Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Promposal, wisdom surgery and wonder of boys

In less than 24 hours, my Earbaby turns 18. She wants dinner with us at one of her favorite Italian restaurants, and she's going to get her belly button pierced. I'm good on one of those, unhappy about the other, but now officially letting that battle go. Legally it's her decision to make now.

But this has been a good month in this lead-up to what will be probably be her last official birthday celebration with us in our house. At least for awhile. I expect she will be celebrating the next three or four out of state at some college somewhere and her dad and I will call her, then toast the wonder of our parenthood (and wonder what the heck do we do now?) from afar.

I'm not sentimental about all this yet though. As I said, it's been quite a month.

Earbaby has been reconnecting with a lot of her friends, and despite her ongoing frustration with their lack of planning, promptness, or insight on how their inability to stick to a plan affects others, she loves them, and they love her right back. So when one friend took advantage of a couple of snow days and asked if he could come over to have me re-twist his dreadlocks and brought three others with him, I was glad to see them all, and experience the wonder of boys.

For one thing, they're loud. And funny. They are still kids though, and I found myself feeling very protective toward these young black men who would probably be perceived as a threat by the outside world, but packed their backpacks with board games so they could sit in my kitchen and play Monopoly and Connect 4, while another reveled in getting his hair washed and conditioned. We pulled out frozen chicken wings to heat up and feed the gang and EB's dad brought home pizza and Coke, and I marveled at the difference in energy of teenage boys and teenage girls. Girls tend to be much quieter, conversational, and organized, but boys connect with each other in different ways. They decided they wanted to go to a party at a community center and as I fixed hair on yet another head (my dread-locked friend was under the hair dryer), they proceeded to show another one how to dance. EB was given permission to go to the party with them (I trust her with these guys, who are the brothers she never had), so as she ran upstairs to get ready, I watched the boys talk to each other and demonstrate rhythm in a way I thought only girls did. Boys teach each other to dance? I was tickled by getting this rare view into a world I didn't know existed.

Of course I am also fascinated by how EB interacts with them, and they with her. When she's wearing her sweatpants and has her hair pulled up in a bun, they tease her mercilessly and she gives it right back. But EB reappeared after a fashion, ready to go out dancing and looking like a goddess. The boys fell silent for a millisecond, and then went back to pretending they don't notice that she's beautiful. They went to the party with her, made sure she got safely into a Lyft for the ride home and it was another successful day getting back to her old, better self. And yes, her friends are foolish, but she loves them.

Then there's the big dance. EB started talking about her senior prom months ago. We had to iron out some bumps in our relationship after the debacles of last year, but now that for the most part, she's finding her way back to sanity, it's been pretty good. So when she started talking about going all out for prom, I was more on board than last year when she started talking big money.

She also was OK about possibly going on her own, or just with a few friends. That is until she decided to invite a former classmate who transferred to a different school, but still liked hanging out with his old classmates. Even though there was no romantic entanglements between them, EB decided she couldn't just call or text him and float the idea of going to the prom. She created a poster, conspired with mutual buddies to show up and videotape the event and of course, got an immediate affirmative hug.

The dress shopping this year also was less stressful. Her first choice dress was $650, which she dismissed as too expensive even before I had time to object. We went to a great place one afternoon, pored through many styles and colors (she looked fabulous in every one of them), and finally selected a gorgeous gown that was simple, elegant, and different from the current mermaid trend. I told her she reminded me of Diana the Huntress. Now comes the hunt for the perfect shoes and a matching tie for her date. Since there may be several friends going together as a group, I told her we should explore limousine services. Even though she has her license and drives to school most days, she has no interest in chauffeuring herself to the prom in formal dress and heels. I figure this is her last hurrah, she should go in style.

Then there was the wisdom teeth surgery. EB had to have all four impacted teeth removed and chose to have it done right before winter vacation. Good thing too, since the anesthesia made her emotional and loopy for a few hours and the subsequent pain knocked her out of commission for five days. It was necessary to have them all done since the bottom ones were growing in sideways and her bottom teeth were being pushed out of alignment, an enormous problem for someone who has already had two stints wearing braces. It was more than a full week before she stopped being achy and miserable, but still rallied to go out with friends, because she just didn't want to stay in the house, in her room, in her bed, for another day.

As for that belly button thing? That's EB's present to herself. She's wanted one for awhile and so the day she turns 18 will be the day she will strike out on her first act as a legal adult. She knows it will be painful, take awhile to heal (and after last week's surgery that she doesn't have the highest threshold for pain), but has already decided if she doesn't like it later, she will just let it heal over. A friend told me that if that's the worst thing, let it go. So I have. In the grand scheme of things, this first strike for legal independence is minor. She's got a whole lot of days ahead where her decisions will be good ones or painful ones. It's just part of becoming an adult.


Monday, January 30, 2017

New Year in a different gear

And so the race to the finish line of all that is familiar begins.

Earbaby has headed into her graduation year with new challenges and anxieties and we're just trying to ride out the daily storms. When she isn't hiding in her room, napping, eating, watching anything on Netflix, or losing brain cells because of Love & Hip Hop or Mob Wives, she's dancing. And dancing. And dancing.

EB has started to narrow her choices in what she wants to major in for college and dance is going to be a part of it, at least as a minor. A sociology class in school has piqued her interest, and now psychology/sociology is on her radar as something she is acutely interested in. Adding a dance minor now means she may be looking for a combination of those subjects that could morph into dance therapy. These ideas and interests are subject to change, but I'm just glad she's starting to focus on what she wants to do in the next chapter of her life.

And the college concerns have begun anew. While she is guaranteed a spot in Kansas, she is now taking a longer look at historically black colleges in the south. Now it's just a matter of if she will be accepted, if we can take a trip to see it, if she will like it, if the price will be astronomical because she is from out of state, if there will be any scholarships or grants available and offered to her, and if we can still afford it if there is no scholarship or grant money. But other than those minor issues (!) no worries, right?

Also, she is already talking about prom shopping. Of course she won't wear either dress from last year, and the date from last year is persona non grata (she won't even say his name), so anything associated with him is forever tainted. She is thinking about going alone, but still wants a really fancy (read: expensive) dress for her senior prom.

EB has also tried, with limited success, more outings with friends. She planned a New Year's dinner with mixed results. It was the usual nonsense from teenagers, half wouldn't commit, some came late bringing more people than planned for, and she was upset with the chaos. She still ended up with a bunch of friends to bring in the New Year, so that was a win. I reminded her that her friends were always chaotic and sketchy on details of outings and the story she told of the night actually ended up being kind of funny. Other outings haven't always been as funny; a recent attempt at a group movie date ended with everyone bailing out on her at the last minute and her ending up going to the mall and for ice cream with a friend. She won't acknowledge her own culpability in these failed plans -- group chats that half the group ignores, phones that always die, assumptions made on where and when, abrupt changes in plans and last-minute decisions to do something together in the first place. Because she now has access to a car, she forgets that others still are coming from all over the city on public transportation and have to plan accordingly.

But at least she's trying to find her footing among friends again. After nearly a year of isolation, she just has to be more patient. And forgiving.

At the end of the day, there's still her dance. EB just got fitted for her first pair of pointe shoes, a humongous step for someone who for years fought taking ballet, the foundation for being a strong professional. She's had 15 years of dance, but has really buckled down in the last few, with different studios and disciplines. Now she has six dance classes a week and helps out in a seventh. She's busy, tired, but realizing that the time for getting ready for a college dance program is growing very short indeed. I'm just happy that she isn't wasting time with people who diminish her instead of uplifting her.

This first month of the new year has been all about her introspection. Yes, she wants to spend time with friends, but her focus is no longer on parties and all the bad behavior and decisions that it led to in the past. She isn't really interested in romantic entanglements, after a few months of a flirtation with a classmate that just seemed to not get beyond the texting phase. She's been pegged to do more modeling and believes it will help her self-confidence and I believe she's absolutely right on that. Right now, she says, she's working on herself. After that long time of trying to please so many others, who turned against her, I believe she is focusing on the real person who matters. Like the man says, you can't please everyone, so you just have to please yourself.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goodbye 2016! (And good riddance!)

I will never be so happy to put a period on a year as I am this one.
As I await the final hours of 2016, it is taking all I have to try and focus on the good things that came out of this year with Earbaby. There was plenty of anger and disappointment in some of her behavior and choices, and no vindication by her regrets and remorse. Still, there were some good things too. And as we enter the last five months of her high school years, I'm hoping the hardest lessons learned won't be forgotten.

The good things though: A year ago I had ended my job after 27 years and was looking forward with trepidation and sadness about what would come next in my personal next chapter. I had at this point, about 10 months fully paid, to decide when I would return to work. I had given up my career, and a big part of my identity. We got to travel to Ireland and Scotland as a family, a major positive. For the first time my husband and I could go out to a movie, or a football game, or just to dinner without having to plan three or four weeks in advance. The freedom was wonderful, having it fully financed helped. But I won't lie, I missed my friends at work, I missed having a purpose, and I refused to celebrate "retirement." I wasn't ready to stop working forever.

But this also gave me an opportunity to fly home for Mother's Day and my own mother's 93rd birthday. Had I been working, I would have had to arrange things so that I didn't miss too many days at work, especially had they stuck to the new schedule I had been given of having to work all weekend. When your schedule is your own, you can get the best fares for the best price, come home rested and not worry you have to drop your bags and rush off to work. You can take your dog for evening walks, go to the YMCA to work out, arrange to take yourself out to breakfast, and dance a few mornings a week without being exhausted from a late night shift. And yet, there was also that underlying anxiety of "am I ever going to work again?"

Earbaby also had a tough year. Her first boyfriend experience ended up more toxic and sour and regrettable than any of us would have imagined. She became a person she didn't want to be (but truthfully, some of her actions started before the boyfriend came into her life), decided to take advice and guidance from friends even less mature than herself, and blew up her family because she rationalized that she was "in love." They no longer speak, and if there is any good that comes from this, it will be the lesson learned that you don't lose yourself in another person, especially one who is emotionally unstable, manipulative and abusive. I hope with all my heart that this year of hard lessons will never be unlearned. I pray she will now recognize the red flags of bad and controlling people, something some of us didn't learn until we were many, many years older. She has listened finally to my advice about being with people who make you want to be your best self --not your worst. I pray she remembers that lesson when she gets to college. There could be even more snakes and sharks out there. Having dealt with one, I hope she will immediately see the signs and walk away.

The recovery from all this has been a reintroduction to just being a teenager in high school. Her friends are back, she has a social life of more than one person now, she is working to regain the trust that was lost during the lying, secrecy, sneaking around phase of her life, and she's trying to enjoy the rest of her senior year. She's also trying to narrow down the choices she has to go to college. My alma mater has not only accepted her, but has volunteered to throw a ton of money her way. That's tempting, and she liked it, but she still has a few more irons in the fire and is waiting to see if she gets in somewhere else. It's still has to be her college experience, and I've told her that she only has to take one step at a time. If she picks some place and it turns out not to be a good fit, well, she doesn't have to suffer through it for four years. That sounds scandalous, but in today's world, no one should expect to make decisions on the rest of her life at the age of 18. But that first acceptance letter assures her (and us) that she is college bound.

EB getting her driver's license has also been a huge highlight. She is confident and careful and driving herself places frees me up. She hasn't asked us to buy her a car, or even to take over her dad's. She is practical -- she will be going away to school in about eight months, and no college encourages freshmen to bring their cars. Plus, she will be going several states away, no matter where she lands, and that complicates things on many levels. Right now she's just content to take it when she can and has even been able to take one car or another to school. The downside is that she can't drive any of her friends for the first six months. But that can be an upside too. Fewer people mean fewer distractions.

This election year has been the biggest disappointment in the year I would love to be able to take back. The hatred and bigotry exposed in the presidential election has left many of us in despair. I even encouraged EB to apply for college in Canada and Ireland. She may not go either place if she gets in, but in a country that is increasingly hostile to anyone who isn't a straight white person, especially white male, it's difficult not to believe that all hope is lost and too many of our fellow citizens are devoid of common decency.

Still, I'm trying to end this year on a positive note. I've got a new job, new purpose and a new lease on my career. I am looking at my new challenges as a chance to make a difference at a smaller venue. I'm in a place where I'm respected for my knowledge and experience and I'm feeling that sense of purpose that I haven't felt for many years. With the added benefit of setting my hours so I may occasionally work from home, it's easier to go back to the night work I didn't want. The nights aren't as long, and the anxiety level isn't as high, and yet, I feel like my work matters.

This Christmas season also made the year end on a high note. I went home for the first time in decades. This time of year had stopped being as much fun, obviously as EB grew up and stopped believing in the magic of Santa Claus. But it also stopped being fun when we stopped hosting. So this year, with one of my nieces giving birth to the first of the next generation and Zoe in from South Korea for a few weeks, we decided this was the year to go. Also, I had a milestone birthday and my husband arranged a great family party at a restaurant to celebrate. It was a Christmas to remember, and despite the stress of travel, well worth the trip.

This year has had a lion's share of low valleys with those high peaks. Sometimes those lows made me forget about the peaks. I was distressed for so much of it, but things are looking up. Finally. We've got one more bumpy year to go with Earbaby. It won't be smooth sailing. This year didn't kill any of us. It only made us (and especially her) stronger. And so it begins again.

Hold onto your hats. And Happy New Year.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Mixed bag of blessings

Thank goodness this year is almost over.

Usually, this is the time of year when I express gratitude as I prepare to reflect on another year with Earbaby. She's growing up, getting her mind ready to move out of our house and onto a new life somewhere in a galaxy, or state, far, far, away. Her last football game as a high school cheerleader was Thanksgiving morning, and although she still has one more cheer competition to go, her days in the short-skirted black, white and gold uniform are virtually over. Could it really have been three years since that all started?

She's nostalgic for these games, and this year's group of cheerleaders were actually cheerful with each other and fairly drama free. And here's my thanks: No more sitting on cold aluminum benches watching her shiver and pretty much be oblivious to the game and team she was cheering for. As a football fan, I enjoyed the games. Last year's work buyout gave me a chance to see all of this year's contests. There were plenty played in cold, drizzly rain. I won't soon miss that.

We had some good times this year and I'm grateful for the trip to Ireland we took with EB's school group, but as a family. My husband and I reconnected on our love of traveling, and EB didn't mind having her parents around, especially when she needed money.

And I was able to go home for Mother's Day, which fell on my mother's birthday. Being jobless also meant I could take off for a weekend, and it ended up being a party as my mother turned 93, surrounded by all three daughters, her favorite niece and great niece and nephews. Although she couldn't see anyone, having gone completely blind a few years ago, I could see how happy she was to have family there with her, laughing, making jokes, and catching up. I'll be back for my first Christmas home in decades. Who knows how many more Christmases we'll have with Mama? I'll be especially grateful if she is able to hear her youngest grandchild, EB, graduate from high school in the spring. Graduations are big deals in my family.

It's been a strange, sad year though. Of course there were highs, the weekend trips, the vacation and even the fun and frustrations as EB starts her college search. She has already been accepted at my Alma Mater, one of her safety schools. She commented that even if she doesn't go there, she now can relax, knowing she will be going somewhere. She's not stressing any more about not getting in to school. And even better, it's far, far away.

One sadness didn't seem sad until after it was all over. It was EB's first beau. Her first foray into the serious dating and relationship scene was too secretive, too intense, and in the end, too tragic. It ended badly, she came away with few good memories, a lot of bad ones and mountains of regrets she ever even met him. He in turn became mean, vindictive, and possibly even dangerous. Her lack of experience and his lack of maturity was a bad combination. She relied on relationship advice from friends who knew less about how to have healthy relationships than she did (the saying blind leading the blind was never truer), and is only now starting to rediscover herself and her former friends she abandoned to please him. But she also has to learn consequences of untrustworthy behavior: Once trust is lost, it can't easily be regained.

The silver lining is that all the bad decisions she made, she had to own up to them while under our roof. She found out she doesn't know as much as she thought (or pretended she did), and some bad decisions can't be undone, they just have to be overcome. It was a bad year for friendship for her. Her three closest friends violated her trust. So she also reaped what she sowed.

Losing one of my closest friends from childhood was a really dark cloud. It put the reality of my own mortality at front and center. Or maybe it also hit me at the worst time because my full year of pay came to an end, and months of sending out resumes and interviewing with employment agencies hadn't netted me a job. I was panicked and starting to sink into depression.

However, I'm ending this month thankful. Almost from right out of the sky, I found a new job, recruited, wooed, and hired by a former colleague. I'm back in the workforce, part time, but still making a decent salary. Yes, I'm back on nights, but the nights are shorter, some nights I'll be working remotely from the office of my own kitchen, and I found a new purpose with new responsibilities.

There are still challenges ahead for us. EB has to get through the rest of the school year, and make this last one count. I have to let go of my own hurt and anger over the lost months with her, and step into a new role in a new job. We all need to appreciate the time we have together, even as it gets closer to coming to an end, at least the day-to-day part of it. It feels like everything new is new again. Mixed blessings, indeed.

Monday, October 31, 2016

The scariest season

So we're putting a period on another month. Without a doubt October is a time where we bump into ghosts, ghouls, creatures of the night -- and the scariest part for a student in her senior year -- the college application process.

Earbaby is ready to begin the last leg of her journey of separation from the home, friends, family and community she has known her entire life.

The process won't be easy.

The first part of the separation was the breakup between EB and her ICB. It was destined to be a heartbreaker. First loves, with their too-hot, all-encompassing intensity, always are. But this one got ugly. ICB, who wanted to hold onto EB's every waking hour, even though he was two hours away in college, became too much of a burden on her sanity, her freedom, and her wellbeing. By the time it was all over ICB had become incredibly sinister, threatening, mean, and we actually thought the authorities would have to get involved. That nuclear option so far hasn't been needed, but EB was scarred and scared by the hard lessons she had to learn.

Luckily that was offset by the reintroduction to her own school friends, ones who had disappeared during the summer of needless isolation and bad choices. Going back to school was the best remedy for a broken heart. Realizing that all the people who have betrayed her in the previous year, not only ICB, but Brenda and Maria as well, made her question her own generosity and compassion. Getting back to the people who have always loved her, helps restore her faith and confidence.

It's difficult when an only child tries to share the good fortune she was born into. She shared her home, her life and her heart with people who didn't deserve it and aren't worthy. Once again, I don't want her to grow up thinking no good deed goes unpunished, so giving to others is permanently off the table. We are helping her pick up the pieces after a long broken year. She will live, love and laugh fully again. I just hope she will be more discriminating with the next person, or people she gives her heart to. I have to teach her the red flags she refused to see and let her know that walking out of bad situations is always an option.

But the uncoupling was only part of the scary season. Another part was figuring out just what EB is looking for as a college experience. We took a trip to the Midwest to visit my alma mater over the Columbus holiday weekend, and the trip came out better than expected. My old college is a Div. 1 school in a country town that is all university, all the time. A football game in a stadium of 55,000 people, a marching band of a few hundred, a goofy fight song or two, and EB, if not completely sold on being a legacy, is at least applying as one of her "safety schools." Odder still, her dad, who is quite the East Coast snob in his own way (Don't go there, you'll become a farmer, he used to say to EB), actually came away much more impressed with the school than he would have thought. One day he took a lone drive out to the prairie and was charmed by all the acres and miles of nothingness. He's a city kid who grew up with people living on top of each other.

EB acknowledges that my state U is out of her comfort zone, but is also considering that she may need to get out of her comfort zone in order to grow. She's also considering historically black colleges and universities, a school in San Francisco and yet another in Montreal. The sky's the limit, even if the money's not.

Some of her reach schools have tuition upwards of $60,000 a year. And even though we've been diligent about saving for her college fund, that's out of our reach without financial aid. And the price of doing well with two full professional salaries last year means there may be few, if any need-based scholarships or grants available. Although since we live in such an expensive state, EB could actually pay less to go out of state, even with the added cost, than she might at some of the state schools here.

In the meantime, as we try to work our way through this baffling college process, we have her school advisor and counselor trying to convince her to apply to state schools. They would like these kids to apply to 10. With the applications costing an average of $40 a pop, that's $400, much of it wasted on schools where she has no desire or intention of going. And there would be no fee waiver for us. So I told her to hold off on applying to some of these nonstarters. See where you get in first. If you find you haven't gotten accepted at a school you could see yourself at, then apply to a state safety school with an eye toward transferring after a year. It's difficult and frustrating trying to help your child figure out what her needs are when counselors are only looking at what their experiences have been, and guiding her through the lenses of their choices.

It's all scary. EB is still dancing several days a week, cheering several days a week, babysitting as a regular gig and juggling two Advanced Placement classes and one advanced math class. Oh yes, and trying to enjoy this, her last year at the school she came into at the age of 12. She goes full out almost every single day.

This scary month is over. But the chills, thrills, and spills may have just begun.

Trick or treat.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

September's sadness

This has been a tough month. And as the first month of Earbaby's senior year comes to a close, I find myself struggling -- with her, with my feelings of anxiety and depression as my nonworking but fully paid for year ends, with doubts about finding meaningful employment, and suddenly, most tragic of all, the death of one of my closest childhood friends.

As a family, we're in transition. EB is excited about her senior year, and we're preparing for her to be in another school, more than likely in another state, a year from now. The poisoning of the nest has continued, most of the damage aided and abetted by the ICB, who is off to college, but hangs on like a barnacle. The two of them are in love, but EB's dad and I don't see this ending well.

But that's another long story for another long day. Right now, my struggles are more inward.

In short, I'm really sad.

My friend Elizabeth was one of my closest friends since first grade. She was Betty then, adding an e to the end of her name in high school. We lost touch over the years after college, although I was a bridesmaid in her wedding to the man who became the father of her children. By the time we all had gotten older and wider, Bettye had started using her birth name, but every time I slipped up and called her Bettye instead of Elizabeth, she just said, "Don't worry about it."

When you lose your siblings or your childhood friends, it feels as if you've lost part of your childhood. The shared history you have with the people who knew you best is a loss like no other. And for Bettye, she and our friend Celia and I were each other's best shared history, especially in our teenage, high school years.

Back then we were The Three. If you saw only one or two of us, the inquiries started about the missing piece. We did everything together. Back before the internet, the cell phone, text messaging, facetiming, and all other social media check-ins, we had each other and the shared family telephone. Are we all wearing skirts or jeans today? Are we going to Chicken Unlimited (with the cute kid behind the counter named Kevin who used to give me extra fries) or McDonald's where our friend works and sometimes gave us extra hamburgers? Are we going to the record store where Michael Jackson's new song, Got to be There is playing as we walk into the door? How about stopping at Warner's Drugstore?

I believe to this day, those days are the reason I can never go straight home. There were so many detours we had to take to get back to where we could stand on the corner by the mailbox and talk for an hour or two, before going home to call each other on the phone for more time wasted (what the heck did we have to talk about to each other after spending all day in school together?) it's a wonder we got home and got any homework done at all.

Bettye and Celia were my rocks. I was skinny and homely, but I was a good student. I also hid my insecurity by being a little, well, cutting. But I'd like to think we all saw through each other's insecurities -- and forgave them.

We all had our roles to play. Bettye was the first to get a boyfriend, I was the last. My first boyfriend and prom date was a friend of her boyfriend. We triple dated for the senior prom, with Celia going with a boy she barely knew, but back then, no one went stag to the prom. You found a date, or you stayed home. Celia and I talked right after we learned about Bettye. She and I were feeling the same pain, the devastating loss of what we didn't know then were our good old days. We had a million dramas back then, dance drill team, chorus, football and basketball games, working in the library or boys' detention office (the bad boys were always the cutest), boys, boys, boys.

The last time the three of us were together was our 20-year high school reunion. It had been a long time since I saw them and they were the only reason I wanted to go. I was 37 then, had been out in the world for awhile, was single and no longer insecure. I remember Bettye saying surprisingly, that I had learned how to flirt.

Right after I learned about Bettye's death, I went to EB's football game to watch her cheer. I saw her squad go out on the field and do a short routine to prerecorded music. In my mind's eye I was back home, dancing with the Titanettes with Bettye and Celia, with a marching band playing live music behind us. I got nostalgic. I watched EB perform and I worried that her high school experience won't be as innocent and carefree as mine. Relationships are more heightened, parties are more intense, and some of her personal choices may come back to hurt her and there's nothing at this point that I can do. And although EB has friends, she has cooled with her closest girlfriends and may not have the strong support system I was lucky to have with Bettye and Celia.

My friends and I connect only sporadically now. I get Christmas cards occasionally from Celia, Bettye and I talked even less frequently on Facebook. She had been ill for awhile, but her last post showed she was getting better. The post of her death from her sister was a knife to my heart.

I will be heading home to see my friend off. I will see her in my mind's eye in her Titanette uniform (hers was red, Celia's and mine were green), in our Treble Choir long black skirts and sleeveless white blouses, in her prom dress, her wedding gown and the outfits we wore for our high school reunion when we weren't yet 40, so still considered ourselves young enough to go clubbing. So we did.

None of us know how long we have here. But my faith tells me this is not the only plane on which we exist. I'll see you again Bettye. I'll miss you but you'll always live in my heart.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Are we there yet?

I am so ready for summer to be over.

Which is a surprise, since it also pretty much means my year of no work at full pay is pretty much over too. But as I start to both ponder and prepare for another career (I am studying for one, but still holding out hope for contract work with another), I am thinking that this last month of summer has been anything but the hazy, lazy dog days. It's actually been a trip. Or two.

College tour time has started for Earbaby and us. There seems to be a lot to figure out as this rising senior starts her search for where she will spend her next four years. She signed herself up for a tour of Syracuse right before she left school for the summer, so we found a couple of colleges out that way that we could also visit. She unequivocally expressed no interest in attending, or even visiting the school her incredibly cute boyfriend will be attending. In fact, we drove through the campus (it was on the way) and she wouldn't even get out of the car. She emphatically said she was not interested in going to school in Massachusetts, or even New England.

But upstate New York was a possibility. Our first stop was Union, a small college with an idyllic campus and a student body not much bigger than the high school EB is attending. It's also expensive and extremely competitive to get into. And EB liked it. Our campus tour guide talked glowingly about all the possibilities for study, combining majors and minors for unique programs tailored to the student's needs, research and opportunities to study abroad, etc. EB continues to surprise us. She was quiet during the tour, but whispered to her dad, "I like it here." We talked later, and I said she should be able to picture herself on a campus. She said she could, although the price tag was a little sticker shock for her.

Our next visit was to Ithaca, another nice campus, with lots of opportunities, but EB wasn't feeling it. No matter. Sometimes knowing what you don't want is just as important as knowing what you do. She also wasn't feeling the vibe at Syracuse. We had a more expansive college tour, with lunch, a presentation in a too-warm auditorium (it was August after all), more talks and presentations depending on the college of your interest, a walking tour of the campus with a tour guide who talked way too fast, and options of talking to financial aid advisers. But there was no need -- EB couldn't picture herself going there. We grabbed some smoothies and went back to our hotel room.

We would have liked to have more time to look at more schools. EB's dad devised a spreadsheet of a few that might hold her interest, and she promptly added a few schools on the Left Coast. There's no chance we're going to visit any of those. We have one more tour booked. We're going to my alma mater, Kansas State, for a fall weekend. Now while I would love for her to be a Wildcat legacy, I would love it even more if she found just the school that suits her. I've repeatedly said that I've had my college experience, she should have her own. While I'm excited to go back to a state I haven't visited in more than three decades, I am looking at it more as the chance for her to take a look at a bigger campus. She knows what city universities look like, having grown up and traveled along routes that take her to Boston University, Northeastern, and marginally, Boston College. She knows she doesn't want to go here. Getting a look at a Division I school in a bona fide college town will give her a different prospective.

But I'm ready for EB to get cracking on her last year of high school. As usual she has had summer reading, which she has waited until the last minute to begin. And I refuse to stress about it any more. She already knows she will have a challenging final year. She decided to take two AP courses, will be dancing at two studios again, will be babysitting regularly and cheerleading again is in the mix.

And in the midst of all this is EB's hankering for her license. She still has one more class to make up, but she is almost through with her 40 hours of parent-supervised driving. She has gone from a Nervous Nelly behind the wheel to a pretty confident and observant driver. She is constantly questioning signage and signals and has gone from being a zoned-out passenger with earbuds practically surgically implanted, to watching every step of the whole process. Although she still worries about parallel parking and is too much of a weenie to back up our narrow driveway, she has come a long way in a relatively short time. I'm no longer stepping on the imaginary brake or giving her multiple instructions about the obvious. By the time she takes her test for her license, I have no doubt she will be more than ready.

This is going to be our last year with Earbaby home full-time. By this time next year, God willing, we will be empty-nesters and she will be off somewhere starting a new journey without us.

I must remember to cherish this last year of high school with her. We're not there yet, but we're heading into the homestretch.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Disappearing acts?

As we head into the final full month of summer, I'm struck by how different things are this year from last. Not working has changed so many perspectives both for Earbaby and me. For one, I've become a full-time chauffeur, and that fall weekend where EB pleaded with me to take the company's buyout so we could have more time together is a long-gone memory. It was great in concept, but it was also before the Incredibly Cute Boyfriend became such an integral part of her social life.

So it will be as interesting in the month ahead as it has been in the previous one to see how EB's relationship plays out with ICB. Can we say separation anxiety?

It all started with the end of school. Our little family unit of three, EB, her dad and I, took a trip to Ireland and Scotland with her school group. It actually was EB's idea a couple of years ago, after her foray into Paris and Rome. The teacher who leads these EF Tours is amazing and EB had such a great, fun and safe time on the last trip, we figured we could go as a family to at least her dad's "homeland." (At least kind of, his family is from the other side of the island.) We went to Dublin, Belfast, and Edinburgh, Scotland. And although her dad and I were on the same trip, we didn't try to cramp her style. She always roomed with her friends and most times hung out with them. A few times she wandered over to spend some time with us, but we didn't want to spend time "parenting" her. She had done just fine without us in Paris and Rome two years ago; she didn't need us checking up to see if she was eating her vegetables and getting enough sleep.

The only hiccup in the trip was EB's burying her head in her phone, staying in touch with friends (especially ICB) every day despite the time difference. We had an international plan for emergencies, but EB assured us she was only using WiFi to communicate. Well, we all found out differently when the bill came a couple of weeks after we got back. There is no WiFi chatting or Face timing on our model of phone, and the international minutes bill came up to more than $1,300! After her dad hit the roof and left the bill for me to see, I took a closer look. Turned out the international plan hadn't been implemented, so a call to the carrier revealed the error and almost $1,000 was taken off. Problem solved, but I still made them both say out loud, that yes, I am a Queen.

But it also showed the intensity of the relationship. It doesn't seem dangerous, manipulative, or coercive. But she had to see him the day we came home. We got in July 4th and she must have been jet lagged. And it was like that practically every day, except when she went to a concert with a girlfriend. Then he and his mom went on vacation. They hung out every day after work before he went, even the night before, despite his early morning flight. Exasperated, I told her she had to come home, he was going on vacation for a week, not off to war!

And yes, they were communicating every day while he and his mom were in London and Paris and she and I picked them up from the airport (we live very close by) when they returned. I am trying to be sensitive to the fact that he is getting ready to go away to college and their lives will change quite a bit in another month. I know I can't shield either of them from what might inevitably end in heartbreak, but I would like to see more of an expansion in their friendship base. When she stays out later than she says she will (1 or 2 a.m. is unacceptable even in the summer), she comes home with a pissy attitude. When she does go out with others, or when he spends time with his friends, she is more open and less defensive and sullen about coming home at a decent time.

And there is the hiding. Before ICB, she would have friends, both male and female come over to the house. It wasn't unusual for her to ask if friends could sleep over. But that was also before her irreparable falling out with both Brenda and Maria. She has a new BFF in a lovely girl, Charisse, so I'm not too worried about the full isolation. EB tells me she doesn't bring ICB around (and even he wants to get to know us a little better) because her dad is too corny and tries too hard, and she thinks I might "bother them" with snacks or whatever. I think it's because she is embarrassed and self conscious about just how much she cares about him. Am I worried that this relationship includes risky behaviors like drugs, alcohol or (gasp!) sex? Honestly, I don't know. EB knows all the dangers and consequences and I have to at this point trust her to make intelligent choices. If she makes all the wrong choices, well, those will be hard lessons learned.

No matter. I would have liked us to spend more time together before I find another job. This summer has been a waste in that department and I have sometimes wished I had ignored those pleas to spend more time as a family and just kept working. I actually do acknowledge the intensity of first love and I even understand she needs to detach from us. As we start our college search season, I'm preparing myself for her exit from the nest. I just wish she didn't feel the need to poison it first.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Lessons learned and silver linings

Summer's in, school's out and Earbaby is officially a Rising Senior.

Wow, where did junior year go?

I know time has moved the same rate as always, but it really seems that this, EB's penultimate high school year, just flew by. Maybe it was because I was able to be somewhat more present for it since I took the buyout from my job in October. Or because we only had a couple of big snows this winter after the hellish storms of early 2015. When I could be truly grateful I didn't have to venture out into the raging snowstorms, it didn't happen. But I was still grateful I could stay in those few cold nights I would have had to worry about scraping ice off my windshield and trying to charge up a partially shoveled driveway in the middle of the night.

I never could have predicted how the last four months of the school season would go. Having another teenager in the house changed so many dynamics. Sadly, it didn't end well. But thankfully, it did end.

And that's where a few of our best lessons were learned.

I'm hoping that the trials and tribulations of living with Maria won't sour EB on having a big and generous heart. She invited her friend into our home because EB is a child who has never known want. But when you pair someone who has only had stability with someone who hasn't had much at all, the results can be disastrous. Maria was a sweet girl. But she lacked the ability to grasp basic hygiene, both personal and in her surroundings. When one can come into a house and turn a small living space into your most disgusting episode of Hoarders, all the talking and understanding in the world isn't going to help. An agreement, a very small effort toward appeasement, and a day or so later, it was back to intervention time. It got exhausting, exasperating, disgusting, and eventually simply unworkable. When EB finally blew up, the tension in the house could be cut with a knife. Maria and EB had drama from a multitude of things, but even though Maria sincerely tried to repair the damage of that fallout, EB couldn't get past her disgust with the living situation.

Maria had only planned to stay until the end of the school year, so that at least worked out. Still her propensity for lashing out, her terrible judgment, irresponsibility, and poor impulse control showed us all what her true colors are. EB was just too angry to try to work things out with her. They will never be friends again.

By the time Maria came late at night to get her things, EB wouldn't even look at her or say goodbye. The room had to be thoroughly cleaned and she left many of her things to be thrown out. It was a sad sight as she and a friend struggled with two backpacks and a dufflebag to get up the street to catch a bus to a sibling's house. But she didn't want any more help from us. I had been angry too, but I'm a mom first. So when I hugged her goodbye, I whispered that if she ever really needed me, I would be there for her. No one, not even messed-up, emotionally immature teenagers who bite the hands that feed them, should go through life without at least one lifeboat.

I hope that EB doesn't learn the cynical lesson that no good deed goes unpunished. I don't want this episode to sour her on reaching out to people in need. And the silver lining is that when she does go to college in a little more than a year from now, she will be more familiar with the art of conflict resolution, instead of waiting until she just can't stand it anymore. By then I hope her own emotional maturity (and ability for forgiveness) will be better developed.

And I got a silver lining lesson also. One can try really hard, but there's only so much you can do when someone isn't ready, willing or able to receive your help. We were very clear about the rules about cleaning up after yourself and keeping her room clean. But I learned there are some people who truly lack the capacity to either understand what that means or have no self-awareness of how to live with other people. Would I do it again? My heart says yes, my head (and my daughter) say no.

We're also learning lessons about EB's growing independence. She and her incredibly cute boyfriend are still an item, but she still manages to spend time with other friends. With Maria in the house, EB spent as much time as she could outside of it. It bothered me tremendously that she didn't feel comfortable bringing him around because of Maria. With her gone, let's see if that changes things much. There will be separations soon, we'll be going on a vacation and he will be going away to college in the fall. I worry a little about hearts broken, but that will be a lesson learned too. If they can remain friends, or at least friendly after a fashion, this will be a good experience for her.

Then there's the lesson of driving. EB is determined to get her license in the coming months. That would be a boon for all of us, especially when (and if) I find another job. I'm not ready to retire, but while I look for the next opportunity, it will be nice not to have to factor in all her comings and goings and how I have to be responsible for that.

The warm weather beckons. The summer promises dance lessons, driving lessons, trips and college tours. No matter what the future holds, as a family, we're all good.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Chaos, confusion, conflict (and Prom 2)!

There's nothing more glorious than this time of year with recitals, proms, driving school, and college testing, said nobody, ever.

Could there be more days filled with running and strife? Well, let's see, the great sibling experiment has gone from sweetness and light to epic failure to communicate, we're counting down to the last two recitals of the year (with two shows in one of them and enough dress rehearsal machinations to choke a horse), driving school for four hours on Saturday mornings, and just to make things interesting, the first go-round of SAT and ACT testing, which apparently will determine if she gets into college or becomes homeless. No pressure, right?

Now is the time of the year when every day is a challenge, a game of beat-the-clock with all the things that need to get done, worked on, studied for, and other things that should, but won't be dealt with, so will be avoided.

Things at home began to sour between EB and her friend Maria, about three weeks after Maria moved in. At first, it was great. They would go out together, or if they were out separately, would meet up to come home together. The first hiccups came when Maria kept having to be told not to borrow EB's things without asking. Small things, mascara, clothing, towels, earrings, would inexplicably wind up in Maria's room after she was asked about it and denied knowledge. But unbeknownst to me, EB never got over an earlier problem with the house keys. See, Maria had "borrowed" her purse, and then made an incredibly stupid decision in which she collided with a parked car when she had no business driving (no license, no permit and apparently no common sense). EB's keys were lost in the car in the confusion of the crash. So EB knew about what happened, but was sworn to secrecy. When the keys finally came home because the owner of the car (who stupidly had allowed Maria to drive) showed up with them, but looking for money to fix his damaged car, the story came out.

From then, the "hiccups" got bigger, and more annoying. Maria still keeps her room like a pigsty, so while once we had thought we would allow her to stay until she finished high school, we've decided it would be best for her to find other arrangements. She finally stopped "borrowing" from EB, but only because the two had a huge argument that involved another friend. While Maria is pleasant enough to EB's dad and me, the two former good friends are more like ships that grudgingly pass in the night. And yes, I'm still telling this grown woman she has to get up and go to school, make her bed, clean her room. EB is disgusted by her and tries to stay out of her own house as much as possible. I've talked about forgiveness and compassion with EB, consequences and cleanliness with Maria. I'm just ready for both girls to get over themselves.

Then there was prom No. 2. EB again couldn't find a dress she liked and I refused to pay $200 or more for a dress she would more than likely wear only once. So we went back to Burlington Coat Factory, found an $80 dress that needed just a few adjustments to work for her. Luckily, one of my best friends knows how to make those kind of sewing miracles happen, and EB ended up loving the dress that she was first ready to throw a tantrum about. She seemed to think I cared that she threatened not to get anything. The (il)logic of a teenager is astounding. Tantrums were brewing though. She decided she didn't like the way the woman at Ulta did her makeup, although she didn't tell her. She waited until we got back in the car and then blamed me. I told her if she didn't like it, she should have spoken up, it's her face. She said I always get mad if she says something. That just wasn't true. She was just anxious and frustrated (the hairdresser was late, and traffic stunk, so once again we were rushed for time), so she decided to have a show about how ugly she looked and how it was my fault. Sorry sister, this is where I came in 15 years ago. If I could ignore your crazy rantings when you were two, I can certainly ignore them now. By the way, she looked beautiful.

Anyway, once she got home, got dressed, took a few pictures before and after incredibly cute boyfriend showed up, Cinderella was off to the ball again (good riddance). And this time, she had a ball. She got home late, exhausted, and happy. They had a great time, music and DJ were "lit" and she danced the night away. Two other girls had the same dress, another had the expensive one she wanted but didn't buy, and yet the world kept spinning on its axis. I only have to do that particular nightmare one more time. These are the times I wish I drank -- and am glad that I don't.

But we still have recitals, rehearsals, college testing and graduation (not hers, his) to get through. The calendar is filled, the tension is high and there is little relief in sight for the next month. Once again, I'll just keep swimming. I just wish it didn't feel like it was all upstream.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Prom! (Chapter One)

Well, the first prom of Earbaby's year is over and done with. On reflection, she says that it was just "OK." But it was such an undertaking, just getting this first one in the books.

Dress shopping for this one actually ended quite painlessly. After trying on and rejecting countless dresses with prices ranging from $200-$600, we finally found one for only $30. It was almost identical to one she tried on that cost $440, so I was thrilled. She settled on this one because "this is only junior prom. I will wait and go all out next year." I wonder who she thinks is going to pay for all that.

But prom, even junior prom, is an all-day affair. She convinced me that the teachers were OK with her being signed out of school early, to keep hair and makeup appointments. Besides she only had a couple of quizzes and she promised to make up anything she missed in her last two classes. She was more excited than she let on.

And of course this was a double dose of prom for me. Maria, even though she currently is going to a different school, was still going to the prom with a former classmate. After back and forth negotiations on the renting of a dress from a former schoolmate, she decided to go in on a party bus which was going to be departing from another friend's house. I found myself driving all over the city the day before, shopping for strapless bras and clutch bags at the last minute, figuring out how to get Maria's dress to the house where she was going to be getting ready at the following day, and trying to figure out all the logistics of the following day's activities. There was less stress and turmoil on my wedding day -- and I had my whole family coming in from out of town.

EB planned on having her makeup done after getting her hair done (both projects cost several times more than the dress, so you pay and pay no matter what). After we got back home from school, raced out to pick up lunch on our way to appointment No. 1, she started to get a little anxious. We were on time though, the hair got finished early and even though we were far south of the city, we were early for the makeup appointment north of the city.

Our plans for actually getting things done early fell apart when she couldn't get in any earlier than her appointment and the makeup artist took more than an hour. EB finally got the false eyelashes she fought me about for her sweet 16 party last year. She hated them. Said they made her eyes feel heavy. Even though they did look good and she kept them if she wants to wear them again, they weren't what she expected. Sometimes, Dorothy, you have to learn it for yourself.

Now let me say one thing. Sometimes you have to bite your tongue. I wasn't especially crazy about the makeup job that was done, but EB wanted very dramatic eyes, which added up to a lot of eye makeup, including false lashes and heavy eyebrows. With her delicate features, I thought it was a tad overdone, but she did look beautiful, so I didn't criticize. This was her prom after all, and I remember how hurt I felt when my mother criticized the turquoise nail polish I wanted to wear on my toes to match my prom dress. She told me it made my feet look dirty (it did). The fact that I could remember how badly I felt more than 45 years later kept me from saying anything to make her feel less than gorgeous. Even if in later years she'll look at herself and wonder why she wore such heavy makeup, she'll also know that she wanted to look and feel that way that day.

And worst of all, we only managed a couple of shots with her and the incredibly cute boyfriend, before she, cold and exasperated by the mere presence of her parents with cameras, decided they really had to go! For all those parents whose children patiently allowed them to take picture after picture to commemorate more separation of your money, I envy you. EB barely stuck around long enough to snatch a $20 from her father's hand before she was off and running.

So it was a little disappointing that she said the food wasn't great (pizza and chicken nuggets, what are we five?), the dance floor was small, there was no professional photographer and although other people were taking pictures, she didn't get any more. Then she went to bed, slept until the crack of noon and got ready to go out and later meet up for another friend's birthday party. I felt a little better when Maria came home and raved about how much fun she had. At least it wasn't a total washout for both teens in this house.

Well, it could be worse. I could have to go through this all over again with Earbaby next month. Oh wait. I do.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Hiccups and (not ready for) Prom Time

As March goes out like an roaring lamb, or perhaps a docile lion, the first month as (kind of) parents of two teenage girls goes into the books. It's definitely different from being the parents of one.

When your second "child" arrives already at the legal adult age of 18, figuring out your role is interesting -- and fluid.

Maria is legally an adult, but because she is still a junior in high school, the same grade as Earbaby, it's tough to tell how involved in her life we're going to get, or even how comfortable any of us are in the process.

The first part was the basic rules of the road. Clean up after yourself. Keep us in the loop, so we know when to expect you. That was the start, but as the month wore on, more rules had to be established. Like, don't borrow things without asking (this request after a blowout with EB) and, once again (as trash and food piled up in her small living space), clean up after yourself.

It hasn't all been roses. But there are no regrets here. I explained after week three -- when EB, exasperated, frustrated and angry, stopped speaking to her friend, and I told Maria in no uncertain terms, her room was disgusting and she had to clean it immediately -- that the honeymoon period was over, and now the real work begins. See, we are a family of four now. We're allowed to get mad at each other, but we talk it out. There are no ultimatums, no threats of being tossed out. This is her home now, and she's living in a family situation where we are all accountable to each other.

Maria still has family in town and is close to her older sister. And we can't put restrictions or curfews on her comings and goings, nor do we want to. What does this unusual situation boil down to? Respect the space, the home, and the people you're living with. Legally she's an adult. But she's still a teenager. The hiccups of pseudo-parenthood will come and go until we figure it all out. In the meantime, EB has the sibling experience she used to long for. Which means sometimes it will be good and other times they will just get on each other's nerves. You can say "get out of my room" but you can't say "get out of my house." Just like in everyone else's family.

So with this new sibling dynamic in mind, we start preparing for prom season. Luckily Maria is financially independent enough to pay for her own dress. Unluckily for me, EB is going to two proms. And because she is going with the same date, that means two different dresses. Also unluckily for me, I'm expected to spring for the cost of both these frocks, although I'm not sure who made this rule.

A couple of weekends back, we three ladies decided to go prom dress shopping. This actually is fun, for those who enjoy root canals or any sort of surgical procedure sans anesthesia. In other words, Yikes!

While I realize it's been well over 40 years since my own prom (when my friend's mom made a beautiful dress for me, her daughter and our other best friend), but when did a prom dress start costing more than my car payment? Thankfully I warned EB that we weren't buying that day, just looking. The dress shop was prom heaven (or hell, if you're the mom with the checkbook). The dresses EB tried on looked fabulous. The price tags were all upwards of $400, and deposits were nonrefundable. When EB saw the two dresses she liked would have cost almost as much as what our mortgage payment used to be, even she balked (thank goodness too, this kid always sees mom as an ATM with infinite reserves). Maria didn't find anything she liked. Happily, the dress she really wanted, one a former upperclassman wore a year ago, was made available for her to rent for $150. She tried it on a week later and it fit like a glove. One dress down, two to go.

This weekend EB and I will scout out a couple of other places (including bridal shops for clearance items and secondhand stores along with a department store or two) to try and find something beautiful that doesn't cost the same as the food budget for a small country. These dresses can only be worn once, remember. Twice if she stays the same size and attends a formal affair in college in two or three years.

So we march on. Hiccups, prom, growing pains all ahead. Along with SAT and ACT prep, a third grading term and the beginning of the college panic season. Sigh. Some days I feel as if I should quote Dory from Finding Nemo, "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming."

Monday, February 29, 2016

Shortest, warmest, coldest, and a sister act

It's Leap Day and Earbaby turns 17 tomorrow. A year and a day ago, she was celebrating at her Sweet 16 party. A year later, she remembers she was so stressed she couldn't have a good time. She thought she would enjoy being the center of attention. She found out that she didn't. So this year she didn't want anything. Seventeen isn't special she says, and her birthday falls on a school night anyway. The boyfriend has told her he wants to take her out for her birthday, so for the first time, we won't even be a part of her Big Day. No cake, special dessert, or us. Oh well.

We're adjusting. Not to being shunned on her birthday, we have a big surprise for her anyway. But February brought us the coldest days of the year (below 0 degrees), the warmest days of the year (60 degrees), and a new addition to our family.

EB has managed to kinda, sorta gain a sibling.

Her friend, Maria, is from another country originally, but has been in this one since second grade. She came to EB's school as a Beezee, the name given to the kids who come into the school in the ninth grade instead of in the seventh (those are called Sixies, for the six years they will be there). They became friends, but not necessarily really close, until recently. Maria's living situation recently took a drastic turn. She had been living in an apartment with an older sister and two other people. But when the landlord decided to move the two others (who were the only ones on the lease) into a smaller space, Maria's sister took the opportunity to move into her college's dorm. That left Maria without a place to stay.

EB asked if she could live with us. Now, as someone who would gladly change places with the nursery rhyme mother who lived in a shoe with countless offspring, I had no problem saying yes. And her dad said yes too. That part actually surprised me a little. He is a lot more introverted, private, and slower to change than I am. But he and I both agreed on this one. Although she is already 18, because she came from another country, she is a just a junior. Still she worked to pay for a room, her own food, cellphone, and incidentals, all while going to a tough school full time. EB's dad and I were on the same page -- it just shouldn't be this hard to get through high school.

So she's living with us, she says, at least until the end of the school year. She plans on returning to her native country in the summer to visit her mother who still lives there. Then next school year, she'll figure out her living situation again.

It's only been a couple of days, but the whole month has been leading up to this adjustment. For all of us.

Now EB even acknowledges that she is spoiled. She's always been the only child, a princess who pretty much gets all of her needs met, and a fair amount of her wants. But with that, she also showed her generosity by wanting to open up her home to a friend. Yes, she's entitled and ungrateful plenty of times. Still, she also has enough friends who have troubled family lives to appreciate the life she has -- when she's not taking for granted the fact that a late night call will always, always guarantee a safe ride home. We may come mad, but we always come. She's never had to worry about paying her bills, staying in a place where the roommates and/or their visitors are sketchy, or if she will make enough money for food and rent. It's not been on her radar until now.

And Maria is mature. She immediately started looking for jobs in our neighborhood so she won't have to travel so far after school for work. She asked how much we wanted for rent, said she could help pay for groceries. We appreciate her sense of responsibility and know that it will rub off on EB, who already is grateful now that she's back babysitting and earning her own money. I was pleased the day she decided to turn down a chance to go out with friends when she was asked last minute to babysit. Because most of her friends also work part time, she is starting to feel the pull of financial independence.

There may be bumps in the road ahead. The family dynamic has changed. Maria is thus far a little reticent, not wanting to intrude or make waves. But she's grateful and sweet, and just the kind of sibling EB needs. Their relationship is not volatile like the one EB has had with her best friend Brenda, with whom she clashed after EB's boyfriend came into the picture. Those two are slowly becoming friends again, but EB doesn't feel the same and thinks she never will. With Maria, there is an easier flow.

Sibling rivalry may rear its head yet in the days, weeks, months to come. But Maria is good for Earbaby. Actually, she's probably good for all of us.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The First Beau

Of course I knew this time would come.

As Earbaby moved through high school, and she would talk about some of her friends dating, I would ask her from time to time if there was anyone she was interested in.

No, she would often reply, all the boys I know are so foolish and immature. No one you're interested in? No one who is interesting, would be the answer. But junior year was a little bit different. EB has always had a pretty good sense of self. She has always been self-assured and unself-conscious around male friends in a way her mother was not at that age. I was of course comfortable with those classmates I had known since elementary school, but the ones I met in high school were mysterious creatures, especially those I found interesting.

I've always tried to keep the lines of communication open, even while trying to respect her privacy. No snooping through her emails or texts (as if I could actually even pry that phone out of her hands anyway), or even putting locator or other spy-on-your-teen apps or software on her phone or computer. I have to trust her. I didn't appreciate my mother snooping through my diary (thank God for those little locks) or letters and even though I've been dying of curiosity sometimes, I have allowed her the dignity of her life lived without a helicopter.

But by the time she was halfway through her 16th year, I knew she would soon be dating. She's both smart and pretty, a fact that I can claim no credit or even vanity for since she looks more like her dad than her mom. And sometimes friends would joke about (or she would casually mention) store clerks or fellow train riders who would try and engage her in conversation. Most times they would be met with an eye roll.

But the day she mentioned that some of the members of another school's football team were cute (and she said it to me!), I thought, this is the year she finds someone interesting.

And so, I had to grow up.

Parents of daughters have different fears than parents of sons. We all worry about reckless behavior from teenagers who are still our babies, even as they become adults in training. But with all the news stories of daughters being hurt by boys at parties, boys in cars, boys in packs, we as parents have to take deep cleansing breaths and remember that all teenage boys aren't rapists. In fact, almost all are not. But those aren't the ones we hear about, we only hear and read about the ones who feed our fears.

EB has a great group of male friends. Sometimes they hang out together. They seem to be all straight-arrow kids, no underage drinking or getting high (yes, those kids actually exist, you cynics) and EB wouldn't waste her time with any other kind of kid. "They're literally like my brothers," she assures me. And I know if she's with this merry band of brothers whose nickname for themselves is a food item, she's safe. She will go and hang out with them, argue and laugh with them, shop and eat with them and roll her eyes at them. "They are so foolish, but I love them," she says.

They've been to the house, they are silly, nice kids who are always respectful and polite to her parents. I had forgotten that teenage boys can be as goofy and giggly as girls. And that they're all still kids.

So this is where we were when a new name started appearing in her conversations. He goes to a different school, is a senior this year, and they met at a party. The first outing was a double-date with her best friend.

And slowly his name started coming up more and more, information fed bit by bit like doling out bread bits to pigeons. EB didn't want to say much, she seemed self-conscious about liking someone. Or maybe about realizing that someone liked her. It took a while before we learned how they met and what her friends thought of him (the food group friends really like him, which is of great comfort to me). I knew she really liked him when he came to pick her up and I told her he had to come in and meet us (you're taking out my daughter? I want to be able to at least pick you out of a lineup). "Don't be weird, don't be weird," she begged us as he parked the car and came in. And for the 10 seconds we introduced ourselves and told them to have a good time, apparently her dad and I managed not to thoroughly humiliate her.

Now she can admit to herself and us that she is in a relationship. They talk and/or text probably daily, but not obsessively. He has a job after school and on weekends, and she dances at three studios and babysits part time. She still sees some of her friends independent of him.

But this change in relationship status is not without its bumps.

She now has to figure out how to navigate the girl drama of friends whose noses seem a little out of joint that she has someone else in her life and isn't at their beck and call. After months of going out every weekend at some party (any party!) or dinner or something, now she is a bit more discerning with her time. Parties have lost some of their luster, and not because of the boyfriend. But the girls are putting that out there. I reminded her when we talked about their change in attitude, that these friends often depended on her for their ride. None of the other parents were picking up, dropping off, making sure everyone got home safely the way her dad and I did. I believe her expanding her social life put a crimp in their guaranteed livery service. My husband and I always wanted to make sure EB got home safely, the friends were the collateral beneficiaries.

Relationships, old ones, new ones, are ever-changing. There are no fixed marks for Earbaby this year.

Are we worried? No more than we should be. For years I've talked about relationships with EB. You don't stay where you're not comfortable, if you're not being treated well, leave, you have the right to dignity and respect. These rules apply in every relationship, whether romantic or platonic.

It's a new phase in the life of my daughter. She's growing up.

I hope I'm ready for this.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Another year older

We're closing the book on 2015. It's been quite a year.

Every year brings about changes, but this past one was particularly unpredictable.

Who would have imagined that I would end the year without my job? I'm feeling especially nostalgic as the clock ticks down to the final hours of this year. There was so much love and loss this year, I'm trying to remember to cherish the sweet and give perspective to the bitter.

The beginning of the year saw us say goodbye to Earbaby's grandfather, a truly classy gentleman, whose family gave him a sendoff more than deserving of his stature. All the holidays this year were the first ones without Dad. Next year he will still be missed, but I hope the pain will subside.

We survived EB's Sweet 16. That was no small feat to pull off. It came after weeks of blizzards and months of Teenzilla behavior. The fact that no one ended up in jail for felonious assault is a small miracle in itself. As if she had no inkling of the nightmare we had just lived through, she immediately started making noises about having a hall party to celebrate her 18th birthday. I'm ignoring that nonsense.

We also had great vacations, good holidays, and a lot of adjustments. Our Florida spring break was a big hit, but her summer program of dance turned out to be a bit of a miss when she injured her knee the first full week and was limited throughout the duration despite aggressive physical therapy. She came away disappointed and decided she wouldn't try to go back this coming summer. I can respect that. It's time for her to get a job anyway. Most of her friends worked last summer and we're ready for her to learn the real value of a dollar. I've found when people have to spend their own money, they're a lot more discerning.

Junior year has been all right for Earbaby so far. She is still struggling with Pre-Calculus, but the rest of her grades are good.

And she has become quite the whirling dervish of dance and cheer activity. She's enjoying the life of a teenager, for the most part, at least from what we can tell when she occasionally looks up from her phone and takes the earbuds out. There seems to be a party every weekend, and it appears that her presence is imperative. I don't remember being out nearly as much, although her dad says when he was her age, he couldn't stand to stay home on a Friday and Saturday night. Because he remembers his teenage years, she gets a pass on hers.

Yet she gets nostalgic too. When we were shopping for Christmas (when it was only three days away), she observed that the holiday was more fun when she was little. Now that the Santa secret is out, and she really only wants money or store gift cards, the early morning Christmas excitement is a thing of the past. I too miss the cookies and milk for Santa days and the avalanche of toys.

This year brings a more acute feeling of loss. When I decided to leave my job, I hadn't counted on missing my friends and the social interaction nearly as much as I do. I'm used to being home during the day, getting my hobbies and errands done, but it's tough to have few people to talk to all day and understand your family needs down time when their day is finished. Night workers are a different breed and I've suddenly got to figure out how to change species.

But the new year is a fresh start. I'm still trying to decide what I want to do for work for the next few years, which makes me anxious even as people implore me to relax and embrace my free time. I have plenty to do, but the lack of structure makes it difficult to start. There's a reason people say if you want something done, get a busy person to do it. Deadlines are necessary for congenital procrastinators.

EB's new year will bring yet another dance class in yet another studio, an increase in her ballet and possibly a little money in her pocket from babysitting.

And the reason she can do all this? Because Mom doesn't have a job! With all the extra chauffeuring I'm doing, maybe I should just explore the job opportunities with Uber.

Sunday, November 29, 2015


The food coma is over. At least for the weekend. There are still leftovers in the fridge, and as we await the next full-on culinary attack, I figure this is a good time to count my blessings (which thankfully are mainly calorie free).

I'm eternally thankful for Earbaby. She is a royal pain in the (well, you know) many days, but she's also healthy. And anyone who has been even a little ill knows that without your health, you have nothing. EB has always been a healthy kid, which I'm assuming comes more from God's grace than the nutrition(less) diet she has been on. Apparently there's enough in her DNA to counteract a lifetime of sandwiches, not enough sleep and probably too much exercise.

And I'm grateful for the good moods. She's funny, insightful, loving, giving, forgiving and generous to a fault (especially with our money). She doesn't seem to lack for friends and when I hear of other people with teens who struggle in that department, I am a little more grateful. Someone with 11 children recently told me "only children are lonely children." She seemed to pity me. I told her she was mistaken. Outings with friends and sleepovers are always encouraged and granted. Friends are welcome here always. She cherishes her alone time, such as it is. Teenagers are always connected. They text and facetime constantly and can be in a room alone and still be with a group of people.

Even as I try to figure out what I'm going to pursue for work the rest of my life, I remain grateful for the time. The first few weeks of being unemployed were a blur of busyness and panic, along with recurring doses of depression. Lunch with a friend and former colleague gave me the perspective I need, and helped me to see that I'm not alone. But I won't lie, slowly disconnecting is still disorienting.

I'm grateful for my in-laws. I've been truly blessed by being a part of my husband's family. When others are frustrated by snarkiness, digs, passive-aggressive and downright insults from the relatives they acquired through marriage, I can only listen and sympathize. But I can't relate. I've always liked them and they seem to like me. When my father-in-law died at the beginning of the year, my husband's family pulled together, not apart. No one took opportunities for nastiness or visitations to former fallouts or perceived slights. As someone who has seen firsthand how death and/or divorce changes people for the worst, I was pleased, but not at all surprised, that none of those traits came to pass. I married into a truly classy clan.

I have nothing but gratitude for the sacrifice my younger sister makes every day in caring for our elderly mother. It's not easy to be the primary caregiver of a parent, even when the parent is relatively healthy. It's a constant battle when one person wants to be treated as the adult she is and the other struggles to keep the former parent-child paradigm. My sister is truly a saint, even though I'm sure there are plenty of days when her saintliness is truly put to the test. I appreciate her, even when she thinks no one knows how hard it really is for her. I know. We all know.

And then there is also gratitude that my mother is still alive. She is blind, which limits her quality of life. But at 92, she is otherwise still healthy, fully cognizant and still engaged in the goings-on of her family, to the extent that she can be. If she weren't blind, she would probably be more adventurous, but she does get some enjoyment from time spent with her family. My hope is that she will be able to spend more time with EB in the coming year. But I'm grateful that EB has at least one grandparent left. It's an important bond for both of them.

I'm grateful for my husband, who still seems happy that I'm home every day. This change in our life plans has been jarring for me, but he has embraced having me home full-time for the first time in more than 15 years. The days of juggling have gotten a lot easier for both of us. I had figured after a couple of weeks, he would be begging me to find a job, any job, just to get out of the house. Instead, he's been encouraging me to just relax, take time for myself. Everyone is telling me to give myself permission to take it easy for awhile.

I'll be really grateful on the day I figure out just how to do that.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Autumnal transition

Well, here we are again, falling into another roller coaster. I thought with all the machinations of August, change wouldn't be coming soon for our little family. But this time the transition and scary ride was mine. And I'm still not sure when, or how I'm going to get off.

I'm now a homebody, a full-time wife and mother for the first time since the day I gave birth and the six months of maternity leave that followed. I have joined the ranks of the gainfully unemployed. And for someone who has only been unemployed four months of her entire adulthood since graduating college, I'm still not sure how to feel. I'm being congratulated, but I don't call what my new status is retirement.

Of course there's a story behind all of this.

Our company has been undergoing quite a painful transition over the last few years; new ownership, new rules, and of course cost-cutting, which means buyouts, layoffs and other losses of jobs. We knew there were going to be lots of emotions here at home following the layoff and then lay-back-on of my husband. But even as his job stabilized, more cuts were coming and tough decisions were being made all around.

My job changed, and not for the better. As I learned new duties, I realized I was being trained so someone else could be let go. The person who was to be fired had a different job classification, but if others could do his job, there would be no need for him. That caused me some anxiety, for several reasons, but the kicker came when I was informed my days off would change from Sundays and Mondays off to Mondays and Tuesdays off. That translated to no more days with the three of us able to spend time as a family. Since Earbaby dances both Monday and Tuesday nights, we would all become a blur of work, school, dance, eat, sleep, do it all again. As it was, I would drop EB off on Tuesday afternoon and not see her again until Saturday morning! Not having at least a Sunday evening to catch a movie with my husband proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back.

But it wasn't the only thing. Even as we talked about this new, worse change in our lives, a friend who is 10 years younger with a wife and four children died of a sudden heart attack. It was one of most devastating things I'd ever heard, and a wake-up call. So after his funeral, we all talked.

My husband wanted me to reconsider taking a buyout, something which truly wasn't on my radar. You're supposed to work until your kid is out of college and you can safely and sanely take retirement, right? You suffer through the years of getting only three or four hours sleep, sacrificing your health, because you have a family to raise and college tuition to pay. You and your husband are ships that pass in the night during those child-rearing years so that your child always has a primary care-giver at home.

And then, your hours change for the even worse. Your health suffers more and you realize that being tired all the time is not the way it's supposed to be. Your beloved spouse tells you he misses you and would like to spend some time with you. Your daughter (!) wants to spend time with you and enjoy home-cooked dinners instead of quick sandwiches and takeout. And one of the nicest people you'll ever know didn't live to see his children grow up.

So after working nights, weekends and holidays for 38 years, I decided to temporarily join the land of the unemployed. EB was the deciding factor. She will only be with us two more years and then will be off to college and a life that only peripherally includes us. I want to be there to cheer her on at the football games, be able to spontaneously go out on a date with my husband, cook a dinner, sleep eight hours in one stretch, have lunch or dinner plans like normal people.

I plan on working again. Maybe I'll go for something I can do from home, or work out of an office a few days (!) a week. I'm still feeling a little untethered. I'm used to rushing around trying to get everything done before 5 p.m., so I can start my second shift that ended at 1:30 a.m. Suddenly, I can breathe, start dinner, watch a little television, read a book. And sleep when the rest of the world sleeps. It will still be awhile before my body realizes I don't have to keep vampire hours any more, but I'm ready for that challenge too.

I have to acknowledge the fear of never working again, and the fear of getting another job before I've had a chance to enjoy some of the things I've missed through the years. I'm not sure where this new path will take me. But I have a couple of great people around who want to be with me as I find my way.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A cheer (and a tear) for Junior Year

Nobody told me that when your teenager gets to a certain age, in this case, 16 1/2, you actually don't see them much anymore. And so we enter the fall of Earbaby's junior year with me seeing her about three times a week. The rest of the days she's just the stranger sleeping (or eating, texting, Netflixing) in the bedroom next door.

EB jumped into the penultimate year of her high school career with both feet -- as always. Cheerleader camp started two weeks before school began with early morning practice, just in time to finish off the final physical therapy sessions for her almost-completely healed knee. The reemergence of the two dance schools part of her schedule came right on the heels of her first week of school and between the four dance classes (not including the younger class she helps in), three two-hour cheer practices a week and Friday football games, well, let's just say I can legitimately argue that I keep all her pictures around just so I'd be able to recognize her on the few occasions we do cross paths.

As for school, and the work that comes with it, that's again a bit of mixed bag. She loves her classes and teachers this year, all great courses and interesting subjects. She still has the shakiness of test anxiety, for which we're always looking for solutions. The PSAT will be coming up soon to prepare her class for the newly remixed and remastered SATs, but there are no AP courses taken this year, which caused her so much angst in the grades department.

And most of the time she's in a fairly good mood (except of course when she's tired, hungry, grumpy, disgusted, bored or sleep-deprived). We see each other Saturdays, Mondays and Tuesdays when I take her to dance class, but I see her for about 10 minutes on Sundays when she emerges from her cave (sometimes with a friend who slept over) to raid the refrigerator, or take a shower and then return to her lair. After Tuesday, my next chance to see her will come Saturday mornings again. Because she comes home from cheer after I've left for work, we've taken to texting to communicate, something I've always hated.

Then there's the social life. Earbaby has been traveling around this city on a 24/7 school bus pass for a few years now, and is still tickled by friends who don't know how to get around unless their parents drive them. Sometimes she'll ask to be dropped off at the station, and late nights always merit a pickup at the station from her dad, but I'm not sure when the tables turned from her asking permission to go out to her telling us she's going out to dinner and/or a movie with friends (and yes, she will need money). Our reply is usually don't stay out too late, don't hang around unsavory parts of the city, the usual who, what, where questions, and of course, keep in touch, answer your texts.

I don't know how indulgent we are. I seem to remember a lot of freedom from my parents around my junior year (probably even more, because I had my driver's license by then). And there was no constant contact from cellphones. Your parents knew where you said you were going, knew your friends, and trusted you to "make good choices."

But as EB heads out some Saturday nights (or goes out with friends after the Friday football games), I sometimes listen to more helicoptery parents and wonder if I'm just being lazy. On the other hand, she'll never know how to make good choices if she never gets any practice. So far, so good.

Last weekend assured me she is on the right path. After first thinking she would spend a rare Saturday night at home, she changed her mind and decided to meet friends for dinner. Granted this annoyed her dad, but off she went downtown. She and her friends found themselves right smack in the middle of Hempfest! Of course, she's no Janie-come-lately -- she immediately recognized the smell of the weed. Her closest friends are all straight-arrow kids, so they beat it out of there. I know they did, because she told me about it. I didn't know it was Hempfest weekend either, or I would have dropped her elsewhere.

These days are a little bittersweet as the baby bird flies farther away from the nest in preparation for living on her own. When did my baby blob become a sweet, sensitive young lady (except when she's tired, hungry, grumpy, etc.)? We're still trying to figure out what kind of parenting is best for someone on the cusp of adulthood. We've got the roots and wings philosophy down pat.

I guess I just kind of wish those strong young wings wouldn't take off quite so often. Not yet, anyway. Not yet.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Dog days and transition phase

Since when did August, the epitome of those lazy, hazy days of summer, become a roller coaster ride?

We followed Earbaby's summer month of dance immediately with a week away in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It had been quite a few years since we had gone to this place as a family and it was nice to get away for a full week of doing nothing. Through the generosity of my in-laws we had a really nice condo to ourselves. It started out a little bumpy though, which should have told us nothing was going to go smoothly this final month of summer.

EB invited Delilah to accompany us again on this trip. Since the condo could comfortably sleep three in the bottom floor alone, she actually invited several friends to join us and we were prepared for that. Unfortunately most of her friends had summer jobs so they couldn't get away and her other closest friend, Brenda, had summer school. Still, EB was happy Delilah could come along and they already started making plans for swimming and hanging out by the pool.

The bump in the road was huge. The day before, Delilah's mother told her she couldn't go. There was no rhyme or real reason. She had said yes before, then decided that her daughter spent too much time with her friends, wanted to sleep over her friends' houses, but never invited them to hers, hadn't gotten her summer homework done, was planning on going somewhere with her later that summer and just decided she wanted her to stay home. She offered to pay the money for the tickets we had bought for a train ride to the top of Mount Washington, but she couldn't be convinced that it was cruel and unfair to throw this particular monkey wrench into the vacation plans the day before. It was too late to invite someone else. The girls were devastated, and although I held my tongue, I was livid. The mom promised the next time Delilah was invited to go with us, she would give her permission. Now I like the girl very much, but there will be no more invitations. I refuse to be held hostage by unstable human beings, even if that person has managed to give birth to a perfectly lovely daughter.

EB took the news better than we did. We were so afraid she would be bored (and therefore crabby) that it would ruin the vacation for all of us. Yes, she was somewhat bored and crabby (she hated the train ride and the moose safari) but we got our nails done and we both managed to binge watch Netflix so we were satisfied.

And there were bears. One afternoon after my husband and I came back from a short trip I realized I left my bag in the car with the windows open. Although there weren't any people around, and we were headed right back out, I thought it wasn't a good idea to leave my money and ID in the car for anyone to happen to come along and look in. As I stepped outside, I looked right at a full-grown mama black bear with three cubs, not even 20 feet in front of me. She looked at me, looked bored and kept on her journey toward the back of the condo where there was a huge yard that spilled onto a meadow below. The balcony on our condo looked out over the yard, so she was below us as she walked. I shut the door and couldn't get the words out of my mouth. "Get up, get up, get up," I said to EB, who was on the couch. "Come look!" She stepped out on the balcony to see mom and the little ones. Then my husband came upstairs from the first floor. "Bears!" I said. "Where?" he said, with his eyes wide. He stepped out and saw baby bear number four climbing down the tree five feet in front of us. I hadn't seen that one. We took film and pictures, but maintained a respectful distance and silence as mom and the four little ones made their way down into the meadow.

Later that evening we saw a deer languidly walking down the road in the same complex. My husband saw a few wild turkeys one day and mama bear and the four babies made another appearance another night. With that and the five or six moose we saw, it was a fully enjoyable animal week.

That week was followed by a trip to my hometown with EB. Her dad didn't want to miss a second straight week of work so she and I took off to visit her cousins and aunts. That week was less animal filled (bold fat squirrels don't really count as wildlife) but EB was her usual pill when we go to see my mother. See, there's not a lot to do, and when there is, no one can get themselves together in a timely fashion to do it. I've learned to go with the flow, this was just a yearly trip to see my mother that coincided with Zoe's visit from South Korea. EB insisted she had to see her last remaining grandparent, yet spent a majority of her time holed up in a room or on the couch plugged either into her phone or her computer. When she complained about it when we returned home, I informed her that she was staying home next year.

But we were never prepared for the third week. My husband near the end of the week was ushered into his manager's office and a person from human resources came in as they informed him his services were no longer needed. It came as the biggest shock ever. When he called me, he had already left the office -- he had been given a two-week termination notice but was told he could leave immediately, which he did -- and we met at a park where I go to walk the dog. We talked. He was stunned, but taking it well, which I attributed to shock. What do you do when you're laid off although you're told it's not a performance-based decision?

He would still get a year's pay with full benefits, a generous compensation package. But this was not in our life's plans. For the next few days he got numerous calls and emails from coworkers throughout the building expressing their outrage and dismay. People reached out to the president of the company and the chief operating officer. A petition was circulated expressing support. In the meantime, my husband took advantage of the new YMCA membership, sought counsel from close friends, relatives and former colleagues, and we set about figuring out what moves he would make for his next career.

He didn't get far in his planning. Exactly one week later, just as he was getting into the morning routine of the gym and preparing to have an attorney look at his termination papers before he signed them, he got a call. Apparently there was enough of an outcry (which was unprecedented) that the powers that be realized, yes, he is too valuable to lose. A little financial maneuvering, he'll be paid out of one department instead of the one he had been in, and he will be back at work, doing the same job. His first thought was to move on, he had already started to disconnect. But that termination actually was taken off the table, we realized, so the choice really wasn't his to make.

We thought we would be transitioning to another chapter in his work life. EB had adjusted after her initial despair. She was sad, but supportive and realized she would have more time with her dad as the summer came to a close. Turns out, that only lasted a week. Now the transition is emotional instead of physical. How do you feel after you were unceremoniously dismissed? I reminded him he's not the one who should feel uncomfortable, he's not the one with egg on his face.

But as we all readjust to the new/old career, we're all exhausted from this summer. The roller coaster of dance injuries, disappointment in vacations, layoffs, lay-ons, is coming to an end. Thankfully. I think all three of us are ready to get off this ride.