really strange.

When I was a kid, my grandmother used to say, “Don’t go on the grass. That’s where the animals go.”

I was a kid. Words mean things. Especially in their base sense. I didn’t understand what she meant.

Go.

Well, if you’re me, and a kid, you want to go where the animals go. You like animals. They’re animals.

Grandma and Grandpa lived near the zoo, so I thought, maybe a lion has been here. I would like to see that lion. Or a giraffe. Maybe a giraffe is in the back yard, or somewhere on the grass, like in a place that I couldn’t see, maybe behind that tall blue spruce pine she had on the corner yard.

Naturally, I’d venture.

ON THE GRASS.

HORROR.

My mother would hissper (I just made it up: it’s a confluence of hiss and whisper) and gesticulate, her arms flailing wildly, “GET OFF THE GRASS THAT’S WHERE THE ANIMALS GO!!!” as though I was some sort of baboon idiot, that’s where the animals go!!!. 

My brothers or cousins, if they were with me, would giggle. I would likely continue and make a jump to the narrow concrete walkway leading to the backyard, my cape unfurling with my leaps.

“Is this OK?” I imagine myself asking, while in all likelihood I just dashed toward the backyard or to the actual sidewalk toward our car, Grandma likely either passed out, or in a state of apoplexy because I’d gone where the animals go.

Go.

Lots of places were off limits when we were at Grandma’s.

The upstairs for one. I’ll never forget my intrepid oldest cousin, the leader of the pack, who basically decided one day that enough was enough. College was in the wings and she ventured up to the second floor, slowly in the dark because it was always unlit, creaking up the steps, one by one and into a room, we could hear the door open, and she RETURNED, ALIVE and utterly unchanged. The same person. Her hair was not suddenly gray. Her emotional state was totally whatever, teenager, unfazed… so bored.

“There’s just a bunch of boxes up there,” she said.

Just.

Like.

That.

The mystery vaporized. The way Grandma protected that space… Anything, ANYTHING, could’ve been up there: Jesus, a dead teamster, fresh candy, a carousel, a live chained grizzly, or a band of harpies…

But no. Boxes?! It never occurred to me that it would be boxes and a bedroom and no dead bodies or clowns or war criminals.

My grandmother was not a “fresh chocolate chip cookies from the oven stacked on a colorful stoneware dish served with a clear glass of cold refreshing whole milk at a table” grandmother. My grandmother was a “freshly opened bag of Oreos / Chips A’Hoy / Fudge Stripes placed on a floppy paper plate as you waited for a styrofoam cup of fresh skim milk at a table” grandmother. And that’s OK. What Grandma lacked in ease, she more than made up for in humor and kindness. And recitations of the rosary at 11pm when you were waiting for the return of your parents in her living room on the davenport.

So I think I finally got it this morning: “where the animals go.

Go.

She meant “shit.” Grandma meant, That’s where the animals shit.

I’ve been walking my kids to the same elementary school for the better part of nearly 13 years. We use the path we always have, not going where the animals go, and never in my time over the last two years, and this year especially, have I encountered literal dog excrement actually on the path, in a tidy pile or heap or lump. Sometimes it’s a lonesome part of a turd in one place and just when you think you’re safe, you encounter its scattered brethren about 12 feet down the line, smeared or simply waiting.

Dogs do not “go” on the path naturally; they like the dirt, grass, forest or mulch. Hell, they don’t even want to be seen on a sidewalk or path; dogs are fauna. Expecting your dog to defecate on concrete or asphalt is contrary to their Dogness, their very DNA. I suspect having a human following them around picking up their contributions to the ecosystem is an insult to their sense of being. I can’t say I blame them. I’d like to give up the habit altogether, but I know it’s not healthy for the community.

I digress.

So what the what with the people whom I’m convinced are out of their God-loving minds?! Who are very likely totally jacked-up on some substance and take their dogs’ leavings and purposefully deposit them on the paths?

If it were just the path to school I’d think that it was one dog and that it shits wherever it does because this is its way. That this particular canid was raised by ignorant humans and that it shits on the floor in the living room or kitchen despite its instinct to shit somewhere private, out of the way, because essentially the human place it lives has become its place.

So the owner takes the dog out and the dog shits on the path, on the street (no shit!) and even on the wooden bridges over the little streams in the ‘hood?!

To quote a dear friend, “Who does that?!?!”

Yesterday I took my dogs for one of our standard long walks. We were about two miles from the house. As we crossed a wooden footbridge where people like to fish near a pond, Charlie was ahead and he stopped in his tracks to lift his paw, sniff and move around a bagel-sized mound of “frexcrement.” (Another made-up word by yours truly, a blend of “fresh” and “excrement.”)

Charlie actually looked back at me as if to say, “Watch out, Ma, Cugo was here about 10 minutes ago and he’s really pissed…Step over this one… >sigh<…”  Murphy was disgusted.

So experiencing that turd pile so far from home blew my proximity theory: that the person responsible for either letting its dog shit on the path or for actually placing its dog’s shit on the path lived nearby.

I had a short list of suspects.

One is an jerk I’ve known and mutually disliked for years. He’s an ass and his dogs are massive, but I doubt it’s him because he walks that path too and as much as I dislike the guy, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t boobytrap himself…

The other suspect is a tenant in a house we pass en route to school each day. It’s an out-of-state family whose reason for being here escapes me as I don’t see anyone in a military uniform or seasonally appropriate clothes ever. The woman is likely younger than I am but doesn’t seem to live on our plane(t) so she looks like she’s from the Medieval era due to her ignorance of hair arrangement appliances, rain coats, boots or sanity.

Often I witness her and her child on my walk back from school (admittedly moments late because Thing 3 simply can’t be bothered to rush and I dig that about him) desperately reaching into a crumpled bag of Chee-tos and sharing a Dr. Pepper. Others they share a canister of Sour Cream Pringles and take turns swigging from a bottle of Diet Pepsi. Sometimes the child is engrossed in a video game along the steep grade to the school, angered by mother’s insistence of eating the Frito-Lay of the Day breakfast.

Don’t assume I’m entertained by this duo. I’m not. It’s frightening for me because while I don’t want to go there, I will: it’s a little close to home for me as my childhood mornings were just as frantic, save for the maternal accompaniment on the journey to school on frosty mornings or rainy mornings or sunny mornings… mornings in general. So while this mother might be wearing a sun dress, with no evidence of an over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder on a frigid morning as she cravenly grabs into the Pringles canister, at least she is there. She’s walking her kid to school.

I suspect her and her tribe because there’s a dog in that house and the deposits have been on the the increase since they moved here. The last time I saw that dog was when it was in her arms… so… umm…. maybe not?

Anyway, lots of the poops are on the pipestem they live on and they go the distance to the school (I honestly can’t believe I’m writing about this…), but their freshness implies she’s been upright to let the dog out, but maybe it’s her child… However, as I said, the shits’ distance from the house now leads me to suspect there is a drugged-out or totally psychotic human being who is filled with enough rage against society to purposely deposit dog shit on the path.

Evidence of people stepping in it is everywhere: sneaker tread imprints, smears, feckless efforts to wipe it off on the asphalt or fallen leaves…

Are you bored yet? I almost am. It’s nearly over…

My incidence threat will be dramatically reduced soon because my kids are growing up.

I was saying to Thing 3 this morning that I will miss our mornings together as we walk to school, but that I won’t miss the poopy path.

He’s going on to middle school next year. My oldest is graduating and off to college and while the college he’ll be attending is literally less than 5 miles from our house, he will live on campus and have the full experience, so he won’t be here. And that will be different. I don’t want to say “and that will suck” because well, it won’t. It won’t suck. Yes it will.

Naturally it’s reminding me of when my older brother left for college, and that sucked. That whole scene was challenging because we moved from our home the same week he graduated from high school. The night of his graduation and related parties, he returned home to a massive Mayflower Moving truck in front of our home.

The next day that truck was packed, and pushed off from Buffalo to Northern Virginia and the day after that was my mother’s 47th birthday and we met it in front of our rental home. That was a radical time.

I’ve never understood the rush to get here that week. We usually would spend July in Canada but we came here instead. On her birthday. To the unbelievable humidity and heat and to my mother’s precipitous emotional collapse in a house she never saw and in a town she never accepted.

So I suspect I’ve taken to writing about the dog shit on the path because I don’t want to write about my kid taking off. I was texting one of my SILs the other day and I said, “Weren’t we just 26 and newly married last week?! wtf.”

Tempus Fugit.

Thank you.

 

Inadequacy and the Cleaning Ladies

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They’re back. I re-hired them after I let myself decide that it was ok to not give a damn about letting someone else clean my house. That if the funds are there, and the stars align,  I reasoned that I was keeping these women employed and I didn’t have to sweat my sons’ bathroom toilets and bed-making. They know my home, they know where stuff goes and in the future, I will likely employ them to help me purge.

So the funds are there, thanks yoga teaching, and the stars have aligned. The ladies have been back for months. What has returned with them, along with a lovely surprise I’ll get into shortly, is the sense of inadequacy and the reminder of my flagging mindfulness. At times, I’ve simply laid out the sheets on the beds to be changed. I’ve left my clean folded clothes in piles — it’s like I’m a transient in my own house: I don’t always put away my clothes. I live out of the familiar piles of cleaned shirts and undies and jeans and sock twins that are like small indicators of unfinished projects. They’re cotton archipelagos of inadequacy. What I need to do is vet out my t-shirts and gut about half of all my clothes. I have too many pairs of yoga pants.

“But there will be a funeral and I’ll need that dress.” “And that sweater to go over it.” “And those boots because I know we will go out to a bar again, one day, maybe after the funeral.” “There’s a wedding this fall…”

Lots of clothes I don’t wear anymore are tied in my former identity: corporate shill of corporate messaging. They were pricey then, nice wools, beautiful blends, “status” labels and now… I don’t wear them. I can still fit into all of it, but there’s this part of me which simply won’t move on. This part of me SO GETS MY MOTHER: that she would hang on to her gorgeous classic-hewn clothing because it never went out of style, and she was right.  Mom could rock a camel-toned cashmere sweater in May like NO ONE, other than Lauren Hutton.

I also know that clothes and books and things were important to my mother. I sense that after all her kids pushed off for lives of their own, and my father pressed on in his career, her drive to fill our rooms with things she’d never use, but things which sated her fears and sadnesses beat any fleeting sense of mindfulness or rational objective in acquiring such things. I’m sure it’s a combination of her numerous anxieties and predilections as well as a sincere interest in reading that book, or giving that gift, or using that purse, or wearing those boots that over time simply became too overwhelming to deal with. So instead of purging, she acquired more to quiet the noise. More things to hide the things she never used.

I can feel the sensations in my body: quickening pulse and a shallowness of breath when I look around my accumulation of unused or once-used items and shame myself internally for having them. I think of landfills and waste. “It’s a lot,” one of the cleaning ladies once said to me when I sighed at the house. And I think I’m relatively organized!

I don’t need 52 multicolored Sharpies, but there was a time when I did. The kids use them for school, still, but there’s this nagging sense of “USE THAT ALL THE TIME OR IT’S WASTE” mentality. I blame Costco. I’m mostly serious. You can’t buy three pairs of socks there, you have to buy six in a pack. You can’t buy 12 Sharpies, you have to get 52 — because if you buy 12 a la carte elsewhere, it’s almost as pricey as buying the bargain pack at Costco.

But the cleaning ladies come, and when they do, the house must be “in order” to a certain degree because they can’t access the table to clean and dust it if it’s covered in 52 Sharpies. I mean, they will put the Sharpies somewhere, but often their choice of placement is like a planter or a silverware drawer because they’re just here to get shit done and move on.

So here’s the surprise I’ve finally allowed myself to enjoy: when they come here, for at least the first afternoon, I will enjoy and revel in the quiet, the order, and the essence organization that reigns and it’s ok if I didn’t do much of it myself. I know I can; that’s not the point. It’s that I’ve allowed myself to let someone else do it and that I’m ok with it.

Even though I know and YOU know what’s really going on in that junk drawer, that for the moment, everything is chill and my home makes me look like I’ve got my act together. When they’re here, quietly tending to my home in a way that I certainly can, but I’ve basically abdicated, I do feel less alone. My heartbeat slows and my breath becomes mine again. It will get done. That’s the gift.

I read with great vigor A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin. It’s a collection of short stories. Many of them are memoir, some are written with disdain for the client / employer, and I shuddered a little upon reading Berlin’s observations about us, knowing when we’ve had our periods, or the last time we had sex, what we’re reading, what we’re still not reading, how we’re sleeping, or if our children eat in their beds, hoard candy in their rooms, and the secrets they have, but I get that. Other stories are deep, wandering tales about love, the oceans, sex with near strangers, and marriage. It’s a wonderful book as Berlin is masterful — both succinct and dreamy — and real. You can’t hide from her, she has found you.

I think often about these women who clean my home, Flora and Linda. They are sweet and obsequious. They banter in Spanish and usher tender giggles to each other upon encountering our dogs and marveling at how much my children have grown. I’ve worked with them for eight years. I wonder about their lives, about what keeps them up at night. Shortly after my mother died, they came to clean and I thought I was going to be OK. I hadn’t let the house get too bad between their visits. But Mom had died and I was a mess.

The moment they came in the door, my eyes welled up and Flora (the older of the two) saw my face. She knew something had gone horribly wrong between our last encounter. “My mother died last week…” and I wailed and bawled and cried heaving sobs into her neck as she held me and rocked me in her arms. She’s not that much older than I am, but I have an affection for these women that goes back to my childhood as I was basically raised by my cleaning lady, Betty Sortino.

Flora’s partner, Linda came in to help soothe me. And we stood there in my front hall for about a minute until I composed myself and told them what happened. Three weeks later, Linda’s husband also died. He fell off a scaffold at his worksite and died in the ambulance. He was 36. He and Linda have three children. She took a couple weeks off and then came back to work; she has no choice as she has to feed her children and her husband is dead. I wonder about her children. When I give away clothes, I give Linda and Flora first rights of refusal. Over the years, I’ve given them clothes, desks, dressers, books, and toys.

About a year ago I learned how much these women earned from my payment to their broker. $20 per house. I was paying many times that for the fee. If clients kept their appointments, they would clean up to four houses per day. They only got paid if they cleaned and I used to flake out on their employer all the time because I couldn’t get my house ready. Each house takes about 2 hours for them to tackle.

One day, I asked them if they worked on their own and that’s how we do it now. I’ve increased their rate and I believe that my paying them outright and directly rather than through the company whence we first found them does make a difference. When I pay them directly, I am less prone to cancel because I don’t have my act together because the house wasn’t tidied in time or appropriately. They don’t judge. They are eager for the work and I am eager for the respite from the visual chaos. It’s become more of a relationship which transcends the work and I trust them completely. I respect them and they get to keep the money I pay them instead of only take home a sixth of it when I paid them through their broker. I give them extra cash for Christmas.

Each time they are here, I promise to myself that I’m going to go through my things and really sort and donate. Lighten my load. I have a neighbor who’s moving this weekend. She’s more than a neighbor, she’s become like a cousin to me. She’s leaving for Florida and I honestly hope I go see her. When she put her house on the market, I helped her straighten up — I was literally a third pair of eyes added on to her own and her young friend who’s got a real knack for spatial placement of things.

She asked me to come view and give pointers. I admit I felt a little like a white-gloved Marine Corps officer running quarters inspection, but my advice, adjustments, and insight were helpful. I was impressed by how austere her home had become. It felt like a resort property. It felt like a rental on a beach and I envied that — the lack of shit crowding everything. Yet she felt it was too sterile, too antiseptic, no “life” or “personality” in her home anymore. She was right. The house had a “tone” now, not a feeling. We all agreed that the powder room needed to feel like a “spa” so I filled her glass vases that hung on the wall with neutral tone rocks, some branches from the wispy white pine tree in her backyard and clips off the rigid birch tree in my front yard and voila. Spa.

It sold in three days. For the asking price.

I will miss her a lot. More than I think either of us realize. She has quietly supported me — unconditionally — for our entire relationship. She has never passed judgment and has been a true cheerleader in everything I’ve ever ventured. It hurts that she’s leaving, but everything was in such utterly perfect cosmic alignment — like the kind of alignment you read about — that her staying here meant spiritual coma. You don’t get the kind of opportunities, conversations, situations and challenges thrown at you the way she has and keep things as they are.

She used my cleaning ladies before putting the house on the market. They provided her with the calm and ease they provide me every time they leave my home. It’s quiet. It’s clean. When they are here, I am forced to let them work, to stay out of their way. To leave with the dogs. When I come back, things are where they belong. Or at least they’re not in the way. The inadequacy ebbs and I don’t feel like such a failure. I know I perform a lot around here, it’s in the ways you can’t often see. At the very least, I have participated in readying the house for them.

In three hours my three boys will be home. I will be teaching little kids yoga, teaching them to learn how to calm themselves, center their minds, and know they are enough. I will not think about my friend moving to Florida and I will thank Linda and Flora.

Thank you.