That usually means something else isn’t. It always means something else isn’t okay.
E. called twice on Saturday. S. hollered through the bathroom door, over running water from the shower. “E needs for you to call as soon as you’re done! He already called twice.” We’d been messaging back and forth. He probably wants to pick something up on the way here. Ice cream, or maybe my favorite coffee.
I finished without rushing and returned his call.
“Yeah, you know that yield sign where you have to crank your head all the way back and it’s a stupid traffic flow design? The brand-new Mini-Cooper in front of me didn’t go when it was clear. We’re exchanging information now, I’ll be there in a bit.”
He sounded calm. That’s what made me nervous. When he got home, I took a look. License plate was bent. Otherwise, no major damage. Fender bender minus the bent fender. I looked at the pictures of the other car, walked into the house, and discussed the next steps, grateful it wasn’t worse.
“Someday I’m going to be a grown-up like you and I’ll have to use that fork thing when I eat. So let me be a kid and eat my broccoli however I want, even if it’s with my fingers.”
She’s not wrong. I mean, she is eating the broccoli, I observe as she kicks her legs back and forth in her seat at the kitchen table. Her seat since she turned one. Same spot. No one sits there. If they do, she reminds them there are other places to sit.
I’m the one who gave her frozen broccoli florets when she was three. I thought it was odd, but that’s what her home daycare sitter did. She’d give all the kids florets of frozen broccoli on hot afternoons. Any time I took some out to add the obligatory green vegetable side dish to our dinner, she asked for a piece. In my curiosity, I gave her one, expecting her to toss it aside. She ate the whole thing and asked for more. Then she ate more at dinner.
Okay, so broccoli is a thing. She likes it, so why fight it? Now, it only gets eaten with seasoned salt. Small pieces. Warm, not frozen. Sometimes she’ll stab a fork into it, but I still see her occasionally get some with her fingers. I don’t argue anymore, because yes, sooner than I’d like, she’s going to be a grown-up like me and have to use that fork thing when she eats.
Enchanted Rock. It’ll enchant you to want to hop on boulders and flit around like a mountain goat until you realize you’ve gone too far and the only way to a trail, any trail, is down. And it’s steep. If you hike often and lift lots of weights, no problem. We don’t. Sure, side stepping your way down works, unless the descent is too steep. Without rails and nothing to hold on to. Slide down if need be. If you’re wearing weather proof shorts, you’ve got the perfect seat to a fast slide all the way down a massive pink granite rock.
Don’t lose the trail map. On second thought, study the trail map, make a plan, and read about what’s on the other side. Not many people going your direction? That’s a slap in the face, shake you back and forth until your eyes pop out sort of sign that maybe you’re going the wrong way. The hard way. The way meant for experienced hikers twenty years younger. The guy rappelling down the boulders you went around? Yeah, he won’t be able to save you.
Toes slide to the ends of shoes as you have a death grip on the rock trying not to lose your footing. Stay balanced. Focus. One foot in front of the other, lean back a little, bend the knees. Be patient, be patient, be patient. Once you get going it’s hard to stop so if you want to jump step it down, you’d better be ready and balanced for what’s coming.
There’s a trail. No one is on it. This goes to the lake. The car is on the other side. How far to go around because we so are NOT going back up to the other side. Go back. Regroup. Thank goodness for the checkpoint telling us YOU ARE HERE with an arrow marking our spot. Yes, we are, here, but how do we get out?
Take the other trail. But Mom! It looks like we have to go back UP! I can’t do that again!
More people. That’s a good sign. Better than the map. Keep going. It’s a bit rocky, but nothing close to what we just went through. Aha! Here we are. Everything looks familiar. Stop for a snack. Guess who thought of packing them? Take more glugs of water.
Dad! This is the way we came up!
And the way we should’ve come down. Who says adventures are always fun?
Life lessons learned: Together, you’ll get through steep descents and boulders. Sometimes, you’ll slide down on your ass.
Ever been “Netflix dumped?” It hurts. Not as bad as a real break-up, but still. I mean, I made a commitment. I promised. I said yes to an entire series with you. Then you went off and didn’t even wait for me. You cheated and watched. Every. Single. Episode. Without me, after I promised you I wouldn’t stray.
This isn’t the first time you’ve done it either. Season 4 of Stranger Things. How could you? After all, on your eleventh birthday, I vowed to let you watch season one. I fulfilled my end of the deal. We watched that first episode the night of you birthday. I even allowed snacks upstairs. Every day until the end of season three, we all watched it with you.
I worked that day and you just couldn’t wait. You promised you’d wait for me to get home even though summer break had already started for you. Lucky. But no, I got home and you had to brag about binge watching it. TWICE! Because you started watching when they dropped it at midnight. You would’ve thought you’d won a hot-dog eating contest. Glutton.
Then Heartstopper. Same thing. You watched a few episodes and swore you’d wait for me. I only got through the first three and you left me behind. Again. You had already gone through them twice, so why rush the third round? Sheesh.
The last one was Wednesday. Seriously!? You didn’t even know about Wednesday Addams until you found teasers for this Wednesday! I don’t want to watch anything with you again. You keep Netflix dumping me. I hate being mistreated this way. Take all the fun out it. I’ll watch on my own from now on. Don’t start on me when I decide to watch something without you.
Sticky shoeboxes covered with construction paper
long slot cut through the top
where little envelopes drop
one for every classmate
wiggly heart shaped Jell-O
Cindy's mom brought to the class party
shiny gold boxes wrapped in red cellophane
the popular girls got
from their little
Outgrown class parties
little messages delivered between
are any of those for me?
they're all for those girls
a pile of them
I wonder what they say
They sigh as if annoyed,
but we all know
they like attention
"I have so many!"
Oh, shut up
I wish they were mine
and my first
"real" Valentine's Day gift
a thin gold bracelet
with a heart slipped through the chain
I never wanted to take it off
until that one day
several months later
where it made its way
to the back of my jewelry box
do I dare wear it again?
Galentine's Day before it became a word
ditch the study sesh
none of us have boyfriends
so why not go to dinner together?
No tables available at the one
cafe, of course not,
couples got first dibs
because people plan for these things
we drive around,
it's late now,
and we find a little Italian restaurant
where I taste fried calamari
for the first time
order our entrees
and realize we don't
mind being single
A rainy weekend
greets the rare Saturday
No plans made,
but we have each other
Where do we go to dinner?
Everything is booked
Let's just go to our regular place
My gift is first
should be perfect,
it's something he enjoys
then I open the card
and he hands me a small box
okay, I say
and there it is,
the ring I had been eyeing
I say yes
he slips it on,
call my mom
and we head out
to dinner, nothing fancy
but I can't stop staring
at glittery possibilities
cute pencils with fun erasers,
stickers, snacks, a book for each one
goodie bag assembly line
load my car and brace myself
for my first classroom party
on the other side
every student gets something
it isn't fun being left out
even if it's from the teacher
and cute little notes pile up
on my desk
(I'm glad I'm not the parent!)
chocolate fountain and goodies
from PTA in the staff lounge
and bonus points for the one
who brought a small
bottle of Champagne
flavored jelly beans
Craft stick picture frames
with my little
cherubs inside them,
trimmed with sparkly hearts
googly eyes, and glitter
whipped cream topped pancake
with berries and hot cocoa
fluffy stuffed animals
heart covered pajamas
"I lovey dovey you!"
Gift bags with snacks
because they're always hungry
can't go wrong with candy
lemonade for one,
a root beer for the other
decide against deodorant
and find a silly squishy plush toy
because they still like getting them
"Oh, by the way, can I get
something for my friends?"
It's 9:30 p.m.
the day before VDay
No, just no.
We should be getting ready for bed
"I'll ask Dad!"
Wrestle with insomnia
get up and find my seasonal
place them on the table,
one of those shiny gold heart
shaped boxes wrapped in red cellophane
and a green squishy love bug plushie
flanked with a red Ring Pop and a tube
she skips down the stairs as if on cue
the minute I put everything down
she picks up the love bug
twirling it in a dance
and sings her happy theme song
"You're going to school with me today!"
At work the office calls
I have a delivery
a bouquet of flowers
unexpected and appreciated
text message exchange with
who stopped by to visit on Sunday
I pour myself a glass of cheap Champagne
fill the sink with dishwater
all of the ways people love me
I don’t like getting those notices from my kid’s school about her not showing up to class. Must’ve missed the bus. Again. Sometimes it’s a mistake so I have to make a call or send an email to get it cleared up. Not my favorite thing to do.
I got another call yesterday, but it was expected. Well check appointment in the morning to affect first and second period attendance, orthodontist appointment during the last two periods of the day. I took care of the morning and hubster took care of the afternoon.
It was a long appointment. No time for breakfast so I promised to swing by Chick-fil-A on the way to drop her off at school. We got into the car, buckled in and were ready to go. Except for one thing. Despite the other piles of well-check advice sheets, I forgot to request a doctor’s note to submit to the attendance office. I blamed the blood work that was ordered and a death grip on my arm as the distraction.
Back into the office I go. Of course, I had to wait, but it wasn’t as long as I expected. With the proof of skipping school in hand, I exited the building. Taking a deep breath, I realized I could remove my mask again. As I pulled off one side of the mask, a wind gust snapped that paper right out of my hand. It went up and up and up, swirled a bit and kept climbing. I hoped it might get caught on a car’s tire or in a hedge or something.
Nope, it kept flying, like a paper airplane with a jet engine. It got caught high in a tree, flapping wildly like a mean little kid sticking out his tongue, waving his fingers on either side of his head singing “Nanny-nanny-boo-boo, you can’t catch me!”
And I didn’t. Never mind. I know she wasn’t skipping.
What do you do when you’re waiting? When you’re stuck between past and future? When you have to be in the moment, but you’re unsure about what to do while you’re there? Doom scroll. Start cleaning. Baking. Pour another cup of coffee and shake the coconut milk to oblivion to get it a little frothy, even though nothing will save the burned coffee taste? But you drink it anyway. Do you dare go upstairs? Stop thinking about what’s to come? Over think what’s about to come?
It isn’t bad. It’s bittersweet. I keep playing back all of my failures, but will myself to shove those out. I play back all of the successes. Setting up his room, soon after we moved in. Pale blues and purples with John Lennon themed nursery decor we found at Babies R Us. The nights I’d army crawl out of his room on my belly after putting him to sleep–this kid rarely slept–so he wouldn’t see me and start screaming. The itsy bitsy spider my hand puppeted every morning to wake him up, running up and down his arm and ending in a tickle fest. His Thomas the Tank Engine train table we scored on Craigslist and all of his trains. Then the Disney Cars. A stint with SpongeBob. Then the LEGO sets. So many LEGO sets.
A big boy bed. Birthday sleepovers. Stuffed animals. Foxy. Kisser, a red and white giraffe with heart shaped spots I bought him one Valentine’s day that got left behind at a department store. Some gentle soul took Kisser to the shoe department and we drove back to pick it up. Turtley, a plush sea turtle I bought him on a field trip. A bulletin board tacked with letters from Grandma and a few teachers, notes I’d leave in his lunch box. Pictures of K from across the street, friends since 5th grade. Prayer cards.
Later, I stopped going into his room. “I need my privacy.” A cello took up my space. Then a keyboard. Guitar. A desk with my old laptop. Pandemic learning when we rarely saw him, but there wasn’t much learning going on, or so I thought. Online senior year because that’s how it turned out. But I’m supposed to focus on successes. Despite the bumpy last few years, he composed a piece of music, played in a community orchestra for a year, found a job the week after graduation, saved money, made a plan to move out, researched apartments, asked questions, found a roommate, combed through an apartment lease, made deposits, and packed his room.
He’s on his way to pick up the key. My husband will help him load those first boxes, then his roommate will stop by to help. I can only watch because I can’t lift anything heavy right now (doctor’s orders). I don’t know how I’ll react yet. Make jokes. Laugh. Cry. Most likely, I’ll give lots of reminders.
The big LEGO sets will move into our living room for a few days until he can transport them. Since he enrolled in The University of Life (pandemic killed his quest for higher education for now), he’s been home. However, we didn’t see him often because of work and time with his friends. I should be ready for this. He’s ready for this.
I haven’t looked in his room yet. I sit here and wait.
Taking a picture of a teen is like taking a picture of Bigfoot. The Loch Ness monster. Chupacabra. Results are hard to decipher. You get a blur of hair or a running body. You get the back of one standing with others, a line-up of sorts, in reverse. They’re all dressed alike, same height, same hair.
Mine gets on a tire swing and for a split second, I see her little-hood oozing out in her smile. She sees the camera and immediately gets back into her grumpy character where everything about life is horrid, brows furrowed, braced teeth gritted, and a small grumble eking out “Mo-O-m! Ugh! I hate pictures!” because she also hates speaking.
I got what I could, sifted through a hundred photo bursts, and found a glimmer of hope, one capturing the essence of who she really is deep inside all of those defensive teen-aged layers–even if that first teen year is the only layer there. It’s tough and almost impenetrable. Almost.
“Get one of me with Dad.” We stand, stiffly posed along the bank of the San Gabriel river. The light is perfect. We’re both not grumbly middle-aged parents. We’ve shed our own layers for a while.
“Give us a warning, at least,” I remind her, because we know she’ll capture us mid-yawn. Eyes closed. Mouths opened.
Brows furrowed with a small grumble starts out a whiny “F-i-ah! You’re taking selfies! Take the picture so we can move on and let other people get a turn.”
Laughter ensues, she shows BFF the screen, pretends to run, but first returns the phone and then runs. We take a look and there we are. It’s a good one.
Even better are the selfies. There she is. They’re good ones.
All layers–the one layer–shed because she played. Dimples in their original location. Braced teeth. A sparkle in her eyes. She’s still there.
I have a planner. I use it. I set reminders on my phone. My watch buzzes those reminders and my phone zaps my rear end from my back pocket so I don’t forget. I write things down. I have three tabs open of the same chock full Google calendar because I can’t find it buried within countless other tabs. I was a week ahead of everything in my mind and I still can’t get it straight. Seems that this week is irrelevant as I look ahead to plan lessons, activities, book displays, contests, book clubs, maker space activities…
I enjoyed my weekend. I took teen and a friend to the Chalk Walk Art Festival. The laundry can wait, might as well enjoy the decent weather. Still hot, but not as hot as summer.
Sure enough, as Sundays always do, the day whizzed by, but I was determined not to subject myself to the Sunday Blues. I signed up to bake ancho chilli chocolate cupcakes for our potluck on Monday. Chilli themed. A contest, I think. I’ve been on this campus for a year. Still recovering from COVID, some traditions halted, but I’m not sure if this is one or not. No matter, I stopped at the grocery store after church to pick up a few ingredients which turned into full-on groceries.
I mixed up the batter and baked cupcakes between loads of laundry. I packed them up early. Before 10:00 p.m. early. Monday, a staff development day, allowed me to sleep in a little. No lunch prep for me because we’re having chilli. PTA is serving breakfast so double score there. We’re down to sharing a car because hubster’s is in the shop, which brings a whole other level of schedule juggling, or schudggling.
Monday morning, I put the two tubs of cupcakes in the back seat, grabbed my bag and got my ride to school.
“I brought my cupcakes,” I announced, only to learn the potluck is in two weeks. We had our first Monday PD two weeks ago. One was scheduled for October 10th. The next one is on October 24th.
I didn’t read the sign up sheet properly. Scroll reading. Exactly what I tell students not to do. I’m on autopilot with doing all of the things, I don’t know whether I’m coming or going. I was a week ahead of the actual calendar last week, trying to do what was planned for this week, but knowing it wasn’t because of book fair chaos.
This reminded me of the time I took my kids to dinner for Taco Tuesday. On a Wednesday. Another time I missed a parent-teacher conference because we went out for ice cream. Before he started middle school, I skipped my son’s orchestra instrument selection appointment and I don’t remember why.
I put the cupcakes in the staff fridge. I co-facilitated a session for teachers with my ITS during sixth grade lunch today, a trial run of our first “Lunch and Learn” series integrating tech/library resources. We bribed some with dessert and drinks. Unknowingly, I made dessert.
The cupcakes and training were well received.
I learned that dunking dried chillies in dark chocolate and sprinkling them with sea salt takes them to a whole other level of sweet with zippy zing.
“Yes, I’m making another batch for the next potluck,” I smiled, as a teacher snagged two on her way out. I’ll garnish them with chocolate covered chillies.
This is a take on the popular game show, The $10,000 Pyramid, where one person gives clues to a partner. The answer is in the form of a category. 30 seconds are on the clock for each round. Can you figure out these categories?
Round 1: Time change. Rest. Cleaning. Sleeping. Trip. Fun. Friends. Reading. Long walks. Birds chirping.