Happy 18th Birthday to My Boy

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My son turns 18 today. All he has asked for is a Zippo lighter with a puppy on it. He had an early celebration tonight with his dad, who cooked his favorite bacon burger and put him into a “food coma.” Tomorrow we will go to Red Lobster for the Endless Shrimp, at his request. His dad and I have been divorced for more than three years now and as we have ever since, we will celebrate the birthday together as a family. Because no matter what has come before or what may come after, for better or worse, we are family.

This is what family does.

I want to take a moment to give my boy a moment of appreciation. Recognition. My words, which have been my gift and at times, my curse, until I learned to use them wisely. Kindly. Always working on this. 🙂

My boy. How do I express everything that I feel at this moment, the night before you turn 18 and as you told me tonight, “Tomorrow I’m an adult!” I smile and say, one day at a time, kiddo!

* gulp *

My boy, almost a man yet still a boy, I want you to know that I remember everything. That first moment I felt you flutter in my stomach. I was in a grad school literary night class after work. I was thrilled about a passage of words that resonated with me and I felt like it resonated with you, too. (Crazy, but my first connection to you.) I knew right then that you were smart. That you were with me, a part of me, a person. That you were special. That I loved you. That I was blessed.

When you were born, you were the first blood relative I ever laid eyes on. I am adopted, so this miraculous moment – your first moment of life – had extra special meaning for me. One who had never known anyone who was connected to me by more than just paper or words. And of course, because life is what it is, you looked nothing like me and exactly like your dad. 🙂

They told me you were going to be a girl. I knew they were wrong. I dreamt of a blonde baby boy. I painted the room yellow. Little did I know that this was my first time learning to disregard what “they” said and learning to trust my instincts about you. Who you were. What you needed. And then, eighteen years ago today, there you were.

My boy.

I loved you instantly. From the moment I knew of you. Every kick in my belly. Every tear you cried (know that I cried three tears to every one of yours). Being there for you when I didn’t know how to help or what to do. Holding you. Praying for you long after I had given up on religion. Worrying for you. Loving you harder when I didn’t know what else to do. Making you laugh. Kissing away your tears. Holding your hand. Keeping your deepest secrets.

I always knew you were special, boy. That you were destined for great things. For happiness. No matter how difficult things were, I knew. I believed in you. I had this magical belief that if I just marinated you in love, someday, one day, you would see it, too.

And then one day… you did.

And now here you are, 18 years old. Making your college plans. Driving. Telling me you want to buy your own car because I have done enough for you already and you need to be a man, stand on your own two feet, pay your own way. I glance at the stuffed animal puppies on your headboard and the Xbox Halo posters on your wall. I hug you. Neither one of us lets go first.

One day at a time.

You tell me every day, “Mommy, have I told you how much I love you today?” I always say no. Even though we both know you did. 🙂

Boy – the word I use when you don’t want me to use your name – I am the luckiest mommy in the world. I am so grateful for you. Please forgive me for writing about you. I know you don’t like to be on the “internet.” But you are so special. You have overcome so many adversities and you have never once said, “Why me?” You never give up. You always keep going. It humbles me.

You deserve to be celebrated. Recognized. In today’s world, it seems as if the worst stories and behavior get the most attention. You have challenged and inspired me to be a better person in so many ways. You have touched so many people with your kind heart, your kind words – even when they didn’t understand your way. You always prevailed. You never gave up.

You always stayed true to you.

I want to shine a light right now on what a wonderful human being you are. A person who has overcome so much,  worked so hard, and asked for so little in return. Just the other day, your team at school showered you in compliments and you shrank in your chair. (Of course I touched your arm and told you to sit up straight.) So giving with your kind words yet so challenged to take them in.

Your heart and light burn so bright. I always told you, even in your darkest hours, the world needs your light. Don’t give up. Please don’t give up. And you didn’t.

And now, here you are. Eighteen. Almost a man. Taller than me. I hug you and my face is in your armpits. Not a fun place to be. 🙂

In your eighteenth year, I wish you so many beautiful things. I promise you I will do everything I can to help you continue to grow into the amazing man you are destined to be. I can’t promise I won’t hold close my eyes and hold my breath when you don’t brake fast enough. I can’t promise I won’t stay up every night until you come home so I can make sure you are safe and hear how your day went.

God, how I love to hear how your day went. How you are. See you smile. Laugh. Be here for you. Be a part of your life.

I promise I will always tell you to put on a jacket because I am cold just looking at you. I promise that when you hug me, I will always hug you back harder. I know how incredibly lucky we are to have you here. How close the world came to losing your light.

My heart aches. My heart is full.

Thank you, boy. For teaching me what I needed to learn. For giving me so much more than I could ever give to you. For loving me. For being you. Wonderful, loving, sweet, smart, creative, you.

You.

Happy birthday, my wonderful boy. I can’t wait to see where you go from here.

Love always,
Mom

PS My musical inspiration tonight is not cool, according to my teenage daughter and probably many others. I don’t give a shit. I heard this melody awhile back and felt something, so I held onto it. I’ve learned to recognize when something moves me and pay attention, whether it’s cool or not.

I like that about me.

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Moving: Settling into a New Home, New Life, New Way of Thinking

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my new writing space: my backyard

Awhile back, I wrote a poem where a willow tree played a prominent visual role. I don’t know why or where it came from. It just…appeared. Followed by the words. As I write – as often happens – ideas, images and lines come to me. Creative gifts.

I’ve learned not to question.

Shortly after I wrote that poem, I decided it was time to move. On a Thursday night, I reached out to Rich, a real estate agent/friend who has helped me buy two marital homes and rent my post-divorce home. (Yep, I rent. At this stage of my life, I travel light.) I’d been looking for the past two years on and off, but nothing felt right. Not the house, not the location, not the time, not anything. By Friday morning, he had a listing – very rare, met all my criteria: closer to school; extra bedroom for my office; and two bathrooms – a must after three years with three people/one bathroom, all in a town where rental house inventory is scarce. I toured the house on Friday afternoon. Took the kids on Saturday afternoon. By Monday morning, I was negotiating. By Tuesday, it was mine. Two weeks later, my kids and I moved out and in. (Special shout out to my sister for helping!) Four days later, I packed up and flew to California for work. Flew back.

And finally, my first Saturday evening free in my new home, I sat writing in my new backyard. And I saw it.

A willow tree.

I used to believe in so many things.
I love my magical beliefs. 🙂 Everything will turn out alright in the end! You will get through “fill in the blank!” The universe or God or someone is looking out for you and protecting you! Everything happens for a reason!  Your soul mate is out there! Everyone means well, you just have to lower your expectations! No, lower! Okay, wait, lower. No – lower.

All of it. I was all in. It’s embarrassing to admit now, but – you know what? Fuck it. That stuff helped me survive. I’m still here and those “silly” beliefs carried me through some of my darkest, loneliest hours. The truth is, I still believe in that stuff…with caveats. Because I’m older and I’ve seen shit not work out. I’ve seen bad things happen to good people. I’ve seen bad people get away with bad shit. I’ve done shit. Shit’s been done to me. Soul mates in the age of swipe left. And then…

This willow tree.
My magical, starry-eyed wonder at the universe rushes right back in like it never left. I didn’t notice it on the first walk through. I didn’t notice on the second. It was only when I finally had a chance to breathe. Write. Look around.

Settle in.

To this house. This life. Three years ago, I had no idea where things would end up. Where we, the three musketeers, would be. It often felt like I was trying to turn the Titanic around. And now this.

Space

Light

Rightness

So this is

Who and where 

I’m meant to be

In this moment

So this is what peace feels like

And now…
Two teens driving. Busy. Independent. Scarce. Me and the dogs looking at each other. I find myself feeling keenly what one of my new favorite authors, Laura McKowen, captures so eloquently:

It started this morning when I dropped my girl off for camp and kissed her goodbye. She’ll be with her dad for the next few days. That little, nagging ache of longing. I went through my day, took a long run, did some work, and it kept creeping in.

Took a nap, because I can, and when I woke I realized: it’s a long holiday weekend and I miss having my little family. I miss having that part be known, to settle into it without a plan, because you are the plan. Home is each other.

Oh. That plan. That home.

That ache.

But this is now. 
My days of buying sand toys in plastic netting, scheduling events around naps and planning big holiday parties are far behind me. Yet close enough to make me choke up in the middle of Ikea when I tell my kids to think about their new furniture as stuff they can take with them in their new lives when they move in just a few years.

😳

My 15-year-old daughter says she is SO out of here, heading to California or as far away as she can get!! YAY!! Adventure, possibility, opportunity!! Of course!!! (Right? lol) My 17-year-old son sees the pained look on my face, hugs me – right in the middle of the store – and says, “I’ll stay at home with you as long as you want, Mom.” I hug him back. Fiercely. We both know he needs to stay longer.

I write extra long in front of my willow tree that night.

The thing is, I don’t have a plan. 
Which is weird. Up until a few years ago, I survived with a loosely, illogically, spontaneously constructed yet rigid set of rules, plans, backup plans, contingency backup plans, lists, constructs, magical beliefs, lines…shit, lines were drawn everywhere. It was at once brilliant and messy and frightening. But it WORKED.

Until it didn’t.

For so long, I thought if I just did all the right things, followed all the rules, did as I was told, kept giving and giving and giving, then good things would happen. Then everything would work out. Then “they” would see the light. Then all the wrongs would surely be made right. Then I would be loved. Okay sure, I might have to pay my penance: walking the beach with wind-swept hair [cue soul-searching music] while I stare pensively out at the ocean, kicking a seashell or two with my cute bedazzled sandal along the way. But surely it would all come together in the end! Everything would be fine! My prince would come get me! We would find a way! Live happily ever after! No one would ever get sick or die! Ever! Happy ever after! The end!

[Protagonists stare lovingly into each other’s eyes. Exit stage left.]

[Upbeat music up and out. Roll credits.]

And now. 
I sit in this new yard in this new house that is mine but not mine with no fucking plan other than to be me and do this day. And I’m only sorta kinda freaking out a little. Full disclosure, I still don’t sleep well. I don’t think I’ll ever learn how to do that. I’m anxious as hell in any given moment and I’ve stopped trying to control the nine hamster wheels in my head that keep me up at night but GOD they make me feel alive and want to write and write and write and see willow trees where there are none until…

suddenly

one day

there is one

Freedom
Still getting used to the texture, feel and fit. Growing pains. Never going back. And neither should  you.

In this moment

I wish you

a willow

a light

a sign

that everything will be okay

whatever that means for you

xoxo

 

Tonight’s musical inspiration. Yeah, I know, it’s July. But it feels like September.

 

True Love: I Never Saw It Coming, Baby

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I loved you child

From the moment I knew of you

*
I was there for your first

Breath

Word

Step

First mashed bananas

Smeared on your soft, plump cheeks

The whole body shudder

At your first taste of peas

I ate them first, said yum!

So you ate them too

Then spit them right out

I laughed

I remember

Your baby giggle

Your gentle hands

Reaching for my smile

*

I was there

For every heart

Ache

Break

Boys, school, friends, wins

Losses

Seeing it in the slump of your shoulders

The weight of the world

In every word you

Never had to say

*

I was there

Telling you what you needed to

Know

Don’t forget your key

Put a jacket on I’m cold just looking at you

The boy always comes to the door to get you

The boy always opens the door for a lady

Hang up your bath towel so it doesn’t get mildewed

Put the toothpick in the center of the cake

To make sure it’s done

Use a Q-Tip, girl, to clean up your eyeliner

If it smudges

Yes, boy, you have to wear deodorant

Yes, boy, every day

Look the other person in the eyes

When you shake hands

When you apologize

Shake like you mean it

Say it like you mean it

Buckle your seat belt

Take the turns 

Slow

*

I was there for all of it, I know

I remember every day like

One lazy, never-ending river

Was there ever a time

Without you?

*

Now you tell me you know

Because I’ve already told you

I tell you again anyway

I say it’s not for you

It’s for me

I’m old

I forget stuff

We laugh

I remember the tenderness

of your baby fingers

on my cheek

*

I loved you child

From the moment I knew of you

Funny, it’s hard to find love

Yet with the mere knowledge of you

My heart

Grew

*

Living every day

Thinking of you

Worrying about you

Making the sandwiches

Picking up the towels

Washing the clothes

Cooking the dinners

Wiping away the tears

Calming the fears

Driving you wherever

You need to go

*

The hardest thing

I’ve ever had to do

Is hold you

Soothing not solving

While you cried in my arms

Holding your hurt in my heart

As if it were my own

My hands always outstretched

To catch you

If you fall

*

Seasons are changing

We stand together

Side by side on the ledge

Look down at the water

Clear yet deep

Look at each other

Count to three

Jump

*

You still call me Mommy

I still say “What-y?”

We both still giggle

*

I loved you, child

From the moment I knew of you

I will love you

Always

Forever

Just because you’re you

Mommy

 

Tonight’s musical inspiration from my friend Ben. It has just the right tempo for what I was trying to say. It was a beautiful day here in Chicago today, sunny and 75 degrees, a rare treat this time of year. I wanted to go to sleep early. But this. Turning in the back of my mind for days. Trying to find the words, the shape, the form. The music helps me find it. Frame it. Tell the story that needs to be told. It’s raining a little as I read this again. Refine. Listen to what my heart wants to say. Make sure the words are honest and true.

 

What Motherhood Has Taught Me

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My loves, my sillies, a long time ago. Or was it yesterday?

As another Mother’s Day nears and my kids grow another year closer to adulthood, I am thinking back on it all. The tattered hard copy of Goodnight Moon recited by heart. Bath/book/bed routines. Play groups. Walking through the grocery store when they were littles and feeling SO proud of myself for getting a shower in and dressing up in something other than sweat pants, the kids well behaved in the cart and I thought – yeah, I’m on it! I got it all together today! Go me!

And then in the checkout lane, the woman behind me whispered, “Excuse me, but did you know that you have a lollipop stuck on the back of your skirt?”

Motherhoood is a sticky business.
When I first announced to the world that I was pregnant, there is one phrase I heard most often: “Your life is going to change!” This was usually followed by knowing smiles or laughter. I remember saying, “Yeah, I know.”

I didn’t know shit.

Seventeen years and two kids later, I get it. I’m going to try to capture just how life-changing motherhood has been for me and a few of the lessons I’ve been humbled to learn in no particular order. For mother’s day. For moms everywhere who show up every day fighting the good fight.   Continue reading “What Motherhood Has Taught Me”

Coming Out of the Closet: Making Space for Your Dream

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my writing desk. reminding me to show up.

This post is for anyone who has ever had a dream. The passionate ones. Creative ones. Visionaries. Artists. Storytellers. Meaning makers. Lost ones looking for the way back to something they feel but can’t see.

You.

I was cleaning out my closet this past weekend and it got me thinking about dreams.  Those big, hairy, audacious ideas for something you love to do but don’t. It’s scary to put your dream out there, let alone go for it. A dream is a tiny flicker of a flame and there are dream crushers everywhere. One wrong look or word and poof!

It’s gone.

But the dream keeps tugging at your sleeve: Listen! Pay attention to this! This is good stuff! Let’s see what we can make happen here!

It’s soooo easy to defer your dream.
If you follow me, you know my story. I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since I was five years old. Two degrees, a professional writing career and 43 years later, I’m just now getting back to making space for my dream of being an author. There. I said it.

< insert terrified look here >

It’s one thing to say you want to do or be something. It’s quite another to make the commitment despite the doubts, insecurity and gigantic hairball of fear that tells you oh no, you can’t do THAT. That’s not going to put food on the table, pay for goalie gloves and new brakes for the truck. You’re not good enough. Who do you think you are, thinking you can do THAT??? And then there’s life. That thing that happens when you’re busy making other plans.

But then there is that little tug on your sleeve.

Continue reading “Coming Out of the Closet: Making Space for Your Dream”

Why I Quit Online Dating: One Year Later…Lessons Learned

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Orlando. There are alligators in there. But the water is moving in the right direction.

I wrote about quitting online dating one year ago this month. Seems like a lifetime ago. Enough time and distance to write a follow-up with perspective possibly worth sharing. As Anais Nin said more eloquently than I ever could, “The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.” Whether you’re just venturing back into dating after a breakup, considering or in the throes of online dating, recently divorced, or just curious about what it’s like to date again later in life, here’s my story. For what it’s worth. I hope you find what you are looking for.

First: My online dating “stats”
I’m 48. Married 19 years, together 22. Divorced for three. Two teens who live with me full time. I did Match.com (tolerable) on and off for about a year. Dabbled in eHarmony (hated it – too regimented and reminded me of Catholic school).

Why I signed up for online dating
I waited a year after my divorce. I remember telling myself: Continue reading “Why I Quit Online Dating: One Year Later…Lessons Learned”

Supermom is Flying Straight to Hell: The Power of Magical Thinking on Tough Days

me and my goofballs…somewhere

It’s been a week. Already. And it’s only Tuesday. 🙂 Have you ever had a string of days where you thought, what the ??  Yeah. It was that.

In the last week, my only work computer crapped out and had to be restored from scratch. The furnace crapped out. The storm door broke. The back porch drain backed up. Been cleaning up water from all the April Chicago rain for days. The only toilet in the house backed up. Seriously.

I should tell you that the plumber took great pleasure in ripping reams of toilet paper off the roll and throwing it with great flourish into the toilet to show me –  okay, I have no idea what. I’m sure there was a point there but I still fail to see it. He did it three times!! All I could think was – do you know how expensive toilet paper is?? And how much of it we go THROUGH in a week??? He asked me five million questions. I was starting to think I should have just looked this up on YouTube and did it myself when he asked me for a wire hanger. I’m like – um, you have a guy standing right next to you and two vans outside – you don’t have a tool or something? They laughed. I got the hanger. I’ve never met such a needy plumber, for God’s sake. Continue reading “Supermom is Flying Straight to Hell: The Power of Magical Thinking on Tough Days”