I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Category: Parenting

Don’t Guzzle Your Beer

And Other Thoughts 

My son was born thirsty. He would nurse voraciously, gulping, urgently, as if he could not fill up fast enough. He brought this habit to his bottle, to his sippy cup, to his big-boy cup, and ultimately to the gallon of juice in the refrigerator at all times. I felt compelled to tell him, at the age of 7, that he will need to learn to sip alcohol, sloooowly, to savor the taste. I was terrified of the horror stories of 18-year-olds going off to college and guzzling their beer or throwing back shots until they die of alcohol poisoning. Okay, so it was more than 10 years away, but I figured it was never too soon to discuss.

Here we are.

We’ve made the checklists. We’ve got the stuff from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. You know, the shower caddy and shower shoes, new bedding (Extra Long Twin for those weirdly long and narrow dorm beds), hangers, a surge protector, a desk lamp, an umbrella, and myriad other supplies for living away from home. We’ve gone through his old toys and games and art projects. Keeping what has sentimental value (some of the sweet Lego figures he played with in the bath) and giving away the games he never opened. (They seemed like a good idea at the time.) And laundry. We’ve done a ton of laundry. He doesn’t mind doing laundry, so I think he’ll have clean clothes in college. Wrinkled but clean. We’ll see.

Now we wait.

Some of his friends have left already. Some don’t leave for a while. He leaves later this week. We’re sort of ready. (Can you ever be ready?) Kind of eager to get the emotion behind us. Kind of dreading it. Will he like his roommate? Will he like his classes? Will he be homesick? Will he be okay? Will he be happy?

He’s a loyal friend. He’s had a few close friends his whole life. It took him a while to develop and nurture these friendships. He is sad to leave them. He wonders how these friendships will evolve when they are far flung across the country. I try to reassure him that his closest friends will remain close. I am still connected with several of my friends from high school. They were crucially important people to me at a time when we were becoming ourselves. I love them deeply.

I think of all the things I want to say to him. Usually in the middle of the night. I try to nag less and be present more. I try to be near by in case he wants me. I try to tell him my middle-of-the-night ruminations during the few moments when he will allow me into his room, into his space. Stuff like:

  • You don’t have to have it all figured out. Try new things. You can change your mind.
  • Rent your textbooks. Don’t buy them.
  • When I look at you, it’s because I love you, not because I am judging you.
  • Take your vitamins.
  • You can tell me anything. I know you think you can’t, but you can.
  • Go to all the extra help sessions and office hours with your professors.
  • You will make new friends.
  • Take advantage of the city. Explore!
  • You have a deep and loving heart. It is my favorite thing about you. You are a good human being.
  • Choose your professors carefully. The teacher is more important than the class topic.
  • Use the credit card for necessities. Use your own money for entertainment.
  • I am sorry for all the times I disappointed you. Like that Friday night when I was the one who had a tantrum because you didn’t do what I wanted you to do.
  • Be you.

I am proud of you. I will miss you. (More than you know.) I love you.

Oh, and don’t guzzle your beer.

Sacred Privilege

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Sacred Duty

This is me. At around 7:45 on the morning of November 8th. Exhilarated! I was so thrilled to have voted for Hillary Clinton, the woman I was so sure was going to be President that I insisted on documenting the historic event with a photo. I am wearing my most patriotic Clinton-esque red pantsuit jacket.

Quaint, eh? About as quaint as the Clinton-Kaine pin my daughter gave me to commemorate the occasion. I carry it around as a talisman, but I worry that it’s just a kitschy souvenir.

My hand is on my heart – pledging allegiance – and showing off the ring I am wearing. My mother’s ring. She was with me that day.

It is from my mother that I got my political grounding.

My mother was a Democrat. On Election Day, she would take me with her into the voting booth and show me how it worked. I felt very grown up, very excited, and very proud. It was a sacred privilege, voting.

My mother was the first feminist I knew. She was a charter subscriber to Ms. Magazine. Literally. She got every issue of the magazine as long as it existed. It’s one of many many magazines that I grew up with in a household where words mattered. No wonder I made a career in magazines.

My mother believed that women were equal to men (actually, I think she believed that women were better than men) and that I could be anything. ANYTHING! She encouraged me to go to Bryn Mawr College so that I would be with other intelligent and serious women who wanted to make a difference. We women wanted to matter. I wanted to matter. To make a difference. To contribute something important to the world.

Sometimes I feel like Hillary must feel. Hard-working, over-prepared, focused on the details, only to be bested by some guy who shoots from the hip. Haven’t we women all been there? When will it stop?

This election was the first election my mother was not alive and did not vote. It seemed fitting that it was the first election in which my daughter could and did vote. Continuing the democratic lineage. Excited and proud.

It is a sacred privilege, voting. Have we forgotten how fortunate we are to live in a democracy? Did we take voting for granted? Our vote does matter, doesn’t it?

Doesn’t it?

The shock that such a selfish and cavalier man could beat such an experienced and intelligent woman has left me with no words.

In the five weeks since, I have reflected on how I want to handle this mind-boggling reality. I alternate between outrage, fear, disbelief, and attempts at patience and optimism. A Democrat, like my mom, I tend to be pragmatic and centrist, always a diplomat, never particularly active. Careful to try to understand both sides and all points of view. Too conflict avoidant to be provocative.

When I am optimistic, I wonder if the outcome of this election is just what we needed to shake us all up. To create a constructive political movement that will lead to positive change.

The week of the election, the Dalai Lama appeared in my dream. He counseled me to distinguish between being concerned and being caring. It’s all about caring, he told me.

Wise words, don’t you think? Being concerned is intellectual and kind of negative and judgmental. Being caring is active and personal and hands on. Caring is positive. I think of that every day. How can I be positive, constructive and caring in an impactful way? What kind of example do I want to set for my children? What political legacy will I leave them?

For now, I have decided to choose and focus on a few issues that are meaningful to me and that honor my mother and her political legacy to me.

  • Women’s Rights. Particularly reproductive freedom. I am Pro Choice.
  • Freedom of the Press. I never thought I would feel the need to fight for the First Amendment.
  • The Environment. After all, if we destroy our world, then it doesn’t really matter who is President, does it?

I don’t quite know all the ways I will act to support these issues. I am not used to feeling that it is imperative that I act. I do know that I will keep caring, peace, and kindness top of mind – like the Dalai Lama.

And, I will not take our democracy for granted. Believing in democracy is not quaint. Voting is a sacred privilege. It is our sacred duty to protect our democracy, our right to vote.

The Mirror

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Homework

I am in the middle of a yoga training with Colleen Saidman Yee. She has designed thought-full and specific sequences of poses to enhance or mitigate significant emotions and life transitions. All with a goal of achieving peace and confidence in ourselves, in order to be able to say: I Am Enough.

Our assignment this week, among other things, was to look in the mirror, see ourselves, our souls, and say I Love You. When I looked in the mirror, I felt so silly. Who says that?

Why not? Why don’t we give ourselves permission to love ourselves?

It brings up a long buried memory. I am at the wedding of our neighbor. My first wedding. I am about 8, perhaps. I am wearing a fancy dress and my mother did my hair in her favorite way, pulled back into a top-knot. I feel excited and grown up. At the wedding we are chit-chatting with another neighbor who remarks how pretty I look. Feeling confident and pleased, I respond, “I know!” My parents are embarrassed and scold me. One should be modest and humble, not braggy and conceited. The neighbor smiles indulgently and defends me. But the damage is done. A lifelong struggle with how to be in this world begins. Pretty? Smart? Assertive? Confident? Bossy? Slutty? Ambitious? Bitchy? NICE?

It is more socially acceptable to commiserate: I am so busy. I am so tired. I have so many problems. Or to be self-deprecating: I’m too heavy. I’m too thin. I’m too old. I hate my hair. When was the last time someone asked you “How are you?” and you answered: “I am beautiful, healthy, and strong. I like my job. My kids amaze me. My husband loves me.” Well, dammit, that’s how I am. I’m tired of complaining.

Don’t get me wrong. I could complain! My beauty is one of a middle-aged woman now. My wrinkles, age-spots, thinning eyebrows, and jowls (wtf?) shock me. SHOCK! I am not passionate about my job, but it’s interesting. I wish I had more time for yoga, both practicing and teaching. I’ve been hurt. Badly. A lot. I worry about everything. But… I am who I am and I am enough.

What is beauty anyway? We women are encouraged to meet an impossible external standard. Tall, thin, fit, young. Those of us who come close work very hard to get closer to the standard and feel like failures when we don’t. Those of us who don’t come close work very hard to get closer to the standard and feel like failures when we don’t. Or, we give up. As we get older, perhaps we find more peace with who we are and how we look, but our fading looks are a bittersweet reminder of the fleeting impermanence of youth and of life.

We look in the mirror and see our soul shining through our eyes. The same soul from 50 years ago, from 40 years ago, from 30 years ago, from 20 years ago, from 10 years ago. Real beauty is self-acceptance. Self-confidence. Pride. No more wishing to be someone else. No more wishing to be richer, thinner, smarter, nicer, more successful, more popular, more badass, more happy. We are enough.

Besides, it’s not about me anymore. I want my daughter to be happy and to love herself and to know – really know – her value. If I can’t model that kind of love and confidence for me, what makes me think she can do it for her? If my love for myself is a bit tentative and embarrassed and filled with buts and what-if’s, my love for her is fierce.

Dear girl, you are enough.

The Pause

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Before What Is Next

Well. Here we are. Already. August. End of Summer. End of his childhood. The pause after the exhale before the inhale. Before September, the new school year. 12th grade. Before he begins whatever he will be beginning a year from now. Because we don’t know.

Our vacation this summer was a quiet week in Vermont, just the three of us. I missed my daughter, but it felt important to have this time with him. It was sweet to be away from our routine and entwined together, synchronizing our lives to be focused on each other, if only for the week. We listened to music together, impressed that he had such eclectic taste and appreciation for “our” music of the 1970’s. (Thank you, Guardians of the Galaxy.) We adventured together, zip lining down Mt Mansfield and rock climbing a wall. We walked in the woods, read by the pool, and found restaurants with wings for him, pasta for my husband, and vegetables for me. It was a delicious, restorative break, nothing fancy, and I am trying not to be too sad that it is over.

17 years. Over.

I stare at him. Often. He hates it. He thinks I am judging or noticing something he wished I wouldn’t notice. He is self-conscious. Embarrassed. My gaze is really more about wanting to connect. Wanting him to know, to really know deep down in his soul, that I love him and want him to be happy and to know that he is enough just as he is. I want him to know that I am sorry for all the times I do judge and nag and wish for something to be other than it is.

I spend a lot of time judging and nagging and wishing for something to be other than it is. Like the end of August. The end of summer, the end of vacation, the end of childhood. I don’t want it to be over! Hell, I’m just figuring out how to do it … and it’s over?

So. Instead of clinging and resisting, I am trying – trying! – to be patient with the pause. Open to possibility. Open to change. With not knowing what is next. With not rushing to the inhale, but fully and completely exhaling all the air out and pausing. Appreciating the breath. Appreciating the boy who is becoming a man. Gazing at his graceful shape, searching for eye contact with his soul that is embarrassed to be seen. Trying not to be frantic about the college application process. Trying not to grieve for the time that is gone. Trying not to regret all that I could have done differently. Trying not to regret that I’m not a different mother, but to accept that I am the mother I am. Just as he is enough, I am enough.

We are here. Abiding in the pause. Open to what is next. Because we don’t know. Now is enough. We are enough.

What Is Your Dharma?

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Sacred Purpose

“What if you don’t know your dharma?” I whispered. Urgently.

Without hesitation Jill answered that my dharma was to be a mom.

What?!

Consumed by my own self-centered ambition to achieve something great, or at least be superior at everything I do, I’ve always thought of being a mom as something I did while pursuing achievement of external goals.

But the truth of the matter is that there is one thing that feels profoundly meaningful and elicits intense, tight chest, lump in the throat emotion. My children.

I was sitting in a circle discussing the Baghavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali with a group of yoga teachers. I had shared a strong emotional reaction I had to the Baghavad Gita and its poetic argument for non-attachment. Arjuna is stuck in a state of indecisive and pained inaction as he resists the war he is destined to fight. (Been there. Haven’t you?) He is terrified. Not wanting to kill or be killed. Damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. Krishna counsels him to act. It is his dharma, his sacred purpose, to be a soldier and to fight. He must be the best soldier he can be. He should not be afraid of death, because our souls live on.

I understand loosening the attachment – the grip we have on our stuff. I don’t need all the stuff in my house, in my life. It is not what makes me happy. And there is always someone who has better stuff then me. But after that it gets hard. I care deeply for the ideas I have come to think of as important. Living mindfully, making the world a better place with what you do and how you live.

And when it comes to people, how can we not be attached? Especially to our children. What does it mean to be not attached?

With their birth was born a new and infinite sense of responsibility, fear, and love. Hovering over them as newborns when they slept, making sure I could still sense their breath. Now that they are 16 and 20, the anxiety has evolved.

Are you happy?

Do you feel loved?

Please. Please be safe.

Worrying, worrying, worrying that all my neuroses have rubbed off on my children. (How could they not?) Worrying that my daughter is too much like me, too obedient, too diligent. Is she having enough fun?

Worrying that my son is too much like me, too eager to please.  Will he be decisive and express himself, especially if he is angry or wants to pursue something different from what we have in mind for him?

Worrying that in both cases we’ve controlled their interests and pursuits so tightly that they have lost track of what they feel and want, overshadowed by the need to please Mom and Dad.

But most of all, I am afraid. Afraid of losing them. Please. Please be safe.

If you believe that we are a soul, not a body, and that we continue on in some capacity even after this body dies, then, perhaps, you can lessen your grip on the people you love. Reduce the fear that they will die or that you will die.

But what if you’re not sure?

What does non-attachment mean when it comes to being a mom?

I think it means pausing. Considering whether you are putting your self first or putting them first.

A friend, with still young children, shared how she wakes up very very early so she can have time alone. (I know it well.) Every now and then, a child tiptoes downstairs to be with her. (I know it well.) Shit! There goes my alone time. (I know it well.) Do you send the child back to bed: It’s too early! Go back to bed! Go watch TV! Yes, I’ve done that. Or: Do you welcome the child to join you? Hello Sweetheart! You’re up early! What a wonderful surprise! I love you! What shall we do with our special time together? I have not done that as much as I should have. And when those young children get older, they will stop reaching out to you and you will have as much alone time as you want. (I know it well.)

I think it means being joyful and loving at their presence. Happy to see them.

I think it means helping them be them, not what you want them to be.

I think it means letting go of worrying about whether you are a good mom. I mean, really, how narcissistic is that?

You can’t change what’s already happened in the past and the impact it’s had. After all, it’s made them who they are.

It’s not about regretting the past or worrying about the future. It’s about being present in the present moment for them right here right now. And letting go. Letting them be them.

Photo Credit:  Photo by Cindy Knoke at cindyknoke.com.  Thank you Cindy for your beautiful photos!

We Hurt Everywhere

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May We Go On

I understand anger. Kill them all! I feel anger.

I understand fear. Don’t go there! I feel fear.

I understand despair. There is no hope! I feel despair.

More than anything, I feel despair.

What now? How do we make sense of another 129 people dead? How do we go on?

I’ve gotten used to saying good-bye in the morning, after 9/11, whispering I love you, and wondering. Will I come home tonight? Will you? I no longer have burning ambition for my life. I am okay. What will be will be.

But I am heart-broken for my children. I want them to want to travel. I want them to want to change the world. I want them to want to bring children into the world. But what world is this?

The hatred is palpable. Why do they hate us so much? Why do we hate them so much? Why is there us and them? Aren’t we all human beings living on Earth? The last I read, there is very little DNA difference between us and chimps and virtually no difference between us and them.

If we kill them, they will kill us back and then we will kill them back and then they will kill us back. Is that what it will take? The apocalypse? We will kill ourselves. And our Earth.

More than anything, I feel despair.

I sympathize with the angry warmongers. But I want to believe the spiritual leaders who tell us to pray. For that is all I can do today. Pray for Paris. Pray for us. Pray for them. Pray for love. Pray for peace. Pray for my children and their children and their children and their children. May we go on.

 

“later that night

i held an atlas in my lap

ran my fingers across the whole world

and whispered

where does it hurt?

 

it answered

everywhere

everywhere

everywhere.”

 

― Warsan Shire

 

Image Credit:  World Map in Orange and Blue by Michael Tompsett

Too Old To Dress Up

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Being Someone Else

“Hey Mom, maybe I’ll just wear some vampire teeth. Mr. C said he would be disappointed if I didn’t dress up.”

My son lets this announcement drop so quietly I could have missed it.

At 16, he is self-conscious and wants to fit in and be cool. Even though, secretly, I know he loves Halloween and dressing up. Well, we can’t disappoint Mr. C! Off we go to find some vampire teeth. (And maybe a cape? And maybe some makeup?)

As a little boy, he would dash from house to house shrieking with delight and dressed up (memorably) as Thomas the Train, Indiana Jones, or Captain Jack Sparrow. I would put all kinds of glow-in-the-dark devices on him, terrified of cars, but there was no stopping him. And who could blame him? A child let loose at twilight, allowed to be someone else, with unlimited candy! What could be more thrilling?

But then the shift happens.

“I don’t think I’ll go trick-or-treating. Maybe I’ll just decorate the house this year.” This announcement dropped like a thud about 4 years ago. We got the sticky, stretchy cobweb stuff for your bushes, a giant mechanical spider that drops down in an alarming way, a very cool fog machine, and a few other tacky and extravagant knick knacks that spend 50 weeks a year in the attic.

The following year it was, “I think I’ll just pass out the candy this year.”

Slowly the willingness to put yourself out there with enthusiastic and ridiculous abandon diminishes. I am no help. I used to love dressing up but now am too busy busy busy to be bothered. Halloween becomes another chore. Decorate. Undecorate. Buy candy. Figure out costumes. There was the year I spent all weekend laboriously crafting a handmade costume for my 2 year old daughter, when all she really wanted was to hang out with me. Do we really need to carve a pumpkin? My husband used to create the most fabulous carved pumpkins, inspired by the kids’ drawings. What happened?

Oh and to state the obvious: A holiday devoted to excessive amounts of candy is a nightmare for someone with eating issues. I used to binge on Halloween candy. Enough to make anyone hate candy for the rest of their life. Here is a useful tip for those of you who haven’t mastered this trick. Convince yourself you hate a food item and then it will become easier to avoid eating it. I HATE HALLOWEEN CANDY! Um, that’s not entirely true. I actually like Reese’s Peanut Butter cups and allow myself about 1 on Halloween. Maybe 2.

I digress.

So when that casual nonchalant comment about dressing up this year dropped in my ear so quietly I almost missed it, I jumped at the chance to reignite my son’s childhood love of Halloween as he transitions through murky adolescence. Maybe he will even go trick-or-treating! I can just see them. A few gangly 16-year-olds, towering over their childish counterparts. They probably won’t be wearing elaborate costumes. Their “trick-or-treat” will come from newly deep voices. They may have a bit of scrubble on their faces. No longer children. Not quite men.

Thank you Mr. C for giving my son permission to dress up for Halloween.

Vegan After 6:00

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Brown Rice and Mushrooms with Tomato Salad

(This meal is more delicious than it appears.  I was too hungry to be patient and take a good photo.)

It’s just my son and me tonight.

We went to the college fair tonight. You know, the one with tons of people milling around picking up college brochures. The first time I went with my daughter 3 years ago, we fled after about 20 minutes. Overwhelmed. This time I knew more about what to expect. We picked 5 schools to seek out and then grabbed a bunch of brochures. We ran into some people we knew. We chatted with my son’s guidance counselor. Everyone seemed overwhelmed, especially the first-timers. It’s the beginning. The beginning of the next step. That push-me pull-you stage where your child imagines life without you, with great excitement and a little bit of trepidation. That push-me pull-you stage where you imagine life without your child with great anxiety and a whole lot of hope.

Home, it’s time for a late dinner. My son is happy (happy!) with frozen pizza. Blech! He feels the same about my food choices. Long ago, I swore I wouldn’t make separate meals for different people, but I do.

This is what I ate for dinner tonight. It’s Vegan. No animals were harmed for this meal.

Brown Rice and Mushrooms with Tomato Salad

  • 1/3 cup Brown Rice and 2/3 cup of water (I like Lundberg Brown Rice)
  • 6 oz chopped mushrooms
  • 6 oz sliced tomatoes (I like Campari if I can’t get fresh/local tomatoes)

I started cooking the brown rice before we left for the college fair and then turned off the heat when we left the house. The rice was cooked when we returned home.

Sautee chopped mushrooms in olive oil (I use the pre-sliced mushrooms for convenience.)

Sautee the mushrooms until they are brown and almost crispy.

Mix together the rice and mushrooms.

Add the tomatoes.

Drizzle about 1 Tablespoon olive oil and about 1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar over everything. The vinegar adds tang and brightness to the rice and mushrooms and the rice tastes good with the tomatoes, like a rice salad.

Salt liberally.

Serves 1…unless your 16-year-old son can be convinced to stray from tried and true frozen pizza.

Ginger Died This Week

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(Cooper, blue, on left.  Ginger, yellow, on right.)

Ginger died this week. She was not easy to love. Wild, wary, aggressive. She had a lot of anxiety. I could identify.

We got Ginger to be a companion for Cooper. Sweet, sociable Cooper. Cooper was a baby when we got him and he bonded with us for the year that he was on his own. He hung out on our shoulders and our heads, climbing all over our eyeglasses, happily exploring his surroundings, making our world his.

Cooper was the substitute for the dog that my children really want. My husband stubbornly refuses a dog. We think he is selfish and overly consumed with not wanting a dog peeing on our rugs. The secret truth is that he can’t stand loving and losing a dog. He can’t stand not being able to properly take care of dog. He loved and lost a dog before and doesn’t want to do it again. Who’s to say that he is not the more selfless and compassionate human in our family?

So, we got Cooper. And fell in love. And fear his loss.

All my guilt about not taking good care of the pets I had as a child resurfaced with Cooper. I dream frequently about Cooper, worrying about him, a stand-in for my worries for all the people I love. This time, I was going to be a good pet-owner! I read the books. We got a nice cage, but let him fly freely when we were home. I memorized and avoided the list of poisonous foods and carefully gave him healthy dark leafy greens to supplement his diet. He chirped happily. All the time. A member of the family.

We wondered if he was lonely when we were at work and school. He didn’t seem lonely or unhappy, but all the books said that parakeets are very social and want to flock with other birds. My husband joked that we were his flock. Still. We wondered. After a year, we decided to get another bird as his companion. The store warned us that his attachment would shift from us to the new bird. We wanted what was best for him. We observed the latest crop of baby parakeets. A pretty yellow female caught our eye and we brought her home. Ginger.

The second Cooper saw her he squawked with excitement. He was thrilled! We introduced her slowly and they seemed to attach and bond. But Ginger never bonded with us. She learned to tolerate us, but was never particularly comfortable or happy with us. Cooper gallantly protected her from us and showed her the ropes. She became the alpha female. Demanding her spot, her food, her toy. Cooper just wanted her to be happy, as did we all. She never seemed happy. One pet shop showed me anti-anxiety drops for animals. Really? That seemed extreme.

But it was crystal clear to me that different animals have unique personalities. Unique souls. When I look Cooper in the eye, he looks right back at me, with his soul shining through. More and more I question, how can I eat an animal? Obviously, I am not going to eat Cooper, but don’t all animals have souls? Look an animal in the eye and tell me what you see. I see another being as alive as me.

A week ago, Ginger started making a squeaking noise and we wondered if she was finally beginning to tame and find her voice. She started sidling up against Cooper to be close to him instead of squabbling with him or scolding him away. I wondered if she wanted to mate. It occurred to us that she might be ill, but we were busy busy busy and chose to deny the signs and hope for the best. The day before she died, I woke them to find her huddled so close to Cooper he couldn’t move. The day she died, I offered her Reiki, sensing, like Miss Clavel, that something was not right.

My husband found her and called me. I knew something was wrong. I steeled myself for bad news, praying my children were all right. After imagining the worst, I was almost relieved when he told me it was Ginger. Sad, but accepting. When he told my son, my husband sobbed the news to him. It is my son’s deepest desire to have someone younger and needier than him in the household that he can love and take care of. It is my son’s yearning for a dog, a pet, that led us to Cooper and Ginger. Telling him of her death brings up our own love for our son, our own guilt at not doing better by these little animals we take on (selfishly?), our own mortality.

We are fearful that Cooper might get sick or depressed at Ginger’s loss. So far, he seems healthy and as happy as can be. He has reverted to his human flock, hanging out on our shoulders and chirping happily. Cooper is easy to love.

We buried Ginger in the back yard. A quiet moment. Good-bye Ginger. I am sorry you did not have a happier life. Perhaps it was not meant to be. I hope you are flying freely now.

The Light Is Always On

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For You

Last night, your first night of your second year of college, I tiptoed into your room and turned on the light. That simple habit I have from your teen years, welcoming you home on the nights you are out late.

I like to go into your room and soak you in. I look at the mementos, always surprised and touched at something new (to me) that you found meaningful that someone gave you, indicating what a rich life you have – apart from me. I smell your perfume and lie on your bed looking at the posters on the wall. And bask in my pride and my wonder of you.

A year ago, this quiet, occasional ritual would sometimes make me cry. Missing you and wondering where the time went. Now, well, it still can make me cry, but I am so happy you are happy. Confident in your body and your soul, taking your place in the world with energy and intelligence, so honest, wise and compassionate.

While I do miss you, I now know, a year later, that even though your daily presence is gone, we have new traditions for staying connected and a deeper and more mature relationship.

I suppose that a decade from now I will speak with my younger friends about their children going to college and smile indulgently. The trauma having faded. Just like the joys and crises of having a newborn have faded. How could I have thought that was hard! It is SO much harder to have teens. And cope with dying parents. And watch one’s career ambitions shift toward achieving something less material and accomplishing something more meaningful. And cry with frustration at one’s arthritic hip, knee, shoulder. I am looking forward to the increasing peace and contentment that comes with each decade.

But what does terrify me, right now, is that I can now imagine my final good-bye to you. If the last 20 years have flown by, then surely the next 20 or 30 will go by even faster. I try to be present, but my mind races to the future. Like reading the last page instead of enjoying all the details in the middle, I hurry to the end, skimming.

My wish for you as you embark on this next year, this more grown-up year of college, is that you not skim ahead to the end. As you grow up and deal with life’s inevitable losses and disappointments, everyday stress and busyness, new friends and adventures, honor it all. It hurts to see you lose some of your childhood dreams, your childhood heroes, your childhood illusions. But it is through loss and sadness that you gain a richer life with moments of deep passion and joy. May you have a year, a life, filled with passion and joy. And may it move slowly enough for me to savor it with you – as well as apart from you – as we transition to an increasingly mature adult mother-daughter relationship, side-by-side.

The light is on in your room. Always.

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