There’s No Place Like It.

I want to go home.

It’s funny to type that as I sit in my chair at my desk in my office in my house, because of course, I AM home. But this home – this house where my children have grown up and this neighborhood where I walk my dog every day and this city in which I’ve lived for three decades – is not the home I’m talking about.

That home is back in time somewhere – the house I couldn’t get out of fast enough, in the neighborhood I couldn’t wait to leave, in the city from which I couldn’t flee far enough. It’s where my siblings and I – best friends one minute, sworn enemies the next, with allegiances that changed with the wind direction – formed a cohesive unit that at once bonded us against the outside world and made us chomp at the bit to get out into it. It’s where I spent the first third of my life, 18 years of memories that are fading with each passing day no matter how hard I try to hold on to them.

That “home” represents a time, challenging as it could be, that still allowed for the naïve, passionate, unquestioning hope that is unfortunately not as easily grasped anymore … or maybe just not as readily acknowledged. The time that truly is wasted on the young.

Between watching my teenagers at the start of their lives, and so many friends and family members at the end of theirs, I’ve never wanted to return to the days of my youth as desperately as I do at this moment. I don’t want a “do-over,” although certainly there are times I think that would be nice as well; no, all I want is to go back for a bit, to remember more. To feel that way again. Fortunately this moment is just that – a moment – and it will pass and my life will continue exactly where it left off, but in that moment, I’m walking in the pasture at Davis Road picking wild strawberries, or sitting in the high school library with Anne and Katie talking about tests or boys, or skating behind a shovel on the pond trying to clear it smooth, or lying in my bed listening to the Eagles’ Greatest Hits.

In that moment, at least, I am home.

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Don’t let the door hit you.

Dear thyroid cancer:

You never did scare me, though you scarred me for life
Removed as you were by my surgeon’s knife
But with his skilled hands, you still didn’t mar
My precious neck which now bears your scar

You tried and you failed to make me feel sad
You weren’t even the worst that I’ve ever had.
You crept into my life with intent to disturb
And so with my clean scan, I kick you to the curb.

Maggie

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Disturbing Thought for the Day

“Kids! Where are my tweezers? I have a mustache again!”

“Oh, come on! I’m old enough for an AARP card but too young for discounts?! That’s not fair!”

“Yes, I know these mood swings are killing you, honey. They’re killing me more.”

Recalling some conversations of the past 24 hours, it occurs to me that in my mid-50s, I am in the puberty of old age.

 

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The grief of stages

A few years ago my kids reached ages that I vividly remember being. Every song from the ‘70s serves to keep those memories fresh, and they translate, somehow, to my parenting. Those memories inform the way I talk to my kids, respond to them, make requests, challenge them, congratulate them. I remember the roller-coaster emotions, the raging hormones, the displaced anger, the confusion. I remember the “being with friends” moments from which emerged life memories.

I feel like I’m a better mother for having been a child.

And then I remember that this part of it – the mother part, being the mother of teens – is all new to me, just as every other stage has been. And I continue to be stunned at how painful each stage can be, in its own way. Knowing the pain isn’t in the stage, but in knowing that the stage will end.

When my son was an infant, I remember crying one evening at the sheer intensity of my love for him, and the thought that somehow, it may not last. I memorized as much as I could, but in a way I was right; it didn’t last. The love certainly did … the stage, necessarily, did not.

It gave way to another stage, where he could walk, and talk, and laugh, and give spontaneous hugs. And the next, when I stood with him at the bus stop, knowing that his learnings, his world exposure, were no longer under my exclusive control. It was terrifying, and a little bit of my mother-cord was cut – snipped so surreptitiously, really, that it was almost imperceptible in the moment. But he always got off that bus and ran to me.

The cut became more perceptible as he became more independent, which of course is supposed to happen. We raise our kids to be their own people, to work hard at what they love, to get back up when they fall. We do this so we can eventually send them out in the world and not spend every moment of the rest of our lives biting our nails. And as my son grew, started spreading his wings, started heading to his room from the bus, he still, on occasion, would come up to me with the spontaneous hug.

And now, at 17, he has a girlfriend, and we are in yet another stage for which I was totally unprepared – a stage where I am no longer the one he comes to first to share, to celebrate, to mourn, to rail, or to just converse. I’m a pretty close second, I think, but after being first for 17 years, second is a pretty distant place to be. His girlfriend is absolutely lovely, and I couldn’t be happier for him – for them. But the cord has taken a pretty significant hit. And I miss my son.

renblog renblog2It’s an odd feeling, to miss a person who is sitting next to you at dinner. Thank God for the random hugs; they remind me that even though he’s grown, that little boy is still in there, somewhere. And that my goal now is not just to remember my own childhood, but to remember his.

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Kids. I know I love ’em.

I was wakened from my nap today by the boy coming home from school. He asked how I slept; I told him I slept well and had a good dream about Rome. He asked me to describe it.

“I had dropped you guys off at a restaurant,” I said, “and was apparently driving into a village somewhere to pick something up. I’d crossed over a couple multi-lane highways and traveled through some roundabouts, and decided at a red light that I’d better look back and try to remember how to get back. When I looked behind me, a thick fog had crept in and I couldn’t see a thing. I realized I didn’t have my phone, and that I didn’t know the name of the restaurant I’d left you. I started panicking a little, and that’s when you woke me up.”

He was watching me curiously through the story and finally said, “How was that a good dream? It sounds terrifying.”

“Well, you know, because we were in Rome . . . ” I said, lamely.

Quiet. Then, “Mom. If you get shot in Happyland, you’re still dead.” Then he walked away, shaking his head.

“Good insight . . . !” I called after him.

Blasted teen years.

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Don’t ask, don’t tell.

Speaking of hair color, I remember a visit to my hometown when I went to the local YMCA to watch my mom teach her Senior Aqua-Aerobics class. They were all in the pool as I greeted my mother. She was thrilled to show off her students – her “ladies” – to me, and me to them.

“And this is my dance instructor,” my mom said at one point, introducing me to a woman in her eighties. “I don’t know how you did it, but you two both have the exact same shade of red hair!” She turned to me. “What do you use, honey?”

I was beet red. “Mom,” I said quietly, “there are those who might think this is my natural color.” She looked at me doubtfully.

“No . . . really? Huh.” She then looked at her ladies for help, and they all smiled at me and shook their heads kindly.

Lesson learned. After a certain age, only your hairdresser knows for sure – and every woman on earth over 60.

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Forget this title. (I know I will.)

I teach two days a week at a local college, and had to miss a class a couple weeks into the semester due to a health issue. When I returned, a few students approached who had registered late. Since my attendance policy is based on the total number of classes available, they were concerned that they were starting the semester already behind.

“Tell you what,” I said, benevolently. “When I calculate the attendance grade at the end of the semester, I’ll calculate yours separately, based on your start date.” I was very pleased with my solution.

Then I remembered reality, and said, “But you’d better remind me.”

One student shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. “Do you . . .um . . . do you think you’ll remember this conversation?” he asked.

“Of course I will!” I replied, way too quickly.

Silence. “All due respect,” he said nervously, looking around for support from the others, “you called our names for attendance and smiled at us and acted kind of like you thought we’d been here all along. We got the sense you didn’t know we were new.”

Flashing on all of the times in recent past when I ran into people I knew whose names I couldn’t recall, I realized I’d expanded my repertoire of forgetfulness to include forgetting people I never even knew in the first place, I finally said, “Yes, well … certainly a reminder on that note couldn’t hurt either.”

[head/desk]

Stupid menopause.

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Redefining “midlife crisis.” Or at least “midlife.”

So here’s what I think happened that resulted in such a disconnect between hitting 50 and actually feeling like I hit 50: I’m not there. Simply. Not. There. In my head, I’m somewhere in my 40s, I think. It went like this: I was born in 1962, did all the things kids did in the ‘60s – outside at dawn, back at dusk, walked two miles to school in the snow with Wonder bread bags in my boots, uphill both ways, blah blah blah – and many of the things that most kids did in the ‘70s – permed hair, bell bottoms and gauze tops, listening to Deep Purple and Frampton Comes Alive. The basics. And then I discovered drinking.

Drinking pretty much took me through the ‘80s, and let’s just call that my Lost Decade. College, sport dating, extended career in the restaurant industry, etc. Our generation was, I believe, the first to discover that the brain isn’t fully developed until 25 – or at least it seemed we were the first to take advantage of the information. By the end of that decade, however, I’d had enough; I came up for air, shook myself off, went to grad school, earned a black belt, met the husband, had the kids. And said, “Okay then! Look at all I’ve accomplished – and I’m only 29!”

But of course I wasn’t 29, I was 39. I don’t know where everyone else’s 20s went, but mine, if I were to go looking, would likely be found at Shifty’s on Burnet Ave. So that’s part of the disconnect.

The other part, I think, is based at its core on my childhood belief system. When I was a kid, with all due respect to my parents’ generation, 50 was pretty fucking OLD. When I heard of people dying and someone said, “Yes, poor thing was 52,” my narcissistic youthful brain would process it as follows: “Well, sure. Because that’s old. People hit 50, they retire, they die. That’s how it goes.”

I hear of someone dying at even 70 these days and cry, “No! Too young!” not because I’m creeping closer to that age, but because with medical advances in my lifetime alone, we’ve seen the life expectancy climb exponentially. Logically, when people often live to 100, 70 is young. Logically 50 is truly midlife, a concept I have to grasp so I don’t blow these next few decades … and with a good therapist, I’m sure it can be done.

But there it is – the disconnect between being my age and what I THINK of being my age. In my mid-50s now, it’s like a kick to the shins of my reality. “WAKE UP!” the kicker said. “WE’RE HERE!”

And “here” is this somewhat curious spot: I am young enough to be planning a trip to Alaska with my teenage son. I am old enough for AARP. I am young enough to wonder if the young men in the mall were looking at me or my teenage daughter, and old enough to know the answer. Young enough for another complete career, but old enough to feel completely lost at the thought of starting something new. Why? Because I never really had a Plan B. Because on some level, in my head, 50s were on the downswing to death. Yet here I am, feeling great, wearing my son’s American Eagle khakis (don’t judge me. They’re clean, and he’ll never know) and reveling in acne-free skin for the first time ever.

Those blasted ‘80s. That’s where I went wrong. And not just with the shoulder pads.

 

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A Boom With a View

1/26/16

I was talking to my college students recently about the upcoming election and the staggering fact that these words are currently found in the same sentence: Donald Trump is leading the GOP field. I try to keep my opinions to myself in class while encouraging lively debate, but then someone said, “Well, it kind of sucks that we’re left cleaning up the baby boomers’ mess.”

“Whoa, Nellie,” I said. “Let’s not get blamey. I’m a boomer, and I specifically do NOT recall messing things up for you.”

And my words hit me like a brick – I. Am. A. Boomer. It’s simply something I never identified myself with. But being born in 1962, there were actually two more years of boomers after me. I’m not even the youngest one, although I’m happy that I’m close to it.

And what I’m seeing through these late-boomer eyes is middle age, despite the fact that my kids are still in high school and my hairdresser can often match the red of my youth with some success. I see AARP commercials that actually resonate. And I see boomers at the other end – many of whom are 70 this year – wrestling with retirement and the prospect of potentially 30 more years in a body that is already starting to say, “HEY! ENOUGH ALREADY!”

I see my parents – my mom still life-guarding at 78 and my dad’s thunderous voice still able to raise the hairs on my neck in the right circumstances – facing late-life challenges and navigating the world of Medicaid and Medicare and smart phones, while my kids are beginning to navigate the world of adults, of love and college applications and grades and finances.

And after a blessedly brief dalliance with cancer, I finally am beginning to see myself as an adult, a perspective I’ve been able to dance around for lo, these many years. I am 54 years old, and am looking at the timeline of my life, hopefully, at midpoint. And wondering what in the hell I should be doing. And feeling. And planning.

So I’ll do what I did when I was dating and learning from my mistakes, and raising toddlers and learning from those mistakes, beginning a new career at 45 and learning from THOSE mistakes, and raising teens – you get the idea. I write about it. It’s therapeutic. Cathartic, even. And sometimes, in the writing, a thought emerges that actually makes sense, and I don’t feel so … mistaken anymore.

So, welcome. Pull up a cup of Joe and a pet or two, and join me in A Boom With a View.

 

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