Little Squirrel ~ by Big Tree

Yesterday marked the first day of classes for both of my college students.

Yeah.  I am now the mother of not one, but ~ count ’em ~ TWO college students.

On the 18th of August, Hallie moved to the dorms at Otis College of Art and Design.

I still feel like I am finding my footing.  Kaia has long schooldays 2 days/week, due to  band practice, and then there will be football games or drill days on Fridays.  I won’t be going to pick up anyone at the bus stop after school.  If Hallie forgets something at home, it’s just a walk across campus ~ and it doesn’t involve me, anyway.  I won’t be running anything to school, or meeting with teachers or administrators, or trying to figure out how to juggle the two back-to-school nights that always seem to fall on the same day ~ one over the hill, one in the Valley.

There’s only one kid to wake, one lunch to pack (yes, we still pack their lunches ~ I know some kids pack their own.  Fight me), one homework progress to check.  I’ve walked away from that one high school for the last time, forever.

I have all this time, and I need to figure out what to do with it.

But, really, enough about me.

This kid. Well, not really a kid, anymore.  This whole entire grown up human.  How did that even happen?

It’s like…one day you’re watching them play in the mud and sing with the Care Bears, and the next day they’re in college.

Seriously ~ didn’t you have pants on your head just a minute ago?  But I know.  I know it’s been years. Some of them have not been so easy, my sweet, and that breaks my heart, but here’s what I know: if you made it through that, whatever life throws at you now, you can handle.  And, you know, if you can’t, call us.  Because it’s not like we won’t help you now that you’re off at college.

I feel like, as you head to college I should have some advice, but, you know, I’ve always said, I am the Sergeant Schultz of Parenting: “I know NoThing!” That’s super helpful, I know.

I do know a few things about you.

You are and will always be worthy.
You are smarter than you think you are.
You are incredibly talented and creative.
You are kind.
You are capable.
You are compassionate.
You have a strong sense of what is right.
You are a good person.
You are brave.
You are strong.
You are resourceful.
You are witty and clever
You’re an excellent problem-solver.

When you were small, you used to hold my hands and climb all the way up to my shoulders, telling me you were “Little Squirrel Climbing Big Tree.”

I might not be such a big tree by comparison anymore, as you take flight, ~ because you’d have to be a flying squirrel, wouldn’t you? ~ but I hope you remember where your roots are.  You’ll always have a tree to come home to, my Little Squirrel, no matter where your journey takes you.

I love you so very much, sweetheart.

Here’s to an excellent first year of college, and to the wonderful life it unfolds!

Echoes in the Hall ~ by Sam

Girl walking away 2010
New backpacks: 2010 (l-r) Justice, Hallie, Kaia

I’ve just returned from dropping off Kaia for her first day of 10th grade.  This year’s  picture will have to wait until after school.  We weren’t running late, but we weren’t running early enough to stop and pose for pictures, either.  With or without photo evidence, she’s off to 10th grade, and great things like AP World History, and her second year of Marching Band, in brand new sunshine yellow Chuck Taylors.  Do they still call them Chuck Taylors?  I’m probably dating myself.

It was a quiet morning, with just one kid to get ready and out the door for school, and it occurs to me: this is how it’s going to be now.  Hallie will be moving into the dorms this Saturday, and Justice’s schedule varies, but, really, being almost 21, she gets herself up and out the door to work or school without any help from us.  Honestly, at this point, I’m mostly just company and a ride for Kaia.  She’s pretty self-sufficient.  So, for these next few years, it’s just us.

It was really, really quiet.

It felt like I was learning to do this all over again.  I’m used to juggling many things, both parents up, dodging each other in the kitchen, calling over my shoulder to one kid, and then to another…but…oh…there’s just this one kid.

And one day…there will be only echoes in the hall.

For now, it’s still me and my youngest girl, in the morning, riding to school together.  I’m glad we get that time.  Last night, Shane asked, “You’ll probably want to drive Kaia to school in the morning, won’t you?”  He sounded vaguely hopeful that I might say no, and  it surprised me to realize how important driving her was to me.  Now that we’ve got just this one kid to drive, we will no longer have to “divide and conquer” as we once did, and it’s not like I ever begrudged him those rides to school with Hallie.  I knew I would get the rides home.  Maybe it hadn’t yet occurred to me how fleeting time is.  Maybe, now, as my older children are growing older still and moving on, I am finally beginning to feel that tug, that gradual letting go.  Maybe it’s just harder with the youngest.  The last.  My baby.  It occurs to me now, however, that he hasn’t driven Kaia to school in a very long time, and I am probably going to have to let him (she says, as if she gets to “let him”).  Isn’t that odd?  That I would think of this as a thing that is “mine?”  It’s ridiculous.  Of course, he will drive her some days.

Our mornings aren’t perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. Sometimes, they are hectic.  Sometimes, I’ve forgotten to wash something that needed to be washed, or we’re scrambling to find a decent lunch to pack.  Sometimes, we are late getting out the door, and she’s eating breakfast in the car on the way to school.  Sometimes, I’ve forgotten to sign something, or she’s forgotten to tell me about something at school, or there’s a disagreement about who forgot to do what.  In short, it’s not all a bed of roses.  Sometimes, we bicker.  Sometimes, we listen to KUSC, covering the display on the dash and challenging ourselves to answer their Great Composer Quiz.  Sometimes, we talk.  Sometimes, we’re just quiet.

Always, the moments are precious.

Because, someday, there will be only echoes in the hall.

 

…and in with the New

While we were busy getting ready for the evening’s celebrations, it seemed like we might never get there.  Just one thing after another seemed to keep getting in the way, hindering our progress in one way or another.

First, the washing machine decided to start making that horrendous noise AGAIN, and then just quit about a minute before the cycle ended, but a minute early was nothing.  The clothes were done, so we put them in the dryer, and moved on to the next load.  We weren’t so lucky with that one.  The second load stopped mid-cycle. The machine was locked.  It refused to let us reset it, turn it off, unlock it, open it, change the cycle, stop it.  It was just stopped there, and we could do nothing.  I got the brilliant idea to unplug it.  That should work, right?  I mean, you would think.  At this point, I jus wanted to get the clothes, which Justice needed, out, and take them to the laundromat.  I plugged it in again. Still locked.  Everything still the same. I tried again.  This time, it wouldn’t let me turn it off, but it did at least let me reset the cycle.  Since it had stopped during the rinse and spin, I set it to rinse and spin only.  Luckily, it finished rinsing and spinning, and, miraculously, unlocked.  I have been terrified to use it since, and we desperately need to do laundry.

I planned to make two treats to take along to the usual New Year’s Eve party: Fantasy Fudge, and Amaretti.  One, I had made dozens of times, so it was a no-brainer.  The other was a brand new recipe, but one I had long wanted to try, and had been reading about for some time, so I had a good idea of how it should work.  I felt confident enough to give it a go.  I was all set…except that I didn’t have sugar.  So, I decided I would have to run out and get some sugar. Since the store is just up the block, and everyone else was home, I turned on the oven to heat, while I ran up the street to get the sugar I needed.  Then, I went to grab my purse from the bedroom where I’d left it.

That’s when I smelled it.

There was a very strong, obvious gas odor.  I first noticed it as I approached the door of our bedroom.  My first thought was to ask Hallie to check all of the burners on the stove, which, in retrospect, was silly, since I was nowhere near the kitchen.  They were all off, but we made sure, and decided to turn off the oven, too, after Justice confirmed that the room did, indeed, smell strongly of gas.

Kaia, who was resting in the room with a heating pad, had been complaining of a headache, and I started to put two and two together at this time.  I texted Shane, who was out front, checking a few things on his new (used) car.  He brought in the cat carrier.  Justice started opening windows and turning on fans;  and we let out the two cats who are allowed to go out, and everyone set to work trying to find the one who isn’t allowed out while I called the gas company.

While everyone tried to wrangle Leia, who is still a bit skittish, has no interest in going outside, and doesn’t especially like to be picked up, into the carrier, I talked to a representative of the gas company.  We realized that the closest gas appliance to the odor was the fireplace.  I made sure the pilot was shut off, removed the key; and, at some point, they managed to get Leia into the carrier.  We all went outside to wait.

Luckily, the guy arrived quickly.  It seems the key that turns on the pilot to the gas fireplace had been left in, and had been accidentally tripped slightly.  He also replaced a couple of fittings that were incorrect.

Finally back int he house, we had only lost hours and hours to washing machine and gas woes.  Shane let Leia out of the carrier, then ran to the store for me.  I think I was doing something, but I can’t remember what it was at this time.

At some point, much earlier in the morning ~ and really, it had come up days before, too ~ Justice had told us that, this year, for the first time ever, she would be spending New Year’s Eve celebrating with friends who were home from college, instead of hanging out with the family.  Of course, that’s totally fine.  She’s an adult, and can celebrate New Year’s Eve however she wants.  It is a big change, however, and one of those things about raising kids ~ they grow up, and one day they are adults, and off doing things on their own.

And Hallie was busy with school stuff, so we decided that Shane would come to the party a little later with Hallie, and I would go earlier with Kaia.  So, I made my Fantasy fudge and Amaretti (they’re little Italian almond cookies, in case you don’t know), and got myself a little bit gussied up, and Kaia and I headed out to the party.  Then, later, Shane and Hallie joined us.

As always, it was a fabulous time.  Our friends, the Foxes, always host a marvelous New Year’s Eve party.  I feel like it was a smaller crowd this year.  I know we weren’t the only family who was short a kid.  There was no shortage of desserts!  (I brought, like, four pounds of fudge, you guys.) But, as always, we all had a lovely time, and it was a nice crowd.  The “core group” was all there ~ the 5 families who were all in that MOMSClub playgroup together many, many years ago, when our kids, who are now Seniors in high school, were babies.  The youngest kids are freshmen in highschool now.

We rang in the New Year, watching the ball drop on TV, and toasting with champagne for the adults and sparkling cider for the kids, just as always; but it seemed, this year, everyone lingered a little longer.

Leftovers were packed up by one family, who will be distributing them to homeless people, so they won’t go to waste.

We all said our goodbyes, “Happy New Year’s!” and headed out into the crisp night air.

Shane and Hallie hopped into his car, and Kaia and I into mine.

As we drove off, Bob Dylan sang over the car stereo:

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

 

Out With the Old…

I am not going to pull any punches, 2017 was a tough one.

I know, at the end of a year, we are supposed to stop and count our blessings, and, as always, our year has been filled with those; but I would be lying if I sat down and wrote a post about how great the year has been, and pretended it hadn’t been hard.  It’s been a hard year, in a lot of ways, for a lot of people I know.

I am not talking about politics.  I know that the social and political climate has been difficult for a lot of people to navigate, and that has put real strain on familial relationships and friendships.  I know there has been a great deal of social upheaval, and stress, and anxiety, and real life consequences as a result of what is happening in the political arena, because those things impact us all every day.  I don’t want to discount that, or for anyone to think that I am not taking those issues into account ~ they are part of the reason this year has been difficult for a lot of people.  In fact, for some people, that is the primary reason this year has been so difficult; because, for some people, those issues directly impact their daily lives so profoundly that they can’t help but think about them every single day.  So it’s hard for me to come here and say, “but that’s not what I’m talking about.”  Perhaps what I meant to say was, “That’s not all I’m talking about.” I would be remiss not to mention it at all.

There were deaths in families, and deaths of long-admired celebrities, as there always are.

Here, in California, we recently had the fires, and so they are fresh in my mind, but all over there the world, there has been disaster, and violence, and so much suffering, anguish, and frustration.  It’s difficult to even know what to say.  Some days, it felt like the world had gone mad.  It was hard to want to read the news ~ there was a genuine fear there.  What else could possibly have happened?  

On a very personal level, it’s been a difficult year for me, in regard to my health.  If I were to say, “I don’t talk about my health much,” you would probably think I’m being ridiculous.  It seems I talk about my health all the time.  But, really, I don’t.  Or, perhaps, I do more than most people, but there’s a lot I keep to myself.  So, when the CRPS started flaring up, I didn’t mention it, because, frankly, I feel like all I ever do is complain about my health issues, and, quite frankly, people must be tired of listening.  Nevertheless, it did start flaring up.  I figured it was probably because I had slacked off on my exercise routine.  I wasn’t doing my PT every day, and I wasn’t walking as much as I should.  Oh, and also because I had cut the dosage of my daily medication down just slightly because, in combination with the other medication I take daily ~ for that other issue that I am still reticent to discuss, because I STILL don’t have a diagnosis, so I feel weird about actually saying much about it ~ it was making me VERY SLEEPY; but only at night, after I took it, and upon waking, but this matters, when you have school-aged teenagers, who might still need your help, sometimes…and they do, sometimes, and I am their mom, so I want to help. (Do I win an award for that run-on sentence?  I think it was fairly spectacular, ‘though I am not convinced it was actually a sentence.)  So, I decided, first, to try doing all of the Right Things.  I exercised.  I took my medication.  The CRPS kept flaring.

I did the logical thing.  I kept going to my class taking kids to school, doing chores, attending performances, meetings, shopping, driving all over town, picking up, dropping off, running errands… You know, all of the usual “mama” stuff.  I kept tie-dyeing things, and playing my banjo when I had time, but it kept feeling like I had less and less time.  Everything felt like it took so much longer.  You know, because it did.

While all of this was happening, other things were happening, too.  I wasn’t the only one having a hard time.  Other people I knew were having hard times, too; and, while I am not at liberty to share other people’s hard times, you know, when people you care about are having hard times, you want to help, and you probably try to, and I hope that I did.  I think, at least, I tried.  I keep trying, and I will keep trying.  I feel like, a lot of times, I fall flat on my face, or my back.  Sometimes, I feel like I started there, and, if we are both there, maybe we can just lie there, hold hands, look at the stars, and know that, whatever is going on right now, it will all be better someday.  It will.  I promise.  It always is.

Also, while all of this was going on, I was having increasingly terrible digestive issues.  I’m not going into detail, because nobody wants that (and also because I don’t have all of the answers yet), but, basically, it breaks down like this:  I was diagnosed years ago with IBS.  I hadn’t had a lot of symptoms for a very long time.  Then, in recent years, I started having trouble again.  This year has been the absolute worst.  (This is NOT the undiagnosed issue I’m not talking about.  That’s still something else.  Sorry to keep being cryptic about that.  If you know me, I’ll probably talk to you about that ~ I just feel weird putting stuff down in writing and out on the internet about that one.)  So, I saw a gastroenterologist who has put me on a low FODMAP, gluten-free diet.  I was skeptical, but cautiously optimistic.  I have to tell you, after two weeks on the new plan, not only are my digestive problems virtually a thing of the past ~ as long as I stick to the plan, which is very restrictive, and difficult to stick to when I am away from home, and can’t cook my own food ~ but, now that my digestive issues are under control, the medication I am taking for that other (cryptic) issue seems to be working well again, because my body is actually able to absorb and process it.  I still need to return for a couple of tests to make sure we aren’t missing anything, but the good news is, things are much better.

So…back to the CRPS:

While I was busy getting everything else under control, it was still flaring out of control. To the point that I was having difficulty getting around to complete simple tasks like a trip to the grocery store.  Pain was interfering with my ability to concentrate, focus, sleep, eat, remember things.  It was bad.  Worse than it had been in a long time.  I contacted my neurologist and my pain management doctor ~ to see if there was any way we could change either medication, since, in combination, they made me SO SLEEPY.  To make a long story short (and remain as cryptic as possible), neurologist said something like, “This medication is controlling your symptoms, so NO.  We won’t be changing that.”  Upon reviewing that situation, we all agreed, this was a good plan.  After an examination, my pain management doctor determined that the CRPS was not just flaring up, it was progressing.

As you can imagine, this is not the news I was hoping to hear.  He scheduled me for a lumbar sympathetic nerve block, as soon as possible, in hopes that I would get some pain relief, and that we might stop any further progress.  That would be December 21st, and I would need to rest for several days after the procedure.  Perfect timing.  I hadn’t been able to accomplish much shopping, due to pain, and now, I had to be completely done by the 20th, so I could rest until Christmas Eve.

But, there was nothing else we could do, and just that little glimmer of hope that, maybe, we could stop it from progressing…or, at the very least, get a little bit of relief.  So, I agreed.

It’s been 10 days since I had the nerve block.

I think I must be in that “might get worse before it gets better” phase.  This hasn’t happened to me before, but I am trying to be optimistic.  They say you might not know until at least two weeks after how effective it will be.  So, I am waiting.

During all of this, there was this whole swirl of life events going on around us, and, quite frankly, I couldn’t keep up.  I tried.  I tried to attend to events I could attend.  I went to the performances and parties, I smiled, I chatted, I tried to make small talk, but, you guys, I am an open book.  I’m not good at this.  I am a terrible liar.  I don’t just wear my heart on my sleeve; it’s stamped all over my face.  Which is weird, because I’m an actor, right; or, well, maybe I was, many years ago.  But I think that’s different.  I like to think, in my real life, I’m not assuming a character when I interact with people for whom I actually care; and so, it’s different.  In real life, I am an open book.  If I am upset, or angry, or tired, or sick, or sad, or anxious, or lonely, or in pain, the whole world will know just by looking at me.  I thinkI have been every one of those things this year.  I suppose we all have, at some point, every year.

Some great things happened this year, and others are still in the process of happening.  Justice finished her Child Development certificate, and CPR and first aid training, and was accepted to the Music Performance program at her college.  Hallie is a Senior in high school this year, and is busy earning A’s in classes like AP lit and Digital Imaging (things I couldn’t even grasp in high school ~ and let’s review the fact that I didn’t make it through Senior year of high school, so kudos to kids who do), and looking into art schools for after graduation.  Kaia finished middle school and moved on to high school where she is participating in and loving Marching Band. She finished her Computer Science class early, and was allowed to move on to the AP course in independent study.   I took my first ever ASL (American Sign Language) class, and finished with an 87%, which is a B, but a high B, so I’m cool with that.  I probably can’t take another class just yet, but I will keep practicing what I have learned, so I don’t get too rusty before I can continue.  I do plan to continue.  Shane has worked on so many projects that I just can’t name them all ~ and I probably shouldn’t here ~ but I can say that he was recently able to purchase a used 1999 Jeep Cherokee 4×4 that appears to be in very good condition (fingers crossed).  I bought him a repair manual, so he can maintain it.  It’s a vehicle he’s wanted for a long time, and it means that, with Justice’s busy schedule, and with us on the brink of having a 4th driving in the household, we finally have a 3rd car.  I think it should make think easier for everyone.

There have been weddings, and engagements.  There have been children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews ~ oh, heavens!  Not all mine!  I just mean, in the world, there have been these things. In lives of my friends and family members, I have watched them unfold.

So, as I look forward ~ ever forward, never back…well, occasionally, wistfully, back, but never, ever with regret ~ it is with the very highest of hopes.

Here’s to 2017, and all of it’s challenges. Here’s to the tears we’ve wept, and the losses we’ve suffered.  Here’s to the lessons learned, and to every victory, every happy memory, every blessing and every joy this year has brought with it, as well.  For some, this might have been the best year yet.  For some of you, this was the year you were married, or the year your child was born, the year you finally bought your first home, or brought home the pet that filled that hole in your heart and made your life complete.  So here’s to 2017, for everything it’s been to every one of us.

2018, we see you on the horizon, and we have pinned our hopes on you.

We’ll see you soon.

 

 

The Nest ~ by Sam

Just returned from dropping off Justice for her Senior trip to Yosemite. Hallie spent the night at Makenzie’s, celebrating their birthdays with a few close friends. Kaia slept over at Sea World with her Girl Scout Troop, and will spend the day there. Shane is asleep, after picking up Justice at 3:30 this morning from a day (and Grad Night) at Disneyland/California Adventure. It’s just me, the cats, my birdie friend who sits on the telephone wire over the backyard every morning, a cup of coffee, and my banjo. Not a bad way to spend the morning, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I miss my girls. A few quiet moments here and there are nice, I suppose, but, at the end of the day, I still love the “wild rumpus.”

The older they get, the broader our circle becomes. I like to believe that they are not drifting away from us as they grow, but widening the arc in which they travel around the heart of our family ~ taking all of their awesome, unique energy out in to the world, and bringing more people in to our circle as they go. I know that my world is richer because they are in it. It only seems fair to share them with the rest of the world, even when I want, selfishly, to hold them close.

And now, prophetically, my little birdie friend has flown away, having chosen the perfect moment in my narrative to do so. I know she’ll return, tomorrow, only to fly off once more. Funny how that happens, isn’t it?