Saturday, May 19, 2018

Changing Time Zones

Last week I drove to Indiana to pick up our oldest from his first year at college.  While I was driving, my youngest son served as co-pilot, offering me snacks, navigating the Waze app, teaching me Spanish, and generally keeping me focused and entertained at the same time.  It was a long drive.  We broke up the 680 mile drive by first driving to Youngstown, Ohio.  We left mid-afternoon on Thursday, before rush hour hit.  We were traveling west, tracking the path of the sun set.  The further we drove, the lighter it seemed to be.  Even by 8:00 the sun set still seemed to be far off.  The sun beckoned us on, assuring us of safety and hope and making it feel that it hadn't been six hours of driving in the car.  We had a nice cozy bed waiting for us somewhere - we just didn't know where. Thankfully the sun lit most of our trip no matter what time it was.
The next day we woke easily and drove the remaining 6 hours to South Bend.  We never crossed the time zone line between Eastern Daylight and Central Standard, that was a few miles away, but we were quite close. When we arrived on campus, Jay still had one exam to take.  The time slot was 4-6 pm - on a Friday night!  I know that is the last place a college kid wants to be on a Friday night and it was certainly the last place I wanted to be waiting around for him.  I was ready to head out again, to try to get a few hours under our belts so we wouldn't have the daunting drive all the way home on Saturday.  But the funny thing is, Jay wasn't ready to leave.  Even before he began his exam, he was suggesting he wouldn't be ready to go just yet.  He had friends to say goodbye to, things to pack (like everything), and places to wander around - just to capture one last time.  He did not want to leave - to change time zones.
Honestly I could see why.  Being back on a college campus and feeling the energy in the halls, the smiles, the hard slaps on the back, the high fist handshakes and man-hugs, the questions, the answers, the silliness, the laughter, the philosophical discussion that lasted until 3 in the morning, reminded me of when I existed in this time zone - one of nominal real-life responsibility, but incredible potential, where everyone you talked to might be your friend for life and every discussion you had might change your life.  That night we ate at a little restaurant on campus with Jay's friend. I was trying to be aware of the fact that they were both still soaking everything in, not ready to switch to talk of summer and summer jobs, but also not ready to discuss the hard exams they'd prepared for so long and so continually over the past few days and had survived.  So we made small talk and chatted about family stuff and funny stuff and I tried not pry into too much.  They wanted that extended daylight.  It was 9:00 at night by the time we ate, but that didn't matter.  They were not ready to switch time zones.
As I get closer to 50, I feel like there is a new time zone I'm approaching.  It's not just with my kids.  I try to have discussions with my kids about normal things, or what I think are normal things.  Then I hear that the arguments aren't just about alternative energy vs. geothermal, but which is better, wind or solar.  I hear a new lexicon that I'm not privy to, not because I'm ignorant but because I'm of a different age.  It happens everywhere.  I find myself proud that I know what "skins" are, even though it's from a video game.  I just happen to know this because of my boys being of a certain age.  Then I find that there is a new lexicon among all different sets of people, one per each generation perhaps.  I don't mind it - I love learning the new words, new ideas.  I'm super curious about it.  I want to know what sparks these changes in thinking.  But I don't know now if I'll ever keep up.  I might try but each shift creates its own thoughts, leaders, and followers.  Try as I might it's a lot to learn.
So we found a hotel room in South Bend that night.  We didn't leave until 10:00 the next morning.  We luckily made it home in less than 12 hours.  We weren't trailed by the sunset, we lost daylight as we drove, partly because of the rain that was following us too.  We made it home, back to a familiar  zone.  Back to a bed, a sky, and a light that was comforting.  Back home.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Under Construction

About 8 years ago, we found ourselves outgrowing our house.  We had four little children and a little Cape Cod with a big family room.  I had prayed for that little house "with small white beds up the stairs" but the time had come for a change.  The three boys were in one room with two bunk beds, a single bed, and one dresser.  And they were getting bigger.  And their clothes and their stuff were getting bigger too.  We needed another room.  We hired an architect.  He showed us plans with everything we had asked for.  We sent them out to contractors.  But no one quite knew where to put the heating ducts.  What?  No heat in the new room?  So we found another house.  A perfect house with four bedrooms and lots of old amenities.  Linoleum walls in the bathroom.  A light with a red swirly plastic cover over the fireplace.  Metal cabinets in the kitchen, circa 1950.  We moved in.  We gradually made changes. The first thing to go was the red light over the fireplace, plastic and all. The bathrooms were next.  Last year we decided to tackle the kitchen.  Goodbye metal cabinets and old sink.  Goodbye linoleum backsplash.  Hello new.  We didn't hire an architect.  We used the online design center from Ikea and worked it every which way.  I felt like Joanna Gaines.  We found cabinets and a farmhouse sink.  We found flooring that matched the old wood floors.  We drove two hours each way to find a scratch and dent stove that wasn't so scratch and dent.  My brother taught me to use a nail gun.  My husband painstakingly tiled the backsplash tile by tile.  And it worked.  And we had heat.
But during that time, the 6 weeks that stretched into two and a half months, our house was in complete disarray.  We had moved the refrigerator onto the back porch.  We had hoped to use the grill to cook our food.  We had a microwave set up in the living room and a table in the office.  We had a hot pot for oatmeal in the morning.  I was determined to use our regular dishes to save the environment from all the plastic and paper plates we would have had to use.  I was determined to give my kids three square meals and not order takeout every night.  I had a little tub set up in the living room, which eventually moved to the bathroom where we could wash our utensils.  But all of this was necessary to execute the great change we saw in the Ikea plans that were tacked onto the refrigerator.  Eventually we broke down and bought all the paper products we could fit onto a little tiny table.  We ordered every other night, not every night.  But it was necessary for our sanity.  We went to my mom's for dinner and cooked spaghetti.  My mom brought us Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee in a crock pot.  (Not kidding.)  I don't think we used the grill, partly because we couldn't get out the back door and partly because it was rainy and cold like everyday.  I'm not trying to say my first world problems were any more than that, but we needed to do what we could to make life bearable.

I feel that need for change coming again, but maybe not in the structure of the house itself.  Our house is now outgrowing our family, as one has gone off to college and two more will soon have their driver's licenses and are out of the house more than they are in it.  Perhaps it is in my heart where the biggest change is coming.  It is a time of transition for any mother as she watches her children fly the coop, leave the nest, settle into their own lives.  Again, I am not trying to be dramatic, no one is off on their own yet, but there is a shift going on in this house and this heart that is hard to recognize, yet hard to neglect.  The little babies who were here ten years ago who needed everything done for them are gone, and the cute kids who ran around just five years ago playing games and laughing and being silly are growing up.  I have to grow with them too.  I have to figure out how to be a mom to a kid who is twelve hours away, yet still calls when he is feeling down.  I have to listen and not overreact because well, he is twelve hours away and as much as I would like to get in the car and go, he is twelve hours away!  I have to figure out how to be a mom to a girl who is dating and as much as I have about 18,000 questions about what this means and what the hell is going on, I have to listen and not overreact because she is a teenage girl and really wants to be twelve hours away most of the time.  I have to figure out how to be a good wife, a good coworker even when I'm just not all that interested, and I'd like to be twelve hours away from all of it.  Try as hard as we might, we just can't do it all.  So we change, we sacrifice our old plans and scrap them out for new ones.  Then there are the real-life transitions, a birth of a baby, a death of a loved one, a new job, a new town, a parent who is moving in with your family of six.  The loss of a job.  The fateful diagnosis.  The big things.  We are in constant flux and we don't know how to settle things back to where they belong.  All we know is that things will never be the same again.
But there are also the small moments where we look in the mirror and notice a little more puff, a tiny slant. Maybe a little more spackle?  The moments when we sit quiet and realize we are different.  How did I get here?  Perhaps we go through this shift more often than we think.  While we don't hire architects, we ask friends, spouses, God, what is going on?  What's wrong with this picture, this story?  How do I fix it?  What is wrong with me?  How is it that I am of this age and I am still haunted by questions of who to be and how to live?  How is it that something can happen that makes me feel like I am back in the fifth grade again, or even worse, tenth grade?  So I ask around, trusted friends mostly.  But I'm not past asking the hairdresser or the bartender or the security guard who I have bus duty with, what do you think?  What should I do?  What would you do?  Why did this happen to me?  I suppose it's all part of growing and I just haven't stopped yet, which is a good thing, right.  Everything is out of place, the refrigerator out on the porch, my heart 12 hours away, my mind really just needing a nap.  I'm discombobulated.  Nothing is where you expect it to be, but there are plans being drawn up somewhere.  Somehow you will figure out how to put the pieces, the phases of your life back together in a way that makes more sense.  And you will need to figure out how to make the transition bearable - a glass of wine and a pedicure go a long way, especially after a good run or a long walk.  It is just that, a transition.  No one wants to change you, or wants or expects you to change.  You are who you are, just evolving into a better version of yourself.
We moved the refrigerator to a new spot after knocking down the dining room wall - that was not in the original plans, but when the time came, it was the right thing to do.  Now we can't imagine going back to how it was before.  We lost two closets, but who needs all that closet space?  It's open and airy and we love hanging out around the large island that took the place of the old cabinetry.  There's lots more light and a great view of the backyard.
As for me, I may be on the way to having a wall knocked down and losing some closet space.  But what do I need to store in there anyway?  I need to hold on to the memories and moments that keep me smiling.  I need to remember the kids are still kids, my kids, and they still need a loving, doting mom who asks too many questions and sends prayers and inspirational quotes to kids who are far away.   I need to say the things that make their eyes roll.  I also need to keep those around me who love me and can help me design the kitchen of my dreams, or tell me what parts need to go.  Just as long as we don't lose the heat.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Tomorrow We Will Make Coffee

We are all searching for guarantees.  The guarantee on shipping from our website order, the guarantee on the newly-purchased mattress, the guarantee that when we wake up the electricity will still be on, the guarantee that the weather will get nicer soon, the guarantee that my car will still be parked where I left when I get back, the guarantee of a healthy pregnancy, the guarantee of an easy child.  All the things we expect at the beginning of the day to go our way, the meeting, the conference call, the sales pitch, the ruling, the game, the score.  I see people searching for schools, looking for a guarantee that the choices they make, the selection of this school over that school, will guarantee that their child will thrive, be successful, and maybe happy.  They want the guarantee.  They expect it when they walk in, as if they were going to a car wash, that the car will be perfectly cleaned when it comes out the other end.  As if kicking the tires will guarantee the purchase they make.  
The thing is, it doesn't work that way.  I'm still learning this, although you'd think I would know better.  There are days in my life that I am completely shocked by a phone call, an email or text, an encounter with an acquaintance, a new demand that is placed on me.  It truly turns the world on its side when we are faced with a diagnosis or a prognosis that we couldn't see coming.  I went to the doctor for an ear problem and here the problem is my nose!  What?  (Not a big deal, I'm just saying, What?)  
Then there are the days that true tragedy strikes, and we can't even look.  We feel so lost.  So unsure.  So broken.  Utter sadness.  It consumes us.  The pain that takes over and guarantees that we will never be the same again.  We are changed.  For days we cannot see the sky or feel the sunshine.  We float through our days feeling like we haven't landed yet.  The ground is no longer holding us up the way it was before.  But here is the guarantee - tomorrow we will make coffee.  The sky is still there behind the clouds.  The sun will shine after the rain.  The earth is turning.   It will get easier again.  We will land again, maybe in a different spot, a different time, but we will land.  
There are actually a lot of guarantees in life.  You will scrape your knee, and you will bleed.  You will heal.  You will get a splinter under your nail that hurts for days.  You will run faster than you ever thought possible.  You will lose something special.  You will never forget your first backyard.  You will struggle learning something new, whether it is the alphabet or puzzles or knitting or Honors Abstract Algebra.  You will create something that amazes you.  You will fail a test.  You will be the best!  You will lose a friend.  You will have a day where the sun shines so brightly you never forget the light!  You will hug someone and feel like you can never let go.  You will be talked about behind your back.  You will make people jealous.  You will feel betrayed.  You will betray.  You will make mistakes.   You will make yourself proud.  You will cry for your own lost innocence.  You will handle it with maturity.  You will miss someone.  You will be missed.  You will meet someone who changes everything in your world, and you may stay with them and you may not.  You will talk all night.  You will cry yourself to sleep.  You will get your heart broken.  You will cry in pain and you will cry for joy.
So, new mother holding your five-year-old's hand, and experienced mother, with your hand on your eighteen-year-old's shoulder, please remember this:  You have chosen this life for your child.  You have chosen to be there.  As for every other choice, there are no guarantees.  When you choose the bunk beds, because that's what he really wants, over the double bed that is so much safer, he will fall off the top bunk, or maybe not.  But go for the bunk bed!  When she swears she wants to go far away to school, but you fear she will be homesick, she will.  But go for the adventure!  When you are unsure about ordering the sea bass with habanero chiles over the pasta with white sauce, go for the gusto!  When you are tempted to drive to the beach just to get away, do it!  There are no guarantees, except that life is a wonder.  When you are going to bed and you cannot sleep for worrying about where he is and how she is feeling, and what they think, and what he said, and you are lying there with regrets, or sadness, or pain, or true sorrow for what has transpired, or you are actually crying yourself to sleep, just cry.  And then sleep.  And tomorrow we will make coffee.  Or tea, if you like tea.  And you will feel better.  That is a guarantee.  

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Art of Conversation with a Teenager

For several months now, I’ve been noticing a new word in my children’s lexicon.  Stop.  I can ask the simplest of questions and the only response I get is Stop.  If I ask one question too many, like “How was Physics?” the word that I hear is Stop.  It means I have crossed some invisible line of communication, some term of agreement we had that I can only ask two, maybe three, questions when the kids get in the car or we are sitting at dinner, or maybe at breakfast the morning after they have been out with friends.  “So what did you eat?”  “Stop.”   I even try to follow their lead.  My son will explain to me something about a car that he knows a lot about, but if I ask that extra question to show my interest, he looks at me sideways, and “Stop.”  It’s become a joke, because I can predict when it’s going to happen and we all laugh when I say, “Can I just ask one more question?”  Then they usually just walk away.   It’s funny because I know I used this word a lot when they were little, for things like picking their nose, or playing with their food.  “Stop,” I said.  Maybe it was too much.  

I get it.  I know that there are many things pulling for attention in the mind of a teenager.  They have an incredible, almost magnetic draw towards being independent and they don’t feel the need to fill their mother in on the goings on of their lives.  They want to forge their own way and make a claim on their own territory of life.  I see.  I know.  In the teenage life there is a veil of privacy through which their moms cannot dare to trespass.  I won’t ask personal questions.  I won’t ask who said what.  I won’t ask about how you are feeling or who is this person or that person.  I’ll quiet keep a tally of names that I can reference when you bring them up again, but I won’t delve into their home lives or their relationships with everyone else.   My daughter can’t believe the questions I ask my college-age son and the fact that he answers me at all.  I know.  I’ll stop.

But seriously, “So what did you eat at the restaurant last night?” Is that so bad?  Is that too personal?  I’m confused because usually you want to tell me.  You go to a friend’s house and come home and tell me that their mom made the best French toast you’ve ever had!  Really?  I think I make good French toast.  So I just want to know what you ate.  Period.  But you end the discussion with a sudden, gavel-dropping “Stop.” 

The sad thing is one of the things I miss most at the holidays are the conversations I overheard in my grandmother’s dining room.  The entire family would gather after Christmas Midnight mass and then again on Christmas night.  All the aunts and cousins and sometimes friends.  The conversation never seemed to end.  We paid no attention to the clock, even though it was well past 2 in the morning!  Gathered around the table, everyone would share in the joy of catching up and sharing stories as we ate a full buffet breakfast.  I have no idea what the stories were about now, but as I grew up I recall sitting there around the large square table and listening.  Listening to the lilt of the conversation, the laughter that spread quickly to everyone, or the quiet lull after something sad had been revealed.   Then the changeover to the happy news or the amusing story. The memories galore which taught me the lore of our family. From the other room I would hear my uncles clinking glasses of scotch on the rocks, toasting a Merry Christmas and then telling their own stories, the laughter filling the halls and the house.  I savored these moments.  I treasured the time that I could sit and listen and learn.  And I was learning.  So much.  When I was old enough I could venture to join the conversation, trying on the complexities of the art.  Do I tell a shortened version of the story or a long one?  Do I leave out many of the details or do they add to the story?  I do remember using the line, “You had to be there,” after most of these attempts but it was a safe environment in which to learn.  My grandmother is gone now and my mother’s table sometimes serve this function, but not in the same way.  The mothers in our family right now are too busy chasing toddlers and we don’t have as much time to sit and chat.   The great aunts are far away and busy with grandchildren too.  And of course, there has been the invasion of the phone. 

The cell phone.  The funny thing is that the phone doesn’t work like it used to when I was little.  Even if my mother was on the phone, I was still privy to one end of the conversation.  I heard how her tone changed or how she reacted to some news.  I heard how she questioned and extended the conversations, all the while cooking dinner or overseeing homework.  Today no one is privy to anything.  Everything is radio silence.  All conversations are conducted via a screen and fingers.  No one can hear anything.  I wonder what we don’t hear when we are staring at our screens.   And we bring these devices to the dinner table.  When I was little we took the phone “off the hook” so we eat without interruption. 

Which takes me back to my teenagers.  If I dare to call one of my children when it’s not an absolute emergency, they freak out.  “Don’t call!” my other son says.  “He won’t answer!”  And then I begin to leave a message.  “NO!  Stop.  We don’t ever listen to messages!”  What do they listen to?  Not much apparently.  Headphones?  Videos?  Maybe anything but their mother. 

Were we the same as teenagers?  I don’t think so.  We used to replace our 15 foot phone cord every few months because we had twisted and untwisted it so much trying to take the phone down the basement to have some privacy for our phone conversations.  Yes, that’s true.  Today it is different.  I even see it in the youngest of children.  Language is not the same.  There has long been evidence of a 30-million-word gap in children who are not privy to conversations in the home, whose parents speak to them with simple questions and answers but don’t take the time to explain or elaborate or pose new ideas to them.  Now I believe the gap is widening in this generation of cell-phone kids.  They do not hear the language, they are not expected to speak, they are not engaging in the give and take of communication.  We have lost the art of conversation.  We have lost the beauty of how to listen and interact with each other.  The art of conversation.  With or without teenagers.  We give and receive one-word answers.  Stop.  I am going to start with my own kids. 

My daughter’s high school recently banned cell phones.  I can’t ask too many questions about it, but recently she asked me for a pack of Uno cards.  Apparently without cell phones kids have reverted to playing games with each other at lunchtime.  Imagine it.  A cafeteria full of teenagers playing cards. Don’t ask too many questions though.  But if she’s asking for these cards, I am definitely listening.  And finding them.  What if we all did this?  Banned the cellphones?  Set limits?  And I don’t mean one hour or two hours or whatever, but maybe from 5-7 there are no cell phones.  A Spanish siesta of phones.  Two hours of screen free time?  I think it could work.  I’ll let you know.  After all, it is an art to raise a teenager, and it is an art to converse.  I’m trying to do both well, but it’s a juggling game.  Do I ask him to turn off the video games or take the trash out?  Do I ask him about his test or about his friends?  Maybe I can just listen and see what he wants to talk about.  Just nod my head.  There’s an art to that too. 

Friday, November 17, 2017


We are reading about the First Thanksgiving in first grade.  Every year at this time I find myself reading to my students about the harvest and the hunters and the gatherers and I think to myself, “Thankfully I would have been a gatherer; I would not have been a hunter.”  It sounds much more peaceful, much more humane.  Gather, bring in, bring together, collect.  That’s the way I want to live.  I think I earned a Girl Scout badge in Collecting.  Then I think about myself at this time of year, searching for gifts as if they were prey, getting to the store early just to hunt down the product that inevitably will be devoured in some insignificant way and never thought of again, hunting down the ‘best’ price, even if the cost is rising out of bed at some ungodly hour!  Even with Thanksgiving dinner, I find myself fantasizing about the perfect food with the perfect presentation from the perfect restaurant - and Pinterest doesn't help! I have to remind myself that It doesn't matter. This year I want to remember that this is about Gratitude, that the harvest is plenty – we have more than we could possibly need and I can gather what is around me.  The harvest is rich.  Whatever food or gifts I find are sure to be appreciated.  There is nothing truly worth hunting for. I can stroll down the avenue with a cup of cocoa and my mom, and look in windows, and see what strikes my fancy and I can Gather.  It doesn't have to be about things.  I can focus on Gathering Time with family, Gathering friends, Gathering sisters-in-law and sisters and cousins, Gathering neighbors and strangers even, into the fold, into the joy of the season.  I will not hunt.

I was reminded of this last week as my husband and my son and I traveled to Holmdel, New Jersey, to watch my daughter compete in the Cross Country Championships.  It is a beautiful part of our state that almost reminds me of Pennsylvania!  (Just Kidding, I'm a Jersey girl!)  Anyway, in the midst of the hustle and bustle and literal RACING, there is a small sheep farm tucked in the middle of the field where the runners all prepare to race.  It is an idyllic scene, just breath-taking.  The Farmer was out pulling up fencing posts and, I assume, putting new ones in.  The Farmer’s Wife was trimming what I think were herbs, Gathering them in a basket for the winter.  Really, in another life, I think that would be me.  The women are the Gatherers.  Ironically, teenagers from all over the state are also roaming the fields, full of anxiety, anticipation, and stress as they prepare for a run to surpass all others of the season, a 3 mile run at a 6:30 pace.  So fast!  I am sure they do not even notice or appreciate the sheep, who barely move at a pace that's recognizable.  So, the three of us ran over to watch the sheep for just a second before we trekked off to our spot to watch Annie run.  This moment of peace and quiet and tranquility reminded me that no matter how busy we are, no matter what we are racing off to, we can always stop and breathe and take in the moment.  We can gather wherever we are, gathering memories, gathering time, gathering a laugh or two.  I even ‘gathered’ a picture of Matt and my husband as they quickly leaned on the fence, then basically said, ‘We’re done - off to the races.'  When we went off to find the right spot to watch, we entered “The Bowl,” a legendary field where you run down one side and up the other, around a rim that is full of surprises, and we were greeted with another surprise.  On the way we actually saw deer, 3 of them, racing through the woods, up one side of a mountain as we walked down another.  It was beautiful.  I gathered it all in.  There was no hunting involved, just gathering.
I am reading a book now called, "The Power of Moments," by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.  A friend recommended other books by these authors to me, but this was the only one available at my library, so I snagged it.  Sometimes we are on the hunt for something and we are presented with something we can simply gather.  The book is a reminder to us that we can create significance in our daily lives in the very ordinary things we do.  The authors tell us that moments can be EPIC.  These are moments that are Elevated, full of Pride, touched with Insight, that create Connection.  While the authors say that they don't like the acronym, I do!  I fully embrace living EPIC lives and we can start with very simple moments. 
It is so easy to forget the meaning of the season.  It is easy to become a Hunter, or to trade in what we truly, deeply crave in the season for the jewels that are laid before us.  I want to refuse that. 
This will be a year and a season of gathering.  This will be a year to take care of the moments, to gather them in, and not drive myself mad by hunting.  It is just not natural to me.

May you gather with your children, friends and family and appreciate every moment.  May you gather moments that you will never forget.  I know I never will forget those sheep, or those deer.  And I will never forget the epic blue sky that Annie ran under on that beautiful day!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Stealing Home

We headed back to Rowe this year for Old Home Day.  Such a wonderful time.  So absolutely glorious!  We packed a little lighter this year - just 4 short days.  No tennis rackets, no dog, no food - we would buy groceries when we got up there.  When we walk in we walk right to the large picture window that overlooks the lake - it summons us to come directly there - do not unpack, just kick off your shoes and go directly to the porch.  We had forgotten the color of the sun and the light through the pines and the reflection of the mountains on the water, the clouds that create dark shadows in the middle of the day.  We had lost track of the way the days unfold so easily and so effortlessly until it's time for dinner.  We had almost forgotten.  But there is always that piece of home that we take with us when it's time to go and it is rekindled when we return - Yes, this is what it was like.  This is what I was missing.  This is what it feels like to be home.And then it was time to come home.  On the very last day as we watched the clock move from 1, to 3, to 4, more and more quickly as the hours expired, we scrambled to cram in as much as we could - hiking the mountain, floating in the water, eating any leftover food from the fridge, stealing any final moments we could.  My youngest son was lying on the summer porch day bed with his head buried under a blanket.  I went to him to rub his back and noticed he was teary.  "What is it?  Are you hungry?  Are you tired?  Are you hot?  Have you been drinking enough water?  Were your siblings mean to you?"  No, no, no.  Somehow he managed to garner enough energy to go out and join his siblings in the water and was fine.  I asked my husband what he thought was wrong with Charlie.  "He's sad to leave.  That's all.  It's always sad."  I had forgotten that too - the Sense of Leaving.  How could I forget?  I remember being about his age, much too old, I thought, for crying, but still crying the whole way home from the beach.  That looming sadness that fills the air and makes it hard to breathe.  We have to leave one home to return to another home and we are so torn!  So,we look for little ways to steal a piece of it:  stealing the last few moments in the water, stealing heart-shaped rocks off the beach, stealing a root of the wild roses that grow behind the house, stealing a picture or two of the flowers, the beach, the big rock, the mountain - Stealing Home.  Charlie had done this - he had walked to the big rock and taken pictures of the scenery - beautiful images to carry home with him, but it's still not enough.  We want the whole thing.  It just doesn’t feel the same.  As my oldest packs for college, I wonder what pieces of home he will steal.  We are packing him with blankets and towels, and clothes, but what pictures do we send?  What mementos will bring him that piece of home so far from home?  There is an old American flag that hangs over his bed now, a piece of my college home that I actually found abandoned in my brother’s dorm one year - my little piece of stealing home.  I don’t know what I had imagined doing with it at the time, just that it had a story to tell and it was old and iconic and now it has become part of our home decor.  Will he take that with him?  I think it is meant to be in a college somewhere.  Maybe.I heard a beautiful homily once given by a missionary priest from Haiti.  He had befriended some of the children in the village, some who were too young to understand what it meant that he was leaving.  One little boy ran after him as he walked down the village road with his knapsack. "Acompáñeme!" he called, "Acompáñeme!"  The literal translation of this word is accompany me, or come with me.  What he meant, hollering as he ran to catch up with the man, was,  Let me come with you, but what he had said was “stay here with me”.  The young child had gotten mixed up between words.  The word he was searching for was acompañarte, meaning accompany you, or I want to come with you.  I love this image.  When the priest gave the sermon to us, you could see the love he had for the people in this village in his eyes.  He was a humble servant of God and I can still picture his face.  In the homily, he tied this story to our relationship with God.  God asks us to follow him, to come with him and trust the way, to trust in him.  Often we ask instead for God to stay with us where we are, where we know, and where we feel safe.  We get mixed up, just like the child.  But we do need to follow, we need to leave sometimes, we need to say goodbye.  Those words are filling my days right now.  I feel like that young boy chasing a gentleman down the path, "Acompáñeme! Acompáñeme!"  Stay with me!  I don't want the days to end.  I don't want the summer to end.  I don't want to send my son off to college.  And part of me is screaming inside, Let me come with you!  Wouldn't it be amazing to start out on that journey, to begin, to set sail?  College is such a wonder-filled, wonderful time.  And he is so lucky!  I feel so happy knowing he is setting out in the world and I know he will be fine.  Trust me - I am ready and he is ready!   Just like the priest who knew he had to keep going.  But, before the missionary left, he turned and recognized the sadness of these passage points in time.  He picked up the child and assured him that he would be back.  He held him in his arms one last time and tousled his hair, and said goodbye.  And then he moved on.  He came to our little church and shared the story and then eventually, I assume, went back to Haiti.   When we drop Jay off, I will shed a tear, and he will say, "It's okay Mom."  He will pack all the things from our house, all his ways of Stealing Home, and he will carry them with him off to college.  And he will also steal a little piece of my heart, and that will remind him, of our love, of our home, of our memories and happy times and those talismans will also lead him home again.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Deep End

Summer afternoon, summer afternoon, ... to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language. - Henry James

I don't know if I've used this quote before, but it is one of my favorites.  I completely agree.  Summer. Afternoon.  It conjures up images of laying in my grassy backyard, watching my brothers in the pool, playing on the front porch, going down the stairs to the coolness of the Haddon Heights Children's Library and gathering up books, and of course, earning swim bands.  We didn't belong to the pool. My cousins did.  But a few times a summer they took us along.  The Oaklyn Swim Club.  I still drive past and I'm amazed at how it has shrunk over the years.  When I was young it was like a mecca for kids ages 5-15.  I wasn't a part of the swim culture there.  So when I first arrived I usually stayed near the baby pool, with the little cousins and the moms and would "help" get the food ready because we always packed for The Whole Day, which meant all the way through dinner until closing.  Eventually I would venture to the big pool, wade in the 3 foot end, maybe go down the slide, up the steps, line up again for the slide, arms drawn around your waist until it was your turn, splash a little, run around, oh no, we're not allowed to run.  That would get you a whistle.  Nothing crazy.  I would stand there in my stretched out, hand-me-down bathing suit and watch the big kids, the kids in The Well.  They would gracefully rise up out of the deep water with their hair slicked back ever so handsomely, glide over to the ladder, hoist themselves up and then climb the ladder to the High Dive and plunge perfectly into the dark blue water again.  I can still feel the sense of panic as they took their time to surface.  Will they come up again?  Will there be a  RESCUE?  My cousin was the Lifeguard.  She sat on the Stand, in her charming red one-piece that showed her taut muscles, twirling her whistle and chomping her gum, hardly giving a glance down into the Deep End, supremely confident that whoever had just dove would rise again, and they usually did.  So when she challenged me to earn my band, I couldn't exactly refuse, even though I had a lot of excuses.  I'm not a Member.  I never really come here.  I don't like The Well.  I don't know how to dive.  The list could go on.  I have to watch the babies in the baby pool.  But I did it.  I don't know how.  I still don't really swim.  My only stroke is the Breast Stroke.  I feel like I'm really good at it, but my family would chuckle if I said that out loud, actually they would probably laugh out loud too.  I took swim lessons one year in a neighbor's pool on Ninth Avenue - the only in-ground pool around at the time.  It was a simple old-fashioned cement pool that I think only had one depth - three feet the whole way across.  My instructor was one of the daughters who lived there and I remember specifically her teaching me the Breast Stroke, that I had to pretend "your legs are grabbing a football."  I must have been about 6 at the time and I remember being struck at the image.  Why would I want to do that?  Anyway after she applauded me for my form, I got the hang of it.  I enjoyed it.  It made sense to me.  I still don't know how to do a Free Stroke, or Freestyle, or whatever, and so I don't know how I passed the swim band test.  Did I put my head in the water?  Did I kick my feet?  The thing I liked about the Breast Stroke was that my arms and legs were moving in basically the same directions at the same time.  I wasn't coordinated enough to do two different things and to remember to breathe.  Just wasn't.  Anyway, I passed.  That earned me the band to go to the Big Pool, but not The Well.  Not the Deep End.  For that I had to Tread Water for 2 minutes, or maybe it was 3, or 5?  That I was good at.  I was a pro.  I would try it.  If I had one thing it was perseverance - it's the only reason I can run at all, because I'm definitely not fast. But first I had to jump in.  Off the Dive, but not the High Dive.  I know that I would line up at the Dive, wait and watch a few kids, and then get out of line with some excuse.  I had to go to the bathroom (not that that ever stopped any Kid from getting into a pool, ever!)  I had to fix my hair.  I had to... just do it.  I could feel my cousin's glare, her extreme impatience with my little drama.  If you can't do it, don't do it. But don't waste my time.  So, finally, to show I was cool and that I could do it, I did it.  I earned the band.  The band to the Well.  Now you have to touch the bottom. Um, excuse me?  I don't think so.  This didn't earn you another band, just respect.  I'm too tired.  Do it.  I remember trying to go down.  Trying to swim against the buoyancy that was making it so hard to push down.  Feeling the pressure in my head as my ears began to explode.  Couldn't do it.  Seeing the Dark Blue Water of the Bottom.  Remembering that some kids had said there were Sharks down there.  Couldn't do it.  Surfacing.  Swimming to the ladder.  Smoothing my hair back just so.  Climbing up again and again.  Going down, pushing down.  Was it 12 feet?  The Deep Drain just beyond my reach, and then I touched it.  Ok, so you touched the Drain.  Big Deal.  Big Deal.  

The Deep End is hard.  It takes us way beyond what we think our capacity is.  Our capacity for love, for friendship, for tolerance.  It pushes us past our breaking point.  It is so easy to stay in the Shallow End, tossing a ball back and forth, wading around, kicking our feet, near the stairs, near the edge.   And we have so much fun there!  Playing Marco Polo with our eyes closed, trying not to laugh, looking for a quarter that has sunk to the bottom.  Up the ladder, down the slide.  Easy.  I watch our kids as they swim around with friends.  There were about 8 teenagers in our pool all playing basketball with the kiddie size nets that stood along the edges, trying to dunk, and 'accidentally' knocking the whole thing in the pool, laughing, splashing, having a great time!  But no one in the Deep End.  Finally my youngest wanted out of the fray, out of the mix, and he calmly dove under water and went down to the Deep End.  He touched the bottom.  He rose calmly and took a breath on the edge a minute and then went back to basketball.  There is something in that Deep End.  It is a prize.  It is a break from the routine, from the mix, from the fun.  But it is also something special, something calming, something we need to hold on to who we are. 

How fun it is to bob around with the floats and the games!  How fun it is to be social and see friends and play at life.  I'm mixed in the busyness of being a mom, sitting at sports events, running into friends at the library, standing in line at the grocery store, sipping drinks on the deck at the pub down the street, talking outside church.  How's so and so?  What are your summer plans?  So good to see you.  And it always is.  Sorry to hear about...  Moving?  Where?  Sometimes these moments linger with us.  We recall the first time we met, how we were acquainted and it brings us back to a piece of our lives, a moment in time.  But then there are the Deep End Friends.  The people we love.  We see them after too long a time and we lock eyes and we see them for who they are and for who we were.  We remember how we needed them, and how they needed us.  Asking the questions that move us beyond the How are you to How are you Really?  We are vulnerable with them. We let down our guard, we share deeply, we forgive when we needed to. We promise to stay close.  We try.  But there is a buoyancy pushing us back up to the Shallow End.  We have to push against it. 

Places are like this too.  When we went looking at colleges, it was the same.  Lots of fun stuff! What? You have 289 clubs?  and they were all founded by students?  Cool!  What?  You have Thai nights and trips to the zoo?  I can study abroad in Cairo?  Sign me up!  (I really did want them to sign me up!)  Play.  But then there is a school that says Welcome Home.  And they say 'You are part of our Family'.  And we say, "Yup, you are part of our family too."  Cause that is what the Deep End is.  You are now going to be part of every dinner table conversation, part of our wardrobe, on the bumper of our car, on our calendar on the kitchen wall.  Part of our memories, part of our etchings in the fresh paint on the hallway walls. "That's from when Jay moved his dresser into the other room.

Experiences are like this too.  I keep trying to find a way to hold on to summer.  I don't want to let these days pass too quickly, but they already are.  I want this to be a Deep End Summer and I don't know how.  I will rehearse the words to myself, "Summer Afternoon, Summer Afternoon, Summer Afternoon." Yesterday I went to Stone Harbor with my mom, and two of my kids.  It's our Deep End place.  I watched and listened as they sat on their towels and and said, "Here, listen to this," as they passed an ear bud back and forth.  They shared laughs and asked each other "Wanna go in the water?"  I talked to my mom about everything and I tried to listen well.  Our umbrella blew over.  My mom's chair got hit by a wave. Charlie missed a spot on his neck and got too much sun.  I will remember that.  My mom made a mess of an orangesicle. We forgot Annie's flip flops and had to go back and find them.  I won't forget that.  We have to hold on to these tiny things that make up our Summer Afternoons.  I think it is a matter of Touching the Drain. Going all in. Pushing against the buoyancy that pushes us back from making moments matter.  

Ideas can be like this.  It is easy to say we accept others, we believe in love, and God, and forgiveness, and Love One Another.  But then there is the practice of actually doing it.  Of Touching the Drain.  When we do, we can make something beautiful happen.  
I have been married for 21 years.  Deep End.  When I am out and about in my day I see so many things, so many people, so many places, but when I look into his eyes, his face, the tiny creases that have started to form, I am in the Deep End. I am in the calm and it is beautiful, out of the fray, somehow safe in our bottom of the ocean.  Does it sound like I'm drowning?  I'm not.  I have my band to prove it.  We earned this one together.