School’s Out for Summah!!

FullSizeRender (17)In just a few short days my kids are going to be done with 7th and 3rd grades, and all I can think is- holy shit, where did the year go? Holy shit- where did the last 13 years go? And also, what the hell are they going to do all summer?  And, also, I’m really, really jealous of them. And, also, I haven’t even bought this year’s supply of sunscreen OR bug spray. And the bugs are supposed to be very, very, very bad this year. And also, I don’t think I have a bathing suit that isn’t stretched and faded to the point of being embarrassing.  And also, I haven’t even cleaned out our beach bag from last summer yet.  I shudder to think what I’ll find. A pound of sand? A half-eaten candy bar? A single water shoe? Some crab carcasses? Waterlogged magazines and books? Yes, probably all of that. And also, seriously, what are they going to do all summer? I mean, they are both signed up for sailing and camps here and there, but the days are long, and the potential for shenanigans is high, at least with my daughter.  My son, I’m not so worried about- I can picture what he’ll be doing in his free time:  read, lego, repeat.  But my daughter… well, I’m sitting here letting my imagination run rampant.

The summer I was 13 my parents sent me to Mexico City to visit my friend, Erin.  Erin was my next door neighbor when we lived in Panama.  We were inseparable in 5th and 6th grade. But, she moved right before 7th grade; her lovely family replaced with one with two bratty kids that weren’t nearly as fun. I made some hard-earned babysitting money off of them but that’s all they were good for. They told me I smelled and that I needed to shave my legs (which was probably 100% accurate but made me hate them all the more).  It was a long year without her. Also, I wasn’t too thrilled about moving to Alabama (after living in paradise for three years it seemed like a crappy hand to be dealt) so the Mexico trip was presented as a way to soften the blow.

I was only there a few weeks, but we did a lot.  The things I remember most are: stealing her parent’s car and joy-riding around the city; meeting up with her older brother’s friends to drink “cokes” that made me feel giddy and nauseous; making homemade aloe face masks that left us rashy; visiting like 200 museums with mummies and pyramid replicas; spending a dusty, hot day at some Aztek ruin that I didn’t appreciate at all; staying up til all hours of the night watching highly inappropriate movies; throwing up in her dad’s car on a windy mountain road heading to Ixtapa; eating tortillas hot out of the oven from roadside shacks; sneaking out and smoking cigarettes on the beach when her dad went to bed; throwing up in her dad’s car on a windy mountain road on the way back from Ixtapa; and wishing her cute older brother would get back from wherever he was already (I had a mad crush and he was the first and only boy I’d ever kissed). He never showed, but that was still the best vacation I’d had in my young life.

So this is why my mind is going to all places crazy right now. I do not want to imagine my daughter driving, drinking, smoking or kissing this summer. Eh gahhh!  But left to her own devices anything could happen, right?  She is the same age I was that year and look how I spent my time! It was probably a good thing that I moved to Alabama after that and spent a miserable year friendless and mopey, listening to Elton John sing Sad Songs Say So Much and pining for my old life.  It definitely tamed the wild side that Erin introduced me to.  But what’s going to tame my girl’s wild side? Wait, does she have a wild side??!! Ugh… I don’t want her to find out. Not yet.

FullSizeRender (16)Our town isn’t nearly as exotic as Mexico, but there are similarities- there’s a beach for example, and boys, and cars.  We even have a museum of sorts. And we do kinda buy into that free-range-kid philosophy to a degree.  I like that both my kids have their independence and that they can take off on their bikes to meet friends at the general store, the beach, the playground, or any of the other local hangouts around town.  I do trust that my daughter will make good choices.  But we’re getting to the point where those good choices are going to be harder and harder to make. How much freedom do we give her? Enough to feel independent, but not enough to get into trouble? But what does that even mean? Here we are, entering into another phase of parenting and I am completely unprepared.  I don’t even have bug spray. And the bugs are supposed to be very, very, very bad this year…

 

Mom, then and now (and all of it beautiful)

FullSizeRender (6).jpg This is my mom (on the right) and her friend Barbara, back in -oh I don’t know- maybe the early 80s or late 70s. Back when to me, Mom was just MOM. She was just the woman who took care of me and my sister, the woman who made dinner, the one who cleaned the house, the one who left behind a cloud of White Shoulders perfume and a smudge of lipstick on my cheek when she and my dad went out on weekend nights. She drove me to the emergency room when I sliced my leg wide open on the neighbors swing set and was the one who helped dry out my favorite stuffed animal after I left it out in the rain one day.  She braided my hair for school and made me drink my milk at dinner. She was the one who let us get a cat, and then took care of it when we didn’t. She was Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy.

I knew she liked to drink Tab and smoke Kents, and that she stockpiled crime and mystery paperbacks. I knew that she missed her mom and that she loved to travel. She sang loudly and off-key in the car to music my sister and I hated, and she liked to make small talk with the checkout lady at the grocery store. She had a short temper but a great laugh that came from deep inside when she thought something was really funny. She hated her teeth and never smiled for pictures. She had an amazing sense of style and for a while she made most of her own clothes. She hated to exercise but once she took disco lessons and she had one signature move that she used over and over. When she went in the pool or ocean she never got her hair wet. She was a master at floating with a cocktail in her hand. She liked parties but hated that my dad always had to be the last to leave. She was the family Jeopardy champion because she was sharp and smart as a whip. She made tuna casserole for dinner way too often. She had a seemingly endless repertoire of idioms that she could wield on a dime as unsolicited advice or a spot-on reprimand. She liked daffodils because they were yellow and she seemed to know the name of every plant she came across. Her boarding school days didn’t do anything to dim her spit or fire but did instill in her a deep appreciation for and insistence on proper etiquette. I knew all of this, I saw all of this, but I didn’t see HER. All of these things were just things about my MOM that I knew.

I think sometime in my early 20s I started to think of my parents as people and I started to realize that I could have a relationship with them that went beyond the daughter- parent one. There were a few really good years there when my mom and I could have nice conversations over a glass of wine and really connect. I think if we had been contemporaries we would have been great friends as kids, teens, young adults. I think if she hadn’t gotten sick we would have been great friends as grown-ups. But she did get sick, and that’s where the trajectory of the story changes.

You see now, these days, Ceci struggles with the ravages of Parkinsons Disease.  And it’s a bitch.

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Over the 15 years that my mom has had this devastating disease it has slowly robbed her of many of the motor and cognitive skills that have always defined her.  She can no longer boogie down and sing at the top of her lungs while driving down the street. She can no longer tell you the name of every President and Vice President (and who ran against them) in the order they were elected. She can’t paint her toenails fire engine red and some days she can’t put her lipstick on straight. Cooking is a chore because getting dishes out of the oven is complicated. She can’t sew because her fingers don’t work that way anymore and sometimes she needs help putting on her shoes. She can’t string beads to make necklaces and she can’t refinish a piece of furniture when she gets bored of its current state.  It’s hard for her to turn the pages of a book. And there are days she can’t get out of bed. She asks the same questions over and over again, and she forgets things we already talked about. We don’t have conversations about complicated things. I can’t ask her advice when my own daughter has me at my wit’s end or when I feel overwhelmed with the everyday chaos of my life.

I feel like she’s lost so much of herself and so, subsequently, we’ve lost so much of her and sometimes that leaves me breathless. But then I think of who she’s shown herself to be, and with that, what we have been given– and that too stops me short. Because despite all of the challenges she’s faced with this disease, despite all of the limitations she now has, she doesn’t complain, she doesn’t give up and she doesn’t give in. I know she has bad days, and I know she gets frustrated and depressed. But she almost always puts on a brave face. She never says no, and she never says “I can’t do this”. She still travels, she still has dinner parties, she still goes out with her girlfriends for lunch or to the movies. She still tries. Every. Single. Day.

She is the epitome of grace in the face of adversity. She is resilient and brave and determined. She is a reminder that life doesn’t always turn out the way you expect it, but if you try, if you really try, you can make it work for you. Sometimes really shitty things happen that you can’t control, but if you have the right attitude and enough determination those things won’t destroy you. They won’t define you and they won’t destroy you.

Mom, I knew you back then, but I didn’t KNOW you. Now I know YOU. Getting to here from there didn’t happen the way any of us wanted, and I’d still change it for you if I could. But, it’s your life, it’s my life, and all of it’s beautiful even when it’s scarred and imperfect. Thank you for teaching me that.

The driving force

Every time we went to my grandmother’s house the rooms were rearranged.   We might go on a Saturday in June and the living room would be to the right as you walked in the front door, and the dining room to the left.  Then we’d go back for dinner on Sunday in early July and the dining room would have magically transformed into a sitting room. Or, if the function of the rooms hadn’t changed, the placement of the furniture had.  Later, when Grandma was older and she couldn’t make it upstairs, the sitting room off the kitchen might be a bedroom- but not always.  Sometimes the living room held that honor.   The basement was a treasure trove of constantly changing props which provided a perfect backdrop for endless hours of make believe.  The only room that always stayed the same was the kitchen, but of course there was always something different simmering on the stove.  Most of the time it was gravy- you know, spaghetti sauce- and it always smelled like heaven.  A peak in the covered pot would reveal a bubbling swirl of rich red deliciousness.  Sometimes there would also be veal and peas in the oven or pasta in the big pot behind the gravy.  No matter what time of day it was, when you got there you had to sit and eat.  “You gotta eat!”.  And no matter if you had already eaten lunch (or breakfast, or snack or a full five course meal) you somehow were suddenly STARVING and ready to hunker down at the table over a ridiculously large serving of the day’s recipe.  It was always good, always comforting and while you were enjoying it you also got to hear a bit of Grandma’s wisdom.  Every night as I get ready for bed I can still picture her telling me (as we sat eating) “moisturize! moisturize! always moisturize- it’s the key to young looking skin!”) Even though it’s been almost 8 years since I’ve been there I still see everything in that kitchen exactly the way it was.  If you asked me to get the sugar in the cupboard I’d know just where to go.   Or the address book.  My sister and I used to love to leaf through her address book, which she’d had since probably around 1945.  Some of the names had phone numbers that started with letters, some had five or more addresses crossed off and updated; some names were crossed off all together.  Toward the end my grandmother complained that all her friends were dead, though there always happened to be one or two having coffee at the table, or sitting under the dryer in the basement (Grandma did hair).

Anyway, despite the constantly changing decor and makeup of all the other rooms in the house, the kitchen was always miraculously untouched.  Or maybe it wasn’t.. I mean she lived there for over 60 years, it must have been updated from time to time, but I guess I never noticed.  Because, the kitchen was the heart of the home- the one place you could count on to embrace you with warmth and provide comfort.  It was like Grandma herself.

I find myself constantly changing the rooms in our house- in little or big ways.  It probably (surely) drives my husband crazy.  But it’s an inherited gene- I can’t help it.  I get bored with an arrangement, or suddenly see how a room will be that much better if I just switch the chairs around.   I also cannot stop myself from looking at design blogs or real estate websites.  I am sort of obsessed with houses-  no rooms will ever be enough.  I always need one to fix.  It’s true though that I never do much to the kitchen.  I probably should- my more modern one doesn’t quite have the same feel as Grandma’s did.  It is a gathering place for kids, friends, neighbors who drop by, family functions and everything else.  But it doesn’t envelope you like Grandma’s kitchen seemed to.   It can be- it has potential.  It’s warm and inviting, bright and cheerful.  But still it’s not the same.  Maybe I need to start simmering gravy on the stove more often.  Hmmm… better start working on that.