A senior letter

This has to be one of the hardest letters I have ever written. xoxo

I’m supposed to be writing you a senior letter, probably without getting emotional.  HAHA!  Yeah, right. We both know better than that.

Starting with the most mundane, I’ll remind you how proud I am of you.  Words cannot tell you how proud I am.  You’ve become every bit of the man I had hoped you would when I met you 18 years ago.  I prayed you would take the good characteristics of your dad and me and mix them together with your own spin to turn into an amazing man, and you have done that plus so much more.  You’re better than I could have dreamed, God truly blessed me more than I deserve.  You have a beautiful heart and soul, more than you really know – don’t let life ruin that.  You’re more than just smart, you’re sincerely intellectual.  You consider all things and analyze the good and bad before making a decision or judgment.  That’s really the key to life, kid, so you have a one-up on most people already.

I’ve watched you learn to crawl, walk, talk, and read.  I’ve watched you learn to ride a bike, play soccer, play guitar, and drive a car.  I’ve watched you walk into your first day of pre-school, kindergarten, middle school, and high school.  I’ve watched you drive off to your first job.  I’ve watched you go on your first date.  I’ve watched you drive off for your senior prom.  Soon, I’ll watch you walk up on stage and receive your diploma.  Soon, I’ll watch you drive off for your next adventure in the Navy.  You have been a joy and blessing to watch and I cannot wait to watch all the next stages in your life.

I admit that when you first told me about your aspirations to join our military, my heart broke.  It was a selfish act, and it took a long, long time for me to come to peace with that.  I didn’t want to think about you leaving me.  You and I have had each other for 18 years, you’re my firstborn and I just wasn’t ready to face the fact that you’ve become an amazing man who doesn’t enter into things lightly.  It’s because of this and your infallible reasoning that I got on board and knew in my heart you would do amazing things with this opportunity.

I read somewhere that I’m supposed to tell you what I want for you or expect out of you.  Like so many parts of our family and relationship, my wants and expectations aren’t really traditional.  Of course, I want you to get an education, find a good job, meet and marry a great girl, start a family, and all that jazz.  But, Austin, I want so much more for you.  I want you to leave this little town, join the Navy, and see the world.  I want you to live with no strings attached.  You have such a great opportunity to do things very few people get the chance to do.  Since you could read (at the ripe age of 2½) you’ve been fascinated with the world.  You’ve been interested in all things history and science.  Go see all those countries you have only ever read about.  Go see, feel, touch the history of the world and let that experience blow you away.  Life is so short, baby, and you have the rest of your life for settling down.  Hold off on that day to day grind just a bit longer and make adventure your next path.

What do I expect out of you?  Greatness.  However, before greatness, I expect you to live your life to the absolute fullest.  Drink a beer with your new brotherhood and make stupid decisions that won’t cost you too much in the end – you know like an arrest and big ass tattoos that you’ll regret later (and coming from me that’s saying a LOT).  Get your heart broken a few times because until you do, there’s no other way to know real love when it comes to you.

You’re one of my greatest accomplishments in life.  If I have done nothing else in this life, I have raised a great boy into a phenomenal man.  I know that you’ll take part of me, your dad, your brother, and sister & papa and nana with you along the way and we will help keep you grounded…just enough – not too much.

You’re going to be scared, you’re going to be nervous, and I’m sure there will be days you’ll just want to come home, but those days will be few and far between.  You will succeed.  You will be ok.  You will overcome.

Go start your life, baby – it’s only just beginning.  I’m so proud of you and all that you’ve become.  I love you with all that I am and all that I have, son.

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1996

March 5

Buffalo nickel

Dig through your couch cushions, your purse, or the floor of your car and look at the year printed on the first coin you find. What were you doing that year?

1996

I rummaged through the crap mess in the console of my truck and not only realized I desperately need to clean it but found a dime and on it was stamped 1996.

It was 1996, the year I graduated high school.  It should have been a time in my life of festivities and prepping for senior prom and senior skip day with my best friends while making memories of a lifetime; instead, I saw it as utterly painful.  I didn’t realize then that I was still making memories of a lifetime and that I would make a new friend to carry with me the rest of my life.  I lived in Ohio at the time because my father was transferred there during my senior year.  I met one of my very best friends there.  Both of us were dealt the horrible fate of spending our senior year away from our original high school and all our friends.  I moved from Atlanta and she from New Jersey (though originally from Alabama).  We formed an instant friendship.

We both had to leave high school boyfriends behind, obviously and neither of us was too pleased and we bonded over that quickly.  We became a quick cliché of Misery Likes Company and we kept to ourselves for the most part.  To make sure everyone knew just how miserable we were, we dressed in head to toe black on Valentine’s Day because, well, why not.  It was still the grunge era so we had a lot of black hanging around.

I graduated in May and by that time my father had been transferred again, this time to Florida though I was convinced I would be stopping and staying in Georgia.  I was eager to get back to Mr. EMT and could see no reason why I couldn’t stay on with a family member and attend college there.  1996, coincidentally was also the year the Olympics were in Atlanta so my parents rationalized that it wouldn’t be a good time for me to move back, and I should just wait a little while longer.  I didn’t realize at first that it was a ploy to try to keep me in Florida where they knew my future would probably be brighter since I would be in college.  They were smart, my parents, they knew me far better than I knew myself.

Fast forward to the end of 1996, after a few new friendships and entirely too much partying, I decided it was time to go back to Georgia.  I secretly bought a bus ticket, gave my 2-week notice at my job, and was prepared to leave my parents in almost a haste.  I knew they wouldn’t approve.  I knew they would be desperately disappointed, but I missed Mr. EMT so much that I felt I would lose him completely if I didn’t return.

My mother, being the brilliantly smart woman she is, somehow found out that I was leaving and she drove me there.  In almost complete silence.  It was one of the most heartbreaking moments of my life.  I could feel her anxiety, I could feel her fear, and I could feel her love.  She was going to let me go, but it was going to break her heart.  She knew the struggles I would face, but I was 18 and I wouldn’t hear anything about it.

1996 was a monumental year for me, almost as much as 1997 when Mr. EMT and I welcomed The Eldest long before we were prepared to be parents and started going through the struggles my mom knew were coming.

Parenting, it ain’t for the light hearted

Going into parenting, I was a nervous wreck.  I got pregnant young, almost too young to be a parent.  I was an adult, but only just barely.  Looking at my 17-year-old son today, I cannot imagine him becoming a parent in a couple years, like his father and I did.  I was a wreck somewhat because of our ages, but mostly because I had no idea what the hell I was doing.  I was going to be responsible for another life.  How was that going to work?  I still could hardly separate colors successfully and not turn white underwear pink.

I was given this awesome book, ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’.  I read it cover to cover 3 times before I ever laid eyes on the kid growing in my stomach.  Then, when he came I read ‘What to Expect the First Year’.  Again, I read it cover to cover countless times.  I was ready.  I was prepared.  Turns out there was no way I could turn him pink during bath time (well, except that one time with the bath paint, but let’s not go there).  We were good.

I went blithely through colic and the toddler stage to preschool and then had a couple more kids along the way.  I was becoming a pro at this.  I was raising three kids and no one turned pink again.  We taught them ‘stranger danger’, how to escape during a fire, where to go if they got lost, code words for people claiming to be sent by us, and all the likes of parenting 101.  Parenting magazines were a Godsend during the younger years and we thrived as a family.  We read advice columns, we exchanged ideas between our friends, and we relied on the past experiences our parents had and combined them all for super parenting, like a superpower.

All those years, all those books and not one time did anyone mention what could really hurt your kid.  Adolescence and hormones.  I didn’t read anywhere about what to do if your child experimented with cutting.  I didn’t get any advice about what to do when your child withdrew and started listening to questionable music and wanting to dress in all black.  Nowhere in those books did I read what to do when your sweet children are replaced by kids full of eye rolls, blank stares, deadly stares, exaggerated sighs, unanswered questions, phones glued to hands, and mood swings that would make even the scariest roller coaster jealous.

Cellphone etiquette wasn’t listed in those books, either.  Sure, we made rules as we went, but this isn’t something that was an issue during our upbringing so we were just winging it.  There was no parenting book that told you exactly how to handle apps and social media and sexting.  There’s no ‘What to Expect’ about those things.  We try to be reasonable parents, trusting parents.  We take lessons friends have learned and parents have learned and we try to apply them as best we can.  There are all types of parents out there.  I know parents that are too lax, I know parents that over-parent, I know parents that try to be somewhere in between, and I know parents that seem to have all the answers and they just seem to do it right.  However, then I learned those parents, the ones who appear to have it all together and have parenting as their superpower are just as scared and are going through just as much as the rest of us.

Maybe there’s no ‘What to Expect’ book out there for adolescence because no one really knows what to expect.  No one has mastered it well enough to write it all down.  There’s no way someone can prepare for your child to admit they’ve been a “cutter”, there’s no way to prepare for your child to make a decision to share intimate images of themselves to someone on the internet, and there’s no way to have all the right words and all the right actions for things you never thought could or would happen.  I’ve learned that as a mom I just have to admit when I don’t know what the hell to do and then I have to rally with other moms who are experiencing the same thing.

In my advice and edition of ‘What to Expect’ during adolescence, I will say this – expect everything and befriend the parents of your children’s friends.  They are your only hope to getting out of this alive….well, them and a nice big bottle glass of wine.

From a child’s eye

Images courtesy of freeimages.co.uk
Images courtesy of freeimages.co.uk

I was 12 years old and my brother was graduating from Navy basic training in San Diego, CA.  I remember his going away party like it was yesterday.   This party, though, was one for the books.  We had a 3-floor split level home and one of my dad’s best friends brought a gas station sized American Flag to drape in front of our house. There were so many people, so many laughs, and so many tears.  I don’t really remember the day he left, but I remember the sadness that overtook the party at the end when everyone wished him well.

Fast forward 8 weeks and my parents let me know we were going to be flying to California to watch him graduate and spend a week touring.  California!  This was the summer of 1990, people!  Just after the movie, Pretty Woman was released.  You could imagine my excitement to see Rodeo Drive!  Of course, that was before I realized San Diego was not at all near Rodeo Drive.  (My dad, being the awesome man he is, later got us to Beverly Hills and the Hollywood sign for a day anyway)

After his graduation and after I melted over the fact that I used the same bathroom in the USO building from the scene in Top Gun where Maverick followed Charlie, my dad wanted to visit Mexico.  Wow!  Mexico? Another country?  This was quickly turning into the best vacation ever.

It wasn’t a long drive, I remember, and we ended up at what reminded me as the toll booths on our highways back in GA.  We go in and Dad gets us to Tijuana, Mexico.  Naturally, I had no way of knowing what to expect.

My dad wanted to go to the shops in the town to barter for items on which he knew he could get great deals.  We ended up going down a small open tunnel that smelled of urine, rotting food, and God only knows what else.  I was scared beyond any of my monsters under the bed imaginations I had up until now.  I remember women and men off to the side-eyeing us.  Luckily, my father stands 6’4″ so no one really talked to us.  Except this little girl who couldn’t have been more than 4 years old and there she stood with her coffee can looking at us with these huge sad, brown eyes.  My heart broke.  This was the first time I saw real pain and real sorrow.  She was hungry.  She was poor.  After much begging and pleading, I got my dad to give her some money.

The vacation ended up being very wonderful, but there are so many times in my life where I find myself looking back at that little girl in that tunnel, and for an instant, my problems seem so small.

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To Dream or Not To Dream

I am blessed with a good memory of my childhood (which is strange in and of itself as I often can’t remember what I ate yesterday).  I lived in a time where we could leave our doors open, when there weren’t leash laws so dogs followed the children playfully throughout the neighborhood, a time where mud pies and ‘lightening bugs’ were the highlight of a summer, and a time where the biggest worry was what everyone was going to wear the first day of school.  The neighborhood I grew up in is now one that no one would want to drive through without being fully armed, but when I lived there it was full of young families where every mother knew every child and didn’t hesitate to scold you and send you home for dinner.

Summers were spent outside since there weren’t a lot of families with video games.  My family bought a Nintendo64, but we were the kids that would rather play flashlight hide and seek rather than be inside with the ‘old people’.   One of my memories isn’t just one at all.  Nearly every day I spent time laying at the top of the big hill of our driveway staring up at the clouds watching them morph from dinosaurs to Volkswagens.  I could do that for hours, and often did when time permitted.  It was laying there and looking into the blue sky that I began to dream of a future I could hardly imagine.  As a child, it was hard for me to think past Christmas that year, let alone ten or fifteen years ahead.  It wasn’t until the game MASH became popular that made me really start to give my future self some thought.  I had big dreams.  I was going to live in a Mansion, marry Donnie Wahlberg from New Kids on the Block, drive a red mustang, live in California, have 3 kids, and be a teacher.  Yes, I was going to be very happy and this little game started my most memorable childhood dream.

Naturally, I knew I wasn’t going to marry Donnie Wahlberg, but everything else seemed plausible in my mind though I later changed my idea of a Mansion to a really nice middleclass brick home.  The only thing that really panned out was that I am a mother to three children.  In my dreams, I never really considered becoming pregnant at 18, dropping out of college, spending three years as a single mom, eventually marrying the father of my son, and struggling to just stay within the lower-middle-class spectrum.  Those weren’t my dreams at all, even sans the MASH game.

For years I struggled with this.  I had to let my childhood dreams go and welcome reality.  I realized that the loss of my dreams didn’t change the quality of the life I’ve lived.  We have finally landed squarely in a decent home, have an SUV big enough to cart around a 10, 11, and 15 year old, a retirement plan, and while I’m not a teacher, I get to play one at home when homework is too hard.  Dreams have a way a making one feel inadequate when they don’t come true, but I’m just happy to have what I have.

This is my submission to the weekly writing prompt from Studio Thirty Plus

Normalcy or the lack thereof

Can I just say to all those mom’s out there that are outdoorsy and all ‘go team’, you are a better mom than I am.

Anywho, my husband thought it would be a great idea to enroll the youngest (The Little) in scouts.  I’m certainly not against this; boys need to know various things that are taught in scouts and it would give the two of them bonding time and all that jazz.  Male camaraderie, if you will.

The husband is an EMT (finally) so he works 24/48 shifts.  He signed The Little up last Thursday, and boy was he excited.  It was really sweet, actually.  Last night was their first meeting.  Naturally, Mr. EMT was working his 24 so I needed to take The Little to the meeting and do the introductions and whatnot.  Sounds harmless, right?  I had enough time after the office to go home, cook dinner (chicken with white wine mushroom sauce – does that sound like I am outdoorsy to you?), and forget to grab a pair of flip-flops to replace the 3-inch heels.  We arrive and there are tons of kids and dads with a few moms, but mostly dads.  Some kids in uniform with ribbons that match that of a soldier in his twentieth year of service and others in civilian clothes like my poor Little.

There were 3 or 4 grown men in these uniforms as well.  I looked for them to guide me as to what den(?) my son would be in.  None of them knew.  He was either a boar, bear, webble, fox, or a smattering of other animals.  I couldn’t quite follow as he lost me after something called a weeble-o.  What the hell kind of animal is that?  Clearly, I was not the right man for this job.  After a scout chant, a prayer, and some kind of hand gesture, we move to a circle.  Now, in my mind I think of campfires, smores, singing, rules, or something of the sort.  HA!  No, that’s not what these uniformed overgrown kids pretending to be adults had in mind at all!

Burly Man:  “Parents!  You are to follow your scout and their leaders down the trail behind us”

My mind: Wait, trail behind you?  You mean that overgrown forest with no wooden path?  And follow where exactly, to the end of my existence cause I’m in heels mister…

Squirrelly Man: (in a much smaller voice) “Ok scouts, grab the kid next to you, hold his hand and then raise your hands above your head!  That’s right, boys!  This is your buddy.  Where he goes, you go. Mmmmkkkkk? Alright, let’s go!”

My mind:  Where’s my buddy – don’t I need a buddy?  Does that kid attached to The Little look shady?  What if he heads off a cliff or something?  That seems a bit too vague of a statement, sir.

After hiking on the ‘trail’ and learning all about deer poop, scrubbing of antlers on trees, berries that would probably be the same ones that almost killed Katniss in Hunger Games, and white dots on trees that mark your way – we end up in this enormous field.  There’s an erect tent in the middle and several bags alongside of the tent.  My feeble, indoorsy, HGTV mind didn’t grasp what was happening.

Burly Man: “OK Parents, grab your scout and head to a bag, we’re learning the proper handling of tents, pitching them, and putting them away”

My mind: We’re what?  Are you seriously telling me this little bag holds that big ‘ol tent in it?  Orange is not a good color, btw, it will surely attract bears.

I look around and see one of those soldier-type kids and I’m all like, “Pssst, hey kid, you look like you’ve been here a while.”  The kid looks exasperated at me already, “Yeah, I’m a what-ever-animal-is best, do you need help with this?” and then he laughs.  He actually laughs at me.  Poor Little had already started to unpack the tent bag and was well on his way.  I’ve heard rumors that our family owned a tent, I suppose he and his father have worked on this before.

All ended well, our tent was set up and then put back and we hiked our way back to ‘base’.  I was sweating and panting profusely, pretty sure at least twelve blisters, and about four thousand mosquito bites, I was spent.  They offered a Gatorade, I declined as I was disappointed no one handed me an Absolute and soda for my efforts.

I had hoped for a quiet, normal school year when the children went back, but it looks like normalcy will involve sweating in places one ought not to sweat, bug spray, the purchase of hiking boots, and flasks canteens.  Go Team!

This is my writing prompt submission for Studio Thirty Plus