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Being Right

I like to be right.  I like it a lot.  When K was younger (and I knew things), that wasn’t a problem.  She had questions and I had answers.  It worked for us.

Now… not so much.  I still have answers but she’s not all that interested in hearing them.  Worse than that, K now has answers, maybe all the answers.   She also has feedback for me, lots of feedback.

K is taking a class on dogs so she has a lot of suggestions on how I can improve my dog ownership skills.  None of the suggestions involve her taking a more active role in the feeding, caring, or walking of said dog but rather how I can use her knowledge of canine behavior in my active role in dog feeding, caring, and walking.

K is also taking a class on natural resources and the environment.  She’s quite a theoretical expert on saving resources.  As I write this, she is probably thinking great thoughts about such things while having left a trail of lights on in all the rooms she’s visited today.

But it was the cell phone cord that really tested me.  On Monday, at around 5:45 am, she inhaled deeply and said “Mom, can I ask you something?”  For the uninitiated, the deep inhale meant that she was trying her hardest to be patient with me.  The “can I ask you something” was her attempt at politeness.  Without waiting for a reply, she pointed at my cell phone charger which was  plugged in with no phone connected to it.  “Can you please take your cell phone plug out of the wall when it’s done charging?  It wastes electricity if you don’t.”  Seriously?    I’m wasting electricity?  Because 5:45 am on a Monday is not my best time and because I’m the mother and I’m always right, we got into an argument over who leaves their phone charger in more often.  She went off to school and I was left staring at the plug thinking once again “that was not my best mothering moment.”

Tuesday, I walked by the kitchen plug and there was K’s charger still in the wall even though both K and her phone had left for school much earlier.  “See, I was right,” I said to myself, “She leaves her charger plugged in much more than I do.” Yesterday, there was her charger in the wall.  I thought about taking a picture for proof I was right but I remembered this incredible and short Ted Talk, 3 things I learned while my plane crashed, by Ric Elias.  Ric was on the plane that crash-landed in the Hudson River in 2009. Snippets from his 5 minute talk rattle around my brain and come to the forefront sometimes when I need them.    One of the lessons he shares is “I regretted the time I wasted, in things that did not matter, with people that did.”  I put my phone down and unplugged K’s charger.

“I no longer try to be right; I choose to be happy” is another quote from Ric’s talk.  This morning I noticed the charger just before K left for school.  I pointed it out to her and suggested that we both try and be better about unplugging it.  “Oh my gosh Mom, I’m so sorry.”  “No problem, let’s both just try to remember.  Have a great day.”  “You too Mom.”

“I no longer try to be right; I choose to be happy.”  I will make an effort to remember that every day.  It will be my New Year’s resolution.  Just sayin’, most of the time? I am right.

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A child of my own

“Do you think you’ll be able to love a kid that’s not yours?” “Do you ever wish you had a child of your own?” “Do you know who K’s real mother is?”

Questions like those once had tremendous power over me.   They had the power to sting.  They had the power to make me feel less than.  But, they don’t have power any more.  You see, I became a real mother over 15 years ago to a child who is every bit my own.

I was real when the delivery nurse placed a newborn baby in my arms.  I was real when I walked out into the California sunshine with my girl.  I was terrified, but I was real.  I was real when relief rushed over me the next morning because M and I had managed to keep K alive for an entire day.  Real, when the terror returned and I realized I had to keep her alive for every day of my life.

K was mine when nightmares sent her climbing into my bed because sleeping next to me was the only thing that made the bad dreams go away.  She was mine each time she ran into my arms when I picked her up from school.  She was mine when she held me after my mother died and said “Mommy, what will I do if you die?”

It’s been a long time since I thought about any of those questions.  Why think about things that have no power?  But last week, we spent  two nights with K in the ER.  She’s fine, thanks, but those were a couple of exhausting, scary nights.  There were moments when I had to force myself not to cry.  I had to listen to the doctors and pretend not to be afraid.

In the midst of it all, I heard that question from long ago – “Do you ever wish you had a child of your own?”   And my mind repeated the answer that I’ve known for every day of K’s life – I have a child of my own and she is everything I ever wished for.

katie and mom communion

Looking for Sea Glass

It’s the perfect beach day.   Not too hot.  Not too cool.  Just the right amount of breeze.  Chair strategically placed.  Toes in the water.  Book open.  Total relaxation.

“Mom, want to go for a walk with me?”  I close the book and move the chair back up under the umbrella.  Of course I want to go for a walk.  If a teenager asks you to go for a walk, you go.

Off we go in search of sea glass.  You have to really concentrate to find sea glass on our beach so there’s not a lot of talking.  It doesn’t matter.  I’m happy to be walking with my girl.  I’m even happier that she’s happy to be walking with me.

Some days, all we find are rocks.  You think you’ve spied a piece of sea glass but it turns out to be a light white rock or a smooth shell.  On this particular day, we do well.  10 pieces in all – clear ones, green ones and a dark brown one.  We head back to the umbrella, chatting a little bit on our way.

It occurs to me that parenting a teenager is like looking for sea glass.  There are days that are all rock.  Rolling eyes, silence, sarcasm.  But there are the sea glass days.  The smile, the laugh, the genuine interest in what you have to say.

M and I are lucky or at least lucky so far.  We find a lot of sea glass in our girl.  K and M point out cars to each other.  They share a similar taste in movies.  K and I have started going to exercise classes together.  I know!  We go to Zumba together and I don’t embarrass her.  After our first class, she actually said “you did pretty good, Mom.”  And I want extra credit because I responded with an enthusiastic thank you rather than correcting her grammar.

Of course it’s not all magic.  I was recently making homemade cookies for K to take to a sleepover.   I didn’t really have time, but the girls like them so I made the time.  K walked in and asked me what was wrong.  “Nothing.  I’m just thinking”, I replied.  My darling daughter’s reaction? “No offense, Mom, but when you look like that you’re either thinking or you’re irritated about something.  And usually?  It’s the second one.”  Yeah, that was a rock.  The first clue was the “no offense” lead in.  Always a warning to duck.sea glass

So we take it one step at a time.  I relish the times we spend working on puzzles together.  Or when she says, “Hey Mom, want to go to a movie?” And did I mention the Zumba class?

Yeah, I’ll pick up that sea glass wherever and whenever I can find it.

What’s Your Super Power?

We’ve been on a super hero kick lately.  We’ve watched The Avengers, all three Iron Mans, Thor, and The Incredible Hulk.  They are the intersection in the Venn diagram of our movie tastes – enough action for K and M without being too scary or gross or stupid for me.  We also watched “The End of the World” together but I absolutely took one for the team there.

The great thing about a super hero is movie is not just watching it but dissecting it afterwards. For the record, K’s favorite character is Thor because he’s a god and M’s favorite is Hulk.  My favorite is Iron Man.  K maintains that Iron Man doesn’t count because his power is the suit but I vigorously disagree.  Besides, who doesn’t love Robert Downey, Jr.?

These discussions remind me of the endless conversations K and I had about super powers when she was little. Whenever she and I were in the car together, she’d pipe up from the back seat, “Mom, if you could have any super power, what would it be?”  I’d come up with something – super fast speed or x-ray vision and then K would talk for the duration of the ride about what her power would be and how she would use it.  She didn’t require any more input so I’d listen to the radio and she would talk and talk.  Then on our return trip, she’d ask the question again, I’d give an answer and off she’d go.  I guess K wanted to be really ready in case she ever got the opportunity to choose one.

We don’t talk about super powers in the car any more.  There are too many texts for K to answer for that but I’ve been thinking about them lately.  As the mother of a teenager, which super power would I choose?  In no particular order, I’d think the following would come in handy.

Teleportation – K goes to a high school that’s 45 minutes from our house.  She’s made friends with kids that live an hour or so away from us.  They are great kids and I’m really glad K has them in her life, but the two round trips today will take more than 4 hours out of my day.  Teleportation would definitely increase my efficiency and improve my gas mileage.

Listening – Note this power is not super human hearing; it is the ability to super listen.  Being able to listen to what a teenager is really saying would be super indeed.  For example, “Wanna watch TV?” might mean “I don’t really have anything to say to you but I’m okay being near you and isn’t that enough?”

Wisdom – This would grant me the power to know when to say something and when to keep my mouth shut.  To know when I’m setting realistic expectations and when I’m being too hard.  To know where to set the bar so that K accomplishes all that she can without making her feel good is never good enough.

Compassion – I’d like the power to remember how hard being a teenager can be.  It was hard in the dark ages when I was 15 and it’s exponentially harder today.  To remember that an awesome kid who for some reason can’t remember to put a dirty towel in the hamper is still an awesome kid.

If you could have any super power, what would it be?

What About Dad?

I was thinking about Dad today.  Yes, Father’s Day is this weekend but that’s not what brought him to mind. It was actually a Mother’s Day memory that made me think of him.  One Mother’s Day, my sisters and I had created a really special gift for Mom.  We bought her a ceramic basket and placed maybe 100 small pieces of paper in it.  On each piece of paper we wrote something special about her.  We gave her the basket and we took turns reading each one aloud.

Dad listened attentively at first.  They were great memories and let’s face it; it was a pretty thoughtful gift.  I imagine he enjoyed the stories and was probably proud of his daughters for coming up with the idea (which I think we stole from a magazine but still).  After a while though, he started interrupting us.  “Hey, I was part of that too” or “There are two parents in this family” etc.  Laughing, we kept telling him, “Dad, it’s not your basket.”   He didn’t think it was nearly as funny as we did, but he finally stopped interrupting us and let us finish.

Of course when Father’s Day rolled around that year, we did something similar for him.  After his reaction, we had to.  If there was anyone Dad would play second fiddle to, it was definitely Mom.  But overall, that position was not his favorite spot in the band.

Truth be told, maybe we gave Mom credit for more stuff than we should have.  She was the gold standard of mothers so it was easy to do.  There’s the physical stuff – we credit her for all the blue eyes in the family, but Dad’s eyes were blue too.  I started wearing glasses in third grade so mine were certainly courtesy of Dad.  And there’s the non-physical stuff – I think Dad gave my brothers their work ethic, my younger sister her strong sense of justice, and my older sister, her all around goodness.  His sense of right and wrong was a force to be reckoned with, and he passed that on to all of us.

When I look at K, it is her birth mother to whom I give thanks.  A’s choices brought K to us and I will never forget that.  But yet… I don’t remember A having sapphire blue eyes.  K’s eyes are unforgettable.  If A’s were like that, I know I’d remember.  And it’s not just the stunning blue color; it’s the sparkle behind them that’s remarkable.  I wonder if those are a gift from her birth father.  What about K’s ability to remember the directions to anywhere she’s ever been?  Or her innate ability to reach out to someone who’s lonely or sad?  Those may have come from him.  I’ve just never really thought much about it before.  Huh…  It may not have been his basket but he was part of it too.

So, on this Father’s Day, I will remember all the wonderful fathers I have known, like I always do.  But for the first time, I will remember a particular high school boy who is now a grown man.  I will think of him, and I will thank him for whatever he gave that made my girl the incredible person she is.

The Box

Christmas 20030002Let me tell you a story…

I’m in second grade and I get the lead in “Little Red Riding Hood.”  It’s VERY exciting.  I’m proud and my parents are proud.  Dad is so proud he takes over a “mom-job” and works with me on my lines.  A lot.  I mean, a real lot.  So I’m ready.

It’s the day of the show.  Dad takes the afternoon off from work and sits with Mom and my little sister in the audience.  The show starts and my class is performing our little second grade hearts out.  The stage is big and we’re small but we’re doing fine.  Time for the big finish.

I should tell you that our version of Little Red Riding Hood is different than most.  In ours, Grandma comes through her encounter with the big, bad, wolf just fine.   At this point, it’s my job to open a box and hand Grandma a gift.  So.  I pick up the box, take off the lid, look inside.  And it’s empty.

I do what any 8 year old would do in the circumstances.  I panic.   The stage which had already been big now looks huge.  The audience looks like it’s doubled in size.  I look at my teacher, Mrs. Patterson, in the wings.   She assumes that I’ve forgotten my line and starts to mouth it to me.

So now I’m panicked and I’m mad because, as we’ve discussed, I know my lines.  I point to the box and mouth back to her, “There’s nothing in the box!”  She gestures to me to keep going.  I know this won’t work but I do what I’m told.  I pull nothing from the box and I hand nothing to Grandma and the play ends.

I go out to the audience and see Dad and explain what happened.  He leans down and tells me to listen very carefully.  He says “Gail, there’s a saying in the theater that applies just as much in life.  That saying is ‘the show must go on.’ No matter what happens to you in life, I want you to remember that and just keep going.”

It’s been more than a few years since I was in that play.   I’ve had a number of opportunities to remember Dad’s advice, but none as meaningful as when M and I were trying to start a family.  In spite of our best efforts and the efforts of the best science of the time, it didn’t look like it was going to happen.  It was hard.  And it was sad.  It felt like I had been handed another empty box.

But I heard my dad’s voice and we just kept going.  We kept going until we landed at the doorstep of JFS of Metrowest where we met Dale and Raquel of Adoption Choices.  They listened and they heard me.  Their kindness helped me let go of the box.  It wasn’t empty. It just wasn’t mine.

It’s hard to believe but our daughter K just turned fifteen.  That dark time seems so long ago and I can barely remember the sad, Christmas 20030003empty woman I was.  You see, I just have to look at K’s face, I just have to hear K’s voice to know.  Yeah, I have the right box now.

Safe

“It’s my job to keep you safe.”  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said that to K over the years.  This job of mine made things like bike helmets and car seats and seat belts non-negotiable.  It required us to install safety gates on stairs and rubber bumpers on sharp corners.

K is 15 now.  She’s outgrown the car seats, safety gates and rubber bumpers, but she always wears a bike helmet and her seat belt.  She looks both ways when crossing the street.  She doesn’t run with scissors or talk to strangers.  So, she’s safe, right?  Cause you see, that’s my job, to keep her safe.

We talk about current events and the lessons we can learn from them.  I try to be honest without being frightening.  I believe in open conversation.  I believe knowledge can help us be better prepared for danger.

But now…

A 15 year old girl was sexually assaulted after getting off her school bus in our town.  Getting off her school bus.  At 3 in the afternoon.

The Boston Marathon runs through our town. Like so many in the area, we knew people running the race and at the finish line.  I’ve run a marathon.  I’ve had family waiting for me at the finish.  On Monday,  a monster or monsters set off bombs near the finish line, killing and maiming people.  For running or watching a marathon.  In the middle of Boston.

It’s enough to make me want to put my family in lock down.  Put safety gates around our house.  But… I can’t do that so I look for comfort where I can find it.

One of the comforting messages I heard was to acknowledge to children that yes, there are bad people in the world but to remind them there are many more good people than bad.  Maybe as parents our real job is to keep our kids as safe as we can.  And our job for the world, is to do everything we can to make sure our kids are one of the good guys.

So today, K and I volunteered for the first time at The Food Project, an organization whose mission includes creating a “thoughtful and productive community of youth and adults from diverse backgrounds who work together to build a sustainable food system.”  Our group of volunteers planted 14,000 parsnips seeds.  As one of the volunteers said, “In light of this week’s events, I’m thankful to be able to come together as a community and make a difference.”  Exactly.

Good guys.  They’re everywhere.  We just have to remember to look for them.

K and I cross the finish line, Mystic Places Marathon 2003

K and I cross the finish line, Mystic Places Marathon 2003

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