We Got No Principles

shoreYesterday, I had to take the kid to the grocery right after school. I needed several things for our upcoming road trip to Myrtle Beach and to stock the vacation condo we’ve rented, which is a BYO-everything from linens to towels to paper products, and of course, food. While we will certainly dine out, my childhood memories of family vacation have cemented some ways to try to save money on these trips and still rule the day. As a single mom with an aging and awful car that’s constantly plagued with problems, our road trips are fewer and further between than when he was a baby because of the cost and the crap vehicle, which is fine.

My family vacationed at the same place every year when I was growing up. A little, picturesque town on the other side of Lake Erie called Leamington, in Ontario, Canada. I think my dad’s brother had vacationed there once and came back and told everyone how clean it was, and manageable, affordable and nice, with access to the beach, cheap lodging, and some good, inexpensive restaurants and diners in the town. We fell in love with it and it was our annual road trip, just far enough to feel like you’ve gone somewhere, but not so far it was a horrible eternity in the car. We’d detour through Detroit each year to stop and see my aunt and her family—horrible people who went on to treat me and my sister like sacks of dog shit once my dad died, and then we’d proceed across the Ambassador Bridge cheering and waving our little Canadian flags: we’re officially ON VACATION!

Rymals

Rymal’s motel. Still there.

We always stayed in this little motel that had a couple of units with an efficiency kitchen, and mom would make us breakfast each day to save money. We’d bring sandwiches and snacks for the road since our parents knew fast food was garbage and it was cheaper and better to bring your own food. The room we had was divided by a partition but there were no doors—mom and dad slept in the bed on one side, me and my sister in the other, and then the little kitchen and a dining room table and bathroom, and that was the room. My sister and I always woke up before our parents, and we would quietly sneak out in front of the room, propping something in the door so it wouldn’t slam shut and lock, and we’d sit on the cement sidewalk and play in the sun while we waited for them to wake up. Cards, jacks, whatever we had with us. The work whistle would go off around 8am at the Heinz plant that’s near the motel. Leamington is the “tomato capital” of Canada, and as we played, the smell of tomatoes began to permeate the air. This usually meant breakfast was imminent, and it was exciting.

rymals2

Pretty sure this is the actual room we always rented. It’s been updated of course, and partition removed. But this was it.

Why? Because for vacation, mom let us each go to the grocery with her and pick out a whole box of cereal that would be just for vacation, and it could be ANY KIND OF CEREAL WE WANTED. She was not allowed to veto it, no matter how unhealthy or gross it was. I always picked Count Chocula and my sister usually picked Apple Jacks. So when I took my son to the store yesterday, I told him the deal. He was pretty excited. He picked Froot Loops, which I put in my cart and the cart did not catch on fire next to the other healthy food I’d selected. I decided to go whole hog on some of the junky stuff and bought some packaged cookies (I NEVER buy stuff like this) and some various types of chips and salty snacks as well.

I took my son back to Leamington when he was barely two years old. The town has changed dramatically, of course. Lots more commercial buildings, big Walmart and homeless people living in the parking lot of same, generic strip malls. Few of the places we used to go as a family were still there, but there was a cute, free splash park at the beach near the shore, and that was fun. He was a cranky baby and slept like shit, and we cut the trip short early and came home because nobody was really loving it. It still smells like tomatoes.

We were late getting home last night because of the grocery, so I rushed through getting us both some dinner, and then we watched a little TV and it was time for him to go to bed. Tonight is going to be busy. He wants to get pizza and watch a movie, but we leave in the morning and I have to do some packing, I need to get the food together for the road and make some sandwiches. I can’t sit around and watch a movie for two hours. Plus I’m spending enough on vacation I don’t know if I want to do our usual Friday pizza night, though it would be nice to not have to cook again.

That being said, it’s also the last day my son is in second grade, and it would be nice to mark the occasion with a fun night. We’ll have to see how things go. He’s already reached a new behavior level at 8, as if someone flipped a switch. He no longer wants to spend any time with me and is irritated with me a lot. At the store, he insisted I take him to the cereal aisle first so he could pick out his cereal, and then go to the store’s daycare so he could play the basketball video game they have there. It’s hard, him wanting and needing me less, but I know this is normal so I let him do it. At least he still tells me he loves me. I know that will go away, too.

I really want this to be a fun trip and realize that’s mostly on me, to  relax and not push an agenda or a schedule. I’ve built in lots of time so we don’t have to rush, and have no set itinerary other than going to the beach a lot. I have some ideas and coupons but haven’t made my usual day-by-day list of suggested activities for each day. I just want us to relax and have fun and make memories.

Hopefully they won’t be memories of our car breaking down in the mountains and waiting for someone to come in from god knows where to give us a tow. Or someone getting bitten by a shark or something. Yeah, I have anxiety.

I’m grateful I can take this week off from my job and have paid vacation, and know so many others don’t. I’m grateful my kid has easily and capably completed second grade, and that I have the money together to take this trip thanks to my tax refund. So we’re already starting out lucky.

Maybe I’ll eat those Froot Loops too.

Dancin’ On This Earth For A Short While

My son turned eight today. I’ve blogged before about what a miracle it was that he’s even here, and it’s no less miraculous for me today.

It was a pretty normal day. He went to school, I went to work. We went to Dunkin’ Donuts before school to get a box of Munchkins for the class. This is how it is when it’s your birthday and you’re a kid – you hand out stuff to other kids. It used to be that your Mom would come in with some homemade cupcakes, but a lot of moms work now, and homemade treats are off-limits in a lot of schools. For awhile, I tried to do non-food stuff. Little packs of crayons, baby sunglasses. But it’s really freaking expensive and, as the mom of a little kid myself, all that plastic junk is just more crap to step on, trip over, take up room in plastic bins and eventually throw away. Otherwise it takes over the whole apartment and there’s plastic crap strewn everywhere – army guys and stray, tiny Lego pieces and bendy worms and slide whistles and plastic bugs. They sang to him in class, and everyone signed a card for him. He showed me at dinner. He picked the Olive Garden, and I went with no complaints. I celebrated a lot of my own birthdays there, and it was a pretty big deal when I did. Our server was kind and attentive and it was free wine tasting night so all things considered, just fine.

When I dropped him off this morning, I talked briefly to one of the custodians about there only being a few days left in school. He’s a nice guy. They all are, the custodial staff, and I always try to talk to them because what they do is so important. I feel like they are caretakers of the school, making it safe and clean for our little ones and making sure everything works. It’s an old building and very large, and I’m sure it needs a lot of upkeep. They work all year, the guy said, and I said yeah but at least you don’t have little ones coming along behind you and messing things up after you just got them cleaned. He laughed. I thought, as I do several times a week, about Sandy Hook, and the parents who dropped their kids off, waving bye and going to work like it was a normal day. I thought about the custodian and all he’d do to try to protect my kid, all the kids, and the teachers and what they would do. These are fleeting thoughts. I don’t obsess, but they are always with me.

I got to work and read more about the attack at the pop concert in Manchester. An 8-year old (girl) was one of the first victims they confirmed died in the attack. As the mom of a now-8-year-old, it was particularly poignant. I have signed my son up for summer camp, which starts in two weeks. Next week, I have reservations at a hotel near the ocean, as we are going on our first big road trip to get there and finally see it, like I promised him. To think about having to cancel these things, make the calls and even incur cancellation charges because the child is no longer going to attend the things you signed them up for because they are gone…it’s so hard to think about. I am grateful to be a mom. I am sad for the type of world he is growing up in, where these things happen.

I went to Manchester once, briefly, more than 25 years ago now. I was dating a guy from England and he took me over there for a couple of weeks to spend the Christmas holiday and see the country. We saw a lot of it in the time we had available, and, as my first big trip, a lot of it is etched into my brain. I remember Manchester as a working class town with an industrial feel and people who seemed friendly and hard-working. It reminded me very much of my Cleveland. To think of the pain they are all in after this tragedy is difficult.

I told my son recently about when I went to England, and how I got into a terrible row with the much-older guy I was dating the day we went to Stratford. By the time we arrived, we were ready to kill each other. I had never been ANYWHERE and had no idea how to do anything, and I had fucked up the map reading and we were off schedule because of it, having to continually backtrack to get the roads we needed to get there. I told my son how, when we parked the car when we arrived in the city that morning, my then-boyfriend said to me, “You’re on your own. See you back here at 6” and turned on his heel and left. As with many things during the time we dated, the way he taught me to grow up was by throwing me into the pool as harshly as he could. It was shitty and mean but I was forced to change in a lot of ways that made me a better person. “What did you DO?” my son asked, wide-eyed at the thought of being left completely alone in an unfamiliar town in another country. I told him I sat down in the parking lot and cried a bit, and then when I realized that wasn’t doing much, decided to set off. The only things I knew about Stratford were that a famous playwright had lived there and so did his girlfriend, and the town was structured a lot around the houses where they lived, so I decided to walk around and try to figure it out. I said I was upset and lost and didn’t know where to go, so I picked up some brochures I saw lying about and then went into a tea shop, which is like a coffee shop, ordered a tea and a snack and bought a small, spiral bound notebook and a pen. Then I sat in the window of the tea shop, looked at the brochures, drank my tea, ate my snack, and started writing. After awhile, I felt comfortable and the people in the shop were nice and I talked to them and they told me how to get to Shakespeare’s house, and to Anne Hathaway’s, and I went along my day seeing those things. I went to a pub and had some grub and a pint of beer, and by the time we met back up in the parking lot, I was like a different person. I was angry, and I knew I couldn’t count on this guy to help me with anything, which was an important lesson.

I then talked to my son about the movie Lion, which I was unable to get through completely as it was too painful to watch a little four-year-old boy lost and with limited language skills, becoming homeless and bewildered. We were out and in a group of people, so I grilled him: “If we got separated right now, and you couldn’t find me anywhere, who would you look for to get help?” “A lady with a stroller.” If you can’t find a lady with a stroller, who do you look for? “Someone who works here, wearing a uniform.” “What city do we live in, and what’s the name of our apartment complex?” He told me. This is basically enough information to already spare him from the fate that befell the child in the movie, and it made me feel a little better. He’s getting older, and this is one of the benefits. If he is separated from me, if there is an evacuation when they are on a field trip and he loses his group, he will be able to approach someone, find help; they will reach me. He needs me a tiny bit less. And that’s as it should be.

He can do the laundry now. He can’t fold it and is lousy about putting it away, but he knows how to run the washer and dryer. He brushes his own teeth. He knows how to read analog and digital clocks and what time different things should happen during th eday. He knows how to look things up on the internet and ask Siri questions. He can get himself a snack from the fridge. This year he mastered tying his shoes, tried sushi for the first time, tried Indian food (loves it), ate a raw jalapeno (no problem), and is really close to passing his swim test; he can float and tread water. He ran the kids’ racing series again and took 3rd in the series for his age class’ (half-mile run). He went to his first Cavs game (loved it), and pretty accurately names the Eagles, Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, James Taylor and Led Zeppelin when they come on the radio. He’s a great dancer and pretty good singer. He notices nature, which I take some credit in. He sees sunsets, birds on the patio, notices deer in the woods and sees the moon first more often than I do. He can play with just about anyone’s kids who come over, whether they are toddlers or pre-teens. He lost a tooth, he went to his first funeral (a relative he didn’t know), and is starting to learn cursive.

He reads to me more now than I read to him. His eyes are better, so it’s just as well.

He is exactly as fast as I am, depending on the day and the distance. If it’s an early weekend morning and I’m tired and not in great shoes, he easily beats me in a sprint. If we’re both in our gear and fairly well-fed and well-rested and on good terrain, we are pretty even at a dead sprint for the first 50-75 yards. Then I overtake him, as he doesn’t have stamina. In terms of long distance, I still have him way beat. This will change. It’s all changing. He was never running evenly with me until this year; I always had a little in reserve I could pull out in a short sprint and beat him if I wanted. This year, giving it all I have, he’s faster. And I’m slower. This is 48.

I know I am slower, and that’s ok. A 12-minute mile is just as far as a 6-minute mile, and I’ve learned to accept that. I am still plodding along, but the brief days of my sub-30 5Ks are gone. My son is gradually helping me more because I need it and make him vs. me trying to just teach him how to help. I can’t handle the laundry sometimes because of the arthritis in my hands and back. I can’t sit on the floor to play board games. He helps water the plants because I forgot the week before when he was at his Dad’s. He sweeps under the table and sweeps the bathroom because I can’t get down on my hands and knees that easily with the hand broom to do it. This is the journey.

I am raising my kid to be the best kid he can be. He isn’t perfect. He isn’t a humanitarian. He’s hotheaded and he laughs way too loud, like me. He is a huge presence in the room and a beautiful child that will probably break a lot of hearts when he grows up, though I know those looks will start changing this year as he grows more into the young man and less into the little boy.

I cannot do anything about how the world is; how cruel it is, how unexpected and horrible the tragedies are that befall people, especially children. I cannot do anything about those parents who still grieve their children who did not come home from elementary school that day, and forever will. Or those who sent their kids to a fun pop concert all about love and acceptance and innocence, and who did not come home, or came home damaged and broken, mentally or physically or both. The only thing I can do is raise this boy to be good, to have a pure heart, to spread joy and laughter, to love unabashedly and feel without embarrassment, to not judge others and have an open mind.

I’m working on it, so hard, every day. I swear I am. I promise.

Build A Nation

coffee

In high school, I was selected, at the end of my junior year, to be part of a group as a senior that was based solely on excellent scoring in standardized tests. I may not have been an A student on the daily, but apparently I tested well, so I was plucked from the comforts of my wonderful homeroom and great homeroom teacher, a guy who truly loved kids and understood each of us and our proclivities like no other, who passed away last year and, when he did, I was as sad as if he had been my teacher only three years ago, instead of thirty. I did not want to leave Mr. Nye’s homeroom. The people were normal and kind of fun and he was awesome and I was used to it. But I was told that my senior year, I would be part of a special mentoring program called SEEK, which stood for something, I have no idea what. In hindsight, perhaps Stupid Educators Ensuring you Knuckle under.

My mom and I found out I was in the program through a letter that came home. I told mom I did NOT want to be in this whatever club with a bunch of stuck up rich people, there was nothing for me in something like that and I did not want to leave Nye’s class. She told me to tell the teacher in charge of the program, a bitter, nasty woman who seemed to hate children and whose class I knew I had to take as a senior, and was not looking forward to it. I went to her in school and told her I didn’t want to be in it. She didn’t care. She said I would like it, and she would see me at the banquet the following week, which the letter had described. It was to welcome us to the program or some shit. My mom and I went up to the school that night and my mom went straight to the teacher, let’s call her Mrs. F as in F.U. She told her she really appreciated them considering me but that I didn’t want to be in the program, that it wasn’t a good fit. That the kids in this program likely were people who I didn’t like and who really didn’t like me either, and I would have nobody to talk to. There likely wouldn’t be any good mentoring options for me in town and I wouldn’t be able to do most of the off-campus stuff the other kids would be doing because we only had one car and she needed it for work. She basically said tough shit, it’s a privilege to be picked and your daughter should be honored. I was not honored. I don’t even think we stayed at the banquet, we were both so disgusted.

Her homeroom, which I was forced to be in as part of the program, was as miserable as I expected. I remember at one point she got so mad at me she demanded we go out in the hallway, where she tried to dress me down for whatever infraction. I argued back with her, and she said, “Do you want to go to the office?” I shot back, “Do YOU?” because I was ready, right then, to drag her fucking ass down to the office and tell them what a bitch she was being to everyone. But we just went back in the classroom.

The SEEK program was every bit as miserable as I expected. All the promising young doctors and lawyers and bankers were in there, and few of them people I could call close friends. My boyfriend was in the group; he wanted to be a plastic surgeon. He got paired up with a surgeon in town and took his car to the guy’s offices once a week, where the doctor explained all kinds of procedures to him and let him observe several surgeries, which he would tell me about in all their gory, fascinating detail. He thought it was awesome.

I was going to college to study theater. Very small towns are not typically known for their cultural excellence, and mine was no exception. My mom has always liked to say the only thing cultured in my hometown was the yogurt. They paired me to the manager of the single theater in town, a small, community theater where I had a small part in a musical as a child, but otherwise, I had no experience. I knew nothing about theater or acting, except that that’s what I wanted to do and that I thought I’d be good at it. You couldn’t even take theater classes or be in a play until you were a senior at my school. And I did go on to be in that single, senior class play that school year, in the lead role, and for which I got a small trophy on class day, and I think a couple hundred dollars in a scholarship. So I guess I was right. But the day I drove my mom to work so I could borrow her car and keep my appointment to go see this guy, I was pretty much a blank slate in terms of personal experience.

I drove to the theater, parked, knocked on the door and he let me in and led me to his office. He seemed very annoyed that I was there. The place was deserted. We sat down and I took out a pad and pen. “So, what do you want to know?!” he snapped. I didn’t know what I wanted to know. “Everything, I guess” I said. “I don’t really know anything, so whatever you want to tell me…?” He huffed annoyingly. “You don’t have any questions? I was told you’d have questions, like an interview.” I had never interviewed anyone. I had no fucking idea what to ask. How do you ask about something you don’t know anything about and have never studied? I stammered for a few minutes and came up with a couple questions, I don’t remember what. He gave curt, quick answers and was obviously irritated. “This is a waste of my time!” he said. “Unless you know what you want to ask, I don’t even know why you’re here.” I was so embarrassed. Then I left, and I was so, so fucking angry. This is exactly why I didn’t even want to bother with this whole fucking program. And then I had to spend the rest of the year in homeroom with these people who loathed me.

Occasionally, as part of the program, we would all take a trip somewhere or hear a speaker, like I think someone’s dad came in to talk to us who was a lawyer or something, and I think we went on a field trip to see some other dude, I don’t even remember. The whole thing was a complete fucking waste and none of the things they showed us related in any way to what I wanted to study, JUST LIKE I HAD TOLD MRS. F.

I vowed that if I had a child or children, I would do better by them, and I’m trying to do that already with my son. I talk to him wherever we go about the jobs people are doing at the places we visit, and what kind of work that would be like. He thinks he wants to be a lawyer, because they make a lot of money. Or a landscaper, because they get to be outside and be physical. That’s if he can’t be a pro basketball player, which is what he really wants. Sigh.

We have a high school intern visiting us at work this month. Mostly, they are giving her a lot of busy work, like filing and opening job bags. The CEO is friends with the girl’s parents and they asked her if the girl could do her internship here. It’s a really, really small company and learning how we do things at our company, like, giving her specific job training, seems not very helpful since she doesn’t even know yet what she wants to do, and is still figuring that out. She thinks she wants to do something with writing, but isn’t sure what. Or science, which she also likes. She’s also been active in the arts. So when my turn around the horn came, we left. I’ve taken her out now twice to spend time with her at a coffee shop, learning about her and her interests and background, and talking with her about what types of jobs she could get and how those jobs work. I talked to her about how to get a job on campus and what types of jobs are good to get, and why, because the experience could help you later on in life. Instead of having her sit next to me and drone on for a few hours about how to open a file and where we save things on the server or whatever, I told her all about my different job experiences, working in large companies, public companies, private companies. Working as an executive assistant, working in a university as a department secretary, working at the 4th largest PR firm in Los Angeles. She said that sounded like a really great place to work, and it was. I loved telling her about how we approached pitches company-wide at that place, and how they encouraged fun and creativity. They offered a monthly bonus to anyone who generated a solid lead for the company to pursue as a new business opportunity, based on articles we had read or news we heard. I was not only the only secretary to ever get the monthly bonus, I got it twice.

Today I taught her all about press releases, and how they are used as a sales tool, and how I approach writing one. How they flow, paragraph to paragraph, what the boilerplate is, how wire services work and showed her a few of our clients’ websites with press releases on them I had written. I gave her a template and some information about a new product and let her try to write it on her own. It was so nice to just sip some coffee and hang out while this young girl tried to figure out what to do and how to do it. Her release was pretty darn good for a 17 year old! I edited it using Track Changes and showed her how that feature works, and again, said sometimes you’ll have people give you changes like this, sometimes they won’t, and you can do a compare to see what they changed, if they didn’t track the changes. I explained why I changed what I did and put in some notes in the voice of different bosses I’ve worked for – some nice, some nasty, about the changes I wanted her to make and explained these are all the different ways people might give you feedback. Don’t take it personally, just edit it to the best of your ability, taking their corrections and feedback into consideration. In the end, everyone has a certain way they want things to sound and they’ll end up changing it anyway, so just give them as solid a draft as you can so they have less work to do.

We talked about project management and managing deadlines, and how I set reminders on my calendar or my phone for different things that are due.

Then I took her to lunch. We talked about theater, and all the theater things. We talked about boys, birth control, safe sex, drinking, drugs, and what she can expect while living on campus the first two years. Her mom has already covered a lot of this and she has a good head on her shoulders. But it never hurts to hear from someone with whom you don’t have a personal bias or history, to get an unvarnished version of events. I talked about some traps I fell into and how she could avoid those. But also not to be too hard on yourself if you’re struggling the first year, it’s a huge adjustment and all that #adulting stuff is really a big deal to learn to manage.

I told her how to follow up with all of us when she’s been in school for a few months to let us know how she is doing. I drew a picture with 8 dots representing each person in our company and spokes going out on all sides; that is your network now, I said, and we all know people that can help you, and they know people. And then, when you’re older, we might need help from you or someone you know, and that’s how networking works. She’s excited to keep in touch. She said the two days we’ve spent together have been so amazing, better than she ever thought it would be coming here, and that she has learned so much. She couldn’t wait to go to school and tell  her teacher that she actually wrote a press release, and about some of the other stuff I told her. She’s a smart kid and I’m sure she’ll do well.

All I have thought about in the back of my mind is, what would I have wanted someone to show me, if I had been able to have a good mentor? What would I want to do with my time, and how could I have learned the most if I was a kid and had this internship. Is filing really teaching you anything? Is opening the mail or organizing our magazine room going to teach her anything that she can use in life? Is scanning trade magazines for mentions of our clients the highest and best use of this bright young woman’s time? No. But a Mexican mocha and some time away from the office can really make an impact, I think.

That’s what I would have wanted.

Not A Worry In The World

Yesterday the universe told me I need to stop being so hard on myself, so I’m gonna work harder on that.

In the morning, I was feeling fat and gross. Everything hurt, as is more and more often the case during my aging process. I was determined to at least go for a walk at lunch, since it was one of the rare (unfortunately) sunny days we’ve had so far this spring. Getting out at lunch is really difficult. I am often handed rush projects at 11:30 and then end up working through lunch at my desk in order to complete them, and yesterday was no exception, but the work was able to wait until later afternoon. So out I went.

As I continue to rehab my weak ankle, I realize that I am much more successful as a runner if I really, really slow down. This may also be an aging thing for me, personally—I have to run like an “old man” in order to be able to achieve anything at all. I’m never going to win any races, and that’s fine. Yesterday, I felt lucky to just be able to move. I decided to do a slow jog and see how far I could go.

It ended up being one of the longest and most successful lunchtime runs I’ve had. So that’s good.

After about a mile and a half I came to the Lorain-Carnegie bridge. It’s a long, slow climb to the top and so far, I’ve never been able to make it all the way up, down to the other side, and then all the way up and back without having to stop and walk. But I had good music and sunshine, was well-rested thanks to the NyQuil I had taken the night before for my continuing sinus/ear/chest thing, and I decided to just chug slowly and see how far I could keep percolating.

I made it over the bridge, and I mean all the way over to the bottom of the other side, and back. I was beat by the time I got back to the starting point but I made myself push on and jog the rest of the way back to work. Round trip, I put in four and a quarter miles over the lunch hour. And yeah, it took me the whole hour. I told you I was slow. But as they say, a 12-minute mile is just as far as a 6-minute mile. I felt proud and grateful that my body, as beaten and broken and fucked up as it is, could do this.

I felt pretty good until I got home and saw my new swimsuit had arrived from Target. I never, ever get new swimsuits because I can’t bear putting them on. I avoid wearing swimsuits as much as possible, really, and the one I have at home is really, really old and the cups in the top are all saggy because I keep putting off getting a new one. So I ordered one online as a way of avoiding the fitting room hell that is swimsuit season. I dreaded opening the package.

Then I went to the mailbox and got the mail. A girlfriend of mine had unexpectedly sent me a cheerful card in the mail, telling me to remember how awesome I am. It was shiny and pink and bright and cheerful and brought tears to my eyes, it was so unexpected, and so needed. As a single mom, I often think nobody notices me or cares about my problems since I don’t really have anyone in my life every day (not even my son, who I only have every other week), but people do notice, they do care. The times I’ve gotten unexpected messages and gifts like this in the mail honestly have kept me afloat when I was drowning, and it’s a great feeling. I try to do this for my friends too, knowing how much I appreciate these messages.

Feeling awesome and strong, my son helped make dinner and then I stared down the swimsuit. The top actually didn’t look that bad. My rack is about all I have left in terms of good features, and part of why I decided to try to get a bikini for the first time in my life is I thought I could show off that one good feature a little better (and draw the eye away from the rest of me). I bought these high-waisted bottoms to go with, to try to hide my gross, scarred, fat stomach and hips, but I am very short, and the two pieces together were so close on my body that I looked like a stuffed animal instead of a woman. Not flattering. I put on a little skirt bottom I had from my tankini, and looked and looked in the mirror, trying to decide if I could stand to be out in public like this. My son was jumping on the bed behind me. “Ugh, I look so fat,” I said, not thinking about him being there. He stopped jumping. “No you don’t, mommy, you look beautiful!” he said. I said, “Are you sure? Like, if we went to the beach like this you wouldn’t think I looked bad or something?” He looked at me like I was crazy. I hugged him.

I will rock that two piece on the beach in a couple of weeks, because I am apparently awesome. I just have to keep reminding myself of that. Luckily, my friends and family help me remember, in the moments where I forget.

She Wasn’t That Sorry, Wasn’t That Sad

I mark this date each year for two reasons.

The first is that one of the last communications I had from my father was an audiotape he made me back in 1990, two months before his death. He had had a heart attack in March, just after turning 60, and had vowed finally to turn his life around. To stop eating all the junk food, to finally quit smoking, return to cycling, which he had once loved. After the heart attack, his handwriting wasn’t very good, and his computer, which he had relied on for years for letters, wasn’t working right, so he found an old tape recorder and decided to audiotape me a letter. He said if it worked out all right, it might be a cool way to do letters going forward. Dad was always interested in technology, even older technology and I was thrilled to get the letter. I listened to it a few times over. It opened with, “Saturday, May 5th. Kind of a rainy looking day, rainy looking day.” He went on to talk about things happening in town, things going on with his family, friends, his girlfriend, who would come to find him on the bathroom floor after his stroke on July 3rd. She was worried she hadn’t heard from him and he wasn’t answering the phone and had to break in when she saw him on the bathroom floor. Unable to speak when she asked how he was doing while waiting for the ambulance, he made the gun motion to the side of his head like, ‘just kill me.’ Dad was a proud guy and wouldn’t have wanted to live impaired. And he didn’t. The blood thinners they had given him after the heart attack loosened the plaque from his arteries, but some apparently made it to the brain, and that’s just the breaks sometimes. He never regained consciousness in the hospital and  died the next day, on July 4th.

I listened to that tape over and over again and guarded it as well as I could, but with something like 15 different moves to different apartments, including a cross-country move to Los Angeles and back in the late 90s, at some point, the tape just disappeared. The loss of it is something I’ve never been able to forgive myself for, but when I realized it was finally gone, I just had to let it go, and realize that all we are left with are our memories.

The second reason is that this is the date my divorce became final, years ago. I mark the day each year somehow. I try to go have a drink with friends. Last year, I had kind of a “celebration of freedom” and people flowed in and out all night at a bar where I had set up. It was wonderful and I felt loved and supported. I had waited so long for that day that I’ll never forget, and of course it was a very difficult morning. I couldn’t take the whole day off work and neither could my ex. We just met at the court and waited in almost total silence together on a bench for our turn in front of the judge. It was obviously strained. I tried to stay positive and polite.

The judge commended me for having done all the paperwork myself, which she said was impressive. More impressive, she said, was that we had drafted an agreement that was truly and wholly in the best interests of our child, with custody being shared completely equally at 50 percent, the amicable trading of different holidays, and no demand for anyone else’s money, other than what was necessary to pay for the child’s education, after-care, daycare, camp, etc. I felt a weird and sick sense of pride at having been good at doing something so difficult and complex and personal and that someone finally recognized the year-plus I had worked on trying to get this ream of papers together – and get it right – so that we could finally move forward as separately as would ever be possible, with the child tying us together forever on one level. It all went fairly smoothly and relatively quickly and then we went downstairs to stand in line together to split the cost of the fee for the proceedings. Then we both had to go to work. I cried in the elevator on the way down from the courtroom and he gave me a hug and said it would be ok, everyone would be ok. It was the last time we would ever hug each other like that, with all our history of 12 years together underneath it.

Late last night, my ex called. His father was having some kind of heart episode and I had to come pick up our son so he could go tend to the matter. This is how we started our marriage, ironically. We got married, the next week we both got laid off from work, and fairly quickly when we couldn’t find new, good paying jobs, we had to move to a cheaper apartment. His dad had a near-fatal heart attack the night before moving day, and he had to go spend the week sleeping in hospitals while I handled the move. Medical advances have bought the old man 13 more years, but it doesn’t look like he has a lot more left in him, and he’s not mentally able to handle paperwork so the ex had to go handle things.

I was happy to go get my sleepy, disoriented child, and as I drove him home, I tried to think of some positive things I remembered about my ex-FIL’s life as I may be put to task to convey these things if I have to deliver bad news. I put my personal feelings aside about him and his family and tried to think of how I will position this man for my son. He was a Navy veteran, his grandpa, I will tell him, and how and why that is honorable. He raised three children and was married for more than 50 years to the same woman. He got a Master’s Degree through the GI bill and enjoyed watching sports and debating politics.

I cleaned yesterday afternoon, and did the laundry and all the dishes, and even had enough food in the fridge that putting together a packed breakfast and lunch for my son wasn’t difficult. It’s like I knew someone was coming over.

It sounds like there will be more things to tend to today, whether the man is able to eke out some more months of life or isn’t, and I will probably have my son tonight as well.

So, tonight’s marking of this anniversary date will be me celebrating the best product of that union: my son. We’ll probably get a pizza, and watch some TV. I’ll talk to him about his paternal grandfather, whether he remains alive longer or not, and about my father as well. And I will have a tall, strong glass of bourbon.

 

Better Than Ice Cream

“John! John!” my kid yelled from atop the short brick wall that runs along the sidewalk in front of his school. John looked and my kid waved, and the other kid waved back, then proceeded to the car with his parents. My son jumped confidently off the wall. “See you tomorrow!” he yelled, and John yelled back, “Ok!”

He had his first evening school concert last night, a performance of all the school’s second graders, where they sang songs all about spring, read poems, including original haiku, and there were a couple of songs with dancers in the front as well, waving umbrellas and wearing little birdie costumes. Yeah, it was fucking adorable. They did the same thing during the day for the rest of the school, and had a second performance in the evening for families.

It was also sweltering. The instructions home said to send the kids in an all-black outfit, including shoes if possible. I quit buying dressy clothes and shoes for the kid awhile ago because I was wasting money on clothes that never seemed to get worn, then were donated with the tags still on them or having only been worn once. If you’ve priced children’s clothing lately, you’ll know this is a big waste of money. So I sprung for a new outfit for the concert, and his dad agreed to pay half. Black cotton pants – not quite “dress” pants but good enough, a long-sleeved black front-button shirt with a clip-on tie, and a compromise pair of new shoes, all-black Converse low-top tennies. The tennis shoes, we learned yesterday morning, the first time I took everything out of its packaging to iron it before school, had almost “decorative” laces; they were slip-on shoes with elastic over the arch and the laces were purposely too short to tie. Which is great if you’re standing around looking cool or something, but impractical for a very active 7-year-old who runs around like a maniac at his two recess periods each day. I managed to find a pair of black shoelaces with small white piping on them and re-laced the shoes. Turns out now he looked awesome, since the tie is black/white/gray, so it was kind of a pulled together but still cool look.

Of course, while he’s my first kid, it’s not completely my first rodeo, so I sent the shirt and tie on a hanger, and he wore a t-shirt to school. Silly me though, to think that was sufficient to protect things, as the shirt had some kind of stains on one shoulder when I picked him up, even though it was back on the hanger. The pants were practically worthless, as if he crawled out to the playground on his knees across the concrete sidewalk path. Shiny and shitty looking. Oh well. Who cares. We came home, rushed through an extremely fancy dinner of organic hot dogs and baked beans, I scrubbed out most of whatever was on the shoulder and then back to school.

It was about a thousand degrees in there, as the school has no A/C and it was in the 80s yesterday. And all the kids on risers under stage lights. Wearing all black. My mom, who came with me, and I tried to guess which would happen first, one of the kids puking or one of them passing out. Instead, one of my son’s friends had to leave the stage as his muscles in his hands cramped up from dehydration and were all weirdly bent and he was crying and scared. I am not only a runner, but someone who basically lives in a state of constant dehydration because of my abbreviated GI system, so I knew what was wrong with him and was able to reassure my son later on about what was probably wrong with his friend, that he was probably fine and would be back at school tomorrow (I was right, thankfully).

Mine was the only kid in long sleeves, or a dress shirt for that matter. I guess all those years of participating in orchestra concerts growing up had me thinking, “concert = dress up.” All the other kids had black t-shirts on, and a lot of them wore black shorts. Oh well. Better to be overdressed than underdressed, I tried to explain to him, but he wasn’t buying it.

He’s like Michigan J. Frog, my kid. He was so reserved on stage, I wasn’t surprised that he wasn’t one of the kids picked to read a poem or do a dance to the music they were singing. He’s GREAT at being loud and reading shit in a loud voice at home, dances like a maniac and has great rhythm, but in front of a group of people, he almost disappears. He barely moves.

As soon as we were outside though, he was yelling at his friend, carrying his giant paper flower each child made to wear around their necks for the concert. “Who is this self-confident boy that acts like he owns the school?” I thought to myself. I stopped and marveled at him, easily navigating his way along the bricks in the few rays of dim light that remained as the sun set. Two years ago, he cried every day when I dropped him off, and had to be led everywhere by a teacher or PTA member, lining up on tape in the hallway so everyone could stay together and not get lost. I could see him in a flash ten years from now, hair a bit longer maybe, way taller, further away from me to be sure, probably trying to pretend I wasn’t there while he showed off for some girl or chatted next to a friend’s car about his awesome ride. He’d probably want to get a ride home with the friend, and I’ll say yes even though I want to say, “No, come with me, little boy, for you will be little for only a tiny bit longer.”

After we dropped my Mom home, we stopped at a convenience store for ice cream. The floors were filthy and the clerk wasn’t very friendly, but they had TWO big cases of ready-to-eat frozen treats to choose from. “Mom, if we lived here, we could come here ALL THE TIME and this would be one of our favorite stores to walk to,” he said. And he was right.

In ten years, they don’t go out for ice cream. He won’t fall asleep in his car seat on the way home, or beg to come in the big bed with me, where his little bones toss and turn, at some point laying a small, thin arm across mine and saying, “I love you, Mom.”

I can’t bear how quickly it’s passing. It’s terrifying and beautiful and bewildering and wonderful and horrible and amazing.

My breath catches in my throat.

Peace On The Shoreline

april 23 metroparksSpring is really here, and it’s so beautiful! I am generally more productive, outgoing and engaged once the brighter, warmer weather hits, and it’s a refreshing change. We had a super cold and gray day last week and I remember thinking that actually, I really like the variety in our weather here. I embraced the cold and had some hearty foods and hunkered down for the evening. While I only lived in Los Angeles for a year and a half, I was pretty much the only person out there that thought El Nino was great because it was nice to have SOME variety instead of the same thing, day after day after day. Rainy days have character. You can choose to run in the rain, or choose to stay close and cozy indoors. Or maybe catch a movie. I appreciate the hot weather so much more because it’s contrasted with our cold winters, which I have come to also love and appreciate since I became an outdoor winter runner.

I think everyone in Cleveland really rabidly lives hard and embraces summer so fully because we have this weather for such a limited time. There is an intense energy to people hosting BBQs, porch drinking parties, kids’ outdoor birthday parties and patio dining that doesn’t happen in places where it’s more moderate all year. And I love that.

I went for a long hike again yesterday to see how spring is developing in our beautiful metroparks system, and to move things forward in my mind and heart that I continue to struggle with. Two people actually offered to go with me, one friend I know well and someone else I only met just recently, but I really wanted to go alone. Those spontaneous moments where you can stop alone and walk to the water’s edge and hear the river rushing, maybe snap a picture of this pathway here or this beautiful field of bluebells there, “going where I list, my own master, total and absolute.” (W.W.).

The park system was full of people, as I expected. Our population here is just big enough that you are never really alone for very long on a beautiful day in nature like this, but it’s not so crowded that you feel you can’t get any serenity or peace. I encountered a few solo runners and wished my ankle was in better shape. Yesterday’s 8-mile hike was particularly tough on the back half, and I know it’s not ready yet, especially for uneven trail running. But with the exception of a few runners, everyone was with someone. Their kids, their spouse, their boyfriend or girlfriend, a parent, maybe even just a dog. I emerged into a clearing at one point and saw a couple kissing on a rock and honestly wished so much that I had someone in my life who had that place, who was there for hikes, for the hearty breakfast I fixed when I woke up to prepare for the hike, to join me at my son’s race in the afternoon, or to watch a movie with us after dinner that night. The single mom life is a really lonely one, and while I cherish the invitations to be 3rd wheel with other couples or go on mom-dates with other moms, they all go home to a spouse or significant other, and I go home alone. The people who want to be my companion, I’m generally not interested in. It’s not the same as that couple kissing on the rocks. Or someone to whisper your secrets and fears and hopes and dreams to before you shut off the lights.

As the weather has opened up, I am also open. I know I have to put my energy and my best self out there to be the best mom I can be every day and the best me I can be, so I’m working on that and doing that. Someone told me recently that I am an “amazing catch,” but that line is loose and floating in the stream, next to the rocks and in the sunlight.