Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Let's Toast to 2022

 Since I wallowed a teensy bit in my last post about changes the omicron variant has wrought in my holidays and high school swim season, I thought it best to turn toward the positive in my final post for 2021. The past year has been confusing at best and dizzying at worst, encompassing not only multiple waves of COVID but also a high school graduation and two kids heading off to college. We managed one large family gathering and had to cancel others, faced down a near-empty nest and forged ahead with new jobs and responsibilities.

But undeniably good things happened in 2021, too, as my Parents for the Planet Facebook page reminds me. Recent posts left me somewhat upbeat: scientists have found a bacteria-produced protein that could help clean up nuclear waste; Hyundai Motors will reportedly no longer make cars with internal combustion engines; an Arkansas school district installed 1,400 solar panels and turned a $250k deficit into a $1.8 million surplus and was able to raise teachers' salaries; and the western monarch butterfly migration showed a huge resurgence in 2021, 100,000 monarchs counted in California this year after only 2,000 in 2020.

While no one knows the reason for the butterflies' rebound in numbers, the other three articles highlighted above result from dedicated work of engineers, scientists, teachers, and thinking people who believe in science and use their imagination to see what's possible. I want to join their numbers, to turn my energies to finding what's possible, even if it's only improving my composting, turning down the heat a few degrees, or biking to more locations. We have all we need to create positive news, we just need the will to do it. Here's to 2022, when we break free of (some) pandemic fears and restrictions to focus on what's possible in an ever-evolving world.

Happy new year!

Monday, December 27, 2021

A Future without Pandemic Fears

We whisked our brittle dry tree out the front door yesterday morning, easing my concerns over fire and - on a lesser note - finding pine needles in every corner of the house. The gusty winds ensured that a cascade of needles blew down on our entryway and on Rob as he lifted the tree onto the car for recycling. I picked pine needles out of his sweatshirt for several hours afterward, like a mama porcupine grooming her mate. 

Leaving the house decorations and our fake tree in place, we're holding onto the holiday by our fingertips even as a part of me longs to be past it. The duty of being cheerful and of cooking traditional dishes and whipping up enthusiasm for gifts everyone picked out for themselves weighed on me for the last week. In addition, my PTSD from March 2020 has resurfaced with the advent of the omicron variant. Though grateful for vaccines and boosters that remove the risk for serious illness, I live in fear of school going remote, which began last time with the cancellations of games and seasons that have already begun again in the NFL, NBA and college football bowl games. 

My mom and I will talk about postponing her visit today, and many of my friends and relatives either cancelled trips or had loved ones cancel theirs. Our extended families visited by Zoom again yesterday, which was welcome but slightly less miraculous and joyful than last year, when we were first forced into it. My workplace has also been affected, and I keep my fingers permanently crossed that the girls' swim season will conclude somewhat normally, that our girls will stay healthy and able to compete. Aden wonders if her training trip to California for club swim will go forward, and if it does, how they would quarantine sick teammates or return home if people were unable to leave.

We all carry these worries in different shapes or forms, and it's draining. My friend texted me a Washington Post article with the headline "Despair is not the Answer" but I haven't had the energy to read it yet. So I smile at the kids, rally for games at the kitchen table, ignore most headlines and try to conjure up my hope for future visits, future travel, future holidays without pandemic fears.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

What We Talk About When We Talk About Formula One

During the first dire winter of the pandemic, when we scanned the rows of Netflix offerings like I used to scan twenty-one flavors at Baskin Robbins, I found an odd little show called Formula One in our home page offerings. I asked my son, a senior in high school at the time, what it was about. "It's car racing," he said, "it's huge all over the world, I've already seen the first season but I think you would like it."

At the time we were desperate for any sporting event and so I dove into the racing world of Formula One with a vengeance, watching wide-eyed as the soap opera dramas on big teams like Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull unfolded, and raising eyebrows at the mercurial affairs of the passionate young drivers, Pierre Gasly, Max Verstappen, and Charles Le Clerc, to name a few of our kids' favorites. My daughter joined us in watching season 2 and the whole family got on the bandwagon, pulling up our favorite spot on the coach when qualifying rounds and real-time racing resumed.

In August, at our family gathering to celebrate my father's life and death, William pulled me aside to ask if we could watch the Formula One race at my mother's house. Since everyone was lounging at the lake or the pool and no official functions beckoned, I joined him in watching the action, discussing which type of Pirelli tires were used and what the racing conditions were on the track level. My brother pulled me aside later and asked, "What were you watching in there? I've never known you to like motorsports."

I told him, "When your eighteen-year-old son asks you to do something with him, it doesn't matter what it is, you do it."

For the first few months of his freshman year in college, William didn't have time to watch the races, but Rob and I kept the habit. After the third round of midterms, though, both our CU Buffs found time to watch racing again; Aden even joined a group of fellow swimmers who were passionate about the racing and held "watch parties" to cheer on their favorites. William did the same with buddies in the dorm, and was so passionate about cheering Max Verstappen on to the driver's championship against Lewis Hamilton that he got up at 6am last Sunday to watch the final race live. I received a text from him at 7:43am: "Watch the race!"

So what are we really talking about with our family Formula One obsession? We're not really talking about the racing but about the characters and competition, about cheering someone on together, about talking to each other. We're saying that parents will find any means they can to connect with their teenagers and that sports are a welcome reprieve from the ongoing news of 2021. We try to find causes for excitement, for bonding, for gathering at the slightest excuse, and we want to share good times with one another. Now that the racing season is over, we await the new season of the TV show in 2022, one good thing to look forward to in the new year, at least!

Thursday, December 9, 2021

What is Laughter?

Trying to feel the Christmas spirit over here, but it's difficult in sun-baked, drought-stymied Colorado. The tree is up and shedding needles like Charlie Brown's famous little pine, the heat has barely gone on so far this fall, and snow feels like a distant memory. We may get an inch or so tonight, which would herald a faint echo of normalcy and little else. I watched the British Baking show holiday edition, which was filmed in May, and had to laugh at their patently fake sprinkle of "snow" on a few trees and a patch of ground just in front of the baking tent, but it was a bittersweet laugh since the scene struck close to home.

An echo of Christmas past did stir my heart this week, when I went to the high school choir concert on Tuesday. Daniel sang with a young men's group, and they used choreography and hokey Christmas sweaters to warm up the crowd. The genuine laughter was welcome, and primed my emotions for the final song of the evening, when all of the choral groups ringed the auditorium to sing "Peace, Peace" and "Silent Night."  Two extremely talented young ladies stood right behind me on the stairs and their voices brought me to tears. My mask was flooded, and I didn't turn around (to embarrass either of us), but I hope my phone recording caught the lovely lilting tones.

Our pastor (of the church I haven't set a physical foot in for almost two years) sent out a poem yesterday that also got the holiday juices flowing. It's dual references to laughter and sorrow seem particularly apt this year, and I am including it below in the hopes that your end-of-year spirits are similarly lifted. As Rev Mark says in his emails, be well and be blessed.

What is laughter? What is laughter?

It is God waking up! O it is God waking up!

It is the sun poking its sweet head out

From behind a cloud

You have been carrying too long.

Veiling your eyes and heart...

Laughter is the polestar 

Held in the sky by our Beloved,

Who eternally says,

"Yes, dear ones, come this way.

Come this way towards Me and Love!"


Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The Power of Language

 "Porch pirates" have cropped up in local news feeds lately: Facebook and NextDoor are full of complaints regarding theft and occasionally exult when  common culprits are nabbed by Ring cameras, and then by the authorities. Just twenty years ago we wouldn't have recognized the terms "porch pirates," "NextDoor," or "Ring." Our changing lingo moves as fast as our changing times. 

Even three years ago we could not have anticipated the word of the year for 2021 - "vaccine." We didn't know about "getting vaxxed" or "anti-vaxxers." The world seemed easier three years ago, before COVID took over our newsfeeds and everyday lives. Our heart rates and anxiety levels have gone up with the entry of "Delta" and "Omicron" into our vocabulary and perhaps you feel, as I do, that I am perpetually memorizing a spelling list that changes shape and length on the daily.

Which makes the holidays more welcome than ever this year. Not in terms of buying, wrapping and baking to-do lists, but in the way that "peace, hope and love" start circulating. Can we go back to "auld lang syne" and embrace the shepherds, the candelabras, the baubles and banter that unearth old feelings of wellbeing and timelessness? I don't know if changing my word list will change my frame of mind, but I'm excited to try.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Re-post of Thanks and Gratitude

 “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” G.K. Chesterton 

I just read through Thanksgiving posts from the past ten years, warming my innards with recollections and favorite quotes, like this one from Chesterton. For our 2021 Thanksgiving we have two returning college students to cover the couches with tired bodies, long legs hanging over the edges as mom and two cats survey in bemused pride, looking for a place to snuggle in. Food items fly off the shelves in the pantry and fridge and the welcome voices of old friends echo from the basement and through the house. Being together and healthy meets my gold standard for happiness, and there's much to be grateful for this year, though the pandemic persists and mask mandates returned to our county today.

The post below comes from 2011 when our college junior was in fourth grade and our college freshman only in second. Daniel wasn't yet in elementary school and now he's studying for his driver's permit test. The passage of years sweeps me off my feet, but the guardrails of thanks and gratitude put me right-side-up again. Happy Thanksgiving to all.


Thanksgiving's here again, carrying its yearly reminder to be grateful for health, family, friends, and well-being. Each year I attempt to instill gratitude in my children, frantically wedging a doorstop of thankfulness in the revolving door of "but he got more!" and "when do I get one?" and "he looked at my cereal box!"  We have no crops other than cereal but there are other bounties to count and cherish, and I have recently found that opening myself to a sense of awe, wonder and mystery helps me to see our blessings in a whole new light. 

I've accumulated a short list of people and events that generated a sense of wonder in the past weeks: first, I am in awe at the patience of my husband with the children. On Saturday he played eight games of Candyland with the youngest in conjunction with a simultaneous game of Settlers with the oldest, followed by a series of football routes in the backyard with our older son. His focus on the kids and his ability to stay cool amidst temper tantrums, petty injuries and constant requests for his time amaze me. Yesterday he kept me from missing my one day of work per week as a teacher at the Science Museum as he worked from home in the afternoon to watch our sick child. 

My jaw hung open in wonder as my oldest child performed her solo in the fourth grade musical last week. Alone on stage with the plain curtain for backdrop, she sang the first eight measures with the microphone off, her voice all but muted in the large gym. The music teacher gestured for the music to stop, the microphone experts to correct the problem, and for my daughter to pause - all in front of a silent audience of more than two hundred parents, friends and relatives. Problem fixed, music re-started, she began again, her lone voice a bit tremulous but on key and supported by perfectly rehearsed gestures and inflections. I was amazed by her self-possession. 

I marvel at deep friendships and the commitment shown by those who constantly make me a priority in their lives despite pressures and problems of their own. I wonder at the perseverance of friends and loved ones who are ill, whose grace and humor and love for their own families keeps them going past the point of endurance. I wonder at the full moon, clean water, snow on the mountains and the sound of the choir in our new church building. Any of these can move me to tears with the sweet pleasure / pain of recognition that a golden moment must be fleeting. All the more to be grateful for sharing, touching, hearing and seeing those amazing parts of our lives that would be invisible except for wonder. Wishing everyone a happy and wonder-full Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

A Treasury of Trees

 "You and the tree in your backyard come from a common ancestor. A billion and a half years ago, the two of you parted ways. But even now, after an immense journey in separate directions, that tree and you still share a quarter of your genes..." - Richard Powers, The Overstory

I first learned of Richard Powers and his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Overstory, while listening to Ezra Klein's podcast. When Klein interviewed Powers, I listened while dropping campaign lit for schoolboard candidates. I was fascinated by the optimism Powers projected and the connection he felt with trees. My mind promptly dropped the ball when I jumped back in my car to check off twenty more tasks, but when two of Aden's good friends recommended the book to her, I had to buy it. 

Powers' own website describes his 2019 book in this way: "There is a world alongside ours - vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe."

Unfolding catastrophe aside, the book so far has pulled me into each story, in awe at the connection between people and trees. It forces me to reflect on the relationship I've had with trees, and I've been fortunate to have a few tight-knit bonds with my leafy brethren. My longest-lasting and closest bond was with a willow tree in our backyard where I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I spent long hours setting up model horses in its sprawling surface roots, playing with my herd and occasionally with the (inferior) models that my friends brought over.

I spent even longer hours reading in the branches, high above the pandemonium wrought by my four younger siblings. My next-door neighbor and sixth-grade crush  exchanged notes with me in a secret mail-basket that we could raise or lower with a rope, and I often followed the exciting discovery of one such note with a rapturous escape to the treetop to ride the flexible limbs back and forth in the wind.

All three willows on our property were climbing trees for the youngsters in our neighborhood. My tree, directly behind the house, was my favorite because its lowest branches were a jump for me and too high for my siblings and most of the neighbors to reach. I loved all the trees, though, and still hold the traumatic memory of my dad and the other residents of Carl Court chopping down the willow in the front yard and removing it when it was diseased.

We had a beautiful twenty-year-old cottonwood tree in the backyard of this house when we moved in, and its shade and solidity were beneficial for all of us - until it, too got sick and the danger of large limbs falling on the roof or on the children required us to cut it down. When the kind tree removal folks came with saws and ropes I cried, and the foreman, Griff, patted me awkwardly on the arm. "Lots of people get emotional when they lose a tree," he said, "and I totally understand why."

Of course I recommend Powers' book, but I wrote this post in memory of my beloved trees. Trees are the reason I chose our current neighborhood - our current house - and trees are a requirement for our retirement home. I wonder what stories my readers have of trees in their past, and what worlds you, too, have shared with our soft- or hardwood relations.


Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Spirit Circles

"Spirit Circles are a good way to positively connect with the other team and to resolve any conflicts. After a game is over both teams form a joined circle with alternating players. This circle can be used to highlight positives and/or resolve any issues that might have occurred during the game." - World Flying Disc Federation,

Teenagers sat in a large circle in the middle of an expansive green field, alternating by team, red jersey-white-jersey-red jersey under a cobalt sky. The captain of the winning team stood and went to the center, turning slowly to meet all eyes as he congratulated the second-place team on a valiant effort. Then he went to a white-jerseyed player, extended his hand and complimented that individual on a particularly strong game. The two exchanged small gifts, and then the player in white, a captain for his team, stood and gave a similar speech, extolling the hustle and sportsmanship of the winning team and giving a gift in his turn to another player in orange. The ceremony continued until many players were recognized and everyone who wanted to speak had had their chance.

That was my first ultimate frisbee Spirit Circle, and I marveled at the diplomacy of teenagers. My son's team was the second-place finisher in the tournament, and they played six games over the weekend, each concluding with a spirit circle unless the other team had to run to make their next start time. The players also officiated the game themselves, called foul or fair on tight plays, resolved potential conflicts and congratulated each other on strong plays, even when they were scored on.

"I wish our Congress could see this," said my friend, another first-timer who came to watch and was blown away by the ethos of the game.

Nothing's perfect and foul language flew when the wind picked up and long pulls (or throws) went awfully awry. Bodies slammed into one another a few times when avid players both went for the disc and injuries took four of our best off the field at different times. But the ethos, the sportsmanship, the lack of parental involvement struck us as elements both vital and missing from many youth sports. If only we could bottle the positive interactions we saw on the field, the self-determination and ability to talk without confrontation, our whole world would be better for it. Spontaneous Spirit Circle, anyone?

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Many-Layered and Multi-Colored

"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes." - Walt Whitman

A long time ago Rob and I planted a maple tree near the right front corner of our house. I can't recall the year of the planting, though it occurred  when my body was strong enough to help dig the oversized hole and help my husband lift the tree into it. The maple tree, unlike several others we planted, decided to thrive in our space and has always thrown a party in fall, but this year it's particularly brilliant. The tree is not only glorious red, but also orange/yellow, and at the bottom, still green. It's a phenomenon that my children have also called out, and we don't know how the tree has arranged itself in such a multi-hued state.

Google stubbornly refused to answer my query, "how can one maple tree be so many colors at the same time?" It's a clunky question, certainly, but I didn't refine it because I don't really need the scientific explanation to enjoy the tree. Mr. Maple has appeared in many snapchat photos to the kids and today I took another picture while returning from a walk. This time the tree made me think of myself, and of Whitman's quote, which tries to capture the multi-faceted, sometimes chaotic and contradictory nature of people.

The green leaves at the bottom of the tree easily symbolizes youth and naivete, strength and confidence, maybe a child before the age of 11. That girl lies deep within me, and I don't see her much anymore, though I am still in touch with my angsty teenage version, perhaps green with a shade of orange. In fact, the songs I put on a playlist for my workout group all matched up with some pre-arranged playlist called "Teen Angst." I may be stuck there permanently, flaring out periodically in all of my orange glory.

Then the bright yellows of my twenties and thirties meld into the fiery reds of my fifties, and all the feelings and memories from each decade glow and flare at different times. I've seen analogies of people as Russian nesting dolls, each version or age nestled inside the next size up, but I like my maple tree better. On those trees that refuse to be limited to a single glorious color, that claim a rainbow for themselves, I see an unapologetic uniqueness, a variety of self that makes me smile. Trees, like people, aren't simple and straightforward; they are challenged and they adapt to their environments, they show scars of early damage but continue to thrive anyway, and they embrace each phase of the year, and they contain multitudes.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Autumnal Paradise

A cold front blew in today, gusts of wind chasing multi-colored fallen leaves down the side streets in waves of natural confetti. The autumn has been spectacular here, prompting neighbors to post tree pics from their morning dog-walks, or just photos of the view out their front windows. Brilliant golds, plum purples, crimson reds and Halloween oranges change the light as it pours through our windows, casting a glow on items within and without.

The warmish October and the absence of storms that gifted us with such splendid scenery even spurred acquaintances to poetic raptures online: turns of phrases like "autumn flaunts itself" or "the neighborhood is lit" make me smile; I'm happy that  everyone I know seems to appreciate the rarity of this season, to hold it with gratitude. But "nothing gold can stay," as Robert Frost admonished, and the wind and rain projected for tonight will finally denude our beautiful foliage and signal the start of raking season.

What we love, we protect. I hope we so love our trees, our regular march of seasons, our livable climate, that we continue to push for its protection. The Conference of the Parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will meet for the 26th time, this year in Glasgow, from October 31 through November 21. Keep one eye on the news of COP 26, look for promises made and plan to hold our country to those promises. I want my grandchildren to see an autumnal paradise like the fall of 2021, to scuff their feet through fallen leaves, to jump into leaf piles with abandon. Nothing good can stay, but it can come back again some day.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Seeking a Quiet Reverence in Zion

Waist-deep in the Virgin River, Rob and I paused to assess our way forward through the Narrows. The water on both sides of the massive boulder before us was tinted azure, a sign of increased depth, and we were averse to actually swimming. I looked over my shoulder at Daniel trudging along, leaning heavily on his rented walking stick. 

“We can’t cross here, it’s too deep. Daniel will get even more soaked.”

Rob glanced up at the couple perched on top of the boulder, calmly eating their picnic brunch and spectating as we prevaricated. We delayed our decision a few moments (while I secretly hoped they would finish and cede their boulder-top to us) but finally called an end to our upstream wading. It was a bittersweet end to our magical hiking foray through towering canyon walls, as we had been trying to outpace hordes of our fellow travelers since embarking on our journey before sunrise, and we never quite made it to solitude.

But Daniel's sweatshirt was wet from an earlier stumble and our feet, in their rented neoprene socks and fluorescent orange boots, were edging towards numb. Our legs were tired but dry, encased in grey waterproof drysuits. We had immersed our gloved hands in river water on several occasions and it would take hours before I could feel my fingers again. 

We retreated to a bend in the river where no one else was visible, and we ate our snacks in peace, scanning the green ferns and mosses growing out of the pink rock walls across from us, reaching toward the faint ribbon of light above. As sunlight glinted off a waterfall and my eyes traveled up, I spied a jet trail tracking the blue heaven, an exclamation point on the knowledge that our escape to Zion's wilderness was far from a complete withdrawal from civilization.

Most of our fellow National Park-goers were friendly, non-rabble-rouser types. When Daniel lost one of Rob's hiking gloves in the river, we gave it up for lost after a quick search. But a kindly fellow hiker rescued it and propped it up on a big rock, where it waved to us on our return journey. We met a French couple taking a year off work to travel the world with three young children in tow. Their five days in the American West hyphenated two months in French Polynesia and a long stay in Mexico.

"What's the connection?" Rob asked them.

"Nature," said the young father in a classy French accent.

Most travelers were like this, but people could also be loud and intrusive. We tried to beat the fall crowd by arriving before daybreak and hitting the trail hard the first two mornings. On our hike up to Angel's Landing, our altitude training kept us in good form and we passed many breathless (and quiet) hikers. Some had sloganned t-shirts and hats that spoke for them, but we looked past these and hoped others would overlook our exhortations to Daniel - either "hurry up!" or "wait!" depending on his mood.

Rob and Daniel followed the chains for the last, death-defying half-mile of the Angel's Landing hike, while I stayed behind and walked around the more broad section at the top. Rob dragged me out to the end about twenty-five years ago and I was crying then - my fear of heights has only intensified with age and I couldn't make my body walk through that sheer drop. So I caught sight of a huge California condor on a nearby cliff and shaded my eyes with my hand to take in the rare sight. The scores of hikers around me also chatted quietly about the bird, on the endangered species list and subject of several National Park signboards throughout the hike. 

Suddenly, a lunatic in blue jeans, backward baseball cap and white t-shirt ran toward the point where the condor was peacefully sunning. Waving arms wildly in the air, this idiot yelled at the bird until it raised its enormous wings and soared away, casting a broad shadow and an awed silence over the assorted tourists. As the condor disappeared into a slot canyon across the valley, a discontented murmur erupted.

"Someone always has to ruin it."

"Why would anyone do that? No wonder they're endangered."

"I just can't believe it."

It seems that even though people are part of Nature, kindred spirits to condor and craggy rock and flowing river, we fail to embrace that close relationship. Or if we get close, other humans get jealous and try to break our connection.  On the way back down the narrow switchbacks, Daniel ran into a girl from his current English class, and despite their kind exchange of greetings we felt a need to get farther from our fellow humans.

One of my favorite moments of the trip came on our last day, when we drove up to Kolob Canyon in the northwest corner of Zion. The magnificent rust-red cliffs were off the beaten path and few drove the scenic route with us. Pine forests, manzanita shrubs and other golden hardwoods flowed over the rolling canyon bottoms while unique rock layers rose seven thousand feet in the air. The flora was different from the still-green cottonwoods and grasses of Zion canyon, and we enjoyed the quiet and the spacious view on a trail to the canyon overlook. Until we reached the destination, of course, and then still air carried the conversation of two women in yoga pants who thoroughly dissected each other's dating lives while sitting at the best viewpoint. *Sigh.*

On our nature vacations we try to get outside of our human box and go farther afield on the longer trails, the paths less traveled. This time the popularity of the parks, even into chill October, thwarted our efforts. I am grateful that parks and open spaces are so popular in this post-pandemic world and I pray that the increased numbers people who see our natural treasures will want to protect them, and create more of them. But I'm eager to store up moments of peace where I can feel my connection to the non-human natural elements and quietly revere them. Just incentive to get out the map and plan another trip.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Homecoming in the Age of Covid

[Disclaimer: my sophomore has not only given his permission for me to write about our Homecoming prep experience, but encouraged my efforts, noting that he "doesn't star in enough blog posts."]

Attending a homecoming dance - any dance - any social event, period - in the age of Covid represents a triumph of returning high school rituals and tiny blooms of self-confidence. Many students were dealt body blows to confidence and self-acceptance by the torture of Zoom or hybrid school, going months without live peer interaction. We parents excitedly prepped for the return to in-person, or "regular" school, not realizing that the hustle and bustle, the 1,000x stimulation would cause great anxiety for many kids, grades pre-k through post-grad. And so Rob and I celebrate our son's Homecoming preparation rituals, even as we added a few gray hairs.

Four days before the dance, Daniel said to me: “I need to find a restaurant where we can eat, and it should be vegetarian, since my date is vegetarian.”

"Good, OK," I said. "I can help with that." No further words were exchanged, since my advice on virtually any subject is currently toxic. 

On the afternoon of the dance, I asked innocently, “Did you decide on a place to eat?” 

“The X Tavern. It’s near the school so we can walk to the dance after.”  

Daniel waved me off as I Googled the place, a bar and grill specializing in burgers. I started to say something, then held my tongue under his ferocious side eye. I figured Daniel's date could eat a salad. But I did insist that they accept a ride from dinner to dance since a two-mile walk seemed slightly out of line for a young lady in (I suspected) high heels. 

Dressing for the dance revealed heightened nerves and apprehension. Hair woes required use of special conditioner, gel, hair dryer, endless consolation, and finally our total silence on the subject. The buttons on the shirt were wrong, the tie too long, the shoes too tight. Daniel insisted on trying black Vans with his suit, we demanded he change back to one of his two pairs of dress shoes. Black shoes of various types were strewn around the living room: shoe-bomb shrapnel amidst the wreckage of dry-cleaning wraps and discarded ties and belts.

A confrontation over the suit jacket raised the volume on our arguments still higher. Daniel insisted the dance was “semi-formal, Mom! I only need the shirt and pants for a semi-formal, the jacket makes it fully formal!” We refused to drive him to his date’s house until he put on the jacket (it was cold and windy), insisting that at our seven previous Homecomings all the boys wore jackets.

Furious that we were chauffeuring him (his license over a year away)  he cursed at us from the back seat and repeated his desire to go to boarding school, mostly to get away from us.  Duly noted. Rob followed phone directions to the date's house and when we pulled up, Daniel was beset by uncertainty. 

“Are you sure this is the right place?” he asked us suspiciously.  

“This is the address you gave us, Daniel. Six – oh – one – six.”   

He lit up, incandescent with rage, bleached blonde hair standing on end.  “I said six – ZERO – one- six! This isn’t the right house! What are you doing?”  

We couldn't help but chuckle (which heightened his anger) as we explained that – in this case – “oh” and “zero” were the same thing.

Fortunately, we were at the right house and Daniel’s cute date came down the stairs to meet him wearing a lovely short dress – and black high-top Converse sneakers.  “Guess we should have let him wear the Vans,” Rob muttered to me behind his hand.  The young lady's mom and grandma took a few photos in their front yard as Rob did the same. Both sophomores gritted their teeth and bore our interest for a few precious minutes.

In the car on the way to the restaurant we realized that Daniel had forgotten his school ID and mask, both required at the dance. Rob kindly promised to bring both when he returned to take the kids from the restaurant to the school, finally  reconciling Daniel to last ride with parents. Rob left them at the dance a half-hour early  but no complaints were made; who knows what they did between events. Rob and I went for the fridge door - a beer and a hard seltzer, respectively - and were in bed before 10pm, more exhausted than our young dance-goer, and more relieved that all went well.


Monday, October 4, 2021

Leaf-Peeping in the Rockies

 "Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree."  - Emily Bronte

"In autumn, the trees show us how beautiful it is to let things go." - Unknown

I went to Frisco last weekend to hike with girlfriends, and the Rocky mountainsides threw down golden carpets to greet us. Bold yellow aspen leaves shook and shimmied as a Friday afternoon storm washed the valleys clean. We went through our first snow of the season after emerging from Eisenhower tunnel into that same storm, and snowcapped peaks around us stayed white over the weekend as we hiked and chatted our days away.

On Saturday we climbed almost ten miles through a magical fir forest, punctuated by the resplendent aspens and occasionally a red maple or oak. We walked singly or two by two as we discussed our college freshmen, older and younger children, husbands, jobs, politics and favorite hiking accessories. Striding out across a meadow at approximately 10,000 feet, we encountered a young couple and we stepped aside to let them pass.

"No," said the man, "You have to turn around and see the view behind you. It's spectacular!" Dutifully we turned around and exclaimed over the postcard-worthy vision before us: mountain tops split by green, gold and amber, a sky of deepest blue and scudding white clouds. We took photos for them and posed in turn for our group shots. All the autumn hikers greeted us cheerfully, leaning in to the steep slopes and to awe. We encountered many groups of women enjoying the trail together and joked with them (and took more pictures) as we passed.

Later in the day we curled up with prosecco and snacks, somehow finding new subjects to discuss, and I thought about how my girls' weekends have changed over the decades. From dancing, dining and drinking at exciting establishments, returning late, exhausted (and possibly hungover) to young families and messy homes, we've shifted to exertion of a different nature. Without the urgency to seize and fill every independent moment, as I felt when the kids were younger, it's easier to appreciate life's golden moments. I'm not comfortable saying that I have moved into my own autumn, but I'm not unwilling to go when it's time.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Incredible Coaching Opportunity Ahead

For the past six years I watched the girls' and boys' swim teams at our local high school with avid interest, noting the splits and times of my older two children as well as the performances of their friends and teammates. In the stands I would bite my lips and either sit on my hands or clap hysterically, trying not to shout random instructions that would be caught on Rob's video but never heard by swimmers in the water. 

It was a poorly kept secret in our family that I was an ardent fan, not at all cool and removed as I tried to play it.  I have nine years' of coaching experience between high school and Masters teams, but my kids already had coaches and needed me to be Mom, instead.  So I threw my passions into the booster club, planning banquets, wielding stopwatches as a timer and working the scoreboard. I tried to hide my over-the-top passion for stroke technique, streamlines, starts and turns, keeping my post-race comments to "You looked great, I'm proud of your effort."

But the crazy swim geek in me doesn't need to hide any more; I am over-the-moon excited to say that I will be assistant coaching for the girls' team this year.  We have a terrific staff, extremely talented and hard-working girls, and every opportunity to teach great technique and love for the sport. I'm in chlorine-scented heaven, especially since my own swimmers are now off at CU and happy to give their blessing to my pursuit of all things swimming and coaching.

Sitting in the registration meeting last night with an auditorium full of girls, a sense of rightness filled me like helium - I had to hold onto my seat to not float away.  I've never been so sure of a new job - a new anything - in my life and I am grateful to the universe for opening this window when I thought the door was swinging closed. I also appreciate the new head coach who brought me on board. Time to openly wield the spreadsheets of splits and times, to jump up and down on the pool deck at meets, and to obsess over relay combinations and meet strategy. I can't wait!

Thursday, September 23, 2021

The Ministry for the Future

 "The days grew short, the air chill. The leaves on the lindens turned yellow and the west wind swept them away." - Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future

I started Kim Stanley Robinson's powerful novel, The Ministry for the Future, at the beginning of summer when Colorado baked under a heat wave. At the time, the Pacific Northwest was suffering under a heat dome and millions of shellfish were boiled alive in their shallow-water habitat. The opening scene of the novel describes millions of people dying in a terrible heat wave in India, and the conjunction with reality was too much for me; I had to put the book down. It lay untouched on my bedside table - mutely chastising me - until the cooler evenings of late August allowed me to push past memories of stifling heat and resume reading.

If you're interested in looking closely at the climate crisis and potential solutions, I highly recommend the book, which left me on a hopeful note despite hundreds of pages dealing with the obstacles confronting humanity. Among those - bankers, the wealthy, fossil fuel companies, intransigent governments, etc, that we see in action every day. Though a work of fiction, the book is well-researched and Robinson's perspectives on economics, science, diplomacy and human nature continually resonated with me as true to both our current and prospective situations.

Who knows what great invention, positive social trend or technological advance lies right around the corner? We must always hope, and work, and hope. Robinson writes of sailing ships that run on wind and solar, dirigibles and other air vessels that also run on renewables and replace jets and jet fuels. The protagonist sails from France to New York and takes rail from NYC to San Francisco. The world banks group together to  issued money in units of carbon saved, and across the world people's movements for a fair wage and fair taxes catch fire. These hope-filled ideas spring from the possibilities of today, which we can make real. In the book, as with anything, you have to struggle through the muck to get to daylight on the other side, and in this case the struggle is worth it.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Fossil Free Finance

 When I moved to Colorado in 2004 with two young children, I volunteered time and energy to form "Green Teams," groups of neighbors, churchgoers or co-workers who wanted to collectively reduce their carbon footprint and waste production to help the environment. At the time I possessed the zeal of the newly converted, with my recent Environmental Studies degree tucked under my belt and hourly motivation from the two little faces constantly turning to me, sunflowers to the star. One neighborhood group was profiled in the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News, and photos showed my backyard compost pile and efficient sprinkler system. The smart sprinklers were new then, and the Wall Street Journal also called for a quote. 

I felt good about the work at the time, but looking back now, I feel I was duped by big oil and gas companies who wanted us to stay busy measuring our individual footprints, our trash output, our electric and water use. With our heads down in the daily nitty-gritty we stayed out of their (big) business, failing to note how the investment in fossil fuel infrastructure continued, how the money from sales of oil, gas and coal flowed steadily into pockets. Many oil and gas companies promoted tools like the Green Team guide, the "footprint calculators" that proliferated online and guilted us into faulting ourselves, focusing attention on our neighborhood and social groups rather than big companies who kept pushing their damaging products.

Guilt distracted us from the real issue behind the climate crisis - that burning fossil fuels will eventually render this planet unfit for habitation by humans. The Chevrons and Exxon-Mobils of the world have known this for sixty years, but they obscured the knowledge, lied about the effects, paid climate naysayers to spout garbage on television and in the papers, driving the locomotive of our destruction to the edge of a cliff while raking in profits. They love the footprint calculators, and they don't want us to lay the blame for this crisis at their door.

"But we drive! we use too much gas! we fly!" Yes, all true. But we need comprehensive legislation, energy policy, infrastructure builds and other high-level changes to provide us with choices. We drive because no investment has been made in good public transportation, we fly in the US because we don't have high-speed rail, we get our electricity from coal because utilities refuse to shut down coal-fired power plants.

No more. The House Oversight Committee has now focused attention on the oil and gas industry's role in "spreading disinformation about the role of fossil fuels in causing global warming" (NYTimes). Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) said she "intends to hold the fossil fuel industry to account for its central role in causing and exacerbating this global emergency." As citizens of the world, we need to focus our protest energy, our investments and purchases in such a  way as to influence banks, oil and gas companies, coal companies, and governments to move immediately away from fossil fuels in order to prevent a catastrophic rise in temperatures and an uncertain future for humanity.

Futher, House Representatives Mondaire Jones, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley introduced the Fossil Free Finance Act in Congress just this past week. The act would require the Federal Reserve (the bank that makes rules for all US banks) to hold big banks accountable for financing fossil fuels. In the last five years, the world's 60 biggest banks have financed fossil fuels to the tune of $3.8 trillion ( I recently protested the Fed's involvement in financing fossil fuels at their Denver office. Our chants: "Fossil free Fed" and "leave it in the ground."

We should continue to do what we can in our own lives both because it's right and because it makes us (or at least it makes me) feel better. With constant headlines of floods, fires, heat domes and drought, daily efforts to help our environment can empower us to believe in positive change. The birds at my feeder inspire me, my solar panels make me smile, and my drip sprinkler keeps plants happy without wasting valuable water. But if you're called to do more in the face of the climate crisis, keep an eye on the oil and gas industry, the banks, and central government. Don't waste time on guilt, go after the real culprits.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Pumpkin Spice and Asphalt

Oh, these nippy September mornings! I shrug on a fleece to coach at 6am and delight in the earliest signs of fall colors on our oak and cottonwood trees. This morning, I added pumpkin spice creamer to my coffee and hummed a tuneless "it's almost fall" ditty as the house fan ran and Daniel got ready for school. The euphoria only lasted until a strong, black licorice-turned-bad scent of asphalt assaulted my senses. A peek through our open screen door revealed early shift workers out administering black tar to the cracks in our street, rushing to repair roads before our Colorado summer-fall turns to fall-winter.

The morning's themes continued as I dodged roadwork signs to pick up Daniel's new black suit at the tailors. Angling my car into impossible parking spots at Trader Joe's, where half the parking lot was blocked off in Tetris shapes for new asphalt, I swore several times and had to breathe deeply as a red SUV nearly backed into my little Mazda. 

Once inside TJ's, I indulged my craving for autumnal peace and bought orange and purple flowers, pumpkin spice yogurt, even a PS smoothie from Nekter, next door. The potassium-fueled drink helped me maneuver two heavy bags of groceries around cones and under yellow caution tape back to my vehicle, commiserating with fellow shoppers turned pack mules, forced to leave our shopping carts at the door.

As I waited to extricate myself from the parking lot maze, I dreamed of getting up into the mountains to see the aspen slopes turn gold. We shouldn't have to 'get away' to enjoy the season that's right here in backyards and neighborhood greenbelts, but with every locality tainted by toxic fumes and crazily busy suburbanites,  I see fall at this altitude in the onset of pumpkin spice and orange lawn decor. The mountains call me, as they do tens of thousands of other leaf-peepers, with whom I will share my hiking trails when we finally escape to the hills.

What will we crave in future falls, as weather, seasonal temperatures and natural disasters continue to flux and disrupt our routines? Will it still be flavored coffees, lattes and yogurts, or will we simply dream of cooler air and the outfit changes of healthy trees?  At the very least, I hope we're less reliant on cars, roads and resulting asphalt updates.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Short but Not Sweet, Labor Day Week

This short week packed a powerful punch. Running from one event to another in record-setting heat, I came home smelly and soggy, hesitant to sit down lest I lose momentum or even fall asleep where my cheeks hit the cushions. Fatigue dragged on me, I walked through peanut butter. When I asked my nutritionist what was wrong with me, she ran tests and perused the results with a decided lack of concern. 

"Your progesterone is a little off," she said. "And you should stop taking melatonin." That was it - no underlying virus or threatening adrenal issue as has occurred in the past. Just age, perimenopause and one nightly spray of melatonin catching up with me.

I worked steadily into the evening last night, teaching swimming to excitable and sometimes irascible youngsters. In the final class I had a power struggle to deny one child the joy of hitting her sister with a swim stick.  As I covered the pool with limp arms, my watch rang with a strange Denver number. There was a sharp pain in my chest as my heart clutched reflexively; Daniel was at his first Ultimate Frisbee game in Denver, sans parents.

My wet fingers couldn't answer the phone and so I watched helplessly as it went to voicemail, which soon told me that Daniel was injured, complaining of pain in his back and numbness in his leg. His beleaguered coach asked if I wanted him to take my son to the emergency room. "No!" I thought as I struggled to wrap a towel around me and re-dial.

I got through to the coach, talked to Daniel, and reassured them both that Daniel should be fine with ice and Advil at home. The tone of Daniel's voice over the phone told me everything - that he was calm and ultimately fine, just shaken by a collision and anxious about the resulting bruise and soreness. The coach drove him to the house while I drove east to meet them. The evening was filled with limping, ice packs, and Advil (but no homework).  

That marks the second time this year that one of my sons has been referred to a hospital. My older son texted me earlier in 2021 with this:  "At the hospital, LOL."  An appalling juxtaposition of messages that I hope I never see again. My heart couldn't take it.

If I'm forced to admit that nothing's wrong with me or with this constant panic scenario, then I have to embrace this chaos as normal. Instead I'm going to will bury my head under the sheets with the fan on full blast, and hide out until this Labor Day week finally ends.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

The View from 100,000

On September 6, 2021, Wild Specific Tangent hit a milestone of 100,000 views. Perhaps 20,000 of those views can be attributed to my mother, husband and sister, but even subtracting their regular viewership, I've reached more than a few of you - and l am grateful.

Twelve years of anthologizing anecdotes of my family's life, and I've learned: the short form of blogging is my happy medium, my children like the blog posts that mention them (but don't say too much about them), a good quote encapsulates a week's worth of musing, humor is the oat milk of life, and making a reader feel something lifts my feet off the ground.

The past almost two years of the pandemic, in combination with political extremism and unholy headlines about climate change, have made me think about legacy. Even if I survive COVID, hurricanes, headlines, and misogynistic politicians, I will inevitably "shuffle off this mortal coil." My kids will be my most profound legacy, but I also have this little bit of writing to leave behind, the Clavadetscher and Dravenstott names commingling in long-winded perpetuity over the internet.

That's not enough, not yet, but it's a good start. I appreciate the good humor and merciful aspect of my readers and welcome more comments and feedback (unless it departs from their aforementioned good humor and mercy). I'm grateful that my mother could read my blog posts to my father before his death and that he got to see the printed compilation of eight years' worth of stories. This life is all about connection, and I savor the tiny threads of connection between me and my readers, all 100,000 times that writing and reading brought us together.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

A Successful Launch into an Uncertain Future

 "When does the constant partying finally stop?" - CU Parent to the Parents' Facebook page

"Well, my husband and I are really excited to be empty nesters so we'll be going strong for a while. I will update you in December." - Quick-witted parent in response

My college students survived their first week of class. More importantly, our freshman limped through his first five days of constant partying and introductions to girls, frat parties, and late-night shenanigans. I got to both my Buffs for brunch on Sunday after Aden and I did a bike ride around Boulder. Pure joy to hear their thoughts, excitement, plans and concerns over iced chais and gluten-free pancakes. Now it will be a while until I see them as classes get really busy and club swim starts 

Life has returned to almost-normal for some of our kids, but it's difficult to grasp or believe its permanence. Even as I write, I'm trying to process the new mask requirement for all students K-12 in our county. It's supposed to be implemented tomorrow, though we haven't heard from the school district yet. The mask mandate seemed inevitable when districts in other parts of the country are seeing schools without mask mandates collapse under the weight of absences and quarantines, but we somehow waited for the inevitable to kick in.

Are we coming out of the pandemic, holding on, getting worse - it depends on where you live and which article you read. No one really knows, though the prognosticators have a field day in the daily op ed columns. In between scanning headlines (and trying not to read past the first paragraph) I seek joy - or at least amusement - like the social media interchange at the top of the post. Rob and I aren't partying at that level yet, though we have had more opportunities to at least think about going out. Hopefully there will be more cause for celebration soon.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Scratching the Control Itch

My first act after we got home from moving Aden in to her apartment was to vacuum the entire house. I moved on to de-cluttering, shuffling random leftover papers and possessions to my college students' rooms and then shutting their doors. The cats ran from my wild broom and my duster; I even made it out to clean the porch, where I grew frustrated about squirrels making a mess of my birdfeeders. I threatened them them with decapitation but they merely flipped me off with their golden tails and ran away with full cheeks.

Our backyard wildlife wasted no time in breaking through my illusion of control, but for a few minutes my orderly and antiseptic home soothed the pangs of longing for my kids. By removing the swim gear, leftover thank you notes, pay stubs and masks they left behind I hoped to soothe my sorrow, and the strange thing is that it worked, briefly. Satisfying the itch for control temporarily numbs me to emotional aftereffects of college departures. 

The control is always an illusion, subject to wreckage by squirrels, humans or other events. My remaining at-home child still stashes Doritos and energy drinks in his nightstand, and leaves messes wherever he lands. My Facebook account was hacked over the weekend at the same time a suspicious credit card charge made, leaving Rob to hack the hacker and get my account back, as well as call in for a new card number - the fifth time this year. Chaos always emerges from control, threatening to break the dam that holds more destructive emotions in check.

In the rare instances when I'm in control. when the floors and counters are bare, beds are made and the litter box clean, the world is my oyster. I'm sure that life will punish me for that last sentence with an upset afternoon, perhaps raccoons in the attic or a flat tire on my bike, but I'll just have to scrub the baseboards, purge the closets, and convince myself that I planned it this way.

Friday, August 20, 2021


"And so the days float through my eyes / But still the days seem the same / And these children that you spit on / As they try to change their worlds / Are immune to your consultations / They're quite aware of what they're goin' through"

Lyrics to "Changes" by David Bowie

The wave of emotion hit me in the frozen food aisle. I automatically reached for Trader Joe's gluten free mac 'n cheese and stopped before my hand hit the cold cardboard. I didn't need to buy it - William won't be at home to eat his favorite lunch, at least not until Thanksgiving. Tears threatened but  Aden came up exclaiming over the cauliflower fried rice and I blinked them back, thankful she's been home this week prepping for her move to a new apartment in Boulder. Enjoying her presence allows me to stave off unwanted sadness. I tell my friends, "Next week, I'll be depressed."

But sorrow has already sprung in my gut, that sneaky brain in the stomach. I know because I had chocolate for every meal today. The chocolate was pretending to be healthy: a protein bar with almond butter, a shake with coffee flavor, granola with probiotics. Let me get real and admit (for a second) that a solid chocolate diet is a sign of sad times, not good nutrition. 

And yet it's not really a sad time, it's exciting and even exhilarating to watch your child leap into their adulthood (as your partner restrains you and helps you reel in the safety net... just a little). We had a good time moving William into his engineering dorm; his new roommate impressed us all with his "chill vibe,"  easy, quick-witted banter, and lively lunch conversation. Rob and I enjoyed walking behind the boys and Aden through restaurant row on "the Hill" as she regaled them with tales of good eateries as well as places to avoid. 

So far William has followed through on his promise to Snapchat me at least once each day so I know he is alive. He looks tired and Aden tells me that he's been up late (he chats with her much more than with me), but I keep my fingers crossed that he's enjoying new people and experiences. The kids' adventures inspire me to plan a full fall schedule - hoping for new volunteer experiences and adding more shifts at work to stay busy. My children are absolutely "immune to my consultations" and I can only hope they keep me apprised as they ride this exciting new wave (and I try not to drown in my tears).

Friday, August 13, 2021

Don't Forget to Look Up

I stumbled on the grass near the volleyball court, waving my flashlight in erratic patterns as Rob called to me. "I already looked there, and I don't know why you're out here if you can't even see!"

A fool's errand, to search blindly in darkness for glasses. The missing glasses were expensive, graduated bifocals that I wear constantly, except when I sport their counterpart sunglasses. I had worn the dark lenses to our "recent grad" potluck at the park and expected to find my normal eyewear on the counter at home when I returned, exhausted and ready to veg in front of the TV. Instead, Rob and Aden helped me scour the house and both cars, while neighbors helped by turning on car headlights and sweeping the foliage.

I gave up the ghost at 11pm and wrote a sticky-note reminder to call for an eye appointment, falling asleep with the grim certainty that I was losing my mind in the lead-up to William's departure for college. The next morning, I turned on all the lights in the house and wore my sunglasses inside while looking again, this time adding the microwave, fridge and trash can. Rob suggested another check at the park and I went out to the garage, where my glasses case sat innocently on top of my car, with the missing requisite lenses inside.

How could we have searched both cars repeatedly and failed to notice the dark case perched on the roof? Yes, it was night, but we turned the lights on in the garage. We knew I had put the glasses case down (especially after checking multiple Ring video segments) but we forgot to look up. We missed out on both the glasses and a peaceful evening.

My brother James tells a poignant story about looking up. The day after my father passed away, James went for a walk outside, struggling to contain his tears. Not only had Dad died the night before, but a young deer had huddled against the house that morning, wounded in the leg, and a ranger had come out  with a shotgun. James felt optimism draining away and his steps were uncertain in the pale light of early morning. Then he heard Dad's voice, loud and clear. "Look up!" Dad said, and James obediently raised his eyes to the beautiful Mission Mountains, the eagle flying above, the swans on Flathead Lake. 

James says that voice shook him awake, revived him to the beauty and hope alive in the world. I forgot to look up and stumbled around blindly in the dark, missing the object I most desired. What are you looking for? Where does your gaze fall? It makes a difference. As I prepare to send William to CU, I need to keep focus on his excitement, on new possibilities and growth, and not gaze at his empty bedroom or his place at the table. No matter what happens to us, we choose where to focus our gaze. Whether half-blind or farsighted, the direction of sight is most important.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

An Irish Wake at Flathead Lake

 "Those we love don't go away, They walk beside us every day, unseen, unheard, but always near, Still loved, still missed and very dear."  - Prayer on an Irish Headstone

Five days in Montana were not enough to celebrate my father's life, share stories in which he figured prominently, laugh over my uncle's tall tales and weep at the cemetery From joy at embracing my brothers and their families again, to awe at my grown-up nieces and nephews, to tears when an unexpected picture of Dad caught me unawares, I flew up and down the roller coaster of emotions.

Dad was a devout Catholic and we celebrated Mass for him in the shadows of the mountains, just up the road from the cherry tree orchard where we used to go and pick buckets of the ripe red fruit. I passed out cotton handkerchiefs in Dad's memory because when I was a child, he always had a clean and pressed hankie on hand. When I could barely see over the ironing board, I helped Mom spray and iron those squares and swelled with satisfaction when my stack was done. 

My brother Michael read from the Old Testament at the service, not looking up to meet the eyes of his family until after he was done, when the tears came. Crying turned to laughter when he sat in the pew and his five-year-old daughter, Mae, leaned in, asking in a stage whisper, "When's it MY turn?" 

The next generation provided wonderful comic relief but also tender support. When my youngest brother, James, stepped up to the lectern for the second reading, and broke down when trying to speak of Heaven, his three-year-old son grabbed him in two little hands and tried to kiss his tears away. Having our families around us felt true to Dad's legacy, and seeing his oldest brother, Greg, age 90, in church brought more tears and also gratitude. Greg later told me how much he had wanted to come when dad was ill, but his own infirmities kept him at home on the East Coast, "until it was too late." But he took great joy in connecting with each of us and sharing new tales of his times with dad both in childhood and in New York City, when they were young professionals together.

The next day, representatives from the VA came out to the cemetery where my father has a headstone. They set up a podium with an empty helmet suspended over empty boots, and presented my mother with an American flag in Dad's honor. Dad was a Specialist, 5th class, in the Army, and when the white-haired, bewhiskered gentlemen formed a line and did rollcall, they shouted his name and rank. "Clavadetscher, Julius!" No reply. "Clavadetscher, Julius!" Again, no reply. The silence was unexpectedly agonizing, and two of the men in our midst had to whisper "Here" in Dad's absence. Yet they called once more, "Clavadetscher, Julius!" and only then received a reply. "He's not here, he's gone to the great Commander in the sky."  An old soldier played taps while John and I each put a hand on Mom's shoulder and handkerchiefs flew up to our faces like birds startled into flight.

At our celebration of Dad's life, I tried to speak coherently of Dad's influence on our lives, his insistence on effort, on service to others, and his adventurous streak that left us children in many harrowing predicaments, halfway up mountains or horseback in a thunderstorm. He was not dull and he had such a strong moral compass that his legacy was never in doubt. William commented when we left Montana how grateful he was to have gone because now he understands more of what a life should be.

But we also laughed and sang and danced - a true Irish wake for the son of an O'Malley. Our cousins stared in amazement as the entire group belted out John Denver's "Wild Montana Skies" in chorus, and as I grabbed James for a jig, his boys' eyes grew wider than dinner plates. I hope the younger generations saw joy in a life well-lived, in the triumph of love and the strength of family bonds. As we drove off to the airport yesterday, they said "We love your family, Mom," and I reminded them it was their family, too.

A few more lasting images of the visit: Mae first standing up on a paddleboard in the lake. She got her little feet square on the rubber mat, leaned forward with two hands searching for balance, then triumphantly stood tall, lifting her fists in the air like an Olympic gymnast who had flown high and stuck the landing. Our flotilla of inner tubes, paddle boards, floaties and chairs gave her a perfect ten and a wet ovation.

Another image: Uncle Greg holding court on the back porch as a rainstorm blew in from the lake, telling us about his love of the nuns at his Catholic school, and the punishments he earned from his German father. The afternoon on the lake, cousins branding each other with water balloons in the front yard, Mom sitting with her brother and sister at church. Thank God for family, for travel, for reunions. We all pledged to do it again soon, whatever the occasion. Thank you, Dad, we love you so much.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Community and Connection

 "New friends may be poems but old friends are alphabets. Don't forget the alphabets because you will need them to read the poems."  -William Shakespeare

As I followed Aden at a dead run through Chicago O'Hare's B Terminal, I thought of abandoning our effort to get to US Masters Nationals in Greensboro. Dodging other masked travelers in a high-stakes reality version of the game Frogger, we managed to arrive at our gate, gasping, in time for the connecting flight. "There are more people coming," said Aden to the gate agent. She had bonded with Speedo-backpack-wearing athletes on our first flight, even as she flew past them in the terminal.  Everyone finally made it, slumping into their airline seats and panting, just in time to be delayed another 90 minutes.

But I'm so glad we rallied, grateful to have made the aggravating trip to the East Coast, though the airport sprint and time change threw off my races on the first day. Aden suffered no lingering aftereffects from our travel and crushed her first day and second-day races, going lifetime best times in five for five. Watching her swim, seeing her look of delighted surprise each time she finished and turned to read the giant scoreboard, lit me up from my heartspace and erased the aches and pains of my fifty-year-old body.

Also valuable beyond compare, seeing my old friend Amelia after a thirty-year gap. Though connected by Christmas cards and occasional Facebook messages, we hadn't seen each other since college. Amelia and I swam together from age 13 - 16 after we both started (late to the sport) and we moved up from the little kids' lanes to seniors together, sharing relays, travel trips, and sweet 16 parties. Her family hosted me and my aunt for Thanksgiving of my freshman year in college when I couldn't go home due to time, money and (of course) the demands of swim team. I remember our group gathered around her brother as he played "American Pie, part 1" by Don McLean on the guitar as we gamely sang the lyrics.

Aden and I also met new friends; she exchanged Snapchat handles while I traded phone numbers for texting. Masters swimmers are focused and can be intense when it comes to swimming but are relaxed, friendly and funny on the sidelines. The group from Wisconsin were memorable with their individualized jerseys and their loud cheering, and the announcer kept us in hysterics with his false news reel beeps and static. Many swimmers were delighted when they learned I was swimming with my daughter, and often added wistfully, "I hope to get my son / daughter here to swim with me next time." Moments of connection and community that came so rarely during the worst days of Covid were everywhere in Greensboro, and I can't imagine a better way to spend a meet weekend.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Not Languishing

 "How to spur creativity when languishing" shouted one of my emails yesterday. How appropriate, I thought, then promptly deleted it.

While not exactly languishing, I have spent the summer focusing on family activities, swimming, friends and fun, mainly trying to distract myself from horrendous headlines and the knowledge that two of my children will move out in a month. Time is not an obstacle for writing, rather it's a stubborn turning away from introspection.

Instead of deep thinking, I relish car conversations with my daughter, dispensing such pithy bon mots as "Relationships are like guacamole, always a side but not the main course. Sometimes you want it and sometimes you don't." Chipotle-inspired comments masquerading as wisdom; that's about how deep I can go in the summer of 2021.

I cherish each family dinner, each grace and round of gratitude shared before the meal. I sit in silence with my soon-to-be college freshman and wait for him to share stories of late-night activities, which I'm sure  are edited for my consumption but nonetheless fascinating. With my youngest I exchange Snapchats and follow his mission trip progress throughout Texas. 

Humming in the background like a live electric wire, the knowledge that all this will change. Come Labor Day, an urgent need for activity and busy-ness will once again inspire regular blogs, hours of rewriting my book, environmental activism, and everything else I have put by the wayside. But for now, I'll continue my not-languishing, and let my creativity take a back seat.

Friday, July 9, 2021

I Need a Commercial Break

I was flipping through radio stations yesterday and the schmaltzy - but classic - lyrics of Peter Cetera's "Inspiration" floated my air-conditioned box. "You're the meaning in my life, you're the inspiration" he crooned before I switched back to commercials, willing my teary eyes to dry and focus on the road. How strange that I switch from songs to commercials in order to avoid emotional flashpoints.

William's swim team banquet was Wednesday night and I told his coach near the end of that long but lovely evening that I deserved a medal for withholding tears. He blinked, confused. His kids are younger and he may not completely understand the ache of loss surrounding graduation and departure for college, though certainly coaches and teachers experience grief when a favorite class departs and all that's left is an urgent need for restructuring and finding new talent.

In the words of William's head coach, the senior class was "generational," even "transcendent." They re-wrote the record books at the state and school level. William walked away with three All-American times (that means the top 100 times in the country this year, which I didn't know previously because I never came close to achieving it), the fourth-fastest 100 butterfly in school history, and a stack of team awards. The other seniors benefited similarly from their hard work, and they all supported each other's rise as a team, sticking with the sport even as the season extended a month into their summer vacation.

As the sun set over the Rockies the inevitable team slide show brightened up a big screen. Young faces gasping for air as they cruised through water, or masked in cheers and poolside rallies, all so full of promise, so passionate. Then the seniors' baby photos and earliest swim shots, chubby cheeks trapped under too-big goggles, curly hair escaping tiny swim caps, itty-bitty Speedos barely holding around their hips. The cherubic faces elicited oohs and ahs from the crowd and I could hear the coaches guessing the identity of each child, so different from the tall, broad-shouldered men on stage. And yet, so much the same, so dear and always and forever a child whose growth cannot be measured by times, points and awards but in heartache and heart-leaps, love and loss. 

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Lessons from a Surprise Thunderstorm

William just dashed through the hall and slid around the corner in stockinged feet. "Hailing!" he said as he grabbed the car keys and ran to move his freshly washed and waxed car into a more protected space. Rob uttered an expletive and went out to help him, still covered in putty and paint after touching up our outside overhead beams, which he finished just before the thunderstorm descended.

Of course the storm burst forth at the worst time, smack dab in the middle of an otherwise pleasant July 4th afternoon. It wasn't predicted, but that isn't stopping quarter-sized hailstones from knocking against the windows. This inconvenient fist-shaking from Mother Nature proves two things that keep smacking me upside the head: nothing goes to plan and everything keeps changing.

I couldn't sit still to write last week, still struggling to contain my sorrow around the end of William's high school swim career and the knowledge that he only has a month left at home before leaving for school. Like a non-swimmer desperately paddling to keep her head above water, I searched for events and trips to look forward to, and reached out to coaching friends who might need an assistant during the next high school girls' season.

Common wisdom says that "when God shuts a door he opens a window," but life doesn't usually work like that for me. First I waste time and energy pounding on the door and re-trying the knob with both hands, then I bang my head in despair before I finally get around to looking for the exit / entrance to my next chapter. I wasted less time this week because my kids are all present, looking to me for stability and guidance, so I can't fall apart yet. I'll have to pencil in my breakdown for the week after Aden and William move into their college digs.

I know that unexpected joys and discoveries lie in wait, just as this surprise thunderstorm centered itself right over our house from out of the blue. But when you have dedicated your life to raising children and they unceremoniously - even gleefully - leave your protection without a backward glance, the heart tends to suffer. The pandemic gave us extra family bonding time, for which I'm grateful, but it made for a terribly short runway to William's takeoff into adulthood.

Even as hail continues to batter the house and Rob belatedly realized that the gutter-cleaning company never came (hence the water pouring off our roof), we know that blue sky awaits just a few minutes away. Even if I have to climb out of a metaphorical chimney or burrow through a basement, I will get past this closed door and find a way to get around the door that has recently, and abruptly, closed. 

Sunday, June 27, 2021

The End of an Era

At some point during William's state championship swim meet I noticed the ring finger on my right hand had swelled and bruised purple from clapping against my platinum band. I couldn't clap or cheer by the last relay - my voice gave out in the first half of the meet - so I clutched at my torn blue fan, tears welling as I mutely watched my son swim his last high school race. They took third, beating their seed time by over five seconds and jumping up three places. Their first relay had kicked things off with a bang, winning and setting a new state record by over two seconds. 

The crowd was electric, packed sweaty knee to sweaty knee, screaming itself hoarse for the respective high schools. Barred from a 2020 season by COVID, forbidden even to attend dual meets in the 2021 season D events, parents, families and friends were finally set free to cheer on our boys. The nerves and intensity rose to a fever pitch as the swimming heavyweights duked it out in the pool.

More state records fell: the 50 free (to an Olympic Trials competitor), the 200 free relay (William's teammates), the 400 free relay (neighboring high school with yet another Olympic Trials swimmer on board). William came away with four podium swims (podium in this case being top ten places): first in the medley relay, where he swam the butterfly leg; seventh in the 100 fly, in which he broke 50 seconds for the first time; fifth in the 100 backstroke, and third in the 400 free relay. Both of his relays are automatic high school All-American times.

William overcame overtraining syndrome, autoimmune issues, a late start to the sport (he was 14) and a pandemic to crush his best times and help lead his team to a second (non-consecutive) state championship title. When the parents could only speak in whispers or whistle, at the end of the night, the boys and their coaches all jumped in the pool, holding the trophy aloft and lifting fists and voices to the high rooftop. 

Watching Aden and William in their high school swim meets both lifted and filled me. Loving the athletes and the sport, feeling the partisan passion for their school, teammates and friends, I'll never be able to recapture the particular pleasure-pain of those swim seasons. Two or three days after State I crashed back to earth - no more videos to watch and post to friends and family, no more news articles to scan. The slight relief I felt at William being done, free of responsibility and care, fell flat under the sorrow of my loss. 

Aden and William might move forward to swim club together at CU, and I can cheer Daniel on in cross-country and track, but I will miss the high school pools, the uncomfortable bleachers where I perched with friends and neighbors, straining to catch every stroke, eyes flashing to the scoreboard for results, raising my fist in triumph when the kids looked to me with a smile. I'll miss timing behind the blocks and running the scoreboard in the "crow's nest," the team cheers, and the thunderous roaring of the crowd when the home team wins. 

Monday, June 21, 2021

Simone Manuel Defeats OTS

Simone Manuel was the face of U.S. women's swimming at the Rio Olympics. A gold-medal winner in the 100 meter freestyle and a silver-medal winner in the 50 meter freestyle, she added on another gold and silver in the 400m relays. In late March of 2021 she fell ill while training for a big meet in Texas, a lead-up to the Olympic Trials. After that meet she went to stay with her family for the first time in over a year, and a doctor diagnosed her medical issues as overtraining syndrome (OTS).

In an emotional press conference that Manuel gave after she failed to make the finals of the 100 free at the 2021 Olympic Trials, the standout swimmer graciously sat and answered numerous questions, some of a personal nature, about her symptoms and the stress she carried as a black athlete during the racial reckoning of 2020. The list she provided of her body's warning signals: high heartbeat, extreme fatigue, inability to resume her normal schedule after weeks of modified activity, anxiety, depression and insomnia, are all familiar to me. I had the same issues in 2011 and 2012 when I over trained for a marathon / triathlon combo. William, too, shared many of those symptoms in 2017 after his freshman swim season.

A reporter asked Manuel if she thought that overtraining syndrome was common with swimmers. She said she could not answer that, having just heard this diagnosis for the first time, but that she supposed it was quite common. Swimmers work so hard, for so long, trying to turn their bodies into hydrodynamic machines, that we often hear of injuries, burnout, depression, anxiety, stomach and sleep issues. But these symptoms are not often treated as credible. Without understanding, without the official diagnosis, swimmers have trouble finding solutions from doctors, parents, coaches. The diagnosis came at a terrible time for Manuel, but the understanding of doctors and coaches who allowed her to rest - that was fortunate.

By offering her story and being so vulnerable with a nation full of swimmers wondering "why?" Simone Manuel shone a light on a patchwork of problems in our sport. Too much difficult training can ruin an athlete - even a world class athlete. But this story has a happy ending. At the urging of her doctors and her coach, Manuel rested for three weeks in April, a thing absolutely unheard of just a month before Trials. Though she missed the final of the 100 free last week, she persevered through prelims and semifinals in the 50 meter free, and last night she won, landing on a second Olympic team. America's sprint queen is headed for Tokyo, and a more worthy winner I cannot imagine.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Unapologetic Aqua Fangirl

"I know what you're watching!"

My sister's text arrived as Lilly King smashed her way to a fabulous time at the United States Olympic Trials. Arguably the best meet in swimming - even, potentially, more tense and exciting than the Olympic Games - the U.S. Trials offer the best possible TV to a swimming geek like myself.  I gasp and cheer like an unapologetic fan-girl next to my long-suffering kids and husband, who won't see the remote control for the next week.

Though I don't know the athletes personally, SwimLabs has hosted many of them (they film video for our Champions' Library - they don't take lessons!) and one of my Masters swimmers is a stroke-and-turn judge. A handful of swimmers grew up competing in Colorado and are familiar names to my kids, especially William who has competed against some of them in state. We search for familiar names and faces like our backyard chickadees hunting for sunflower seeds.

William alternately watches the races and plays games or snapchats on his phone. He's trying to manage personal dreams of records and victories as his high school squad prepares for league and state championships, delayed until late June because of pandemic scheduling. His 200 medley relay wants the state record (only .13 faster than their current time) and could take aim at the national high school record. Meanwhile, his legs still hurt from training and he worries about starts and turns, so the Trials  offers both distraction and a chance to get nervous all over again.

I'm fully aware that swimming is not life-or-death, and that my children's swim times have no bearing on their future livelihood. In fact, it's the non-fatal attraction of sport that keeps me zoned in, the pleasant emotional upheaval of wins or losses instead of the existential crises of global warming and COVID. 

We were supposed to be at these Trials - would have been at them if the pandemic hadn't moved events back a year - but the refund we received for our tickets helped to pay for a trip to Greensboro, North Carolina in July. Aden and I are going to compete in a Masters National event there, a meet that will be much slower than Trials but equally exciting for its participants. My friend from our record-setting 200 free relay (13-14 girls in New England) will be there, too, and I'm excited both for our reunion and the fact that she is in a younger age group than I am!

The sport of swimming consistently offers me a mental health break, a physical outlet, and an amazing community. When Aden and William are both at CU and I am bereft of their high school swim activities, I hope to join the coaching staff of a girls' high school team in this area. I love helping athletes grow in their love and knowledge of the sport and I love being a cheerleader on the sidelines. Being in person trumps standing and shouting at the TV, though at the moment, I am glad to have both.


Friday, June 11, 2021

I am Not Over the Pandemic

The afterglow of graduation and ensuing parties has worn off, while exhaustion and a shocking heat wave knocked me flat for a few days last week. Despite my ongoing efforts to keep gratitude at the forefront, deep-seated frustrations and bitterness caused by the pandemic have re-emerged, like prickly weeds bursting through a crack in the sidewalk.

At William's final home swim meet, already worn down by emotional goodbyes to parents, their boys, even the pool itself, I overheard junior parents talking about their sons' pending college searches. I immediately left the area, overcoming the urge to scream "test scores don't matter !" "there's no scholarship money!" and "everything has changed!"  Junior parents don't need to hear further words of warning, at least not from me. The coming year and their college search might be more conventional than ours was in a historic 2020. 

After a night of restless sleep, dreaming of missed swim races and evaporating ties to high school meets, I walked with two friends in the cool of the morning. We exclaimed over the lovely summer flowers and happy dogs out for an early stroll. But when the conversation turned to religion, I again felt lightning flashes of frustration. Online church services and regular emails helped me only marginally during the lockdown, and I now feel separated from our church, divorced from my spirituality. 

Despite good intentions to meditate, I never resumed my long-dead practice, and my early morning alone-time during the pandemic was most often spent reading headlines. I realize that my spiritual disappointment and frustration should be aimed internally and not my place of worship, which did all it could to support people virtually. That knowledge doesn't diminish my disappointment or feelings of isolation.

How long will it take me, will it take our society, to recovery from the pandemic and resulting lock downs, social distancing and revamping of social norms? Are we even out of the pandemic now?  I wrote that our graduation party for William and his friends was "post-pandemic" but I fear I spoke too soon. Headlines continue to mourn deaths in India, wail about ten thousand Olympic volunteers defecting in Tokyo. My grievances continue to emerge at odd times and to eyebrow-raising effect. I hope I'm just reflective enough to place blame on the historic virus and not the people or institutions which - like me - were just trying to survive the best they could.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Post-Pandemic Carnival

William graduated on Friday morning and hit the grad party circuit after a brief nap, while Rob and I joined other parents to set up a grad party for him and four friends he's been connected with since pre-K. A Colorado sun blazed in the royal blue sky and sweat dripped into my eyes as I tied balloons to each boy's shade tent. The tents covered posters filled with pictures illustrating each young man's journey from babyhood to present, and we each took a few moments to look at the photos between hauling tables and filling coolers.

Early guests arrived before we could take a photo of the boys together or even finish preparations, and they wandered down the row of tents peering at pictures and happily greeting neighbors, who came out of the woodwork on the first fine day of the first "level clear" weekend in Colorado. The party took on the form of a reunion for our Willow Creek community; as the teenagers clumped to confab or dispersed in groups to play spike ball and volleyball, the adults greeted friends from across the neighborhood that may well have been on the other side of the country during the pandemic. 

"It's a carnival!" said one passerby.

"It's a post-pandemic reunion!" said a neighbor.

"It's going as fast as a wedding," we party-planners said as we rushed pass one another to get more food or beverages.

Everywhere I looked, vaccinated teens were laughing, joking, playing; an antidote to the pandemic, a toss of the head to social distancing. We took time out between conversations to marvel at their happiness and feel relief soaring like the red, white and blue helium balloons that our kids had achieved a sort of normalcy at the very end of their high school careers.

Friends shared endless stories of surviving the pandemic. Markedly absent was the usual glossing over of tough events, no one said "oh, the pandemic was fine" or "we did great!"  Instead we discussed a new wine habit, a basement renovation, other inexplicable big purchases. One friend bought a potter's wheel for stress relief after watching "The Great Pottery Throw Down" with her son. "But Mom," he said in exasperation when he learned of the purchase, "We only watched three episodes! Three! We don't even know if we like pottery."

"But it was on sale, on Amazon," she told us and we nodded wisely, bonded by our myriad uses of Amazon to survive months trapped inside the house with our families.

When darkness fell shortly after 9:00, the teens melted away and adults lingered around the edges, helping us fumble through the party take-down, conducted by cell-phone flashlight and shout-outs as we wobbled across the grass. Before he left to go to another party, my son gave me a big hug and thanked me for the evening. "It was so great," he said, "Thank you so much for everything."

I didn't buy a pottery wheel, a new car, or a new basement in the past year, but we did buy over 200 ice cream cones, myriad brownies, whoopie pies and rice krispie treats, and endless bottles of seltzer for last Friday. Was it worth it, even if not on Amazon sale? How can you even ask? For an post-pandemic carnival, and for my son's heartfelt thank you, I wouldn't change a thing.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Graduation Week

It's graduation week. Graduation cards and thank you notes blanket William's place at the kitchen table, a long list of people he need to thank covers his cloth napkin. Our friends and family have been so generous that William jokes about the transfer of wealth from my generation to his, which certainly feels true to my checkbook. But I feel lucky to be writing notes of congratulations and checks to William's friends and so grateful to those who send those notes to my son. After the traumatic 15 months these teens have just endured, a weight of worry rises from my chest when I think of all the happy graduates, and the in-person ceremony to come on Friday. I'll be crying buckets when they march into the stadium but inside I'll be thrilling to the rituals they get to experience.

The rainy Memorial Day weekend was a blessing, an excuse to be indoors to clean and prepare for Bill and Connie's arrival. (I haven't seen them in more than a year and a half - insane.) The wet afternoon also provided cover for William and me to go through the past 18 years of photos and family videos, picking out the most relevant for his trifold display board. We'll put the board up at his shared grad party on Friday night, showcasing his cute round baby face and the adorable photos of his friends. The boys shared baseball, basketball, swimming, water polo, camping, boy scouts, school performances and countless other childhood rites.

William 's neighborhood friends have grown with him. The photos we picked out include their cherubic baby cheeks and gap-toothed smiles since they were at most two or three years old when they started playdates and park visits together. William's friends and their families are part of our chosen family and we wouldn't have made it over the hurdles of the past 17 years without them. 

Though I don't typically dwell on future events, the idea of this graduation party has crossed my mind over the years, especially when we celebrated the graduations of older siblings. We moms never doubted that this core group would still be linked, that the bonds of growing up together would hold. Now the cherished idea of finishing K-12 the way we started it - with dear friends at our side - will come to fruition on Friday. Gratitude fights with nostalgia for primacy in my mind, and underneath that battle lies a quiet happiness, a sure knowledge that we are blessed in community, and my children will understand that forever.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Is it the 1950's?

About a month ago, my swim friend / gardening fanatic told me about a wonderful new invention: seed tape. The tape is actually a toilet paper-type material, and the seeds are pressed between two layers at ideal intervals for planting. No more painstakingly dropping tiny seeds at carefully measured distances; with seed tape you can dig a simple furrow and lay the paper down in even and well-spaced rows. In a flurry of excitement I went to the local Ace Hardware, which was out of seed tape, and then online, where I purchased lettuce, spinach, carrots and beets.

The bulky envelope of seed tape thrilled me when it arrived and I carefully opened the lettuce and spinach to see the coiled paper within. What a shock when I came to the carrot bag and it was flat as a pancake. No carrot seed tape lay within and the flap on the envelope wasn't even sealed. Someone apparently missed the memo that those envelopes are supposed to contain a product.

So I girded my loins and made a telephone call to the help desk at the seed company. The 'helper' -let's call her Myrtle - asked me for my address and order number twice in a rusty voice. I kept my patience and used my nice "I can make friends on the phone voice," until Myrtle told me that I couldn't make the order request because my husband's name was on the order.

"I need your husband's confirmation of this order," she creaked.

"But I'm the one that made the order! He doesn't know anything about the garden. His name is only on it because I used his PayPal account to pay. And he's on a conference call for work."

"I'm sorry, Ma'am, but I can't process this re-order without your husband's go-ahead." She was definitely not using her "make friends on the phone" voice.

"But this is just for carrots, it's a five-dollar order!" Myrtle didn't reply, so I sighed loudly in exasperation and made the long trek downstairs to the basement so Rob could say yes, please order the carrots. (I may have stomped loudly on the stairs both ways.)

I got off the phone with Myrtle before the customer service recording could capture me saying something bad. Rob came upstairs later with a chuckle, asking why the seed company didn't trust me to order carrots. As I fumed, he shook his head. "It's not the 1950's," he said.

His words put a pause on my anger as I thought about the de-humanizing aggravation, the disempowerment, that women faced in the 1950's, and both before and after that time. The idea that a woman's authority has to come from a man seems barbaric to me, and yet there are people alive (mainly men, but not all) who still believe that. 

I'd like to tell Myrtle that women are powerful people, and we know how to buy our own damn carrots. We also own homes and businesses, take charge of families, companies, and countries. We don't need permission from anyone, and we're not going back to a time when a man needed to give it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

A Bittersweet Birthday

 "Wow!" said the little boy in Party City. "Those balloons are big."

"Yes," said the mother holding tight to his hand. "See, a one and an eight. That makes eighteen. How old are you?"

He held four fingers in my direction. "Four years old! That's a good number, too," I said, thinking back to William's flyaway brown hair, his chubby cheeks and his sturdy four-year-old body.

He nodded and asked his mom, "Who are those balloons for?"

I answered him. "They're for my little boy." 

The mom looked at me, her eyes sympathetic over the mask. "That's a big birthday."

"It's bittersweet," I said, dashing a hand across my eyes and cursing the cold that made me cry even more than usual.

William's golden birthday is today, as he turns 18 on the 18th. We didn't know what to buy him, so the balloons, cake and cards have to make the day special until he figures out what he wants or needs for college.  We now have four adults in the house, four people linked by years of living together, two who are rooted here at home and two who are sprouting wings and eager to fly away.

I used to want to slug people who said, "Oh, treasure every moment, it goes by so fast!" when they saw me with three young children. Back then, every day lasted a year. Moms can't get sick, can't take naps, can't go workout or even do grocery shopping in peace. I am so grateful for the freedom that comes with having adult children, for the self-care I can do now, for their independence and their help. But the years of high school did go fast, and especially in the pandemic, time slipped through my fingers like water.

As I baked William's cake, the photos of my babies flashed across our electronic photo frame. The kids  were so precious and innocent, so trusting, protected and happy. When they leave us, I can't protect them from this dizzying cruel and kind world. When they leave us, their absence haunts the house. My son whistles beautifully - like my father did - and when he leaves, his whistle goes with him, along with his swim bag in the corner, his shoes in the mud room, his towels from the backs of kitchen chairs. 

Rob and I have mostly done our job, I think, and there is pride and pleasure in that as well as a sting. Today we will show William only our smiles and our support, encourage him to keep growing and making his own way. But tonight, after cake, candles and singing, there will be more than a few bittersweet tears on my pillow.