Thursday, May 26, 2016

As Time Goes By

The last time I even opened my blog, pumpkins grinned fiercely and goblins roamed the neighborhood. Seven months have passed since Halloween and I sit here, astonished that my older son will be graduating from college in just two days.

On a warm sunny day, back in 1999, my son began his education adventure in our local elementary school. Toting an Arthur the Aardvark backpack and sporting velcro sneakers, he headed off without looking back into the kindergarten classroom that became his second home. Six short years later, he and his classmates - now friends - were essentially finished with reading, writing and 'rithmatic and moved on to the Middle School.

In our little corner of northern New Jersey, the Middle School and High School share the same building. The only ones who seemed to mind the fact that eleven-year-olds were running around the hallways with seniors seemed to be the parents. The older kids liked having the younger ones around, showing them where to go, laughing at their supposed stupidity.

Suddenly, three years passed and my son achieved another milestone, moving on up to the High School, after a completely unnecessary Promotion Ceremony. After all, the only difference between the Middle School and the High School is the size of the lockers. 

And now he and his younger brother were both in the same building - albeit with different sized lockers. The elementary years were over and it was time to get serious. 
Above- last day of Middle School
Below - first day of High School
Note that my kids are wearing the same shorts on both days!

The first three years of High School flew by in the blink of an eye. Suddenly, parents were meeting to organize the post-graduation event, Grad Ball (I have blogged about that before here: Wonderment). Fundraising, photographing and construction took place over the course of fifteen months - yup, we started during junior year.  But Grad Ball had an added advantage. We were so focused on the party that we were distracted from the event that the party was to celebrate - graduation. I have to admit, that was not such a bad thing.

Before we knew it, June 19th arrived. It was the hottest day I could ever remember and with graduation to take place outdoors, no one relished the idea. Promptly at 6:00pm, however, with the Ambulance Corp manning the cooling tent, the pomp and circumstance began. All I can remember is thinking that I couldn't believe the day had come and also hoping it would end very quickly.  Did I mention it was the hottest day I could ever remember? It was so terrible that parents finally convinced the principal to let the kids wear shorts under their gowns instead of long pants and shirts with ties.

I have no recollection of that summer, the summer spent acquiring all the accoutrements of college - the bed spread and sheets, the lamp, the printer, the laundry hamper. I barely remember moving him in to his hot dorm on a Saturday in late August, of making the bed, of unpacking the clothes. Of the saying goodbye. But at least he graciously (okay, reluctantly) stood before the tree outside our home one last time before heading south to his future.

How these four years have flown. It is trite, but it seems like only yesterday that I took this photo of him in his High School class shirt, about to make the trip south. Yet, here we are, just two days from yet another graduation on another hot day in still another outdoor venue. This one will be packed with 4000 graduates, not 225. There will be no individual procession to receive a diploma. Those will be sent through the mail. It will be impossible from the stadium seats to pick out my son - still small in my mind - from the crowd of grads all wearing the same outfit. 

But one thing will not be different. The pride I feel of raising two wonderful, amazing boys, of guiding them into college, of watching them bloom and grow will be the same. In the end, though, their success rests entirely on their shoulders. My husband and I only provided the means. They will have to do the rest. And my older son has indeed done the rest. He has been on the Dean's List all eight of his semesters. He added a second major during his junior year and completed all the requirements within the allotted four years, something many of his friends have not been able to do. He lived in an apartment and learned about paying rent and bills, about shopping and cooking for yourself, about becoming an adult.

When this weekend ends, my empty nest will be full again, filled to the brim with boys and all the stuff they have accumulated while away from home. I had gotten used to the quiet. I had gotten used to not finding teenage detritus everywhere. I do not relish that reappearing, but knowing that my boys are here, with me, for perhaps just a little while longer makes the mess entirely worthwhile. 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Turn Back! Beware! It's Halloween!!!!!

There is nothing funny about Halloween. This sarcastic festival reflects, rather, an infernal demand for revenge by children on the adult world. -- Jean Baudrillard 

It is just after 3:00pm on Halloween. I have already had four groups of children knocking at my door, demanding candy. Surprisingly, they were not little ones, but tween girls in fun and creative costumes or middle school boys dressed as creatures I do not recognize. I have yet to see a single little SpiderMan or Elsa or Lion King or Olaf. But it is early and it is Saturday and I expect there will be many, many more to come.

Even though I have no children at home, no Halloween parades to march in and a desperate need to avoid candy, I love Halloween. It is, without a fraction of a doubt, the best holiday each year. 

Why? Easy. It is a holiday without obligations. No family visits. No dinners to plan and prepare. I would say no decorations, but despite my lack of children, I still decorate for Halloween. I still buy and carve a pumpkin each year. 

I still put out skeletons and headstones and police tape and witches and ghosts.

I love this day and night because it brings children that are not mine to my door. They are all cute and funny and sweet and charming and oh so innocent, no matter the age, no matter the costume. I love seeing these children because they remind me of the boys I once lead by the hand to neighbors' homes. Laster, I sent them out in gangs with neighborhood children and one parent or another. Finally, and sadly, I let them out in the world to terrorize a neighborhood other than my own with friends I barely knew and certainly could not recognize.

My oldest missed his last opportunity to trick-or-treat as a high school senior (yeah, they do that around here) due to a freak October storm we called Hallsnoween. That was hugely disappointing for everyone.

The next Halloween was sacrificed due to the horrors of Superstorm Sandy. October 31st passed in a blur of darkness and fallen trees and cold nights. Only the smallest of the small missed going out that year.

Christmases and Thanksgivings and Independence Days all blur together as the years pass, but because costumes change, each Halloween sticks in my mind. Blond wigs, witch hats, parades at my grandparents' house with my innumerable cousins, and taking my much younger brother, dressed as SuperMan, around my childhood neighborhood are days and moments I shall never forget. I have little curled 3x3-inch Kodak prints with white borders of those events, stuck in a scrapbook, preserved forever. 

The clearest memory of all, though, is the year I was my hero, Mary Poppins, carpet bag and all. Sears had great costumes in those days. They were real clothes, not the flimsy costumes they make now with string ties in the back. I had that carpet bag for years. I wish I had it still and have no idea of its fate. My parents forgot to take pictures that year. Making the memory was more important than preserving the moment. As it should be.

I got a rock. -- Charlie Brown (Charles Schultz)

Monday, October 26, 2015

Parenting - The Purgatory, Um, Blessing That Never Ends

The trouble with being a parent is that by the time you are experienced, you are unemployed. ~ Anonymous

Then and now????????
My oldest son is a college senior. Somehow, I thought he would never grow up and all the little problems of his tiny life would stay small. No such luck. Instead, they years flew by and I am sitting here wondering two things. When on earth did he go from diapers to driving? And how am I possibly old enough to be the parent of an adult?

Okay, so those questions will never be answered, but that hasn't stopped anyone from asking them and I know they  have been asked for, well, a really long time.

Anyway, bigger kids - bigger problems. The time proven axiom of all parents. I mean, when they were three, we worried about chicken pox and potty training.  Now we worry about them finding jobs,  moving into apartments, and suffering the pain of significant others dumping them on the night before they go back to college. Yeah, been there - experienced that particular level of hell. Some worry about them moving home. Others worry about them not moving home. It is endless.

Why can't they stay this small and happy?
At any rate, senior year must present a whole vast spectrum of anxiety for college students.  I remember them. First you wonder how it is possible that those four years are almost over (yeah, yeah, back to time passing too quickly again). Then you worry that you won't find a job. You go through angst over attending the dreaded college job fair along with a thousand other seniors in your position. And then there is THE INTERVIEW.

(I confess that I didn't suffer through that particular senior purgatory. I applied to grad school which was a whole lot less angst-ridden. That presented a whole other set of issues that we can skip until the next kid becomes a senior since he has already made the very bad decision to follow his parents to law school. So, it was a misery delayed for three years, but I was familiar with the problem since friends and fellow dorm residents wallpapered the hallways my senior year with rejection letters. Seriously, there were thousands of them. Okay, hundreds, but it looked like thousands,)

So, one day my son calls, asking if he is supposed to button his jacket. [Insert long pause here while I try to figure out what the heck he is talking about.] Mercifully, an explanation follows that he is attending yet another job fair and he doesn't know if he is supposed to button his suit coat. Aha! Yes, button the coat. Off he goes, distributing resumes like fireman distribute candy during a Fourth of July parade - throw and run and hope for the best.

And then there is a miracle. An e-mail. From one of the businesses. For an interview.  With a company no one ever heard of.  No matter.  He has made it past step one in FINDING A JOB. Then, miracle of miracles, another interview. Oh, joy! Oh, rapture! Oh, the stuff of nightmares!!!!!

Monday passes. Then, Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday morning around noon, I get the call about the first interview. It goes something like this:

Son: Hi, Mom.
Me: How did it go?
Son: It took five years off my life.
Me (stifling laughter with every fiber of my being): Well, it is over now and you gained good experience. 
Son: My life will be ten years shorter come this time tomorrow.
Me (covering my mouth to avoid making cackling noises): Mmmm,  nnnnn,  wwwwww.
Son: What?
Me: Nothing. Soda went down the wrong way. Hey, look, it is just an interview. Maybe you will get lucky on your first time out, maybe not.  Maybe you will get an offer and then you will know it wasn't as horrible as your suspect?
Son: Yeah, mom.  Right. By the time I find a job, I won't have any life left since I lose five years with every interview.
Me: Okay, well, call your dad and let him know how it went.

Or this small small and happy?
At this point, I hang up so I wouldn't strangle myself while suppressing my laughter because no self-respecting mom laughs at her son's misery. And yet, we wise parents know that this particular misery tends to work out one way or the other in the end. It is a right of passage that all must experience - parents and kids alike.

He survived that first interview and the second as well. He will survive them all. The funny thing is that instead of looking at bumper stickers for ideas on where my children might apply to college as I did in the good old days, I now look for corporate headquarters as I run my errands, looking for places he can send resumes. Seriously, while driving to a farm stand recently, I noted all the corporate headquarters that have replaced the disappearing farm stands.

Yup. The parental torment never ends.  It just moves on from little problems to big ones. Once a parent - always a parent.

And thank goodness for that.  I think.  Maybe. Ugh.

Because of their size, parents may be difficult to discipline properly.  P.J. O'Rourke

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Pull of Place

Where we love is home - home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts. - Oliver Wendell Homes, Sr.

Last weekend, I attended a small reunion at my beloved college. Although fewer than thirty of us attended, we were a fierce and mighty group. We reminisced.  We laughed.  We poured over yearbooks and pawed through photographs. And we wandered the beautiful campus we called home for four years.

This wandering got me to thinking about the power of place. My favorite author is Anne Rivers Siddons. Almost all of her books have a location in the title - Colony, Downtown, Up Island, Peachtree Road. In fact, the main character is often not really a person, but a place - Maine, Atlanta, a river, an island.  These places take hold of the actual characters and never let them go. These places form the basis of their passions and their loves and their lives and their livelihoods.

Four places.  When I think back, there are four places that have infected my spirit, four places I dream of.  Some are home.  Some are places I dream of making home.  All call to me.  Oddly enough, none of these places is where I came from, where I grew up, where home really is.

Four places - three small towns and one large city, Paris. Yes, Paris.

 I think Paris is the most beautiful place on this planet. When I imagine having the luxury of spending a month in an exotic place, that place is always Paris. It would be my first vacation destination.  It would be my last as well. I love everything about it - the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Champs Elysee, the restaurants, the cafes, the winding hidden streets, the art deco details, the language. Ever since visiting as a teenager on a school trip (how lucky was that???), Paris has been the reason I travel and when travel is possible, Paris is where I want to go. A month in Paris would be a dream come true. Even a minute in Paris is a dream come true.

When I return from travelling, I am lucky enough to come home to a kind of Mayberry, a small town in northeast New Jersey in which the entire downtown exists between two train lines, where parades are held for Halloween, for the Fourth of July, for the opening day of football and baseball seasons and for Memorial Day. On clear fall days, I can hear the music and drums of the marching band on the high school football field. We have a wonderful town pool, tons of recreational sports, an amazing school system. We have a rich and surprisingly interesting history. Our neighbors are our friends and our friends are our neighbors. Sure, we have national banks, a Starbucks and a Dunkin Donuts and a CVS, but we have our own inn and plenty of mom and pop stores.  But for a local pharmacy, we wouldn't have our two boys. The recent death of a popular jeweler hit everyone surprisingly hard. I didn't start out here, but I certainly plan to end my days here.

And then there is summer.  In New Hampshire, there is a small village on Lake Winnipesaukee, a throwback to the 1950's with shoreline cabins, a rustic country store, mini-golf and a seafood shack with the best milkshakes (or frappes as they are known in New England) ever made. We cruise the lake on a ship that cannt really be described, but has to be seen to be believed.  We visit amusement parks with a Christmas or fairy tale theme.  We ascent the tallest in the northeast and take in the views with our mouths hanging open. We relax on screened in porches, playing cards or Scrabble or Uno. Until recently (okay, twenty-five years or so), there was only one channel on the TV, the phone had a party line and the road was unpaved. My much younger brother called it The Big Bumpy as a toddler. We still have the Bakelite phone with the rotary dial. When I think of my happy place, I think of my town in New Hampshire.

And then there is my college home.  Really, I spent the least amount of time there of all my happy places except, of course, for Paris. It was my first home-away-from-home. It was my first experience of fending for myself and being totally responsible for no one except me. As a senior, it was the first, and really only, time I lived alone. Those four years were the making of me. When I drive up for the infrequent reunions, I begin to cry when I see the first road sign. The waterworks begin again when I hit the small highway that takes me to the college. It starts again as I pass the college gates. This is the place that comes to mind when I think of growing up, of enduring friendships, of fun and laughter and learning.  My beloved college has changed over the years in response to economic and social pressure, but the campus remain essentially unchanged. I can visit and see my dorms and the windows that looked out on the world. I can wander and reminisce and feel young again.

These places.  They pulled me in and will never let me go. I want to be in all these places simultaneously, all the time, every day.  And, of course, while that can obviously never happen, all I need is a photo to bring me back to all the places I call home.

Never make your home in a place. Make a home for yourself inside your own head. You'll find what you need to furnish it - memory, friends you can trust, love of learning, and other such things. That way it will go with you wherever you journey. - Tad Williams

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Glory Days

Glory days - well, they'll pass you by
Glory days - in the wink of a young girl's eye
Glory days, glory days.  

                                         - - Bruce Springsteen

Tomorrow, I will be heading north, to relive, for a few hours, the glory days of my youth, the four years I spent living and learning at a small women's college in western Massachusetts. It has been thirty-four years since I saw the campus this time of year - just as autumn is beginning to make its mark on the landscape. The campus is at its most beautiful when the reds, golds and oranges begin to blaze and bloom.

I had not intended to attend this mini-reunion. I made up many excuses. I told myself that I had other plans, that it is a long ride and with four recalls on my car (I kid you not - never buy a Ford), it seemed inadvisable. I didn't know who was going. I did not have a roommate. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. But posts about the event kept cropping up on Facebook. Our class officers kept sending e-mails. Friends sent me messages, asking if I was going. Then, I received an email from a classmate I had not seen in an eternity.

I changed my plans. I filled out the form. I wrote the check.

And a little spark of excitement was born.

It has been nearly 35 years since I graduated from college, but those four years are part of everything I am. Those four years forged my personality, my ambitions, my friendships, my interests and my activities. It introduced me to traditions and ideas that are forever a part of my memory. Things have changed at my college (and I am not happy about those changes), but the essential spirit remains - friendship, sisterhood, connection.  

Although only a small group of the 500 of us who graduated on that rainy Sunday afternoon in May 1982 are attending, we will be many in spirit, reliving past glory, sharing current news and celebrating the impossible fact that we have attained the age of "double nickles." Although I am sure there were days during those four years that we prefer to forget, it seems that only the good times linger in our memories,.

In a small garden outside the gorgeous old administration building, named for our founder, there is a sundial that I photographed at our last reunion in 2012. On it are the words we should all live by: I count none but bright hours.

The hours and days and weeks and months I spent at Mount Holyoke College in S. Hadley, Massachusetts, were most bright, most bright indeed.
So from east and from west now we gather,
And united in firm love to thee,
All years are as one and their loyal pledge,
Mount Holyoke forever shall be,
Mount Holyoke forever shall be.

                       -- Mount Holyoke College Alma Mater



Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Caution: Hazardous Waste Site

"Excuse the mess, but we live here."  Roseanne Barr

Warning: One or more of the photos and/or layouts in this post may be disturbing to some readers. Please exercise caution and discretion. The author will not be responsible for any unforeseen consequences to those who choose to proceed.

Okay, just kidding. Nothing is going to happen. If I survived, so will you.

My boys - note I said boys, not girls - have been gone for about two weeks. A year ago, when the next emptied for the first time, I was ready and raring to hit their rooms and remove the detritus that had been accumulating for 18 years.  The older son was tidier and his room was easier to tackle, but his brother's room? The room I affectionately called a toxic waste dump? That was another matter altogether.  It was not as if I hadn't seen it before. After all, living with three members of the male species does not lend itself to tidiness.

As you can see, many portions of my house have been in, shall we say, disarray for a very, very, very long time.  For eons.  For eternity.  Open drawers, overflowing recycling, Legos everywhere, and nasty stuff on the bathroom sink that I do not even want to think about.  For some reason, they were not so amused when I photographed it and laid it out for the world to see.  I still wonder what the photo processing people thought.

At any rate, the older son's room stayed pretty clean and tidy all summer.  I have yet to be disturbed enough when I go in there (one accesses the attic through his closet) to make me clean it out. Every so often, however, I would go into the other bedroom, the one occupied by my younger son, just to see if the mess was real, hoping, perhaps, by some miracle from above, that a Rumpelstiltskin sort of character had spun the mess into gold. No such luck. Usually, the stench forced me back, but I persevered if only to open the window and air out the smell of whatever it was before the purge began.

It really wasn't so bad really, not compared to the this point last year, but it was bad enough.

For a change, the floor was actually visible and there were only a few water bottles lingering here and there. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. The time had come. The day was here. I alerted my friends on Facebook in case something happened. They would know where to look - if they dared - should I disappear.

I went in - armed with a trash can and yellow gloves,  After all, you really never know what you might find in a room previously occupied by a teenage boy. 

Hmmm.  Not SO bad.  Trash. Clothes. Water bottles. Shoes (did he forget these?). Hangers. Empty plastic bags. One bedspread. One quilt. His top sheet? A bag of Spongebob pasta he brought back from Italy (in July of 2014) for a friend he saw almost every day this summer. A very strange triangular piece of wood with checkerboard painted on it. (That turned out to be a door stop that belongs to his fraternity.) One shelf no longer hanging on the wall. Oh, wait, make that two shelves no longer handing on the wall. 

I picked up. I tided up. I washed. I rehung the shelves. When all was said and done, it was a thing of beauty.

I let my Facebook friends know that I had survived. Some asked me to come do their kids' rooms. Some remarked on the transformation. After all the accolades, I had to make a confession.
Please be aware that this apparent cleanliness is a facade.  I tidied by tossing junk in the trash and clothes - clean, dirty and unknown - in the hamper. I vacuumed. I washed the sheets (but not the clothes) and made the bed.  I did not remove the inch of dust or so that exists on the horizontal surfaces.  I did not take down and wash the curtain.  I did not look behind the bed. 
As you can see, we made a horrible mistake about ten years ago when we thought it would be a great idea to have a Captain's bed. This I know for sure: NEVER BUY A CAPTAIN'S BED. While cleaning and making the bed, I did not look behind this bed (that shall not be moved) into the darkness (that cannot be penetrated) where things fall and disappear (forever).  

There are some things in the world I will not do and some places I will not go. Behind this bed is one of those places. 

God knows what might be lurking back there.  I simply do not want to know. That will be a problem for my heirs and other surviving relatives, tasked with the job of cleaning up after I am gone. 

Better them than me. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Dare to Dream

So, the boys are back to college now and the house is quiet and empty except for the occasional pitter patter of doggy feet on the wooden floors or whining at the door. The weather seems to have turned towards fall (thank goodness) and I see, here and there, a yellow leaf or, more likely, a dead one given the drought conditions here.

Now what do I do?????? The boys' rooms are santized. The laundry is done. My office work has been completed. I repeat, now what?????

This blog started out with scrapbooking, but, as I noted a while back, that did not turn out too well. However, the layouts I create do bring back memories - especially those I have been making lately. Those layouts include all the stuff - programs, report cards, and photos - of the best four years of my life.  College.

In the last couple of weeks, I have been busy with boys and a quick weekend away and haven't been crafting.  Yesterday, however, I finished a layout from my sophomore year in college that I thought would be fun to share.

I spent my sophomore year in college on the fringe of campus (I swear it was uphill both ways) in a fairly new dorm that lacked the personality and charm of the older ones. My roommate and I moved with a group of ten women, more or less. We were the only two to select a room a the top floor.  From there we could see the lake and enjoy the changing of the seasons. It was not a bad choice not only for the views, but for the others on the floor, a large group of women who remain my friends still.

Most of that year, except for those women, is a blur. I remember the other three years with much clarity, but not that one. I had to ask those friends to tell me about one picture that rang no bells for me whatsoever. Without Facebook, I would have had no way of telling the story of the Rolling Pebbles, a typewriter band we formed for a floor talent show. Even after hearing the story, I remembered it not. Still don't. I hope my fellow band members, Nana, Jody, Kirsten, and Andrea don't mind becoming famous at this late date . . . .

Remembering another memento, however, did not require any assistance. One evening, I went into the bathroom on our floor only to learn that I was getting married. Me!  How exciting!  A dream come true!!!!!

Taped to the mirror was my wedding announcement.

One of my floormates (and future Boston flatmate, the aforementioned Nana) had come across (i.e. stolen) a photograph of me and my two younger cousins on the occasion of my fifth or sixth birthday. I was wearing a charming little crown and they flanked by on either side, like tiny little attendants. Well, she seized upon this photo, found a newspaper photograph of a fairly unattractive man (okay, downright ugly) and, voila, we were engaged. 

This event disappeared from my memory almost entirely until I found it a year or so ago. I could not believe I kept it. I could not believe I remembered it as clearly as if it had been posted yesterday since so much of that year is a blur. The paper was beginning to disintegrate so I pulled off the photograph and scanned the rest, using the original photo on the layout.

While hard at work, I came across the title, a piece of chipboard that I must have bought somewhere or other. It was perfect and inspired me to create the very tongue-in-cheek layout that resulted. A scene from The Princess Bride kept running through my head as I worked on this, the wedding scene between Buttercup and the prince during which the bishop presiding at the "wedding" says, "Mawiage, that dweam within a dweam."

Little did I know then that all the dreams I could imagine would indeed come true. 

Just not with that guy.