Monday, July 25, 2011

Seeing Me

I have a long history with wearing glasses. When I was a fourth grader I went to the eye doctor for the first time. I didn’t realize exactly how blind I’d become until that unforgettable day when the optician balanced that first pair of glasses on my face and said, “look out the window and tell me if that’s better…”

Wow. The trees had individual leaves? I’d not even realized that trees off in the distance weren’t just a smudge of greens. With these magical new glasses I could see each individual leaf. It was a moment I’ll never forget. The eye doctor, a family friend, had told my parents I might not be committed to wearing them, since my prescription wasn’t that strong, and most elementary aged kids strategically left them at home. But I was intoxicated with the brand new crisp clean lines of the world and I gladly wore them every day.

Then middle school hit. My older, very popular sisters kept chanting an ominous rhyme in my direction, ‘guys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.’ I struggled enough, being the little kid sister to two Farrah Fawcett look alikes. Having glasses sure didn’t help my cause. Eventually I broke down and got past my squeamish side, gathering up the courage to poke two plastic discs directly into my eyes. Although switching to contacts didn’t magically improve my standings with the cute males on my radar, I eventually found a few nice guys who were willing to date me and not pine over my sisters. One of those nice guys became my lifetime best friend.

Then along came babies. With the upside down schedule of caring for two babies, born 12 months apart, I soon reverted back to wearing glasses full time. Not just any glasses. The huge round spectacles that I try to convince my children were popular in the early 90s.

Then it just became a habit. Glasses are easy, most of the time. There is no solution to buy, no mirror needed at night before you go to bed. If I have to get up in the night, I can pop them on in a second. As styles became more fun I almost looked forward to needing a new prescription, so I could try out some new frames. For almost 20 years I didn’t even consider wearing contacts.

But in recent years I’d started considering trying them again. Why not have a back up pair of contacts, that I could wear on certain occasions? It would be nice to have contacts when I wear goggles on the ski slopes. It would be nice to have contacts when we’re at the beach, or hiking, and I’m wiping sweat off my face on a regular basis. When it was time for my latest check up, I decided to dive in, and get the exam for contacts.

I was surprised at how easily I was able to put them in. Just like riding a bike, I guess. I wore home the trial pair and waited to see if my family would notice. Once I got home I looked at myself in the mirror. I didn’t look like me. Well, I looked like me, just an older, more tired version of me. I never realized how much I hid behind my glasses. Suddenly I noticed wrinkles I’d never seen before. And my eyes seemed to disappear on my face. Time to pull out the eye liner and mascara. I’m a pretty low key person and, hiding behind glasses, rarely used eye makeup. It was time to bring out the expired cosmetics.

The kids noticed, but didn’t seem to mind the difference. As long as dinner was on the table, they were fine with how mom looked. My husband noticed right away too. I think it might be the longest he’s gazed at me since we were dating. “Hmm….mama got out the eye make up!” The boys just groaned. All through dinner I kept catching him giving me long glances. He was trying to figure out if he liked this new, glasses free look.

I wore them for almost a week. Every day I diligently put them in, then applied the makeup that had been neglected for so many years. And even after a week, I still barely recognized myself when I looked in the mirror. I just didn’t seem like myself without glasses. It wasn’t just the hassle of having to accentuate tiny eyes that seem to disappear without a touch of eye liner, there was something missing about me. I began to realize that some of my personality might be tied to my glasses.

Finally I gave up. I threw in the towel and accepted the fact that I’m just a glasses person. I like the way I look in glasses. I like being able to pick a style by the frames I choose. I like not having to bother with little round containers and contact solution, especially when we’re traveling or camping. For some moral back up, I took my oldest teen son to the frames store with me. He helped me pick out the frames I’m wearing today. They are a bit more bold than I would have picked for myself, but I have really grown to love them.

I’m old enough now that I don’t make decisions based on whether it will get me dates or win me favor with others. I get to pick for myself. And I’ve come to peace with the fact that I’m a glasses person. And now, once again, I recognize myself when I look in the mirror.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Moving Changes

The changes keep coming. Three days ago my first born moved out of our house for the first time and happily landed in her own apartment. It’s a bit ironic that she’s not the only one packing boxes. We continue to stash things away, getting ready for our own move across the country in a few weeks. It’s our season of change.

My sister texted me the day after my girl moved out. She asked me one simple question. “Was yesterday hard for you?” By then I had survived the first night of her being on her own, in her own grown up living space. It wasn’t an usual feeling, since she often sleeps over at a friend’s house. But just picturing her in the bed I bought for her, across town, in what is now considered her bedroom, just felt odd. Not necessarily sad (yet). Just odd.

I almost laughed out loud as I read my sister’s inquiring text. At the moment I received it I was flanked by situations. On one side I had Sam, telling me in great detail his latest dream, and wanting me to pay attention to every single detail, including hand motions.

On the other side sat our old family dog, sweet as the day is long ,but falling apart quicker than I am, as she passes middle age. She’d been having some troubling doggie symptoms and I knew a call to the vet was imminent. I could only hope it wouldn’t cost more than the balance of my checking account.

I knew that after Sam finished his story, and after the vet was called, there was a list of six other things I needed to get done, including calling Colorado to check in with my significant other, who has been out there for two weeks now. The gravity of this life milestone my daughter had experienced was quickly lost in the craziness of our own life details.

I was more than happy to see my daughter again, as she showed up later that day to pick up some more items from her bedroom. She so lovingly took the time to compliment her littlest brother on how well his personal effects looked in her old room. She hadn’t been gone three hours before he had claimed that big, vacant bedroom as his own. At least for the three weeks he has left in New York.

It was fun to dig through my kitchen cabinets and give her all of the duplicates I’ve collected through the years. Every pasta strainer and mixing bowl that I could give her was one less thing she’d have to buy for herself. This is when it pays off that both of us are moving at the same time. She was thrilled to get my leftovers and I was happy to clean out my stash before the moving truck arrives.

Then she moved on to the kitchen cabinets. As she pulled out her plastic bag and ‘shopped’ from my shelves, picking out spaghetti sauces and rice mixes, it brought back such familiar memories of doing the same thing in my mom’s cabinet, when I would go home to visit her during my college years. It was one of those surreal moments when you ask yourself, “When did I become the mom in this picture?”

And for a brief moment it made me miss my mom terribly, and being able to call and tell her about this moment. One of a million special moments I lost when she died 17 years ago.

My daughter loaded up her car, with boxes of kitchen supplies, bags of clothes, and piles of food, and she drove off. I didn’t let myself dwell on the fact that she was now forever on her own, out of my nest. It’s a day I’ve dreaded since she was a toddler and I realized just how much I enjoyed having her around. Through the years we’ve been the solo girls in the house. When the boys got loud and crazy and stinky, we could just look at each other and know we were not alone in this house full of testosterone.

And now it’s down to just me. Me and this pack of boys. Not that I love them any less. It’s just a different household, when four males sit around the kitchen table. Just as I seem to be guarding my emotions and don’t yet fully feel the loss that happened in my life this week, I cannot even comprehend how the sadness will be compounded when, in just five weeks, we drop off our second child to start his first year of college in a different state.

I’m losing two in two months.

I have no doubt that the tears will fall, when I finally drive away from New York for the last time, knowing my daughter is not tucked in her place in the back of our family van. In fact, I suspect there will be more than tears, there may even be sobs. Everyone in our family is going through huge transitions. Most of them are good.

But that doesn’t mean parts of the process don’t tear out a mother’s heart.

Young adults are supposed to move out and support themselves once high school is over. Young adults very commonly haul their belongings into unknown dormitories and begin their new independent college lives apart from their parents. Lots of dads get new jobs and move their families to new states.

It’s just our family who find it necessary to do it all at the same time.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Favorite Places

A few weeks ago I woke up on a Saturday morning and realized we had nothing planned for the day. There was no reason to rush out of bed. A cool breeze was coming through the window. It felt wonderful to pull the covers up and tuck myself deeper into my bedroom nest. Soon I was joined by my youngest, who still loves to snuggle while we watch TV together. As he easily settled in next to me, and I rested my chin on his tousled hair, all seemed right with the world.

The stress of selling this house, and finding new lodging out in Colorado totally disappeared. Our life no longer revolved around homework and school obligations, it was finally low key summer time. And tucked into that soft cocoon with my boy, watching Spongebob’s antics, I found myself wishing that time would stand still. As I pondered that idea, I realized that snuggling in my fluffy king sized bed is one of my favorite places to be.

You’d probably get a wide variety of answers, if you asked a hundred people on the street, “Where is your favorite place to be?” Some might say a beach on a tropical island. Some might say a dark movie theater, watching a blockbuster movie. Many of my library friends might say being curled up on a couch with a good book is the best place to be.

I enjoy all of those places but if I had to be honest, and name my truly favorite places, they’d almost always involve the people I love. Maybe it’s because we have rarely lived near our extended families, that being in their presence seems so important. The fact that hubby and I both come from large families also means that when we can manage to pull everyone together, it’s a rare day indeed. So here are a few of my favorite places to be. I’ve been lucky enough to experience each of these places in the past few years.

I’d have to start the list with my own children. As crazy as it sounds, some of our best memories have been made when we’re all trapped in the van together. So on the top of my list of favorite places, is the passenger seat of our Caravan. When hubby’s at the wheel, navigating us down new roads, as we find new adventures, and the back seats are filled with all four of my children, life is very, very good. Oh, my kids bicker sometimes. They’re normal siblings with normal frustrations and issues, but many times, when we’ve left the distractions of friends and TV behind, we can get into a really good groove. They let their guards down and start creating inside jokes with each other. They start, just for those frozen moments of time, to act like they’re friends. I could live in that place forever.

Next on my list of favorite places is sitting in a lawn chair around a fire pit. Some of my best life memories have been made in this place. We built the relationship that turned into our best friends in Utah, around the fire pit outside their back door. Just last weekend I sat across from some of my favorite relatives, at a campsite in NH, and we laughed and talked while campfire smoke seeped into our clothes. Once darkness falls, and faces are lit up by the flickering fire light, people open up and become their truest selves. A guitar in the background is just icing on the cake, and I’m never really ready to leave that chair and head back to our tents.

A related location, when it comes to our east coast life, is my mother-in-law’s backyard. Every time I visit her house in New Hampshire, whether I’m sitting at a picnic table or throwing a few hands of horseshoes, I’m in a happy place. The kids run free and mix with cousins who are like best friends. I get to catch up with brothers and sisters in law. We all get pampered by Grammy, who knows every person’s drink of choice. Time does seem to stand still when we enter that grassy field, bordered by shady trees. Kids and grownups alike play endless games of ladder ball and bocce ball, then we all gather together for one big game of wiffle ball.

I’ve only had scattered visits from my family, who are all spread out across the country. Almost two years ago we all gathered in Missouri, for a sibling reunion, and every minute I shared with them in that hotel conference room we used as our gathering spot was treasured time. I got to play cards with nephews and nieces I hadn’t seen in years. I got to laugh with my siblings, as we so easily went back to childhood memories, each of us remembering them a bit differently. I hope to find more times like those once we’re back in that area of the country.

I’m constantly telling my middle son how much he reminds me of my brother and I look forward to the day that he knows what I mean.

So if I ever win the lottery or hit the jackpot on game show, and the prize is a trip to my favorite place on earth, I may shock a few people with my choice. I’d have to pass on the week in Tahiti and the tour of Paris. I’m sure those are lovely places, and I wouldn’t mind seeing them some day. But when it comes to truly priceless places, where I feel the most comfortable, I don’t have to look very far.

Every time I sink into a lawn chair, around a campfire with friends or in a yard full of kids I’m related to, I find myself saying, “Yes….now this is heaven!”

Monday, July 4, 2011

Campfire Love

Step by step this process of relocating to the other side of the country moves forward. We mark the milestones one by one and try to savor each one. It’s been a month of ‘lasts’, with more to come. My youngest son finished his last days of fourth grade, in a building that has been his academic world since kindergarten. My middle son finished his first year of high school in a building where both of his older siblings received diplomas. Our oldest son walked across a graduation stage in a cap and gown that are already packed in a moving box.

I said ‘see ya laters’ to co-workers who feel more like friends. My poor husband has said endless goodbyes, as he’s built a large network of professional acquaintances during our time in New York. And then today, one more huge step, flinging us into this new life that’s on the horizon. Very early this morning, before the sun even broke the horizon, I drove this man I love to the airport and said my tearful goodbyes. He is flying off to start his first chapters of our life in Colorado, as he starts his new job this week.

It surprised me how big that one goodbye felt. I struggled to maintain my composure as I gave him a last hug. We tried to make small talk, to crowd out the suffocating reality of what was about to transpire. Then he turned and made his way through the security lines, slipping off his shoes, emptying out his pockets, and raising his arms on cue.

At that moment I couldn’t help but think about how attached I’ve become to that man. I met him in a college dorm, in the early spring of 1987, having no idea he would become my life cheerleader. We had mutual friends and slowly found ourselves spending more time without them. Long lunches in the cafeteria became my favorite part of the day, as we discussed everything from religious beliefs to childhood experiences. It wasn’t romantic dinners at fancy restaurants that won me over. It was a patient listening ear, while eating turkey and cheese sandwiches off a plastic cafeteria tray.

After a few years of sharing friends, dreams, and travel adventures, he showed up in my dorm room one Sunday night, wearing a red pull over jacket that smelled of campfire smoke. One of the things that attracted me to him was his love of the outdoors, and that woodsy smell did more for me than any cologne ever could. A few hours later he proposed, and I was wise enough to say yes.

We had spent that weekend apart. I had to go home to help out my ill mother, and he had been on a camping retreat with our friends. As I lay next to my mother, who was recuperating from back surgery, I surprised even myself, as tears rolled down my face when I told her how much I missed not being with him, even for that one night. I think I knew at that moment that I needed this man for the long haul.

The ‘yes’ had come easily, when the ring was presented, 24 hours later.

There was a wedding, and more schooling, and then came children and jobs. A decade passed by, then another. A change in jobs led us to several cross country moves and more years rolled by. Life was not always easy, but we found our way together. We both lost a parent early on, and we almost lost a child. We’ve survived a decade (so far) of raising teens and what seemed like endless years of changing diapers. But we’ve done our best to cling to the friendship that started it all. We both adore our children, but we both understand that they are separate from us. The ‘us’ will always stand on its own and have its own place.

The ‘us’ is what keeps us sane.

So now we come to this place, where circumstances dictate a separation. In every other move we’ve made, we’ve all gone together. But his time is different. This time the house has not sold, and plans had to change. As we sit and wait for the special family, who will love this house as much as we have, to show up, the calendar page flips to July, and the new job calls. And I find myself at an airport, saying goodbye to this man I love. We will be apart for at least six weeks. We’ve never been apart for more than one week, and now the calendar will flip pages once more, before I see him again.

In all of the planning and scheduling, I knew, in my head, that this separation was coming. But it was all on paper. This past weekend I found myself in a lawn chair in New Hampshire, telling my sister-in-law our plans, and she turned to me and said, “You’re going to be apart for SIX weeks?” The tone of her question left a lump in my throat. Six weeks. Yeah, six weeks.

The reality of those words sunk in.

He left the family party a day early, to come home and pack. I stayed back to camp one more night with the kids. I missed him even that night, knowing our real goodbyes were coming in mere hours. The next morning we drove home, and I purposefully didn’t take off his red pull over jacket, that I’d borrowed for our camping trip.

It smelled of campfire smoke.

And this time I wanted to be the one who showed up, smelling of the outdoors, and proposing my love for a lifetime.