Friday, February 12, 2016

The Ties That Bind

Raised by an ERA pin-wearing, liberal single mom, I believed I could do anything a boy could do. So going from “mom” to “single mom” didn’t scare me all that much. After all it was just an adjective. But I guess I didn’t stop to think about the things a boy learns from his father. Until my oldest son started high school. The dress code included wearing ties to monthly all-school masses. I’d been looking for my car keys the morning of that first mass, high heels in hand, racing around the house when my son dragged his way up the stairs, sleepy-eyed, starched shirt buttoned up to his neck, tie in hand, a mix of confusion and disappointment (or was it regret?) on his face.
“Mom? Can you tie my tie for me?”
I didn’t want to let on that, well, no. No, I couldn’t. So, with all the confidence I could muster that Thursday morning, and with two other kids running around intermittently yelling, “Where’s the syrup?” and “I can’t find my soccer cleats!” I stopped on the landing by the front door, set my shoes down and took the tie from his hand.
“Sure,” I said with more saccharine than the syrup that was eventually located somewhere in the kitchen. I looped the tie over the back of his head and around his neck. One hand holding each side, I stared at the ends, willing myself to picture my father, my ex-husband, hell even Richard Gere in Pretty Woman tying a tie. Just a quick loop here, a flip there, and voila! Nothing came to me.
My son shifted his weight from foot to foot.  “Uh, mom…?”
“No, It’s cool. I’ve got this.” I pulled out my smart phone and tapped the YouTube logo, searched “how to tie a tie” and waited for instant enlightenment. What I didn’t expect was the sheer amount of enlightenment: Windsor, Double Windsor, Half Windsor. Good Lord, I had no idea there were so many different ways to tie a damn tie! And who was this Windsor character anyway? Didn’t he realize I was short on time? I picked the first one, proclaiming “for beginners.”
 I had my son hold the phone up while I watched the video and followed the instructions. It took three tries, but we got it done. And it didn’t look half bad. The next time he wore a tie, he brought me his own phone, the YouTube video already cued up.
“Let’s do this, Mom!” He smiled at me, a mix of love and sarcasm that he’s fine-tuned to perfection over the past few years.
This time I spoke the instructions out loud so I’d remember them. “Wide on right, twice as long… Okay. Got it.” I’d nod my head after each step. “Wide over narrow, through the loop and back down.” My tongue stuck out the corner of my mouth as I concentrated. “Underneath and through the loop. Wide in front and underneath.” I was saying it in a singsong staccato. God knows what my teenager was thinking. “Slide in the loop… and tighten!” I gave him a big smile. He smiled back at me like he thought I’d escaped from an institution. I patted his shoulder and sent him on his way.  Inside I was jumping up and down. Success!
Despite my proclivity to singsong the steps, he returned each time for help. By the end of freshman year, he’d stand in front of my mirror, and I’d hold the video for him while he tied it himself. Getting dressed up in my bathroom became a habit for him. He’d come in dressed but un-tucked, hair a mess and finish getting ready in front of my large bathroom mirror. Maybe it’s because the space – and mirror - was bigger. Maybe in small part it was because I was there to lend a hand with the tie, or in years to come, the cuff links.
The first mass of his sophomore year came the next fall. He knocked on my bedroom door early in the morning. I opened it to a taller version of the boy from the year before: Hair sticking up every which way, shirt tucked into his dress pants, buttoned up to his neck, tie in hand. I had to look up at him now. I followed him into my bathroom, but he looked over his shoulder.
“I’ve got it Mom.” He threw the tie around his neck, and slowly spoke the words out loud that I had said all those times over the past year, even adding in the singsong voice once or twice with a wry smile.
Two fast years later, his younger brother started high school. The morning of their first all-school mass, my high school senior walked down the hall the picture of confidence. Starched shirt tucked into dress pants, polished shoes, tie knotted in place. He stood in the kitchen, all 6’1” of him, and I realized that I had a raised a young man.
And then…”Mom?” My newly minted freshman’s voice boomed out. As he came down the hall, shirt half tucked into khakis, bright red sneakers on his feet and hair askew, he called out, “Can you tie my tie?”
My oldest and I looked at each other and smiled. As he turned the corner into the kitchen, I reached out to grab the tie from my younger son’s hand, when his brother took it instead. “I’ve got it, Mom.”
I watched as my older son looped the tie over his little brother’s head, lined up the sides and began the process all over again. “It’s pretty easy,” he said to his brother. “Just remember the wide part has to be longer. Then wide over narrow, through the loop, and back down…”
I snapped a photo of them with my phone to freeze the memory, then turned away so I wouldn’t embarrass them with my tears.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

On Whether or Not to Blink

Just recently I was holding a little redhead in one arm and the sweetest toddler in the other.

I remember thinking to myself "please God, life is just so damn sweet, please don't let anything happen." How could life get any better than this? And you know how it is when you have a toddler and a newborn - everyone who's got more than one little one at home has advice for you. I'd been inundated with it. But the one thing almost everyone said was this:

Enjoy every second of it - it goes so fast! They grow up so fast! Don't blink or you'll miss it! 

Over the years, it's always been some rendition of: You are really going to regret it when they grow up - hold on TIGHT. Don't Blink. Same thing when my daughter was born some years later.

But here's the thing. Grow up they did. And guess what? I look back on those years when they were little bitty - I mean I can see Connor when he was an infant, when he was three years old swinging' a baseball bat and chewing gum like his idol Mark McGwire, running the soccer field at eight, heading to high school at fourteen... all these great memories, right? And then I turn my head and look UP at him standing in front of me at 17 and I am just every bit as in love with him - maybe more so - as I ever was. I love our conversations, I love our relationship, I love the person he is and the man he is becoming. 

I watched Jack, 14, walk into CBC this morning for his first day of freshman orientation and I got teary eyed. How could I not? I know what is coming. These are the years. I'm telling you - for those of you who haven't been through it yet... THESE ARE THE YEARS. Middle school sucks (for those of you who haven't been through THIS yet... it's the sad truth). But, if you get through that hot mess, you are going to be blessed to find that these next four...  These next four years are going to show you what happens when your little boy becomes a young man. It's rough, for sure. The push and pull is no joy ride. And especially for the red-headed variety. Those stubborn, rule-breakin', fun-lovin', eye-twinklin-, girl-lovin' boys who just wanna run and play - homework and chores be damned. 

But when this boy of mine walked into those doors, those same wide double doors his older brother walked through three years ago for the first time - and as different as two people can be, they both walked through the same way - quietly, reserved, a little nervous, a little hesitant - and both - because I remember every second of watching Connor - I really do because I was trying to capture a picture of him with my iPhone without him noticing - both of them stopped to hold the door for other kids. And my heart swelled. It did. Oh, I know my sons are not the only ones to hold a door. I know they aren't the only ones to say please and thank you. But I find myself filled with so much pride. 

And I know that Jack doesn't need CBC to teach him this. He's got this down. Ask around - Jack is the kids who'll do your dishes if you feed him dinner. He'll carry in the groceries or take out your trash. Now at home... that's another story. But what he will find is himself. He walked in today quietly, a little apprehensive, not sure what to expect - and none to pleased to start school, to have to learn at all, much less with a building filled with guys. And he'll walk out four years from now - four very short years from now - with a confidence that comes from deep inside. With a respect (if not a love) for learning - and for the education he's received. For the moral code he's been given, for the sense of community he's been surrounded by, and for the faith and character he's built along the way. 

But I Digress. When Connor was in the third grade at St. Joe's, Jack started Kindergarten there and I was excited to have them both at the same school. Every morning, I'd have to pull away from Jack, his face red, eyes wet, and run down the hall. He did not want mama to leave. This morning I smiled and said "I hope you have a great day." He nodded as he got out of the car. "I hope you have a great day, too, mom." No tears there. Well, not his anyway.

When I got home, Connor was waiting for me. He needed help choosing which tie to wear for senior pictures. 

Maybe it's a bit easier for me knowing I've got a third grader at home who still needs me in the classic little girl sense. It's interesting, this juxtaposition of trying to get her to be a bit more independent (just last night we were having yet another conversation about her sleeping in her own bed), and these boys who are turning into men before my eyes. I'm enjoying the stages, and reminding myself, especially in the most difficult moments, that they won't last. These too shall pass, right? 

But I Digress (again). It's going to be an emotional year for this mama. One starting his high school experience. One finishing it up. One just leaning into the learning, the figuring it all out, the testing of curfews and rules... and one standing tall from all the experiences, smiling at the knowledge that his brother has yet to gain ("this is not a democracy and Mom rules."), excited to choose a university, dig into his last few Honors classes, plan his senior trip (hopefully) to Europe, and then start the learning all over again in college. 

So I don't mind blinking. I love watching them be the boys they are. The young men, the men they are growing into, their sense of humor, their intelligence, what drives them, what makes them laugh, tick, cry, smile, smirk, think ... all of it. Hell, I'm still enjoying watching myself grow, and I'm a hell of a lot more in love with them than I am with myself.

Oh, but lest I forget... Just recently I was holding a little redhead in one arm and the sweetest toddler in the other.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Mother's Day Poem

I'm not really a poet, but I went ahead and wrote one anyway, last August...

Can’t Wait

I stumble through the dark to quiet your cries
Like clockwork, every two hours -  
sleep deprived.
Body worn, I let out a silent groan
Can’t wait till this baby can do it alone

Thirsty, hungry, tired, wet
on tippy-toes, fingers outstretched
I’ve got it, I say,
again and again
Can’t wait till this baby can do it alone

Run to the store – just a five-minute trip
Takes twice as long just to buckle him in.
Drags his feet down the aisles,
wants this and wants that.
Can’t wait till this child can stay home alone.

Herd of kids at the curb, run in to school.
Not him, though. Not yet.
He just shakes his head.
Late for work, I take his hand
Can’t wait till this child can walk in alone.

School years fly by with rushed dinners and sports
Nights filled with homework, forgotten chores.
Flash cards, science, frustrating sighs
History and spelling to memorize
Can’t wait till this child can do it alone.

First day of high school, a picture I can’t get
Our eyes meet for a moment: His roll, mine are wet.
Two years fighting traffic and waiting in line,
I need a clone - barely get there in time.
Can’t wait till this child can do it alone.

Son, do you have homework?
It’s already done.
What about that test?
97 percent.
Have a good day at school. I stand at the door

as he slides behind the wheel
of his brand new, old car.
Be careful, I say.
One last wave. A brave face.
Today, my baby will do it. Alone.

There are three beautiful reasons I get to celebrate Mother's Day every year. Each of my kids is unique, with talents and qualities I'm awed by daily. One is quiet but opinionated, with an amazing dry sense of humor that continues to catch me off guard. One wears his emotions on his sleeve, loves physical comedy and sticking up for those he cares about. One is independent, mothering, matter-of-fact, with a sense of humor that is a wonderful combination of the other two. I've always said that as a mom I just want to raise good people. It is my honor and privilege to get to raise three. As challenging as it may sometimes be, as tired and frustrated as I get, at the end of each day nothing brings me more peace than knowing all three of them are tucked safely into their respective beds, sleeping peacefully. 

These years go by so damn fast. Really. Everybody says that, don't they? Don't blink, because it'll pass you by? But oh, it's true. Watching them grow is bittersweet. I am wistful for the days of lulling them to sleep in the rocking chair, bending over their soft heads to breath in the powdery scent of them. 

But I digress. Knowing them as well as I do is such a pleasure. And if I'm blessed enough to get to watch them reach adulthood and make their dreams come true, well, then I couldn't possibly ask for more. I'm realizing this year just how precious the in between moments are. The college talks with my oldest. The funny stories my middle son shares with me. The way my little girl still looks at me like I'm the greatest thing in the world (all the sweeter because I know it won't last). 

C, J and E... Thank you. You have given me the gift of motherhood. And I am sure there is nothing better. I love you - each of you - MOST. More than you'll ever know. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Raising Jackson: Love. Faith. And Words.

Sometimes all I have are my words. And lately, even these have failed me. When it rains, it pours, I guess.

I think the hardest thing about parenting is that we don't always have the answers. We can't always make it right. As much as we want to be the perfect parent. As much as we want the clarity to know exactly what to do or say, sometimes we just... fail. 

I think one of the things it is impossible to know unless you are a parent is that children are not "mini me's." They are people. Smaller, yes. But they are made with their own minds, their own hearts, their own ideals. A dear friend said to me the other night that when he was young, he had a very strong faith. Not just in God, but in life in general. When he hit the pre-teen and early teen years, he came to believe that nothing and no one could control him or his world, except for, well, him. And so, like many 14 year old boys he tried his best to control everything in it. And it wasn't until his mid twenties that he finally realized that there is actually very little we can control - the rest, well, it's not up to us. That's where the faith has to come back in.

So, as another friend says, I am tying knots and hanging on for dear life right now. Hoping upon hope that my son will come to that same realization. Eventually. Until then, I will love him from a place so deep inside, he can't even know. And I will pray. Because I have faith enough for both of us.

Have you ever felt so completely out of control that you weren't sure how to get by? I'll admit I am a bit of a control freak. It's difficult for me to let go. Not impossible. But difficult. It is a tight rope walk this parenting of young teens. I am tilting and tipping, arms spread wide trying desperately to find the balance between what I must control, and what is okay to let go. I've also been told many times - and I believe this - that when our kids are angry with us, it's a pretty sure sign we're doing a good job. This is not a time for being a "buddy" but a time for setting boundaries. 

But I digress. Lord knows it would be so much easier to just give in, to say "yes," to turn my head. I can't. And it's not because I need control. It's because I love him way too much. 

Jack and I are at a crossroads. He wants to go to the public high school next year, and I am adamant that he choose from among the private schools (I'm trying to give him some power here to make a choice, among approved options). My reasons why are many. And from years of experience, they are also sound. I know that this topic presents a heated debate - even among my dear friends. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but I've weighed them myself. I was educated in the Catholic school system (2nd - 12th grades). My kids have attended both private and public schools. And I can tell you that for me - without a doubt - the money is well worth it.

This isn't just about academics. This is about respect. Community. Faith. Parental involvement. Character building. Teacher communication. Student to teacher ratio. Discipline. Every family is different. But I will fight for what I believe is right (not in general mind you, because every child is different, every child requires and desires different things) but for what is right for my son. Right now. For Jack, this is about girls. And what's familiar. And girls (I know, I know... he presents one hell of an argument).

So, let's talk about it, you and I. Have you made any big decisions for yourself or your kid(s) for which you had to fight? Have you stood your ground despite everyone around you disagreeing, shaking their head "no," rolling their eyes even? It's an uncomfortable feeling to stand alone with just my heart and my gut to support me. It sure would be easier just to give in. I'll be honest: I'm tired. And my sweet Jack is as stubborn as they come. But here's something else: he comes by it honestly. And I know where he gets it. ; )

Take my hand and stand with me up here, won't you? Just for a moment? Let me know that you, too, have been there, done that. That it's all going to work out just like it's supposed to. I'm struggling with my own words right now - Would you lend me some of yours...?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Know Any Multitasking Moms?

A box came today. I opened the front door to get the mail and there it was. Nondescript. Leaned up against the pale yellow vinyl siding, casual-like. A pool of crack-ly leaves protecting it from the last cold gusts of winter. Maybe it had been waiting there a day or two, I don't know. We don't use the front door all that often.

I thought it might be the pants I'd ordered from Eddie Bauer for Connor. I have yet to find a store that sells a casual, slim fit khaki pant in 30/34. No one believes you can be that thin and that tall (I assure you, he comes by it honestly). So I order the 32/34 and then we have them tailored to fit.

But I digress. It wasn't the pants (where are they anyway? I ordered them a week ago!), but a box of books. Chicken Soup for the Soul books. I have a story published in one of their latest titles: "The Multitasking Mom's Survival Guide." This was a really difficult story for me to write and so I am at once proud and terrified of it. As a writer, I realize that the best writing comes from honest emotion. And I'm not talking about the fluffy "Hallmark" stuff. I mean the real. raw. feelings. It's difficult enough to admit our faults - especially as moms. But to admit them to the world at large? In words printed in a book and put on a shelf that can't be taken back? That's hard. But no false emotion, no faux difficulty is going to be worth reading, right? And so I wrote my truth. And it was tough. And it hurt. But, it worked. And maybe... some other mom out there who's going through her own tough time will read it and realize she's not alone. And that's exactly why I sent that story in. And maybe that's why they published it. Who knows.

But I digress (again). They did. And so it's in this book with 100 other great stories of moms who are juggling families and jobs and health issues and aging parents, and stress and... life. And I'm proud to be a part of it.

And I wonder - do you know a mom like this? Tell me about her, would you? I'd like to pick a few of these fabulous moms and send them one of the books. You can tell me in the comments, or shoot me an email at Make sure to include your email address - and hers.

Speaking of moms, I'm thrilled that a story I submitted has been chosen for the Listen To Your Mother auditions here in St. Louis. Next week, I'll be joining 39 other very talented women/writers/moms (among them an old friend from high school - shout out to Shannon Rooney Mette!) - to read my story aloud for the judges. Only 12 will be chosen to read at the live event, but hey - I'm thrilled to have made it this far!

We moms have stories to tell! What's yours? Chicken Soup is looking for Stories ABOUT Moms and Stories BY Moms (along with a few other titles). What are you waiting for? Check it out here.