Dog Love, Family, Grace, pets

All Dogs Go To Heaven

We had a dentist growing up I couldn’t stand. From upstairs, my sister Anne and I could hear our mom scheduling the appointment for this twice a year misery, and the weeks leading up to it were tinged with dread. We could be having a perfectly lovely summer day and one of us – maybe as a joke to freak the other out, I don’t know – would throw out those two words, “Dr. Pike”, and instantly fun turned to fear. 

Dr. Pike didn’t wiggle the inside of our cheek when he gave us Novocain like my dentist does now, so it hurt more than it needed to. He didn’t wait long enough for our mouths to get numb either before he filled our cavities. His one room two-chair office had a strange smell, a foul cocktail of toothpaste, that burnt metallic drill smell and the sour cup of liquid fluoride he’d sloppily smear across our teeth with a Q-tip. 

One time I shared an appointment with a boy around my age – we were maybe 12 at the time. Dr. Pike asked him if he had a girlfriend and, sheepishly, he shook his head no. Then Dr. Pike asked me and got another no. He wrapped up his taunt with the proposition that maybe we could be boyfriend and girlfriend, and did we each want that? Mortified and blushing so badly my face burned, I had nowhere to go in that one open room that I had decided surely was hell.

This week brought traces of Dr. Pike dread, but this time I’m the mom making the appointment – not for a dental, but instead for a loving goodbye. I set it up from my car in our driveway, not that Lucie can even hear me since her hearing went a few years ago, but she needn’t be saddled with that same dread. She still tracks me with her sweet eyes from across the room, still gorgeous and eating well and smiling when she can, but she is painfully uncomfortable moving around, especially sitting down. I see her struggle more each day, yet I have to move past my own pain with this decision as I know it’s the right thing and the right time. She will be comfortable and at home with all her family near and with her dignity, and without a trace of shame or fear or pain. Of course, I want her to live with me forever, but if you love someone, sometimes you have to let them go. 

Lucie and I are so in tune I sometimes forget she’s an entirely different species, one that I knew intellectually going in would have a shorter lifespan. Yet now, despite an impressive 14 ½ years together, it still seems too short. In our house growing up, our pets got such royal treatment and my mom always said that in her next life she’d like to return as a pet in our household. On hearing this and knowing how close she and I were, my boys used to suggest that maybe Lucie is my late mom who’s returned as our husky/shepherd? Each time I offered Lucie a lamb bone and she’d happily whittle it down as effortlessly as if it were a flaky croissant, they’d ask, “Did your mom like lamb?” “Why yes! Yes, in fact she did!” I’d exclaim. This happened with countless other foods and we’d smile and laugh knowingly at each other and Lucie, happy we’d found a way for the kids to meet my mom.

I could have easily named her Grace for her beauty and elegance and the way she soared like a gazelle over the ravine at the dog park, and also how she tenderly sniffed and snuggled the cats. She never showed any food aggression and I could be on the floor with my face in her bowl and she would have gladly shared her kibble with me. Same with hand feeding her scraps which she gingerly took from my hand, never once biting; she knew I’d keep my fingers outstretched until she got it all.

People moving around unpredictably made her nervous, and the few times she nipped friends and family at our house, it was so sudden and secretive and upsetting. Her DNA test came up as half Husky, half German Shepherd, with trace amounts of Australian Shepherd, so it made sense that she was a herder. After learning that,  we secured her when company came over.

She sometimes lifted her leg to pee, odd behavior for this gorgeous girly girl who was still all dog rolling outside in stinky things, sniffing cats’ butts and other dogs’ too. Dogs smell for the same reasons we read – to gather information or get caught up in a story – and Lucie was a voracious reader, often rereading her favorites, stopping to sniff a familiar tree or shove her snout down the same chipmunk hole. 

The Siberian Husky in her loved when it snowed, and her little paws left the cutest imprints in the pristine sparkling blanket outside. A few times we connected her leash to the sled and the kids shouted “mush!” curious if she’d instinctively take off pulling them. Instead, Lucie just stood there and smiled, clueless, lapping up the incredible white wonderland. Car rides were another favorite and keys jangling would find her at the door, hopeful, patiently waiting. I taught her to shake, lie down, roll over, and kiss. Her kisses were licks on our arms and faces or we’d get the snout bump, nose bumping against our mouth, getting it done and more importantly, getting the treat.

She loved her walks but her Husky “I’ll do what I want” attitude made training a challenge, and often she pulled. One night after dark on their first walk together, she broke Joe in when she happened on a dead squirrel, and he got the pleasure of plucking it from her jaws. Her wanderlust kept her mostly leashed except during the occasional tennis ball toss in the yard. If the ball went deep, she’d take off running for a catch me if you can game toward the street behind us, terrifying me each time.

We walked a lot around our little town and its surrounding neighborhoods. She’d go where I wanted, the leash a tiller I could adjust ever so slightly for a change in direction. Some shop keepers knew her and invited her in and gave her treats. Her beauty – that striking white wolf face with perfectly applied eyeliner and a plush creamy apricot coat – was extraordinary, and people wanted to get near her. In the first weeks I had her, walking downtown near the subway station, we came upon an elderly woman who ambled over to us, stopped for a moment, hands on hips, and proclaimed, “That dog is pretty as shit.” That was all and she walked away, satisfied she’d told us what was on her mind.

Lucie was a great car rider and we took her on short trips – to parks and to the mountains and once to the beach near Charleston. We had never taken her swimming before and were delighted to see what fun she had dog paddling in the surf, and watching her soaked little wet chicken legs trotting down the beach. She was game for most anything, walking when I wanted to, resting when I rested, and one morning waking up in the dark with Ben and me to watch the sun come up. I felt safe with her by my side and honored to introduce her to the majesty of a sunrise over the ocean.

She used to follow us room to room and upstairs in the evenings to sleep on the floor beside me. These days, she watches me in the kitchen from her corner spot on the floor, and now with severe arthritis, only gets up to eat or go outside. This has been our little world together for weeks now. 

She’s grown bored with her usual fare and she’s all over the new change in menu. Sometimes sweet potatoes and broccoli mix in with her kibble and a little bone broth to bind it, or even better, crumbled ground beef. The other night it was Costco seared tuna – a huge hit. I wrap her medicines in deli meat, which goes down easy. She still loves rice and I always let her lick the pot, and cut up fruits too – watermelon, strawberries, bananas. Good food and big bowls of ice water, rest and medicine fill her days, and while she’s never been a hugger, she’s allowing it. Oh, how I’ll miss her!

Mornings are sweet. I come downstairs and wipe her face with a hot cloth, cleaning her crusty eyes and wiping down her forehead, snout and cheeks. I often whisper, “How was your flight?” as these gentle towels take me back to my first trip to Europe flying Lufthansa. In that quiet cabin at the beginning of dawn, the nicest flight attendant handed me a hot towel, whispering, “I hope you slept well.” I felt so loved and cared for waking up in this way, and Lucie is getting that same sweet care.

I know our situation is not unique and so many go through this but still, it’s tough. You’re in that no man’s land between feeling guilty and all the while seeing your baby struggle. You have to grow up, be the adult and make hard choices. These days, these 14½ years, this life with Lucie has been wonderful, and I’m doing all I can to keep it together and honor her with a dignified loving sendoff. I’ve recorded a hymn for her, Amazing Grace, which seems right for this moment. I’ve added in some of my favorite photos too. 

She’s going to a place where there will be spectacular sunrises and sunsets, car rides with the windows rolled down, fluffy mashed potatoes and turkey that’s juicy for a change, tennis balls to run after where you don’t have to bring them back, endless meadows of monkey grass to wade through, walks in the rain and magical snowfalls. She will be free to roam untethered. I love her to pieces and am lucky to have found her and she me. Lightness and love, my sweet girl, fly high.

Birthdays, Family, Food, hope, Sunshine, Travel, Uncategorized

Up With The Sun

Never once have I regretted waking up early to see the sun rise. It’s your own private preview to the day before the world begins to stir, your chance to discover what awe, sparkle, brightness and hope look like. Sometimes there’s a dramatic sky previewing the show, other times, a cloud cover has settled in so thick you’re certain you won’t see anything. Once, years ago, I walked away from waiting on a sunrise to begin, assuming I’d either woken up too late and missed the show, or there was no show at all, since the clouds wouldn’t let the sun out, only to turn around to find a giant orange ball had risen, tiptoeing in just when I’d stopped watching. Today’s clouds parted and presented us with a shimmering gold nugget, actively stretching and spreading its molten wonder. Everyone quietly found their seats – some on yoga mats in the sand, others climbing on overturned chaises, some standing still, reverent and expectant – each of us humbled and respectful, talking in hushed tones. 

The hot glittery gold began to spread out and thin yellow rays extended across the sky, reaching out to each of us there looking up. It’s real, these golden tentacles which stretch from the center. They’re like the sunshines I used to draw as a little girl, when I’d carefully select colors from my Crayola box: orange, yellow-orange, orange-yellow, goldenrod, yellow, lemon yellow and gold, and if you were lucky enough to be coloring in 1972 as I was, you had access to the new fluorescent Crayola collection debuting that year, adding chartreuse and ultra yellow along with other colors to the mix. Those rays aren’t just in a child’s imagination, they are real – real enough for an iPhone to capture and so much more engaging in person than in any stock photos or inspirational motifs. They’re as real as those smoke curls I used to draw which spiraled out of the chimney of my house.

As the performance heightened, seagulls circled, perfectly picturesque and swooping into every frame. The sun broke out of its gold shell and rose up quickly, spreading a bright yellow haze all around. The crowd then shifted and scattered, and we moved on into the day, filled up from the performance, and my sister and I agreeing it was well worth setting the alarm. The show would resume tomorrow, but by then, we’d be back home in different cities, returning to the less interesting routines we’d left.

Afterward we went for coffee at a large Starbucks nearby. From our table outside, we watched lots of people – singles, couples, joggers and partners with their dogs – and talked for hours, a pair of sisters full on conversation, caffeine and celebration from this rare birthday getaway. This week she turned sixty, my warm, beautiful slender, forever-young sister, and me, just two years behind. For four days, we walked, sunned, swam and shelled. Lizards darted across our paths, a pair of parakeets flew overhead, pigeons cooed nesting on the hotel’s roof, and a bright green iguana even appeared, jumping in our pool for a quick swim across.


The four of us – my sister, her daughter, my husband and I – got along well, and it was easy making plans from our rooms directly across the hall from one other. Nearly identical, one room felt like a girls’ dorm with The Food Network on TV running in the background, bikinis hanging out to dry and no shortage of chatter. The other doubled as a couple’s room and workplace, since Joe needed to dedicate time each day connecting with his office. The rental car stayed parked throughout our stay and we instead explored the area on foot – past successions of royal palms in street medians, pastel Art Deco buildings, stark Miami-hot streets, Cuban sandwich shops and stylish cafes with lush outdoor seating. 

We discovered a quieter beach away from the center of things and sprung for chaises with umbrellas, a first for each of us. Accustomed to hauling beach umbrellas from home, we’d typically find ourselves frustrated from their tilting or pulling up out of the sand and blowing down the beach, leaving us little choice but to bake in the sun or else call it a day. Esteban’s, our beach chair place, set us up, their drill boring a perfect narrow hole in the sand for our umbrella, creating an afternoon full of marvelous choices – sun or shade, surf or beach, walking the beach or lounging on cushioned chaises. I even fell asleep for a short while, infant-style arms overhead. Delicious. 

Meals were consistently wonderful except for dinner the first night when we got stuck in the middle of the largest, tackiest, rudest crowd we’d ever seen, who were constantly everywhere we found ourselves, blaring music and twerking, yelling, racing in cars and weaving on bikes around us. The restaurant was expensive as expected but unremarkable, feta noticeably absent from our Greek salads, canned California olives (c’mon, no Kalamata?), and tiny minced romaine, with a tasteless dressing on the side. It was loud and rushed – a sudden downpour contributing to the mood – as we all moved inside, bringing this crazy party uncomfortably closer. As we all fought fatigue from early morning flights and the rushing around you do before a getaway, this first night gave us a distasteful preview to our stay which luckily, four days in, faded like yesterday’s news. The rest of the time was quieter and what we’d been looking for and desperately needed – our soundtrack of tides, birds and our own spontaneous laughter. 

Meals were highlights and our hotel was our favorite place for good ones; it’s so easy opting to stay in when you can dine alfresco in lush outdoor rooms surrounded by tropical vegetation and cute critters minding their own business. Our hotel’s Caesar salad was a thing to behold: Crispy butter lettuce replaced romaine and bread crumbs stood in for croutons, with tiny Parmesan curls scattered all around the top, and a smidgeon of bacon, all of it minimally bound in a refreshing dressing. Grilled shrimp tacos came with soft white corn tortillas, cotija cheese, finely shredded cabbage and jalapeño mayo, another hotel homerun.A friend recommended an authentic Cuban sandwich shop, and a couple by the pool, a place for lobster rolls, so we checked out both, which were authentically delicious. 

The birthday – and reason for the trip – was full and fun. I got up early that day and slid a card under Anne’s door with a gift inside – a happier paper surprise on your floor than the usual hotel bill signaling the end of your stay, always a downer. Instead, the party was just getting started. We gathered for brunch and I brought down her bag of gifts – little nothings but each wrapped carefully with love. We got good coffees that day in lieu of the lobby’s free stuff and once more, sat outside in the early June heat. The four of us each found our thing – cappuccino, croissant, eggs and avocado toast – and reveled in it; I love how everyone gets to share in the same fun as the birthday person. 

Another beach day, more beautiful weather, and reliable Esteban’s set us up again. Red and purple flags flew like the day before, warning us of rip tides and Japanese Man ‘o War, so we lazily floated close to shore. Five o’clock brought happy hour to our hotel lobby every afternoon, and we patiently stood in line hoping the sauvignon blanc wouldn’t run out. Little clear plastic cups were stacked next to a serving tray and the hotel front desk person turned sommelier for the pour, another plastic cup set out for tips. One day there was only chardonnay and our faces fell, but I politely convinced the pourer to check in the back for more and, spared the dreaded oakiness, the party continued. 

We frequently coffeed and happy houred on our favorite patio on the side of the hotel with its snappy striped awning rolled up for evenings, revealing lovely strings of lights woven and stretching across the canopy of vegetation overhead. Lizards darted in and out of the plants surrounding us and one of them who came around every day was missing the tip of its tail.

A bizarre looking caterpillar appeared one morning as well, slowly motoring along a table top where we sat for coffee. An animal lover and learner, Hannah kept saying it might be poisonous, and a quick Google search revealed it was indeed. We had before us the puss caterpillar, a strangely beautiful creature born saddled with a horrible name. My search produced this: their wig-like hairs are actually spines that can cause intense pain, swelling, vomiting, and fever if touched, and with this, our fascination was over. Hannah held out a wooden stirrer for it to climb onto and then moved it far away into the vegetation where it leisurely dismounted and carried on.

It was during one last swim in the pool in the hours before check-out that we each admitted that we’d miss this place. I asked Anne and Hannah if at the end of a nice vacation they make little resolutions like I do, and they admitted they do. One such resolution, especially on the heels of that morning’s sunrise, was to get up earlier and notice the day when it’s its freshest and quietest. Another was to get outside and exercise more. Both ideas we carried with us as we boarded our plane for home, and even though the new season has barely begun, I think this sunny reset is firmly planted inside each of us. 

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

Empty nester, Family, Love, Parenting

Bed, Bath & Beyond

On mornings when she drove carpool, sometimes my mother would let me know I had crumbs around my mouth. Before I could wipe them away, she’d already licked her own fingers like you would if collating papers, and gone about dabbing the corners of my mouth. I’d like to say this happened before picking up the other kids, but it was random and often we had an audience.

My carpool memories are of us crammed into my dad’s white 1969 Mustang convertible with burgundy interior. Not sure why she sometimes drove his three-speed manual steering drafty child carriage instead of her station wagon, but maybe our Ford Country Squire wasn’t the dependable family ride its faux wood siding conjured. The Mustang steering was so tight she’d ask for help from whomever was in front, my sister or me, and we’d lean in to move the stubborn wheel.

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Where did the time go?

We didn’t have any carpools with my kids but I do recall that moment when the ride to school changed, probably as early as third or maybe it was fourth grade, when the school drop off necessitated omitting any form of motherly affection. I still wanted to hug them goodbye and sometimes I’d look around and when the coast was clear, remind them no one was looking and we could get in a quick hug. It was a rushed hug, but a hug nonetheless. Of course, as years passed those drop off hugs all but disappeared.

We started biking to school and then my boys would walk themselves and later on, drive. I’m glad to have had the schools that we did, with great teachers, close by and with a wide variety of people. A slice of real life in an urban enough setting, but still with plenty of green spaces to roam. I’m still getting newsletters from our high school and occasionally I’ll scan them for details on the postponed graduation festivities, but mostly they’re full of the usual back-to-school information, complicated further by this pandemic, information now intended for other families. I wonder how long it will take me to voluntarily opt off this list. Or how many Augusts I will see school buses pass by and remember all these years. I’m swollen with gratitude and memories.

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Georgia Tech bound from an early age

This weekend my younger son leaves for college. I remember the first college drop off two years ago and its 13-hour drive. This younger son is moving just 10 miles away, yet the mental preparations feel the same. He seems relaxed and understandably ready to leave behind the drone of his mother’s voice and nonstop questions which land like a spray of bullets: Should we get two sets of sheets? Which of these comforters do you prefer? Will you take a look at these shower caddies? Certain he’s asking his own: Will she ever stop?

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Back to school Covid era

Last weekend we shopped Bed Bath and Beyond for dorm essentials. I hoped to get in and out quickly as pandemic shopping doesn’t afford the luxury of over-analyzing mattress toppers. Besides, he has no interest in a new comforter or towels and washcloths since, budget-minded like his dad, he’s decided to raid our linen closet instead. I remind myself I have boys and unlike my sister’s and my own college preparations, there will be no room theme or patterned comforter. It’s all business and boys’ nests need minimal fuss. I hope he’ll carry good memories in lieu of the current parental annoyances he and I assume most college-bound teens about to leave the nest seem to experience. It was a great shopping trip, the store wasn’t crowded, and we found it all. He’s excited to test out his coffee maker  and try out the mattress topper too, a simulation of life to come.

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Ready for move-in

I think sometimes you must take the lead your child gives you. If he needs a second set of sheets, he reminds me he can simply drive himself to Target. “Let go, woman,” I believe is the message. I’m trying. Really, I am. I joined his college’s parent Facebook group to share information with other freshman parents. One mom’s son is boarding a plane from Singapore and she’s expressing gratitude for other parents who’ve offered to be her son’s in case of emergency, his home away from home. Her vulnerability in letting her only child go is palpable and instantly I’m imagining my own. The wistfulness is coming and I feel it hovering just behind my eyelids.

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His buddy Bo especially will miss him.

After he leaves, I expect we’ll walk by his room and his brother’s and notice the picked over state of things – a lamp gone, pillows and clothes, also gone. Like my friend Carol, herself a mother of two college-aged boys, shared when I mentioned how shocking the empty room was two years ago when my first left: “The empty room is the worst. I do the same – going in there, afraid to vacuum up a single bit of DNA in case he needs to be reconstructed somehow…”

Evan, I want you to find your way and in many ways you have. These last few days together likely won’t be a celebration of family moments, but instead a rush to pack you up, even when I might instead want to hold you tight. Just when I’m feeling strong and mighty, I feel those tears waiting in the wings, asking, is it show time yet? Are you ready for us? Just as our children will, these tears also will come and go, and neither’s timing is something we can predict.

As different as my children are so are their college experiences. One moved six states away, and the other will move one county over. One walked New York City blocks to class and the other, at least in the beginning, will attend most classes online from his dorm’s XL twin bed. This pandemic finds the class of 2020 in an unusual situation. Face masks and hand sanitizer will become their closest companions, and finding a way to socialize while masked will hopefully in a few months become a distant memory. Please, vaccine, please come soon.

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Taking it all in during fall’s campus visits

I can’t wait for so much of it. That feeling of newness and excitement he’ll have as he navigates college life. The intensity of the classes on topics that intrigue him –goodbye French classes! – that pushes him out of his comfort zone and into better ways of thinking, new ways of connecting the dots. He will soak it all in and when I see him again, there will be stories to share.

I look back at life with both our boys and can’t help but smile. What a ride this has been and still is, for all of us! So much is still ahead. I hope when they look back in their own rearview mirrors, that their memories are even a fraction as sweet.

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