Of all the tiny stories that make up a day a week, a month? Do I tell the one about being unable to make it to my cousin's funeral, the one who was like a sister when we were kids but somehow we grew up and drifted our separate ways like a dandelion seed puffed out of someone's wish? Do I tell the one about how I missed first day of school pictures? The one my husband took that wasn't full of smiles and eager tween bubbles giddy to meet friends in person once again? The one with one less in the picture because that one is enrolled in the University of Life? Of all the tiny stories, which one do I tell? Do I tell the one about the caterpillar in its terrarium? The one I caught wriggling and undulating, pumping its whole body, hard, to shake itself loose of its old skin for good, embracing its metamorphosis instead of fighting it? Do I tell the one of all the ordinary things that add up to a melting pot of emotions and reflection and trudging along, embracing changes but dreading them at the same time? Of all the tiny stories, which one gets to fly?
Father’s Day, 2019. My husband’s “gift” was a weekend trip to Kerrville, Tx. Nostalgic for the hot summers in the Texas Hill Country where he spent some of his summers as a camp counselor, he wanted to share some his favorite places with us.
As our trips tend to go, there was bickering on the way there. I wanted to stop in Fredericksburg to stroll into the shops on the way there. I packed sandwiches and drinks so we’d have a nice picnic lunch at a park. We get there, the kids are hangry, we unpack our lunches, the flies start annoying us and everyone is grumpy. I mange to snap a few selfies because no one wants pictures.
However, we popped into Dooley’s, a legit five and dime store. I swear I stepped back into my childhood. This is a place where you can still buy polyester day robes, the kind my grandma used to wore way before yoga pants and stretchy bands were a thing. Even the store fixtures time warped to their original tasks. I’m not sure if they were there in the 70s or earlier. My kids found souvenir keychains. And candy cigarettes. The kind I used to “smoke” when I was a kid that didn’t ever turn me into a real smoker. They each got a pack, the grumpy lunch experience soon forgotten. Word of advice if you go: Take cash or write a check. They don’t accept cards.
While on the road, we realized we departed for our weekend adventure on June 21st, the Summer Solstice. We also had no idea Ingram, near Kerrville, housed an art installation perfect for the occasion–Stonehenge II, along with Easter Island statue replicas.
Finding quirky roadside attractions is my favorite part of a road trip. I don’t remember how I found it. I think we were discussing the solstice. I must have searched it on my phone to read about its history and found information about all the people who travel to Stonehenge each year. It popped up on my search results and we added it to our itinerary. We were the only people there that late afternoon and ran into Chet of The Daytripper, who happened to be filming an episode for his PBS show. My son was more interested in the show and the video equipment than the replica of Stonehenge during the Summer Solstice. Sigh…
A volunteer community theater performs along the Guadalupe River. That summer they performed Madagascar-A Musical Adventure. The kids enjoyed it more than we expected. Buy the kids popcorn and soft drinks and it elevates their experience. Buy Mamma a mini bottle of wine and everyone’s happy. Like the ups and downs of the hills we travel, such is the way of a road trip. We find gems along the way, forget the grumpy parts, and take the good memories with us.
This is the first of my summer road trip musings, in reverse order to my childhood.
I grew up in the Texas panhandle, New Mexico nearby, but we never went there when I was a kid. No snow skiing or summer hikes for us. Our summer vacations, if we had one, were usually to south Texas to visit my dad’s side of the family. If we were lucky, we’d get to visit the beach, but we mostly stayed at my grandma’s and visited family.
The past two years, summer vacation plans fell through. We always go back home to visit our family, but now we travel north. Last week we spent the first half of our vacation with family and then invited my mom to tag along with us for a few days in New Mexico. Six years before, almost to the day, we attended the U.F.O. Festival in Roswell, spent a day at Carlsbad Caverns, slid down the dunes in White Sands, and did a tiny bit of hiking in Ruidoso.
Albuquerque and Santa Fe were our destinations this year and I wanted to stop at as many roadside attractions as possible. In reality, we didn’t stop as often as I anticipated. I had a grand plan to map out everything, but the beginning of summer break had us busy with day long projects for two weeks straight. Not much time for planning. As I got lost in the depths of Pinterest and the web, I decided we’d play it by ear. I started my sightseeing list, asked the kids to do their own research and give me suggestions (they didn’t), and quickly realized we’d need more than three days to do everything. Plan B: do what we can with the time we have.
We stayed at a beautiful home in Albuquerque via Vrbo. We bought enough groceries to prepare breakfast and dinner. When we arrived, I almost didn’t want to leave the house. I spent the mornings on the front porch of the courtyard sipping my coffee while watching hummingbirds and other birds I couldn’t identify stop by the fountain for their morning sips of water. My mom joined me and we took our time catching up. It had been almost a year since I’d seen her.
In Santa Fe, we went to Meow Wolf, the immersive art exhibit in a remodeled bowling alley. The kids ditched us. We went on our own and had a great time anyway. Parents with younger kids wrangled and steered them in the direction they needed to go. Some hollered at them to figure out where they had wandered off–there are lots of nooks, crannies, and secret passages. I don’t miss those days. But here I am, without my own kids. I didn’t experience their wonder or joy, but they did show me their pictures. Sigh…
We headed out for lunch then for some shopping. Even if they’re older, they still get tired. I didn’t get to pop in to as many shops as I would’ve liked. They aren’t much into shopping unless it’s for candy or ice cream. Kids have a way of telling you things without telling you things. It was hot and they were done with the walking even though they’d been fed. It doesn’t stop at toddlerhood.
We spent the following day in Albuquerque. The oldest didn’t want to join us and I didn’t prod. This is probably our last full-family road trip. Heading back to Texas, we stopped at a large souvenir shop I remember from my own last full-family road trip to Las Vegas before my senior year of high school. It’s funny, no matter how old the kids get, there’s still the allure of filling up a little bag of polished rocks. Although they had their own spending money, I bought them both said little bags full of rocks, the youngest correcting me, “They’re crystals, Mom, not rocks.”
As we got back onto the highway, my mom announced she bought me a little something. I turned around and she handed me a small plastic rectangle. I flipped it over and discovered my name printed on it. I squealed like a twelve year old on a road trip. There’s still the allure of getting a little license plate souvenir keychain with your name on it, no matter how old you get.
When I was in high school I frequently baked. I grew up in a tiny town. There wasn’t much to do or anywhere to go, so I baked. Plus, my grandfather’s sweet tooth needed sustenance. My husband takes over in the kitchen, usually. By the time I get around to baking something, he’s already beat me to it. Last week, my daughter turned 12. I asked if she wanted me to bake a cake for her and she declined. There’s a strawberry cake from our grocery store’s bakery she enjoys and that’s what she requested. I didn’t try to convince her otherwise. We celebrated her day with an HEB strawberry cake topped with strawberries and white chocolate curls.
Three days after her birthday, we get to celebrate Father’s Day. I have a track record for important events catching up to me and I’m scrambling to get everything ready on time. Why break tradition? I spent most of Friday with said twelve year old watching too many shows on Disney, but hey, summer break.
Saturday morning, I realize I have nothing for Father’s Day. Sure, the kids need to do their part, but I’m the one who has been organizing the celebration since I birthed them.
This year will be different and I’ll be ready. Nope. It hit me head-on.
I planned to have a gift ready and to bake a cake my husband would flip over. I’m searching for the recipe on my phone in the cookware section of the grocery store. Thank goodness for phones. I found the ingredients and continued with my shopping. I didn’t buy a gift. There were a few tech items I planned to gift him, but he beat me to it. He broke the rule about buying something before a big holiday. Oh well. That’s how it goes. Always.
At around 9:00 that night, I start baking the cake. There’s some game he’s watching on TV. I pop in my earbuds and listen to my audiobook while I do my best to whip it up. I don’t mind baking, but cleaning up is the worst. I took a deep breath and got lost in my book while I beat the batter, put the pans in the oven, toasted coconut, and mixed up the frosting. The cakes didn’t stick to the pan-win! I had plenty of frosting-win! It fit perfectly on the cake stand I bought earlier this year-win!
I set it on the table, almost a full twelve hours before we’d cut into it. As time consuming as it was, for some reason it didn’t feel like such a chore. Maybe it was my lack of preparation that helped me power through rather than giving up and buying another strawberry cake. Maybe I felt I was secretly competing with him to make an over the top cake I knew he had never tasted. (This recipe is from my high school days and it’s only the second time I’ve made it.) Maybe I came to terms with rolling with the ebbs and flows of life to do the best I can.
Sunday afternoon, we cut thick slices of a coconut cake with cream cheese frosting. Sure enough, it wins the hubster over. We had a virtual tasting with my dad via Face Time. I missed my grandfather and imagined him sitting with us, me dishing out a double sized slice for him served with a piping hot cup of coffee. It’s been a while since I’ve baked cakes. I think they want to visit us more often.
*Get the recipe here.
The closest thing to summer camp I ever experienced was in the backyard, curled up-fetal position-in an aluminum arm chair screaming my head off when those horrid June bugs whirred around me and crashed into my arm or leg or forehead. It’s always the forehead because everything in the universe has a special attraction to it. My uncle bought sparklers a week before 4th of July and he’d light them for us. I was afraid of those too. I’m no dummy, I didn’t want to catch myself on fire. Lights, bugs, and fire weren’t my favorite things.
I did want to go to summer camp, though. It looked fun from the comfort of our couch on a hot summer day, flickering on the other side of the TV screen. Pile up in a bus with friends, lug around a ton of luggage (don’t forget the swimsuit), and wave the parents goodbye for a week or two of bunkmates in a rustic cabin with plenty of outdoor activities. Of course, they never show the mosquitos, and you can’t smell the bug spray. It looked fun though.
My sister and I had healthy imaginations and a knack for re-creating and staging things we missed out on. Especially during summer breaks. Long summer days at Nana and Papa’s were the norm while my parents worked. Occasionally, my dad “watched” us while Mom worked twelve hour shifts sewing the pockets onto Levi’s jeans or inspecting the denim to make them. I don’t recall where Mom worked that summer, but we did experience our own little camp. Once. Under the bed.
I took my first-born role seriously and coordinated a real camp-out complete with a campfire. One of my cousins was with us that day, so the three of us grabbed a flashlight, matches, and my mom’s votive candles. Mom’s bed was high off the floor so we easily fit underneath. The bedspread hung down low enough to conceal us. We had the perfect tent. On our tummies, we prepared our camp to tell ghost stories.
I arranged the candles in the middle and lit them. We sang goofy songs and started telling ghost stories, made up on the fly. The candles flickered and went out. Strike, no light. Strike, no light. Strike, no light. We used all the matches to no avail. Without a campfire, we can’t tell good ghost stories. I remembered watching my mom when she cooked and a burner didn’t cooperate. She’d rip up a brown paper grocery bag, twist a strip, and light it with another burner. Then she’d turn the faulty burner back on, the gas flow would pick it up and voilà, it’s on.
Aha, I can do that! We wriggled out from underneath the bed and I retrieved a paper bag. Mimicking the procedure, I handed my sister hold the lit up “match stick” and bring it into the bedroom while I scrambled for a candle. The flame quickly made its way down and before we could light the candle, it found her finger instead. “Oww!” She didn’t quite know what to do as the flame grew and there was no time for the candle. I grabbed her arm and led her to the kitchen sink. “Throw it in!” I ran the cold water, doused the flame and put her finger under it. I went to the fridge and took out the tub of margarine and doctored the burn slathering some onto her finger, another kitchen observation.
I returned to the sink to make sure the flame was completely out. There wasn’t much left of the singed paper bag strip. I was relieved the flame didn’t get worse. It didn’t occur to me that we shouldn’t light candles under the bed either, but hey, we wanted to go camping. We crawled under the bed to try again, but it wasn’t the same. Camping mood extinguished, we didn’t continue with the ghost stories either. Putting the candles back, we left no evidence of our outdoor adventure. Dad didn’t suspect a thing.
Years ago I started naming my summers as a declaration of my goals. I didn’t write them out in a fancy planner and vision boards weren’t a thing back then. Or maybe they were, but I didn’t know about them. Too busy with a toddler at the time.
The first one I remember was The Summer of Learning. I bought a guitar with the determination to continue plucking away at it throughout the summer. I hung out with kids at an after school enrichment class for students wanting to learn guitar. The choir teacher led it and welcomed me. Instead of signing up to teach an enrichment class, I joined one. I like to think I was modeling the love of learning something new. And hard. Summer break started and the guitar moved into my closet. It’s still there, awaiting new strings that haven’t been replaced. In years. I think it wants to play.
In the mornings, I sponsored kids who wanted to learn to knit and crochet. I knew how to make a basic chain, single, and double crochet stitches from my childhood. My mom taught me how to make these swirly worm bookmarks, complete with googly eyes. I made a few and abandoned the fiber arts, or rather, crafts. Knitting intrigued me. I found an old book from our library that had not made it to the weeding cart. I checked it out and taught myself the basics. Other kids were interested, so the group was born. I took it into summer break and learned to make cute little baby hats. Those were my projects that summer. Along with scarves I gifted people. Some wore them, some didn’t, but I made them and people gladly accepted them.
I read eight books that summer, too. This was back in the day when my kid was still young enough to nap once or twice a week. Yes, once or twice a week. My kids didn’t nap much. Ever. But I’d get my down time in the evenings and I’d stay up late only to groggily wake up early the next morning. I picked my books up in between toddler TV shows or play sessions over a makeshift cardboard box kitchen and Play-Doh. It was worth the mess.
One summer I named The Summer of Getting Stuff Done. The stuff to get done was fresh coats of interior wall paint, trying-unsuccessfully-to tend a bountiful garden, decluttering (always decluttering), freezer meal prep, exercising every morning at 5:30 a.m. Seriously? The early morning exercise sessions didn’t make it to the next summer. How did I do that though? And the freezer meal prep to toss into the Crock-Pot? They all hated the meals.
I don’t remember what I named other summers. I might have written them in a journal somewhere. Eventually I stopped because they flat out stopped working. Or I got tired. Or they stopped working and I got tired. I know one was The Summer of Baby #2 (who will soon be 12). I lost track after that. However, I started marking them with vacations.
My 40th Birthday BBF Bash to Las Vegas was one of my favorite summers. And the one to Mexico sans kids. And the one to Mexico with kids and Grandma the following summer. The less expensive one to New Mexico for Alien Fest on Fourth of July Weekend right before grad school. And the horrid one to Colorado after I finished grad school. Colorado was fine. The kids, not so much. They were at the age where their bickering was next level annoying. At least some of the pictures were good. And that’s been it.
I suppose last summer would be The Summer of…I’m over it. We all know how that summer went. Here we are…here I am, trying to figure it out. Maybe this time I’ll name my summer after I experience it. Find a name to fit after I get to know it. Let it play out and follow it where it wants to go. Our family has experienced many milestones this year. One kid composing a piece of music and graduating high school. Another starting middle school and experiencing all that comes with it. My husband’s semi-retirement. My move back to middle school in August. Planning a road trip; nothing fancy, but at least something.
Rather than take control, I’ll let this one take the lead. I’ll putter around my summer and do what I can without fretting. Get that guitar restrung and either learn to play it or give it to someone who will love it. Climb out of my comfort zone and join a writing group. Learn to play pickle ball because sports are not my thing. You know, push myself to do something hard. And read. Always reading. Hang out with my kids who no longer want to hang out. Maybe I’ll nap. Once or twice a week.
Hey, Judy. What happened when Margaret grew up and became a mom? Did she become a mom? And what happened when she birthed her teen into adulthood? I mean, sheesh, the hormones…they’re worse than when I was 13. Or pregnant. And the nesting! It’s still happening. Why? Is this normal? With social media, we get tons of parenting advice until the kids are about nine or ten. Then it stops. We have to figure it out and only when we mention something happened does anyone ever say, “Oh, that, yeah, it’s normal, but wait until…”
Maybe we ignore the advice because we don’t get it when we need it. Either too early or too late, but when we’re in the middle of everything, we try to claw our way through. This birthing a teen into adulthood emotionally rips you up. Random tears on a run. Random tears when an old picture pops up on the screen. Random tears in line at the grocery store when my eye lands on a gummy SpongeBob Krabby Patty I’d buy as a treat for a tantrum free grocery trip years ago. Hollering sessions griping about homework, chores, junk food, being online for too long, you name it…and it’s me doing the hollering. And then random tears second guessing that meeting (or those meetings) with the teacher when the kid was in sixth grade. Why didn’t I say something different? I should’ve done this instead.
Did Margaret spend too much time at work in those earlier years or was she a stay at home mom? Her kids turned out okay, didn’t they? Did her mind linger over the what ifs and what can be? A ton of time passes between the first birth and the second birth. They both hurt though, but I don’t know which one hurts more. I think I was better prepared for the first. The second one creeps up on you. I thought I was ready. Here we go anyway. We’ll figure it out. It’ll be official tomorrow.
On Friday, my husband “retired” from his full-time job. The plan was to decorate the dining room, bake a coconut cake, and set up a golf outing with his friends. That was the plan. Plans don’t work well for me. Somehow, the day slipped away.
I reminded him to let me know when he would leave the office. 3:00. With traffic, that meant I’d have plenty of time to have everything ready by 4:00, even with a scheduled kid pick up from school. If he left the office at 3:00, I figured he’d be home by 4:00 at the earliest, 5:30 at the latest. I went about my day. Noon came and went and by 1:00, I get a message: “I’m on my way! They took me to lunch and said for me to go home afterward.”
Screech! Change of plans. No homemade coconut cake. Rush to the grocery store. Order balloons. Choose a cake from there. Pick out a card. No time for getting a tee time arranged with so many different possible dates and schedules. We’ll order take-out for dinner. Forget the decorated dining table. The house was still a mess.
I arrived from the grocery store, a small boxed cake in one hand, a six pack of Coronas and strands of balloons trailing behind me in the other, relieved the card sitting on top of the box didn’t blow away. I tapped the front door with my foot, asking to be let in. His parting gifts and greeting cards from work welcomed me instead.
I set everything on the table, trying not to let my tardiness bother me. “You got me balloons. And beer. Thank you.” It didn’t seem to bother him. He showed me the goods, pulling out one of the cards. The same exact card I selected. Out of 500 cards, I chose the same one his office staff did. And how is it I can’t match winning lottery ticket numbers?
I revealed the golf outing gift, but let him know he’s in charge of finalizing arrangements. Tee times weren’t available as far out as I had planned to schedule one. We’d have takeout for dinner with a grocery store bakery cake for dessert. It turned out well. Not how I planned, but a celebration was had.
No matter how hard I try, somehow celebrations creep up on me. Birthdays. Anniversaries. Baby showers. Retirements. Mother’s Day. Oh, Mother’s Day. That’s on Sunday. This Sunday. I’ll add that to a pile of gifts yet to be purchased. The harder I try, the worse it gets. I eventually send gifts, no matter how late they may be. No one has yet to decline one.
My sister’s impromptu and welcome visit this weekend prompted a backyard hangout around the fire pit. Defaulting to high school memories, we discussed skipping school. Rule follower here, mostly. Classic first-born people pleaser characteristics. I wore my responsibility with honor, like a Hogwarts prefect. Except that I grew up in a small town where everyone can easily find out your business.
The first time I ever skipped school was the spring semester of my senior year. I think it was the first time I was absent since my bout with chicken pox when I was in kindergarten. Starting with first grade, I was in the running for the Lifetime (Sort of) Achievement Award for perfect attendance, the most embarrassing award I received at the end of every year. After that first absence, I went to school sick. No one sent me home because I learned to deal with discomfort. Boxes of Luden’s cherry cough drops were staples in my backpack. Halls eventually took over and Chloraspetic throat spray tamed my raw sore throats during winter months.
When most cool kids planned to skip school, they took off out of town. There wasn’t anything to do, so unless there was a plan to hide out in someone’s home and run the risk of being seen driving around during the school day, most kids drove an hour to the nearest big “city.” We heard about mall adventures, proved with matching Guess t-shirts or sunglasses or earrings. First, it must have been nice to have a car to leave town. Followed by knowing how to get to the mall without an adult. And having money to shop for matching Guess shirts.
One day, when my mom asked if I wanted to go shopping, I wasn’t sure what she meant. We usually ran errands on weekends. It’s mid-week. She said we’d go shopping. I didn’t think much of it until she added the part about missing school. Being a responsible mini-adult, I asked about missing class, making up class work, and returning to school. She assured me she’d write a note to excuse the absence.
We took off on our excursion with Uncle Danny tagging along. Uncle Danny was the best shopping partner. He still is. I wasn’t with friends, but we wound up at the mall. We hit the mega-clearance aisles and I wound up with two prom dresses. A bit guilty about getting two, my mom mentioned the other one could be saved for my sister the following year. They were such a good deal, she didn’t want to miss the opportunity to save major cash on another prom dress.
We ate out at a real restaurant. Took our time. Ran a few errands and headed back home by late afternoon.
The following morning, Mom wrote a note. I opened it and re-read it several times before I made my way to the office. There it was, her note, explaining that I was absent from school because I had a cold. I was nervous turning it in because I clearly had no signs of a cold. I mean, when I did have a cold, I reeked of cherry cough drops. I gave it to the secretary. My stomach churned. They took my note and I lingered as if waiting to be reprimanded. Surely they could see my lie. Or rather, my mom’s little made up story of a cold-less cold.
“Okay, get to class.”
That was it? I went back to class. It was so, easy. And I only had a few months left to do it again. Only I didn’t do it again.
I don’t remember having my classwork pile up on me. I don’t remember anyone making a big deal out my absence. I picked up where I left off. I couldn’t even skip school, the right way, but I did it. And it was one of my favorite days. My induction into adulthood.
Of Another Year
I sent S. back to school in January the same day I ordered E's cap and gown for high school graduation The beginning of the end to the first year of middle school the beginning of the end to the last year of high school E's spring orchestra concert that was cancelled twice once for COVID once for an ice storm Is that the last time we'll watch him perform? End of the year contemplation starts in April not December Calendars don't go in order around here The beginning of the end of another school year Did I do everything that needed to be done? Is there anything I'm still missing? Releasing E into the world, even though he'll still be home for a while the distance he's created to hang out with friends one last time brings the beginning of the end to his dependence on us S. turns 12 in June The beginning of the end of 'tweenhood We baked a cake on Sunday at her request for us to spend time together She cut the last slice in half for us to share The beginning of endings continue