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almost 18, and still taking baby steps

February 21st, 2012 | 3 Comments »

This boy of mine, a man-child with the deep voice and winsome smile, self-sufficient and capable who is learning to drive and manage a bank account and negotiate girls and friendships….. so much that’s happening with him on every passing day but he can’t seem to manage taking a shower without a few heavy knocks on the door.

And on occasion, shutting off the hot water and giving him ‘The Big Chill’.

As battles go, I know this one is pretty low on the priority scale. When we say ‘Be home by midnight’ he’s usually walking in the door around 11:30. When he has a sleepover with his friends, the worst thing they do is consume too much junk food and pop.
He makes his own breakfast and lunch. When we ask for him to manage dinner, he makes us a feast. If I leave him a task list before I go to work, it’s complete by the time I come home. He still likes to hang out with us, watching a movie or TV show. He washes his own clothes without our prompting, he willingly goes to church, he loves to read and he enjoys good friendships with his band of brothers from his Youth Group, and with his cousins.

But, he still needs ‘The Big Chill’.

He’s not sneaking out of the house after we’re asleep, to meet friends who encourage illicit activities. He’s not coming home from hanging out with his pals sporting telltale signs of substance abuse or alcohol consumption. He’s not stealthily smoking cigarettes, chasing after all kinds of girls, committing vandalism, TP-ing houses, terrorizing neighbors. We trust his friends, and that goes far. If the worst offense he encounters away from the protection of our wings is a trip to Chipotle after his rec league basketball game, then I consider us pretty darn lucky.

Then come those morning, and we have to flip that knob that cuts the flow of hot water, because the knock at the door and the responding ‘Ok.’ haven’t made a bit of difference.

He turns 18 in April, and yet, in no way in this man-child an adult. Maybe in some ancient time, when life was far different and everyone needed to be so much more self-sufficient, and when the life expectancy was more like 30, when we didn’t have the ability to thrive in to our 80’s or higher, when the dangers of life could take their toll far quicker and more exacting, maybe then 18 was adulthood, worthy of responsibility, of letting go and watching them spread their own wings to fly. Used to be that a girl of 18 who was unmarried was considered too old. A time existed that man of 18 had all the markings of adulthood;  a wife, a homestead and his own team of horses. But this isn’t the case now.

And that’s all right with me. I wasn’t ready to fly by myself either at that age. And although he moves closer to finding his own freedom every day, and we plot to move him in the right direction, he still has moments where he sits down by me, just wanting my proximity. He still loves it when I grab him in a huge hug, and hold on tight. He can figure out his future, take stock of what he wants from it and try to make it all work out and I can sit back and enjoy the process of seeing him test those wings, listening and supporting his ideas. I find a few things to tease him about, but it’s a huge stretch to do so, because this boy of mine, for all those moments of forgetfulness, when he doesn’t recall the task list I left or simply decides he doesn’t want to do what we ask, well those are few and far between. And as parenting a teenager goes, it’s an awfully good thing going on here, worthy of the pride it evokes.

If my only vice with him is that he is soothed by a long, hot shower in the morning, then I’ve got little to complain about.

{{Just Write 23}} is happening, over at The Extraordinary Ordinary.
Won’t you head over there and read some of the other posts?? 


November 29th, 2011 | Comments Off on moments

There are moments, as someone’s Mom, that you can’t change regardless of how much you wish you could.

The fall on the concrete, scrapes to the face and nose and a mouthful of sand.

Slipping on ice and little teeth slamming down on a tender lip; blood….. so much blood. And a scar for life.

A door accidentally shut on curious fingers.

Oh my poor heart as a competent nurse holds down my trusting baby…. my baby! and jams sharp needles in to both his chubby thighs. Watching that face crumple and the shrieks that rip in two your poor Mama’s heart.

The betrayal of a friend, the first of so many that will inevitably come. Or the good friend that moves away, and suddenly, there is loss.

The taunting of classmates, horrible teasing, the story of having a chair pulled out from underneath and hitting his head, or a mean kid pushing his face in to a pile of mashed potatoes at lunch while everyone laughs. The way he bravely tried to hold back tears as your heart sinks to your feet.

A biological parent that makes such terrible and dangerous choices that you can only withdraw and walk away. Far, far, far away. Setting boundaries you wish you never had to lay down, to say to a broken heart “I can’t let Daddy come back any longer.”

A grandpa who won’t drive to your new home, saying ‘It’s too far.’ as an excuse not to come around any longer.

Your heart breaks because it has to, because you can’t protect from all those moments, those times of self-growth and change and the hatred in the world for anything that is out of the ordinary, or extraordinary, as it would be. Your heart breaks when your flesh and blood begin to learn of how the world can wrench you in two and tear at your soul. You can’t protect or insulate them from life, the pain, the betrayals and poor choices. You can’t stop the hurt that others inflict. You can’t change the inevitable march to adulthood, with the sorrows and sadness and aches in the heart and you can’t even begin to comprehend how much you hurt when they hurt, how much you wish for that magic to wave away the unfairness.

They break. You break. They recover and you still break. Each year, each new moment is one slippage of time which could break a heart that may never forget, criss-crossed with scars. You step back, you grit your teeth and send them forward

Because it’s what a parent does.

Just Write Tuesday, over at The Extraordinary Ordinary, is on Week 12.

reconsidering walnuts

October 8th, 2010 | 4 Comments »

Walnuts and I have a rough history, a long-standing feud of stubbornness that I’ve only recently come to understand as being a massive error on my part.

And it all goes back, innocently, to my childhood and the fresh baked treats that Mom supplied us with endlessly. Just about everything she made had walnuts in it, and I thoroughly despised the little nuggets, endlessly picking them out of my chocolate chip cookies, my banana bread, my pumpkin bread and anything else that she felt impelled to stuff with those icky things. I used to watch in despair as she pulled the sack out of the cupboard, and groan once again “Walnuts! Why do you ALWAYS put walnuts in everything!?” to which she would always reply in that ‘Mom’ tone “When you bake your own cookies, you can do whatever you want.” and I was pretty powerless to argue THAT point. This coming from a Mom who would rise before the break of day in the summertime so she could bake cookies before it got too hot outside. The Mom who scorned margarine for real butter and always asked us what favorites we wanted her to make. I couldn’t get past those walnuts though. And true to my baking heritage, when I got older and baked in my own kitchen, there were never walnuts in my chocolate chip cookies. Or my banana bread. Or in my house, for that matter.

I recall a time, lingering over a steaming coffee at some non-descript coffee house, that I wandered to the bakery case with a growl in my tummy and innocently asked for a piece of banana bread. Back at my table, I broke off a chunk and with my eyes firmly focused on the magazine I was reading, popped the bite in my mouth and began to chew. Suddenly a familiar, but not so familiar taste spread over my tongue and I stared down at the slice on the plate in front of me. There, staring back was the unmistakeable shape of walnuts. In my banana bread. My tummy went ‘Errrrr….gurgle’ and the welcoming chunk of bread, rich with bananas and cinnamon beckoned me. I realized though, that whatever taste was in my mouth seemed a far cry from that of my youth, the dreaded taste of pasty walnuts. I meticulously picked a chunk of nut from the bread, and with a deep intake of courage, I stuck it in my mouth.

‘This couldn’t possibly be a walnut.’ I thought to myself. ‘It tastes….. good!’ I took another bite of the bread and there it was again, the texture so familiar, but the flavor so foreign. It tasted nutty, moist and tender; it was crunchy not mealy. It was a nut that I had shunned and crossed my eyes at for my entire lifetime and here I was, enjoying it and wide-eyed at the experience. What the heck! Had I really grown up that much? Crossed the threshold of petulant youth to that of an open-minded adult with equally open-minded tastebuds? Had I been “gasp” wrong this whole time about walnuts??

I stretched myself even further by purchasing some walnuts fresh from the bin at the local co-op and chopping them up for a pumpkin muffin I made at home. I was hesitant, wondering if the whole batch was going to end up in the trash. But the first bite was another eye-opener and the muffins were delicious. I even took a walnut out of the bag and ate it, plain. I felt 10 feet tall too. The only thing that saved it from being a celestial experience was that I couldn’t call my Mom and tell her, triumphantly, that I found out I enjoyed walnuts. I think that I felt her smiling down at me from above though.

What I realized, and with quite a shock of clarity is that the walnuts my Mom purchased always came from the baking aisle at the supermarket, and likely were rancid and old, leaving a stale and metallic taste in my mouth. Walnuts have a high fat content, and need to be kept fresh. I like to keep all my bulk nuts in the freezer so they last a long time. Without that old and yucky taste in my mouth, I found that walnuts were as enjoyable as other nuts I’ve incorporated into my diet such as almonds, pistachios, pecans and peanuts. I grew up not liking nuts much at all until I learned how awesome fresh ones can be, and now I purchase nearly all of our nuts from the bulk bins at the markets.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve learned to appreciate a food that had been black-listed in my kitchen. We tend to tie our dislike of foods to personal taste, but what I’ve discovered is that often it can be traced to either a lack of freshness or an incorrect cooking procedure that makes a food unpalatable. Mike told me when we first met that he didn’t like salmon, but his past experiences with it came down to it being over-cooked, which turned it dry and rubbery. Once he ate a piece of perfectly cooked salmon, he never looked back and now he requests salmon often.

Looking for something delicious for those walnuts? This Date Nut Bread is amazing. You could try adding them to this hearty Overnight Muesli too, in addition to the almonds, and they could also be substituted for the pecans in these Pumpkin Maple Muffins.

(from the Health Castle website)………“Walnuts are one of the best plant sources of protein. They are rich in fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, and antioxidants such as Vitamin E.  Nuts in general are also high in plant sterols and fat – but mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (omega-three fatty acids – the good fats) that have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol. Walnuts, in particular, have significantly higher amounts of omega 3 fatty acids as compared to other nuts”

this face, this life

September 7th, 2010 | 16 Comments »

{this photo makes me weep- it’s my Mom, and Griffin when he was 2 weeks old}

My boy is a Junior in High School this year. I repeat this to myself often, trying to implant it in my head in a way that makes it sound familiar enough, like I’m truly talking about my own child instead of some stranger who hangs around my life.

I only have a few friends with kids the age of my own. We can commiserate on parenting teenagers, watching them grow and evolve and it helps to see another set of eyes grow wide in wonder at the amazing transformation that happens right in front of us. But a lot of my friends are parenting young still; they’re experiencing potty-training, weaning, first days of school and all sorts of other milestones that have already faded to sepia tones in my own mind. They lament the startling rate at which their children are growing, and yearn to keep them young. I want to embrace them because I understand. But I also want to tell them ‘The best is yet to come.’ And I truly mean that.

I’ll never wish for my son to be young again. I won’t. Beyond the fact that he’s just so much of an amazement to me, I look back at our life then, and for us, so much was different. And it wasn’t always fun. I parented single-handedly, with a few dedicated adults that lent solidity to my son’s life. But it was a lonely and empty existence sometimes. There was no one to ease my worries as I sped to the Emergency Room in the middle of the night (twice in one month, people) with a sobbing, anguished child in the backseat. There wasn’t an option of rest at the end of a long and tiring day, someone to make dinner while I tried to push the stress out of my head. No one else was there to assemble the tricycle, teach the proper way to swing a bat or encourage the training wheels to come off. At the same time, and at the opposite end of the spectrum, no one else saw the first bowling strike, the first homerun, the first exclamation of “My tooth came out!!” or the triumphant first circling of the driveway on a two-wheeler. I get to cherish those memories alone. I got to teach the importance of a bike helmet by pointing out the dent that took that first impact. I got to hold the hand of a nervous boy the first time he sat in a dentist’s chair. I got to see his face as he confidently told me that he didn’t need me to walk into his Kindergarten class with him anymore. It is both lovely, and bittersweet. Even as the tone of them fades in my memory with the clang of an ever-changing clock, no one can take them away from me. No one.

There are times my boy comes rolling down the stairs in the morning and I am still shocked at the young man in my house. But I am not sad to see him grow, evolve and become the person he was created to be. This is exciting. This is an adventure. Those firsts are all behind us and his entire life is forming and beginning to unfold now. And I am amazed. I’m humbled. And I’m pleased. When people tell me how polite he is, I barely am able to thank them because I’m too busy thanking myself for never giving up on the constant, day-in and day-out reinforcement of teaching him manners, even when I would have rather torn out my fingernails before reminding him to say ‘Thank You’ or ‘Excuse me’ again. When the girl cousins tell me how nice it is that he puts the toilet seat down, again, I feel better about the thousands of times I hauled him back into the bathroom and made him put the seat down himself until he got it on his own. You put it up, you put it down. You take it out, you put it back. If you open it, you close it. Every day, every month, every year, for years on end thinking I would go mad with the repetition. When it pays off on it’s own, and my friends- IT WILL- you will feel the same that I do. It isn’t pride, really. It’s the inherent satisfaction of a long and difficult task that’s finally- finally!!- shown it’s just rewards.

I may have, at some time felt the urge to keep my boy at a certain age forever, but as he grew I realized that I don’t have to wish for that anymore because it’s already there. It’s just there in memory, but it’s the sweetest memories of all because as he grows, I can look back and see just how far he’s come. I’m excited to see what his life will do in the years ahead. I do have my own wishes where his life is concerned, and they are far more selfish because they’re for me, not for him. I wish to never forget the first time he smiled, or laughed, or said “Ma!” or the sound of his voice before he went through puberty. I wish to never forget the look on his face when he finally got something, when he fully understood for the first time. I wish to never forget how empathetic he was a young boy, the time he sat by my side at the tender age of three, stroking my hair as I lay on the floor crying, trying to ease the pain of a terrible backache. Or the time, stuck in rush hour traffic on a snowy December afternoon and going nowhere, that we talked about how excited he was for Christmas to come, and he says to me- all of five years old- “Mom, it’s too bad that you have to spend Christmas without your Mom.” I wish to never forget, at maybe 2-1/2, when he wanted to call his beloved Uncle Mike, my brother (that’s them above, BFF’s now and forever), and when the answering machine came on he said loudly “Pees call me yater.” I wish to never forget how he loved to help me with everything I did, so I’d put a sponge in his hands or give him a dust cloth and allow him to clean to his hearts desire, even if it took him an hour to do one simple job that would have taken me 5 minutes. And I especially don’t want to forget when I told him that I’d met someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, and he smiled and said “That means he’d be my Dad, right?”

I can look at him now and see the person that I envisioned sixteen years ago, as he lay his chubby baby cheeks on my chest and gazed up at me with his perfect love. I can see that I’ve given him a firm foundation to base himself on, that he can speak for himself because I gave him a voice, that he can stand up for what he believes because I first believed in him, that he can laugh himself silly at how ridiculous life can be because I had to show him that even as beautiful as it is, it will never be perfect. I can see how resilient he is because he learned from me that not everyone will be his friend. I can see the good choices he makes because I gave him room to choose for himself. I see how he aptly deflects the pain of life because I never lied to him about how the world will hurt, how life is often unfair and how difficult some days may be. It went against the very instinct of parenting sometimes, but I knew he would never survive if I sheltered him, kept him safe within the circle of my arms or never let him know the truth. It’s better for him to see the world through the filter of my eyes than to be pushed into it with no ability to cope.

I loved him enough to do that for him, and to show him anger, frustration, pain, sorrow, grief and despair. I loved him enough to discipline him, sometimes with severity. Yet I also loved him enough to explain why I felt all those emotions, and why for his entire life he was going to have to follow rules so it was best that he start now, not to mention being strong and humble enough to apologize if my feelings made me into an ogre. I always made sure he was aware that it was his behavior that disappointed me, not him, and while I may not have liked what he did, I still loved him more than anyone else on Earth. As he grew and changed, I learned also to forgive myself for the bad times, for telling myself I was a horrible parent when we had a rotten day and for thinking I was doing irrevocable damage by those punishments. Because, you know what? He doesn’t remember it. He just remembers the love, the lap time, the stories before bed and the talking we would do before he fell asleep.

Two years ago when he entered High School, I knew it would be but a blink and a sigh before we were planning his graduation. I’m OK with that. I’m OK with the young man who roams my house, loves his friends and his music, his video games and God. I’m OK with the young man emerging, spreading his wings and learning to fly. I’m OK if he comes home and heads to his room, covering his ears with his headphones, tuning me out. I give him the space and he’ll come out eventually. I’ll be waiting for him when he does. I’m OK with requests for ice cream, Mavericks roast beef sandwiches, and the occasional steak. I’m OK with our cribbage games, even when he skunks me. And I’m OK with knowing that all too soon he’ll be off on his own and showing the world what he can do, with that amazing smile, his politeness and helpful attitude and the ability to put the seat down.