Fathers Day Hotline 2020

Good morning and welcome to the First Ever Fathers Day Hotline.

Please listen carefully as we have never tried this before.

If you never listen, please press buttons at random.

We understand. Drive this like a remote control race car down the Santa Monica freeway. Your Fathers Day, your rules.

If you need a pat on the back, please press one.

If you’re not sure how to explain your Dad job, please press two.

For a better understanding of this delicate interplay of fatherhood, please press three.

If you need a reminder that this dad gig is for life, please press four.

For a quick supply of Dad Jokes, please press five.

If you’re wondering whether or not to get a “Dad Bod”, please press six.

For a list of things Dads should never say, please press seven. (For things husbands should never say, press seven and a half. You’re welcome.)

If you’re raising daughters, please press eight.

If you’re raising sons, please press nine.

Thank you for calling the Fathers Day Hotline. Enjoy your family. You are their Hero.

The Mural

The mural joined us in the fall of 2006. It was painted in acrylics over the space of a few weeks. The finishing touches emerged, swirling into corners and bleeding occasionally onto the ceiling and spattering, no matter how much I scolded, onto the floor tiles we had chosen deliberately for our oldest child’s room.

He was the firstborn of five offspring and it took us that many attempts at reproduction before it was apparent that none of the little versions of ourselves in any way resembled each other or danced to any drum but their own. He drew his first lizard at two years old, with a crayon, on the back of his granddad’s giant sheet of unwanted street plans; a purple curvy amphibian basking across the black and white, straight and narrow, professionally engineered road map.

During grade school, what began with a proper mother’s encouragement grew into a secret mother’s certainty that her eldest child was a creative genius. It was as quickly quenched when all parties concerned were summoned into the middle school office. No one could understand how a sullen, doodling pre-teen could sit in the back row ignoring the teacher until called out for it; said pre-teen answered the questions correctly, aced the test, and doodled his way back out the door. No one could decide whether this was an academic or an attitude problem.

But my son’s art got better.

In high school, he enrolled in an art class and dropped it again after one week. It took three more semesters before he came to an understanding with the teacher and stayed in the class to play with different mediums. One day I went to pick him up from water polo practice and found the team huddled around a player, intently watching my eldest. He had dared the player to shave his head and in return, my son, using a black sharpie, drew an intricate Maori design on it that completely covered the scalp. With neither a beginning nor an ending, the design was both a prank and a masterpiece.

And my son’s art got better.

Meanwhile, our small home underwent a third and final renovation. The baby was almost ready for kindergarten, and bursting the seams, we added a new garage, den, laundry room, bedroom, and bathroom. While it was under construction, our eldest decided to live in the rafters of the new garage. He laid a plywood floor, moved crates of clothes up to it and wired some lights. He had no use for a ladder. He swung himself up like a gymnast and enjoyed his privacy. In this aerie, his art advanced to include nudes, interlaced fingers, fantasy-scapes, cyclops.

And during the last semesters of high school, he graced his brand new bedroom with a singular mural. It developed like a polaroid, integrating shapes from his night terrors, from our garden, from a place deep in his mind that sparked colors and vivid imagery that he interpreted in paint.

Always spontaneous, always unexpected, his art got better.

After he graduated and moved out, when it was time to repurpose his room, the mural was painted over in comforting soft pale green. A cover that, in hindsight, I think I wanted to caress the mural with, and preserve it along with the painful period of growth it represented. To plant it, perhaps, beneath moss and clover and allow it to become humus – eventually, fertile ground that attracts roots.

I mothered the mural because I could not mother the man-child.

His art is always getting better. No matter the medium, his signature style is stamped into it. He wanders the world, collecting no moss, pushing straight lines into flowing curves and painting them brilliant purple.

Moms Graduation Speech

As I ponder the idea of no longer being a participant in the public school system, the thought that I am rid of fund raisers, done with dirty basketball jerseys, shed of tracking a textbook assigned ten months ago and never used, and altogether destitute of paperwork to be filled out in triplicate with a blue ink pen…a single tear of pure joy glistens in my eye. My left eye. The one that twitches.

Let freedom ring.

I’d like to thank everyone who made this moment possible.

I could not have worn such a deep trench in the elementary school doorway, had not Hubby insisted that homeschooling was “not an option”. Thank you, Hubby, for challenging me to find a way to homeschool our kids anyway by bringing home sixteen years of creative projects for all 800 of the students I adopted there.

Thank you, Middle School Principal, for welcoming five siblings in a row, children who brought their bicycles with them instead of their mother, children who learned the value of a dollar by hustling duct tape wallets, the value of deodorant after gym class, and the value of functional stall doors in a bathroom. We learned there’s no place like home after all.

Shout out to my firstborn for teaching me that we all learn in our own ways during high school. Some of us learn while sitting in the back row, staring out a window, and doodling on the homework. We learn that teachers are furious when they call you out in front of the class and you actually know the answers.

Second born, thank you for becoming fluent in Spanish so that I don’t need to be. It’s as entertaining as the German, Russian, and whale your siblings pretend to speak. You taught me that there’s no such thing as too many boxes full of awards.

Middle child, my never-in-a-hurry-why-do-you-want-to-rush-stuff one, thank you for waiting until two weeks to graduating to decide that you actually did want to attend college. I think your degree in “Communication” is as authentic as the panic attack I had.

I appreciate the effort it took, oh fourth one, to move to a new high school, forsaking the legacy of our family reputation to create a name for yourself. You played varsity sports as a freshman, losing every single game for a year, and ended your senior year with mono. You taught me gumption. One of us deserves a gold sticker.

And now, the last man standing, he who had to grow a sense of humor at birth, the one who had no idea his vision was bad until twelve tender years of age, the man who can perform quantum physics yet struggles with a pencil and long division, is poised on the platform, prepared to join his siblings in the world of adults, so long as there’s no laundry involved.

Thank you for doing your homework, love. Even if I think it’s cheating to do “research” from your couch instead of fighting classmates over the last three reference books in an actual library a day before the term paper is due. Sorry about that dopamine addiction. We all thought educating through an iPad was a good idea four years ago.

I’m so happy. I’m so blessed. I’m so tired.

I hope I can make it through the ceremony.

In conclusion, an Honorary Mention goes out to my fellow moms. Yes, that award given to our kids at school assemblies, recognizing that they have been showing up and breathing in and out all day. The one that reminds us that we are all winners.

To the girlfriends who stood by me during Common Core Math and the common cold; those who heard my battle cries and administered hot tea and hugs. Thank you for reminding me that the school system with its trappings and traps, is temporary after all. Our educations are priceless. And our possibilities are endless.

Let’s do this.

Mother’s Day Hotline 2019

Good morning and thank you for calling the Mother’s Day Hotline.

Please listen carefully, as our menu has definitely changed.

If you are considering parenthood, you’d better press 1.

If you think that five kids are the perfect number of offspring, press 2.

If you are currently surrounded with toddlers, please press 3.

If you wore actual pajamas and a burp cloth in public yesterday, press 4.

If the words “this is your last warning!” was issued three warnings ago, please press 5.

If you think you are still cool enough to do the same activities as your middle school kid, please press 6.

If you now communicate with your offspring through text, please dial push click tap press 7.

If you no longer recognize your child beneath the teenager disguise, please press 8.

If you have been wondering about your own mother lately, better press 9.

If you, yourself, are a now Grandmothering, please press pound.

If you are parenting fur-babies, please press star.

If you are a MOTHER. If you are a LIFER. If you OWN this. Press here.

Thank you for calling the Mothers Day Hotline. Enjoy your toast and tea. See you again soon.

Leaving Home for College

Good morning everyone and welcome to our next installment in the January series on “Moving”. Today we are going straight to the experts for advice about the transition when Little Johnny moves away to college.

As far as I can tell, I have successfully sent three children to college while managing to keep them living at home. The fourth kid is up for grabs but unless the right college grabs him, I will have the honor of four college graduates and zero dorm experiences.

On the other hand, I also have a kid with nothing but dorm experiences and zero college degrees.

There are pros and cons.

But I am obviously not an expert.

I watched a coworker send her son to another state for college and he was homesick and she was optimistic and the week before winter finals that boy got the flu. His entire building got the flu. He called her from the floor of his room and she did what every sensible mom would do: she overnighted him a case of Gatorade, and begged him to pass his finals.

That Christmas break, he came home and refused to leave.

Meanwhile, I know a few Little Johnnys who have managed to go back after Christmas break, and I have some nuggets of wisdom from the moms who survived it:

  1. Believe they are adults. You raised them right and it’s all in there. When needed, your voice is in their head even if it’s screaming “Dumb*ss!” Which will happen many, many times in the first year.
  2. The campus life schedule (especially in a dorm) is not the same as the class schedule. It’s erratic and unscheduled. This means calling home is not a priority! We made a deal to not bother them if they simply called every Sunday to check in. And they did.
  3. College and living away is tough and there are calls home that make you want to rush in and take care of it . Having to give phone advice and help them through life from a distance is HARD and a whole new perspective. This is a reminder to empower and encourage. Follow up with a full glass of wine (coping measure).
  4. Join the parent group on Facebook. Most don’t allow students in so you get to share the feels and get insider info too! I missed this with my first student, but found it with my second. Ours has moderators that have links to info, Senior parents armed with experience in the trenches, invited guests like the Chief of Campus Police, support from parents who live locally and even an Uber driver file. (This is) your support while the student insists they “got this” lol!
  5. Learn what Venmo is and join – this is how roommates share expenses, lunch dates share the check and Mom sends money for a much needed frappacino after a hard test.
  6. I also completely support getting in on the college sports team fun!
  7. It’s that hard realization that they live somewhere else, and have a life outside of you and the small family you had together with all of your kids when they were little. That day in and day out you don’t know what they’re doing, how they’re doing, and that they’re doing it apart from you.
  8. I guess you wonder will they come back and will it ever be the same? But it will never be the same even when they do come home because they are adults now. They leave with their childhood and return with a form of adulthood. I guess that’s how it’s meant to be: it’s the end of an era.
  9. Wow, I didn’t expect the intensity of the sorrow of saying goodbye to him as we send him back across the country today. It almost seems worse than the first time we did this last fall. I’m so thankful that he’s happy and thriving in his college environment, I can’t imagine how hard this would be if he weren’t.
  10. I also thought that it would be easier to say goodbye to them once they left for the first time, but every time they come home for winter break or spring break or summer break it’s equally hard to say goodbye as they go back to school. I feet sad every time. 
  11. I think of how it must feel to be my parents standing on that step, watching their heart go away again and again. I can physically feel the pain of time passing in my body, and it makes me realize how valuable beyond riches it has been to spend these special days together in our cherished home.
  12. And lest these feels and formulas be a wee too much, here is the only idea I had prepared for this moment. A mom has to do what a mom has to do.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. Ecc 3
The Forgetful Files is a safe, supportive space exploring different life challenges and big questions with courage, kindness, humor, and practicality. Please join the conversation by offering your unique perspective!

The Mothers Day Hotline 2017

Good morning, and thank you for calling the Mother’s Day Hotline.

If you are waiting in bed for a tray of burnt toast, spilt juice, and a macaroni necklace, enjoy the following selections at leisure. Otherwise, please choose carefully.

If you are currently considering becoming a mother, please press 1.

If you are pregnant and searching for baby names, please press 2.

If you are wondering what it’s like to give birth, please press 3.

If you have a newborn and and need direction on what type of mommy to be, please press 4.

If you are currently surrounded with toddlers, please press 5.

If you are mothering elementary school age children, please press 6.

If you have children in the middle school zone, please press 7.

If your teens have made a strike towards independence, please press 8.

If you are desperate for a “mom break” by now, please press 9.

If you are considering leaving them all behind and rejoining the work force, please press pound.

If your children are grown and flown from the nest, and you want to sob hysterically because it all went too fast, please press the star key.

Thank you for calling the Mothers Day Hotline. Enjoy your toast and tea. See you again next week.

Guilty As Charged

The thing about ugly crying is that it should be done in the privacy of your own kitchen, not in the grocery store.

Trying to keep it together somewhere in the canned goods aisle is like putting your finger into the leaky dike and hoping a miracle comes along soon. Like, pronto.

Thankfully, a People of Walmart passed by, pushing a cart full of chips and diet Pepsi, wearing yoga tights in my size without the benefit of having my general svelteness. If she could keep herself packed into those unashamed excuse for pants, then I could probably make it home without tears bursting from my face. Right?

Right.

So I kept my little ugly-cry fest between me, the pantry, and the cereal boxes and after about ten minutes – right on schedule actually – Edna Mode piped up.

She sits in a corner of my head just waiting for opportunities like this, which I attempt to keep at a bare necessity minimum.

“Pull yourself together woman!” she snapped, “You’re Elastigirl! What is this nonsense?!”

I heaved a great sigh.

“I’m only the worst mother ever!  My son didn’t get into the college he wanted. My kids are going to grow up and be homeless and hungry because they didn’t get the job they needed because they didn’t get into the college they needed to because they didn’t have the grades they needed because they didn’t have a mom who sat with them every day in high school making sure they understood chemistry…”

I grabbed another tissue.

“I never even took chemistry! My kids are all smarter than I am! I should have hired a tutor in freshman year. I should have volunteered like I used to in their second grade classroom. I should have worked the snack bar during their volleyball games. I should have filled those college applications out myself, what if he missed his college acceptance because of a clerical error?!!”

I sank down on the linoleum, cradling a can of peaches.

“It’s all my fault. I wasn’t there for him, and now I have to keep him from being homeless and hungry by letting him live here forever!”

Edna watched me wail at this fresh and horrific thought, tapping her tiny foot.

“You have a lot of weird things in your head,” she started.

I glanced over at her, “Uh huh,” said my little sarcastic side.

“You place a lot of importance on this mothering job of yours,” she said.

“Luck favors the prepared,” I reminded her, “but I don’t know how I could’ve ever prepared for this job. I feel like I had his whole little life laid out at six months old, worked my tail off to give it to him, and suddenly the plot went off-script.”

“Just now?” asked E, “that’s some kind of record, darling.”

“I have no idea what happens next.” I looked at the floor in disgust, “Well, except mopping is probably next.”

Mom-guilt. There’s no other guilt like it.

“Words are useless! Gobble gobble gobble gobble!”

“I just worry that I messed something up back there somewhere and it’s too late to fix it.”

“Some things that should not have been forgotten were lost…history became legend, legend became myth…”

“Okay,” I said, standing up, “Who let Galadriel in here?”

“The world has changed,” she continued, “I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was, is lost.”

I hung my head, “Yeah, they aren’t little kids anymore. Maybe that’s part of this sadness.”

With a mighty heave, Edna kicked Galadriel out of our headspace.

“Never look back, darling, it distracts from the now,” she scolded.

A voice boomed out: “Remember Who you Are!”

Lion King? Really?

“You got to put your behind in your past,” laughed Pumbaa, as E herded the animals out.

“Look,” I said finally, “I just want all good stuff and no bad stuff for my kids. It’s a mom thing.”

“Well you can’t never let anything happen to him,” squeaked a tiny blue fish, “Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.”

“That’s it!” I demanded, “Everybody grab an exit buddy, I have better things to do than wallow in the shallows.”

I put the peaches on the shelf and stretched my mind around yet another bend in the road for our family. I tried to imagine my Supersuit holding me together as years of growth shaped and reshaped us, much like a good pair of yoga pants. Ahem.

“Well, you’ll look fabulous anyway. Your suit can stretch as far as you can without injuring yourself and still retain it’s shape. Virtually indestructible, yet it breathes like Egyptian cotton.”

“Thanks, E,” I said as she faded away, “a yoga class is just what I’ll do next.”

“Don’t make me beg, darling, I won’t do it you know.”

Growing Pains

Something I wrote a while ago and I want to remember it.

I’m in mourning.  My unsuspecting child hit the point of no return on his timeline.  The moment when a boy becomes a man.  I do not refer to the rite of passage wherein he must kill his first bear or be tied to an anthill to prove his valor.  He just turned 13.

And he will never be the same.

My biggest newborn was a hefty 9 pounds, 7 ounces, and a happier baby you will never meet nor a sweeter little boy.  My son has always looked out for others, taken his turn, held my hand, tried to please.  He followed my fashion advice.  He excelled in school.  My kind and gentle giant.

But not today.

My poor innocent was poisoned with testosterone overnight and in his place is the Dr. Jekyll of teens.  It is suddenly asking too much to make eye contact, let alone enunciate, when he speaks.  A conversation of grunts is the new norm.  My tall handsome son has taken on a hunched shoulder and a slovenly hairdo.  Burping and body odor are no longer unfortunate incidents but matters of personal pride.

Oh my lovely boy, where have you gone?

Bill Cosby once said that he and his wife had five children “because they did not want six”.  I whole-heartedly agree.  Five is a wonderful number if you can pull it off.  Mine span ten years and I only hope that’s enough.  The timing with our family plan was that when the younger children were entering the delusional entitled teen years, the older ones would be exiting them with a new-found sense of gratitude and maturity.  This way, there would always be somebody in the house who still thought I might know something.

*sigh*

Our eldest son just came home from a year-long commitment on AmeriCorps.  At the tender age of 21, he returned to much fanfare and chicken enchiladas.

Sometime the next day, he pulled me aside and confessed that during his wanderings he realized that his parents had actually “busted their butts” raising him and his siblings and he appreciated it.  He met many, many kids out there with parents that they themselves were having to parent.

Home is a place for our kids to be kids but that may be a rarer thing than I assumed.

I remembered all the times I wanted to throw in the towel, give in to them, give up on them, or run away from them….but didn’t.  You practice doing the ‘tough love’ thing until you can balance the ‘tough’ with the ‘love’.

And eventually, if you don’t die of a broken heart first, they grow up.

I spent some years praying hard and loving our eldest furiously.  Sometimes it wasn’t pretty. I hoped his latest adventure would get his feet firmly planted and his head on straight.  And now his head, while definitely set much straighter, sports a fresh mohawk celebrating his graduation from the self-imposed straight and narrow. He stands tall and is ready to move on to the next part of his story.

He is kinder, he is gentler, he is thoughtful.

We make eye contact.

So in one month, I have lost a son and found a son.  There are places where the transfer is not yet complete; both need a haircut and who doesn’t love a good healthy belch?

I am going to miss my younger son terribly while he’s gone.  I see days coming where I will have to go ninja on him to save him from himself or perhaps hold tightly to some line in the sand while he figures out up from down.  But we are raising men and women of courage and values.

They will only know what that looks like by looking at us.

Of course, there is our youngest, yet untouched by teenager angst.  God knew exactly what He was doing when He provided the last-born comic relief for our family.  With all of the changes in our growing brood, his enthusiastic smiles and guileless dedication to childhood is refreshing. It reminds me that, like Peter Pan, that little sparkle of youth inside carries through, no matter what our age.

Growing up is a process of someone’s heart deciding who it wants to be and when.

There’s faith and hope and love during the wait.

And thankfully, plenty of laughter along the way.

At Dawn

The rising sun is still a suggestion, painting a faint glow around the window shutters.

The house feels like calm clear water, a faint refrigerator hum, one sparrow singing his personal thoughts on summer flits off to another backyard.

Here in the darkness it is very content and warm and full of possibility, and for one moment, my mind merges with the babe about to enter this world today.

I sit on the couch and listen to the soft breathing of the two-year-old while her parents drive to the birthing grounds across town.

Watching her mama quietly prepare to leave, I recognized her aura…her knowing.

It is a purely female current that hums and sparks with purpose and courage, and it runs very deep.

The release of long days of waiting lifted from her shoulders and her back straightened with complete focus on the present.

A woman in labor is a formidable thing.

A woman in labor holds enough inner force and focus to stop an army in it’s tracks.

A woman in labor knows that there is only one conclusion to this event: the baby is out.

Quitting is not an option.

And everybody better get out of the way.

Or everybody needs to gather around.

Or both, every other five minutes.

As I sit here, there are more memories joining me than will have room on the page, because once you’ve had a baby you will never forget it. It had never occurred to you that you held that kind of power within your body; that your body could rise up and bring forth life like that.

You try to explain it to someone who hasn’t tried it, and they want to believe you, that their body has that level of strength too, that it lies within the mitochondria to kick into autopilot and explode into new life. The cells create new cells, another person’s cells, nourish them, protect them, and then force them out to exist as a whole separate being.

How this miraculous creation is taken so casually by everyone else not in active labor, is beyond me.

But we all do it.

Put a group of moms together and you will hear the inevitable birth stories and roll your eyes because if you wanted to hear so much TMI you could watch PBS at two in the morning.

They compare episiotomies the way a WWII vet talks about his war scars.

They want to know they aren’t the only ones who just went through that world-shattering event.

For mothers, the world will never be the same.

They wonder if they ever want to go through it again.

Mothers cannot believe that a womb can expand that much, and after the birth, they cannot believe that a heart can expand that much.

Mothers cannot believe how much a child can kick these organs and yet all of it remain intact.

A mother is one of the strongest things ever invented.

The sun has risen now, inevitable, changing the ambience of this home from waiting to fulfillment, and brightness fills the room as I open the shutters.

A single text pops up on my phone: baby brother has arrived.

The little one stirs in her big girl bed, dreams slowly giving way to thoughts of a new day and the marvels it may hold.

I will write more about this thing called ‘motherhood’.

But for now, all of my best memories must patiently wait while I make some tea and cuddle a toddler and lay claim to the humming deep in my cells.

 

Would You Rather? The Teen Version

After freaking out twice last week, it occurred to me that I was not having fun.

These were supposed to be the Basking Years.

Teenagers lull you into a false sense of family cooperation that comes from the fact that – follow me closely here – they aren’t actually home all day.

I waltz around the house on a Tuesday, admiring the tidiness and quietly cheerful atmosphere and feeling like my family is just the loveliest thing. I smile into their photographs on the wall. They sit perfectly still up there, not even thinking about spilling food on our new couch.

What cherubs.

At 6pm exactly, the front doors fly open and admit a hurricane that smells of basketball practice, stale Ritz cracker crumbs, greasy backpacks and spilled gatorade.

Gym bags, sweatshirts, shoes, papers, and cell phones are dropped the length of the house as my man-cubs attack the kitchen. There is no eye contact, only grunts and fierce grappling over the refrigerator handles.

My daughter has put boots on the landing, purse at the staircase, umbrella on the table as she navigates to the sink.

*plop*

In go the tupperware from lunch at work.

She’s tidy like that.

I’m really sorry to say it.

But the Teen Version of our game, Would You Rather? looks an awful lot like the Toddler Version.

Only on Axe. So.

Would You Rather….

Have food in the fridge for a week of actual dinners, but duct taped and clearly labeled “DO NOT EAT”…or…let it go and watch them live on frozen hot dogs, tortilla chips, and pancake mix?

Stay awake until midnight every weekend until you see your teen safely in from a date…or…startle awake at 3am, notice the front porch light still on, have a small coronary, rush to the child’s bed and WAKE THAT KID UP BECAUSE WHY SHOULD YOU HAVE ALL THE HEART ATTACKS AROUND HERE?

Be flattered that your teen is asking you a question, like, maybe you still know things, even if you have NO IDEA what the answer is, so you make it up like a boss…or…keep watching your episode of PSYCH, quietly hand the teen an iPad and mouth “Google it”?

Have a teen who has a better resume than you…or…have a teen who can navigate internet circles around you?

Have a teen who is content to ride the bus to pay for college…or…have a teen who gets a drivers license immediately but can’t even afford gas?

Have a house full of teens bouncing off walls and smearing pepperonis in the houseplants…or…have all the teens at someone else’s house where the adults have abandoned them to pepperoni autonomy?

Spend hours and dollars helping your teen fill out job applications, buy a nice shirt, practice interviews, and drive him to his new job so he can make minimum wage…or…hand him the difference in cash because, as his sisters keep pointing out, no one can support himself away from home for years to come.

Which would be my only motivation in the first place.

Have a teen who gloats about his manly smell of victory…or…runs the hot water heater dry in a single shower?

Have a teen who participates in sports and costs you a million dollars…or…a teen who participates in drama and costs you a million dollars?

Have a teen who wakes up at 6am every day no matter what but be grumpy…or…have a teen who sleeps until you pry him off the bed with a crowbar but then he’s one happy cookie?

Do the sniff test on a pile of random laundry you found in the hallway…or…do the sniff test on a pile of random restaurant doggy-bags you found in the back of the fridge?

Dive into an end-of-the-season gym bag…or…into an end-of-the-year backpack?

The question last week, of course, was, would I rather have a teen who goes mysteriously missing for five hours…or…one who gets in touch promptly in order to let you know about a motorcycle, a car, and a broken kneecap?

In other words, would you rather freak out…or…be reassured to NOT freak out?