Saturday
Feb062016

Guide to DDPerks for the Non-Millenial

Imagine this, my favorite coffee joint has its own app.

It took me a year to discover DDPerks rewards. Discovering it was inevitable—I have Dunkin’ Donuts coffee at least a few times a week, and the 127th time I saw a placard or sticker that said “Register Your DD Card Online for Rewards,” I actually paid attention and registered my card. It was very exciting—just for registering it, I earned a free beverage, which I promptly used within 24 hours.

That’s marketing success for you—only 127 impressions for a consumer to take action.

But really, it was an easy sell—I’ve been a longtime user of DD cards to pay for coffee. I learned a long time ago it’s a lot easier to reload a pre-paid card $20 at a time than to have to haul out a couple of bucks on every visit.

I also understand the benefits of these rewards cards: the more I buy, the more they suck me in with freebies to buy more. But imagine the possibilities—free hot DD after every New England Patriots’ football win! New Englanders received more than 2.25 million coffees from their season this year from DD.

(Of course, I didn’t discover that freebie until a few weeks before the AFC title game, so I only got one free cup out of it, and now I have to wait another year and to see if my beloved Pats will recover.)

I learned recently that AARP members can show their card at DD and get a free donut with the purchase of a large or XL beverage. My significant other recently qualified for AARP, and to demonstrate his romantic generosity, he got me my own card so we could be twins.

But once you turn 50, the human body is unable to metabolize donuts. So what good does that do?

DD Deals don’t end with the Pats and AARP, though—throughout the month of January, a medium hot coffee was only a $1.39 for DD Perks users. All for the simple price of giving them my name, email address, birthday, and other important information like exactly how many cups of decaf I drink on a weekly basis.

Someday, when my identity is stolen from Dunkin Donuts, some crazy lunatic out there will have a record of every single long trip I have taken over several years and exactly how much coffee I need to drink on workdays to get the job done.

I recently lost my DD prepaid card. I was a little traumatized, because a colleague had given it to me when he took another job, and so that card was special—I always asked for it back so I could reload it when it hit $0.

But even worse, I had put $20 on it the week before I lost it. But then I suddenly remembered, “Wait a minute! I once saw someone who walked up to the DD counter and showed their phone and they scanned it and paid for their coffee that way! There must be a DD app!”

So I went to the Google Play Store and downloaded the DD app. Because I had signed up for DD rewards, a bar code scan popped up for a free coffee so I clicked that reward button, held it up to the drive-through counter, and the DD worker waved a magic wand and I drove away free as a bird.

This is amazing! I thought.

Later that evening, when I was in the middle of a four-hour drive home from Maine, I decided to stop for another cup. This time, I noticed that there was another special—that large coffee for $1.39 anytime after 2 p.m. But I wasn’t sure exactly how to get the special, so I asked the guy at the drive-thru window.

“How do I get this $1.39 special?” I asked.

He said, “I have no idea, I just click the wand, so I’ve never used the app.”

Well, that’s helpful, Mr. Millennial, I thought.

But by then, I had figured it out. I said, “Oh see, I just push the picture of the card, and then click Pay, and that’s how you get to that screen.”

He scanned it and said, “Thank you, that’s $1.39.” I pulled two dollar bills out of my wallet, and he took them and said, Thank you, have a good night.”

But he didn’t give me back my change. So I said, “I gave you $2 and it was $1.39.”

And he said, “Yes, you paid with your phone.”

“Yes, but it’s $1.39 and I gave you $2.”

“You paid with your phone,” he said.

And then I got it. I had already paid with my phone. He was trying to put my $2 in his tip jar for exceptional service.

So then I felt bad, and stupid, so I said “Keep it,” and he grinned and said, “Thank you.”

And I drove away.

Even with this DDPerks coolness, I miss those days when I used to go to Dunkin’ Donuts with my mom. We’d sit at the long, curvy counter, and a waitress in a brown dress with a cigarette butt in her mouth would come pour coffee in my mom’s mug, and mix hot cocoa for me, with a dollop of whipped cream on top. And I would happily eat chocolate-frosting-filled donuts and didn’t even know what metabolizing was.

In those days, nobody cared about whether the Pats won because the Pats always lost. And no one even had visions of a cell phone or cell phone apps in their heads. We would never double pay for our coffee in that simple world without electronic transactions. Probably no one even used credit cards to pay for their coffee then. But I guess we always had to leave the smokin’ waitress a tip.

Saturday
Jan232016

Don't Try This at Home--When Mom's Not There

As a parent, there are many scary moments. That day you have to bring your son to the ER with a 104-degree fever. That moment when you let go of his hand for a second and lose sight of him at the big box store. The time you let him drive off for the first time and it starts to snow.

Now that my son is 18 and officially loosed upon the world, I am sure I could have done more to prepare him. I could have been better at teaching him to save his allowance. I could have given him more responsibilities around the house. I could have spent more time talking about the tough stuff. I could have shot more pucks on him in the Mylec goal in the basement of our cabin in the woods.

For five years, my son D. and I lived in a cabin on the Piscataquog in New Hampshire. It was a very rustic, peaceful place. But there was limited well water, teeming with iron—turning our shower stall a rust color. So we couldn’t do our laundry at home. For years, I made D. come with me to the Kelley Street Laundromat every Sunday, and we would be there for two hours, listening to the hum and thump of the machines and watching whatever movie they had on an endless loop in the VCR.

D. was exposed to many PG movies that were probably beyond his years during that time.

But one day, he begged me to leave him home alone during laundry time, and so I agreed—he must have been 9 or 10. I told D. to sit on the couch and not do anything—other than watch TV—and not to eat anything. I didn’t want him to choke, after all.  

I drove to the laundromat, about 15 minutes from the house, and dropped our clothes and soap in the washing machine. And then I drove home. Being away for 40 minutes was enough—I didn’t want to wait another hour for the load to finish.

When I walked in the door at home, I was relieved to see D. sitting on the couch watching Cartoon Network. But the minute he saw me, he flew over to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door.

“I made myself a snack,” he said. “But I didn’t eat it yet.”

Oh, that’s so smart, I thought. He listened to my rules, and didn’t eat while I was gone, but he prepared himself a snack!

“What did you make?” I asked.

“Cut-up banana in yogurt,” he said, and he sat down with his bowl on the couch to eat his snack.

Cut-up banana? And how exactly did he cut that up? I thought.

Just then I saw my Pampered Chef hand food chopper in the sink. I flashed back to before I left, when the food chopper was disassembled in the dish rack, sitting since I had diced some vegetables the night before.

“D!” I shouted. “You used the food chopper?”

He looked over at me, surprised at the urgency in my voice.

“You could have cut your finger off!” I said. “You even assembled it! Do you know how sharp those blades are?”

“I was careful, Mommy,” he said.

I shook my head, fast. “How do you even know how to assemble it?” I asked, my voice still shrill.

Here the kid had put the thing together, cut up the bananas, dropped them in the yogurt, and then put the whole concoction in the fridge because he wasn’t allowed to eat while I was gone.

“Sorry, Mommy,” he said.

But then, I softened. “That’s okay, D,” I said. “I am glad you didn’t eat it, that was really good. And that you figured out how to put it together and use it safely. I am proud of you. But just don’t do that again when I’m not home, okay?”

“Okay,” he said, and turned back to the television.

At that moment, I was so proud. And so scared.

That pretty much sums up what being a parent is about.

Now, that very kid is 18 years old and off at college, assembling sharp objects and cutting things up to his heart’s content. And his mother can’t control any of it. I can’t tell him what to do anymore. So I now understand why many parents tell their college-age children, “I just don’t want to know. Don’t tell me until afterwards what you are doing.”

And when he doesn’t answer my texts or phone calls for a few days, I just remind myself of that day with the food chopper, and trust that all is well. If nothing else, at least he is not going to choke.

Monday
Jan182016

When Annoying Yogis Practice Next to You

Bikram yoga is an amazing practice. You’re in a 105-degree heated room, mat-to-mat, sweating and dripping all over one another, and just trying to be.

It’s a great practice for the mind. Especially when you end up next to someone for 90 minutes that irritates you for some reason. It might be excessive body odor, a particularly loud grunter, or someone who literally flings their sweat on you because they move about so violently. 

Last week, a woman next to me simply chose to do her own thing during the entire class. She wasn’t following the dialogue, moving through the 26 postures according to the instructor as you are supposed to do. She kept trying slight variations of asanas. I became very distracted by her flailing arms, her bending over when she was supposed to be standing up, and her moving into a slightly different pose than Padangustasana, and so on.

She was clearly not a beginner yogi—she just didn’t know the rules of Bikram. I was feeling a bit tired and cranky, so all I could think was, This is not the time to practice your own yoga, woman! This is time for the 26-posture Bikram series!

I know, I know. Don’t tell me. My yoga at that moment was to focus on my own practice and let it go. That was my work—to just focus on my own happy self in the mirror and to send lovingkindness and unconditional love to everyone.

But that same woman also forgot to bring a towel. Doesn’t everybody know that when is 105 degrees you sweat more that your yoga mat alone can handle? If you don’t want to have an accident, one must bring a towel. It says so right on the FAQs of every Bikram yoga web site, from California to India.

This woman somehow must have not noticed that the other 35 people in the room all had towels on their mats until partway through the class. So then, right in between asanas, she asked the teacher if she had an extra towel. Of course the teacher didn’t have a towel—she was wearing a tube top and side string shorts and had only a small clock with her.

So the teacher had to leave the room to get her a towel just as we were about to start Dandayamana-Dhanurasana, which is not a good time for anyone to go anywhere as standing bow pulling pose can be quite tricky to balance in even if everyone is standing still.

The woman looked at me and shrugged her shoulders, and said, “I’m really sorry,” and I could tell she was being genuine, so then I started feeling badly. So I said, “That’s okay.”

During Savasana, when we were all resting in corpse pose, the teacher told us to relax, breathe deeply, let our body absorb the practice. I could feel my body sinking into the mat. “Find the calm in the struggle,“ the teacher said.

Okay, okay, I thought. I get it. It’s not about the struggle. Don’t get caught up in noise. It’s just noise!

And as we were in our final Savasana, the instructor added, “Think about Savasana! They don’t even care. There’s no drama.”

I had to think about that for a minute. But then I got what she meant. Ah, corposes, no drama. No worrying about the self or others. No worrying at all.

When we were finished, the teacher sang a beautiful chant—in Sanskrit. I don’t know what it was exactly—all I recognized was Om at the beginning and at the end. But it was stunningly beautiful. Her tones vibrated right through my body—my muscles heard every note, every catch of her breath.

After class, I sat on the bench to put on my boots by the door. Next to me there was a little bowl and a sign that said, “Inspirational sayings—please take one.” So I rustled through the bowl with my fingers to find whatever message I needed that day. I wanted the most brilliant insight for 2016.

I grabbed one, and flipped over the piece of paper. It said, “I like to walk because it makes my bones stronger.”

What? That’s not inspirational. What the heck? That sounds like a message for a senior citizen, someone with osteoporosis. Which I am not.

So I put it back.

I drew again. There must be a good message in here for me somewhere.

The second one I pulled out said, Breathe and all will be revealed; love and all will be healed. This is yoga.

Ahhh, yes. That’s what I love about yoga. And about Bikram. It can heal your knees, it can heal your shoulders, it can heal tennis elbow, it can heal your back.

It can focus your mind. It can help you find peace. It can even heal your spirit, if you give it the chance.

Saturday
Jan092016

A Bird Doesn't Sing Because He Has an Answer

My mother saved everything.

I recently found her Joan Walsh Anglund wall calendars from the early 1970s. Do you know those calendars? The ones that feature pastel images of round-faced children with tiny black eyes, but no mouths or noses? My mother’s notes—and a few of my dad’s—track everything we did the years just before we left California.

There was that special terrarium demonstration at day camp one summer. My sister’s ice skating on Mondays, ballet on Tuesdays, and Brownies on Wednesdays. A few odd notes: Mike – 1 Hard Boiled Egg, on March 21. The Kirby man had an appointment that same day. And in 1973, we left on September 15 for Glacier National Park and went camping for two weeks.

I know now when our St. Bernard, Shanty Pooh, was in first and second heat. Mom noted when they had to put Scott’s on the front lawn, and also when to fertilize the front planter. And she hosted a Valentine’s party for my brother on Monday the 12th and one for me on Wednesday the 14th (she did that more than once, with both Halloween and Valentine’s Day!).

And my dad’s one-year anniversary at Fairchild Semiconductor was on March 15, 1973.

My mother did have a few activities of her own—needlepoint with Nancy, coffee with Margaret, and tennis on Tuesdays at 7:00 pm. She marked when she was working on a new bulletin board at school, and when the KQED auction was—one year, they auctioned off an entire Big Bird birthday party she had created—favors, decorations, cake, and all.

The year I ended up with some fiberglass from attic insulation in my eye, and had to wear an eye patch over Christmas, apparently, I went to Dr. Strong on Tuesday, Dr. Rawson on Wednesday, and Dr. Mastman on Thursday. It took three doctors!

And I now know what my first full sentence was. It was September 1971, and my father was wallpapering my sister’s room. I said, “Mommy and Daddy doing Tudi’s room.”

For years, my mother always said, when something funny or interesting would happen, “You have to write that down!” She was obsessed about recording information so we would not forget. I found an envelope where she wrote when we were camping in Victoria one summer that my brother called the marshmallows we were roasting “marshmelons.”

Mom said this over and over about stories we told her of our own children, things they did or said. Write it down! And I always just said, “I know, I know.”

She must have anticipated this day. That nine years after she died, two years after my dad passed away, that we would find these calendars and read them. She knew none of us would remember Shanty Pooh, or caring for the lawn we had in Los Altos, or what my first sentence was.

I found one spot where she spelled my name wrong – she wrote “No School - Kelley.” That made me laugh. Even then, she was going a million miles a minute.

But as illustrator and poet Joan Walsh Anglund wrote in her book A Cup of Sun, “A bird doesn’t sing because he has an answer—he sings because he has a song.” 

Saturday
Jan022016

Walking in the World of Safe People

An aging couple and their daughter came into a chiropractor’s office last week when I was in the waiting room. The father was in a cervical collar, walking carefully.

Car accident? Neck surgery?

“Hi Lottie!” they greeted the receptionist.

Ahh, regulars. I thought I was in there often.

Was this a family outing? Would they all be treated at the same time? Maybe it was a car accident and now dad can’t drive.

There were two empty chairs to the left of me, one to the right. I thought about moving so the family could sit together, but they shuffled into seats before I had the chance. And they picked up magazines and started reading. We sat in that same awkward silence in elevators, when you are in a close space with people you don’t know. You don’t know how much time you have, so you don’t know whether to start a conversation or not.

After a minute or two, the father noticed a small Santa figure standing against the wall in front of him. He pointed to it, and said to his wife quietly, “Look, Santa is crooked!”

He was right. Santa was slouching.

“He needs the doctor!” the father said.

That made me laugh.

Santa was standing under a sign that said “Alpine Chiropractic Wishes You Happy Holiday’s!”

Ugh. I wanted to tell the receptionist that their apostrophe was in the wrong place. I never would, though. Plus, the sign said “Coffee and Cookies in the Back!” which was sweet.

“Kat, do you know they have spray for toenail fungus?” the dad suddenly announced—across his wife’s and my laps—to his daughter.

Kat didn’t appear to hear him. “Huh, Dad?” She flipped a page in People.

“They have stuff for toenail fungus. You just spray it on!”

“Dad, I have psoriasis,” Kat said, shaking her head, and turning another magazine page.

Yep, Jublia won’t do much for psoriasis.

By then, I was wishing I had moved. Those were personal matters, toenail fungus and psoriasis.

Moments like this always make me think of Dar Williams’ song “Iowa”:

But way back where I come from we never mean to bother
We don’t like to make our passions other peoples concern
And we walk in the world of safe people
And at night we walk into our houses and burn

That same week, on my way to Hannaford, there was that guy standing next to his Dodge Ram on a back road during the snowstorm, with his truck off in the ditch, its grill splintering a tree. He was standing by the side smoking a cigarette. What was his story? Did he have someone to call? He seemed so relaxed for having just hit a tree.

Or what about that young couple wearing pajama pants and Chucks into the store, arguing on their way in? Did they decide it would be fun to wear their pajamas to the market? Or did they not talk about their clothing at all, and just went, and somewhere along the way, an old argument began?

There was a three-year-old boy standing in the bakery, holding a tiny white cupcake with bites missing, his little fist shaking and cries rising in his chest. He was so angry about something, and his mother was trying to console him.

At the chiropractor’s, Lottie came out from behind the counter and handed the family a cardboard box.

“What’s this?” the father said, awkwardly trying to peer inside.

“It’s homemade cream puffs and chocolate sauce! When you go to serve them, put vanilla ice cream inside and the sauce on top.”

Wow. They really were regulars.

And I’ve never found a way to say I love you
But if the chance came by, oh I, I would

“When you leave here, make sure you refrigerate the sauce,” Lottie said.

After grateful thanks and much mumbled appreciation, they put the box on the floor and Lottie went back behind the counter. This was kind of nice, hanging out with this family.

Mom then said to the daughter, “Kat, if you guys come for Christmas, we will have to have these!”

And Kat looked up. She said, “That’s what I was thinking too, Mom.”

Sunday
Oct182015

The Moms Had to Stage an Intervention

It’s a relief being connected to other moms who have sent a child or two off to college.

Only these moms understand how difficult it is to let your little kid—who you actually gave birth to and then protected for 18 years—go away, on their own, to navigate the freedoms and responsibilities of being in college.

It’s terrifying.

It may almost be as scary for us as it is for them.

Fortunately, I am in cahoots with one of these moms—my son D.’s college roommate’s. We met on move-in day at football camp, as her son is also a player—and much to our boys’ delight, we are completely available at no charge to assist with their college lives as much as needed.

At least they like the food-stocking and money part.

We fill their room with cases of Gatorade and water (which at this rate of consumption seems to be hydrating the entire team). We bring them snacks such as big jars of peanut butter, multiple kinds of granola bars, and bags of Swedish Fish. But most importantly, we keep each other informed when things appear to go awry in that 12 x 19-square-foot space.

This week, the other mom let me know that she had told the boys through Facetime that we were going to be staging an intervention in their room this very weekend. We were coming up for their football game Saturday and we would be there to help them clean.

Yay! I was excited. It just feels good to help your kid. Especially with something that he isn’t really interested in doing for himself.

The photo she sent me of my son’s side of the room was disconcerting—especially to my type-A-organizer-mother self. The last time I had been in their room, I offered to help put my son’s stuff away (such his big pile of clean clothes on the floor), but he just said, “No, Mom, I got it,” and started walking toward the door.

His friend from down the hall said, “D., you should let your mom help you. She just wants to spend more time with you.”

And I said, “Yeah”! And nudged D., and gave him a pointed stare.

Still, he said, “I got this, Mom,” and gave me a quick hug, and ushered me out.

So I was looking forward to this intervention. It had been several weeks coming—I had received a few updates about the condition of the room and it didn’t sound like things were on the upswing. And when I saw the photo of his side of the room this week, I was even more concerned.

I messaged back to the other mom, “What happened to D.’s bed?”

That was the first thing I noticed—his mattress was on the floor. So not only was his stuff thrown everywhere, but that honking adjustable steel contraption that was there when he moved in two months ago, on which we placed his mattress and 4-inch memory foam topper, was now suspiciously missing.

It turns out that in the process of trying to adjust the height of his bed, D’s bed had broken. This had happened about two weeks before. And so he threw it away.

“WHAT?” I texted him as soon as he was out of class, as loud as I could possibly text. “You threw it AWAY?”

“Mom, I didn’t have room for it in my room,” he said.

I then had to educate him via text—using lots of exclamation points and capital letters—about the pitfalls and financial consequences of throwing away university property. Especially when one does that without informing Res Life or the RA that is down the hall (who is getting a significant discount on tuition to be available for such moments). I was horrified.

“You need to go to Res Life RIGHT NOW and tell them what happened and make sure they aren’t going to charge you for the bed and by the way, ask them to get you a new bed too.”

“Okay, Mom,” he wrote.

And so he did. Eventually. Two days later. And reportedly, a new bed is on the way. He tells me that they are not going to charge him for it, but I will wait and see what the spring semester bill looks like—I am just waiting for a ridiculolus charge to show up with “1 - Misc. Dorm Room Furniture” next to it.

Through all this, I had to remind myself that he does, in fact, still have an 18-year-old boy brain. It now has a few new synapses connected that weren’t connected before. And he really is navigating things very well. He is enjoying college, has made new friends, is busting his butt in football, and he’s happy.

He also did let me help him clean his side of the room this weekend. He even asked me to help him fold the clothes in his drawers. And I helped him organize his snacks, his toiletries, hang up the six coats and seven hats he had brought, and everything else that was a bit askance.

And the boys even went out to dinner with us crazy moms afterwards. It was like Nirvana for me, getting to sit next to D. in Bill’s Pizza. It just felt good to share a sub with my kid, and to know that if nothing else, at least his room was clean.

Monday
Oct122015

To My Only Child As You Come Home from College

There I was, going merrily along, minding my own business: work, tennis, play, house, work, friends, tennis, work, sometimes almost forgetting there was a young man out there who was still tied to me with an invisible, translucent cord.

There you were, happily enjoying your first semester away at college: football, classes, freedom, football, new friends, partying, football, hopefully some more classes.

And then you came home for a long weekend.

I was so excited for you to come home—it had been two months. I missed you so much—I wanted to hear more about your teachers, your new friends, what college football is really like. I wanted to know more than I was able to learn in our typical 4.6 minute phone calls or via random text.

But your high school friends, who were also home for the weekend, were equally excited to see you. So your three days suddenly became jam packed with Chili’s, Netflix, visits to the corn maze, trips to Savers, and hanging out at your old stomping grounds (note: no mothers allowed).

Most of the weekend, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had a lot of free time—I could have caught up at work, dug more into books I am reading, organized my summer clothes. But I couldn’t manage to do anything.

Welcome to Weekend Funk.

I wandered restlessly around the house, around the yard. Watched autumn leaves fall from the trees and thought about death. Thought about all the things I could be doing to be more productive. I ate donut holes, and Reese’s peanut butter footballs, both of which were most definitely not part of the 21-day eating detox I just finished.

I took a nap for two hours on Sunday afternoon—I think in the end, I simply exhausted myself. I had just gotten used to you not being here, and then suddenly, there you were. Your sarcastic wit, your big hugs when I could steal one, your clean clothes all over your bedroom floor.

You were home for dinner on Sunday night, because I insisted. “We’ll have a family dinner!” I said, excited.

And you were here, for about 45 minutes, ate a few ribs, and barely any vegetables, like usual. And then there you went, back out.

But before you left, over dinner, I asked what it was like to be home.

“Weird,” you said.

“Are you excited to go back?”

“Not really,” you said.

Clearly, you were having too much fun in your weekend off with friends. In reality, I know you love college, and once all your friends head back to school, you’ll all get back into it. The first trip home is always hard. It feels so familiar, so much like home.

But you’ll get back into your new routine, just like I will.

I will, won’t I?

Just so you know, I primed you two 12-packs of Annie’s Mac N Cheese Microwaveable Cheese Cups. They aren’t the same as Menga’s rigatoni and sharp cheddar that you love, but they’ll do. They’ll be there Wednesday.

And I’ll make you some pumpkin muffins too, for all those 8:00 mornings when you don’t have time to eat before class. I also have a secret bag of Resee’s Football eggs to send with you (which only has a handful missing).

And, my new discovery, a bottle of Downy Wrinkle Erase.  

What else can I give you?

You already have my heart. 

Sunday
Aug232015

To My Only Child As You Head off to College

I bought snacks for your dorm room. I know there will be a time when you want something to eat and the dining hall will be closed.

They are from Costco, in as large-numbered-count boxes as I could find.

You said, “Why do I need snacks? There are dining halls!”

But I bought them anyway. When you have been feeding a little person for 18 years, it’s very hard to stop.

Granola bars in three flavors in case you miss breakfast, pretzel thins because I know you like them, 40 bags of microwave popcorn, peanut M&Ms in a jar.

Packing them up was like helping you make that fruit loop necklace when we went to Sea World. Menga made that for you—she knew it would give you something to eat, and something to do.

You always needed something constructive to do—you and your creative imagination. You would throw pillows on the floor and tell me to follow you, jumping from one to another, to avoid the sharks swimming on the rug. You’d make me put on goalie pads so you could shoot real pucks on me when you were pretending to play for the Maple Leafs (you once insisted I write “Toronto Made-Up Leaves” on the front of a white t-shirt and your name on the back—you thought that was what they were called).

When we went out to play catch, you would set up bases with whatever sticks or markers you could find. You always insisted that when one of us had a hit, we had to run the bases and try to tag each other out. Some late Sunday afternoons, I’d say, “I’m tired, I just want to pitch or hit,” and I’d be carefully measuring the minutes that I could spend playing before getting back to my work inside.

Many times, you’d just give me a bye. But you always ran the bases.

Now that you’re gone, I’d give my right arm to run those bases with you.

Just before you left, I told you about my friend who posted recently on Facebook, “Everyone, please tell Ben to call his mother. I’ve been trying to reach you since the weekend and apparently your phone is dead.”

I made a point to tell you that story, and said, “Please don’t do that to me. That will make me crazy. If you do that, I’ll try everything—Twitter, Facebook—are you on Snapchat?”

“No,” you said.

I said, “Well, I’ll use Snapchat too.”

That was when you told me very simply, laughing, that you would just shut off your phone.

Don’t you dare.

You need to understand how biologically impossible this seems to me: To take care of a little human being for 18 years and suddenly one day let him go out into the world on his own. It feels inhumane. And for me, it’s even more difficult because you and I were on our own for almost ten years. It was you and me against the world—always.

Who’s going to be my little person there with me against the world now? Who is going to remind me that it’s supposed to be fun? That life is not all about responsibility, that sometimes it’s about living in the brilliant moment?

Halfway through the summer, I asked you, “So what are you thinking about going off to college? Are you excited? Nervous? Worried?”

And you said, shrugging your shoulders, “Honestly, Mom, I’m not thinking about it yet. I generally just think about today, or tomorrow.”

That made me laugh. That is so your personality. And it was so true. You were probably just thinking about your next shift at work, or when you were going to the beach, or out with friends. You have always been present in the moment, the hour, the day. You don’t even think about the week, or the month. That’s what makes you such a happy-go-lucky person. You’re like your dad that way. That’s really all that you need.

But your living in the moment has always been a bit stressful to me. I am a planner, the organizer. I live in the next week/two/month generally. (Except in moments like this when I am thinking about where we were 14 years ago—that happens too).

But I know it’s appropriate to let you find your own way. It’s developmentally appropriate—not just for you, but for both of us.

Whenever I tried to give you advice or suggestions over the last few months, such as when you should get that physical scheduled, or when you should skip breakfast (never), or how exactly to pack your clothes for college, you’d say, “Mom, I got this.”

Mom, I got this.

I know you got this.

It’s just hard for me to let you go.

But no matter what, you need to know that even though you aren’t here with me anymore, I am with you.

I still got you. I’ve got your back. I always will.

Friday
Jul172015

This Is My Happy Place

When I told a few friends and colleagues last week that I was heading off on vacation, they asked, “Great! Where are you going? Anywhere fun?”

At that point, I would light up, and exclaim, “Yes! I am headed off to Cape Cod for a week-long poetry workshop!”

The friends would then frown, and consider my comment for a brief moment—before wondering if I should be committed somewhere. They’d look at me and say, “Really? You’re going to the Cape and not going to the beach or on a whale watch? And by the way, since when is studying poetry an actual vacation?”

Keep in mind that at that moment, those friends were having flashbacks of high school literature classes trying to understand The Odyssey, remembering which Shakespearean character said, “Out, damn’d spot!” and the difference between iambic pentameter and a dactyl.

I understand the concern.

Only other closet artists would understand why I would be thrilled for this kind of week away. Having the opportunity to study with an amazing contemporary poet—Rowan Ricardo Phillips—and talk about sound, subject, and the imagination with other poets for three hours a day, five days in a row, was simply a breathtaking concept.

We also got to spend many of our off hours actually writing so we could share a new poem each day with the class.

(It’s probably worth nothing that one of the poems we had to write was a sestina, which is a 39-line poem with 10 syllables in each line. We also had to end each line with one of six words that repeat in a specific pattern. And not only did we have to write in that form, but we had to look with the picture on our driver’s license, and write the poem from that person’s point of view, however bad that photo may be.)

That’s where the insane part came into play.

It was poetry boot camp—simply awesome.

As we moved through the week, I found that the lessons that Rowan shared for writing poetry are equally apropos in life. For example, he gave us four rules to follow when we worked on our sestina:

1) Commit—to writing the sestina (or to anything you do). Don’t give up or bag out early on.

2) Don’t Panic—when you find that it’s really hard partway through, don’t give up. Go for it.

3) Don’t Overcommit—if you find yourself struggling, going in a direction that isn’t working, don’t be afraid to start over.

4) Finally, Overcommit—in the end, give it your absolute best. Let ’er rip.

This advice was wise. I was determined to write this sestina on Wednesday night (Rule #1)—I had never written one before. But once I had written two and a half of the six necessary stanzas after a few hours, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I felt stifled by the direction my poem was going and was getting crankier by the minute (Rule #2).

Fortunately, Rowan had reminded us that this work is all about putting our poetic imagination under pressure. That’s part of being a poet. So I started over (Rule #3).

In the end, we all wrote our sestinas (Rule #4). And they were really good. Our tiny group of seven poets was amazed that we all produced great work in just five days.

Of course, everyone knows that poets, like painters, are a little crazy. There are plenty of stories of poets going off the deep end. And do also know that the sestina was invented by Arnaut Daniel, a troubadour from 12th century Provence. The form was later refined by Dante, who also wrote “Inferno” (see the connection? The hell thing?).

The form has evolved even since then, and wow, sestinas can be really cool! We did have some other stretch assignments—we wrote an ekphrastic poem, a poem that is in response to another work of art. One afternoon, we walked the local galleries in Ptown and each found a piece of artwork we really liked, and then wrote a poem in response to it.*

Rowan reminded us that just like a lot of creative endeavors in process, poetry is a plastic art—each line needs to be put through a stress test. The line, and the poem, needs to be bumped to see what falls off. What’s left will hopefully be a damn good poem. It’s plastic…until it’s not.

I guess that’s just like life, just like being human, really. And I’m just a tiny bit more in alignment with who I am this week, coming out of this happy place in Ptown.

*I chose a sculpture for my Ekphrasis—check out “People Could Fly” by Walter Horak.

Saturday
Jun132015

This Summer's Gonna Hurt Like a Mother

I heard the catchy refrain to this new Maroon 5 song one day on the radio.

The song immediately made me think about my son D., and what it feels like to be the mother of an only child when said child is preparing to go off to college. I have been holding my breath since September anticipating the day.

“This summer’s gonna hurt like a mother, uh huh…”

I thought it was a great song, even though the lyrics have nothing to do with parenting teenagers. So I downloaded the song on Spotify. But was I surprised to learn—the second time I listened to it—that the lyrics are actually “This summer’s gonna hurt like a mother#*%.”

By accident I had downloaded the explicit version.

I didn’t even know there was an explicit version! Other than one Eminem song, I don’t have any explicit songs in my collection. I have this argument with D. all the time, when I am unfortunate enough to catch a phrase or two from some of the music he listens to. In these moments, I say something like, “A good musician…or any good writer….does not need to use swear words to make a point. Swear words are a lazy way to communicate emotion. It’s much harder to communicate a feeling using other language.”

He disagrees, and happily returns to his playlists and I return to mine. (When D. turned 17, he asked if he could start listening to explicit music, and in a moment of utter weakness and exhaustion from 17 years of raising a kid with his own strong opinions, I agreed.)

So here I am—I have made it through his high school graduation, and now I’m preparing for the summer to hurt like a mother#*%.  One of my friends whose only child daughter went off to college last fall told me, “You know, at first, it was like someone died.” He talked about how walking by her empty room was downright depressing, eerie almost.

Maybe the explicit version of that song is more apropos after all.

Or at least it will be on August 14, the day D. will be checking into his dorm.

August 14 is the day before my birthday (“I know,” D. said, when my eyes got really wide when I learned he had to move in at school that day. What? Miss the opportunity for me to have to remind him to shower his mother with love and gifts on her birthday? “Sorry about that,” was all he said.)  

This preparing D. and me for college is no small feat. But as I was talking to a friend about it recently, it suddenly occurred to me that I don’t have to be completely traumatized by his departure. It will be sad, and the house will never feel the same again, and I’ll try not to text him a million times of day and God forbid, not to call him much at all. But it occurred to me that I could pick up the other end of the stick about this whole thing.

I have read the Tao of Pooh, for heaven’s sake. And Yoga and the Quest for the True Self, and The Relaxation Response and The Alchemist and Awakening the Buddhist Heart. I’ve spent too many hours listening to Abraham-Hicks on audio to focus too much on suffering. I know better.

I can choose a different path. I can spend these couple of months preparing to be excited for him. Sure, I will be sad, and I will miss him a lot. But he is in a great place and is heading off to a new life. He won’t be too far away—I can still see him frequently. I can go to his football games and strain to find his numbered jersey among the 100 guys on the edge of the football field. I can focus instead on how I have raised him well, that I was there just enough but did not feather his nest too perfectly. I can remember that he has always been clear about knowing what he needs and he is good at taking care of himself.

He has skills. He is a good soul. He is resilient.

And above all, I know what a long, strange, wonderful trip he has ahead of him.