Monday, December 26, 2011

Real Christmas Joy

I write this post, not to brag about its outcome, or to complain about its frustrations. I write it so I can remember.

Christmas 2011 was a very unusual holiday, to say the least. We’ve celebrated in many different houses, and in many different states. We’ve done the Santa thing so many years they all seem to blur together. We’ve never had a lot of money, but somehow it came together every year. That is, until this year.



This year we were more than lean. For the past six months we’ve been supporting two households, in two different states, while we waited for our NY house to sell. Our family’s been broken up, put back together in sections, then hung out to dry. We’ve been living in a tiny temporary condo, until we could figure out what was going to happen with the empty house we owned back East. Every penny we’ve taken in has gone out to some immediate need.



I saw the holiday approaching and had to give myself some quick pep talks. The kids are older, they’ll understand. This is a good life lesson for them. Sometimes crap happens in life and you push forward and make the best of it. It doesn’t mean life’s over, just postponed for a bit. It doesn’t take much money to just be together and make new memories.

We have all of the things that matter most - good health, loving extended families, a roof over our head, grocery money when the cupboards are bare, and a tight knit family who knows how to rally together when times get hard.

My daughter and I swung by the thrift store to get a small artificial tree (all of our holiday decorations are with our ‘stuff’ , in a moving company storage unit). While we were there, we picked up a few games and puzzles for our youngest family member, who, at 11, still needed something under a tree. We strung up some cheap lights and wrapped some garland around the back of the futon. Bring on the holiday!

We swung over to Utah to pick up my college son, one of my best gifts of the season. It felt so good to have all my chickens back in the nest. All six of us squeezed into our limited living space, but I heard very few complaints.

My kids all seemed to be enjoying each other and trying their best to give everyone the space they needed. No one argued when, at the family meeting, I announced that not only would there be no ‘real’ gifts under the tree, but that each of them would have one bath towel for the time being. (It’s the only way to keep my laundry under control and make sure I am not met with a pile of wet towels after every morning’s shower routine). No one complained that sleeping arrangements were going to be ‘snug’, at best. They just jumped in and did what had to be done, to get through the following weeks.

Christmas Eve came and we all looked at each other, thinking, “What do we do now?”

The only answer was to get out of the house. We piled in the car and drove down to a local pub. While jazzy Christmas carols played overhead, we had the pool tables all to ourselves. The pizza was hot and good, the friendly banter between my children was relaxed and comfortable.



I looked around and realized we’d raised some pretty great people. Two of ours are officially adults. So much of the time I can only see the ways I've failed them through the years. On Christmas Eve I had to step back and see them in a different light. They’re nice people. Kind and helpful to not only their friends, but their younger siblings too (most of the time). They are fun to be around and are going to find their way in the world, mistakes and all, in the years to come.



We came home, watched some Christmas clips on Hulu, then called it a night.

The next morning didn’t feel at all like Christmas. No little children rushing to wake us up, excited to see what Santa had left. But instead I found a note on the kitchen table. Next to the cookies and milk that were left out the night before by our way-too-old-for-Santa 11 year old, was a sign that said “Don’t Stop Believin’”. It didn’t take much asking around to figure out which of his older siblings took the Santa bites from the cookies and took the time to write the note.



Then, as we sat around the thrift store tree, so my youngest could unwrap his few token gifts, I noticed presents for the older kids, as well as my husband and myself. My 15 year old was grinning from ear to ear. He’d felt bad that there were so few gifts under the tree, so he’d taken the liberty to wrap up some things from around the house, silly gifts, so that everyone had something to unwrap.

Laughter filled our little condo as we took turns unwrapping our special gifts. My husband couldn’t imagine what could be in his small present, which sounded like rice when he shook the box. It was the box of matches from the kitchen. My oldest son couldn’t help but grin as he unwrapped his one (not two) flip flop. Little guy was very surprised to watch his older sister unwrap ‘her’ gift, which happened to be his ipod. My son whose name means laughter came through again, and made a pretty empty holiday feel rich and full once again.



An hour later all three of my boys were at the kitchen table, playing a board game we’d picked up for my little guy at the thrift store. Even when they figured out that it only had three of the dozens of pieces it needed, they came up with their own rules and played a few rounds.



After that, they set up the little guy’s simple hot wheels track set and had races down the long orange track, to see who could make their car jump and crash into our homemade gingerbread houses. Later they came up with variations to this game, hiding out in their one shared bedroom for hours.



Instead of concentrating on what we didn’t have, we all made do with what we do have. We don’t have much counter space, so we cooked a store bought lasagna and had a yummy non-traditional holiday meal. We don’t have TV service, so we pulled up holiday specials on Hulu. We don’t have room to spread out and have our own space as the afternoon wore on, so took advantage of what we do have - amazing scenery right outside our window. We all piled in the car and took some beautiful drives down snowy country roads.



Along a winding road we came across a family stuck in the ditch. My big strong teen age sons took great pride in jumping in to help dig through snow banks to find logs for traction, then anchoring their weight behind the vehicle, with every attempt to dislodge it. Somewhere on the outskirts of Golden we found an empty parking lot full of wet, slushy snow, and my boys took turns learning how to do the perfect donut with the family Suburban. There were many smiles that day.



It wasn’t the holiday I’d have dreamed of. There was very little Martha Stewart could have lived with. But it was special, so special to his mom who has tried so hard every year, to make it as fun as possible for her kids. For once, they turned the tables and gave back the gift of celebrating. They showed me, the one who usually farms out the pep talks, what the holiday is all about.

It’s about just relaxing and enjoying the people you love. It’s about finding fun in every day, from wrapping up one of your brother’s flip flops, to finding a way to make a board game with few pieces actually work. They were the gift I wanted. To be surrounded by these four people I love so much and their dad, my best friend. But surprise! I ended up with so much more.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Giving Thanks Week

Finally, finally, finally, he came HOME! After dropping him off at his dorm in Utah, way back in the middle of August, I've missed my oldest boy every day and couldn't wait to hug him again. Finally he arrived to join his pack of brothers. (I can't wait to get their big sister in this picture...)


He's been out-grown by one younger brother,and the odds say the little one will tower over him in a few years too. He doesn't mind though. Pilots need to be small statured (or so he tells me.)




We had a fantastic long weekend...full of a wide variety of activities. We had a wonderful, simple Thanksgiving meal, and were joined by a college friend from New York. She took Meredith's spot, until my girl is back with us.



Isaac got a lot of practice driving in, trying out his new permit on many Colorado highways and back roads. This is one time when I'm happy to let Jeff call "shotgun!"





Sam and I did some old fashioned coloring. I colored flowers and lighthouses. He colored Halo video game characters. Great mother/son bonding time, either way.





We spent a huge chunk of time showing Michael all the bike parks we've discovered in the area. He was as pleased and excited as we thought he'd be. He's ready to get back for Christmas break, so he can perfect his BMX skills and catch up with little brothers.




There were a few video games played, by 'everyone' in the family except me. I still don't have a clue how to use a controller. But none of them can use a sewing machine, so hey, we're even.





We made great use of the new couch/futon we were given by an old friend in Boulder, who was doing some house decluttering. It's changed the way we live, finally having a couch. And Michael sure enjoyed not sleeping on the floor. The advantage was his, since our mattresses are still on the floor, within easy access to lonely cats and dogs who love to 'snuggle/suffocate' in the night.



We played a few fun rounds of board games. This night of Settlers I actually won. The only one at the table who really has no competitive bone in her body and usually just plays to put more players on the board. I have to admit - it was kind of fun to be the victor for once!
We also played a few rounds of The Awkward Family Photos board game. That's always good for a few laughs, although my witty Isaac seems to win every single time with his quick, hilarious answers.






I seem to remember that getting filled up with homemade cookies and buying new clothes are the two main reasons to come home from college, so we ended up in the Target Men's Department, where everyone found a few new treasures. Isaac just loves trying silly things on to make us laugh. It works.







Oh, did I mention we hit a few bike parks? As in about 12 hours total, throughout the weekend. The more time we spent there, the higher their jumps got. This is my little one, soaring through the air with no fear. He gets that from his dad's side apparently.






This little guy counted down the hours until big brother got home. He rarely left his side, and only sobbed for half the morning, when it was time to take big brother back to the airport.





A rare moment when I was able to convince them to stop long enough for me to take a picture. This seems to be their 'natural habitat', where they thrive the best.




And then it was time to visit DIA and let my boy go again. We watched him all the way through security, from our perch on the level above. Then he gave us one last wave before he disappeared down the escalator that leads to the gates. The weekend went by way too quickly. But it was a good trial run, for the four weeks we'll spend in December, when he is back, his sister is finally here, and there are SIX of us living in this cozy condo.

I'm off this week to meet a moving truck in New York, and reclaim all of our personal possessions. Correction: I get to see our personal possessions, as they are being loaded into a moving truck and hauled off to storage for three months. But slowly, slowly we are moving away from NY and placing our roots in Colorado. We've never taken this long to make the break before but the crappy NY housing market took a huge bite out of us.

I look forward to another week of adventure, finally reuniting with my girl back in NY, and having a long drive across the country together as she arrives at her new home state.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Time Marches On


Our sparse furnishings for the past few months, including Sam's minimal birthday celebration.


Getting geared up for a couch to go where the table is now. It almost feels like a home.


(This is NOT the couch we picked, but I love this shot of my 'good sport' husband.)


It’s time to reorganize. I feel like I say that about every six months, as life circumstances change, but this time I really and truly mean it. The calendar is bearing down on me and I need to be ready.

Thanksgiving is two weeks from tomorrow. That’s the day my life goes into hyper drive. Either by train or plane, my college boy will be returning home from school, and I’ll get to hug him for the first time in three months. We’ll also be welcoming another visitor to our feast table. One of Michael’s best friends in NY has a sister who attends college in Denver and cannot get home for this holiday. So she’s joining our family. It’s a tradition my mom upheld through my childhood and I’m pleased to pass on.

So that weekend will be a blur of cooking in our tiny kitchen, serving meals on fancy paper plates, cleaning up as we joke around, and then lots and lots of board games. It will be over in the blink of an eye, I know.

Then as soon as Michael steps on that train platform, or boards that plane, I will be packing for my own trip. The last day of November, the day after my 45th birthday, I’ll be flying back to New York. For one long weekend my daughter and I will do one last purge, weeding out any item that’s not worth hauling out to CO. More loads to the dump, as trash, and to use their wonderful ‘free pile’.

Then Monday morning the packers arrive. For two days they will pack and box up all our belongings. I will have carefully kept out any items we might be needing in the next six months (that will fit in Meredith’s car) since all of our stuff will be going to storage until late spring. I’m trying to remember that ‘more Legos’ are high on that priority list.

Wednesday of that week the truck will be loaded and drive out of our driveway with all our worldly belongings. Meredith and I will spend a day getting the house ‘broom clean’ and then we set off on our own cross country drive together.

It will be the fourth time I’ve made that 2000 mile drive in the past nine months. I know it well now. This time we’ll hopefully have time to stop by to see some of my family, as we pass through Missouri.

Two days after we get back to CO, we load up the new Suburban and head to Utah. It will be time for Michael’s winter break. It will be our first ‘all family’ trip in years. I can’t tell you how excited I am for those moments. We travel well together, and I know the kids will feel like ‘kings’ in our new, bigger vehicle.

(Isaac already admitted that every time he gets in the Suburban he feels like it’s a rental car…it’s just too nice to be ours!)

When we arrive back in Colorado, two weeks before Christmas, we will figure out how six of us are going to fit in this space that has barely fit the four of us for the past few months. That’s where my schedule right now is affected.

I’m the mom. I will be the one who will pull off this feat, of having six very tall, independent people, living (and eating!) in 800 square of living space (with a dog and a cat). Bed space alone is a hurdle I’ve been brainstorming about for weeks.

I have to solve these problems now, because once Thanksgiving hits, my schedule is full and I don’t come up for air until the moment we pull into the condo parking lot in December, with six people unloading their stuff.

I am not even allowing myself to think about the fact that at the end of that journey Christmas will be a few weeks away and again, as the mom, I will have things prepared for that too. It’s always a trick, in the new house, to figure out how the holiday ‘goes’, and this year will be even trickier than most.

We’ve always known we would be getting a new sofa in Colorado. We dream of a large sectional, that we all could fit on to watch movies. We’ve never had that. We lived with my childhood, fifty year old couch, for every year of my kids’ upbringing. It’s time to get a couch that works for us.

But knowing we’ll be in this condo for at least six more months, a huge sectional is not going to work. So we need a temporary couch. One we can sit on to watch movies (we don’t have cable at the condo) that will also work for the person who didn’t get one of the sacred mattresses.

Right now we’ve had only a thrift store kitchen table. On one end we eat meals and on the other end we have our mini office set up. I live by the computer so it was high on the priority list to get an office set up. We also watch our few favorite TV shows on Hulu, so our computer monitor has become our TV screen.

This set up will not work for six people. For one thing, there’s just nowhere to sit down. Right now we either sit on straight back kitchen chairs to watch computer/TV or recline on the mattresses on the floor to read a book. We really, really, really need more (comfortable) seating, especially if this place is going to stop feeling like ‘temporary living’ and start feeling like a home.

Last weekend, we left the sports bar after my Seahawks (again) lost their game, and headed to the furniture store. While the boys hung out at the bike park for hours on end, Jeff and I sat on three bazillion sofas.

We didn’t want to spend a lot. This will be the ‘extra’ sofa, once we get the big sectional sometime next year. But it needs to be comfortable and it needs to be long. All of my kids, with the exception, for now, of the 11 year old, are five foot ten and taller. We need a couch that could accommodate a tall person stretching out for the night.

We finally found it. It was the longest one we found, fit the budget, and is comfortable to sit on as well. It will work great for our red box movie nights and also for the sleeping accommodations we’ll need for the month of December.

So the computer had to come off of the kitchen table and I had to make the living room work as a living room. Once again, the Habitat for Humanity Resale store saved the day. We’ve shopped at them in every state we’ve lived. We’ve always found treasures at great prices. It’s a fun way to feel like you’re ‘recycling’.

Yesterday I popped into our local branch and found a great TV stand and a small, perfect computer desk, then paid 30 bucks for the both of them. The computer desk even came with a rolling chair. Bonus!

Last night we moved the computer to its new home, and moved the TV out of the boys room. The kitchen table got cleared off, wiped down, and moved to the center of the room. For now we’ll still sit around it to watch our Hulu shows, but next week, when the sofa comes, we will officially move it to the small dining area. And if all goes according to plan, this place just might finally feel like a home.

The two older kids will never know how this condo felt for the past few months, when it was just the four of us, getting by on what we could find at thrift stores (while all our favorite furniture sits in a big vacant house in NY). But it was a bonding time for Jeff and me, and the two boys we now have in our immediate, day to day family. We’ve been carving out our new life in Colorado, and this small, nearly empty condo has been our home base. It’s worked. It’s safe and warm and clean.

But in just over a month, it will be brimming with a huge family. And we’ll find a whole different life, as we all learn to live together again, in this new space. I just hope all my planning, all my work in the past few weeks, comes together.

And for each one of my kids, this place feels like home.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Life and Lemons



One of the tricky parts of moving to a new state is holidays. There’s the expected glitches, like trying to figure out where the tree should go in the new house when Christmas rolls around (in front of the window or in the corner out of the way?...) And there’s the new arrangements to be made, as some relatives are now too far away to visit on Thanksgiving and yet some are, for the first time, close enough.

For my kids, one of the most important holidays to figure out, way ahead of time, is Halloween. Every region of the country, every town, every neighborhood, has their own way of doing things on this all important kid holiday. You must figure out where everyone goes to ring the doorbells, if your own neighborhood is not conducive. You must pay attention to flyers on the grocery store bulletin boards and ads in the local papers, or you might miss the big community celebration just down the block.

When we lived near Washington D.C., our small street didn’t really participate in the trick or treating tradition. Instead we joined a family who lived nearby, and drove the kids to the nursing home, where the other family’s grandmother lived. The facility had set up stations where the residents could hand out treats to the children who showed up. Our kids got a bag full of candy, and a whole bunch of senior citizens had a ball, oohing and ahhing over all the clever costumes.

This Halloween found us as new residents in a mountain town in Colorado. We still have one child in elementary school so it was my job to figure out the system here. I happened to luck out when one of the room moms from my son’s class emailed about donations for the class Halloween party. I offered up some paper plates and napkins, then proceeded to pick her brain. If you can’t trust a room mom to tell you the scoop, who can you trust?

She informed me that all the parents show up at school to watch the all school costume parade, then they all file down to their classrooms for the parties. After that, everyone heads to our tiny downtown, where all the local businesses hand out candy and the lines of dressed up children becomes something like a second costume parade.
For round three, there were certain neighborhoods where you could hit the most houses, while climbing the fewest amount of hills. Much of our town’s population lives on remote, winding mountain roads. To snag a somewhat compact neighborhood, with plenty of porch lights on, was a gift.

Armed with that information, Sam was ready for his big day. But I still had another child to think about. Fifteen year old Isaac.

Isaac’s at that really hard age when you mostly want to be seen as a grown up, but on a few key days of the year it would be nice to be little again. Birthdays and Christmas are harder when your list doesn’t include half of the JC Penney toy catalog. The only fun things you can think of usually cost more than your parents are willing to spend.

Halloween becomes a problem too. Who doesn’t like free candy? But the ability to get grub for free depends on dressing up in a costume and ringing doorbells, right next to toddlers in teddy bear outfits. The scene is further complicated if you’re the new kid in town and risk social torture if you’re seen out fraternizing with those lowly elementary aged losers. This was where Isaac found himself last night.

He came up with a fantastic costume. He wore a plain white shirt with the word ‘LIFE’ across the front, and he carried a bowl of lemons. He was ‘Life, handing you lemons’. It’s pretty appropriate for our family this year, as we’ve hit many snags in our effort to move across the country.

There was no way he was lowering himself to go door to door with his little brother. Even worse would be heading out alone. His friends had been non-committal when he’d asked around at school. So he was stuck with me. He was stuck sitting by the front door of our condo unit, waiting for little kids to knock.

He was a pretty good sport about it, especially considering I told him I’d give him the leftover candy, if he helped me hand it out. We watched skits from Saturday Night Live on Hulu while we waited to hear footsteps on our stairs outside.

Then the heavens opened and his night turned around. He opened the door to find one of his best friends from school standing there, with his little brother. One was a ninja, one was a banana. I’ll let you guess which costume belonged to the cool high schooler.

With one friendly, “Hey Isaac, wanna come with us?”, my boy was gone.

He gathered his lemons, threw on a jacket, and was out the door in a flash. An hour later he came back, with a pillow case half full of candy, grinning from ear to ear. No sour lemons here.

We survived. Another Halloween of firsts and we got it worked out. I bought way too much candy, after being told by a neighbor that our condo unit usually had lots of kids show up. But it worked out well, when I overheard our downstairs neighbor tell some costumed kids she had run out. It was nice to be able to share my loot with these people we share so many walls with.

Isaac survived another transition into the world of big kids. Next year he’ll have his license and the whole story will change again. But we won’t be ‘new’ anymore. We’ll be experienced, with one good year under our belt.

Isaac had such a good time this year he’s already talking about next year’s costume. I haven’t been listening closely but it has something to do with stuffed animals hanging from an umbrella. My clever boy is scheming and dreaming and may show up on our neighbor’s doorsteps dressed as the phrase ‘raining cats and dogs’.

Or he may just be too cool to trick or treat at all.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Born to Play


The tiny homecoming parade was over, so Jeff and I wandered the short strip of stores that line the downtown stretch of Evergreen Colorado. We found stores full of nuts, pastries, original art, and funky clothes. I made several mental notes, ideas for holiday gift purchases next month.

Then we headed back up the uneven wooden walkway that constitutes a sidewalk in our town. Out of habit we popped our heads in the open doorway of a magical place called Little Bear. It’s a two story wooden structure, that shows the wear and tear of decades of lively nights and raucous fun. From the outside it looks like an old fashioned tavern from the wild, wild west. But inside it’s very obviously not a place set up as a cheesy tourist trap.

This place is authentic tavern. It’s a genuine bar, the kind that never seems out of style because it’s just there. It’s there and it’s been there, for more years than I’ve been alive. The stairs that lead up to the pool hall room and upper outdoor balcony are wooden, and literally have dips in the centers of them, where hundreds of thousands of feet have made their mark.

Little Bear is special to us because we stopped here one day, when we were house hunting in the area last spring. We had no idea where we’d be living, when autumn rolled around, and at the time it was just a unique place to grab some lunch.

We cruised through house listings on our phones as we munched on burgers and fries. The kids loved scouting the old battered license plates that lined the walls, looking for places we’ve lived. We all got a laugh out of the wild assortment of women’s bras that hung haphazardly from the ceiling over the small wooden stage.

We were told by the lone waiter/bartender/cook that Little Bear had basically been there forever. Their easy, relaxed atmosphere, and guaranteed live music on many days of the week, meant they were rarely empty in the evenings. We agreed that we’d be back, and moved on with our search for a place to call home.

And sure enough, we ended up in a condo just two miles down the road from Little Bear. And last night we found ourselves once again pulled up to a table. But this time it was a different atmosphere. The quietness of lunch time had given way to a small, but lively crowd, who were all bobbing their heads and tapping their feet to the music of the live band that graced the stage.

We sat down at a table and ordered drinks. It didn’t take long to realize that we’d be staying a bit, as the band was really and truly entertaining, so we ordered a small pizza. Then we sat back and soaked it in.

The guys on stage were a hodge podge of ages, mostly my age or older. But they knew how to play. There was no doubt about that. I’m not a musician, but I’m mesmerized by people who are. It’s a skill I respect because I can’t do it. As the guys rocked out to classic songs from the 60s and 70s I took turns watching each musician individually.

And they were all good. Really good. On their own. It amazed me. The keyboard guy’s fingers danced over the keys with perfect precision and amazing creativity. The drummer seemed to be in his own world, beating out the exact right rhythms that each song needed. The bass player and guitarist also seemed to have magical fingers, moving up and down the necks of their instruments with perfect accuracy.

And the lead singer. Let me tell you, this guy loved being on stage, loved being surrounded by these guys he genuinely seemed to care about, and loved putting everything he had into every song they did. From rock and roll to the blues, he swayed, danced, sang and grinned. They were all, as a unit, a joy to watch.

It reminded me of a song the Bacon Brothers Band wrote, called Not Born to Beauty -

Maybe they got day jobs
To support this rockin' jones
But the rhythm fits them like a skin
And the blues is in their bones

Turn on your MTV
And you won't find them there
You can read that Rolling Stone cover to cover
You won't find them anywhere
But in basements and garages
Hotel lounges, roadside bars
Close your eyes and hear the tunes
And you'll be seeing stars
They were born to do it
They were born to play


Not that these guys were ugly. Quite the contrary. But these guys were good. Playing in a small tavern, in front of just a dozen people, on a stage lined with bras, they gave us more for our money than some bands who actually charge for their shows, in stadiums that hold thousands.

Jeff texted our teenager at home, who loves playing his guitar and fits right in at this place, with his shaggy rebellious hair, and told him to ride his bike down to join us. Within minutes he was munching on our pizza, sharing my soda, and soaking in the great music with us.

I looked at all the empty chairs around us and wished they were filled with the people I love. I kept thinking, ‘I’d love to bring Kurt and Terry here…’ and ‘I’d love to bring Matt and Julie here…’. A few of my siblings, and my in laws, would all love the magic that we found last night.

It was one of those nights you never want to end. Once the pizza was gone, the sodas and beer refilled too many times, it was time to call it a night. When the band took their second break and came off stage to join their wives and girlfriends in the audience, we knew it was time to go. We got up, gathered our stuff, and headed for the door, passing by the table filled with band members.

I was captivated by the average-ness of these guys who made such magic onstage. If I saw them in the grocery store, I’d never dream they could be a part of one of my best nights so far in my new home town. I found one of them outside on the front porch, as we made our way to the car, and expressed my gratitude to him, for such an entertaining show. He was humble and appreciative, and thanked my family and me for showing up. The gratitude seemed backward.

We’ll be back. And I hope when we do get a chance to drag our visiting family to that old worn out bar, there is a band onstage even half as good as the guys we saw last night. In the chaos of life I sometimes forget just how relaxing a loud, rocking night, tucked in an ancient tavern with some people I love, can actually be.

I hope those guys, who maybe saw last night as ‘ just another gig’, realize how much they were appreciated by this middle aged mom. Their talent was impressive. Their love of music was palatable.

There is no doubt - they were definitely born to do it. They were born to play.

New Home Homecoming




Yesterday we went downtown to see the high school homecoming parade. We live in a small mountain town, and our downtown strip is about twenty stores long. It’s actually what we love about this place, the quaintness you seek out on a vacation trip, that we have on a daily basis.

We were alone. Both boys found other activities that interested them more. Even our high schooler decided he didn’t want to be bored to death by a small town parade. He’s still figuring out his place here, so we gave him the room to refuse this obviously high school event. He’s a pretty friendly kid and I predict he will be in the parade next year. But for this year, it was just me and Jeff.

We gave up our folding chairs to a mother and daughter who had come unprepared, and we headed up to the top deck of Little Bear, the old wooden tavern in the middle of town. With no little children in our care there was no need for being close to the potential candy throwing action.

Soon the police cars stopped all traffic and the parade began. The town fire truck came inching down the street, sirens blaring. Little children below us lined up with their newly unpacked Halloween bags, and anxiously waited for the first signs of brightly colored wrappers flying through the air.

They didn’t have to wait long. The parade basically consisted of the school’s marching band, and then a long line of decorated pick up trucks, full of high school kids throwing candy. Every club and team was represented, and each of them came fully loaded with candy. For a half an hour we watched excited little people frantically scurrying around under our second story perch, scooping up handfuls of treats. The funny thing was, the big kids in the parade seemed to be having just as much fun as the little kids on the street. Every handful that flew through the air brought a new round of squeals and delight.

A few times Jeff convinced some of the young men in the truck beds to huck a few treats up our way. He didn’t want the candy. He just wanted to give them a challenge, and most of them accepted it. More than once our group, that lined the top deck rail, got pelted with sugary bullets.

Then it was over. Little kids scooped up the last of their prizes and turned to compare their loot with their siblings and friends. Moms and dads said goodbye to friends they’d found in the crowds and headed back to their cars, arms heavy with lawn chairs.

We’re new in town, so we quietly watched the magic of our small town - friends and neighbors gathering on a sunny day to watch their own, and their friends’ high school kids ride a half a mile down main street, throwing candy to younger siblings and friends.

Everyone went home happy. And Jeff and I wandered off to explore the shops in our new home town.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Letting Loose


It’s been easy to justify not coming to this place. There are lists of things to do, as I’m still setting up insurance and doctors for all six of us, in three different states. There are new deductibles to figure out and paperwork to file. Open Season is on the horizon and, as new folks in this state, there’s even more incentive to review each plan carefully. There’s never an end to the things I could do in a day.

But I had a chance meeting with a blogging mom I’ve never met and her blog inspired me to get back to it. They are in the process of moving too, but she’s been much better about documenting the changes their family is going through. It reminded me of the original point of my blog.

I started my blog as a way to document our life. The adventures we took, the places we discovered, the challenges we met along the way. I also wanted to write down what it’s like, being a mom with a bionic leg. I kept up with this blog for a long time.

Then I started writing the parenting column for the newspaper. It was a ‘real’ deadline, due every Monday. It forced me to think about what was going on in our household, and explain it in an interesting way, in 900 words or less. I started to get lazy, and just relied on the column to be my consistent blog post.

I missed out on writing about a lot of little stuff, stuff that didn’t make it to the paper. I suddenly felt like everything I put on the blog had to be refined and polished. I put off coming here because I felt like I didn’t have time to meet that criteria.

But my new blogging mommy friend reminded me that this is not a formal setting. This is not a column I get paid for. I can write here every day, six times a day, if I want. It can be thoughts off the top of my head, or just an interesting picture. It’s my forum, not a bosses.

So here we go. Back to the original purpose. Today I’m going to write about….hmmmm…..what should I write about?

How about a simple moment that happened last night, in a quiet corner of my son’s bedroom? Sam and I have been reading a book called “Cracker”. It’s about a service dog from the Vietnam War, the kind that were trained to sniff out danger.

Sam picked it from the school library because it had a German Shepherd on the front cover. Oh, and some war scenes. What could be better than dogs and war?

He had saved it for my arrival in Colorado. The first night I was here, back with ‘my boys’, we dove in. It’s a long book, so we’ve been chipping away, chapter by chapter. It’s a wonderful story about a boy who gives his dog to the Army, to be trained as a service dog, and the young soldier who becomes his master. There were many good life lessons in its chapters, as well as history lessons.

The most striking was in the last chapters, that we read last night. The soldier is returning home from war, after almost losing his life in a rice paddy, and the pilot of the plane acknowledges him and his fellow soldiers over the loudspeaker. Then he advises them to change into civilian clothes, before they leave the plane, so as not to stir up conflict.

This was a hard concept for my 10 year old patriotic boy to handle. He lives in a world where people understand that soldiers don’t start the wars, they fight them. His view of the world includes people clapping for men in uniform as they get off planes from far away countries. It was hard for me, emotionally, to read the parts about the reality of a very different time in America. But it was an important thing for my boy to hear about.

During the last battle he had to fight, the young soldier loses his dog in the chaos. He has to live through recovery and rehab, not knowing if his dog survived. It becomes his mission to find him and bring him home.

(Spoiler Alert…) In the last chapters of the book, the dog is found, by a fellow dog handler, and eventually reunited with his own soldier handler. It’s an understatement to say it was an emotional ending.

I generally don’t like to ‘go there’. After my mom died, and I really felt out of control with my emotions, I have held a tighter reign on them. I cry. But not often and rarely in front of my boys. If I let myself analyze it further, it might have something to do with not wanting to start, not knowing how deep the tears might go.

But in recent years I’ve noticed that it’s not just me, and my raw emotions. Most moms are sappy and cry at silly things like book endings and movies. It doesn’t make me out of control. It makes me sensitive and real.

So I plunged on in Sam’s book. I’m embarrassed to say I almost let his dad read him the last few chapters, knowing I could avoid the tears altogether. But dad was helping Sam’s big brother with a biology assignment and the sciences are not my strength.

Within a few pages we were deep in the emotional stuff. But I just took a deep breath and moved on. Then my voice cracked. Sam could see I was feeling the emotions and he was wiping tears from his own eyes. I looked at him and we both broke into laughter, at our weepy selves.

Then we dug through the rest, short chapter after short chapter. I paused when it got hairy and sad, we giggled some at the shared emotions, then we moved on. And we did it. We got to the end and snapped the book closed feeling very satisfied indeed.

I love sharing a deeper book with my boy. There’s a place for Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but sharing a story with fleshed out characters is a real joy. He learned a lot about a part of history he’d never heard about before, a whole legion of dogs who went to the Vietnam War and saved a lot of lives.

And his mama learned to let her hair down a bit, and not be afraid of the tears.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Simple Life




It’s time. I’m back. I have thought about this blog, and how I’ve neglected it, on just about every day that I have ignored it. It’s time to jump back in.

Colorado is wonderful. Just as we knew it would be. The climate. The mountain scenery that greets me when I drive to the small town grocery store. The elk herds that seem to enjoy the grass that grows just outside our back window. The endless list of outdoor activities. The droves of young families I see on trails and in the grocery store, all decked out in Patagonia gear. The high concentration of Jeeps and Subarus, each seeming to be stocked with a token Golden Retriever, Lab, or mix of the two.

My big girl is still back in New York, working two jobs and getting ready to dive back into school. Her brother, my college freshman, is working hard in Utah, loving his aviation program at Westminster College.

So that leaves us with only two kids at home. A fifteen year old who is thrilled that he can get a permit to drive in Colorado, when he would have had to wait until his 16th birthday in New York, and his 10 year old brother, who is counting down the days until he turns 11 next week.

The NY house is still on the market. After almost six months of deep price cuts, we are now over ten grand below what we paid for it. The New York market has tanked, and taken our house with it.

This means we are indefinitely residing in a small temporary condo. It has 800 square feet. Two small bedrooms, a galley kitchen, and a small living/dining area. The boys are surviving in such close quarters because they are seldom home. For hours after school they ride their bikes up the mountain trails nearby, or play with friends from the condo unit. On weekends we explore the Denver area and discover new places to play.

I’ve always said that I’d rather live in a cardboard box with my family near me, than to live in a mansion alone, and I guess I’m being challenged on that proclamation.

And I still say it’s true. I’m practically living it, and it’s true.

All our stuff is still in New York. We are surrounded by only what fit in the minivan on the drive out. Photo boxes, personal files, ski equipment and bikes had to be priority, so that left little room for extras.

Once we got here we bought a lovely, large kitchen table with six chairs at the thrift store. Its top is scratched up (Jeff wisely suggested it had been someone’s craft table) but it does the job. Our home computer is set up on one end of it, we eat dinner and do homework on the other. Best hundred bucks I’ve spent in a long time.

Otherwise, we’re pretty sparse on furniture. We sleep on three mattresses on the floor, and use boxes stacked sideways for a ‘dresser’. The last tenants left an old desk, which works out great for holding the $25 thrift store TV and leaves enough room for Lego building. We found a TV stand by the side of the road and it does the job of a bedside table, separating the boys beds. A small shelving unit, found sitting next to the dumpster, keeps all the kids’ school papers in order.

That’s it. The place is pretty empty, beyond the basic clothes, shoes and little bit of personal effects the boys brought with them. But it’s kind of nice. I have to say, I don’t really miss the stuff yet.

Life is very streamlined. It takes 15 minutes to ‘pick up the house’. The whole house. Vacuuming is finished in 7 minutes. There is virtually no dusting to be done. I have no bookcases full of books, or shelves with knick knacks. Everything in this house is here deliberately. It’s needed and used on a regular basis, or it wouldn’t have made the cut.

I have the luxury of knowing all that junk I care about is still out there. The tub with my mom’s personal effects, that I’ve moved around the country with me since she died. The box of journals from my childhood. The brass musical statues I adore, that have their place on a specific bookshelf. My dozens (hundreds?) of ‘favorite’ books. It all still exists and will be reunited with us some day.

But for now life is really simple. Peacefully and wonderfully simple. To keep the bills low, while we support two house payments, we’ve only signed up for internet service. No land line. No cable. The TV is used for occasional video games and our Friday night Red Box movies (when we stack the two single mattresses against the wall, line it with pillows, and pretend it’s our couch). Hulu gives us occasional episodes of favorite TV shows.

Have I mentioned that despite the temporary-ness of our situation, we’re all really content?

The boys have their basic needs met. Now that mom is back in their time zone, they have regular hot meals and clean laundry continues to show up in their cardboard box dressers. They get lots of fresh air, lots of exercise, lots of new experiences with new friends. There is no lawn to mow, leaves to rake or household chores to take up their free time.

Hubby loves his job. Now that he’s not worried about being the sole parent to two boys adjusting to a new life in a new state, he gets to ‘just’ do his job well. He is making his mark in his new office and seems relaxed when he shares stories of the adventures of his days. It’s really, really good to see.

And me. I have not shaken the feeling that we’re on a perpetual vacation. The slim living conditions remind me of the months we’ve spent living at a Residence Inn, on other cross country moves. Life was always pretty streamlined in those months too. A lot of my ‘mom’ responsibilities were condensed. If it weren’t for the fact the cleaning staff doesn’t show up every morning, I’d almost believe we were back at the Residence Inn.

And how can you not feel like you’re on vacation, when you live in a place where many people do spend their holiday hours and money? Just about every time I’ve driven home from the grocery store, and come over one certain rise in the road, where the valley is laid out beneath you and the mountains rise up in a different majestic fashion depending on the day’s cloud patterns and sunshine, I suck in my breath and think, ‘And I live here…’.

We’ve found amazing bike parks and endless bike paths in several parts of Denver and the surrounding area. We’ve driven mountain roads, pausing for wildlife to slowly cross, in their own time. We’ve laughed a lot, as we’ve had time to be with each other a lot, and share our family sense of humor. We’re moving quickly into ski season, where we hope to get season passes to the small mountain just 30 minutes up the road, and maybe sneak in a few hours on the slope before dinner some weeknights. The list is long, of other areas we want to explore and friends we want to visit all over the state.

Someday we’ll have a house. Someday we’ll have our flat screen TV back on the wall, with football games roaring out of it every Sunday afternoon (boy, do I miss that!) Someday we will all have room to spread out, and be surrounded by the things that we love. But in the meantime, we’re not suffering.

We’re doing everyday life things. Going to school. Going to work. Attending teacher conferences. Buying groceries. Making dinner. Doing laundry.

But it’s all streamlined. It all feels much more simple. I have to admit - I’m really liking this vacation lifestyle.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Finding Home




It all looked very manageable on paper. Once the reality hit, that our ‘recession story’ would include how we couldn’t seem to sell the house in New York, so we could move to Colorado, we knew it was time to make new plans. The school year was looming and our two youngest needed to be out there, in our new hometown, so they could jump in on time. The only answer was that I deposit them in an apartment with dad and fly back to New York to continue selling the house.

The plan made perfect sense in theory.

But theory doesn’t always take into account emotions. Emotions like ten year olds missing their mamas and mamas missing being a part of the family.

A good friend reassured me, back in early August, that it might be a good time for me. With long stretches of time alone in our empty house, I could dig up my old writing projects. I’d have time to scan the 26 boxes of print photos into the computer. I could get to the gym every day, no excuses. I put out of my head the sad parts of leaving my family out west, and concentrated on these optimistic ideas.

Almost three weeks ago I flew back from Colorado and stepped into this quiet life in our vacant house. The first weekend I was home we weathered a major storm named Irene. Her wrath left us with a huge fallen pine tree in the yard and lots of unused, stockpiled flashlight batteries. The tree was cut up and hauled off into the woods by wonderful neighbors, then it was time for real life to start again.

It was weird, being alone, as I thought it would be. I jumped on the to do list, thinking I’d wrap up the not so fun stuff, like organizing bills and getting the house ready for showings, and then I could dive into my personal projects. Day after day went by and the list never seemed to shrink. People kept asking me, ‘So, are you bored?....What do you do all day?’ It was a tough question to answer.

Because it’s not as easy as just crossing things off a list. I’m living a long distance life and it’s more complicated than I ever imagined. I’m staying in touch with a son who is new to college in Utah. I’m doing my best to help him find the resources he needs to get settled in that new life on campus. I’m setting up services, cable, internet, electricity, for my gang, from 2000 miles away. I’m figuring out our new insurance plans, and whether they really will cover all of us, spread out in three states. I’m cleaning out files, so when the moving truck comes later, we won’t be hauling unnecessary paperwork with us. As soon as I cross one thing off the list, two more are added.

And I spend a lot of my time coaching from long distance. I start the day with texts, and sometimes phone calls, from a ten year old who doesn’t like this new set up. He’s loving his school, loving the new friends, loving the fact his front yard is often filled with Elk in the mornings…but not loving the fact his family unit is fractured.

He’s only known a two parent, nuclear family. He’s only known a mom and dad who generally get along pretty well and enjoy being together. He’s only known being the little guy in a big family, living in the center of fun chaos that having teen siblings can bring. Our family has moved four times in his life. People used to ask me how he adapted so well. My standard answer was simple. Sam’s home is where his family is. It has never mattered to him if he woke up in a big house in Utah or a small room at the Motel 6. If the people he loved surrounded him, he was happy. He was home.

These days he’s waking up in a tiny temporary condo in Colorado, by himself. Dad has left early to catch the bus for work down in the valley. Big brother has showered and left for high school. He’s on his own. Oh, he’s old enough to dress himself and make his own oatmeal. He’s old enough to turn off all the lights and lock the door behind him when he leaves for school. He’s old enough. He just doesn’t like it.

For the five years we lived in New York, Sam and I had breakfast together every morning before school. We had a routine. He fed the dog while I made breakfast. We sat on the couch, watching the Today Show as we spooned the warm oatmeal into our mouths. When it was time for the bus we hugged and high fived and he headed down the driveway. I’d stand at the front window and wave to him, and his wonderful bus driver. Then, as the bus pulled away, my day started.

Sam misses that routine stuff so desperately. Dad’s doing the best he can, as a single dad for the first time in his life. He’s loving and patient. He jumps into kid management the second he walks in the door at night. Dinner to make, school stories to be listened to. Papers to sign. Homework to supervise. The only time he gets to himself in the course of a day is the 30 minute bus ride to and from work, hemmed in by strangers. Dad’s doing his best for Sam.

But Dad’s just not Mom.

When the texts started coming late at night, saying, “But mom, I miss you….but mom, I need you…when will I see you again?” and I knew he was texting me under his covers, when he was supposed to be going to sleep, I knew something had to change.

His big brother, the only other child we have left at home at this point, is adapting well. He isn’t crazy about his new school, but only because it’s school, and not anything like riding mountain trails on his bike, which is his first love. He’s made good friends and often texts me pictures of all the wildlife they are surrounded by. If he’s not off on his mountain bike, he’s hanging out at the skate park on his BMX bike. Colorado fits him pretty well.

But once Sam started to struggle, I realized I was struggling a bit inside as well. From the time I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to be a mommy. And for the past twenty years I’ve lived out my dream. It’s not always easy and some days they nearly drove me crazy, but down deep, I’m happiest when I’m mothering someone.

As we began to discuss the option of me joining the family in Colorado, and selling the house long distance, it opened up new ideas to me. I started to think more about what I could do there, with them, than all the great projects I could be working on here.

I’m sure they are surviving just fine, as three bachelors on their own. But I miss adding the personal touches that only a mom usually does.

A long time ago I heard Dr. Phil’s wife say she told him, early in their marriage, “If you work hard to make a good living, I’ll work hard to make our living good.” That comment struck something in me. I know it sounds very sexist to a lot of modern women these days. But to me, it’s not about feeling like I have to be barefoot and pregnant while the big strong man takes care of me.

I have my interests and my strengths, outside of this family. I love being in the classroom and I love every one of my writing projects. But the times I’m feeling the most balanced in life is when I have some time for my interests, but also plenty of time to nurture the people I love and these four miracles I’m lucky enough to parent. I actually enjoy keeping this household running smoothly. I love the fact that my children come home to a (mostly) peaceful space because mom’s been there, keeping the balls in the air.

I love making their living good.

What I crave, right now, is a chance to add the mom touches to my boys in Colorado. I want to wipe down that bathroom sink every morning, knowing that if I’m not there, it will be cleaned only when it’s got a week’s worth of toothpaste stuck to the edges. I want to throw a festive autumn tablecloth over the kitchen table, to add a spark of color to the all white space they are living in. I want them to walk up the stairwell to our condo unit, breathe in deeply, and wonder where that amazing smell is coming from, only to open our door to find it’s coming from home. From their home.

I want to sit on the back balcony with them at the end of the day and hear the rambling stories, about how they saw this really sick bike at the skate park or how stupid their English teacher is because he expects them to read (read!) a whole book by next week. I want them to find clean, fresh smelling clothes, in their closets. I want to set up the family calendar spot so we never forget the night we were supposed to go sign up to play in the band or what time the ice cream social is next weekend.

I’m sitting here in New York, missing the good stuff.

Ironically, it’s the stuff that can make a mom feel unappreciated. That thought has not escaped me. How many times have I loaded the dishwasher, grumbling to myself that I wouldn’t have to be doing it if the child in charge of that chore hadn’t left the house and forgotten? How many times have I wished that the never ending stories, especially the ones about dreams, would just finally…end? How many times have I thought to myself, “If I could just get a minute of peace and quiet….’?

Now I have the quiet.

But I don’t have the peace.

Because deep in my heart, I’m a mom. And the dog is getting tired of being my only mothering project. I’m needed by my offspring. One is very aware of his need, the other won’t realize he needs me until I’m out there, making his dinner so he doesn’t have to.

My new goal is to get to my family. Get this house wrapped up and get on the road. It’s time for us to start this new chapter of our life. Together.

It’s time to be a family again.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Trusty Rusty Girl



We had no intention of buying a van. We just weren't 'minivan people'. There was no category of 'crossover' when we welcomed our third child into the family, so we were determined to stick with our trusty Mazda sedan.

It had a wide back seat, after all. And it drove so beautifully. We'd bought it when we were first married and it had many good trip memories associated with it. We had no trouble turning our noses up at the minivan converts and happily strapping three car seats across our one back seat.

Then our third baby got sick. Like weeks in the hospital and they don't know what's wrong sick. And one day, as I rocked him quietly in the corner of his hospital room, his daddy showed up and looked shaken. I thought maybe he'd run into our baby's doctor in the hall, and knew something I didn't about a diagnosis. But it had nothing to do with our son.

It had to do with my husband's drive to the hospital. As he sat at a light, that had just turned green, the van in front of him pulled into the intersection and was immediately T-boned by a red light runner. The damage was extensive. Fortunately no children were in the minivan, but it was a graphic reality check for my husband.

"If there had been a kid in that second seat, he'd probably have been okay," he told me. "But what if I had been the one in that intersection? What if our children had been lined up across our back seat? Whoever's car seat was on that side wouldn't have a chance. They're just too vulnerable."

That night, seeing how shaken my safety conscious husband was, I dropped my reservations and had that discussion with him. Maybe it was time to break down, for the sake of our kids, and take the minivan plunge.

Fortunately, baby was diagnosed and bounced back to health quicker than we could have dreamed would be possible. Four months later, we were on a car lot, pricing vans.

It was the end of the year. Practically the last day of the year. The dealer was ready to unload the last of his old year models. We weren't picky. We just needed something safe and something affordable.

And then we saw Ruby.

Shiny red, the kind of red they put on sports cars. Maybe it was her way of letting us know it was okay to get behind her wheel. She seemed to be promising us a compromise, her sports car color, for our dive into mediocrity.

She had no bells or whistles. She was the last on the lot. No tinted windows. No cruise control. No automatic seats. Not even power windows. She might be the only car our kids have ever seen that has crank windows.

The only perk she had was the second sliding door, which was a brand new idea in 1996. It was something we would have never asked for, but have adored since the day we took her home. It's much easier for hoards of kids to pile out of a minivan, when there are exits on each side.

The first time I drove her I was amazed by how much I could SEE! There were windows everywhere! And I loved how high I sat as we drove down the highway. No more cruising around 'down below'. I could practically see truckers in the eye. She won me over pretty quickly, and that was before I realized just how handy those extra cup holders could be.

And then we were hooked. Our many family trips, especially those that involved crossing many states to see Grammy on the East coast, were so much more comfortable. We never worried about her breaking down. She was our only vehicle for years, as my husband took the bus to work, then the metro, after we moved to Washington D.C.

And now we've owned her for 15 years. She's taken us almost 200K miles. She's been registered in four states. As long as I keep her pampering days down at 'the shop' scheduled, she never lets me down.

Eight years ago we bought her a companion. This time we got a few more upgrades (gotta love those power windows and window tints!) but stuck with the same company, and the same model. We're suckers for reliability, especially when it comes in spite of the hardship of hauling four children around.

Soon I will leave her behind, as I leave NY without her. She's just too elderly to make the trip. I'll find her a nice home before I go. But as much as she's worn out, and doesn't really smell all that great anymore, I have to tell you, it won't be an easy goodbye.

Ruby has seen our family through many stages of life. Her padded ceiling has absorbed our laughter and her cloth seats have been moistened by our tears. She's been privy to serious conversations, the kind that last long after you've parked in the driveway, but aren't quite done yet. She's cradled my children, from car seats to lap belts. Three of them have learned to drive behind her wheel.

And then there's the story that my boys swear is true, about an old Krispy Kreme donut that was placed (NINE years ago) deep in the storage bin behind one of the back seats. They say it was left there,'just to see what would happen to it'. I've never been brave enough to look myself, but I've witnessed several tours, given to my boys' friends, and the "EWWWW....!"s that followed, lead me to believe the story is true.

She's a ragged old beauty. She has a glitch in her electrical system that causes her wipers to come on randomly. You just have to be aware, so it doesn't scare you half to death, on perfectly sunny days. Every so often her interior lights will blink on their own and the 'you left your lights on' bell will ding and ding until she's gotten it out of her system. It's not a problem. Old people can be persnickety sometimes too.

But anyone who's owned an old truck (or a trusty old minivan) will understand. Sometimes love and loyalty comes from years and years of always being there when it mattered. Always taking us to new places, always protecting us on endless highways.

Ruby's seen a whole lot of this country. She is a part of our family, almost as much as our dog. But in just a few weeks I will have to say my goodbye. Just as I've done for a decade and a half, I'll tap her dashboard and tell her what a good girl she is. I'll tell her how much we appreciate her service and how stories will be told for years to come, about adventures that happened because she took us there.

Ruby was the van that wasn't supposed to be. She wasn't flashy or exciting. She wasn't the sports car I think she dreamed of being. But she was just the thing we needed, at just the right time.

Goodbye old girl. We may replace you with something fancier, in our new life in Colorado. But we'll never forget you. You grew up with our family.

You were definitely a part of us.

A Vanload of Birthday



This picture was taken on my husband's birthday. No, it's not gifts for him. In fact, he didn't even get a card this year.

What he did get was a van full of supplies, the kinds of things you buy for your young adult child when they finally get their first apartment. A mop, a broom, laundry detergent, bath soap, a box of plates, a dozen glasses, four towels, two wash cloths, a large box of Cheerios, and six cans of Ravioli.

Oh, and a lot more than that. You might not be able to tell, but there are three children in that van too.

This was the day we signed the lease for the tiny temporary condo my husband and boys will share until our house in NY sells. They had to get set up in something beyond an extended stay hotel, so the boys could qualify to enter school two days later.

We lucked out and found a great, clean little place right across the street from both of the boys' schools. They don't even have to worry about catching a bus.

But the condo came with nothing but a nice back porch and a half a roll of TP in the bathroom. We had to stock it from scratch. Which is hard to do, mentally, when you know you have ALL of those supplies 'back home', in the house that is not selling.

But we sucked it up and grabbed two carts as we walked into our new Colorado Wal Mart. And a few hours later, the condo was ready for life.

The ironic thing about this picture, to me, is that we dropped our oldest son off at college just 24 hours later and never did this kind of shopping trip for him. He's in a tiny dorm room and really didn't need much beyond a few towels and a good desk lamp.

Something just feels backward in the universe, when the big 'stocking the apartment' trip is not for the 18 year old child. It's for his dad.

On his 45th birthday. Happy Birthday to you, sweetie.

Photographic Moments



When I see this picture I feel love. That's my dad, the tall guy on the far right. I've always been confident in how much my dad loved me and it allowed me to feel secure enough to go out into the world and find my own way. I understand that not all girls are so lucky.

When I see this picture I feel awe. Deep inside of me there's still a little girl who dreamed of becoming a mommy. More than planning a dream wedding, or finding my prince, my grown up goals revolved around having little people to love and nurture. Some days it's hard to comprehend that these tall boys are the gift I dreamed of all those years ago. Along with their sister, they have been a joy to raise. I'm in awe of their presence in my life, as well as how quickly they passed me in height.

When I see this picture, as much as I don't want it to be true, I feel longing. The person missing in this picture is my mom. She died when my oldest son was barely a toddler. She never knew about my last two babies, and didn't get to see what incredibly nice kids all four of her grand babies turned out to be. Everyone in her hometown would have known their names. She had just started her campaign to show their pictures to every person she knew, when she was swiftly taken away from us.

When I see this picture I miss her spirit. I miss the excitement she beamed every time I walked in the door. I miss the way she joyously called out my name every time I came home from college for a visit. It was like we hadn't seen each other in years. She rejoiced at my mere presence in the room.

And now I miss hers.

If she had lived she wouldn't be standing next to my dad. She'd be perched in the middle of my sons, who would all be taller than her at this point. Her smile would make a camera's flash unnecessary. She knew how to love with all her heart and she would have showered it on my kids.

My step mother is a wonderful woman. She so kindly took this picture. She takes amazing care of my dad. He'll live an extra decade because she looks after him so well. She couldn't be more loving, to me and to my children. But the reality that she understands, is that she's not my mom. She's my dad's wife, a role she handles quite well.

When I see this picture I see three boys I love being with and a dad I don't see nearly enough. I see myself, smiling for the camera, because I was truly happy to be in that spot, at that moment, surrounded by people I love. But back behind my smile there is a bit of heartache.

Because even after 17 years, when I see a picture like this, she's still missing.

Giant Heroes



One of my favorite lines from the drive out to Colorado came from my 15 year old son, Isaac. In the past year, I swear he's grown a inch a month. He inherited the tall genes from my dad, who is 6'5" (and often wears cowboy boots, making him seem even taller).

Isaac walked into Papa's front door, as we stopped in MO for a visit, and as he turned the corner to the kitchen, I heard him mutter to himself, "Papa used to be a giant...and I just looked him in the eye..."

He knows he's grown taller in recent months, but the reality of standing next to Papa, and holding his own, made him realize just how much his body has changed.

Charged Discussions




I just got back from Best Buy.

No, I didn’t drive all the way over to the black hole called ‘the mall’ to see the new technology in televisions or research the surround sound system my son is begging for, I schlepped my way across the wide asphalt parking lot to buy (drum roll please…) a cell phone charger.

I’m a bit perturbed by this task because it seems to be stuck in a revolving spot on my to-do list.

Here are the facts - four months ago my family hit the jackpot, when our family plan came up for renewal in the exact 18 hour window of time that the Samsung Vibrant smart phone was being offered for ‘free’, with renewal. We jumped on the deal and, within the week, had five new smart phones in our possession.

We were all tickled to death, since we generally hang out in the phone quality category that hovers just above the burner phone. Need I remind you that with four kids, we use up all our extra lines and buy a plan on top of that? Smart phones just aren’t generally in the budget.

Of course we all fell in love with our new babies and have been happily texting each other like crazy. The point of this story is that with those five phones came five cell phone chargers. Handy little guys that charged in the wall socket, car, or USB port. For a short period of time we were all content and happy in our smart phone bubble.

Then things turned vicious. Someone misplaced their charger. Rumors swirled about who could be the guilty party. Surely someone stole it. There was no way it was merely forgotten, at school or on a weekend trip to Grandma’s house. Everyone became possessive with their remaining chargers. I had compassion and loaned mine out, but with warnings as dire as those I dish out for infractions like drinking and driving or bringing down a basket of dirty laundry on Sunday night.

The words ‘buy cell phone charger’ went on my list. And it never went away. Every time I bought another one, someone else’s would disappear.

I wondered if, somewhere in the attic or behind the sheetrock of our house, there were dozens of mismatched socks throwing parties with the handful of cell phone chargers that seemed to disappear with as much regularity. I decided to label one as my own. That way I could possibly track a thief, if our household indeed was harboring one.

With a big fat sharpie, I wrote “MOM”. When turned upside down, it read WOW, meaning “Wow….there’s actually a charger here for me to use!”

Then came our long drive out to Colorado. Hotels seem to be the worst place for cell phone chargers. I’d guess that all the discount replacement chargers on Amazon are really the stockpile collected by hotel room maids. Either that, or the outlets in hotel rooms suck it up as you’re sleeping, prompting you to walk out the door in the morning, in possession of one less charger.

Either way, we ended up in Colorado with, you guessed it, one less charger. So this mom got put on the plane back to New York without one. No way to charge my phone, no way to get the 179 fabulous trip pictures off of it.

So today I did my weekly trek to Best Buy. And I now own another charger. It already says WOW (I mean MOM) on the side. I’m the only one living in our house right now, as we wait for it to sell. I’m wondering if this will be the true test.

If I can go a full month using the same charger, every day, and still know where it is at the end of September, I might have to call it a miracle.

Upside Down Goodbyes



I apologize that this post is a bit out of order. It was written weeks ago and never posted.

This is the longest, most drawn out move we’ve ever made. The last time we moved, I didn’t know to appreciate the circumstances, when all six of us piled in the minivan and pulled out of our driveway in Utah, headed to our new life in New York. We crossed the street to say good bye to our best friends. Last hugs and promises to keep in touch, and then we were off.

We traveled across the country together, and spent three months in a Residence Inn together. Every day we had lots of time together, house hunting and generally exploring this Upstate area. That’s not how it worked out this time.

This time the house didn’t sell and it changed everything. We did everything we were supposed to do. We updated the bathrooms, painted every wall a fresh neutral color, and put half our stuff in storage so every room looked bigger. We looked carefully at comparables in our area and decided on a list price we felt good about.

Then we sat. Week after week, we’ve been sitting. An occasional ‘looker’ here and there, but no offers. As time went on and we became more anxious to move along, we started dropping the price.

We now sit at over thirty thousand below our recent appraisal price and still no hopes of a bite. All this sitting has made this move a whole different experience.

As soon as I finish writing this article, I will jump in the minivan with just my three boys and we’ll drive out to Colorado. I’ll drop them off to stay with their dad. They will start school out there, living in a hotel. I will fly back to New York and wait for the right family to come along and fall in love with our great house.

In the three days that I’m out west, we will drive over the mountain and drop my oldest son off for his freshman year of college in Utah. Add that to the fact our daughter is staying back in New York to begin her independent life, and it makes for a very quiet house once we settle in Colorado. It feels very fragmented, upside down and backward, to be moving in shifts. My husband moved out there on July 5th. The boys will be there August 19. Who knows when I’ll get to join them.

I remember reading a short story in a church bulletin when I was a teenager. It was about a family who had five kids and one went away to college. When the mom would complain about missing him, people would always say to her, “You have four other kids. There are plenty of kids to keep you busy!” Her response - “Five minus one does not equal plenty. I miss that one.”

This story made an impression on me because my oldest sister had just left for college and, although I had three other siblings left at home, I missed the essence of her.

And now I get that story from a mom’s perspective. But my math is more drastic. Four minus two equals a practically empty house. No one will sit in the third row of seats in the van anymore. We won’t have to look for booths at restaurants. It might actually be affordable to take the kids out to the movies on a Friday night. But I will never stop feeling like two of us are ‘missing’.

I’m starting to feel like my neighbor. She’s five weeks away from having her baby.

I’m two weeks away from having mine leave the nest.

Her life will drastically change once that baby arrives. Her relationship with her husband and her young daughter will change. There are no guarantees that they will all be good changes.

I know our family dynamic is also changing. Two brothers who used to be under the authority of an older brother will have to find a new way of relating to each other. They might like the new changes, or it might be a bumpy road.

Just like my neighbor will walk into a hospital in a few weeks and walk out a few days later to begin her new life, in two weeks I’ll be moving boxes of my son’s dearest possessions into a dorm room then driving away without him. My new life, as the full time mom to only two boys will officially begin. My older sister warned me that she cried when she went through this last year. Not just cried. She sobbed. “As hard as I did when mom died…” were her exact words. I don’t look forward to that.

But it’s a necessary step in life. I’m thrilled that my son has found a school he is excited about and a degree path he can’t wait to jump into. I’m proud of him for not being a bit scared about moving into a dorm full of strangers, in a new state, and making new friends. All the moves, and being ‘the new kid’ have taught him that there are always friends waiting to meet you, if you just show up. And in two weeks he plans to show up.

His mama will be fine. I’ll have the distraction of getting the house sold and the household belongings moved across the country. By the time we settle in a new house in Colorado it will practically be Thanksgiving, and I’ll get to see him again.

We’ll be settled and established in a new place, a place where he has no memories and no bedroom. But I’ll do my best to still make it feel like home.

Because no matter where he roams, he knows there will always a place at home for him.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Why We Visit Memorials


Jeff and the boys, looking over the field in PA, six months after the plane crashed on 9/11. The angels in front of them represent the passengers on the plane.

The day my mom died I cried the deepest tears of my life. I was young, she was young, it was all very sudden. None of it made sense to me. While my patient husband cared for our two toddlers, I waded through the months that followed, and finally found a bit of sunshine the next spring.

Then I woke up to see footage on my television, of a bombing in Oklahoma City. Hundreds of people were killed and injured. Pictures of lost little children, dressed in Easter outfits from the week before, flashed across the screen. New grief was stirred up inside of me.

Again, it was all very sudden. Hard to process. Hard to put in perspective.

A handful of years later I watched another horror play out on my television, this one broadcast live. With a toddler in my lap, I struggled to handle my own emotions while trying to explain to my five, eight and nine year old exactly what had just happened to those two tall buildings, while trying not to alarm them. Familiar grief, shock and tears welled up in my soul.

Two months later, as we drove through New England to visit Grammy for Christmas, we detoured down through New York City. I was amazed to see the streets just a block away from Ground Zero looking very…normal. No signs of the grey dust that covered everything, in every picture we saw on the news. Coffee shops were open. People scurried to and fro, on their way to work and school, back to regular life.

You’d hardly know that just a block away there was a great pit, filled with dust, debris, and remnants of lives lost.

Then less than a year after the 9/11 attacks we moved our young family to Washington D.C. On our drive across the country we stopped by that field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and stood by the temporary monument that had been erected, a simple chain link fence. The children brought tiny flags and small stuffed animals to leave on the fence, a marker that they had come and paid their respects.

It’s a tradition we’d started when they were hardly old enough to understand stories of loss and terrorism. In the years after the Oklahoma City bombing, as the Oklahoma version of Ground Zero went from a pile of burnt rubble, to an empty lot, to an amazing monument, we stopped many times to see the site. We lived in Missouri and often traveled to Dallas to see family. It only seemed right to stop off and check up on the progress being made there.

And it only seemed right to continue reminding our children that what they were seeing was hallowed ground.

For many years I’m sure they didn’t really understand why we went. To them it was a chance to get out of the car and stretch their tired legs. But they heard the stories, over and over, and they saw that it made mommy sad to tell the stories. They got the part that mattered. The part about how there are bad guys in the world. Scary things happen. But in the end, human spirit wins out.

We remember the people who were just doing their jobs, on a normal day of the week, and never knew they wouldn’t be home for dinner.

Our children have seen all three crash sites from 9/11 and have clear memories of seeing the bombing site in Oklahoma City. It’s not that we have a morbid fascination with tragedy. We take our children to these sites so they can feel history. I spent my childhood reading history in books and never really connecting it to the outside world. My husband and I wanted our children to hear about something that happened in our country and say, “I know about that. I saw that monument. I stood by that fountain. I rubbed a name off that long black wall. I gazed over that field with my family. I know about that.”

And every time we go stand by the site that I’ve stopped calling Ground Zero and started calling The Freedom Tower, I tell them the story of that day once again. They fill in the parts they remember, and together we talk about it as a family. They are reminded that terrible, awful, senseless things happen. But life goes on.

More than I ever understood, as we drove away from the cemetery after burying my mother, my children are starting to understand the reality of life.

They see the pattern. Things happen that are sometimes hard to comprehend. They aren’t fair. They will never make sense. But for the survivors, life has to go on. It’s good to build a tactile reminder - a new building, a monument, even a park bench - to help us never forget. But the lesson will always be that life does move on. People rally together, comfort each other.

And then, as hard as it seems, we all move on.

This week we’ll remember the events around September 11, 2001. If you get a chance, stop by the site in lower Manhattan. Stop and gaze at that amazing new building that sparkles in the sun.

But I also encourage you to visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial, if you’re ever in the Midwest. I challenge you not to cry as you walk through the rows of empty chairs, each representing an empty chair at some family’s table.

And I challenge you to not weep when you walk by the 19 tiny chairs, neatly inscribed with the names of the 19 children who never got to grow up.

It’s important that we remember. Not to dredge up the horrible acts that caused our grief. But to never forget the people whose lives were cut short, and the families whose dinner tables will never again be complete.

Don’t forget to tell your children the stories, this week, and for years to come.

It’s their history too.

Take them to the walls. Walk them through the gardens. Let them touch the cold steel monuments. They need to understand how important it is, how incredibly important it is, that we never forget.

And that through all tragedy, life goes on.