Goodbye, Summer!

In honor of the first day of Fall: a farewell to a summer of transitions.

The first frame shows my oldest with his siblings, celebrating his high school graduation. After trips to New York City, Cape May, and let’s not forget: Bumpass, we dropped our son off for his first semester of college in Manhattan, a city dear to our hearts because it’s where his dad and I met as graduate students. A short while after, my college friends and I got together for our annual reunion. I like to imagine my son someday in the future getting together with the friends he’ll be making in the next few years. A week after my college mini-reunion, I flew to California to attend the wedding of a childhood friend. I stayed with another mutual dear friend, and together we celebrated a beautiful wedding and a lifelong friendship that has weathered all kinds of life changes – big and small, sad and joyous. The last frame of the video is from this morning. After my second son passed his driver’s test and officially got his driver’s license, he drove me home, and then banged out this song with me. It’s one I used sing to each of my babies as a lullaby…

Weekend Snapshots 61: we’re still standing

Saturday

img_4056My husband took my daughter to her soccer game in Blacksburg this Saturday. I played hooky and spent the day pottering around in my garden, getting a few more patches of poison ivy rashes on my legs. Meanwhile, my son took himself to his own soccer game, but had to come home early, having badly sprained his ankle. He’ll have to be on crutches for a week or so.

While he convalesced indoors, I kept being drawn outside to admire the flowers. I’ve been especially enamored with the irises I planted a couple years ago. They’ve finally come into their own this year…

I was annoyed, however, to see that a bright orange interloper had popped up in the flower bed.

 

My daughter noticed it immediately and asked “What’s that orange flower?!”

“That’s an iris. They must have sent it by accident with my order.”

I was just about to tell her that I was going to yank it out and replant it in some obscure patch in the backyard when she gushed, “I LOVE it! It’s SO cute!” So, I guess it’s staying…

What’s NOT staying is the huge oak tree, pictured upright just beyond the orange iris in the previous picture. Today it looks like this:

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Yesterday, I drove home from work through a powerful storm. It was late and I was so thoroughly exhausted that I somehow managed to pull into the driveway without even noticing that the tree had fallen into another huge oak tree, whose top sheared off and took down the fence with it, and fell into the road, blocking traffic coming from the other direction. When I came through the door, the kids came running up from the basement, where they had been cowering in fear.

“Thank goodness you’re home!!! Did you see the tree?!” my daughter asked breathlessly.

“Tree? What tree?”

YOU DIDN’T NOTICE THE TREE?!

She had to drag me to the window to point out the obvious.

Sunday

We sang in the choir all together for the last time. During the service there was a big, mushy send-off for the graduating seniors, including my son, who is heading to college in New York this fall. I was reduced to a quivering mass of exposed nerves, tears, and snot right up front and center in the choir loft. I’m sure I stuck out like a gaudy orange flower, and not in a cute way either.

But…we’re still standing.

Senior Babies

I met some of my best friends at a prenatal exercise class. We were from all walks of life, but we were all going through the same exhilarating and terrifying experience of gestating a human being. Our ranks diminished one by one as our tiny humans made their way into the world. New mothers would disappear for awhile into an all-consuming regime of sleepless nights, the management of endless bodily excretions, and trying to keep a wriggling, mewling creature alive.

Once we managed to fumble our way through those early days, we found each other again. We would get together at each other’s houses, which had all been redecorated in a similar aesthetic featuring bulky plastic baby paraphernalia that sprouted overnight in all of our living rooms like giant, colorful mushrooms after a rain. We called our get togethers “playdates,” but they were not so much for the babies as they were for the mothers.

Every playdate would begin or end with a photo session. We’d line up our babies on a couch like so many sacks of flour and snap merrily away, trying to record the sweet memory for posterity before they toppled over.

Scan 6Scan 5Seventeen years passed like a dream. Recently, I got together again with a couple of those friends and our babies for another photo shoot. This time it was for senior pictures! Our babies are in their last year of high school now and are applying to colleges.

We are lucky to live just down the road from this baby. She grew up to be a delightful combination of sweet and sassy. Whenever we go away, we entrust our entire menagerie to her capable care.

IMG_5485IMG_5474IMG_5601IMG_5654 I visited these twins just days after they were born. They were impossibly tiny and their little legs were still scrunched up tight…They’ve grown into handsome young men who are a credit to their parents.IMG_5542IMG_5551IMG_5560IMG_5460IMG_5433We managed to snap a few photos of this baby before he had to leave to get to his piano lesson…IMG_5413IMG_5416IMG_5420…thereby missing Couch Babies Photo Shoot 2.0:IMG_5578IMG_5528IMG_5625

I may have to cheat a little nowadays to be at the same altitude as this boy…

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…but he’ll always be my baby.

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A Fishy Story

For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. Galatians 6:7 

My children are descended from a long line of liars on both sides of their family tree. From the moment they entered the world, they’ve been raised in an intricate and treacherous web of secrets and lies. It’s exhausting to live like this, but we know no other way. It’s programmed deep in our DNA.

Mostly we lie for benign reasons. Like many parents, we’ve spun tales of Santa and the tooth fairy.

IMG_2606But we’ve also dipped our toes into more questionable acts of deception. For instance, when my oldest son was a toddler he once asked me why a squashed squirrel in the middle of the road wasn’t moving.

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How could I break this kid’s heart?

“Oh, him?” I replied, “He’s just taking a little nap. They do that sometimes.”

Another time I wandered down the feminine product aisle in the grocery store with my second son.

ScanWith his blankie clutched in one chubby fist, he trailed the pointer finger of his other hand along the packages of maxi pads and tampons as we walked down the aisle.

“What are these?” he asked.

“Oh, just ummm…things for women.”

“But, what are they?…Cheese sticks?”

“Yep. Cheese sticks,” I replied. “For women.”

I will admit that there have been more egregious examples of deceit. It’s possible that on an occasion or two, I may have asked my kids not to mention something to their grandparents, “because they’re from another generation and another culture and they wouldn’t understand and we wouldn’t want them to worry or make them sad.”

It was only last week that I realized all these years the little punks have been storing up every single lie ever told in their steel trap brains.

I was driving my 15-year old home from his afterschool activity. As we pulled into our driveway, his older brother happened to pull in right behind us. He emerged from his car, dripping with sweat and lugging the enormous gym bag he insists on carrying everywhere. (It’s actually the large duffle bag I used myself when I was a college student to carry an entire semester’s worth of clothes and books back and forth between my house and campus. I’ve offered more than once to buy him a smaller gym bag, but he’s always demurred, because “it holds all my stuff.”)

But I digress…He had told me that morning he would drive straight from school to the open mat session they were having at his Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gym, just as he had done the week before.

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So sweet. So innocent. Such liars.

“Oh, hey!” the 15-year-old addressed his older brother as he got out of the car, “So you went boxing again?”

Through the car window, I could see my son shoot daggers at his younger brother with his eyes. He put his fingers up to his lips and curled his lips into a silent, but unmistakable “SHHHHH.”

Busted.

It’s difficult for me to understand the appeal of grappling with a sweaty stranger, yet I’ve let my son do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. When he started talking about doing boxing, however, I put my foot down and told him in no uncertain terms that he would not be allowed to do this. The boy is about to apply to college. Does he really need to get his head bashed in for sport?

I suspended his driving privileges for a couple days and read him the riot act for lying to me about the boxing. When his dad came home and was apprised of the situation, he launched into a lengthy disquisition of his own.

“Even worse than the fact that you went boxing, is the fact that you deliberately lied to us about it…” he said in an injured tone.

My son could bear the hypocrisy no longer. He yelped in fury and began to enumerate the many times we had lied to him and to others.

We all went to bed that night feeling bruised and battered and not unlike that squashed squirrel in the road.

At 1:30 am I awoke from deep slumber to the strong smell of fish frying. Surely this was just one of those nonsensical, yet hyper-realistic dreams?

I stumbled down the stairs to investigate and found my thwarted pugilist standing over a frying pan.

“What the hell are you doing?!” I asked, my eyes squinting in the bright light of the kitchen.

“Frying fish,” my son replied as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

“Wh- why are you frying fish at 1:30 in the morning?!”

“I was hungry.”

“Where did you even get the fish?”

“I caught it a couple weeks ago.”

“Well, where has it been all this time?”

“In the chest freezer.”

The exchange was so surreal and yet so banal. I was at a loss.

“The whole house reeks now. Next time you’re hungry, could you please just have a bowl of cereal like a normal person?! And make sure you clean up after yourself when you’re done!” I said and lumbered off to bed.

When I went downstairs the next morning I saw that he had, for the most part, cleaned up his mess. I did find a carefully labelled Ziploc bag left on the counter top that had until very recently contained “two longnosed sunfish fillets.” As I looked around the kitchen I also discovered a gallon jug of canola oil. I stopped buying vegetable oil years ago when I read about its carcinogenic properties.

“Where did this come from?” I wondered out loud.

“Oh!” my daughter piped up, but then immediately stopped herself, “Well…actually I don’t think I’m supposed to tell you.”

She took one look at my face and began to sing like a bird.IMG_1163

“Last week when ‘N’ drove himself back from his piano lesson in Crozet, he stopped off at Great Valu and bought fish and frog legs and that’s when he got the oil too.”

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That one in the middle? She’d sell her brothers down the river for a song.

Her response so perfectly reflected our bizarre and dizzying reality. It’s damn near impossible to keep track of what we are or are not supposed to tell each other or what we know or are not supposed to know. Though I hadn’t known about the vegetable oil, I had in fact known about the fish and frog legs. I had seen a small fillet in the fridge, but it disappeared soon after and I had forgotten all about it. As for the frog legs…my son fried them up and ate them the very same day. (And by the way, in case you, like my eccentric son, were wondering? “They taste like river chicken…kind of chickeny and fishy at the same time.”)

“But wait a minute…what about that other fish he bought? Did he already fry that?” I asked.

“No. He bought that fish to feed to his other fish. And he caught the sunfish at his friend’s house to eat himself,” my daughter patiently explained.

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My kid buys groceries for this thing.

“So you knew about the sunfish?”

“Well…yeah,” she answered evasively, wondering if this admission would get her into trouble.

“Did you see it? Was it a whole fish?”

“No. He came home with the fillets. He must have cut it up at his friend’s house.”

“And you saw him stash the fish in the freezer?”

“Yeah.”

“And how come I never saw this ginormous bottle of canola oil until this morning?”

“Oh, that’s because he was hiding it in his gym bag.”

College Bound

I’m not quite sure how this happened. One minute my friends and I were pushing our babies in strollers, the next minute we’re taking those babies on college tours. Earlier this week I took some family photos for friends who are actually dropping their daughter off at college this weekend…

Family photo 2017 closeup 2Jeff and Kat 2017Dad and Claire 2017 full lengthClaire and Mom 2017 closeupAndrew and Mom 2017 1Claire and Andrew 3Dad and Kids 2017IMG_5000Dad Claire Mom 2017 2

Good luck & Godspeed

A Day by Emily Dickinson

I’ll tell you how the sun rose, –
A ribbon at a time.
The steeples swam in amethyst,
The news like squirrels ran.

The hills untied their bonnets,
The bobolinks begun.
Then I said softly to myself,
“That must have been the sun!”

But how he set, I know not.
There seemed a purple stile
Which little yellow boys and girls
Were climbing all the while

Till when they reached the other side,
A dominie in gray
Put gently up the evening bars,
And led the flock away.

Darwin helps us evolve…

 

 

Perhaps as a result of having lived in a basement for many years in my youth, I try to avoid them as much as possible now. The house we live in now has a lovely, partly-finished basement with French doors. The kids like to play ping-pong, pummel the punching bag, and run on the treadmill there. I am never tempted to join them.

The other day I was hunting around for something and ventured to the basement for the first time in months. What I saw there literally made me gasp in horror…and then gnash my teeth in rage. I gingerly picked my way over empty food wrappers. I surveyed dirty dishes and plates on every surface, and dirty clothes and towels strewn about the floor. It was a crime scene.

It’s a good thing my husband had taken the kids to a movie, because it took a good two hours for me to stop seething. They returned from the theater in high spirits after having spent the afternoon with their dad, the fun parent. For those of you who may be unaware of this sad universal truth, only one lucky person gets to be the fun parent. This of course means that I am the mean parent. Not only am I the mean parent, I am The Meanest Most Unreasonable Parent That Ever Drew Breath In This Universe. The minute those happy, carefree children walked through the door, I confiscated their cell phones and sent them directly downstairs to tackle the unholy mess they had made.

Whenever the kids get in trouble collectively, they begin acting like rats in an overcrowded cage. A lifetime of human civility evaporates like a dream. They turn on each other with feral ferocity. I listened from the living room upstairs as they bellowed and bawled, hurling their grievances to the indifferent heavens above. My 17-year-old was the most vocal about his outrage at the unfairness of life and of his mother’s absurd and irrational insistence on maintaining a minimal level of order and hygiene.

It took some time for the turbulent feelings to subside. That evening we were in the kitchen together and began to make small conciliatory overtures to each other.

“Is this what you’re looking for?” I asked as I handed him the spatula.

“Yeah. Thanks, Mom.”

I pulled out the big guns, (emotionally speaking), by inquiring about a topic especially near and dear to my son’s heart.

“How’s Darwin doing?” I asked, “Has he fully recovered?”

For reasons beyond my comprehension, the kid dotes on his mudskipper, Darwin.  He  assiduously monitors his food intake and constantly frets over his general health and well-being. He spends hours hunting for choice, live insects to feed him and keeps his tank scrupulously pristine. When we went away to England recently, he penned a tome which outlined in excruciating detail the care and feeding of Darwin. I had to condense it down to a single-spaced page to spare the poor girl who was taking care of all of our animals while we were away. As far as I can tell, there is no return on my son’s considerable investment of time and effort. The mudskipper lolls about on his log, a glassy-eyed, overfed pasha consuming his food and dirtying his waters. No thanks given. No affection returned.

About a month earlier, my son had been doing a water change for Darwin, when the mudskipper freaked out. He started thrashing wildly around his aquarium, tearing his fins as he hurled himself in a panic from log to log. Ever since then my son has been nursing him back to health.

“He’s getting better,” he replied, “His fins are still ragged, but you can tell they’re starting to grow back.”

There was a pause before he added, “I wish he could understand that I’m just trying to help him.”

“Mmmmhmmm,” I murmured sympathetically, “I know exactly what you mean.”

“Leave me alone, Dad” I snarled, drawing upon my thespian background to channel all the wrath of a wronged mudskipper, “Why do we have to clean the room?! It’s fine the way it is!!!

There was a moment of silence followed by a low chuckle of acknowledgement: “Yeah, OK, Mom.”

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Chance

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One in a gazillion

As I was braiding my daughter’s hair this morning, we were chatting about one of her teachers who is about to have a baby.

“Does she know if it’s a boy or a girl?” I asked.

“No! They want to be surprised!” she replied, “Did you know that I was going to be a girl?”

“Yes, I did! You know how I hate suspense!”

“So they could tell that I was a girl before I was born, but they couldn’t tell that I had this disease?”

My daughter was born with a condition that allows her to live a perfectly normal life as long as she takes medicines throughout the day.

“Yes, that’s right. We didn’t realize that until you were born.”

“What were the chances that I would be born with it?”

“Well, we didn’t know it at the time, but it turned out that there was a 1 in 4 chance that you would have it.”

“Oh GREAT!”she replied, “So there was a 3 in 4 chance that I wouldn’t have it?”

“Yes, that’s true,” I replied, “But there was only a 1 in a gazillion chance that you would be the amazing and awesome person you are…so I think we really lucked out.”