The first thing I see when I enter the pink shed is the image of a young girl, dressed in pink, flying over her suburban neighborhood. I purchased it fifteen years ago to hang in my six-year-old daughter’s bedroom. Natalie, who turned 21 a few weeks ago, re-gifted it to me as she felt it would be perfect in my writer’s shed.
I know that flying is common in dreams, however I never fly. Actually, I fall in my nightmares. (I believe this is related to my severe acrophobia!) But, the painting was a simply lovely artistic representation of the hopes I had, and still have, for my daughter.
I imagine the young girl in the painting feels strong, free, capable, gifted, independent and joyful. When I was young, my Italian grandmother, Nonnie, was my cheer-leader. “Tutto e possibile,” she’d enthuse. I’ve tried to carry on that tradition with Natalie.
We all need someone to remind us that “anything is possible,”especially as we begin a new year!
I visited my nearly 21-year-old daughter at college this weekend and over dinner I looked at her and said: “I like who you are becoming.”
She paused and so I felt the need to explain my random, motherly comment.
“You know… you are evolving, becoming an adult,” I clarified.
“Thank you, Mom,” she said. “But aren’t we all becoming someone?”
Well, that’s just the way my daughter is….wonderful and wise and inspiring! Indeed it would be rather boring and depressing if I were not also continuing to become someone. In fact, it is our shared evolution that binds us even closer.
I talk to her about my new adventures in the blogosphere and she shares the challenges and rewards of renting her first apartment. We hold each other accountable to the fitness goals we’ve set. She shares her academic successes and I recount how proud I feel when my puppy Winnie piddles in the appropriate place. We dream of our next trip to London…she to study and me and her dad to sightsee. I can see that even our relationship has become something new and beautiful. I’ll always be her mother, first, but it’s great to feel the warmth of her understanding as a friend, too.
I love that she reminded me that the joys of evolution are not simply for the young.
One of my favorite regular columns in any magazine is the Harper’s Index in Harper’s Magazine…of course. It’s a simple list of interesting factoids that makes for fun reading and sharing. Today I learned:
Percentage of U.S. pet-custody cases that involve dogs: 96%
That involve cats: 1
Apologies to the “cat people” in my life, but I was not in the least bit surprised to read this! After all, dogs have a “pack mentality” as do people. (More trivia: what is the name of a group of cats????? Got you, right?!) All three of my four-legged family members are draped across my legs as I write this. It’s a chilly morning and they are earning their keep!
My husband and I have been married for 33 years and for 25 of those years we’ve had at least one dog. We were excited the day we finally moved into a pet-friendly condominium. It didn’t take long for us to adopt our first dachshund, Carly. For eight years, our friends and family had speculated as to when we’d have a child. They had a good laugh when we purchased a small library of books in the genre of how to raise the perfect dog and consulted a baby naming book. There were whispers that we were “practicing” for our first child. The speculation grew when we took Carly to Sears for Christmas pictures.
Alas, the next member of our pack also had four legs. Bill, another long-haired miniature dachshund, joined us the year after our first. Jeff and Karyn of Wagsmore Dachshunds named the dog after the president “before the Lewinsky scandal” they told us. We thought our new puppy looked rather “presidential” so we chose not to change his name. It would be another two years before we had our only child, Natalie, and Bill would be the first to arrive in her room when she cried.
It’s impossible to imagine our home without a dog or two or three and perfectly outrageous to ponder me and my husband embroiled in a custody fight over them. But, there is no danger of this as we are happy together and have further bonded over the arrival of our latest baby “Winnie.”
P.S. A group of cats is called a “clowder.” I looked it up.
No, that’s not a typo in the title! It’s Friday and thank god for it …TGIF! But, alas, today I’m also feeling grateful for Target. How did we ever accomplish anything major before this retailer came to our rescue? Thank God for Target! They’ve got shower curtains and small desks, frozen lasagna and iced coffee in large jugs, shower curtains and toaster ovens, laundry detergent and first-aid kits and lots of storage options: bins, boxes and baskets of all sizes.
On Monday night, I hit the sack at 10 p.m. I was up at 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday at my pup Winnie’s insistence and again at 4:30 to provide puppy relief. I loafed until 6 a.m. and then headed south down Highway 101 to help my daughter move into her first off-campus apartment. By 11 a.m., we’d made our first trip to Target. You may wonder: how many Target trips does it take to set-up a new apartment for three students? I’ve got the answer; read on!
Day one was devoted to kitchen set-up; we’ve got our priorities straight! Things went smoothly until we discovered the garbage bags did not fit into the very old trash compactor and we’d need a stepping stool to provide access to upper shelves to maximize storage. We started a list and prepared for trip #2.
We began the trip with a detour to the in-store Starbucks. Iced tea in hand, we headed our separate ways to divide and conquer. I found myself in the pop-up “Dorm/Apartment Kitchen Essentials Department” where I encountered three young men debating the attributes of two different silverware trays. I stopped to eavesdrop…just because I find the young amusing. In the end, they decided they didn’t really need a sorter.
“Let’s just let it rattle around in the drawer,” the tall one said to the other two. They nodded and were off… presumably to buy a frozen pizza or something really “essential”.
I wondered silently: would I want my daughter to end up with a guy who felt he needed a flatware organizer or a guy who knew he could live without one?
I fell into bed exhausted that night and woke at 1:30 and again at 4 a.m. Ah, the puppy has ME trained! The “girls” all left for work early that morning after letting me into the apartment for some solo unpacking and organizing. I sat on the small couch drinking cold coffee that I had thrown into the cart on trip #1. The day ended on a sweet note, as well, when I placed the pillow I’d secretly purchased on the faux fur chair in the corner of my daughter’s room.
Day 3 began with a fourth trip to Target. Why hadn’t I bought an under-bed storage bin yet?! There were exactly two left in the store when I reached up to pull one from the shelf at the same moment as another woman. I looked at her with a slightly desperate expression that she seemed to understand.
“Oh, I only want one of them,” she said. “First year or second,” she asked.
“Third,” I replied proud of my daughter’s seniority. I pointed to the next aisle where the last two shoe organizers resided.
“Get one while you can, ” I suggested. (Well, I had seniority, too!)
It was the final day of my visit and we made a fifth trip to Target. This trip required a visit to the Customer Service Counter where we had to return the curtains that didn’t fit and the chair that clashed with the sofa. All went smoothly.
But, there was something bothering me. I’d been very smart and ordered a few key pieces ahead of time and yet they still hadn’t been delivered. Just as I sat down, with another glass of cold brew, I had the text from my husband: Lots of boxes deliveredtoday. They’re for here?!
In the end, it took six trips to move my “child” into her first apartment and I’m glad I was there for all of them! Parenting is a long journey and it’s a privilege to feel welcome in my daughter’s world as she approaches the big 21.
P.S. Hoping the puppy feels as tired as I do this evening!
I nearly collided with a jubilant young girl yesterday upon my arrival in the lobby of a large hotel. She was happily spinning about with her arms outstretched. “I’m flying Mom! I’m flying!” she exclaimed.
“Fabulous,” came her mother’s enthusiastic reply. “But, don’t fly too close to the stairs!”
I remembered my daughter at the same age. She was energetic, determined and curious. I could imagine her dancing beside me. She is now in Southern California, a 20-year-old college sophomore, earning excellent grades while working part-time. Today she made a deposit on her first off-campus apartment for next year. She is flying!
She is also studying abroad this summer. She received the good news that she had been accepted into the international program on March 22, the day the terrorist attack took place in the vicinity of the Palace of Westminster in London. I was shopping for fun stuff for the girl’s apartment when I received a message from my husband about the Manchester attack two days ago.
Terrorist attacks are by nature appalling, but those that target children and young adults are the most heartbreaking. It’s hard to hold back tears when listening to a parent describe how they feel about their child’s death. This is not the way life should be. Parents should not have to face the death of their children. I wish there was something I could do to assuage the pain of those who have lost children and yet I imagine that there is nothing anyone can do. The pain will never leave.
Within hours of the attack at the concert, the Facebook page for college parents was filled with one simple question: Is your daughter/son still planning on traveling to Europe this summer? Though our “children” are young adults, study abroad is made possible by parents. So the decision to go or not to go becomes a conversation that begins with: “Do you still want to go?”
My daughter was upset by the news but does not want to “waste the opportunity.” My husband and I agree. As a young child we taught her to look both ways and to dial 911, and, most importantly, we tried to model responsible behavior. Thankfully, she was an inherently careful, thoughtful, observant girl and she did not cause us undue worry. Now that she is also an adult, we can discuss the fact that life is unpredictable which makes it that much more precious. One must fly despite the fact that the stairscan not always be seen.
Unless circumstances drastically change, my daughter will soon be on a plane heading toward a wonderful 7- week- long adventure…and my heart will be there, too!
As we drove home from Southern California yesterday, my husband asked me, “Does Mother’s Day upset you or make you sad in a way?”
I knew exactly what he meant, but the question still took me by surprise as I was quite happily surveying grape orchards and remembering the events of the weekend. If you know me from my blog, you know how proud I am of my daughter and the close relationship we share. If you are one of my dear friends, you begin every visit with the question, “How’s your daughter?” I love talking about my daughter. I simply adore her. She is my single greatest source of pride.
So, why should Mother’s Day in any way upset me? Well, the answer has to do with my mother. She died three years ago on the morning after my daughter had major surgery at Stanford Hospital. In life, my mom had loved being the center of attention and so the timing of her death seemed appropriate.
One of the nurses heard me take the call from my sister and she became immediately quite concerned about my state of mind. My daughter was scheduled to spend four days in the hospital, but she would need continuous home care for several weeks. The doctors and nurses, my husband and I soon realized, were training us to take care of her at home. Her release would be determined not only by her condition, but also by our ability to care for her. The hospital chaplain was alerted to our situation and within the hour began appearing at our door. My husband shooed her away several times while I snoozed, but she was determined to talk to me.
“Ah, good, you’re eating!” she exclaimed as she approached me late that night in the cafeteria. “I’m Dusty, the hospital’s multi-faith chaplain and I’m here to see if you’d like to talk.” Really I just wanted to eat, but I was polite. I thanked her for her concern and let her know that I was tired, but fine, and that I knew exactly what I needed to do: take care of my daughter. “But,” she continued, “it’s hard to take care of someone else when you are suffering yourself.”
How could she know that was exactly what I’d told myself for years when I thought about my mother? She was simply unable to be kind or nurturing as she was in pain. The explanation served to protect me from completely absorbing the constant emotional assault she inflicted on everyone close to her. My mother died without having a relationship with me or knowing her only grandchild. “She’s no longer in pain,” I told Dusty and I left her to interpret the comment in any way she chose. I returned to my coffee and eggs as she left finally satisfied that she had done her job.
A week later I found myself speeding down the freeway to attend my mother’s funeral. I paid my last respects to the woman who had created me and who had, I think, helped determine the happy course of my life.
“You know we may not have Natalie if it weren’t for my mother,” I answered my husband.
I missed out on having a strong bond with my own mother; maybe that’s why I finally decided at 35 to throw away my birth control pills! We all make choices and those choices are often based on needs we may not even consciously be aware of. Maybe I needed a strong mother/daughter bond. I did not have that with my own mom, so I set about to create it with my daughter.
It has been many many years since I felt anything for my mother, but it took time and counseling to resolve issues from my childhood. It seems to me that it is still taboo to speak about one’s mother in anything but appreciative terms, but for those readers who can relate to my story, I’m sorry… and I’d like to offer the following book recommendations: Mean Mothers by Peg Streep and Mothering Without a Map by Kathryn Black.
I’ll borrow Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words to perfectly describe my feelings about my life: “For everything you have missed, you have gained something else…”
I am so fortunate to be able to celebrate Mother’s Day with my daughter. Happy ending!
It was one of those moments that just sneaks up on you. It was 5 years ago, but it remains fixed in my memory. It was the day I realized that even though I was the one driving from point a to point b, my passengers were not far behind me. I was sitting in the car pool lane at school with my neighbor in the back seat awaiting the arrival of my daughter. We had just finished an uninhibited, full-throttle, banging on the steering wheel and backpack sing-along with Adele. I was still “Rolling in the Deep” when my 15-year-old passenger asked. “How old do you feel?” I turned to face her and she continued. “Do you feel as old as you are?”
I was impressed with her question, and I wanted to know where it came from before I answered. She said that it came from observing her mother closely. Fair enough. She deserved a thoughtful response.
At the time, I was a mere 52-year-old, so in some ways I was still getting used to the label: “50-something.” I was then and still am in good health fortunately, but I didn’t really think that was at the heart of her question. I had to tell her that, although I wasn’t really sure what “50” was supposed to feel like, it was very hard to believe that it had happened to me, even though I was along for the entire ride.
“So you are saying what everyone says: time goes by quickly?” she asked. She’d heard it before and I could only confirm that it is one of those truths that can’t be known…until it is known.
She wanted more than a simple, trite, easy answer though, so I drew a comparison for her. I described “Imaginary 50-year-old Michele.” She’s a better driver. She’s very wise in a very casual way. She’s less fearful. She’s more organized.
In contrast, “Real Michele” was still a lousy driver and a bit disorganized. She knew what she didn’t know and she did not hesitate to ask for help. She was not unafraid, but she had a greater sense of peace than she could have imagined.
I also confessed that the picture that I carried in my mind no longer closely matched what I saw when I looked at photographs of myself. Generally, I wasn’t bothered by that though. I estimated my imaginary mental picture age was about “35.”
If I were asked the same question today, I’d probably reply in the same manner. I’m now closer to “60” than “50” and I’m sure when that happens it will feel sudden, and I’ll bet I won’t feel like a 60-year-old. I’m guessing I’ll still be a poor driver and a bit disorganized, but, in my mind’s eye, I will have aged some; I’ll probably look about “45.”
I’ve decided a bit of denial is just fine. I know how old I am, but there’s no reason to dwell on how many years I’ve lived except to marvel at my incredible good fortune. When I want to feel really young, these things always take me back:
Listening to the Bee Gees
Driving a fast car…fast
Flirting with my husband
Swinging, you know, in a swing in the park
Eating a doughnut or hot fudge sundae or a piece of cake with special candles
This year I visited my daughter at college the week before my 57th birthday and she and her roommates helped me celebrate. They baked me a cake and used the only candles they had in their apartment, as they had all turned “20” this year!
Yeah. I’m an astronaut. Self-trained. Rigorously self-trained. I’ve been running stairs. Well, not so much running stairs as using them on an as-needed basis. You know, when I’m downstairs and I have to get upstairs. And I squeeze a tennis ball. A lot. Preparing for space travel is an arduous and exacting science. You have to mix anaerobic and aerobic activity.
What drives me? What drives any explorer? Curiosity. A thirst for adventure. The need to test myself. Mars is there and I’m here. Enough said.
Also, I have an empty nest now, and a bit of free time. A fair amount of free time, truth be told, and I don’t do well with free time. I need structure and goals. So I’m planning and executing a 270-day trip to Mars, during which I’ll be following the kind of regimented program of exercise and intellectual stimulation that keeps astronauts sane as they hurtle through the vacuum of space.
You know how people say, “I’ve always wanted to do X. I’ve always wanted to [learn to surf, play the cello, read Proust and not just say that I’ve read Proust]”? Well, I may actually read Proust. And learn to surf. I’m not sure yet. The trip is still in the planning stages. But it’s a go, as we like to say in the space business. It’s on. I’m in the process of establishing the mission parameters that I’ll be following for the 270 days that I’m “away,” and I’m chronicling the journey in a mission log.
We’re happiest when we’re absorbed, when we’re rising to a challenge. Well, everything I know about astrophysics I learned from Star Trek and I get dizzy shaking my head, but I’m going to Mars, if only metaphorically. That’s my challenge. We’re all travelers, I’m just steering my ship in a new direction.
Call it a trip to inner space.
My friend Laurie has a BA in history from Yale and an MFA in writing from the California College of the Arts. Formerly a reporter and editor for Dow Jones & Co., she teaches in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her book, 22 Shelters: Lessons From Letters, is an inspiring read.
In addition to those amazing credentials, Laurie was the first mom to be-friend me when my daughter switched schools in the second grade. So, yes, she has a permanent place in my heart. Her only “child” is a sophomore in college.