Independence is Good, Mom

My friend moved back into the neighborhood where we met more than 40 years ago, and recently described how the quiet streets where we roamed have opened up a new-found independence for her daughters too. Her girls ride their bikes to the pool like we did, walk to restaurants for lunch, stop in at the grocery store for snacks like we did, and sometimes don’t come home until after 10 at night. It’s summer after all. And she is excited for them, because she remembers how much fun we had at their age.

Soon after, my sisters were re-telling a story about a funny walk home from the same grocery store, now remodeled and shinier. We laugh every time we remember it, and top that one with other oft-remembered suburban adventures with each other and our friends.

But our mom worries that too many of our stories were unbeknownst to her. She wonders aloud, in fact, if she was the engaged, good mother she thought she was.

Silly wonderings of every mom – jennswonderings  – as our children grow up. Was I a good mom? Did I guide them well? Did they know how much I loved them?

What she forgets, as she worries, is that our stories are happy ones. That we look back on our childhoods with humor. That as sisters, our stories were shared ones in which we all played a part for much longer than most.

Our mom trusted us to go out into the world and play. So, she missed a few things. That, at some point, was her job.

My hope for my kids is supposed to be that as I let them loose to play in the world, they will have fun stories that I won’t remember because I wasn’t there. Yet such letting go breaks my heart. I want to be part of their days, laughing, listening.

And I worry that as they collect their own stories, my stories will be less … less everything… because three sweet boys are not always in them.

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Stand Up

I saw Chris Stapleton at Red Rocks last night. The sky was clear. The city lights twinkled at us from below the rocks. He played all four songs I know. And Peyton Manning joined him on stage to sing “Tennessee Whiskey.” Plus, he has the most creative intro of band members I’ve ever heard, which makes him really likable.

I just want to know why people feel the need to bug you if you sit down to listen to the music. Like you’re making them uncomfortable.

Christ Stapleton’s music is mellow. His low voice and the acoustics at Red Rocks are impressive. But seriously, I can only sway for so long.

And just to impress the stander-uppers – because if you don’t, they feel the need to nag you – why do you have to stay on your feet until midnight with thoughts of “my-back-aches, wow-that-guy-is-really-drunk, and please-play-faster-I-have-to-get-up-at-5am” running through your head?

Although it may not look it to the stander-uppers, it is way “cooler” to sit and appreciate the awesome guitar playing, listen to the story-telling that is country music, watch a hawk soar above the rocks, and identify the constellations on a crisp, cool night in May.

Terence, This is Stupid Stuff

Last night, my husband and I were sitting at our fire-pit drinking wine, talking about how people eventually get what’s coming to them. And he said, “That reminds me of a poem I memorized by A.E. Housman.”

Seriously?

He memorized it in high school without being assigned to do so. “I just liked the poem.”

Well, I too memorized poems and Shakespearean monologues when I was young. I got an A on the hardest exam I ever took – 10th grade English, when we had to identify a long list of obscure quotations and say what texts they came from, which author, and why important. I was in multiple plays. I only missed a line once, but in that play, I was actually Head of Costumes, and only because I had memorized most of the lines in Annie Get Your Gun, I was a last-minute understudy.

But I no longer remember any of it. That monologue by Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream? Nope. My favorite quotes from F. Scott Fitzgerald? I’ll have to check the book that I used to keep by my bed. The really hard-to-memorize …ugh… what was the name of that poem… Canterbury Tales. Nope.

I only remember one line, “It’s like the ladies’ restroom at the Oriental Theater.” From Auntie Mame. I was the nanny.

Meanwhile, my husband, the science guy, sitting at the fire-pit at least thirty years later, recited – almost flawlessly and without pause – the second half of Housman’s Terence, This is Stupid Stuff.

And I felt stupid.

So, inspired by my husband with the memory of an elephant, I pulled out my – yes, I kept it –  10th grade Norton’s Anthology, and today, I’m going to re-memorize an old favorite.

Hopefully, it stays in my head long enough to recite it around the fire-pit.

They Cheer for the Little Guy

On summer vacation, we ran the OBX 5K. A great experience.

I am 49, and the last race I ran was in second grade, when the winner told my mom, “If no one else was in the race, she would have gotten second!”

The members of our family ran at different paces. Our 12 year old entered the race in the second wave, confident he could finish in less than 28 minutes. He finished third of all 14 and unders. Our thirteen year old had a goal just to finish. He rocked it. And our eight year old wanted to beat as many family members as possible – “at least two of you” – which meant boxing me off the sidewalk.

I ran with the 13 year old for 21 minutes. Then my husband, who was run-walking faster than us with the eight year old, couldn’t take it anymore. He raced to catch up with the 12 year old. I shifted to the little man.

“Mom, slow down.”

“Mom, you’re walking too fast.”

“Mom, STOP!“

But as we turned into the Whalehead Club with the finish line in view, me on the verge of throwing up, my eight year old took off. Sweaty. Fast. All I could see was the big 25 on the back of his Jamal Charles jersey.

And what did I hear as we approached the finish line?

“Go, dude!”

“Keep it up, kid.”

“You rock, little man!”

What about the 49 year old mom of three boys in 97% humidity running her first 5K?! The kid is cute, but he’s eight. Top time for his age group. Good knees.

Just asking…who needs the cheers? The little guy or his mom?

 

 

 

 

When I Imagined Life as a Grown-Up

When I was a teenager, I pictured myself as a war correspondent, or a world traveler doing research for National Geographic, or if my best friend got to be the first woman President, then maybe ambassador to Ireland or Secretary of State. Whatever I was going to do, adulthood looked exciting and glamorous.

I certainly did not picture myself alone in my car, parked outside of a local late night hangout, waiting in the dark for my thirteen-year-old son’s Mary Poppins’ cast party to end.

The party, orchestrated by the fifteen-year-old girls in the play, was at the Village Inn, where you can get French fries, mac-n-cheese, or chocolate chip pancakes at any time of day. Its parking lot at night – somewhat quiet, only slightly sketchy.

As I tried to stay awake. watching the rare coming and going – two old men in polo shirts, tattooed twenty-somethings holding hands, three baggy-jeaned teens looking to stay out of trouble (I hoped) – I suddenly saw a more realistic view of my life as my son passes through the pre-driving-but-starting-to-be-social years.

“Mom, can I go to the football game tonight?”

“There’s a party at my friend’s house tonight.”

“Mom, all my friends are going to see the new Star Wars movie tonight.”

“I can’t wait for the dance tonight!”

Many more late nights in parking lots waiting as his life begins to look like a big adventure. And I was so proud and excited for him.

When I was at my first cast party, I couldn’t have known that that feeling would be better than the glamorous life I imagined.

The Certainty of Youth

My sons have never:

  • Voted
  • Voted for a winning candidate and regretted it later
  • Voted for a losing candidate on principle
  • Voted for the lesser of evils
  • Aligned with a political party
  • Voted for the loser and the winner turned out to be outstanding

That’s why I miss half of what is said in this winter’s increasingly heated political debates – my kids won’t shut up. They opine through every minute of every debate.

At twelve and thirteen, they are the color commentary. Opinionated. Sarcastic. Utterly confident that they know best. Eager to comment on anything – the candidates’ ties, their hair, their intellect.

“He doesn’t know anything about the Klu Klux Klan?!”

They borrow catch-phrases from adults, other twelve year olds, ad campaigns on the side of a bus as if they were time-tested facts.

Sometimes I shush them, “I want to hear this.”

But most of the time, I like listening to them.

“He’s a crook.”

“She’s a liar.”

“He’s a socialist, and socialism never worked anywhere, any time.”

“I mean, mom, he’s going a build a wall?! He might as well take down the Statue of Liberty while he’s at it.”

Unable to hear what the candidates are saying above the din of my boys’ joyful, humorous political certainty, I remember a day when I was sure I had all the answers… and voting was easy.

 

A Wise Old Man at 8

The second graders are preparing for their African-American reports this month. They are assigned an African-American hero (ranging from Obama to Jesse Owens, Michael Jordan to Harriet Tubman). The goal is to create a report and then present it, in costume, to their classmates and parents.

Yesterday, my second grader told me that one of his classmates is really nervous.

“So, mom,” he said, “I told him that I understand how he feels. My younger self would have been nervous too.”