Seeing Myself in Him on His 13th Birthday

My oldest son celebrated his 13th birthday by inviting nine of his friends to watch and play football at our house yesterday. My basement still smells like boy sweat this morning.

His friends are sweet, funny kids who, as they grow in confidence and appreciate their own unique personalities, are increasingly having fun together. Big puppies with size 10 feet.

And watching my now teenage son with his friends, I saw my younger self.

During the party, he watched the Packers beat the Rams (24-10), sometimes the only one still cheering, as the other boys climbed over him, dressed in old Halloween costumes, and waged war from the laundry room back to the couch where he sat… smiling and utterly happy.

My freshman year in college, still wearing my shy high school persona, I decided that I would no longer wait for people to seek me out. I understood that being shy meant lost opportunities. And just downstairs from my apartment lived three guys who were smart, cool and hysterically funny. Their energy together drew in others so that their apartment was always the center of creativity and good times.

So every night, I gathered my courage, went downstairs and sat on their couch. I didn’t talk much. I just soaked it all in. I laughed a lot. I memorized the quotes they painted on their walls. I learned the words to their music (a lot of Squeeze and Talking Heads), and we eventually became good friends.

Yesterday brought that all back… “And She Was” singing in my head…

Thirty years later, my son, grinning on another couch in our smelly, loud basement, weaving cautiously, awkwardly in and out of the boys’ raucous play, but embraced by his friends and thrilled to be a part of such a wonderful moment in time.


Signature Jewelry

In first grade, my son’s class could earn plastic coins for good behavior. Then on Fridays, they could spend their coins – while doing math to figure out their change – on a plethora of plastic toys. He brought home super bouncy balls, spider rings at Halloween, spinning tops, Christmas pencils, erasers and more.

Nearly all of it quickly snuck its way into the trash… except for one prize.

It was early last fall when he came home with it. A black rope necklace with a small baseball. The kind of toy that every kid loses. That always brakes in the first week.

Not on his watch.

He wears his baseball necklace to bed every night. He brings it on vacations. He wears it to school. Takes it off just before jumping into the pool. It is a lucky charm in soccer games and lacrosse. For spelling tests too.

The few days he didn’t wear it during the last year, he got in trouble or had his feelings hurt. He blames it on forgetting his necklace.

A seven-year-old boy with a signature piece of jewelry that totally works for him. That is the kind of important thing a mom might forget when he grows up.

On Being 12

Twelve is a strange moment, made real by the fact that the next number you will become has an entirely different nomenclature. There is a pressure to change to fit the new vocabulary assigned you.

Thirteen. Fourteen. Fifteen. Teenager.

But you are not ready. Your feet are too big for your legs. You’re sent to the men’s department without biceps or shoulders. And you still have baby teeth and mom in tow.

In the last 24 hours, I watched my twelve year old wobble uncertainly between child and adolescent. It looked painful.

We were swimming at a local rec center, and I was trying to recruit him to pull his younger brother out of the lazy river so we could get lunch.

He was too distracted. Shook his head no. I followed his eyes, which were peering over the wall across to the lap lanes like a stalker. The intensity of his expression worried me until I saw that he was watching a teenage couple flirting with each other, touching a little too much for public consumption – uncertain in their play, both still in braces, neither having grown into their less-awkward adult selves.

And my twelve year old looked both entranced and disgusted. We would talk later.

The next day, we were at the Museum of Science and Nature, and while exploring the new whale exhibit, he suddenly needed to leave. “I’m hungry. I don’t want to be here. I can’t find anything interesting. Can we go? Now!”

Months ago, he insisted, “I don’t like Native American exhibits. They freak me out. Let’s go.”

But in both cases, he kept getting distracted by the knowledge available as we headed out. He respects facts. He loves the museum. He loved studying Native American culture the year before. And this time, fleeing the whales, he led us into the Gems and Minerals exhibit without thinking.

Then he shoved me in front of him. “Go faster,” he whispered. “Why are you stopping here?” he added in front of the largest piece of gold ever found in Colorado. “I don’t like caves! Can we go?”

Then it all came together. He is afraid of the dark.

Big feet. Baby teeth. Studying the art of flirting. Sleeping with the light on. Panicking at the museum when the lights are low.

Twelve is tough.

A Long, Long Time

Tonight, my twelve year old said, “I have a question about something that is really weird.”

Uh-oh.

“When you have your birthday, you will be 48 years old. That’s four times as old as me.”

Here we go.

“What does it feel like?”

“Creaky,” I responded, suddenly grumpy.

“I mean twelve years feels like a really, really long time. It must feel strange to live as long as you have.”

So I told him that it feels like you have led a few back-to-back separate lives, each as a totally different person with the others wrapped inside of you somehow. The first eighteen, then college and the twenties, then kids. It’s like it wasn’t you before, even though the previous you made you who you are now… and you remember every minute as if it just happened. Like you are still twelve. Not four times that.

“That’s so weird.”

“I know.”

Particularly Undesirable Birthdays

As you approach a birthday you are dreading, ignore the voice in your head that pretends you want to hide, lay low, and make it like any other day.

It is not. It is your birthday. And if you refuse to acknowledge it, in all its glory, you may end up feeling… well… old.

Typically, I have no problem with birthdays. They are an excuse to be a princess, kick back a little, go out, and do something fun.

Not so at forty-six.

Forty-six is dangerously close to 50. My skin doesn’t glow. My knees ache when I run. And construction workers don’t even look up when I walk by.

So at 46, I was feeling unusually grumpy about my birthday. I made no special plans for that day or evening.

Big mistake. “I am 46, I am 46, I am 46, I am 46” reverberated even louder, because it was not balanced out with “and we get to go out tonight!”

So I have a new game plan.

1) For the week leading up to my birthday, I am going to remind everyone it is coming. Instead of me hearing “I am 47, I am 47, I am 47,” all my friends will. That will translate into a bunch of fun emails and calls on the big day, and I will be grateful that the day was mine even if all the self-PR is obvious and slightly tacky.
2) I will celebrate myself by doing something that makes me happy: a hike or a long day by the pool with a book.
3) I will go out to dinner with anyone who will come with me – my husband, the kids, my parents, my sisters, my friends, or even their kids. It does not matter who or where, but I will not cook or do dishes ever again on July 16.
4) I will polish my toenails. Nail polish makes feet look younger. Or at least it says that the old lady with the pretty toes is young at heart and can still bend over to polish without falling on her face.

I’ve got my game on for forty-seven.

My Grandma Arms

Many years ago, a film professor of mine said, “A woman should retire her arms by age 35.”

At the time, I was 25 and thought her a bit Hollywood. But at 45, I understand she was just advising that we take care of business before it’s too late… and somebody sees…

Arms are rarely mentioned when men talk about the sexy parts of a woman’s body. And most women do not list them as the part of their body they most wish they could change. Small boobs, big ankles, bulging belly, wide hips all come in ahead of arms. In fact, I don’t think I’ve heard anyone sigh, “If I could only feel better about my arms…”

Then suddenly, you hit your mid-forties.

Unless you’ve actually focused on keeping your arms toned, they seem to be the first thing to “go grandma” on you. Your legs still look good – everyone has to walk, right? Your waist may still exist. Underwire bras give you a lift if you need it.

But then it’s spring. You put your cute dress on for a graduation or a night out. You know, the sleeveless one? And your arms give you away.

You point to the stage where a family member is about to receive a diploma, and out of the corner of your eye, you see movement. Actual jiggling. Like grandma.

From that moment on, it’s all about the arms.

Another Feel-Good Day for Mom

“Mom, isn’t Star the cutest thing in the whole world?” our ten-year-old asked me this morning while petting our dog Star.

“Yep.”

“I bet Dad thought you were that cute when he first met you.”

“But now I’m too old to be as cute as the dog?”

“You’re not that old. Just too old to be a newscaster. You have to look perfect all the time to be on t.v.”