Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

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.