Throwback Thursday: On letting go

Every time I think I have this "letting go" thing down, it bounces right up and smacks me in the face. I've had plenty of occasions to write about my girls moving out and moving on (See here and here). In fact, daughter #3 has, just in the past week, signed up for her dorm room -- meaning we are on the official move-out-countdown. "It's okay," I tell myself. "It's good." "It's normal."

Yesterday, I was anxiously awaiting the Postwoman because I was expecting Jordan's wedding invitations. (Yes! I'm invited to my own daughter's wedding!) Actually, she's handled the ordering and addressing and stamping all from Utah, so while we have talked about these invitations ad infinitum, I had yet to see them in real life (IRL). Finally, at about 5:30, the post arrived. And it was there! A shimmering, dark green envelope just sitting in my mailbox. I grabbed it and raced inside. I opened it carefully, pulled the cards out and read each line carefully.

At the same time the television was on in the background. After reading through the invitation I swung around to see Cookie Monster, advertising the new Siri On-Demand feature. Instantly, I was reminded of an incident involving a two-year-old Jordan and Cookie Monster:

When Jordan and Madison were wee babes they were obsessed with the Sesame Street characters. They watched the show, played pretend Sesame Street, talked about Elmo endlessly. So, when I saw an advertisement that the Sesame Street characters were coming to Sea World, I decided we would put what little vacation money we could scrape together towards a trip to San Antonio. My babies needed to see Big Bird. Once in the park, we attended the scheduled Sesame Street show, wherein the larger-than-life characters danced and sang. When the show ended, I just knew Jordan would want to see the characters up close and personal. She seemed reticent about actually approaching them, so I swung her up on my hip and marched to the front of the theater. Jordan was mesmerized. I was mentally patting myself on the back for making my baby's dreams come true.

As I held her, I pointed out Big Bird. And Ernie. And Elmo. And then Cookie Monster started moving right towards us! "How lucky!" I thought. Cookie Monster approached Jordan and reached out to pat her little tummy. As those furry blue fingers met her little strawberry romper, Jordan let out a primal scream. She arched her back and almost seemed to convulse for a moment. I did my best to keep her from flailing to the ground and quickly retreated.

She was inconsolable. She cried. And sobbed. And after a good five minutes, she finally looked me in the eye and screamed out, "Cookie Monster touched me!" Her rage was part fear and part blame. How could I have allowed such a travesty to occur? For the next hour or so she inhaled raggedly, muttering to herself, "Cookie Monster touched me." Honestly, I'm surprised she didn't require some type of trauma counseling. We did hug on her a lot and promised a Cookie Monster restraining order. Over time, the "Cookie Monster touched me" mantra became somewhat of a catch phrase, reminding us of those moments when our kids needed an extra hug and some added protection.

It's difficult for me to convey here how this memory tore me open inside. Maybe it's the realization that I'm no longer in charge of making her dreams come true. Maybe it's a mourning for the loss of that sweet little baby girl. Maybe it's an understanding that I'm not her sole protector, that my role in her life is moving further and further to the periphery. I'm sure it's a combination of these factors. But it hurts.  And there's nothing for me to do about it, except to feel this uncomfortable pit in my stomach and to write about that glorious, spunky baby of mine.

One is not two (or three)

First there were just the two of us, G and I, living on love and baked potatoes in those early years. For the most part, a world of two. A cocoon, really. Then came Lauren and we happily adjusted our tethers a bit (ha! or a lot) to fasten her in and form a family of three. Then Maddy and, a little later, Sam arrived and we multiplied the bonds of our web, adding new sibling strands that were separate from but connected to the marriage and parenting ones. Each time, more connections meant more conflict, more energy, more chaos, more silliness, more work, more joy. Sometimes in the throes of adjusting we would look at each other and despair: "What have we done?!" mourning the version of life we left behind.

Photos by Luca Zordan, found  here

Photos by Luca Zordan, found here

You know where I'm going with this. We've maxed out the "one-little two-little three-little" song and now we're subtracting. We're shrinking! It's a different business shrinking a family rather than growing one. You still adjust as a group, take on new roles. Someone new gets to be the "oldest child" for a while.  But where before you adjusted to something new that was added, now you adjust to having something crucial that was subtracted. Some days it just feels like the family fabric has simply extended over mountains and oceans--stretched, sure, but in tact. Other days it feels like there's a gaping, whistling hole in the everyday fabric of our days. Where before there were moments of "what have we done?!" now there are moments of "what shall we do?" mourning the version of life we left behind.

photo by  Luca Zordan

photo by Luca Zordan

So we've started our third family--or sixth?--depending on how you count. This new family, the one currently under our roof now that Maddy has launched like a second family satellite--far away but still orbiting--this little family is quieter than the others. More independent. There's less laundry, fewer dishes in the sink, fewer rides and appointments and places to be, no more need for Costco (!). For the first time, I'm outnumbered, genderly speaking. This makes me feel kind of queenly but also who will watch period dramas with me now? The boys (that's how I think of my at-home family now, "the boys") outnumber me but, perhaps the strangest feeling of all, the adults outnumber the kids again for the first time since 1995. Our silly quotient has taken a dive without those contagiously hilarious moments between siblings. Now there are no siblings here, just a guy and his parents! I like to think we are pretty fun people, G and I, but still.  I miss our maximum silliness that is achieved only when everyone's here. Fewer under-one-roof connections means less conflict, less energy, less chaos, less work, more nostalgia. (Oh, the nostalgia!)

I fully confess that these are first world mama problems of the highest magnitude. I remember the days--years, really--when receiving a prison sentence of solitary confinement sounded like a pretty attractive way to live compared to the never-ending touching/eating/rocking/chasing/wiping/calming/feeding demands of a younger family still in the throes of heavy duty bootcamp parenting.  I think of dear friends whose children didn't live long enough to launch or who didn't arrive in the family when hoped for or as expected. Others have children who will always be with them for physical or emotional or other reasons. 

And, really,  I know this family gig continues for all of us. The revolving door revolves, bringing folks out and back in, and we are fixtures in each other's lives forever. But the in-house, full time setting with all my people at home together feels like such a whirring blip of time in retrospect. When I came across this passage last weekend, I underlined it and put a star in the margin to share with you. Whether your child is in kindergarten this year or 10th grade or college, you will understand all the layers--one through sixteen--of these sentiments:

"Dave was fifth in the straggled line of returnees, running easily, neither trying for a dramatic finish nor easing up, but finishing just behind the lead pack of three seniors and the tall thin sophomore. Dave's dad watched with a complex mix of feelings--unutterable pride in this son (that kid was two years old two minutes ago, and look at him now those scything legs!), a sigh that he was so damned skinny (how can he possibly compete against those kids--they are twice as thick as he is...he looks like a heron running with deer), worry about him not being dressed properly (aw, a sleeveless shirt and shorts in snow for heaven's sake), and deepest of all, beyond any words he could have summoned to drape on the feeling, a sense of impending loss and the cruelty of time and the yaw of mortality.

"Very soon, all too soon, Dave would go away--college, work, the navy, traveling, who knew? And while his dad, from layers one through fifteen of his soul, was delighted and thrilled and proud and happy that this would happen, pleased that things looked good for Dave to grow into a cool and responsible young man over the next four years, enough that he could launch into a stimulating life of his own, which every good dad wants for his kid, he also felt, silently, at level sixteen, in the innermost chamber of his heart, a terrible sadness that there would come a day when, look for him as he might, there would be no Dave in the cabin, in the school, on the mountain, and good and right and healthy as that would be, it would also be a hole that could never be filled by anything or anyone else. He loved Maria with a deep and powerful love, but he had two children, and one is not two." (Martin Marten*, Brian Doyle)

(photo by  Luca Zordan

(photo by Luca Zordan

*Book recommendation: Okay, friends, I just finished Martin Marten and cannot stop thinking about it. It's a delightful read. Here's what you do: wait until you have the time and headspace to really savor this book and sink under the spell of the writing. Give it a few chapters to settle in and to abandon your skepticism. It's a coming-of-age story about a teenage boy growing up in Oregon and a young marten (yes, an animal, that kind of marten) growing up in the forest nearby. Don't let that put you off, though. I've never been an animal book person--I could never be convinced to read any horse stories whatsoever, not even Black Beauty--but loved this. Though I have to admit I might have read faster/skimmed through one or two descriptive nature passages but not because they weren't fantastic--because I wanted to find out what happened next.  Masterful storytelling and an unforgettable, unique narrative voice about family and community and layers of stories and place. It's kind of hippyish, too, as Oregonians sometimes are :) but just such a good read overall--and he clearly loved commas at least as much as I do! (15+? Some language, complex themes and relationships)

Into the wild blue yonder

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I'm back from a wonderful trip to New York City, wherein I did my best to install Maddie into summer/intern living in the Upper West Side. Talk about launching -- with Maddie coming home for a month after her freshman year at college and then leaving again, I've been awash with both trepidation and excitement over this new period in her (and my own) life. 


Before we left for NYC, when Maddie was once again settled into her yellow room at the top of the stairs, I started having vivid dreams about Jordan (my missionary) every. single. night. There was always this overwhelming joy to see her again accompanied by a feeling of unease: "Why are you here? Why am I here? Are we supposed to be here?" My conscious mind has made limited peace with my baby being gone. But my subconscious? She's super angry and confused. She's looking, looking, looking -- always trying to make sense of the absence. It's a wound for sure. And I think to myself, "Children are meant to grow up and leave home. Are we meant to be wounded by this process?" Me thinks, "YES."

So, I'm wounded, but I got to go to New York City!


Here's where I owe the launching world a bit of an apology. When I took my girls to college I moaned and groaned about the injustice of it all. I wanted them back -- complete with little blond ringlets and perky dimples and their consuming love for Polly Pocket. Even now I'd put up with those tiny rubber pants to have my girlies back. But when I left them at college, I tucked them into their ultra conservative dorms -- the very dorm I had lived in as a college freshman, on the campus where I fell in love with my husband. In essence, it was like taking them to a lengthy summer camp. At grandma's. No worries there. I shouldn't have whined so much about grandma camp. I apologize. I'm older and wiser now.

This time, however, I dropped my baby off alone in New York City. I mean, I won't even let her go jogging by herself in our suburban neighborhood, but I left her alone in New York City!?! It doesn't make sense really. 

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On the flip side, I can see that she needs this opportunity to grow outside the confines of the carefully constructed environment we have created for her. She needs to learn to rely on herself, to know that she can do hard things, that she can show up on Times Square at 8 AM on a Monday morning and say, "I'm here, ready to work." She's already learning that a full time job means working most of your waking hours, and that wearing uncomfortable shoes on a commute to New Jersey means blisters, and that there are super long lines at the Trader Joe's at 72nd Street.

As for me? I'm now praying for and worrying over Bordeaux and NYC. My worrying has gone global!! And isn't it cool that we don't have long distance bills anymore? There's that at least.

For anyone in NYC this summer, our favorite restaurant of the trip was Community Food and Juice in Morningside Heights. And, of course, Levain Bakery in Harlem. We tried out Absolute Bagels. They were delicious, but the whole experience was reminiscent of Seinfeld's Soup Nazi -- I got in big trouble because when I went to pay I didn't specify STRAWBERRY cream cheese. Oops. Also, Maddie is devoted to Brooklyn Industries -- some really cute pieces there.




Growing pains

I'm writing this post from Madison's rented room in the Upper West Side in Manhattan. It's like a dorm, tiny . . . with a heavy, square desk and a twin bed lifted up on risers -- two small dressers stashed underneath. When we got off the plane yesterday, we took a taxi from LaGuardia to this new room -- both of us a little jittery . 

Our cab driver was a friendly man from Senegal. He picked up on Maddie's nervous excitement. He told her this was a great place for kids to learn to be on their own. "Be smart. Be careful. You will be fine," he repeated from the front as he sped through Harlem. I gulped. I wouldn't even let Maddie ride her bike around our suburban neighborhood alone, but now I was going to leave her all by herself in this honking, graffitied mass of people? 

I suppose I am.

Her room is hot -- no air conditioning. Where we come from the words 'AC' and 'no' NEVER EVER go together. Today we trudged down to PC Richard & Sons on Broadway and 86th and bought a window unit. After we paid Maddie stood out in the rain trying to hail a cab. I stood back with the air conditioner. The guy who sold it to us watched the whole thing. Under his breath he murmured, "Don't worry. She'll get it."

I know. Keep telling me that.

Climbed a mountain and I turned around


How to Climb a Mountain

Make no mistake. This will be an exercise in staying vertical. 
Yes, there will be a view, later, a wide swath of open sky,
but in the meantime: tree and stone. If you're lucky, a hawk will
coast overhead, scanning the forest floor. If you're lucky,
a set of wildflowers will keep you cheerful. Mostly, though,
a steady sweat, your heart fluttering indelicately, a solid ache
perforating your calves. This is called work, what you will come to know,
eventually and simply, as movement, as all the evidence you need to make
your way. Forget where you were. That story is no longer true.
Level your gaze to the trail you're on, and even the dark won't stop you.

Maya Stein

 . . .

Over the last few months I've fallen in love with hiking. Who knew? I love the solitary climb, the burn as I push myself up the hill, the crunch of gravel underfoot. My barnacled thoughts loosen as I go and I can leave my unnecessary, unhelpful worries up on the trail as an offering at the altar of the day. Up there at the peak of a strenuous climb I feel clearer, my brain scrubbed clean, ready for what matters. 

Another truth follows, though: then I come down.  

Ugh. Yes, sometimes the summit clarity stays with me and holds me over until next time. But often the buzz wears off quickly. After recently launching Lauren on her mission--the latest big figurative mountain I climbed--I've been feeling it this week, the inevitable, predictable post-summit valley. (As I did after our moves. And when L. left for university the first time. And after the holidays every year. And after back-to-school rush. And after the thrill of a fun vacation.) The thing about launching is--if you do it right, then they're gone. (Come on, sing with me now...climbed a mountain and I turned around...then the landside brought me down.  I'm pretty much the poster girl for that song these days. That and the Fiddler on the Roof song about sunrises and sunsets.)

Then I remember this wisdom, discovered a couple of years ago and put to good use ever since:

"You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know"  (Rene Daumal, Mount Analogue).

I'm still figuring out what that means for me, exactly, and how to conduct myself in the valleys. Remembering and knowing is a good start. And new mountains. But first I think I'll take a long bath and indulge in some cinema therapy.

Here's to you and your mountains--to the grit and vistas and the descent and even the occasional landslides.

. . . 

p.s. Speaking of hiking:  In praise of America's parklands and encouraging Congress take a hike.

Launching #2

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Guess what I'm doing today? Right now, while you are sipping your morning coffee or Diet Coke, I'm moving my daughter into her dorm. My oldest two kids are a mere 14 months apart (yes, we know where babies come from), and so their life events have always tumbled one right after another, barely giving me time to catch my breath in between. There was kindegarten. And their baptisms --  the beginning of junior high and then high school. I ran the gauntlet of the Texas DMV two years in a row. There were sweet 16s and homecomings and proms. There was graduation and parties and now the moving away. Always one right after the other.

There are some advantages in the quick repeat. I always knew just what to do for Madison -- where to go for the orthodontist, what to bring to set up her locker, when and where to take the ACT . . . stuff like that. Plus, Jordan has usually been around to help guide us both through the labyrinth of teenage milestones. Just before she left for France, Jordan spent two hours helping Maddie select her Fall classes. Registration began at 1:00 AM central time, and I laid down to sleep listening to the ardent and excited murmurs of two sisters in the study -- discussing the merits of late-morning classes and entertaining professors. 

The downside is that the second time around I'm more clear on the endings, the finish lines, the cut-off dates. I'm a little afraid that as I move Maddie into her new life I'll have to relive launching child #1. That the lasts -- for both of them (the last Sunday breakfast, the last family movie night, the last night at home) will pile up skyward, incredibly high, and will avalanche down to crush my sorry, empty-nest self.

On the other hand, maybe I'll handle the launching of #2 with greater perspective, increased wisdom, less late-night ice cream eating. I just don't know at this very moment.  My mental status these days is a bit of a crap-shoot -- incredibly optimistic and grateful one moment, weepy and despairing the next.

In the midst of all of this leaving one word keeps coming to mind -- bravery. While I do (and will) tangibly miss the physical presence of my girls in my daily life, part of my reticence has to do with the idea of moving on. I don't really want to. I know they are moving onward and upward, but I'm also almost entirely certain that I won't find a better way to occupy my time than mothering those sweet girls.

So, bravery. I think I've got move forward with courage and good cheer.  I've got some fire left in me (and two kids and a husband still at home). There's work to do.

I'm going to move this girl into the best, gosh-darn dorm ever and then set about rolling up my sleeves. Hard work and ice cream. I can do it.

Update on letting go

It's been six weeks now since we launched Jordan off to Lyon, France. I'm not sure if you remember, but she gets exactly 1.5 hours of computer time PER WEEK, so we get a weekly e-mail (on Mondays), and she has also been sending a real-life, paper letter that generally arrives around Saturday. I'm not sure how long she'll keep up the real letter writing, but I'm hoping for FOREVER.  Other than the e-mail and letter, she's on her own. This kills me a little bit. Okay, a lot. 

I'm going to be real honest here and tell you that at about the three week mark, I fell apart and spent the better part of two days in bed. My personal method for dealing with difficult situations generally goes something like this:

I'm okay. 
I'm okay.
I'm okay.
I'm fine.
No problems here.

I'm crying on the bathroom floor, and I have no idea why. 

I like to hide my problems from myself until they either go away or punch me in the face. Currently, I'm of a mind to pick myself up and work towards moving on. So that's what I'm doing here . . . dusting myself off and looking around for more productive options. 

The good parts? (all quotes from Jordan)

Reading the weekly e-mail. Typically, it includes PICTURES. 

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Learning about her experiences living in another country:

It is HOT HOT HOT here. It’s been in the high 90′s almost every day since I’ve arrived. I was not prepared for that. Thanks for getting my mild summer hopes up Southern France. The weather’s about like Texas, except there is NO AIR CONDITIONING ANYWHERE!!!

 Laughing. She's funny:

We do SO much contacting. We contact on the bus, on the metro, walking on the street, streetboarding. I’m still not really over the awkwardness of it all. Our goal is to contact and talk about the gospel with 350 per week, but this week we talked to 570 people. Streetboarding is my favorite way to contact. We go to one of the squares or plazas in our area with this giant board that has a google map on it of Lyon and it says “You are here….. WHY??” mahahaha I think it’s soooo funny. (Oh no. I’m already weird and I’ve only been a missionary for one month…) But then we just talk to every single person that walks on that sidewalk. Sometimes people say really funny things when we try to contact them like..

“Hi, we’re missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Random man: “Me too.”

We were caught so off guard that he just ran away.


“Hi, we’re missionaries, and we’re here to share a message centered on Jesus Christ.”

Random man: “Oh great. I’m having him over for dinner tonight. I’ll tell him I saw you.”


“Hi, we’re the missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ- What are your thoughts on God?”

Random old man turns to me and says, “Vous avez les yeux d’une Spaniard.” (You have the eyes of a Spaniard.)

Enjoying her descriptive writing:

Soeur Stevens got a blister yesterday, and today it got totally infected. Her entire leg is swollen and red, and the blister is like the most mutated, disgusting thing you’ve ever seen.

And really? Deep down I know that living in another country, dedicating herself full-time to serving others, even being away from her mom, is invaluable life experience. But I also recognize that there is an inherent contradiction for me, as the mother, to simply set down the charge I undertook 19 years ago to care for this child. So I'm caring in my mind. And in my prayers. And in the $47 I just spent to send a FOUR POUND package.

And life goes on . . .