gratitude-a-thon day 908: when the pottery barn catalog arrives and you no longer care

 

1449469156325-1When I was younger, the arrival of a Pottery Barn catalog was like rocket fuel for my domestic fantasies. I would settle down in a chair and flip through the perfectly furnished rooms, where everything had a place, and there was scads of square footage for the ideal nuclear family to spread out. I had neither the perfect space, or the perfect family. But I longed for both.

As years went by, and I grew into myself, and actually had a family, I preferred antiques to the Pottery Barn replicas, but I still longed for the idea that catalog delivered–rooms that were never dirty, where nothing but good, normal things could happen– where Johnny got A’s and Sally volunteered at the local hospital, and the mom baked and did laundry and made beds, and the dad had a job that could afford houses for all the seasons of the Pottery Barn collection to fit inside of. Even the dog never had accidents in the house. It was the fucking Pottery Barn catalog, for God sakes.

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Ally leaves for college in 9 days, and today the Pottery Barn catalog arrived. It seemed to taunt me a little bit when I opened its pages. I no longer need the ample spaces, or kick-ass playrooms I used to long for. I am not perusing it with the same eager instinct I have had for the last 25 years, to try and make every room work to its maximum potential. It feels strange not to be thinking about how to perfect my entryway to acommodate the near 20 coats and 30 pairs of shoes we, as a family of four, would have in our seasonal rotation. It’s somewhat strange not to be getting ideas for cool holiday cookies I will make for their classrooms (lest we never forget my gingerbread men and women, which nearly broke my shoulders, or my spider cupcakes, which had me looking for black string licorice in three states).

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Instead, I flipped the pages of the catalog with some sadness for how my house never measured up to these stylist-created rooms, how my longing for organization and pottery barn photo shoot perfection always eluded me, and how those two empty kid’s rooms upstairs would now be a reminder of all I failed at as a homemaker and mom.

I held that catalog in my hands.

And then I threw it in the recycle bin. Fuck you, Pottery Barn. Life is messy. And I did my best.

 

 

gratitude-a-thon day 904:time’s up

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My head is filled with a thousand emotions–each doing another kind of crazy dance. We’ve got the Samba happening, and a whole area of Disco. We have versions of the Watusi, the Twist, the Bugaloo and the Nae Nae. We have Square Dancing. We’ve got the Macarena, the Salsa, the freaking Frug. It’s a mad house party.

My daughter is leaving for college at the end of the month. My son who was home for the summer, is leaving next week. We will go from four to two. Yup, the classic empty nest syndrome is about to envelope my house.

The feathers are flying.

While hundreds of thousands of people do this every year, I have to tell you that it’s kind of a big deal.

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I remember when Jake was about a month old and realizing the impact of his arrival. I vividly recall thinking to myself, “18 years. You will be doing this for 18 years before you can go out for recess.” After working and not being a mom until I was 35, I felt a certain kind of confinement I had never known when that boy came into my life. It took me some time to understand and embody this new role. But then you fall in love with your baby and you hope you never have to give them up to adulthood.

But time does its thing, and you do. You do have to give over your kids to the adult world. You do have to let them begin their own journeys, far and wide. And what you are left with is another new role. Of course, you know this role, but you haven’t practiced its script in a long time. You need to study your lines. You need to remember how to play this part.

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But the dancing emotions are taking up a lot of space in my head. They’re making me tired and scared. Worst of all, they’re starting to make me cry. It must be all that exercise. Maybe it’s just sweat.

When Ally walks out the door, it will not just be a new experience for her, it will be a new experience for me. I resort to my go to: “If other people can do it, I can do it.” (Or anyway, I hope so.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

gratitude-a-thon day 896: starting again

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I am thinking a lot these days, about this summer, the last summer before both of my kids will be away at school.

I gotta tell you, it’s fucking weird.

I am trying to imagine what it will be like not to have the stress of HAVING to grocery shop and then cook a dinner with all the food groups. Because, see,  my husband is easy peasy and would be happy to eat a placemat and paper napkin for dinner. I’ve been wondering what the impact on laundry will be when there isn’t, and I’m not using names HERE, a person who looks at a piece of clothing, decides not to wear it, and puts it in the hamper because it’s easier than hanging up, or shoving in an overstuffed drawer. I’ve been pondering whether not having kids tramping in and out all the time will make the house feel like a monastery, where I will have to chant just to feel alive.

I’m telling you, it’s very unsettling to imagine a situation you haven’t bee in, in 21 years. It’s a little bit like going backwards, except for I’m not as cute as I was back then.

But I am smarter, and hopefully, I’ll be able to figure out all the good things that will come with this change. Spontaneous trips, less cleaning, no shoe department in the front entryway. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being scared, and freaked out, and just a little panicked. It’s sort of a big change, you know? And I’ve never been one to embrace change gracefully. I guess while they’re learning to be independent, I’ll be learning (again) too.

gratitude-a-thon day 842: the sprint

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It’s April 1 on Friday, and aside from having to watch out for wacky pranks, it will be the beginning of the sprint. The sprint being the end of the school year, the end of all Brookline school years (we still have plenty of college left, and plenty of PAYING FOR college left). During this sprint, which I am already prepping for, emotions are high, low, and partying like frat boys on spring break. I find myself getting that terror feeling in the middle of my chest, the one that says, “HOLY SHIT, YOUR NEST IS ABOUT TO HAVE A LOT MORE SPACE.

I don’t always do well with transitions. I need a lot of time to prepare for them. There’s something about the inability to force time to stand still that’s really scary. I remember when I turned 4o, Peter and I were going to NYC to stay at the Soho Grand, go to two Broadway shows, and meet one of my great friends for dinner, and we got fogged in at Logan, and after six hours, of our two days away from our kids, we gave up, hightailed it to Pomodoro in the North End, got ourselves a Lobster Claw (a contender for what I want in my mouth upon dying), and booked a fancy room at the Charles Hotel. We watched two movies, and made the best of our time away. When Peter fell asleep, I remember going into the bathroom, looking at my face in the mirror and being paralyzed by the fact that no matter what I did in that moment, I was going to be 40 whether I liked it or not. And the next day I was. And I lived, and it was no big deal, really, and fuck if I wouldn’t like to be 40 again right now!

Anyway, I am so grateful for all these years of school in a community that really cared about my children. On Friday, there is a party for the parents we went to elementary school with. We’ll  celebrate getting our kids through what sometimes felt like 10 billion years, and sometimes felt like four days, of school, together. It will be a good touchstone, a full circle moment. I will laugh with people I’ve known for decades. And more than likely, I will cry some, too. And I will be one step closer to going back to what it was like 21 years ago, before I had kids. Stay tuned. This ought to be interesting. And now, let’s sprint.

gratitude-a-thon day 809:at least the dog will be here

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It’s starting.

I’m beginning to fully comprehend that my daughter will be going to college next September and my family of five will be a family of three (I’m counting the dog in there, because well, he’s a family member).

I get a little spinny, a little out of breath when I allow this information in, or when it slips into my conciousness  without invitation, or warning, (like in the middle of the fucking night) or like the other day in the meat section of the grocery store, when an old friend asked me about how it felt to think about not having any kids home next year.

I DON’T KNOW YET. SCARED, WEIRD, HAPPY, CRAZY, AND 92 OTHER THINGS. DON’T MAKE ME THINK ABOUT IT, IS WHAT I THINK ABOUT IT.

But I have to think about it, ready or not. It’s such a huge, massive, and alien change that I have to think about it. Part of me can’t even IMAGINE not having kids in my house everyday, after having them here for 21 years. CAN’T. EVEN. IMAGINE. And note: I have a very fertile imagination.

Sometimes I wonder if it will be like the experience of bringing home your first baby. Everything is different, every part of your life is changed. It takes a long time to remember you have another person to consider 24/7. It’s terrifying, and terrifyingly wonderful.

Is that what it will be like? To start again?

 

 

 

gratitude-a-thon day 676: and we’re walking

I’ve told you before that I am a bit of a hoarder. I’m not particularly happy with this part of myself, but ah, there it is. I have culled down repeatedly, sifting through the kid’s drawings (read: every paper they ever touched with a writing utensil), school work, so many photos that if I put them together I could make a flip book of their entire young lives. But it did occur to me the other day, as senior year is approaching in a couple weeks, and the house at 24 Elm will no longer be a house with kids or students, that to make a new life, which the emptying of the nest forces you to do, I will have to unfeather the nest first.

As I said, I go through spurts of emptying out the contents, of dumping the past into an extra strength Hefty bag, and giving away scads of clothes and toys, and games, but I never really complete the job. I never really pare down, as if holding onto that stuff will allow me to hold on to that time.

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Member the movie “Dave,” where Bonnie Hunt is a White House tour guide and she says, “We’re walking, we’re walking. And we’re stopping.” You can’t stop. You gotta keep walking.

It seems more clear to me today, that holding onto that time doesn’t require holding onto those things. Also, by the way, you can’t hold onto any time, this life seems to work best when we keep moving forward. Step by step, staying in motion, advancing like the calendar. How can I give a welcoming bear hug to the next phase if I am still holding on for dear life, to the last phase?

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It seems like it would be easier if I could just have someone come in and remove the past from my house. Like it would be really cool if Samantha from Bewitched could just screw up her nose and do that for me, rather than make me consider each piece of history that has made up my life,  our lives. I hear she is a fictional character, so this is probably not going to happen. Which feels really unfortunate.

By the way, in case you’re thinking, “Good God woman, this is the most basic thinking there is, how did you not know this?” I did know it, but sometimes the same information gets to a different part of your brain on different days, and actually makes a different kind of sense. That’s what happened yesterday. I got very clear about the need to make things different, on account of the big change that is coming. It’s essential to go with the flow and keep moving. Being stuck in the past, especially in the clutter of the past, won’t do.

Maybe I dream of Jeannie will come and do her head bop thing and transform my past into my future. More than likely there is no magical cure to this excursion. We all have to do it ourselves.

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gratitude-a-thon day 543: preparing for the next storm (and I’m not talking snow)

 

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You know things are not good if I allowed myself to be seen in public with these things on the bottom of my boots. BTW, these are not my boots (that would mean things had really progressed to SERIOUS).

Last night I trudged through the snow to “Guidance Night.” Since the high school is only three blocks from here, I walked, of course, which meant wearing Yak Traks on my boots. This is not one of the more fashionable looks I’ve ever sported, but a bump or bruise from falling flat on the ice, would have been less fashionable, so I weighed my options. Thing is, I didn’t even take them off when I got there, I just left them on, and thus appeared in public with said Yak Traks on my boots. Yes, things are going to hell in a hand basket here in Brookline. My husband was going to come too, but he got caught in an hour and a half traffic jam, care of the craziness provided by unploughed streets here in Massachusetts (the “Mass” part now standing for inches of snow).

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Riley will not be pursuing a higher education. He’s staying right here.

Having gone through the college process with one kid already (and believe me the memory, unlike the way they say childbirth memories fade so you can do it again, is still unfortunately technicolor clear), I didn’t learn all that much that was new. But there was a moment when one of the counselors, talking about the general mood a parent should try and maintain senior year, which took my breath away for nearly a full minute (grateful it didn’t last longer because what if I fainted and an ambulance had to come and take me away in my Yak Traks. Who would even care if my underwear was clean, I would be judged by those ugly things on my boots). She said, “For many of you, next year will be the last time your kids ever live with you, so try and create some good memories.” That statement hit me in the stomach so hard, I thought someone had thrown a basketball at me from the chatty first row, and I’d been looking down at my Yak Traks trying to redesign them in my head, to make them more attractive (shouldn’t there be some way to make them cuter?), and hadn’t caught it.

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Boy, was he excited to graduate. And I was excited for him, but I did a lot of mental prep to get me ready to say goodbye without needing a McLean’s hospital weekend stay.

I did all sorts of emotional work to prepare for Jake’s departure, but Ally will empty the nest. She is the second and last child in the house (unless you count Riley, who is not, I repeat NOT going to college). This is a different type of preparation, and while I’ve done plenty of work on it, I haven’t done as much as I apparently thought, since when those words came out of that earnest red haired counselor’s mouth, I felt each of them stab me like the weather reports of another potential foot of snow on Saturday night.

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Ally will be flying the coop in less than a year and a half. Starting to hit me hard. (Photo credz: the amazing Rania Matar).

This is my next project: prepare for Ally’s departure. Jake’s senior year was a festival of last’s, each one that we celebrated and cried over. I had puffy eyes from September 2012-September 2013. I longed for his next steps, while remembering his first steps. I reached for him desperately, at the same time I was pushing him away. It was a challenging year, but when he finally boarded the plane, and after I came home and cried for 24 hours straight, I felt cleansed and ready, excited even, for his awesome adventure (he spent his first semester in Barcelona).

But Ally leaving for college has a different tone. Jake was the first. She is the last. It’s time to start getting my house in order. Again.

 

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Another amazing photo taken for a project by the fabulous, and one and only Rania Matar.