This might be the hardest

Midlife Sentence | empty nest, leaving, moving out

For someone who has such a crappy memory, I remember pretty vividly that time I was late in my third trimester with our first son, feeling ginormous and crabby. Summer was coming, friends were gathering for an outdoor concert in the lovely late spring weather and I, too tired to go out, bloated, with a bladder squished to the size of a peanut, wondered how forty weeks could seem like such a long time.

This was just the worst.

Then we were bringing home our baby, all 8 pounds and 21 inches of never-seemed-so-small and me huddled in the back of our car. I rode, holding his head steady in the impossibly large baby carrier, wondering what would happen if he just stopped breathing in the middle of the night, or failed to thrive, or to develop the muscle tone necessary to ever hold up his head, or the ability to reach out and grasp and learn. Or how terrible it would be if he came down with some horrible disease and we had to watch him suffer.

I took him to work with me, the first in our office to try out our new baby-friendly policy. I tried to breastfeed discretely in staff meetings at first, but after a while I didn’t care who saw my bare boob because I had carted in seven carloads of baby gear that morning like I did every morning and would lug it out that evening like I did every evening, with him in a carrier on my chest. I was perpetually exhausted and covered in spit up and not getting anything done and sometimes I wondered if my back would snap right in two.

Forget pregnancy, this was the hardest.

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Realistic Recipes for College Students

Midlife Sentence | Reality Based Recipes for College Students

It’s mid-summer and time to face facts: we have a kid bound for college in the fall, and I have some things to do to prepare.

He’s not going to be close, either. He won’t be coming home on weekends to eat home-cooked meals or do his laundry. In fact, he won’t be able to come home at all for more than a couple of weeks at Christmas.

He’ll be living in a dorm that isn’t unlike those here in the US, except he won’t have a cafeteria with a range of meal plans to choose from. He’ll have his own kitchenette to share with a few other roommates and have to be responsible for shopping for groceries and cooking his own meals. This has me a teensy bit worried, I’ll be honest.

He asked me the other day if I could jot down a few recipes for him, and for the first time I started wondering if we’ve adequately prepared this kid for adulting. How will he fare if they don’t have Hot Pockets in Austria? And what about his other favorite foods? I know from experience shipping a box of Cheetos overseas is far more expensive than the Cheetos are actually worth (granted, I’m not a Cheeto aficionado).

Don’t get on my case, you guys. I’ve spent a lifetime foisting as much healthy food on this kid as I could. But left to his own devices he swings toward Hot Pockets and Cheetos. And Taco Bell. He’s an adolescent male, there’s only so much I can do.

So, I’m trying to put together a set of reality-based recipes, knowing he’s not going to keep a lot of chopped produce on hand for quick salads, or broil up a sheet pan of marinated chicken and vegetables for a healthy dinner.

Here’s what I have so far:

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Something else I never thought I’d need to say

Midlife Sentence | Prom Date Decline

You know how parenting is mostly telling people stuff you would have thought was just common sense, and then repeating yourself until you think you sound crazy, right?

There’s the early parenthood version of this phenomenon, where you focus mostly on safety issues:

“No, we don’t put (toy/bodily appendage/instrument of destruction) (in your mouth/up your nose/on your brother/down the heat register).”

… or social mores:

“It’s not polite to (stare at/comment on/make an arghh sound like a pirate at)(random strangers/that guy at Applebee’s wearing an eye patch).”

Parents of older kids still get to hear themselves saying stuff they probably think shouldn’t have to be said. It’s just that there’s a little more nuance involved as kids age.

There’s stuff like:

“No, you can’t keep a pet (scorpion/lemur/tarantula), because it’s (dangerous/illegal/icky).”

… And:

“There is to be absolutely no (beer brewing/distilling/any project requiring a grow light in your closet) because it’s (smelly/dangerous/smelly and dangerous).”

Our kids are older now, and I guess I thought we were wrapping up the this-stuff-shouldn’t-have-to-be-said shtick, so I was a little astonished last week when I heard one thing in particular coming out of my mouth.

It’s coming up on prom season. I don’t think either of our boys is getting excited about prom any time soon, but our exchange student is definitely getting into the prom groove.

If you’ve been around here for a while, you know we regularly host foreign exchange students. Doing so gives us a fair amount of insight on the American high school experience as compared to the high school experience pretty much everywhere else. Because the American experience is what it is, we get a lot of opportunity to explain stuff that can be difficult to explain. Things like lockers, and marching bands, and school sports aren’t part of the high school experience anywhere but here.

And then there’s prom.

Back in my day, prom was a lot more straight forward … but probably still would have needed explanation, with all the tulle, taffeta and Aqua-Net, the matching of corsages to cummerbunds, photos and dinner, and maybe a disco ball and some spiked punch.

Although this was back in the olden days, I don’t remember anyone doing anything more elaborate to get a prom date than just asking – maybe having a friend ask for you if that sort of activity made you anxious. Either way, the ask wasn’t a thing.

Today the way you ask for a date seems to be about as important as the date itself. Scavenger hunts, flash mobs, cars stuffed with balloons, a pizza with a big question mark spelled out in pepperoni delivered by gorilla-suited singing telegram. I don’t know the stats, whether any of this effort increases the likelihood of a positive response, or just serves as good social media fodder.

But who am I to look askance at a pizza bearing gorilla?

Our whole conversation reminded me of a story from a few years ago:

One night, we had just put the boys to bed when we noticed something outside. People were darting from behind a tree to the street and back again in the dark, lining up candles in front of our neighbor’s house and trying to keep them all lit at once. Some guy waited by the door, whisper-yelling instructions and trying to be inconspicuous.

The candles kept blowing out. People ran back and forth relighting them. Sometimes the candle-lighters bumped into each other. A couple of times someone ran over the candles, and then everybody scurried to realign them and then light them again.

If the Three Stooges had helped each other get dates, it might have looked something like this.

Mike and I huddled on our porch in the dark, watching everything play out. Finally, all the candles were in place and lit and the guy by the door rang the doorbell and waited.

We all waited.

One candle blew out. Then another.

Our neighbor’s dad came out and took in the whole scene without saying anything. He went back in. There was another round of frantic candle relighting. Shadowy figures tripped over each other and cursed in the dark and shushed each other and then ran back behind a tree.

The intended finally came out. She was wearing a fluffy bathrobe and a towel on her head. I couldn’t see her expression in the dark. But there was no sound. There was no delighted squeal. There was no gasp of surprise.

There was silence.

Two flames disappeared. Then two more. No one ran out to relight the candles.

Mike and I backed into the house in the dark. Shadows slunk from behind trees and disappeared into parked cars. Our neighbor and her would-be prom date sat on her front porch while the rest of the candles blew out, one and two at a time.

“We don’t know what they talked about or what happened to that poor guy,” I said.

Whaaaat?” our exchange student stared at me.

What what?”

“Why couldn’t she just say yes?”

Ahem, well … Okay, so here’s where we get to the things that I’m kind of surprised I have to say.

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You know who also shows up early? People like Shawn

I had the weirdest experience recently. I finished a meeting and had to be across town for another meeting right on the heels of my first meeting, only the first meeting finished early, so I got to my second meeting early. I’m rarely early. Actually, I’d give it about a 50% chance I’ll even be more or less on time to anything.

I have plenty of redeeming qualities. I can stick to a tight budget. I am probably the World’s Best at Parallel Parking (seriously, I should have a mug made with that). I talk to dogs. I cover my face when I sneeze. I stay hydrated.

I am also chronically tardy. Sometimes it’s only seconds late, sometimes a teensy bit more.

But not this time. This time I was maybe 15 minutes early, which kinda felt like I could fit another whole meeting in there. I thought I could use that time to check email, or else say hi to another friend in that office.

I took my stuff to the conference room, where any plans I had were thwarted when I was waylaid by members of the group I was set to be meeting with – in the future, mind you – who were also early.

This is where it got weird. I had the chance to witness first-hand what early people do with all the time they have when they show up early. This was a rare and valuable opportunity to witness another species in its natural habitat.

Ultimately it was really disturbing.

I mean, you guys, this is what they do: they freaking talk about being early. They revel in it. It’s weird.

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Things might not go the way you plan, for your kids or their fish

Midlife Sentence | kids don't always turn out the way you think, neither do their fish

Colin passed us both in the kitchen this morning, on his way out the back door. He had wet hair, no shoes and was carrying a clear, plastic cup with something in it. We watched him grab a shovel out of the shed and start working at something in a corner of the yard, his back to us.

“What’s he doing?”

“Probably collecting something for his tanks. Rocks? I don’t know.” Mike went back to his computer.

Colin returned the shovel back to the shed and came back in.

“One of my fish died.”

“Oh honey. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, I could see it had dropsy last night. I knew it probably wouldn’t live.”

Dropsy, he explained, makes a fish’s scales stick out like a pine cone, instead of lay flat. It’s also an indicator of liver failure.

“I guess I never thought about fish having livers,” I said.

“I knew fish have eyebrows, but not livers,” Mike said.*

I didn’t know about the eyebrow thing, either. Clearly I haven’t been keeping up.

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A couple of soon-to-be empty nesters at a baby shower

“I don’t think I’ve ever been to a baby shower before.”

This was Mike’s confession to me as we were walking up to the door to our friends’ home, Saturday afternoon.

Had I realized this earlier, I would have though of some way to punk him. Maybe made up some fake baby shower etiquette to share with him in the car. But, right then, on the spot like that, I couldn’t think of the right thing to say that would freak him out just enough for us to laugh about it later, but not enough for him to bolt. These things take some finesse and the look on his face had me worried.

So I just shrugged.

“There’ll probably be mimosas.”

The mom-to-be greeted us with a huge smile, wearing a flattering, floral print dress. Back when I was that far along with either of my pregnancies, you’d likely find me in a baggy pair of overalls that gave me the profile of Uncle Jesse on Dukes of Hazard. On alternate days I’d switch between one of the two knit tops that still fit. On dressier days, I might wear shoes. I could go on like that for a couple weeks.

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Perfection is rarely the objective around here

Midlife Sentence | Perfection

Before you get into this, I just need to let you know this post started out different than it ended up.

That actually happens more often than you might think.

This is how it should go: I come up with some theme and then write a catchy lead, which flows into a full story, and there’s maybe a twist in there – could be funny or touching or shocking, with or without foul language – and things tidily come around at the end, which points back to the lead, and everything’s all wrapped up tight, like a 30 minute episode of Friends that you’ll forget by next week.

Or tomorrow. I don’t know how exciting your life is. Maybe you forget by mid morning.

But that’s not what happened.

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Wake me when it’s time to be a grownup

Midlife Sentence | Wake Me When It's Time To Be A Grownup

I think it would really be nice to have some notice when a panic attack is due.

Like something on my calendar, so I’d know, for example, that at precisely 4am Mountain Time this coming Tuesday I would wake up wondering how much longer we were going to put off replacing the broken microwave, followed by my letting brain wander down various other rabbit holes that have to do with what is otherwise broken or incomplete in my life.

I might try to get to bed a little earlier if I knew I had that 4am thing looming. Maybe decide to actually get up then, instead of laying there, staring into space. I could do some laundry or something. You know, multitask.

A friend of mine wondered on social media recently whether she was of an age to start feeling like a “grown up,” and whether the fact she doesn’t most of the time has something to do with not having kids.

“Does having children make you feel more adult?” She asked.

I’m guessing my friend also had one of these unscheduled appointments, recently.

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I’m clearly not the mom I once was

Midlife Sentence - Mom of Teens

The other day I entered my son’s bedroom on some errand or another, and realized something important. It had to do with the olfactory impact of enclosing an adolescent and his Axe body spray in a small space with a fish tank and an only halfway clean lizard terrarium.

I realized my gag reflex has returned.

I’m not sure why this surprises me, but it does and I’m kind of sad. I used to have an iron stomach when it came to unpleasantness. But my once desensitized sniffer must have been part of a latent superpower that surfaces when I need it most; like back in the day when I’d decide whether a toddler needed a change by putting his diapered butt right up to my face. When this superpower is fully engaged, I can scrape dried poo off my shirtsleeve with the aplomb of a Ludlum CIA operative pitching a Molotov cocktail at a Russian mafia stronghold and then taking a slow-motion saunter toward the camera with a wink and a hair flip.

I have to tell you, that thought made me do a Google search for something like this:

Midlife Sentence - mom of teens
Photo by Film Frame – © DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved.

But then I stumbled upon this … and it made my day.

(and, well, let’s be honest, it probably more accurately resembles me leaving the scene of an explosion). 

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You wait. I’ll be so dang merry, Christmas won’t know what hit it

Midlife Sentence - Merry Christmas

“Don’t you just get more and more excited as it gets closer to Christmas?”

This was the start of a conversation over scrambled eggs yesterday, December-the-very-first, with our exchange student, Anna. Since I don’t talk much before 8 am, my only reply was to stare at her over my coffee mug, contemplating her sobriety.

Then I thought about the relationship I have the holidays, and how likely it is I’m gonna let this girl way down sometime in the coming weeks.

If you’ve been here for any length of time, you know I’m kind of a Scrooge. Want a refresher? Well there’s that tale about our amazing city lights tour – aka the Vomit Trolley Ride of 2004, or the one about how I only do Christmas crafts as an act of revenge, or there was that time I almost came to blows with Santa.

I haven’t any excuse for this hostility. It’s not that Christmas is a particularly dark time of year for me. I don’t get seasonal depression. There’s no trauma in my past. I’m just one of those people who really doesn’t go in for schmaltz. Or shopping. Or crafts, clutter, or empty calories for that matter (except beer, that is. And I do kinda dig spiked eggnog). I’m mostly just lazy. And a cynic. And schmaltz is way less funny than cynicism.

A little research and a consultation with our own kid who’s currently living among Anna’s people, confirmed that Danes do Christmas like they mean it, and Anna appears to be keeping pace with her homeboys. Before December was even upon us, she’d been to two tree-lighting ceremonies and a couple holiday concerts, and had a stack of homemade Christmas cards ready to send. The girl is ready for the holiday.

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