Moving Mental Furniture


I rearranged my living room furniture. Which is to say, I pointed to various locations and said to my husband, “there, no I mean there, six inches that way, wait, no, over there is better.”

We’ve lived in our home for nine years, and we have both complained about the layout of the living room for almost as long. The chairs are too far away from each other, when you sit on the sofa, you look into a dark dining room, and there’s no place to put my tea (or wine, depending on how the day is going). Totally a first-world complaint.

Every time we contemplated moving things around, however,  we always decided that the alternatives, for a myriad of reasons, couldn’t possibly work. Plus, if we moved the sofa, we’d have to move the area rug, which means we’d find out just how dirty the area rug is. On the flip side, we’d find nine years worth of missing cat toys and maybe enough spare change to go out for dinner.

Rearranging the living room was sort of like middle-aged sex. When one of us was in the mood, the other was too tired, nursing a sore back, or in the middle of doing the taxes/laundry/reading a good book. Sunday, we finally decided we had nothing better to do than give the sofa a change of scenery.

Now that the furniture is re-arranged, the room finally feels like home. The traffic flow is more welcoming, the foyer is better defined, and that big picture window finally has a purpose. It’s funny how that works, isn’t it? We get so set in our ways, thinking there is only way way things could possibly work, until we try another way and find it works even better.

It made me wonder how other parts of my life are organized. I’ve struggled with redefining who I am with the Dude in college. Even though my time totally my own again, I’m feeling stalled, treading water through time. Maybe my mental furniture could use some rearranging.

If I change my habitual behaviors, my notions of what a “day” looks like, maybe I’d find a new corner with a view of the garden, or rediscover a story that I’d been looking at forever and not really seeing. If I let go of how things “were” or “should be” maybe my thoughts and energy would move in new directions.

If I release myself from expectations and the fear.maybe I’d trying something that doesn’t pan out, instead of living with something I know only works marginally well. After a few misses, I might find a place to put my teacup, or my glass of wine, depending upon how the day is going.

I’m ready to start rearranging the bedroom next. My husband says I can’t until I buy another bottle of Advil and learn the difference between right and left. Until that happens, I’ll have to be content with looking under my own sofa cushions. Heaven knows what I’ll find in there. I’ll be sure to let you know.

 

 

 

Behavior of an un-becoming parent

frogI sent the Dude a tiny frog. It’s supposed to bring him luck. Luck was the one thing he wanted most for me to send, aside from Pop-tarts and something to stop his typical winter to spring nosebleeds. They have a CVS not too far from campus, but I’m happy for something I can do for him, even if his father does think I spoil him. As far as I’m concerned, I’d be spoiling him if I bought him a car. A pack of NasalCease is not much of an indulgence.

I’m struggling with having him gone. As much as I love the freedom of my days, the lack of detritus in my car, and the ability to cook foods that not only touch each other, but intermingle, some days I still feel the warmth of his toddler-sized body on my shoulder. It’s an ache that goes through to the bone.

I miss his humor–the lightness of his spirit. When winter’s gray reaches in and curls its tentacles around my heart, I have to pry them off by myself. Some days it’s hard to conjure the will to try. He will always be my son, but he is no longer my child.

Which is why I can’t write about him anymore.

It’s not that he’s no longer entertaining, or interesting. Our common love of humor, baseball and Cadbury Robin’s Eggs are bound in our shared DNA, but his story is no longer mine to tell.

People have often asked what the Dude thinks about my writing, and I tell them I’m not writing about him. I’m writing about me. While they think they know him, they only know the Dude that exists within the context of my relationship with him. He was the sun at the center, and I wrote about the view from orbit.

Without his gravitational pull, I became untethered. My day was one big, blank page, and there is nothing a writer dreads more. I stared at the white space, reached for the words and found absolutely nothing.

I hunkered down in my sweats and watched television. I can attest that at any given time, some variant of Law & Order is airing somewhere on cable. Every so often, I’d haul myself out of hermitdom and do something drastic to bring me back to my life. I even dyed my hair pink. If I was looking for some sort of personal anchor, that wasn’t a good way to find it. It only made me feel more foreign to myself.

My only solution is to go back to the beginning, to strip away the habits and practices linked to my old life, and find the ones that serve the new. Like the Dude, I am a student, but in a different classroom.  He is learning how to become  who he will be.I am doing the same, but first I have to do the opposite. I will need to un-become the Dude’s Mom and experience what it means to be me absent of the label.

I need to face the empty page, and fill it with adventures of my own. I’ll need some luck. Maybe I’ll get a frog of my own.

Turn Down For What


When the Dude was a baby, he refused to sleep for more than 45 minutes at a time. He’d fall asleep in my arms, looking all angelic and harmless, and I’d set him in his crib and shuffle back to bed. As soon as I was about to drift off, however, I’d hear his whimpers through the monitor and trudge back in to pick him up.

For six weeks, my husband and I traded shifts. One of us would sleep and the other would hold the child.

I mentioned our problem to the pediatrician, and she asked how I knew I had to go pick up the Dude.

“He cries.” Duh. What kind of pediatrician was she?

“Does he cry?” she asked. “Or does he ooch.”  My blank stare was a mix of confusion and exhaustion, so she continued to explain.

“An ooch isn’t a real cry, it’s sort of a whimper of discomfort, like when you complain about dinner taking too long to arrive after you order, or your husband leaving his dirty socks on the floor.”

When I thought about it, I picked the Dude up the minute I heard any sound at all. It was ooching, not crying, but when my husband can’t sleep, his stare is enough to keep me awake, let alone an ooching baby.

That’s when the pediatrician gave me the greatest advice of all time. “Turn the monitor down. Better yet, turn it off. if your baby needs you, he’ll let you know.”

Funny, once we turned the monitor off, the child slept through the night. Now he can sleep through just about anything, including his econ class.

When I was working as a consultant, I’d get calls at all hours of the day and night. Once, I even got a call at 3 a.m. from a manager who was looking not for me, but for a woman who worked for me. In Canada. I said, “I looked around my bedroom and she’s not here.”

When I asked him why the hell he was calling me to find a woman in a completely different country, he answered, “Because she doesn’t answer her phone, but you do.”

Most of the work calls I received after reasonable business hours weren’t urgent. In fact, most of them were complaints about events I couldn’t alter or correct because they were already over. Some were only half-thought out–a knee-jerk response to an event without any real call to action.  I’d trained my coworkers, however, to expect that I would answer any call that came in, no matter how trivial. It was ooching. I needed to turn off the monitor.

From that point on, when I left my office, I left my office. No phone. No checking email. If something urgent needed my attention, folks could find me. They were creative that way. Funny, once I stopped responding immediately to every call and email, the ones I did receive were less reactive and more thoughtful.

The Dude is grown and I’ve left consulting, but I still find quietude in rare supply.

Sometimes I feel like the world is screaming at me. So much media, so much noise, so much anger. Devices ping and ring and play snippets of music to let me know they’re tired of being ignored. I get email notifications from blogs that I follow, websites that purchase from and groups I belong to. My landline rings with surveys and sweepstakes and political robocalls.

Even now, the Dude ooches, only now he does it via text. I used to respond right away, glad to provide assistance, even for problems he could have solved himself with nothing more than a google search. I spent an entire afternoon at a museum listening to him complain about how much his life sucked at college–a problem I couldn’t solve, at a time when I should have been enjoying where I was and the people I was with. When I realized I was hurting him more than I was helping him, I stopped answering his texts right away. It’s only fair. He takes his own sweet time in answering mine.

This constant connection to the ooching universe leaves me with little time and space to think. So much crowds my brain, the words and stories get all tangled up with the competition.

So every day, I turn off the proverbial monitors once a day. No email, no phone, no Facebook, no texts. I allow the house to be totally silent. It’s sort of creepy at first. We aren’t good at being still, or being around stillness. Most of what tugs at our skirts all day, however, isn’t urgent. It’s just stuff.

And you know what? While I’m enjoying silence, the world spins along all the same. Just because the universe runs on the idea of “I ooch therefore I am”, I am not required to listen, and sometimes the universe is better off for not having been heard.

I suggest this to others, and I get a lot of pushback. We all want to feel important, and turning off the monitor requires us to accept that maybe we aren’t as invaluable as we think we are. It also requires us to deal with the unhappy people we’ve trained to expect our ubiquitous availability.

What makes it all worth it? When I’ve had enough of the silence, I’m ready to really listen.

So I thank you for taking a moment to read this blog. Now turn off your computer and take in some quiet. I’ll all be here when you get back.

TBT – Vintage Momaiku

“I love you,” he said

You need a ride somewhere, right?

Yeah.  That’s what  I thought.
____________________________

“I do work, you know.”

“When? You mean the writing thing?”

“You are so grounded.”

_____________________________

So I changed my mind

I am not inconsistent

It’s called “flexible”

_______________________________

Rules of Possession

Mothers have no property

Your stuff is their stuff

______________________________

I’ll be out tonight

Don’t leave without a ride home

“Like, other than you?”

_____________________________

“He tells me you nag”

He says you micromanage

Divide and conquer

___________________________

In Homecoming clothes

He thinks he’s the next James Bond

Pie in the Skyfall

___________________________

Othello sucks, man

Everyone dies–what’s the point?

I’m playing Black Ops

___________________________

Parental requests

instantly cure teen boredom.

You’re busy? Since when?

___________________________

“I’ll do it later.”

Really? “Okay, I won’t, but

At least I’m honest.”

No Dude, there is no dream college


It’s the fairy tale we tell our children from the time they are very young.

…and one day, you’ll meet the college you’ve always dreamed of, with small class sizes, abundant clubs and opportunities to study abroad. You’ll lock eyes across a grassy field crowded with wandering peasants after a brief meeting in a ballroom where, despite knowing very little about you, they will tell you that they are the only one for you and you will believe every word. Choose them and you’ll live happily ever four years with challenging but not too hard classes and weekends full of awesome yet responsible parties.

It seems like a benign fantasy. Who wouldn’t want to meet their perfect match, the one that will lead to their ultimate destiny–a well-paying job and the opportunity to move out of their parents’ scrutiny?

School counselors talk about it, so does the media. How to find your dream school. Break the mold to get into your dream school. Behold the Name-your-source “Review Top 10 Dream Schools until we need to sell another edition”, edition.  The Dude and his classmates swam in the collegiate primordial soup of hyperbole. No wonder he’s flailing.

Not that he’s at college, the Dude is miserable. The work is hard. The food is awful, and if someone is throwing those parties, he hasn’t been invited. Somehow, he managed to choose the only university that has outlawed fun. As much as I explained that this was perfectly normal in the first term of freshman year, he feels he’s been lied to. He questions his decision-making ability, and blames his father and me for unduly influencing his choices. There is a dream college out there where his life would be perfect, and it’s not where he is.

He’s not the only one questioning his decision-making. I’m revisiting every step of the process, wondering where we went wrong. I struggled my freshman year too, but I thought it was just me. I wanted it to be better for him. Maybe he wasn’t the only one viewing the situation through the rosy glass of hope.

College isn’t a fairy tale. Prince Charming didn’t charge Cinderella $40K a year for the privilege of his company, and oh by the way, he’s dating another 10,000 fair damsels and maybe, if she proves herself worthy through a series of increasingly complex challenges, he’ll put a ring on it. It’s an important four years, and charging into it with dewy eyed fantasies of the best years of one’s life is bound to create some post purchase dissonance.

The Dude has a decent head on his shoulders, and even he admits perhaps he romanticized it all too much. He just feels that he had help.  The avalanche of propaganda began the second he signed up for the SAT. “Why don’t they just tell us the truth?”

Good question.

It feels better to say it will be the best time ever, but college is an investment not an all-inclusive resort, and maybe if we talked about it that way with our kids, they’d be happier in the end. I certainly have friends whose kids were happy from the moment they stepped foot on campus. I know more, however, whose kids are wrestling with homesickness and the difficult adjustment from high school to college.

Sorry Dude, but it’s time to wake up. College is hard. It’s supposed to be hard. Companies don’t choose to hire from universities because the students have a great time making friends and joining clubs, but for the skills they possess. A college can’t make you happy. You have to do that for yourself.

And it’s time for me to wake up, too. There may not be some magical moment where my son becomes happy with where he is, and I cannot make him happy with it either, through eloquence or persistence.

The best we can do is deal with reality, one step at a time. And if had it to over again, that’s probably what I’d say There is no dream college. Choose a real one instead.

If Only We Could Lock Down Guns As Easily As We Lock Down College Campuses


At 2 a.m. on Saturday night, my IPad sang from across the room to let me know someone was calling. My husband shook me awake. I’d forgotten to mute the electronic offender, and surely I’d hear about it in the morning. I picked up my IPhone just as it stopped vibrating. I had to wait until the missed call registered so I could find out who it was. Late night calls generally aren’t good ones.

The call originated from the town where my son attends college. A fist clamped around my heart. The phone buzzed in my hand, signalling the message’s arrival at the same time my IPad let out a happy ding, telling me I’d gotten a text. I thought the joy was a little premature.

A robotic female voice filled me in on the news. The cadence in her words was off, which lent a sinister tone to what was meant to be a precautionary message. A convenience store at the edge of campus had been robbed by two armed men. The suspects were headed away from campus, but just to be safe, the University asked the students to take shelter and lock the doors. The text confirmed I’d heard her right.

I checked my Mom-stalker app and saw that the Dude was not at home in his dorm, a safe distance from the scene of the crime, but somewhere unfamiliar, a little too close for comfort. Did I mention it was 2 a.m.?

So I texted him to make sure he was fine, which he was, but he’d been at the convenience store just an hour prior. Buying snacks, I’m sure. He decided to reassure me by bringing up the fact that he still had to walk home, but he had nothing on him but his I.D. so he wasn’t worth the bother. I thanked him for his sensitivity and told him to stay put until the University lifted the lock down.

It took about a fifteen minutes for the all clear to come through, and another hour for my chest to loosen enough for me to breathe. I did not, however, sleep.

I knew the Dude wasn’t in any danger; that wasn’t what kept me awake. It was the thought of the parents of students at Umpqua Community College and how they must have felt. I knew that whatever I imagined would be off on a logarithmic scale. Add to it a certain hopelessness. Nothing will change.

The Onion posted the article “No Way to Prevent This”, Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens, only it was a rewrite of their June article about the Charleston shootings, which was a rewrite of their May 2014 column about the UCSB shootings.

I find it ironic that I have to fill out more paperwork to adopt a cat than I do to buy a gun. I also find it ironic that politicians find the idea that rounding up illegal immigrants and sending them on their way is easy, but reducing the prevalence of guns in the U.S. is impossible.

The ever-present “they” say we have a mental health problem (which we do, but their characterization of it scares the shit out of me). We have a hate and a fame problem. We have an education problem, and an economic disparity problem.

But we also have an inertia problem, a campaign funding problem, an unwillingness to compromise problem, and an all-or-nothing-our-side-must-win-at-all-costs problem.

Most of all, we have an it-won’t-happen-to-me problem.

Let’s hope “they” never get a 2 a.m. robo call about their own child. The thought that anyone might get that call keeps me up at night. Doesn’t it keep “them” up too? We could all use a good night’s sleep.

What emoji do you use when your kid hates college?


“Whoever said college was the best time of your life was lying.” — The Dude.

This was followed by the poop emoji.

How quickly things change. Just a few weeks ago, he couldn’t wait to leave. He was ready for college.

He is ready for college. He may have had a few unrealistic expectations, that’s all. Those unrealistic expectations will get you every time.

He has a nasty cold. I’d send him chicken soup if I could. He’d like that too, since he says the food sucks and isn’t very healthy. I’ve suggested vegetables and salads, but he isn’t taking advice at the moment. If there was a stone wall emoji, he’d use it.

Over nineteen years, we’ve made it through colic and croup, new math, buying a jockstrap, “Medieval Day”,The Iliad, Homecoming, driver’s ed, and the first and second transgressions that will not be named. I thought I was old hat at this, but when he’s unhappy, it twists me worse than a telephone cord (I had to use that analogy before it became irrelevant. I think I only had a few minutes left.)

He texts my husband about more mundane matters, like money. My husband says that’s a sign that it’s not so bad. I am parent A, the one that does out cookies and sympathy. Parent B tells the child that this is life, suck it up and soldier on.

So much of his life is going well. He has a terrific roommate, who he likes and gets along with. They were paired at random, so this was not a given. He’s playing intramural sports and has joined a couple of clubs. He’s even learning how to play golf. Classes, however are harder than he anticipated, and the old high school habits aren’t enough to get the grades he’s hoping for. My sage advice draws nothing more than a “maybe.” I have a feeling I know what emoji he’d use if he could find it, but he’s smart enough not to use it. I’m the one with the cookies and sympathy, after all.

His friends at other colleges have it so much better, he says. Life is one big party for them, and he has major FOMO. He doesn’t consider that they might be embellishing. “Why would they do that?” he says. He believes people are inherently truthful. Cute, isn’t it?

I tell him that I begged to transfer halfway through my first term and my counselor told me to hold tight and it would get better. I tell him that it did, and I stayed where I was. I knew it wouldn’t be any better somewhere else. It was not the time of my life, but it set me on the path I wanted to be on. There’s a lot to be said for not peaking too early.

He’s forgotten how long it takes to build friendships and how long it takes to feel at home somewhere new. He’s forgotten that he once said moving to Virginia, the place he so longs for, was the worst thing that ever happened to him. Patience is not his forte. Neither is perspective. After all, he is a nineteen year old. It’s exactly what he needs, though, along with some decongestant and a perhaps a box of pop tarts.

I text to ask how he’s doing and he answers “sick.” I suggest he visit the health center, but he’s “busy.” I won’t even bother suggesting he go to CVS. I tell him to go to Noodle and Co and get some chicken soup, and if he’s running a fever, by all means go to the health center. He texts back “How do I know if I’m running a fever?” I ask if he’s hot and achy. He answers “My dorm has no AC. I’m always hot and achy.”

I know this conversation could go on forever. He has made up his mind to be miserable, and there is nothing I can do to change it. I ask my husband if he’s heard anything from the Dude. My husband just laughs.

Overcome with motherly concern, I break down. I know it’s unhealthy, like a drug addiction. I do it less often than I did in the beginning, just after he left. I’m down to once or twice a day. I open the Find My Phone app to see where he is.

He’s playing golf. I guess that’s why he’s busy.

I send him a blowing kiss emoji and say I’ll check in later, then put together a gift package; decongestant, a thermometer, tissues and a box of pop-tarts. We’ll both make it through another day.