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.

So Unfair

‘Twas ten days after Christmas, and all through my pad…

There were no cookies, no fruitcake, no fudge to be had.

The daughter had been wrestled from snug in her bed…

And returned to her classroom; what each teacher dreads.

With hubs in his sweatshirt, and I in my slippers…

We drank lots of coffee, but still weren’t quite chipper.

When from the teen’s bedroom there arose cell phone chatter…

We opened his door to see what was the matter.

“Let’s go bowling; then we’ll get lunch! Let’s see a movie, maybe a bunch!”

“To Starbucks! To McDonald’s! To the big downtown mall! Now drive away, drive away, drive away all!”

As restless college kids that before the end of winter break  sigh…

When they have to hang out with parents, without asking why…

So off to his adventures with his posse he flew…

With a wallet full of gift cards, and a wad of cash too.

And we heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight…

“I’ve got one more week of vacation, suckers! I’ll see you tonight!”

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

Got friends? Great, amazing girlfriends? Then you’ll understand my Moonfrye post today, That Kind of Friend. Would love to have you visit me over there today.

And bring a friend.

 

Thirteen Things that Rock About Being 13

Today my daughter turns thirteen.

A moment of silence, please.

Seriously people, she’s my youngest; my baby. I no longer have any toddlers, ten year-olds, or tweens.

My son thinks he’s won the lottery, since he gets to leave for college so soon after his sister hit the big one-three.

Not to imply that my daughter is a problem in any way. Quite the opposite actually, she’s a very sweet, funny, and considerate girl.

Prior to being thirteen, that is.

The problem is that I can still remember being thirteen. And I’m sure it wasn’t all roses and glitter.

Enough said.

So in preparation for the big birthday goings-on around here, I decided to celebrate with a little list.

Thirteen Things That Rock About Being 13

  1. Growth-spurts. If she keeps growing at this rate, this 5’7 mom is going to feel like a Smurf.
  2. Facebook. Yes, we were those mean parents who made her wait until the actual age you are supposed to be to have your own Facebook account. She’s had it for 24 hours and probably already has more friends than I do. And now I have to watch what I post. Ironic, isn’t it?
  3. Friends. The intensity of the giggles that come from her room when her BFF is here make me remember how important my friends were back then. And remind me to keep up with the ones I have now.
  4. Eyeshadow. I let her start with mascara last year, and promised when she turned 13 she could use some faint eyeshadow. I’m secretly hoping she forgot this.
  5. Hugs. Kids this age are constantly hugging each other, like a big love-fest. It’s almost like BlogHer I guess, but if I tried this in my everyday life I would be shunned. Or arrested.
  6. Socks. For some reason I can’t quite figure out, she’s infatuated with socks. Long socks, woolly socks, toe socks, even a pair of leg warmers worthy of a Flashdance remake.
  7. Eighth Grade. This is her year to be at the top of the heap at school, the Big Cheese, the top of the food chain. Until next year, when she’s booted down to the lowest form of life in a high school: Freshman.
  8. Cooking. She’s old enough now to use the actual oven by herself, not just the lowly microwave. She has even invented a few of her own recipes and pretty soon will expose me as the crappy cook I really am.
  9. Shopping. This is one I remember well. Hitting the mall with your friends is one of the bestest things about being older. Even if you did have to score a ride from mom to get there. And she might still be hiding in Starbucks.
  10. Dish Duty. She may not realize this, but once her brother leaves for college she is promoted to Dinnertime Dish Duty. So this may not rock for her, but it sure does for me.
  11. Babysitting. She’s signed up for a babysitting class next month so she can start earning some cash for those mall trips. And socks.
  12. Nail polish. She has an insane collection of nail-polish, most of which she inherited when a neighbor decided to weed out her collection. She loves to alternate colors on her fingers or toes, and when I need a new color? I just shop her drawer.
  13. No longer being a kid. Well, this is the most obvious one but to be a real teenager? You can’t buy that feeling with any amount of babysitting money.

Happy Birthday to my sweet girl.

And may you rock this whole year.

First Door on the Right

The basic contents of the room haven’t changed much.

A twin-sized bed, a small nightstand next to it, a dresser, a desk with a lamp.

Fourteen years ago, it was deemed The Big Boy Room and we moved his little-boy things in with great fanfare.

When you are three years old and enamored with the garbage man, the height of awesomeness is to have a room at the front of the house. That way, you are the very first one in the family to hear the garbage man coming around the corner so very early in the morning.

And you get to announce it to the whole house.

Loudly.

The Big Boy Room had brightly-colored cars and trucks driving around the room on the wallpaper border, Legos on the floor at all times, a huge stuffed dinosaur guarding the bed, and a jigsaw puzzle always occupied the desktop. A dream catcher hung from the bedpost, ready to spirit away bad dreams that hound even the biggest of boys.

He’s ready to catch his own dreams now.

This room down the hall is still occupied by the same boy, who seems to have doubled in size in the time he’s lived there.

The wallpaper is long gone, the Legos have been tucked away in bins and stored in the game room, and I haven’t seen the desktop in years.

Even the garbage man is no longer a source of excitement, but rather someone to grumble at when he comes too early in the morning and disrupts the groggy sleep of a teenager.

There are piles of socks that don’t quite make it to the hamper, posters of bands I can barely stand to listen to, and movie ticket stubs taped to the mirror next to prom pictures and photos of a hero.

Still Big Boy stuff, I suppose.

But the boy that occupies this room? He’s not in there all the time anymore.

He has his driver’s license, his friends, things to do and places to be.

He’s moving on, that Big Boy.

Come September, he’s moving to another Big Boy room in the dorms, with other Big Boys (and girls). He’ll have a mini-fridge, empty pizza boxes, crazy posters, a lava lamp, and a pile of socks that won’t quite make it to the laundry bag.

If he’s unlucky enough to be near the dumpsters, he may even be able to grumble at the garbage man.

And even though the room down the hall will be unoccupied soon, I have a feeling I’ll still find a reason here and there to open the door.

Who knows what memory I’ll see when I peek inside.

They’re all in there still; some buried deeper than others.

Or maybe just buried in socks.

*********

I am honored to be a featured blogger over at Mamapedia today! I would love for you to stop over there for a moment and read my post Mother of the Year: Before Kids, about what an awesome mom I thought I was. Until I tried it.

Thanks, Jack!

When you have a teenager in the house, eventually you’ll give them the ultimatum encourage them to find a part-time job. It’s a rite-of-passage, a great way to gain experience in the real world, and teaches them the value of earning a dollar.

Or apparently now? It’s $8 an hour.

So around the dinner table last night we were discussing the various places our son has applied for jobs and what types of experience he would gain from working at each business.

And I realized that everything that applies to my life as a mother?

I learned in my first job at Jack in the Box.

Motherhood Lessons
Learned Behind the Drive-Thru Window

Food Complaints
I’m not completely sure how wonderful people actually expect fast food to be, but they often found things to complain about. Too much ketchup! These buns are stale! When will my order be ready?

Pretty much the same type of talk mothers hear between the hours of 4:30 and 6:00pm.

The best complaint I ever had at work about the food? The red-faced, sweaty man who waved a Club Supreme in front of my face, shouting, “This sandwich is COLD!”.

Um, it’s supposed to be. It’s a club.

My kids are old enough to know better than to complain about the temperature of their food. And the first family member who waves a cold sandwich in my face will most likely be nominated family chef for a week.

Cleaning up After Slobs
Working in a fast food place ensures you become a jack (in the box) of all trades.

So while everyone hopes to move up the ladder to Front Cashier or (swoon) Assistant Manager, everyone takes their fair turn at mopping the floor under the tables, wiping down the grills, picking up the trash that lazy people couldn’t bother to throw away, and wiping fingerprints off the front counter.

Hmm.

Favors
A teenager working at any type of restaurant immediately has more friends than they ever had before. Of course, this is only when those new-found friends want to score some free food. The next time they see you around school?

It’s like they’ve never spoken to you before.

Moms are like dispensers for favors. Can I have a ride to the mall/$5 for the field trip/borrow your tank top/get some more ice in my drink?

And we do them. Because there is a section of the Mom Code that stipulates we be part martyr.

But these favors are short-lived because the next time you’re out at the mall with your tween?

It’s like they’ve never spoken to you before.

Clothing is Absorbent
Frying french fries, flipping burgers, and bagging onion rings are incredibly greasy jobs. And the grease?

It lingers in the air. It spits out of the fryers.

And your clothes soak it up. You continue to smell like work until your next shower.

Anyone who’s had babies and toddlers knows that you wear your baby’s smells like a cheap perfume. Spit-up, drool, and snot soak right into your mommy clothes until the end of the day.

Or until that next shower. Which isn’t always on a daily basis.

Un-hip Mom Clothes
Fast food uniforms aren’t designed to be sexy or even the slightest bit attractive.

Kind of like mom clothes.

When I worked at Jack in the Box we debuted the uniform the other fast-food joints only aspired to offer:

Jack Jeans.

They were all the rage. Flame-retardant for safety but damn, they were jeans.

So in the restaurant? We were all that. Feeling pretty cool in our Jack Jeans.

Out in public? Not so much.

Kind of like the clothes I wear now.

Speaking to People Who Don’t Make Sense
One of the more coveted jobs in the fast-food restaurant is working the drive-thru window.

There’s a sense of control and that tiny little feeling of being on stage.

Because your voice is coming right out of the clown’s mouth.

It’s like you’re famous.

And the closer the hour gets to 10:00pm on a weekend night, the less intelligible the voices on the other side of the microphone become.

Which helps tremendously when you try and understand what in the heck your toddler is talking about.

So thank you, Jack. You’ve prepared me well for a life as a mother.

I think I’ve finally made Assistant Manager.

The Very First Thing

The box is heavy, and of course on the very top shelf in the garage.

He’s such a pack rat, but I secretly think this shows his sentimental side.

I am searching for an old diary of mine, a book of thoughts and silly rants written by my 12 year-old self. I think it may help to bridge the distance between my 12 year-old daughter and her mother who seems to not understand a thing.

About being 12.

I bring the box down to the floor and blow the dust from the top. How long since it’s been down? I can’t remember.

The packing tape pulls off easily; the adhesive has lost it’s grip long ago. I peel it away and toss it aside, then gently pull open the top of the large box.

Right on top of the pile of memories and treasures it sits.

But not my diary.

It’s the baseball cap.

It has seen better days, the Kuhn & Co. baseball cap. The brim is no longer stiff and straight, having finally been washed one too many times. The bright blue lettering has faded and the white background has taken on a shade of dull.

The pizza parlor was crowded, infested with teenagers that Friday night. The basketball game was over and groups of friends spilled out of the doorway and wound around the tables. The jukebox was playing loudly but it was hard to make out the songs over the excitement of the young voices.

The boy sat quietly at the table, soft curls peeking out from under the Kuhn & Co. cap. I knew who he was, but we’d never spoken. His friends were loud and animated, and he stood out among them. A soft smile, an easy laugh.

The baseball cap.

I tossed my shy, reserved nature aside for a moment and went over to the table. I was drawn to him.

And in that I’m 16 and don’t know what to say way, I playfully grabbed his hat.

And put it on my head.

Thirty years ago this Sunday.

We’ve built an entire existence together, for better or for worse, based on the foundation of that old baseball cap.

And am I ever glad that he’s part pack rat.

This post is for The Red Dress Club weekly writing prompt: write a piece – 600 word limit – about finding a forgotten item of clothing in the back of a drawer or closet. Let us know how the item was found, what it is, and why it’s so meaningful to you or your character.

Driven to Insanity

After spending hundreds of dollars on a Driver’s Training course and surviving the required 50+ hours driving with parents, my son recently passed his driver’s test and became a card-carrying member of the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Which for teenagers is the height of awesomeness.

Subsequent to his passing this test, I became a card-carrying member of the Insane Moms Club.

As a public service, I’ve written a guide to keeping yourself busy during this stressful time when it comes up in your life.

You’re welcome.

How to Pass the Time While your Child is Out Driving Alone for the First Time
or
Is It Happy Hour Yet?

When your newly-licensed child asks to take the car out alone for the first time, smile and say, “Certainly! How fun that will be!” while the contents of your stomach begin a slow ascent towards your throat.

After handing over the keys remind him to drive safely, use his seat belt, and watch the speed limits. Force another smile and wave goodbye while biting the inside of your cheek to stop the tears.

And to stop the scream that’s forming deep in your chest from escaping your mouth.

Stand discretely by the frosted window at the front door, where he can’t see you watch him as he pulls away. Make a mental note to comment on how nicely he backed out of the driveway without hitting anyone or anything.

Say a prayer, clutch your rosary beads, consult the Magic 8 Ball, or whatever else you think may secure his safe return.

Wander aimlessly into his room and sit down on his bed. Wonder where the time went, then wonder why his socks don’t always make it into the hamper. Decide not to spend much time in this particular part of the house.

Decide to take your spice rack alphabetizing to a whole new level and alphabetize the spices in the pantry as well. Distract yourself with a rousing self-discussion on how to alphabetize the different salts properly and whether or not to include Epsom with Kosher, Garlic, and Sea.

Distract yourself with odd jobs you never have time for. Like trying to get all those crumbs out of the cracks on the kitchen table. Or trimming small bits of carpet that stick up higher than the others.

Sit at the kitchen table (which happens to face the driveway) and pretend to be busy blogging.

When pretending to blog doesn’t work, turn to Twitter for solace of other moms.

Remember that most Twitter moms you know have little kids and you’ve just given them something else to worry about in advance. Log off Twitter.

Start wondering how long it would take for the police to call you if he’d been in an accident.

Check for a dial tone on the phone to make sure it’s actually working.

Try not to panic when the phone actually rings, and the first thing you hear is, “Hi, this is Steve Anderson with the Cal….” and you’re pretty sure he will say California Highway Patrol. But he doesn’t. (this actually happened: he was calling from the Cal Poly Pomona admissions office. Whew).

Once your heart stops beating 167 beats per minute, check the time again and realize that he’s almost due home. Notice that it’s also getting dark, and mutter something aloud about turning on the headlights at dusk and reciting the vehicle code that mandates that.

Shuffle around the pile of mail on the counter. Sort it at least seven different ways (size? alphabetically? smell?) while continuing to casually look out the front window at the empty driveway.

When the car appears in the driveway and isn’t being pulled by a tow truck, move away from the window and seat yourself on the couch. Grab a book, wipe the sweat from your forehead, and pretend to be relaxing.

When teenager finally comes through the front door, smile and say, “Hi Honey! Did you have fun?” while wondering if it’s too early for a glass of wine.

Repeat as many times as necessary until you get used to the fact that he’s really driving.

Alone.