T-Minus Zero: Thoughts on Launching My Son Into College


Today is the day. We have been planning for it for over two years now, even before my son’s junior year in high school when we toured colleges, when he took ACT prep courses and AP classes, participated in all those extracurricular activities, solicited recommendation letters and completed the college applications. It was almost all-consuming, until this May when he finally made his decision to attend a college a two-hour plane ride away.  We could finally breathe a sigh of relief.  Then, reality set in and we began to plan. Shopping, sorting clothes, packing, arranging travel.

We are on an early morning flight, bound for Portland, Oregon to move my son into college.  It takes three parents to do this—his dad, his step-dad and I.  I am almost sure my son will have the most parents to move him into a dorm suite he will share with three other young men.  With all those parents and four students in one single room it is sure to be crowded.  But I would not miss this for anything.  Never mind that despite all my planning, late night packing and barely sleeping, we almost missed the flight because we left too late from the house.  Perhaps I was delaying the inevitable?  Anyway, my husband Juan and I made it without a moment to spare.  My son had arrived at the airport with his dad and was already seated on the plane.  Juan and I found our seats next to my son, and directly in front of his dad. It’s kind of strange to be traveling all together like this, but then again, it really isn’t.  I know that all of us who have played a role in getting our son to this moment, would not want to miss it.

As I settle into my seat and calm my racing heart I hear the voice of a little boy in front of me.  From the space between the seats I can see he has strawberry blonde hair.  The passenger seated beside the boy engages him in a conversation. From the sound of the boy’s voice I guess him to be about 4 years-old. He is talking about Mickey and Minnie Mouse and coloring in a Disney coloring book. All of a sudden I am transported back to a time when I would sit with my own sweet 4 year-old blond-haired son, and read, over and over again, the story of the Tonka Rescue Helicopter.  I close my eyes and try to recall the sound of 4 year-old Nico’s voice, but I can’t. I promise myself that soon I will convert all those video cassettes with countless recorded memories into a digital format, so I can actually watch them and hear my son’s 4 year-old voice.

I look over and see my son, headphones in place, eyes closed, and realize he is the same boy who I read to all those years ago. Then it occurs to me he is not. His once blond, fine hair is now a thick dark brown, and he has grown into a young man, ready to embark on a wonderful, challenging and exciting adventure—without me.

He is ready.  I, on the other hand, may not be.  My son has been a joy to raise and I love having him around.  He is thoughtful, funny, sensitive, bright, kind and good.  I don’t want college to change that.  As much as I know college will challenge him to think and experience beyond the familiar,  I hope that the values we have tried to impart on him will sustain him.  I keep thinking there must be more I can say to him, some wisdom I can share to prepare him, but I know there is nothing else to say right now. We have talked about everything, some of it sensitive enough to embarrass him.

So we are here, about to launch this young man into a life away from his family.  I realize that we didn’t begin this process only two years ago. We have been preparing for this moment his entire life.  I look over at hm, napping, and I am glad. I don’t want him to see me blinking and squinting, trying unsuccessfully to keep the tears from rolling down my face.  He is already concerned enough about his parents because he knows this transition will be difficult for us.  I don’t want to cause him any more concern by seeing my tears.  I use a cocktail napkin to dry my eyes and I know that even though I am sad at the thought of  his leaving, I am deeply, truly excited for him.  I think that means that I am ready too.

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Ready to launch. College here he comes!

Family Movie Night

Recently, it was a big day in Diego’s life and in the life of our family. It was definitely blog worthy. Ten years ago, Diego entered our family and changed all our lives.  He had been talking about his big TEN birthday all year long. I guess he wanted to be sure that I would not forget that it was a special birthday for him. He really didn’t need to be concerned–his birthday also reminded me just how special his is to our family

I’ve written about Diego before and his special role in our blended family. Lately, the blending in our family is really a huge mess. It’s a lot more grinding, mashing and straining than blending. Last year Olivia left for college while things were tense at home. Erica has been spending most of the time at her mom’s while we try to stay connected and involved in her life. Nico is exercising his independence more and more. Juan and I are challenged to stay united and strong during these turbulent times.

On the eve of his 10th birthday, I asked Diego to tell me about some of his favorite things.  He recited a long laundry list of his “favorites.” Perhaps, in an effort to make up for the absence of record-keeping in his baby book. I promptly memorialized his list here:

Diego's Top Ten at Ten

Diego’s Top Ten at Ten

One of his “favorites” which surprised me a bit was when he said his favorite thing to do is, “Spend time with my family.”  I was surprised because for the last couple of years our family life has been so stressful that sometimes the least favorite thing for me to do is “spend time with my family.” There, I said it.  I sometimes feel that with all the chaos in our family, I am tempted run away and change my identity. But, this was about Diego, not me.  Diego loves it when we are all together, when his sisters are home and they can get along, when his brother stops talking on the computer or doing homework long enough to play video games with him, and when we can all sit down together for a family movie night.

On the eve of Diego’s 10th birthday,  Juan and I sat down and watched Diego’s birth video. One of my favorite parts of the video is when I am in my  hospital room and Juan brings the older kids into the room to meet Diego for the first time. Nine year-old Olivia bursts into tears, six-year old Erica is looking bewildered and excited and five year-old Nico is just taking it all in with a sweet smile. There’s a lot of excitement and chatter, and I explain to the kids that their new baby brother might recognize their voices. Olivia asks, “Did he think he was an only child?” I couldn’t help but burst out laughing! I laughed at the thought of how much Diego would have hated being an only child. In spite of the constant challenges we face in our blended family, Diego still experiences enough happiness that being with his family is one of his favorite things.

The next day with Olivia home from college, and Erica and Nico home from the other parents’, we all went to dinner to celebrate Diego’s birthday.  Afterwards, we went home to eat cake, and have a “family movie night” with Diego’s birth video.   The kids started laughing  at the sound and sight of younger versions of themselves, and of course we all burst out laughing hearing Olivia’s question and watching Erica put her unwashed hands all Diego’s face even when Juan told her to use the hand sanitizer! I looked over at Olivia and noticed that was tearing up and wiping her eyes as she watched her younger self weeping at the sight of her new brother.  Diego was beaming with pride and joy.  I looked at all of us, and felt joy at the sight and sound of us together and happy.  In that moment, I was reminded how this could be one of my favorite things too.

Meeting their brother in 2004.

...And Now

Celebrating with their brother in 2014.

Joy Cometh in the Writing

 

Notes On Wood 4  This is a long post. I hope you’ll stick with me, even if  my writing is kind of all over the place. It comes back full circle.

I struggle with finding Joy in my life. Lately, it has become an even bigger challenge. Ocassionally, I will encounter Joy in a fleeting moment, and then she’s gone, leaving me to feel like I will never find her again. 

Today I read one of my favorite bloggers, Glennon Melton from Momastery.  Much of what she writes is positive, and uplifting, and difficult and challenging. It’s what she calls, Brutiful. (Brutal and beautiful.) Today she wrote how we often forget what brings us Joy.  She said that we need to be still to listen and remember what brings us Joy.  One way to do that is to think back to when we were 12 and remember what made us joyful. 

I totally get this idea. I  have been blogging consisitently for 22 days. I am remembering  what brings me Joy.  I keep forgetting.  Well, maybe I don’t forget, as much as I don’t make important the practice of encountering Joy.

What follows is a blog post I wrote over a year ago. At the time I wrote it Joy was not even a visitor to my life. I remember feeling so uplifted that day, after writing this post . Then, I got sidetracked with my life, and I didn’t finish writing it.  I forgot about the Joy I found.  Today, after reading Glennon’s post, it reminded me that I had the same thought a year ago.  I remembered what brought me Joy when I was 12. It still brings me Joy at 50. . . .

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I started writing when I was just a girl. I used to write and (badly) illustrate children’s stories.  I won a poetry writing contest in 5th grade. I was inspired to write more, and throughout my grade school days I continued writing. I wrote poetry, short stories and essays, plays. I wrote whenever I felt inspired and I didn’t think too much about grammar, punctuation, syntax or even spelling. By the time I graduated 8th grade I established that I was a writer, and I won another writing award.  Then I entered high school—a bigger pond with a lot more fish.

There were a lot of kids who liked to write.  All of a sudden I realized there was a lot more to learn about the craft of writing and my confidence waned. Being the competitive self that I am I started to compare my writing to others’ around me. When my poetry didn’t make it into the high school’s poetry journal and I started getting B’s in English, I began to doubt myself.

Once, in a high school literature course, I wrote an inspired essay about Shakespeare’s Midsummer Nights Dream. The words just flowed out of me. When I was done writing, I knew it was a well-written essay. I eagerly awaited the teacher’s comments.  The teacher agreed it was a  well-written essay.  In fact, it was so well-written that he questioned me about its authenticity. Did I even write it?  Perhaps I was “inspired” from another source?  Ouch.

 I put away my notebooks and decided to turn my attention to other interests.  No more writing for me, but then, it would call to me. During those moments in my life of sadness, confusion or Joy, I would be inspired to write it all down. In an assortment of notebooks I jotted poetry, prose, whatever came to me. One day, and I don’t know when or why, I stashed it all away so that I couldn’t even remember where to find it. 

 About three years ago, I became a blogger, and in that way I became a writer. I write. It’s not always good, it’s not always inspired, but I do it because I enJOY it.  Sometimes I remember the sting of my high school teacher’s comment. I wonder, is my writing any good? Is anyone out there reading?  I write mainly for myself, but it’s so affirming when I get a comment or a word of encouragement.  Recently, I received this comment from a reader named Jill.

” Hi, I happened upon your page because i was google-ing for an image of things tapped to the inside of kitchen cabinets for my https://www.facebook.com/sTuCkInThEtees?ref=stream
facebook page (memories of the 70s 80s 90s)
As I was raised by my grandparents after both my parents passed away when i was 7 yrs old, and my grandmother had Dear Abby clippings, tv guide covers, recipes etc. tapped inside our cabinets…..
I could NOT leave your LWB page without saying that I was moved to tears! I don’t know you, your grandmother, your family or friends….However i feel blessed and honored that by this story! Your story and memories have given me some “healing” from my youth….”

I wrote the post she’s referring to in an inspired moment. I started writing it in the car, as we left my grandmother’s house.  Somehow, in the random world of  Google Searches this reader found me, and found my grandmother’s story.  Jill’s words let me know that, somehow, my words have given her some healing for her own loss.  Her comment comforted me and motivated me.

It’s comforting to know that my own Grandmother’s life is touching others even after her death, and its due in part to my writing about her.  So I will continue to blog. I will continue to write.

And with that, I will continue to find Joy.

What brings you Joy? What brought you Joy when you were 12?

Tres Generaciones

In memory of my grandmother and in honor of my mother on this Mothers’ Day, I am re-posting this. I miss my grandmother everyday, especially today. I am mindful everyday, especially today, of how thankful I am for my mother for all her love, guidance and support throughout my life. Happy Mothers Day to all the mothers and  to all who act in mothering, nurturing ways.

My mother, my grandmother and I.

My mother, my grandmother and I.

This is a picture of my grandmother, my mother and I. My grandmother is 97 years-old and as you can tell from the spark in her eye, she is a firecracker. Lately, she is causing us some worry because she insists on living on her own.  She is independent, stubborn, resourceful and very loving. She has created many happy memories for me and her other 9 grandchildren. I think a lot of what my mother learned about being a mother, she learned from my grandmother.

This is my mother before she married my dad. My mom is the one who looks like she is 12 years-old and too young to be in Vegas with her girlfriends. She has always looked younger than her years.  When I was growing up I don’t think my mom ever weighed more than 110 pounds soaking wet.

In her late 20’s my mom met and married my dad. They started their family right away, with 3 kids  born 17 months apart. I don’t know how she did it. She says there was a time when my older brother, my younger sister and I were in diapers at the same time!  Eight years after my sister was born my dad said he wanted another boy. My mother agreed and 9 months later my younger brother was born. I don’t know how she did that! (Well, I do know how they did that, I just don’t like to think about it.)

When I was growing up my mother was in constant motion. Like many women of her day, she was a stay-at-home mom.  She made it look effortless. On our birthdays she organized parties for us and would invite the entire neighborhood.

We didn’t have bounce houses, clowns or magicians. We had my mom who would organize the games.

She was a soccer mom before there were soccer moms.

My mother didn’t just support my brother’s in their sports, she also supported me and my acting ambitions.  Here she is at one of my play productions, standing by while I sign autographs.

My mom wore many hats, including a barber hat.

Here she is in her laundress hat.

She rarely complained about her many household tasks, except when it came to do laundry. I didn’t understand why she disliked doing laundry for a family of 6. Now that I have my own family and my own endless pile of laundry, I understand.  But, at least I have a clothes dryer. Our family didn’t buy a clothes dryer until I was almost 13 years-old!

Something else happened when I was around 13 years-old, I suddenly knew everything there was to know about life.  Even though I still didn’t know how to do my own laundry, cook my own meals, or even pack my own school lunch, I knew more than anyone in my family, including my mother. Especially my mother. I would never stay home and raise children. I would work in show business, I would become a writer, or maybe even a lawyer. Thanks in part to my mom’s love and support,  I have had a turn doing all those things.  But wouldn’t you know it? I have also become a mom. Like my mom, I have two boys and two girls. Life has played a joke on me.  But my mom isn’t laughing. She is still here, supporting me, loving me and taking care of our family.  It’s something she learned from my grandmother, and something I hope I have learned from both of them. So, to my grandmother, and my mother…thank you and Happy Mother’s Day!

Freak Out Friday

I called in sick from work today. It’s not that I don’t have anything going on at work. I have stacks of files to review, affidavits to draft. I just needed a day off from the usual. I hope my boss, who sometimes reads my blog, will understand. (Hi Jane!)  I had every intention of going into the office and plowing through my work. I rose at my usual 6:00 a.m, rallied the troops, packed lunches, and while I took my shower I started going through my mental checklist of Things to Do Today and Things to Do This Weekend. That is when I became aware that the one thing that I needed on my list was missing.

1. Take Care of Yourself

My eyes began to water and it occurred to me that it wasn’t shampoo in my eyes. I was wrung out. For the last few months I have been running. Summer whizzed by without me breaking my pace. I tried to carve out some time now and then, but often I would feel panicked when I slowed down, thinking of everything else I should be doing.  Today, when faced with another round of endless tasks, I lost it. That is when I realized I needed to stop. The kids are in school. Juan is at the office. The dirty breakfast dishes are in the sink and the clean laundry is in the dryer. Unfolded. Wrinkling as I write.

I decided right then–mid-shower– that I needed a mental health day. I checked in with my office. Dropped Diego at school and headed out. I know that if I go home there will be no relaxing for me. Too many unmade beds and scattered toys to ignore. So here I am. I am at a cafe lingering over breakfast and a pot of tea.  I left the house with my laptop, my gym clothes and a spa gift certificate I received on Mother’s Day. (Yes, Mothers Day.) I don’t know if I will actually make it to the gym, or if I will be able to get to the spa since I don’t have an appointment, but it doesn’t matter. I have the whole day to do what I want. Shop. Go out to lunch. Blog. Whatever. The most important thing is that I doing the number one thing on my list of Things to Do Today.

1. Take Care of Yourself.

Check. Got that.

A breakfast time-out for me and my blog.

Are you taking time out to take care of yourself? How do you manage to balance your life?