Sunday, August 31, 2014

Savor (almost) every moment

Imagine the Air Jordan logo. Now imagine it rotated 90 degrees to the right. That was me standing in front of the blackberry bush, except I wasn’t doing anything with a basketball. I was reaching to pick berries from a cluster on an out-of-the-way branch, bracing myself against the barbs that threatened to disrupt my almost-precarious balance, lest I drop the container of already-picked berries that I held in my other outstretched hand. The sweet smell of the leaves and grasses and marshy foliage reminded me of picking blackberries during my childhood.

None of my boys wanted to go blackberry picking with me because “no offense, mom, but It’s kind of a girl thing,” so after I dropped my younger two off at camp, I hit the berry patch. I was alone with my thoughts. I’d left my phone in the car, so I wasn’t distracted by any of the beeping, jingling or pinging notifications that represented my personal sliver of the 15 petabytes of new information that is created daily, worldwide, according to the presentation I’d just watched.

I remembered the first time I picked blackberries. We had moved from Rhode Island to a new house in Massachusetts during the middle of my 7thgrade year. At first, I hated everything about moving and the new house, but when summer came and the blackberry bush blossomed, my appreciation for the new house budded. My love for baking originated with learning to make blackberry pie, from scratch, all by myself (much to my mother’s chagrin, since it was something she’d hoped to pass on to me). I’d said “No thanks,” and cracked open “The Joy of Cooking,” which since that time, has been my kitchen bible.

Without my phone, things were a lot quieter. I could mostly enjoy those moments in time, without my attention being divided by exponential numbers of noisy bits and bytes. I tried not to worry about what anyone would think if I didn’t answer them right away. The sun shone down on me and the sweet berries that I popped in my mouth almost as often as I dropped them in my container.

Savor every moment, I thought, as I enjoyed another blackberry. This was something people had told me about parenting. “It goes by so fast,” meaning childhood. And I suppose it does. My oldest was at overnight camp for a week. It wasn’t the first time he’s been away from home for that long, but it was the first time he took off with his friends and didn’t look back.

I wondered how my own mom felt when I spent the entire summer after 8th grade in Maine with a friend on her grandmother’s rural 500 acre property – and I do mean rural: the closest post office was in the next town, six miles away; we had no electricity or running water; I don’t even remember if they had a landline phone. Back then I don’t think there was such a thing as answering machines, never mind the idea of carrying a phone around in your pocket 24/7.

I thought about how fleeting my boys’ childhoods are. My middle son just became a teenager. My baby is halfway to 18. Had I been “savoring” enough?

Pffft, I thought as I put a whole handful of blackberries into my mouth. You can’t savor everything. I certainly didn’t appreciate watching countless episodes of “Bob the Builder”; I did not cherish cutting up kid food served on plastic plates, and then eating the leftovers; and I certainly did not relish changing diapers for nearly a decade. When my kids were younger, there were times that I counted down the hours – then minutes – to bedtime.

The buzzing insect circling my head reminded me that there are lot of unsavory things about blackberry picking, too, such as thorns, spiders, bees, and mosquitos (and according to all the friends I’d invited to come with me but had declined, poison ivy, ticks, and bears, however I have yet to encounter any of those). You just have to accept the fact that sometimes you’re going to encounter berries that have bird poop, little white webs, or bug nibbles on the – and be sure to avoid the ones on the low branches because that’s where dogs pee. But overall, berry picking is an awesome thing.

I was more wistful than insulted that my son “disappeared” at camp, because I know that is how it is supposed to be. I’m now at the stage where I’m counting down the minutes until I can go pick my older two up at the movies or a party. They are forging their own paths, like I did with the pie recipe I chose. It wasn’t until years later that we discovered why my crust was the new family favorite – I had picked a completely different recipe than my mom used.

I shoved aside thoughts about my looming meetings and to-dos and the fact that I was completely out of reach. The ongoing digital distraction of TMI these days can be extremely unsavory. The season is so short and the blackberries won’t be here for very long. I quit picking when I figured I’d collected just enough blackberries to make a pie. I remembered when I was a kid the anticipation of the finished pie coming out of the oven, and how hard it was to wait for it to cool before it was cut. And then all too quickly, it would be nothing but a memory.

My oldest will be starting high school this fall, and then it won’t be long before I watch him drive off for the first time in the family car, counting down the minutes until he’s home safe.

 I emerged from the berry patch mostly unscathed (except for a few bug bites and scratches), which is how I hope to emerge from child-rearing (except for a few gray hairs and worry lines).

I emerged from the berry patch mostly unscathed (except for a few bug bites and scratches), which is how I hope to emerge from child-rearing (except for a few gray hairs and worry lines).

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The new frontier

It was silent in the car during most of the 25-minute drive to my son’s out-of-town high school for freshman orientation. He was reading a book that he was supposed to have finished during the summer, “but I don’t really have to have it done until Friday, mom. That’s the first real day of school.” I had told him he’d need to make significant progress on the book or I wouldn’t feel good about letting him go to a pool party that night (with local friends who didn’t start school for another week). I did not repeat the admonition about being unprepared for your first day of high school that I had delivered periodically during the summer – it had become clear to me that there are some lessons he is going to have to learn for himself, regardless of how painful or humbling they might be.

I’d had my “first day of high school” at the parent orientation two evenings prior. It was a little daunting to descend into the gymnasium among hundreds of other people: I only saw one person I recognized (from my volunteer bingo job that started during the summer) even though there are a few other kids from our town attending this school. To top it off, as I pushed my sunglasses to the top of my head, I realized I had left my regular glasses in the car so I really couldn’t see the “big picture.” I picked up a packet of information and wandered around from table to table set up behind the sea of folding chairs and discovered that there were representatives on hand to talk about carpooling, volunteering, and lunch accounts. Soon, we were ushered to the seats to hear presentations from various school representatives that loosely correlated with the pages of forms we’d been given. I imagined it would probably be the same for my son but decided I wouldn’t interrupt his reading to give him any sort of pep talks about “just showing up,” which is how I had encouraged myself the other night.

Frowning, I poked at the GPS and griped, “I don’t know why this thing can’t find any satellites today!” as I attempted to re-set our destination. It’s not like I didn’t know where we were going, I have just become accustomed to the reassuring arrival time updates and equanimous and non-judgmental way the GPS guides me, which is kind of what I needed given how tight my stomach was and how shallowly I was breathing.

At the stop light just before the school I pulled my son close and kissed the top of his head. He laughed. I told him, “I don’t want to embarrass you in front of anyone,” since he has admitted to me that sometimes I do, in fact, embarrass him, “like that time you came up and talked to me on the bench (before a baseball game) about my snack,” but I tend to think my presence at any time in any place might soon be unwelcome.

We pulled up alongside the school and were directed to stop beyond the point where the photographer was taking quasi-candid pictures of kids getting out of their cars. “Good, I didn’t want my picture taken anyway!” And of course I knew that were taken from behind or included my kids hiding their faces, which is why I didn’t even make an attempt, consoling myself with the fact that he’d be having his school picture taken that day anyway. I seemed to be the only one who thought this milestone was significant; my son was still lamenting that his hometown friends (and siblings) didn’t start school for another week.

“Bye honey. I hope you have a great day. I love you.”

“I love you, too, Mom.”

And then he turned around and disappeared into the throng of other freshmen steaming into the gymnasium.

Periodically during the day I imagined what he might be doing. Would there be people he knew in any of his classes? What was for lunch? Was he going to be sorry he didn’t finish that book? Is it time to go pick him up yet?

At 2:30 he texted me. “Where R U?”

“In the parking lot towards the baseball field.” (I had remained in the car in order to be as invisible as possible).

“I don’t C U.”

“I’ll get out and stand behind the car.”

When he saw me he gave an almost-undetectable wave.

I noticed that he, too, had been given and information packet. As he approached the car he loosened his tie and freed the top button of his shirt.

“How was it?” I asked as we both got into the car.

He leaned back in the passenger seat, sighed, and announced, “Mom, my childhood is over.”

Monday, August 18, 2014

Coffee breath

I don't think my dog liked my coffee breath this morning...or maybe he just didn't like me breathing on him, or my hair tickling his nose. That is why he moved his paw over his nose after I plopped down next to him on the bed. 

He didn't want to get up this morning (neither did I, really. I had checked my work email yesterday and knew what was in store after being out of the office for a week.)

I laughed at the idea that I offended him. He is usually the stinky offensive "dirty dog." He digs, roots in mud puddles, rolls around in things, and sticks his nose in all sorts of disgusting places. I don't let him lick me and he's supposed to stay on "the dog spot" on the bed (which he usually does not.) He just had a bath at the doggie hotel during his vacation so his whites are whiter than usual, but to me, he still has dog breath.

To each his own, I thought. It reminded me of a conversation I had with my youngest at an amusement park. We brought one of his friends who doesn't like all the same kinds of rides that my son does. I told him he needed to pick the rides that they both like and next time invite a friend who wants to go on all the upside-down rides.

"The world would be pretty boring if everyone was the same," I told him. "You'd all be waiting in the same lines for the same things. They'd probably run out of slushies and cotton candy. There would be too much competition for the same things."

I like coffee, my dog doesn't. He likes disgusting, smelly things, I don't. To each his own.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The next right thing

Yesterday I was talking with someone about facebook and my love-hate relationship with it. She's not on facebook and had the impression that it was just a bunch of people's opinions. I told her, "Oh, no -- there's news, too..." (then I realized that is ridiculous because "news" is oftentimes opinionated, but for the purpose of that conversation, I didn't go there.) I told her I follow newspapers and magazines and company websites. She told me her daughter uses facebook as a private community just for her friends. I started to tell her that purpose was achievable by adjusting your settings, but stopped. It was irrelevant.

I imagined what it would be like if I was not on facebook. Would I read more books, magazines, newspapers? Would I send private messages another way? I have one good friend who I can only communicate with on facebook messenger or by calling (but her voicemail is always full). Our phones don't talk to each other any more since I switched to Android and she upgraded to whatever iOS is current now.

I thought about what if I just used my "author" page and simplified things? I used to have two twitter accounts (work and personal) and now I have one (personal). I still don't use it (unless you count the things that post there automatically from instagram).

This morning I took a look at my author page and realized (that I wanted to change the profile pic and) that someone had sent me a message more than a month ago about contributing to their teens and tweens website. After I got over my initial embarrassment about not noticing the message until now, I felt a spark of inspiration about the potential for a new niche, new meaning and purpose.

That's my good news for this morning and I just finished my cup of coffee (not as big as in the pic above) so now it's time to go to...guess!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Good news

I have been toying with the idea of writing a "good news" blog (and limiting my facebook activity). I guess that's two ideas...that go hand in hand, since I publish my blog to facebook.

The thing about facebook is, there is a lot of negative stuff that shows up in my newsfeed. I don't know why. I don't "like" negative stuff. But I do like things like pitbulls, so I wind up getting a lot of news about pitbulls, which is often bad. For example. I guess the algorithm facebook uses to serve up content is not discerning enough. I am sick of filling my brain with negativity.

The other thing is, my oldest son just joined facebook. So, I really can't be posting the kind of stuff I usually do, which is mostly pictures of my kids. In fact, I feel like it might be time to go and hide my previous posts all the way back to the beginning because I do not want to embarrass him (with "cute" pics from when he and his brothers were in elementary school.)

I know I am supposed to monitor all my kids' social media activity but I am kind of tapped out with Instagram. I can't imagine adding facebook, twitter, and so on. I can barely deal with all the tech support that goes on in this house (with my boys' laptops, ipods, kindles, cell phones, etc.), yet I have heard of people who monitor their kids' every app purchase and text or share an email in box/smartphone so that all members of the family get the same messages. I felt like my privacy had been violated when I realized other family members could read messages I had sent to the mom. I can't even bear to listen to the ding-ding, ding-ding-ding of their devices when a text or other notification arrives, as it is just so frequent -- I can't imagine finding time to actually read the messages.

So, good news only. And I have to remind myself...

...which I don't, really. Otherwise we'll be late for baseball.

But no one will see it

I set up the nativity in the back yard again this year. In the past it has been out front near the fire hydrant that is on our property, and...