My Ladder

 

SHOES: When’re you putting up the Christmas lights?

BOOTS: It’s still November. I think we have time.

SHOES: I’m picking up attitude.

BOOTS: Tis the season.

SHOES: Okay, Santa, I’ll start over. I’d really love it if you would be so kind as to string the Christmas lights on the exterior of our home.

BOOTS: I have to wait until Quinn gets home.

SHOES: He’s not getting home until the 15th!

BOOTS: It can’t be helped. He’s the tallest. I need him.

SHOES: We own a ladder.

BOOTS: Let me clarify. I’m emotionally incapable of rising from this chair and hanging lights without my son.

SHOES: That’s very clear.

BOOTS: So, we’re good for the 15th?

SHOES: Totally.

My one and only…

This morning, on our way out hiking, we passed a tow-headed neighbor sitting cross-legged on his driveway, waiting for his Dad. He was clearly ready for the pre-school day ahead. He had his lunchbox in one hand and his umbrella, of which he was clearly proud, in the other.  Seeing him took me way back, heart clenched with longing, to Eliot all geared up for the long trek to the playroom…

Eliot, all geared up for the long trek to the playroom

After duly admiring our young neighbor’s umbrella, we continued with our walk and the topic of the day. Money. There’s something about the chicks leaving the nest that makes you look around, dazed, wondering where all the money went.  Today, I was too busy doing calculations in my head to notice the mist hanging in the canyon, too intent on laying out a new, more parsimonious, plan to stomp in a puddle just to make a splash.

On our way back, we passed another neighbor, out for his morning stroll.  Though he clearly doesn’t need it, he always uses a cane. It adds a jaunty flair to his walk.  After he passed, we talked about how smart he is. By the time he needs the cane, we agreed, he won’t need to fight it, or feel, as some older people we know do, that using a cane is somehow a failure or a deep loss.  By then, it will just be part of who he is. A good part.

Note to self: while planning, plan on aging jauntily.

It has taken the emptiness of the nest for me to notice that embedded in every present day are pieces of the past and the future. I think they are there to remind me of what matters, and to show me how I really want to walk through my one and only present.

He Flew, She Flew

Call us neurotic, but when the kids were growing up and we travelled without them, we flew in separate planes. Yeah, I know. Statistically, we were at greater risk driving a car together. But in the car, I had the illusion of control. And car accidents just happen. In a plane, I’d have those long, horrible seconds  before impact envisioning  my children being raised by my Alaskan Uncle Ned and his four dobermans.

But with the boys grown and gone, we started flying together again and got reacquainted with our old travel habits.  (1) She has to have an aisle seat. So do I. (2) She enjoys the airline menu. I live by a code that prohibits the consumption of airline food, street food and anything that’s pureed. (3) She likes to chat with the person next to her, and rent romantic comedies, and laugh uproariously.  I travel in the Sam Bubble, ear plugs in, buried in a book. A lively chat about how much we annoy each other while airborne led to our decision to book seats across the aisle from each other, where we’d each be free to engage our favored travel habits. If we couldn’t book the desired aisle seats, well, we’d just fly separately again.

In many other ways we flew separately when we were raising young kids, each of us handling different aspects of parenting, one cleaning up the mess while the other put the baby down, one doing the bills while the other did the yard work, one being  primary wage earner while the other was primary caregiver. So this new reality called “empty nest” has become not just a transition in parenting, but a transition in marriage, a time to get reacquainted with my spouse, learn to fly together again, and accept the fact that sometimes we’re  going to end up in different parts of the plane.

Me too…

Eliot came home from college for the first time the other day.

As he delivered some sweaty workout clothes to the garage, he said sunnily, “I’m so looking forward to having you do my laundry for me again.”

Me too, baby, me too.

Baby On Board

I got a good fare, so I flew Virgin Airlines this Thanksgiving. It wasn’t my first choice for air travel, mainly because of the fashion restrictions. In case you didn’t know, you pay a penalty if you’re not wearing an article of black clothing, Buddy Holly glasses, Uggs, or sporting light facial hair. Bright colors are discouraged because they clash with the club lighting. So you can imagine my horror when I arrived seat 11C and found 11B and 11A occupied by a mother and her INFANT CHILD. Are you kidding!? An infant on an airline reserved for for the sole use of the terminally hip!? Why weren’t they flying Southwest, the Greyhound bus with wings? Or United, the airline for the recently born and the recently exhumed? I didn’t squeeze into my navy skinny jeans so I could suffer five hours of puking and crying!

I put in my ear buds, hunkered down and prepared for the worst.  But as we winged East, I got pulled into the little drama next to me. The mother nursed her son, staring adoringly at him. Then she put him in his baby seat and dangled a yellow bird. He was riveted, twitching and gurgling. And when she picked him up and sang softly to him, he returned her adoring stare.

And I wondered…Was I that connected with my sons on the multiple flights we took when they were young? Flying with young children ranks in the top ten of Parenting-Experiences-You-Want-to-Be-Over-Quickly, right up there with a 24 hour bug, and a school play in which your children are not participating, but this woman seemed to be living every in-flight moment with her young son.

I remember making tray table forts, sharing bags of skittles, visiting that amusement park in the sky, the lavatory, and feeling their weight as they finally fell asleep four minutes before we landed. But I also remember just marking time, checking my watch, counting the exhausting minutes until the plane landed so we could get on with our vacation.

 

If that mother in 11a saw me back then, would she see the connection that I now see between her and her tiny son in 11b?

 

 

Keep, Sell or Give Away?

Back when the chicks were all in the nest, every six months or so we’d have a day dedicated to cleaning up.

This involved me going into each of the boys’ rooms and touching every single thing they owned.

I’d hold each item up and ask, “Keep, Sell, Give Away?” and they would make their judgements.  I’ll admit, I tended to come down on the side of Sell or Give Away, but if they insisted that they absolutely must, no matter what, keep that 17th Beanie Baby, I’d give in.

There were certain things, like Duplo and then Lego, that would always evoke shrieks of “KEEP!” and promises that the chick involved would do a better job of putting it back where it belonged, in the large, red Sears toolchest entirely devoted to its storage and not, uh, leaving it strewn around his room.

By then end of the looooong day, their rooms would be neat, we’d have a garage sale to plan (in which they would keep the proceeds from the sale of their own things) and a few ginormous garbage bags to donate.  And we were all happy, perhaps for different reasons.

Now that Henry has his own studio apartment, in which he is about to host nine, yes, NINE, people for Thanksgiving, we decided to continue the Keep, Sell, Give Away tradition.

This is what it looked like halfway through.

As we were sorting through the chaos, a few things caught my eye.

First, the pumpkin. I know he buys himself one every year, and every year it makes me happy.

And then, tucked inside a plastic bag, a surprise I didn’t see coming.

“Oh, that,” he said airily, “I got that before Hurricane Irene so we’d have something to do during the blackout. We can give it away.”

And now it was my turn.  “No way!” I cried.

“Keep!”

Ride The Fun Plane

Packed airports. Sold out car rentals.  Granny’s diverticulitis. Fights over who’s going to cook what.  Ah, Thanksgiving.

Last night, I had worked myself into a  state of psychotic anxiety around Thanksgiving arrangements when I remembered something my eldest son, Henry, said years ago as we were preparing to schlep across the country for the holidays.

“Let’s ride the fun plane!”

He was referring, of course, to airplanes that had TV’s in them, but I’m adopting it as my new holiday mantra.

When over-cooked-turkey-psychosis sets in, I will take a breath and say these words: Book a seat on the fun plane, Sam.

When it sinks in…

In our house, Quinn was the king of tantrums.  His meltdowns were epic: loud, impassioned, relentless.

There was one phrase he clearly felt bore repeating – to me.

“I hate you!”

“I HATE you!”

“I hate YOU!”

“I HATE YOU!”

I am not, alas, exaggerating when I say this went on for months.  It felt like years.

Tears. Shrieks. Flailing arms. And always with the “I hate you!”s.

“Quinny”, I said one day in the car, channeling the nursery school director, “it is OK for you to tell me how you feel.  You can feel angry at me.  You can feel mad at me.  You just cannot keep saying “I hate you!”

Silence.

“Ah,” I thought, “Finally we’re getting somewhere.”

And then, from way in the back…

“OK, I FEEL I hate you.”

And. It. Went. On. Time-outs were had.  Consequences were meted out. Doors were closed on raging sobs. Did I mention they were loud?

Nothing worked. I despaired.

And then one day, when he was crying so hard he could barely breathe and yet still found a way to shriek, “I HATE you!”, I knelt down in front of him and said, “Quinny, you know when you say, ‘I hate you’ to me?”

He glared at me, but he was listening.

“I think what you really might mean is, ‘You don’t love me.’

He gave one of those between-the sob-hiccups.

“I think sometimes you feel that I don’t love you as much as your brothers.  And I do. I  LOVE you.”

He never said “I hate you” again.

Quinny is the middle child, a birth order position that, he will happily you, sucks.  And during all those tantruming months we definitely got caught in the any-attention-is-better-than-no-attention trap.  But we were stuck there because his little five-year-old self didn’t feel loved.  By me.

Makes me sad to think of it, all these years hence.

But a wise friend once told to me that it’s not when the “I love you’s” are being exchanged that children end up feeling loved. They end up feeling loved if you can somehow find a way, while dodging the “I hate you”s, for your love to get through.

Kid Art Disposal

With the kids gone, I’m finally getting to the task of tossing the stuff they left behind. Old clothes? Gone. Paintball gun and accessories? Out. Pokemon cards? Please. And then I found this piece of Kid Art under a bed…

When the kids brought art home back in the day, my partner and I extolled their vast talents, then retired to a private chamber to appraise the piece. If we decided it was worthy, it went in “The Box” (each child has a box designated for his childhood treasures, including art). If it was unworthy, it got shit-canned. There wasn’t much sentimentality involved because, well, how many popsicle stick sculptures can you drag through life? So, here I am, suddenly thrust into the role of Kid Art Appraiser again. As you can see, it’s nicely painted, but it’s round, and it’s on thick piece of plywood, and it’s mostly purple. After deliberating for an embarrassingly long period of time, I decided it wasn’t worthy of The Box.  But on my way to the shit can, I turned it over and saw this…

Which is why it’s now hanging on my office wall….