The Bitter and the Sweet

It happens every spring, that end-of-the-school-year crazy that hits mid-April and crashes over us like a wave, until we’re washed up on the sandy shores of June. It always happens, and I am always taken by surprise by school musicals, awards assemblies, field trips, Scout nights, finalizing grades for my computer students, saying goodbye to my eighth graders. I’m never ready, and this year I was less prepared than ever.

I’ve spent more than a decade of my life living with a preschooler. It’s over now. Two days ago, my littlest biscuit, my funny little Squish, graduated from preschool. He starts kindergarten in the fall. It’s a blow. I knew that it would be. There’s no way to prepare, really. I’ve been cut off at the knees; I can barely breathe. He’s a big kid now.

Kids grow up. They get older every, single year. And so do we. It has never really bothered me before. Growing up is a good thing. It means diapers are done, we’ve outgrown LeapPad’s entire product line (don’t even get me started here), we can go out for a meal without embarrassing ourselves. But there’s a flip side. They’re one year closer to leaving us.

Squish is five. We’ll be living with him for a long time to come, for better or for worse. He’s five. But his sister? She’s seventeen. She begins her senior year of high school in the fall. He embarks on his journey of childhood learning while hers is coming to an end. My bookends.

She will leave us. I am painfully aware that this time next year, she will be picking out the decorations for her dorm. So much change. Her departure is so imminent that discussions on what to do with her room are no longer theoretical. She will leave us.

I do want her to move on. She has to, actually. The boys share a room. That bunk bed will be outgrown sooner rather than later, and neither of them has accepted my suggestion to pitch a tent on the back lawn. She’ll move out and be on her own. And I am grieving. Gone is the little girl with pigtails and gap-toothed grin. She left behind a young woman who is preparing to face the world. It seems like yesterday she was dancing in the living room wearing her ruby slippers. A couple of weeks ago, she went to prom.

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If she grows up, that means her brothers are right behind her. Everything about our lives right now suggests change. We’re downsizing my vehicle in a couple of weeks. The reality is that we are unlikely to make long trips as a family of five anymore, and we’re done with bulky car seats. We can’t justify keeping a van. Even the family car highlights our paradox. Our kids are growing, but the family is shrinking.

To the casual observer, my life looks the same. I work, I wrangle kids, we get ready for some summer fun. But it’s not the same. My littlest guy, sporting a hoodie he refuses to remove even though it’s 80 degrees takes refuge at this moment in his cardboard box. But that box will fall apart and be taken to the curb for recycling. The hoodie will be outgrown and taken against his will to be tucked away as a precious reminder of the child he was. He is growing up, too.

Squish has been a challenging child to raise. As my husband sometimes says, it feels like he’s been five for half our lives. But even he will grow up. He graduated from preschool this week. I wept as he sang the school’s traditional preschool graduation songs “Tooty-ta” and “Tony Chestnut” with joyful abandon, just as his sister and brother before him.  One day in the future that feels not quite distant enough, he’s going to walk across another stage, receive another diploma. And it will be for keeps. I am grieving.

The One Where I Tell You a Secret

I have the weirdest dreams. When I was a kid, I used to dream that I could fly. I still remember that *whee* feeling in the pit of my stomach this one time when I dreamed I was flying on my magic carpet. Okay, so it wasn’t a magic carpet. It was a suitcase. I told you my dreams were weird.

The other night, I dreamed I was a zookeeper. Like, instead of volunteering in the reptile department once a week, they actually paid me to show up. And I had animals of my own that I was assigned to take care of. I didn’t get to fly, but I did get to touch cool things. It was the happiest dream I think I’ve ever had. Then I dreamed that I bought a box of salted caramel MoonPies. When I woke up, I had the biggest smile on my face. Don’t you love dreams like that?

Here’s where things get really weird. I opened my secret hiding place in the closet cabinet, and look what I found!

 

Oh, my gosh! Salted Caramel MoonPies are a THING!

Oh, my gosh! Salted Caramel MoonPies are a THING!

 

But wait. If the MoonPies were real… Does that mean…? Yes, it does! As of this week, I have a new full-time job! I am the newest keeper in the Herpetology department. This is my dream job. I have thoughts and plans for studies on reptile cognition, and I want to do some operant conditioning with our giant tortoises. I am so excited I could cry. And I may have once or twice already.

Can you imagine having a job where you get to continue learning and learning and learning about things you love? Because that’s what this job will be for me. I’ll eventually be in charge of some species of snakes that I have limited or no experience with, so I will be reading and scouring the internet for information to learn as much as I can. About biology and the natural world. What could be better?

My first day is Saturday, and I’ll let you know all about it. My new life is about to begin. First full-time job since Squish was born. It’s exciting and scary all at the same time. Wish me luck!

 

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In case you didn’t know, I contribute writing in other places. This week, I entered my drug screen post in a competition over at Yeah, Write. If you enjoyed it, click here to go vote for me. You can vote for your five favorite blog posts that you see there.

 I also added a post over at our local City Moms Blog. It’s a silly little poem about how parenthood changes us.  Because it does. Want a free sample, no extra charge? Okay, then!

Motherhood is pretty great.

I know that statement’s true,

But I’d be lying if I said

Kids haven’t changed my view.

.

At restaurants fine, I used to dine

On lobster or capon.

Today, I only choose the place

That offers free crayons…

Click here to read the whole post, and feel free to leave a comment to let me know you were there. I like it when my friends visit me.

 

The Best Present Is My Past

My bags are packed. I’m ready to go. Insert Peter, Paul and Mary here because I am, in fact, leaving on a jet plane, and I don’t know when I’ll be back again. I have a general idea because a return date is printed on my ticket, but it snows in Wisconsin. If it snows, I’ll be delayed.

I like to travel, especially when I don’t have to drive. The possibilities are endless. I’m bringing about 150 books (e-readers are the best!), music, snacks. The kid in me is wired up and fired up. Not because of the books, though, or the secret stash of Cliff bars, or the Lunchable my husband bought me for the flight (Shut up. I’m really eight.). That kid is tickled pink over the brand new legal pad stashed in my backpack.

Back in the days before laptops and desktops and the little electronic typewriter and the gigantic IBM typewriter circa 1944 that shook the walls every time I hit “return,” there were legal pads, bought with my own money. They were impractical and unconventional, so no legal pad ever appeared on my school supply list. When I ventured to the store to buy them, they had a purpose all their own. No mundane notebook filler, legal pads were intended for greatness. As a seventh grader,  I wrote my first novel on a series of them. Those battered yellow tablets are stashed in the garage somewhere. Not somewhere. I know exactly where they are. I leave them there. It’s better to let sleeping dogs lie.

For over a year I carried those tablets everywhere, writing anywhere I could, squeezing in a few sentences here, a paragraph there. They were my best teachers. Through my work on yellow legal pads, I learned about hyperbole (mostly how to do it badly), and that sleep can be lost over sticky plot points. I learned that no one ever died over torn pages, although they might feel like it at the time. I learned that there are critics everywhere and that sometimes when kids see you spending more time with a pad of paper than with actual humans, they think you’re a little weird. And that weird can be good.

I let an adult read my book once. At the time, I was cocky and full of my own self-importance. I was thirteen and had written a book. I was golden. I had not learned that first drafts are word-vomit or that every writer needs an editor. I now try to imagine that teacher’s impression of my work. And I cringe. My writing then was so raw, the very essence of my burgeoning teenage self. I didn’t wear a mask back then. My hopes, my dreams, my insecurities are contained in those pages, bared to the world. Now I could no more let someone else read that early work than I could walk naked across the town square. They are essentially the same, you know. I can’t even bear to reread them myself. I’m not ready for that level of exposure

My husband bought me a new tablet tonight. I added it to the shopping list, and when I came home it was there on the counter. It’s yellow, and it’s new, and it’s waiting for me. I have plans for this pad, oh yes, I do. First and foremost, NaNoWriMo is coming. I signed up again this year, and I’m getting ready. On the pages of this legal pad, I will meet my characters for the first time. I will learn their names and their history. We will plan their story; what was, and what I hope will be. It’s the best present.

If you are signing up for NaNo, too, and leave your user name, I’ll add you as a buddy. I’ll meet you at the corner store to buy a box of Runts, and we can stay up all night plotting and planning whole new worlds. I can’t wait.

Making Up the Rules

Internet is still out. Interesting that when I actually have internet access, I forget that I want to look up companies who can install it for me, which is how I come to be sitting in a Panera, covered in flour and chocolate from all the baking I’ve done for Squish’s fall festival to assuage the guilt for missing the event completely. Because I’m going to miss it. I have a date.

Tomorrow, after I teach my toddler class at the zoo, I will make like a cow patty and hit the dusty trail. In about 24 hours, I’ll be turning into sj’s driveway. There’s a balloon there to show me just where to go and everything. Amy will be there. And I am so nervous.

I’ve know sj for four years. We’ve exchanged emails daily for what feels like ever. She knows the ugly things about me. She has known me at my worst. But we have never actually met in person.

I’ve followed Amy’s blog for over a year. I won her book  many months ago, and I’ve been email her for quite some time. She is witty, charming, and her writing is delightful. I heart her dearly. But we’ve never met, either.

I know how to meet people. I’ve met people thousands of times in my life. When I’m leading tour groups, I meet dozens in one place. I know that routine. Exchange names, smile politely, ask about their work/school, move on to the next person: later, rinse, repeat. Easy.

But what about people you haven’t seen face-to-face, but they were there for you when your beloved pet died, when you were hospitalized suddenly, when the job so wished for doesn’t materialize, when a child has a serious health issue? What are the rules? Can you bypass the polite smiles and move right to a giant bear hug?

What if you have so many inside jokes (I imagine sj snickersnorting over “lather, rinse, repeat.” Long story, but let’s just say I’m more careful with my chat windows) that everything is an inside joke? And you love the same music, and you’ve talked books exhaustively, and they know you so well that their reading recommendations are NEVER off, and Eleanor and Park made you both weepy? Can you skip talking about the weather and move to eating food off their plate?

I’ve done it once before, this meeting someone who was once only words on a screen, a few months ago when I meet Emily, and it was wonderful. It worked so well. I think it will work this time, too, and for the same reason. I suspect that Amy and sj are in person exactly as they are online. That’s one thing that draws me to their writing – their raw honesty.

How does this all work? I don’t know. But I’m about to find out, and I’m so excited! sj and Amy, I’ll be seeing you ladies soon! You’ll know me by my Severus Snape t-shirt and my smile!

Gratuitous baby tortoise shot. Because when I can't share pics, I get shaky.

Gratuitous baby tortoise shot. Because when I can’t share pics, I get shaky. On a computer screen, this pic is bigger than life-size. 

 

I Got Schooled

Conventional wisdom tells us not to go grocery shopping when we are hungry. You know another time you shouldn’t shop for food? When you first get behind the wheel after having been without a car for five straight days. After subsisting on hot dogs, French fries, pancakes and peanut butter sandwiches for that long, I went a little nuts. Grocery store = fresh fruits and vegetables! I stuffed my shopping bag with Honeycrisp apples, nectarines, sugar snap peas, carrots, pears, and maybe some Honeycomb cereal. I have a sweet tooth. Sue me.

My car has been in the shop three separate times this week. That number would have been higher, but I quit bringing it home at night to save a tow in the morning. The issue itself has been a mystery. We were ready to call in Dr. House, or maybe in this case Dr. Garage. The mechanics have tried a number of things. These things seemed to work at the time, and I’d fetch the car, only to have it die in our driveway overnight.

Besides the grocery shopping tip, here’s another thing I learned. It’s difficult for a mechanic to fix a problem they don’t actually get to see. Two of the three times the car was towed (yes, three. This week. We’re on AAA’s hit-list), the stupid car started right up when it was unloaded. It wasn’t until we left it for a sleep-over that they began to see what we saw. Looks like it’s fixed this time.

Car trouble is a pain. It’s an inconvenience. It’s a game-changer. It reduced me to dependence on other people, starting with the very first tow. Another lesson for the week is that having AAA didn’t necessarily mean I could take care of business without my husband. His name is the only one on the card. Turns out that he actually had to be with the car in order for it to be retrieved. Had they made that clear when we initially bought the membership, we’d have sprung for the upgrade. Of course, the tow truck never even asked whose car it was when they picked it up, so chances are my husband was late for nothing.

I also learned this week that, though I may require assistance retrieving Squish from his school and getting too and from my commitments, I could still function fairly well. I made it to work. I made it home from work. Each day I managed some arrangement to get kids to and from their respective schools. I even walked the two miles to the garage two or three times to pick up the car when we thought it was fixed. I can do things. And I learned that some things can be cut out of the schedule and no one dies. I missed Tortoise Day, and it didn’t kill me. It almost did, but like my grandpa used to say, almost only counts in a game of horseshoes.

Here’s another cool lesson. I’ve been on the waiting list at the library for Mumford and Sons “Babel.” It came in over the weekend. I’ve listened to it obsessively a couple of times now. Turns out that M&S is the perfect soundtrack for automotive misery. Who knew?

I learned this week that I being grounded was a gift. In slowing down, I gained momentum. I finished a project that has been on the back burner for months, and I have made incredible headway on another one. I am so pleased with the results, and I can’t wait to share it. Creativity apparently doesn’t require transportation. It’s a vehicle all its own. Ideas are flowing so fast I can barely keep up.

Today, I have a car. It has started three whole times in a row. But it is parked. I’ve stocked up on fruit and Honeycomb cereal, and today I’m getting some work done. Just because I have a car doesn’t mean I can slack, you know?

Gratuitous box turtle shot. Just because.

Gratuitous box turtle shot. Just because.

What have you learned this week?