Empty nester, Family, Love, Parenting

What Do You Do?

You’d think by now at 57, I could shake it off, those little shreds of shame that still bubble up when I least expect it. We were at a small outdoor gathering and, chatting with a college student, I was doing my damnedest to answer that question you always get meeting new people:  “What do you do?” I’ve worked most of my life,  and even though I don’t have a job now that pays me money, anyone who knows me knows I always stay busy. Most of what I do is take care of things, of people, of pets. And increasingly most recently, of myself.

Our conversation moved into empty nesting, her mother in the same place, wondering what she’s going to do. We talked of the gaps within our generations, technology a big one. Her smile widened when she told the story of her dad who still types www.google.com on his computer when he wants to search something. I chuckled along with her, though wasn’t fond of poking fun of her dad whom I didn’t know, but for whom I felt compassion. While I don’t type out the word Google to search, I did admit to typing the letter g out of habit to begin a search. She laughed the biggest belly laugh, grinning, because we all should know that Google is the default search engine. Has been for years. You didn’t get the memo? This time I was the butt of the joke and the laughing continued far longer than was comfortable, and I was left to sit, smiling along, exposed, found out, in my imperfect nakedness. 

My younger son and IT consultant

I still go to Utilities and find the Bluetooth icon to turn it off and on. Same with Wifi or anything else I need to engage or disengage. My son keeps reminding me I can swipe up (or is it down?) and just yesterday watching me press the home button to ask Siri, “What’s the hourly forecast?”, he demonstrated how with this newest iPhone software update you can swipe left (or could be right) and find your hourly forecast perfectly displayed. All these saved steps. Where have I been? I’ve struggled feeling and being so behind the times with technology, but somehow I’ve gotten by with my go to limited cadre of tools and shortcuts. 

So here we are, another Mother’s Day is upon us, another sunny Sunday where we’ll serve up quiche and cards and mimosas to celebrate these tireless women, some of whom want nothing more on this day than a break. Someone else to do the laundry, weed the garden, respond to bickering children, walk the dog. The commercials and advertisements deceptively feature a beaming well-dressed woman surrounded by her loving family. They’re all getting along, attractive, enjoying delicious foods and fun times. 

My older son years ago who picked these from our yard

Today we celebrate those women who do that “hardest job they’ll ever love,” and I’ve been wondering what it is about this role I love most. Obviously, you get the kids, cute as buttons when they first appear wide eyed and downy soft. Memories of those early years linger — the soft lovely smell of baby powder, the sound of swishing diapers as your little ones first crawl and then toddle around the house. Those sweet baby doll dimples on your baby’s fingers, the small of their backs when they’re sitting up as you dress them, the startle reflex where in an instant their arms resemble orchestra conductors’, the little stars their five fingers make as they begin grasping things or reaching for you. The toys, strollers, bassinets and high chairs that fill your home, the cries, the baby giggles, ear infections and scraped knees. I could go on and on. But I’ll stop with this one, the sweetest memory of all: that they make you their world. You’re their Google, their everything, their portal to discovery. 

Always glad these two were two years apart

The sleepless nights, the endless school forms to complete, soccer practices, teacher conferences, dances, hurt feelings, missed homework, you’re privy to it all. Unlike a job where you might be limited to your role which may or may not interest you, here you can do it all if you want. Give yourself that promotion you’ve wanted, expand your role on a whim. So much you improvise because, necessity IS the mother of invention. Which preschool is best, when is dinner, what’s for dinner? The list goes on and you get to write the script, drawing on your own childhood on what to keep or bury, what you eat, where you vacation, what they wear. 

Soon enough they grow up and compare you to other moms and later discover all that you don’t know. So in so’s mother let’s them stay out later, why can’t we have (insert overly sweet juice brand, tv in your room, bigger car, better clothes). I did it too. There was Lisa in third grade whose mother packed her the most perfect lunches. Shaved ham piled high on gorgeous deli bread, a full bag of chips vs the little baggie with a short stack we got, and some gorgeous enormous cookie. Where is this deli they found? Our A&P didn’t have anything close. I rolled along with my peanut butter and bacon (actually REALLY good if you haven’t tried) or packaged slippery deli meat (I ate it often but OMG not today), uninspired American cheese on white bread (why the mayo, mom?). I’d of course come home and ask, “Why can’t we have shaved ham?” and go into detail about the glorious sandwich Lisa’s mom packs her. Or there was that girl in eighth grade who was super smart, beautiful and always perfectly dressed. One day she appeared with her pressed cords and Sperry topsiders (or were they docksiders? I never could catch up with the right ones). I felt lesser but I knew I’d be in hand-me-downs because it’s just what we did, so I didn’t whine about the topsiders. Actually, looking back on it I was content in my Tretorns.

On the soccer fields way back when

You give birth and, in that minute, you’ve transitioned to a mother. You think on your feet, show up, produce opinions, advice, meals, birthday celebrations, wardrobes, a home, your heart, all of you. We’re all doing our best, but let’s be honest, who really knows what they’re doing? That you’re there is a biggie. Your children run to you in the night when they’ve had a bad dream, or when dinner is ready or when they’ve finished artwork or aced a test they must show you. You’re always there. A fixture, a beacon, a friendly mountain they can climb. You’ve melded into the furniture – the bed, the couch, the kitchen sink. Your presence is felt all over and when they call out for you, you answer and if you can’t, you find someone else to. Whenever a child call’s out “mom” in a crowded room ,we all turn our heads to answer. Even now with grown children, I know I still do.

My mom, Susan, and Lad

There’s no manual on motherhood. My own mother died before I even married, so I didn’t get any advice from her. All these years moms have held their ground, stood firm by their choices amid the whines. Never once when I didn’t get the lunch I wanted did I think any less of my mom. Or think she didn’t love me as much as Lisa’s mom loved her. That love was just there. Always. I think of her often and today being Mother’s Day, especially today. She was always up. I don’t remember her showering or getting ready for the day because that was done hours before anyone woke. The engines had started – the coffee – Taster’s Choice stirred into a Corningware pot with a wooden spoon. Mathis Dairy milk splashed over the top. You see her face your whole life and never once consider that someday you might not anymore. But that day does come, and you’re left trying to repaint her image for your mind. It’s funny, the visage is cloudy but the feelings are still so clear.

So what is it you do? You don’t have to explain. You’re doing it every day. (please see video below) I remind myself we’re all works in progress, and we should loose the shame. Instead we ought to keep giving out our love, saving big doses for ourselves. Hats off to all of you “motherers” who came before, who are here now and who will be here in the future. And big love to you, mom. xoxoxo

Covid-19, Family, Travel

Go!

We got out. Out of our house, out of the city, out of the jetway and onto a plane carrying weekend suitcases and Dopp kits with regulation-sized miniature minutiae. I brought the best clothes I had. No pressure visiting your fashion forward son and his similarly styled girlfriend. Nope, none at all. 

We did get out, but not without a little drama first. Walking toward our gate at Hartsfield-Jackson International, we heard this most peculiar and disturbing automated announcement: “Beep beep beep beep beep. Attention! An emergency has been reported in the building. Please stand by until this is verified.” I asked the gate attendant if she’d ever heard such a warning and, scanning my face for a shred of insight, she shook her head no. Those of us ready to board couldn’t get off the jetway fast enough, rats fleeing this sinking ship. We’d each won a golden ticket and proudly filed out, but not before glancing at the gate attendant who looked a little jealous we got to leave, a steady rhythm of emergency alerts still sounding in her world. I never did learn what happened. Maybe it was just someone bumping an alarm that went off? Or maybe it was that escaped prisoner I read about in transit from one prison to another, or that other guy on the loose? These loose ends, however, faded aboard the plane. 

lt’s been a few years now of dodging disasters and I’m glad I am quick to move – getting in to doctors and out of airports. Double masked as usual, this time I strapped on a disposable N95 mask, a prehistoric black beak with its vertical seam jutting out from my own nose. I’ve diapered the beak with a floral Old Navy cloth mask, softening my air travel presentation. 

Uneventful flight. The best kind. My brilliant sky miles mixologist/points purveyor husband got us free flights to JFK and hotels, translating to single night stays at two different hotels. Going to see the older son and check in. He’s a man now, but we are excited as a kid at Christmas to see him and step into his world. 

Walking the city, we found people out in droves – masked and moving getting their bodies out in the sun in the spring air and into restaurants and subways and street parks. It’s like nothing ever happened, except for the masks they now wear, and they’re enjoying amazing New York food just like before, except at tables separated with plexiglass dividers. We’re all starved for new experiences, delicious foods and movement and in this city on this day we’re lapping it up.

Waiting on Ben to arrive, we ordered drinks and calamari, and moments later, he walked up wearing the coolest pants he’d made himself – grey with black piping and a front exterior pocket within a larger pocket. The pant legs had a tapered hem and laced up the back. We ordered all kinds of deliciousness – pizza, seafood stew, spaghetti a la vongole – and caught up on his life, his sewing, job, and thoughts on school resuming in the fall – a slice of life in the city through his eyes. 

Saturday was full. Up to get going and close out our room (that freebie Joe finagled with points) and stowing our things with the concierge. Hopped a cab to Brooklyn (west Williamsburg) and got to Ben’s place, a converted warehouse – so interesting it’s got its own Wikipedia page:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McKibbin_Street_Lofts  Flooded with light and enormous, the living room held a baby grand piano a neighbor left behind, a ping pong table Ben scored at Target, plus two couches (one found) and two sewing desks, all this and still, with room to spare. There’s an open kitchen, generous bathroom and three bedrooms. Unlike his previous neighborhood, here you don’t see the skyline, nor do you pass shops and restaurants outside your door; it’s industrial with stark graffiti walled streets and the occasional overpriced and understocked bodega or café several blocks away. Here, grocery shopping happens in Manhattan – at Trader Joes or Target. It’s all a tradeoff. The endless hardwood floors and enormous windows and tall ceilings produce a refreshing volume that gives you room to think and move and breathe.

Next it was off to brunch via subway. I was wary at first – Covid concerns – but everyone was distanced, masked and quiet. Subway signs promoting mask wear went a step further with a good => better image of a masked person talking and a silent masked person, silent the better choice. Next stop, Williamsburg, a super quaint Brooklyn area dotted with shops and restaurants, where everyone wanted a part of this sunny day. Outside, three of us ordered eggs and Ben settled on chicken and waffles. Brunch brought good energy and conversation. 

The day went on and on in the best of ways. Time spent outside on the Whitney museum’s sunny patio and walking on the city streets were highlights. Staring off into the distance down at the city to terraces and rooftops, I spotted children frolicking on a rooftop playground with abandon (literally, parents nowhere in sight), a guy smoking a cigarette, pacing, Astroturf carpets sharing outside space with living plants. Walking through parks and markets and concerts and past street corner vendors, we stopped to buy mangoes and cucumbers from a woman peeling and cutting them from her rickety sidewalk table. Refreshing and perfect. It doesn’t always have to be hotdogs and bagels.

This day, Saturday, brought the best dinner, the best weather, the best moods for all of us. The best exercise too, covering ten miles on foot. After dinner we broke off from Ben and Valentina as they caught a subway home. It was then that I heard a most peculiar squeaking sound which I realized was from those illusive rats I’d never seen here but ones I’m always expecting. There were four or maybe more, two under one trash can and two under another. Scared of us, they popped in and out of holes, squealing and making quite the ruckus. They were young, so not the famed house cat-sized variety, but still, true New Yorkers. We tried to catch a cab after dinner – which was the best meal I’ve had in forever (slow cooked salmon over whipped potatoes, spring vegetables and basil vinaigrette, which I’m going to recreate) – but they were all full and their lights off, so instead we walked the 45+ minutes back to the hotel. With just a few blocks to go we saw cabs with their light on. Isn’t that always the way?

Up Sunday to a blanket of clouds but warmer temps. A cab to Brooklyn brought us back to Ben and Valentina’s – thanks to Joe who had to navigate for the older cab driver lacking both a reliable phone and solid sense of direction. There they had hot mugs of coffee ready for us, ping pong paddles set up for play, and their roommate’s precious dog rested and ready for a game of fetch. Lunch at Roberta’s, their favorite neighborhood pizzeria, wrapped up our time. We debated leftover pizza – do you prefer it hot or cold? – and they were delighted with that full meal and leftovers to come. 

Forty-eight hours of this, and I am delightfully sated, though now back home, that magical swirl has given way to regular life, but not without a little resistance on my part. I am reset and going to get out more, look around and infuse these days with sparkle. No grey day, pile of bills, uninspired meal or person can take this from you. Wherever you are, wherever you’ve been or are walking or running to, you have a well of curiosity and strength and sunny surprises inside you just waiting to be tapped. 

All this wondering when will we ever travel again, is it safe to go or should we just wait. It’s like riding a bike and reassuring to know you can still do it. This pandemic has weaved a frightening path of destruction, but it’s highlighted what matters, too. In the rush to return to normal, it’s important to decide which parts of your old normal are worth returning to. Less is more. Quality over quantity. Family matters. That’s it, folks.

Also I am relieved to find that Word does not recognize Covid during a spellcheck, a sign that surely, this nasty virus is leaving us soon and will not be joining the lexicon. 

Wishing us all happy adventures in the days ahead. xoxo