Saturday, December 20, 2014

When They Come Home

It was a long three month stay away, his first semester in college. Now he's home. Tonight, nothing could wipe away my smile as I heard three separate bedroom doors close after each of my sons called out, “'night, mom, I love you.” All three of my children are in one place at one time.
There's more dinner dishes in the sink than we've had in awhile, and the washer is back to doing a nightly load like my son had never left. The refrigerator door opened and closed enough times tonight that I thought we'd go through a light bulb. The snack cabinet looks like a two foot tall mini-burglar got to it.

My son is home, he looks good, healthy, happy, and comes alive as he tells us about his favorite classes. I listen to his voice fill the kitchen and his laugh grips my heart hard enough to hurt that I have to put on a ready smile so it doesn't look like I'm in pain.

While everyone sits around him, asking questions about being at school, I think how the night before, he wasn't here. Nor the week before. The yogurt goes bad now because he's not home to eat it, the bread gets hard and beyond its freshness date for the same reason. The orange juice goes tart from sitting untouched in the back of the refrigerator and the bananas turn brown. After three months, I still haven't learned how to shop for a household that doesn't include him.

It 's been a good first semester away from home for him. It's been a great time of finding his people and settling into his major. School is better than he thought it would be, and 100 percent what he dreamed it would be.

When he passes a mirror, he asks if I notice he's been eating less starch, more protein, how good this looks on him. I make myself stop before I tell him how easy it is to look good when you're 19. He tells me he's sleeping well, working hard, making friends. His mood is fantastic, and his eyes dance with the details of his days.

I had a hint once of what life like this would be like. He had just begun school, still so little, and it was the first time he'd be away from home for hours. When I picked him up, he was unstoppable as he bubbled over with news of projects, books, what the teacher said, what the class's plans would be for the next week. It was thrilling to hear his joy, but my uncensored reaction to realizing his life was now going to contain parts without me in it, struck me smack in the heart. Since he was born, we were together. He was my first child, I never felt something like him before and all those early long years, we existed for each other. Having hours to myself while he was away felt exactly the opposite of freedom that so many had promised.

Time rushes past. We don't even feel it whip through our hair. It doesn't seem like we are part of the years we're in, but when we look around us, we see the souvenirs picked up along the way. I see the foot stool I painted green for him, in the bathroom, the one he once needed to reach the sink or would sit on to play while I gave his younger brother a bath. How is it that it still occupies this same corner? As if it's ever going back to its original purpose. Still, it is there, and it was there for him. He used it once, and it sits like a charm on a bracelet, telling a story from a point in time.

It's hard to know what to say to him without saying, tell me everything. I try to not ask too many rapid-fire questions. I will wait until we have time alone to ask how he is, not so much about classes and school and if he felt he aced his papers. I want to know where he gets his hair cut, is there a really good pasta place close by, did it feel strange the first night he wasn't home?

Are his boots warm enough?

Does he use a buddy system when he goes out?

Why don't I ever see pictures of him with his hat?

What might seem trivial to him, is monumental to me. If I know the small things, then I can see him clearly in the days he's not here, at 9:01 or 2:50 or 7:30, or 11:09.

Things feel different. The duffle bags on the floor of his room keep reminding when I walk past that this is a visit. Ponder that. Your child visiting. Home is different now, it's no longer his only place to be. His life is not shoulder to shoulder with mine.

I watch my son as he talks about the life he has now, the one that's his. I am amazed at how I take it. I was always certain, I mean I would have bet a million dollars, that when he left, I would have been swept under the waves left in his wake. I pictured myself walking around, befuddled, needing to learn and not knowing how to live with one of my children gone. Instead, I find myself thrilled for him, relieved that he's adapted, grateful that he is happy. I feel all of these things at the same time as a lump in my throat.
He's home, but not in the same way as he was his first 18 years, and yet, it feels okay. I am okay. I marvel at the power of love, so strong for someone else that it can override what I should be feeling now, what is my most natural human response -- an ache of the heart.
* * *

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Days of December

Nine days to go. It'll soon be Christmas Eve at our house, and my first son will be home from college. I think of how my second boy will have just one more Christmas with us, then he'll be on his own, too. I've got the third littlest still with me for a good chunk of years, but we all know what they say about time, and how it flies.

It's the thought of them, how this is their life, that fuels me. I feel bone weary this year, December has been a tough month for our nation and for our world. December is emotionally trying for me as it is, with the weight of loss of the ones no longer with us. When too much of the news on TV and radio start to feel like boulders on my back, I turn everything off and turn everything toward making life for my children.

Surprisingly, or not, I do December without a to-do list. I gave myself a pass on not keeping up with anything that magazines or the internet tell me I need, decades ago. I never had it in me, and I didn't see it growing up, so with that, I wouldn't notice if something was missing. Like expectations.

I meet the basics, a clean home, some juniper berries and cedar branches from the yard put around the stairs and front door, small gifts, and a prelit tree in the corner. This is good, and when I spend an hour adding twinkling lights around the fireplace, it's magical.

That's my style, and my family accepts it along with me. What they see others do, if it's going all out, they're fine with. I always hope that the people who do so much more than I do, do it because they feel the love for it. That it fills their tank to have their December be one that is full of splendor, in their eyes. With my whole heart, I hope it's done with no resentment, and that with each string of lights they put up, there's a sparkle of anticipation. I hope it's the joy of spreading cheer that propels them, and not the pressure of the season.

This is not to say I haven't had holiday seasons in my life where I've tried something that didn't feel natural to me. The year I had a subscription to Real Simple magazine (a gift from someone I think truly wanted me to be more like them) the theme was “Scandinavian Christmas.” Every room featured in the issue's pages were done in icy blue and glittery snow white. I tried it. I left the traditional red and green decorations from the Christmas years before packed away in the basement, and I went to a home decorating store and filled the back of the minivan with shimmering pale blues and sequined white branches. I drove everything home, pushed the house doors open, and then threw the whole scheme in the rooms. I looked around and felt like I was in someone else's house, one that was a chilly ice skating rink of an abode and left me muttering "Where's my sweater, I need my sweater."

Another year, I tried to do what I saw everyone else preparing to do at the grocery store, their shopping carts filled with 10 pound bags of flour and packs of 20 sticks of creamery butter. If children across America were going to have cookies for Christmas, then my children would too. After a weekend of baking and a constantly hot oven, I turned out a kitchen table-full of cookies on cooling racks. The product of all those hours of rolling and cutting were gone in two hours when my husband walked in through the door famished from work.

I've had lots of Christmas Year adventures where I spent time doing what I thought I was supposed to be. Like the year of collection displaying. I gathered small wooden Christmas trees and placed them atop the piano. I packed nutcrackers, big and small, and then carried them throughout the house, tucking them here and there. The kids didn't like nutcrackers in the bathroom, "I feel watched, mom." I had a year of miniature white Christmas tree candles, too. Kind of feels like you have double vision in Lilliput.

The year of the mini white Christmas trees was followed by the year of crackled silver glass, followed by the year of bunches of red berries tied to any protruding knobbed surface. I even held two holiday parties one year. Between cleaning the house and arranging the food, I was a stressed out disaster. Hostessing is not my in blood and I couldn't make myself like it no matter how loud the siren call from Real Simple's Holiday Table edition.

Through this entire process of trying on to see who I am for the holidays, I found out one thing. Who I am is someone who enjoys looking forward to the day in December where I see the smiles from being together and the delight in finding just the right gift. I'm someone who likes it slow, unhurried, with the day spread out before us and no one paying never no mind to any clock.

We have just two weeks left before the year ends. If we listen to what our hearts and bodies tell us, we'll strike the balance we need. Elf on a shelf, Secret Santa, or a minimalist season like me, it's your choice. Garland the heck out of it all, dip everything in glitter and sparkles, because it gives you joy. Or find contentment and satisfaction in a three feet bough set simply against the corner.

I only send wishes for you to be in the moments, and not feel like you should do more, haven't done enough, or that you've done too much. There should be no need to defend what feels right. Whether that means falling asleep with garland wrapped around your neck while you whisper Rudolph's name, or your family looks at their gifts and asks, "Hey, isn't that the wrapping paper from my birthday?" It's red, close enough.

Take care, my friends. Happy holidays to you.
*Clock just moved to midnight. Only eight days left until we're all together. 

* * *
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Saturday, December 13, 2014

What's Christmas Like When You're Allergic to Evergreens?

Made in China. My kids could recognize those three words on any gold foil tag by the time they were 3 years old. And not in a sound-it-out way but an "Oh! Yeah. It all has to be Made in China for Mama for Christmas. Right, mama? Cuz mama's 'lergic to real things. Look for the tags that say Made in China, guys."

It took me years to figure out I was allergic to evergreen. I had no idea the itchy hands, burning eyes, scratchy throat, husky Demi Moore voice, were all symptoms of a Coniferous Attack on my body. Hard to believe, but here I am, to tell it.

We would bring home garland, ready to deck the halls, our car trunk full of boughs and red velvet for festooning, and no sooner did I began to swaddle and swirl the house mantle and bannisters, when I'd begin itching. Just like a Gold Bond commercial. Oh that darn itch, that darn itch. Pine trees made me suddenly 88 years old. I attributed it to dry skin, it was winter, after all, and we were outside running errands all day. So I'd go through bottles and bottles of lotion feeling temporary relief and then, right back to the burn and the itch. (sexy bit of writing here today, isn't it?)

Until we moved into this house. This lot has evergreens all over the back of it. I believe in live and let live, but there was this heavy bough on a pine branch that slapped my leg every time I was in the back of the yard, and the fresh thing had to go. I held it taut one day, while sawing at it with a rusty dull blade we inherited from the previous homeowners. About five effortless minutes of saw saw saw, and it was that darn burning itch like I had at Christmas. But in the day's light, I could see itty bitty bumps all over my hands where I was holding the evergreen.

Did we both just say it at the same time? Aha!

Evergreen! Evergreen is the culprit! I rushed into the house to tell everybody inside that I don't have winter eczema but an allergy to evergreen! Hmmm, go figure, no one seemed too astounded with this seismic shift to my life. To be fair, it was summer, and talk of garland and evergreen mantle swags don't get anyone excited in July.

Today, we have tubs of Made in China faux greenery in our basement. China's finest work, I mean, their finest, sits front and center in our front room. A Real Feel Artificial Christmas Tree, a glorious 9 feet tall branched prelit wonder, graces the corner of our house for the world to see.

I revere it, the kids respect it. We assemble it, top, middle, bottom, and fan out its branches. We stand back, and ooh and ahh while youngest plugs it in.

Fake? Naaah, sir, this tree is not fake. Fake is a word used for the plastic tree experiments of 1963. When you could see the sorrowful attempts of those that wanted to be modern and get a plastic tree. What was left standing after a multi-personned attempt at construction was something that looked like the one and only time my husband tried to save us money by giving our then 12 month old son a Flowbee hairchopcut.

No, our tree is no fake. What stands in our front picture window, is a life saving member of the family. This tree is as real as the beautiful non-itch of my hands.

* * *
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Thursday, December 11, 2014

19 Makeshift Snacks to the Rescue!

My friends call me "good enough girl." That's what they call me, all right. Because if it does in a pinch, and if it fills a temporary need, why, then.... GOOD ENOUGH!

Today, so filled with the holiday spirit am I, that I'm sharing my go-to good enough snacks that are satisfying for a second breakfast or second lunch. Whatever you partake in (I happen to dabble gold star in both)

Go ahead, cobble a little extra sumpin sumpin special just for you today.

Let the foodromance begin:
--Sliced bananas mixed with microwave melted Hershey's kisses and mini marshmallows.
--Graham cracker S'mores, 23 seconds in the microwave.
--Hot cocoa with a 5 second squirt of Reddi-Whip. Chocolate sauce? Don't mind if I do.
--McDonald's will mix half and half of any flavor shakes for you.
Lately, I'm all into the half Arctic Orange with half Chocolate. Ho my god.
--Peeled, sliced apples smothered in melted French Vanilla frosting.
--Any kind of cupcake, any number. They don't count as cake calories because they're little.
--Hot dog sliced the long way, filled with shredded cheese, wrapped in bacon and put under the broiler for 4 minutes. Dang.
--A dinner plate full of Doritos chips, sprinkled with taco seasoned shredded cheese, diced tomatoes, crumbled turkey meat, microwaved for 1:25, then dolloped --  twice -- with sour cream and guacamole.
--Guacamole. Naked. No spoon.
--One scoop of chocolate ice cream with maraschino cherries on top. Mmmmm-hmmm. Mmmm.
--Frozen Girl Scout Thin Mints.
--Boy Scout Cheese Pop Corn.
--Instant brownie in a box brownies slathered with raspberry preserves while they're still smoking hot.
--Those Hot-Lava-Cake-in-5-microwave-minutes kits. Holy Wow.
--Lay's Thick Cut Vinegar and Salt Potato Chips stuck in between the bun and hot sloppy joe meat.
--25 crumbled crackers floating on top of a home made bowl of chili, heavy on the tomatoes.
--Martha Stewart Brand New Recipe for Boston Cream Pie cupcakes. Again, due to size, calorie-less.
--A baked potato, nuked, and stuffed with bacon bits, sour cream, cheddar cheese and a touch of salsa.
--A tall glass of Fanta orange soda served over a big fat scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream: Voila! Dreamsicle.

Are we all smiling and patting our bellies now? Good enough.

*Bonus Snack: Chips-n-Beer. Oh, wait, that's dinner. Never mind.

* * *

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Chinks in the Armor Are Hardest on Me

I was confessing to my close friend, my true reason for putting off decluttering.

It's because of what I find, I told her.

Letters in crayon hieroglyphics, love notes on torn construction paper, broken macaroni necklaces, hot wheels stashed away after being wrapped in Kleenex as a secret gift to me.

In my jam packed dresser drawers, I have pictures. They're a heartbreaking toss up every which way, photos that I would linger over and didn't want kept on a shelf in a photo album. The one here, I found Saturday afternoon. It's my last baby who is 12 now. He was so small, I could hold him cradled in one arm.

These treasures from my life do me in. I guess you could consider it torture I mean, to keep them. Why keep them. It's nostalgia, absolutely, it's something in my hand today from my life yesterday, like the 6 inch sword made from crossing craft sticks together and foil wrap. When it's in my palm, I'm transformed back into what my three children made me from the minute they were born. Their very own Ripley. I was untouchable, unbeatable and nothing stood in my way -- they gave me that role as if they came to this world knowing.

It became the meaning to my days. And I rose to that title, without question, I met it. I would sense them, the moment before their cries, and swoop into their room, lifting them from their crib. It felt like I was rescuing them from a tower.

Only mommy, they used to say.

Life continues in this way, the days the kind that fool you into thinking they will always be like this for you. You, their rider coming in on a steed, armed, ready, capable. Able to save in one deft move.

Spiders, balls caught in trees, knees needing bandages, bullies at the park, a fray in the favorite blue blanket. Nothing was impossible and you flew to them before they even knew they needed you.

Then, overnight ... you're not the only heroine they've always known.

One day, you look at the newest holiday pictures, and you gaze at the short woman lost amidst others taller.
Or you call them to you, because even when you squint, you still can't make out the fine print on the computer screen.
Or you ask them to the basement to lift boxes into the crawl space -- a job you once did before your knees turned to gravel.
When we walk at night, I have to take their arm in the darkness.

I can't stand to declutter, I tell my friend, because of all that I find.

The Umbilical Cord

Oh, Doctor, are you sure....
     the day he was born and you cut the cord-
     that cord that connects child to mother-
did you make it a clean cut? complete?

Because sometimes I wonder
    when the sound of his cry would cause
     the strange pain, prickly pins,
     "letting down" the milk to meet his need.
     And when, as he advanced to solids and fed with a spoon
     my mouth popped open
     with every attempt to spoon food into his;
     my tongue licked the corners of my mouth
     when the baby food spilled out on his face.

If the cord was cleanly cut, complete
     why the sinking sick stomach in me
     at the sight of his blood after a fall?
     Why is my mouth dry
     when he is the one on stage to say the lines?
     Why are my palms sweating
     when he is the pitcher on the mound?
    Why does my heart ache
      when his is broken?

Doctor, could you check?
I think the cord is still intact.

~Jana Vick


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