Time Machine

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My Mother’s Day wish this year is simple: a time machine. Just for a few hours. No, I wouldn’t take it back to buy Microsoft stock or witness some historical event. I would go back to an ordinary day….just a typical Wednesday, maybe 2001. I would go back to our humble house on our less than great street. The one I never really liked, but at a young age, was lucky to have. It would be a sunny, nice spring day. I would go back to the morning. When my boys, then 7 and 4, would still be asleep.

I would creep into their rooms, and sit down and watch them sleep. I would take in everything about that moment–each hair on their head, the sound of their sleeping breath, the smell of the room. After lingering a bit, I would wake them up and we’d go downstairs for breakfast. And they could have whatever they wanted—-ice cream? Sure!! Chocolate chip pancakes with extra chips? You got it!!

After breakfast, we would move head back upstairs to our “learning room” to get started on the school day. Lego on the floor?? Again??!!! As the plastic missile makes its way into my foot, I would smile and enjoy the searing pain shooting up my toes. As the school day begins, I remember how difficult it was homeschooling two boys. But, this day, I wouldn’t yell when Holden didn’t want to do his English lesson, because he wanted to read about space and rocket ships. I wouldn’t get frustrated at Harrison when all he wanted to do was look at the photos in his animal books. I would grab all the books and sit with them.

I would do every single thing they wanted all day—-no matter how silly it seemed at the moment, no matter what I had planned for the day. I would hold the hugs just a little bit longer. I would kiss just a little bit more. I would cuddle up on the sofa just a little bit longer as we watched silly cartoons, which I used to think were a waste of time. The extra cookie that they wanted after dinner—I’d give them 2.

As I look back now, fifteen years later as my boys are now a senior and sophomore in college, I realize how much time I spent on things that weren’t important. I complained about things that didn’t matter. I didn’t spend time taking in those mundane moments that become the best memories. I look at them now with their own lives and their independence and I long for them to need me just a bit. I long for days of Sponge-Bob on the TV and Lego all over the floor. Days of rough and tumble boys laughing a bit too loud and being a bit too silly.

Time flies so fast. We are so busy looking to the next moment that we miss the beauty of the current moment. We miss the beauty in the madness that is the day of a mom. Those mundane moments are what I miss the most. Those days when nothing special happened, except it did……I was spending the day with my boys. The two halves of my heart. My eldest, who taught me how to love, and my youngest who taught me that that love was limitless.

They tell you a lot of things when you’re pregnant—what to eat, what you should or shouldn’t do when the baby is born, how to stay healthy. But, what they don’t tell you is how you lose your heart. How you lose part of yourself. These babies that grow inside you for 9 months, take a piece of you when they are born. And no matter how old they are, no matter how far away they roam, they carry that with them. A piece of you will forever live outside of your body, but you still feel it. Like a phantom limb, you ache for it.

Every Mother’s Day, as I celebrate my own mom, I also thank my boys. They made me a better person. They made me love deeper, they made me stronger, they made me who I am. As I marvel at their talents, at their compassion, at their humanity, I continue to miss those ordinary days. But, I’ve learned to hold onto each moment they are with me. Now, if I could only get that time machine…. just for a few hours.

 

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A New Beginning

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He looked at me and kept walking. Too wound up in laughter and conversation with new friends to acknowledge Mom. A knife through the heart, yet a heart bursting with overwhelming pride and love.

So, was my day yesterday. My youngest son had college orientation–a 3 day event including scheduling, fun, and just getting to know his new home. We went to pick him up and pulled in front of the auditorium where he would be coming out. I wanted to walk with him to his dorm and help him pack up and come home. There he was, my boy, walking out among the other college freshman with wide eyes and wide smiles, knowing that this was the start of a new chapter in their lives. He was surrounded by a group of new friends, but the way they were chatting and smiling, you would have thought they knew each other forever. I yelled for him, so he knew we were there. He looked around, then kept walking, kept talking. My heart hurt. He was in a new city, but seemed completely unfazed and completely courageous.

We drove to his dorm. There he was standing outside, bags in hand, like an old pro. He jumped in my car with the enthusiasm of a kid on Christmas morning, full of stories and excitement. He didn’t just like his new home, he LOVED his new home. “It’s kind of weird,” he said, “we come here and then go home and have to wait another 2 months to start college.” He wanted to be there now, no waiting. He was ready to fly my nest. His wings were dry and he wanted to soar. I just smiled.

It’s what we are supposed to do, isn’t it? We are supposed to nurture our children, give them the right tools to be successful adults, then send them on their way with encouragement, But, somehow when that time comes, we want to stop it. We want them safe at home where we can protect them from the ugliness of the world. But, it’s in the ugliness that they find their beauty. Things have to get messy sometimes in order to become harmonious. I wonder why it hurts so much when it’s what I always wanted. I wanted to raise 2 successful, creative, intelligent, funny, interesting citizens of the world. I wanted them to face life with enthusiasm and sheer abandon. And I did. I should be proud and happy and move on to this new phase in my life with a sense of adventure as what will come next, not just for them, but for me as well.

And I am….but it still aches. Aches for the little blonde boy picking up bugs in the yard and worried for their safety. Aches for the little redhead who loved Elmo and wanted to read every book he got his hands on. Aches for the blonde boy whose first word was “firetruck” and who insisted on becoming a vegetarian at age 5 and still is, by the way. Aches for the curly red-haired boy who asked the principal on the first day of Kindergarten, “Where’s the science lab?”

But those boys are still here, they are just in the guise of extraordinary men, ones ready to conquer the world. The blonde boy now shows me his visions through his lens, a lens that now captures the bugs and the firetrucks with a love that permeates and radiates through the photos he takes. The redhead that sits for hours on his computer, coding games and creating fantastical lands and creatures with that enormous creativity. They are still there and I am still their mom.

So, as they continue on their journeys on the streets of Pittsburgh and the walls of the Corcoran, they know I will always be their number one supporter, unconditionally and with my whole heart. In an odd twist of the universe, there is a bird’s nest on my front porch, inside a hanging basket. I’ve been watching it for the past 2 months, from egg to chick to bird. I watch the mom and dad hover over their babies, feeding them and squawking away at invaders. I watched as the babies began to grow and fight for space in the nest. Today, I looked out, as I do every morning and they were gone. They had left the nest. They were now soaring off to new adventures, creating their own lives. But, there was mom in the tree, chirping away as usual. Ready for her own adventure.

Tears of a Clown

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I’m not one to follow the crowd. I know everyone is writing about Robin Willliams’ death today. But, as a huge fan and fellow depression sufferer, I have had so many thoughts that go through my mind since I heard the sad news last night, that I couldn’t get it out of my head. I am doing the only thing I know how to do, write it down.

I fell in love with Robin Williams watching Mork and Mindy as a kid, as so many in my age group did. I was so struck at this odd, hysterically funny character. He truly was unlike anyone I had ever seen on tv. I followed his career and always appreciated his humor. I believe his demons were always there, right under the surface. I think that’s why I related to him so well. As a life-long sufferer of depression, I could see it. I can see those demons peeking out between the smiles.

Dead Poets Society was an integral part of my formative years. As a long-time English geek, Mr. Keating was a hero, an inspiration. Walt Whitman had been on my bookshelf for years. To see a film all about life and how literature contributes to our life and nourishes our soul, was awe-inspiring. I cannot tell you how many times I have since seen this film. It seriously had an impact on me studying English in college.

When I had my two boys, they loved watching Disney movies and dancing and singing along to the musical numbers. We would act them out and sing along. Aladdin was a favorite. Robin Williams started the whole tradition of big name movie stars lending their talent to these great Disney characters. I can measure times in my life with Robin Williams’ body of work.

It’s hard to describe depression to someone who has never suffered from it. It’s not the opposite of happiness. It’s not extreme sadness. It’s a lack of every emotion. It’s hollow. It’s empty. It’s darkness. It’s a hole. It’s a void. It’s like a black hole within your soul that everything gets sucked into, leaving you with nothing. It’s a chasm that nothing can fill….not love, not money, nothing. You feel such a lack of hope that you cannot imagine that void ever getting filled, you cannot imagine that things will ever get better. Some of us try to fill that void with something, anything—–drugs, alcohol, sex, money, etc. But, that just makes it a million times worse. It causes a vortex that just pulls us deeper into that chasm and make the climb out even harder.

I’ve been there a few times, at that point where the only thing that I could imagine would bring me some sort of peace was death. I made a few attempts over the years. I think, deep down, they were half-assed. I think I was far too much of a coward to make a real attempt. The devil I knew was better than the devil I didn’t know. My depression has been difficult to deal with over the years, but they absolute hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with was the severe depression of one of my sons.

I saw the warning signs in him, but by the time I knew the whole truth, it was almost too late. A 2 a.m. visit from the police after a desperate call from a friend about his safety, led me to having to go into the bedroom to see if my son was still alive. There will never be words to describe those few seconds. They will never, ever leave me. They are tattooed on my soul forever. My son was okay. We called a hotline who spoke to him for a while. We got him help, therapy, and medication. But, I knew what he was feeling and I was helpless. I could lend support and give him all the love I have, but I knew from battling the depression demon on my own, that he needed to slay the monsters on his own terms.

It took a while, but he’s a normal teenage boy now. I am in a much better place than I have ever been. Through therapy, medication, and lots of love and support, we are not only surviving, but thriving. Every once in a while, without warning, that darkness starts to seep in. But, we are prepared this time. I think about Robin Williams bringing so much happiness and laughter to everyone, all the while suffering in this cesspool of pain and it makes me so sad. But, I have worn that mask. I have put on that smiling face and made the world think that everything is okay when deep down, all I saw was blackness.

I just hope that someone who reads this knows that they are not alone. I just wish that Mr. Williams’ death helps someone reach out for help. But, the problem is when you are down there, you don’t think to look up in the darkness to find a rope to hang on to, all you see is a noose to end the pain. I send all the love in the world to his family, especially his children. I know that the one thing I’ve learned through all the pain I’ve felt, all the lack of feeling I’ve had over the years comes from Mr. Keating himself. “Carpe Diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” Thank you, Robin Williams for making our lives extraordinary through your humor and being the extraordinary human being you were.

Suspended Animation

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If someone came up to you and asked you this question: “Who are you?” What would you answer? I guess I’d answer with my name. That’s a start. But what if they said, “No, Who are you REALLY?”  I’d probably pause a minute and say, “A mom, a wife, a writer.”  But, I don’t think that really describes WHO exactly I am . I’m a hodgepodge of idiosyncrasies, emotions, mental issues, memories. None of us can truly be defined in a few words or phrases. That’s what makes us human. But, when I look back at my second answer for a second, I’m struck by something. I said “mom” first. Most of the time that’s the first thing out of my mouth. “I’m mom to two teenage boys.” Of course, that will never change. I’m their mom forever….like it or not. But, I’m no longer a full-time mom. They are independent and don’t need me anymore on a daily caretaker basis. 

I know I’ve written a great extent about my boys and what their growing up and moving away feels like for me. But most of my posts are about how I feel as their MOM. What about me as a woman? The honest answer to “Who are you really?” is “I honestly don’t know.” I got pregnant with my oldest while studying abroad as a college junior. I wasn’t even set on a college major at that time, much less a life path. I did know that I never wanted kids and never wanted to get married. But, when I got pregnant, those were the only two things that happened. So, there I was at 21 years old, with a baby and a husband. I’ve read research that the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, the part that controls impulses and reasoning, doesn’t fully develop till we are 25. That explains a lot. I was too young to be a mom, too young to be married. My first marriage failed after 16 years…to be honest, it never should have lasted that long. But, I defined myself as a person, as a woman all those years as a wife and mom. I finished college and went to look for work, but it was always part-time or freelance work. I never was a 9 to 5 career woman. I home-schooled my two boys for 15 years, so that was my main focus. 

So, in 18 months, I will no longer have a child in my house on a full-time basis. No more school functions, sporting events, homework, dinners, illnesses to take care of, no more mothering on a daily basis. It’s started already, the slow move into my non-mothering being. But, once my youngest goes off, that ends. Then what? I keep asking myself that question. And right now I have no answer. I have absolutely no idea who I am as an adult woman. Yes, I have my writing and my husband. I’m an only child to two aging parents, so I still have that caretaker job to fill. But, still that isn’t WHO I am. I think that’s why I sometimes forget I’m a 40-something woman. In my head, I’m still that 21 year old college co-ed wondering what to do with her life. Like I’ve been in some sort of suspended animation. 

There are so many things I want to do in my life and haven’t done yet. I asked my son the other day, “what in the world am I going to do when your brother goes to college?” His response, “Do whatever you want to do. It’s your time.” Wow!! Words of wisdom from my 19 year-old son. I had to stop and think for a moment. What exactly are those things? I think before I figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life, I really need to figure out exactly who I am. My mom had me at 40. I was her first and only. I can’t even fathom that. But, she was set in her ways by then. She was a mature, responsible adult who had lived a lot in those 40 years. She was married, had a career, found out who she was and was comfortable in her own skin. 

I didn’t have that. I was a 21 year-old scared to death young woman, forced to become a responsible parent and adult, before I truly was one. I’ve been the best mom I could be to my boys. I think I’ve done a good job. They are strong, kind, intelligent young men who do good things. They’ve never been in trouble. They see the world in all its glorious shades and see everyone as equals. They want to give back to society. I think I’ve taught them well. I wouldn’t change my life for one second. Let me make that perfectly clear. I have never once regretted being a young mom. My kids are the greatest thing that’s happened to me. But, now that the full-time mom part of my life is over, I need to figure out who I really am and where I want to go with this next stage of my life. Let the journey begin. I hope you will come along with me for the ride.

 

A Boy’s Passion

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I just finished my 2-year term as Poet Laureate of my town. A very distinguished title, huh? I’ve always written poetry, it’s another form of expressing myself. In fact, sometimes it’s the only way I know of expressing myself. My youngest son is turning 17 next month. One more year left and he, too, will be flying the coop. His passion is photography. When I watch him get so excited about what he does, it makes me so happy that my “baby” has found his place. I was inspired to write this one by watching him watch the world.

 Second Sight



He sees the world through his looking glass—

With all its unseen magical shapes and colors—

Bringing life to the torpid….

The concavity molds to his eye.

Full of the curiosity of the little boy of yesterday

And all the promise and hope of the man he is becoming,

He creates art.

 

Each flash of the shutter captures a microsecond of time

A small moment that is his and his alone—

He creates a new perspective—

One full of vision and clarity: a multi-faceted brilliance.

As he creates this world around him with his lens,

I wonder if he realizes that’s what he did for me.

He made me see the world as a brighter place.

 

My boy. My guy. My young man. My son.

I watch him as he watches the world.

I see him transform the mundane into the magnificent.

I watch the spectacle of him and see the glimmer in his eye—

The blue glint behind the blonde hair—

That sees beauty in every aspect of life.

He is a work of art.

“It Goes On”

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It goes on

Robert Frost once wrote: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life—It goes on.” These words hit particularly close to home for me lately. As I have mentioned in previous columns, this has been an incredibly eventful summer. My personal businesses have picked up a great deal, we are doing a total house remodel, and my eldest son is getting ready to move away from home for college. There have been many highs and numerous lows. Days of boundless hope and sleepless nights of dread. But, you know what? Each one of those dark nights turn into sun-filled mornings and yes, as Frost says, life goes on.

Our lives are all like that. That is part of the interconnectedness of being human—we take one step forward and the universe pushes us two steps back sometimes. But, we go on. Our lives change and we wonder how we are going to get through the bad times. We worry when the good times will end. But, somehow, we get through it. Life isn’t meant to be understood, it’s meant to be lived. Living our lives to the fullest extent of our ability is all we can really do each day. I sit here wondering what the future will hold for my son, about to embark on a new path in life. An exciting future awaits him.

But, I keep dwelling on what awaits me: an empty bedroom, an empty chair at my dinner table, less laundry in my washer, an empty space in my life. But, I am so proud of who he is and what he can do for this world. He’s been my pride for so many years and it has made me selfish. It is time to share him with the world. But, letting go is difficult isn’t it? Whether it be letting go of a child off to college, letting go of a long-standing grudge or a bad habit. But, change is inevitable and if we don’t bend, we break.

Sometimes it’s difficult to give words of wisdom to my son, when thinking about him not being around all the time makes me want to crawl in bed and cover my head for a few days. Yes, he will come home for breaks, but there is something fundamentally changing in my life. It’s a new stage in both our lives and I’m trying to find a way to cope with that. Of course, as always, I find solace in the written word. I find help in the words of poets far greater than I could ever hope to be. I recently reread a poem by Rudyard Kipling called “If”.

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;

If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,

if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

While life has gotten in the way of my creativity in recent months, it seems the more emotional I get, the more the words start to flow. As I was helping my son pack this morning, a few lines of a poem came to me and I sat down and wrote for the first time in a while.

Bricks

I filled the trunk with his things—towels, washcloths, sheets, an iron

And my mind flashbacked to picking up Lego and putting them back in the huge toy box.

I used to curse those little pieces of plastic—

They hurt my bare feet and got caught in my vacuum cleaner.

The gifted redhead who was never really a child in the conventional sense…..

Tall, advanced, precocious, full of wonder and attitude.

A true stereotypical redhead to the core.

I used to think to myself, “I can’t wait till he’s through with these things.”

“I can’t wait till my living room isn’t filled with multi-colored landmines.”

Where did the time go?

He would spend hours building —-

Trucks, spaceships, pterodactyls, castles—

Brick by brick with steadfast hands.

Now, the Lego box sits a few feet away from the college bound trunk—

The little boy, now not quite a man sits between the two.

Caught between youth and adulthood, ready to fly on wet wings.

Ready to build a future with the solid bricks of his past.

So, no matter what happens, no matter what the universe has in store for both of us, life will go on. We will both change and get used to this new environment, this new ‘normal”.

What If?

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I know this is supposed to be a blog about weight loss, life, the new “me”, etc. But, it’s also about parenting. Parenting of two teenaged boys. And right now, with the events of the past few days, that’s something that’s been weighing heavily on my mind. I needed to get my thoughts out, so here it goes.

What If?

What if one of my boys had been shot and killed on the street while coming home from the store after buying an iced tea and a pack of Skittles? What if something about one of my boys caused someone to be afraid of them or see them as a risk? What if my son laid cold in the ground, while the man who did it got off free and was actually given back the weapon used to gun down my son? What if my son had been born black in America?

I have read a few posts lately by African-American mothers and fathers and they tear a knife in my chest. They write about how scared they are for their sons after the Trayvon Martin verdict. They worry about them going merely out the door to the neighborhood store. Yes, I know. Things happen every day. Bad things. Murder, rape, etc. I know Trayvon’s face is only one face in the sea of beautiful faces lost too soon by acts of violence. But, when….WHEN…do we say enough is enough? I sit and I look at my boys and I wonder how would I feel, if I was an African-American mom and my sons were held in less regards than someone else’s merely because of the color of their skin. My eldest is 6 foot 9 with bright red hair. What if someone saw his size as a threat? What if his red hair was still considered the sign of the Devil. What if my youngest’s speech problem was deemed a threat to someone who couldn’t understand what he was saying?  I realize how hyperbolic these statements are, but why should something as meaningless as a person’s skin color be an issue?  It’s so sad to me as a mom in 2013 that I have to raise my sons in a time where it is even a thought. I was hoping, when I was a kid, that by the time the next generation came along, it wouldn’t even be an issue. But, lately it seems to be getting worse. I thought it got a bit better with the election of Barack Obama, but that only seems to have opened a new, acceptable type of racism…one that is blanketed in something that looks far less sinister than the outright racism of previous generations.

It infuriates me that people rush to the side of some outright racist like Paula Deen and say how she was targeted unfairly, but say nothing in defense of a young black teenager who was gunned down by a vigilante. I cannot believe the lack of outrage over, not the verdict, but the laws that ALLOW this verdict to happen. People get more outraged over football scandals and who is being traded to another team. I weep for my country, as I weep for Trayvon Martin and his family. Where is the America I love? And if this is the “New American” way. I want no part of it. And don’t even begin to tell me, if I don’t like it, leave. I HATE that comment. No, you leave. I love my country and I want it to be the great nation it is claimed to be. But, this isn’t it. I want to stay and fight to make it better for my grandchildren and their grandchildren.

So, I don’t worry if my son goes out in a hoodie or asks to walk to the store to grab some candy. But, what if I had to? I saw a cartoon of a mom hugging her hoodie wearing son and the son says “What’s wrong, Mom, I’m only going to the store.” It made me cry. I worry about my sons, like all moms do. I worry about bullying, teen driving, going off the college, their safety, etc. But, I don’t worry about them simply being white. What if I had to?