Eighteen Candles

mom holding baby girlParenting.

One of the few jobs that doesn’t necessarily get easier the more years you have under your belt. Because while your skills might sharpen as you balance the tightrope between “yes” and “no” every day, your child is changing the playing field.

Constantly.

You might have one child or five — all boys or a mixture of kiddos — but each and every day you suit up to play a game that isn’t the same game you played yesterday.

I’ve done this parenting thing once already. With 22 years under my belt and a son recently launched into young adulthood, I thought I had it all under control.

My baby girl changed the game.

And now she’s ready to fly.

My last child, my only girl… I’m not sure what it is.

But while I am incredibly excited for her next chapter in life — college move-in only one month away — my heart is already missing that little girl who has been my sidekick for so many years. The toddler who grasped my legs while I cooked dinner and now shares my love for iced coffee and Target runs.

She’s 18 today.

I still can’t wrap my head around it.

From the day she was born, she’s been such a presence in my life. This tiny 6-pound baby girl who couldn’t wait for her due date to make her appearance; who threatened to be born while her father was off in search of a soda machine in the depths of the hospital hallways.

She altered the course of our lives, bringing a new perspective on parenting to two people who thought they knew it all. Her 4-year-old brother had no idea what a game-changer she would be… or that she would be his trusted ally and playmate for years to come. To watch them interact now as young adults is incredible. These two little souls who grew up in a heartbeat — right under my nose — as I fed them, bathed them, read to them, taught them, laughed with them and cried over them.

But my daughter.

How can I sum up 18 years of memories in just a few sentences, or a few memories pulled from the pre-digital years? Shuffling through the old photo boxes this afternoon I wished Steve Jobs had been a little bit quicker with his iPhone… or that I had not worried about the cost of a roll of prints from the neighborhood photo shop.

The cost of the missing memories is steep right now.

She is tenacious and caring, both a deep thinker and a free spirit. She makes me laugh and makes me think, makes me want to be smarter and do better. She loves a debate, yet loves a silly conversation just as much. She is fiercely loyal to her family and friends.

For the past 18 years she has graced our home with so much energy, laughter and love… and when she leaves for college next month her absence will echo down the hall, towards her empty bedroom.

But give me some Facetime, a text filled with emojis, a funny meme shared with an LOL or a call out of the blue — I’m good with that.

She’ll always be my sidekick.

Happy 18th birthday, sweet girl.

It’s time for you to fly.

kak grad walk

 

Looking Back, Looking Forward

It was the end of a long holiday break, and we were trying to squeeze those last few relaxing chunks of time from what had seemed an eternity on day one. The kids were busy, as they often are once they reach the age of driver’s licenses, jobs and “significant others” in their lives.

With four walls closing in on us at home my husband and I decided to visit a park about half an hour away, to hike a trail we haven’t hiked before. We needed to be outside, to soak up some sun and escape the house. When the air is crisp and the sky is a cloudless blue, there really isn’t anything more stunning than a winter day in California.

Hiking boots laced up and water bottles filled, we took off for one of our almost-empty-nest adventures, leaving chores and errands for another day.

When we arrived at the trailhead my husband took a map and we started to plan our hike. We still had a few hours before the sun would begin to set, so we chose a loop trail that would take us high enough for a stunning view of the area, yet be short enough to get us safely back to the car before dusk.

Always cautious. Always planning ahead.

We walked in silence for a while, quietly savoring the fact that we’re comfortable enough to embrace the quiet. After a while, my husband broke the silence with a comment about the view off to the side of the trail.

And that’s when I noticed.

I’m not looking around.

I am so focused on the trail right in front of me that I’m missing the view.

So I forced myself to look up and around and savor the adventure and wow — it’s such a beautiful day, such a gorgeous view. We kept hiking along the trail, passing others here and there with a friendly nod or “hello.”

But I almost immediately went back to looking down. To worrying about the rocks and ruts and uneven trail right in front of me or just below my feet.

So I stopped for a water break, and forced myself again to look around.

Beautiful, yet not perfect.

The years-long drought in California has left towering trees dry and creek beds empty. Recent rains have brought back green grasses, but the long-term effects of drought are still very evident.

I turned around to see the path we had taken up this hill. It was steep and covered in a patchwork of uneven soil, horse tracks and mud. It wasn’t obvious to me as we walked that path just how very difficult it was.

But we did it. Cautiously, carefully and continuously we climbed that hill.

You don’t always realize where you’ve been until you turn around.

Isn’t this the case with life? We trudge along over obstacles ranging in size from pebbles to boulders. Push ourselves through the murky parts when parenting is tough and relationships are cracked. Past broken friendships and milestones reached, straight through our kids’ childhood, which seemed to expire quite a while before we were ready.

Shouldn’t we look back once in a while? See where we’ve been, gain perspective on the road ahead? Not to wallow in the past, but to acknowledge it and more forward?

These feelings hit me in the quietness on that trail — that our 20+ years of parenting hadn’t always been a smooth path. That as hard as you try, your kids need to grow at their own pace, learn valuable lessons for themselves, to fail or stumble on the path — or even get lost for a bit.

Sometimes you need to look back.

Up ahead on the trail? A leafy, tree-covered walkway with towering pines on one side, sturdy oaks on the other.

I might have missed it if I hadn’t stopped.

I spend a lot of my time being cautious, living in this moment here rather than looking forward or back… and fretting about it, too.

I waste time being worried about stepping too far off the path, of stumbling or getting lost.

I’m just looking down.

It’s time I started looking up.

Happy Birthday, 20

I see his lips moving, but I don’t hear a word he’s saying. Instead, my attention is drawn to the stubble of a day-old beard that sprinkles his cheeks and chin.

Caught by surprise yet again at this man who still inhabits my heart as a baby.

My son just turned 20. And it’s cliche and ridiculous and so dramatic, but at these moments when I notice… really notice… that he truly is grown up now, I ache for the years that have melted away.

For the years when his chin was a place I wiped dribbles of mac and cheese from, not a place he needed to shave. For the years when I was drawn into his little face by those intense blue eyes and adorable cleft in his chin. I could stare at him for hours back then… while he slept, while he ate, while we just cuddled.

Not so cool to stare at him now.

So we coexist as adults for the most part, chatting about school or work or the latest scientific discovery. He’s full of ideas and theories, and loves to share them or debate them. His jokes make me laugh and I can still share a funny YouTube video now and then that cracks him up. Life moves forward and it’s easy to forget that he was my baby.

Is my baby, still.

There was a turning point somewhere, the tipping point where my parenting of him had reached maximum capacity, where advice and comments and mandates stopped being processed by his young adult brain.

And inside, I know that was the plan all along. To parent, to guide, to counsel and to adore. To build his confidence and his character, to help him survive heartbreak and disappointment and move forward with grace.

And even now, as I watch him talk and laugh I am awed by the simple fact that I am his mom. That I was given these 20 years with him unconditionally, even though I had no experience and there were no guarantees that I would be a good mother.

I just made it up as we went along.

No do-overs now. No second chances to go back and try a different path.

I wouldn’t really change a thing.

Because my boy, this young man who sits in front of me (and is apparently still talking) has given me the incredible gift of just being his mom.

And he will always be the baby in my heart.

baby boy

A Milestone Love

milestone loveThe restaurant is crowded, unusually so for a Tuesday night. The waitress lets the specials roll off her tongue as she does on any other night, and we pretend to listen even though we’ve all chosen our main courses already.

Table for four. While this happens with amazing regularity at home, we don’t often manage to sync our schedules and go out for dinner together. Old habits die hard, and I am usually just as happy making dinner and sharing it around our table.

But tonight is different.

My husband has a milestone birthday today. And while the other diners may think they are having a special meal with colleagues or friends, I feel as if there is a bubble around our table tonight.

A bubble that holds within its rounded edges the three people I hold the most dear in my heart.

A bottle of wine arrives, along with something tamer for the teens with bubbles and cherries. We raise our glasses in a toast to my husband and I catch his smile as he thanks us for spending this evening with him.

It’s magic… like all of the times I have seen this man smile, but deeper, almost. He’s in his happy place, with his family, and there is no place else he’d rather be right now.

I feel a lump form in my throat that I push aside. I don’t want to cry, don’t want to take away from his moment.

He wanted to be with us.

When people would ask, “Where are you going for the BIG birthday?” he never wavered, really. Offers of exotic beach vacations, ski lodges or weekends in Napa didn’t entice him. Sure, they all sound like fun… but he wanted more.

He wanted to be with us.

To start the second 50 years of his life with his family, to listen to our stories and laughter and bask in the glow of that kind of love that nobody else can give you.

And as I watched him raise his glass to us, to another 50 years, to our family I couldn’t help but be in awe of this man who has given me so very much. Family, unconditional love, laughter.

And he wanted to be with us.

Happy Birthday, babe… here’s to another 50.

Vows

I watch them from my seat in the dimly lit ballroom, watch the sparkling lights dance on her gown as she spins.

Her smile fills her face and his heart, as he gently dips and sways with her to the music. They are so young, so much in love and so very newly-wed. Less than one hour old, their marriage is as fresh as they come and filled with promise and hope.

I want to stop the music and tell them to go — go NOW and start their life together. Before it’s too late. Before life gets in the way. Before obligations and bills and children and sickness scare them into being adults. Before the drudgery of Monday morning creeps right into Sunday night.

But their smiles, their laughter and their tears while reading their vows are my answer. They ARE starting their life together, and it begins today. She calls him her “person” and she is his “rock”.

I cannot take my eyes off of them as they dance and whisper and giggle.

I try to find a bit of wisdom, something a long-married woman could share with a beaming young bride that would be inspirational or awe-inspiring — a string of poetry, a line from a romantic movie, even something from a cheesy greeting card.

Nothing. There is nothing I can share beyond the simple words they uttered at the altar.

Love. Honor. Cherish.

All the days of your life — for as long as you both shall live. Because life has a way of moving forward, of ticking along when you don’t see it coming, of throwing curveballs at you when you least expect them.

Love can conquer a lot of stuff, but you have to feed it daily. Give more than your share, with no expectations.

And always remember to dance.

___________________________________

This piece originally appeared on Moonfrye

The Long Goodbye

I think I’m still adjusting to it, to be honest with you.

That empty bedroom down the hall.

When my son came home from college for Thanksgiving, it was magical. He had only three days to visit, so we crammed in all the laughing, chatting, eating, and hanging out that we could muster in that short period of time. It was his first visit home since he went away to college in September and he seemed genuinely happy to be here.

To sit and watch him pester his sister, play with the dog, and stretch his lanky frame out across my couch again?

Pure awesome.

Christmas break was a whole month long…at least a week too long, we all decided. After the first week or so we had all settled into old routines for the most part. Almost as if he’d never left.

His floor was once again littered with socks, more of his friends were home to make plans with, and we were suddenly back in the business of parenting: curfews, chores, do-this, do-that, get a haircut, clean your room.

When he finally went back to school in early January, it was time.

And yet…

I found myself tip-toeing past his closed bedroom door, still thinking he was in bed and sleeping late. Buying his favorite snacks at the grocery store, only to remember that he won’t be home until April. Setting aside the Sunday comics for him when I brought in the newspaper.

Old routines; familiar little mothering stuff that only a mom understands.

Little mothering stuff that I can’t do for him anymore.

I sat in his room for a bit yesterday, after I had remade his bed with clean sheets in anticipation of his next visit.

This big boy room that we moved him to when his sister’s birth was imminent. The big boy bed he slept in straight from the crib. Awards hanging on the wall, movie ticket stubs taped together in a long strip on the mirror, silly photo booth pictures from Senior Ball stuck to the mirror.

The memories in this room are piled 16 years deep; and yet they are right on the surface of my heart.

He smiles back at me from the Senior Ball picture; or at least I think he does.

And I know he’s exactly where he needs to be right now.

But there’s a hole in that empty bedroom down the hall.

****************************************************************

It’s Wednesday, and that means I’m also hanging out over at Moonfrye! Today I’m coming clean about how I almost lost it all last week but nobody was the wiser. Or at least, that’s how I remember it. Come visit me over there…I promise I won’t make you do any chores.

A Pinch of Love

I can still remember watching her in the kitchen. Counter-tops overflowing with ingredients, a light dusting of flour as an added touch on sleeves and hands.

My grandmother’s kitchen on the day before Thanksgiving turned into a pie factory of sorts. Thanksgiving meals spent at her home always involved days of cooking, way too many side dishes, and incredible food saved for this one special day each year. A true Southern lady, she was never without extra food to offer you, just in case you were hungry.

I’ll just make something simple.

And oh, the pies.

As a child, I remember there seemed to be at least five different kinds of pie. She baked her pies not from a recipe, but from memory and feel. A handful of that, a pinch of this, she just had that feeling for when a recipe was just right. A gift that I did not inherit.

Her pecan pies were especially sinful, and I saved room for a slice every time we visited for the holidays.

She was in her element on Thanksgiving; putting everything she had and an added pinch of love into the entire meal.

When she passed away eighteen years ago, I was just starting to grow my own family. So exhausted on the plane trip back from her funeral, I didn’t even realize yet that I was pregnant.

My grandmother’s pie recipes were gone. Gone because they were never really written down, but conjured with a pinch of love and a handful of hope.

When my mom brought some of my grandmother’s things back home, I was hesitant to take anything at first. I had my memories of her, and certainly having some of her things wouldn’t make those memories any stronger.

Then I saw the stack of glass pie pans.

Deep dish, fluted, eight-inch, nine-inch, every variation you could imagine.

Eighteen years later, I am still baking pies in those pans. My grandmother’s instincts for just another pinch or just a bit more flour have slowly started to kick in to my too-logical brain.

My daughter by my side this year; rolling crusts and mixing ingredients, filling the house with the smells I remember.

My grandmother right there with us.

And her recipes aren’t gone after all.

****************************************************************

Wondering what brings my son home from college for Thanksgiving? To find out go read my post over at Moonfrye today, where I spill the beans on traditions and what really seems to matter to those kids we’re raising.