On being thankful…

This post is a re-tread from 4 years ago and I’m astonished at how much has not changed. While we no longer live in Atlanta, my mother is now 93, not 87 and my son is wrapping up a Masters degree in engineering, not starting college as he was in the original post, the important bits are the same–mainly the intense gratitude I feel for all that I have: my friends and family, my country, my hope for the future, and my thankfulness for today.

It’s Monday afternoon.  I spent some time this weekend marveling over the gorgeous fall colors all over Atlanta—a full month later than they’ve ever shown up before. Today I also note that the cooler fall weather has finally come to Atlanta which doesn’t matter because my husband and I will soon be packing up the car and heading south for Thanksgiving as we do every year.

Inside the house, the fireplace has been burning all day. My day has been full of last-minute freelance projects—received late and needing to be done early on top of cooking, cleaning and editing my latest novel.

And I am so thankful.

I am thankful for the chance to write books for a living. I’m grateful for a cozy little house, and for four non-psycho pets who enhance my life, for friends, for a smooth transition of my only child’s introduction to his first semester at college and for my own relatively successful entrée into the world of the empty nest.

Tomorrow my husband and I will drive six hours to my mother’s house in Florida for Thanksgiving. My older brother and his wife have come from northern California, my son will come from his campus fifty miles south of his grandmother’s house. My other brothers will come, loaded down with ham and pies and photos to share and stories to tell. I am thankful that we will have the whole family together again for another year.

My husband and I will bring the dressing as we do every year, the recipe handed down from my father—gone now these past 25 years—and one I have enjoyed for nearly every Thanksgiving and Christmas of my life. We shopped Trader Joes and Whole Foods and the local markets in my Atlanta neighborhood for ingredients and specialty items that we buy only once a year. We picked up bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau, tins of holiday cookies and candied nuts. This afternoon, as I fried the sausage for the dressing, I thought how lucky I am to be able to buy all this food, to not have to think twice about obtaining the things I felt I needed to make our family’s feast.

I am most thankful that we will all be together for the first time in a year. Through all the health scares, the employment woes, the insecurities, the stresses—both financial and emotional—I can’t forget how lucky we all are to have each other. I know my mother, 89 this year, will sparkle for as long as all her chicks—every one present and accounted for—are gathered in her house. I know this time won’t last forever and that one of these Thanksgivings, we won’t all be together. I know how lucky I am, and how grateful I am for Thanksgiving 2012.

Finally, regardless of how you felt about the outcome of the recent elections, I think you have to be truly thankful to live in a place where the threat of bombs and tanks and guns does not exist. This week, when you spare a thought—among the table settings and turkey drumsticks and football schedules—for those families on both sides of the Gaza/Israel border, I think, like myself, you have to be grateful for our country and for the peace that most of us have always known.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

As Parents of Boys, Does the Worry Ever End?

This is an older post that I’m re-posting in honor of my son’s 19th birthday  this month and the birth of my stepson’s first child (a boy) due to make his arrival later this month.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a statement that I know a lot of people will have an issue with but it needs to be said so here goes: when it comes to having children, girls are better than boys.

There. It’s said.

19260736And I have to say I welcome any and all to refute or argue that this is not true. My own incontrovertible arguments are below.

It has been my experience as an only girl with three brothers and as the mother of an only boy that a boy is born and then begins a fairly constant campaign of trying to kill himself from then on.

You do not find girls flipping through gun magazines at age eight. You don’t see girls trying to create their own mailbox bomb at ten or taking apart the laptop because “You didn’t look like you were using it much and I wanted to see how it worked.” You just don’t.

I have friends with girl children and they have plenty to complain about but none of the whining or gossiping or nonstop talking or whatever gripe you have about daughters can compare with the worry you must live with on a daily basis when your child is a boy.

My older brother got his pilot’s license on his sixteenth birthday, before he even collected his driver’s license, which he did the very next day. My mother, when it became evident that my son was also mad for jets, said: “Do yourself a favor, forbid him to learn to fly now and save yourself the terror you’ll experience every time he walks out the door.”

Unfortunately, when I laid down the edict to my son, like most things, I went too far. I told him something along the lines of : “I don’t want you to fly as long as I am taking breath on this earth.” Maybe not surprisingly, the thought of my dying does not appear to unduly unsettle him. Rather, he finds himself wondering how old he’ll be (i.e. when I die) and if there’ll be a flying school near his house.

7232917Boys want to do dangerous things with dangerous implements and they want to do them pretty much from the moment they can reach. I have a girlfriend who had three girls before she and her husband were surprised with their last, a boy. She told me the story of how she handed down to this, her last child, a wooden toy that all her daughters had played with as babies. She said the first time she gave it to him—he still couldn’t walk yet—he gave it a whack that broke it into three useless pieces.

Boys are so different.

My husband’s cousin’s son achieved fame within the family (posthumously, I must add) when, clowning around with his pals, he climbed a telephone pole and then reached for the wrong wire.

Can you imagine a girl doing this?

I think being a parent means learning to manage fear just about all the time. When you treasure something that much, you’re constantly worried about losing it, but with a boy, the worry is racheted up several notches higher. I mean, really, what is there to worry about with a girl?

That she’ll drink or do drugs? That worry is not exclusive to girls and boys have a worse peer pressure for doing those kinds of naughty things.

That she’ll be abducted, raped and murdered? Sorry, that also is not exclusive to girls.

That she’ll get pregnant? Please. Not the end of the world. Nobody dies in this scenario. Next.

That she’ll get a DUI (or worse)? New statistics have come out that indicate teenage girls are delaying getting their driver’s licenses. So, fewer of them are driving until later when they’re more mature. Boys are LESS mature at 16 than girls are at that age and THEY are not delaying getting their licenses!

32252586How about that she’ll want to play with guns or bash her brains out playing football or decide to join the Army or take up rock climbing so she can hang from a precipice 10,000 feet up and make you go totally WHITE before your time?

Boys are different.

My son is into backpacking and he’s recently bought a camping hammock. To me, the hammock resembles one of those contraptions you hang bananas in until they ripen, not unlike, I assume, how a hungry bear will view my son.

Which brings me to the end and the seemingly innocuous incident which prompted this post in the first place. Upon returning home from school today, my son grabbed a hatchet and said: “Heading into the woods, Mom, to find something for Dad’s birthday.”

Seriously. Can you honestly imagine a girl uttering these words? (Fortunately, it was a tree, not an animal in his crosshairs but even so, there was blood involved when it was all over.)

Boys. Are. Different.

39176807And finally, what about the undeniable comfort one parent gets from the solidarity of being able to share fears and concerns with the other parent? Let me refute that myth right now. When my husband came home tonight, he dropped his briefcase and headed out the back door, yelling over his shoulder in the direction of my son’s bedroom: “Hurry, John! Neighbor said there’s a nest of copperheads in the back yard.”


ALL. Boys. Are. Different

NB Update: My stepson’s baby wasn’t born “later this month” as I mentioned earlier but the day after I wrote this post, on October 3. So, welcome to the world little Brody–now put down that rattle and get back in that bassinet!

Stuff and Nonsense

16447087There is an old saying that “two moves are as good as a fire.” I’d never heard that before but after this last move, I’ll opt for the fire. Since I had plenty of advance notice this time that we were moving households, I started constructing boxes and organizing the garage, basement and attic months before the movers actually arrived. Next time I’ll know to do it on the fly. After four months of discovering, examining and either packing or discarding the artifacts of the last eight years (and beyond) of our lives, I got to the point where I wanted to run out of the house while concomitantly ripping my hair out when I came upon yet another box of “memorabilia” or, God save me, “old photos.”

Wikipedia defines nostalgia as possessing a sentimentality for the past. In the old days, it was even considered a medical condition, like melancholia. I’m not surprised. After shifting through box after box of letters and memorabilia from my parents, grandparents—and the tragic journals of 18-year old Susan—I can tell you that the past is a scary place that will make you cry buckets for all that you have lost. There, I’ve said it. I don’t know why I kept all those short stories and poems that I wrote so many years ago (maybe thinking they’d be worth something when I was famous someday? Or did I really have a vision of my great grandchildren carefully handling these letters  with awe and 7536541reverence?) Taking a prolonged peek at college-age Susan was not really a pick-me-up for post-menopausal Susan. Looking at all those notes from my Dad—gone now these past 25 years—seeing his familiar hand and noting the happy occasions he referenced did not do much for my happy mood the rest of the day.

Why do we keep this crap? It’s like we think we’re throwing out the person instead of the hastily-scrawled note from the person. It’s hard to believe that I am not losing my Dad any more permanently or completely when I toss out a card from him than I did in 1987 when he actually stopped existing. All of my memories are at least as comforting and real to me than this stuff is that I drag around behind me, move after laborious move (did I mention this is my 32nd house shift?)

I think sentimentality has its place but it’s not a going-forward, grab-life-by-the-horns kind of place. It’s a sad, let’s-slow-down-and-stare-inward-kind of place. Was I really thinking of creating an altar using all of John Patrick’s 32336839artwork from the third grade? Do I think the teachers’ handwritten notes about his brilliance are as important as the confirming, computerized SAT scores? Do I think by keeping them I’ll somehow make time stand still, or better yet, go backwards to that delightful time when he was five? Then why does thinking of it make me want to cry?

I threw out a lot this last time. I threw out Christmas ornaments over forty years old that were battered and in pieces and made the tree look like one erected at a homeless shelter. I threw out evidence of my hopes and dreams bled out on a page that I’d submitted to the New Yorker Magazine when I still thought I had a shot. I threw out love notes and photos of old boyfriends (and so young Susan), I threw out letters from my grandparents, sports trophies and Mother’s Day cards from my only child, cards from my husband in our courting days.

I can’t truly bring any of these people or  times back and I think my attempt to hang on to these photos and memorabilia—like a terrible, pinching anchor around my neck—was trying to do exactly that. Stupid, really. Those people and those times live in my heart and in my mind.  I don’t need the other stuff to remember them. And let’s face it, for years on end, these artifacts sit boxed and unnoticed in the attic or the basement. Unless I’m waiting to channel it all into eBay gold, it seems kind of silly to only drag them out and look at them every decade when I move household. It seems it’s the having of them that’s important more than anything else. But when you’ve got fifteen boxes of photos, clippings and gee-gaws, well, the having part of the remembering gets downright onerous.

bluehatIn the end, I kept my Dad’s “go to hell” cap that he wore in the Air Force, some awards he earned at the Cape for the Apollo launches, and, well, okay, every note and letter he ever sent to me. I packed them  up with a carefully selected handful of the colorful schoolboy detritus of the grandson he never met, bundled them in a single box with a very few and very special things from my husband and grandparents and placed the box on a shelf in order that it may follow me around the rest of my days. I’m very proud of this solution.  I see it as a mature and measured way to selectively protect the emotional remnants of my past without letting it own me.

Besides, whittling things down gives me room to add more stuff later.

Empty Nesting is Not for the Faint of Heart

I swear to you, as God is my witness, that I turned my back to make my eight-year old son a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and when I turned around, he had graduated high school and left for college.

This is not hyperbole.

Well, okay, it is. But I swear it feels like it’s true.
I cannot believe it’s nearly time for him to leave already. I can’t believe all the school pictures that I have been painstakingly placing in the photo albums through the years are now finished. I hold the final and last one in my fingers. This photo of him grinning–so self-assured!–in his tuxedo and too-long hair (a little senioritis rebellion) is the endcap for his school years that began with the  mother’s morning out that he and I pretended was “real” school, because he went with a backpack and a snack and came home with praise from the “teachers” and excited reports about the other kids on the playground—particularly fascinating for an only child.
And now he’ll be “coming home” at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I feel like turning to my husband and saying: “Did you know there was an end date?” Why don’t they tell you that when you bring your little bundle of joy home from the hospital? “Hey, New Mom, word to the wise.  He’s already plotting how to leave home.”
While it’s true I have a couple months yet before we pack John Patrick’s bags and shop for his dorm furniture, I already see previews of the life to come in how his older friends, home for the holidays last year, behaved (so grown up!) and in John Patrick’s impatience this spring with his last few months of high school.
I  promised myself that I was not going to be one of those clingy mothers who refuses to let her child stretch his wings and fly the nest. I want my son to have an awesome college experience, maybe meet someone special who we’ll all grow to enjoy and love.

But until then, I totally reserve the right (when he’s not present to witness it) to be as sad and bereft as I know how to be at the ending to what was, honestly, the happiest and most fulfilling eighteen years of my life.

I know he’s literally counting the weeks until he goes. He’s anticipating the official beginning of his new exciting life. That’s as it should be. His Dad and I will wait for him to come home and report on his new world, his teachers, and new friends. Before he leaves again.

And it figures, the dog he leaves behind doesn’t even like peanut butter & jelly.

On the Right Track to Balancing Super Stardom with Motherhood

I imagine this post will likely go right up there with being of interest to only a very small percentage of the people who read this blog but I’d like to at least ask the moms in the crowd to hang back (after the stampede.) To everyone who loves horses, an important event occurred last week that had the Twitter-Facebook sphere “awwwwing” with even more frequency than usual.

And that was: Zenyatta had her baby.

Now, if you don’t know who Zenyatta is, that’s cool. And not everyone who wasn’t living in a cave or under a rock would know who she is. Zenyatta is an ex-racehorse considered by many experts to be the greatest thoroughbred racehorse in history. Okay, so now aren’t you embarrassed that you haven’t heard of her? That statement would’ve been a tad more emphatic if she had won her last race—the only one in her entire history of racing BTW that she lost (she came in a very close second, so “lost” doesn’t really seem a totally fair assessment.) Anyway, she is, without argument from anyone, the all-time North American female money-earner. Like, ever. Okay, so granted she’s amazing.

She is also jaw-dropping beautiful. And monster-big, for a mare.

She’s also sweet. To say that about a racehorse is kind of a big deal. She is—get this—affectionate. She totally knows she’s the star of the show and she used to do a daft little dance before her races for the amusement and general delight of the equine media who, of course, adored her.

She retired at six years old after her last race—the Breeder’s Cup Classic, which she’d won before (the only female to do so)—and was paired up with a stud named Bernardini. (Her jockey was quoted on Sixty Minutes as saying that no stallion was worthy of her.)

In any event, on March 8, her bouncing baby colt—all 130 pounds of him—was born, a dark bay with a white star and polka dot markings on his feet just like his Mom. And the equine world rejoiced!

I think the thing that prompted me to do a post on Zenyatta was this little video clip that I saw of her loving on her new foal. While everyone always talked about how friendly and sweet she was, it still touched me to see her with her colt. She literally keeps the little fellow within kissing distance nearly all the time (not easy to do as you’ll see in the clip.)

As a mother myself, there was just something exquisite about seeing this amazing super-creature delight in motherhood to the extent she clearly does.

So that’s it! A little corny, I know but what with these impending empty nest blues I’m wrangling with, it doesn’t take much to get me all emotional about the parent-child bond! Just had to share.

View from a Nearly Empty Nest

I hate to say it, but the facts are stark and irrefutable: we have too many animals.

Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if they were self-sufficient dear little things but they all have major baggage which they unpack and throw about the room on a daily basis. The cats are, well, cats. Their love is contingent on whether or not you gave them “the wet stuff” that night for dinner or let them outside to sun on the deck (they are indoor cats) or in some way did something for them. And it’s a pretty paltry sort of love, I have to say, when it does come. Cats aren’t clingy and for that I’m grateful. But they’re not particularly affectionate either (at least ours aren’t) and it makes you wonder why you pay all the vet bills and Meow Mix and God knows, tons of kitty litter. Really doesn’t seem to be the kind of payback that you’d expect for all the effort and money. Having said that, we are, of course, attached to the aloof little beasties, but ideal pets I cannot say they are.

So the cats, not so much. And les chiens? Well, Buddy is beautiful but stupid which doesn’t matter, really, because he’s also desperately sweet. But he has none of the beneficial dog traits you use to reason why you have a dog for all the trouble. He doesn’t greet you when you come home (he doesn’t even lift his head off the couch pillow), he doesn’t sleep with you at night, he sometimes forgets that it’s the outdoors where he’s supposed to crap (WTH…??) and he will eat cat litter (and all that that entails) if there is any way possible. Euweeeu.

Then there is Lucy the Puppy. Also known as Lucy the Terrible and Lucy the All-Powerful who is, on the other hand, really, really smart. Like Lex Luther smart or some other mad, evil genius. Lucy, who is a Westie, tortures the poor cats—fearlessly and tenaciously attempting to rid the household of what she considers Grade A vermin. She destroys everything she comes into contact with—newspapers, slippers, measuring cups, dog and cat toys, eye glasses—in seconds and irrevocably. She does, on the other hand, go totally berserk with happiness when she sees you after any kind of separation (Buddy, take notes.) She considers it part of her job to “pre-rinse” (with her tongue) the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, and she informs all chipmunks, squirrels, mice, birds, bunnies and even a good sized coyote to stay clear of her yard. (Come to think of it, she’s also had words with the mailman.)

I confess I often wish I didn’t have quite so many lovies. All the water bowl filling, litter box changing, dog leashes, unique needs, prickly personalities, special diets, accidents, varying bed times and crate times—is wearing me out. My husband is quick to remind me that I was the one who got us into this fix (three of the four were foundlings) with all their diverse and discordant personalities.

On top of that, they all somewhat hate each other, with the exception of Lucy who’d like to do her rat-terrier thing on the cats’ necks but who loves Buddy in a very scary, stalking kind of way that has the poor dog hiding under sofas and behind chairs when she’s on the loose.

While I admit I have told my husband that we will never replace a single one of these beloved creatures when the time comes for us to forge on alone, I have to say I’m rethinking that promise. It’s not that any of the little darlings is any more perfect. God knows, if anything, the older they get, (like people) the more entrenched their personalities and habits become. I’m not sure but it’s possible my change of heart may have something to do with the sound of my only child shuffling through his college acceptances for next fall.

Maybe a Cockatiel.