Archives for posts with tag: single mom

little w

The other night after a phone conversation with W, I found myself thinking something I hadn’t thought for a while: “I have to write this in the jungle book.”

“The jungle book” is what I call a clothbound journal I got when I was pregnant with W. It has a brilliant leaf-and-bird print cover. In that journal I have written 20 years worth of memories, thoughts, and stories for W. Most of the entries describe tiny pieces of his life: words he learned, silly things he said, places we went and things we did together, his likes and dislikes and tooth configurations at different ages. That book of memories is one of my most vaued possessions. I hadn’t added any new entries since W’s high school graduation.

The other night I took it out and wrote:

You went back to ___ early for January term. You got there a couple of weeks ago and promptly got sick. Got over the fever/chills/dizziness quickly but, as you told me when you called, “As usual, my cough hung on. So I stole a couch.” You said this as if it were the most logical thing in the world. Actually you had dragged it into your room from a dorm common area – because there were so few people back on campus – so that you could sleep sitting up.

So today you called again, said that you were enjoying having the couch in your room, and that you had just gone through “a quite hermitish spell” which you had decided to break by calling me after “spider-crawling over to the window to see how many suns and moons had passed.”

W has recovered from his illness and returned the couch now, but I am still enjoying the jungle book. Excerpts:

Age 3 1/2, as I dried W off after his bath:

W: It’s not YOUR time, it’s MY time! Is not! Is too! Is not! Is too!

Me: Honey, what are you talking about?

W: My feet are arguing [about which should be dried first].

Age 4 1/2:

W: What are you thinking about, Mommy?

Me: I don’t want to tell you, honey.

W: Why?

Me: They’re private thoughts.

W (nodding wisely): Oh. I know. You’re thinking ’bout your penis.

Just before W’s 5th birthday:

You screen my calls for me. Once I heard your side of a conversation: “Are you a salesperson? [pause] Well, are you KIND of a salesperson? Then my mommy doesn’t want to talk to you – but you can talk nice to me because I’m a little kid… Hello? Hello?”

Just after W’s 5th birthday, when my sister visited with her daughters, W’s younger cousins:

You were playing Candyland with [cousin] and Grandma, and you were not winning. Stricken, you wandered out of the room wailing, “Is this how my life is going to be? Will I never smile again?”

Age 5 1/2:

Today you listened to an Alanis Morissette song on the radio and you said, “She sings with might and courage.”

Age 6:

I taught 3rd & 4th grade [Sunday school] last semester, and you and I always talked about our respective classes as we drove home from church. One day I told you my class had talked about Buddhism and the importance of living in the moment and not losing the present to worry about the future. Later (another day, I think) we were listening to your N Sync CD and a song called “Space Cowboy” came on, with the words “We don’t need all these prophecies / tellin’ us what’s a sign / ’cause paranoia ain’t the way to live your life from day to day / So leave your doubt and your fears behind…”  After listening carefully, out of the blue you said, “I think N Sync are Buddhists.”

Age 9 1/2:

Said by a giggling W after I “nagged” him to clean up a mess he had made: “You’re a meany – a big meany! You’re so full of meanness you’re – no offense – BULGING!”

Age 10:

Bellowed by you a couple of months ago as you charged backwards across the room at me: “Buttocks … of unspeakable EEEEVil!”

Every time I read from this book I see that little boy again, shaggy hair in his big brown eyes, huge grin, ready to take on the world. Writing a new silly story in the jungle book this week allowed me to see that that wacky child is not gone. He’s still in there and still delightful.   ❤





ChristmasLeaves“You shoulda named me Joyful Noise,”  said W a few days ago before he went back to campus. I couldn’t answer, laughing as I was at his singing, dancing, stomping, and clapping, or whatever it was he was doing that was so dang loud.

My semester ended a week before his. W’s dad B and I had worked out that B would get W to his house after W’s finals week  and would keep him there until Christmas day. Then I would bring W back home with me.

I had decided that I needed to see family, starting with sis P 1200 miles away. After my students turned in their final papers and exams, I hit the road, driving 4-500 miles per day, stopping in a hotel and grading for several hours, then sleeping before getting up and repeating the process.  I coasted in to P’s driveway on a cloud of frigid snowflakes on the 3rd day.

Her youngest daughter, a true sweet earth child, was out by the road celebrating the snow when I got there. The house was lit up, pointy windows glowing. The building was old and had been a church, a bordello, a different church, and then a family home for 30 years before sis and her husband bought it. It perches at the feet of mountains and gets semi-regular visits from bears seeking P’s wild-growing concord grapes  and from cougars seeking the family’s smaller pets.

The three girls had grown so much since 2005! The oldest is now a little taller than me, confident, funny, capable and beautiful. Middle niece is quieter with a simple ballet dancer elegance and a wicked dry sense of humor. Youngest niece is always moving, always sharing, and always smiling. Sis P’s house is comfy and welcoming like a favorite pair of shoes. Sliding in on a cold snowy night it seemed the perfect place to go for holiday warmth. P and her husband are the ideal hosts for me, making me feel welcome and comfortable and not like a visitor at all.

We had four lovely days together filled with fun excursions, good food, and a lot of laughter. We celebrated Christmas together before the real day and it was lovely. Then I headed east and, after driving all day, arrived at big sis (P2)’s house. She hadn’t known I was coming and held me so tight we both just stood and cried for a few minutes, swaying and hugging. Big sis had had a really tough year and her youngest child was to marry in a few days. I met her fiance for the first time. Turns out he had been offered a job up near W’s college and they would be moving up there in mid-January. Big sis and I sat and talked for hours in her big pretty old farm house around which a city had grown, and two of her other children came over to join us, bringing spouses and beautiful sweet children I hadn’t yet met. That too was lovely and warm and perfect for Christmas.

The next day (Christmas Eve) I drove to the house of my brother and sis-in-law  who live only a few miles from W’s dad. They welcomed me into yet another warm fragrant house and we too talked for hours, exchanging funny stories and catching up on each other’s lives. We had a very laid back Christmas morning. It was quieter than most of ours because their son and his wife and their new baby had gone to visit the baby’s other grandparents. The weather report promised a snow storm. I called W’s dad (who has a second job clearing parking lots of snow) and arranged to get W a few hours earlier than planned so that we could head home well ahead of the storm.

Even before I had W snugly beside me in the warm car driving the few hundred miles home, this felt like the best Christmas in a long time. I hadn’t cleaned the house before leaving and hadn’t set up any holiday decorations. Didn’t have a single gift for him except one Terry’s milk chocolate orange I had happened to see in the grocery. Instead of setting a day to celebrate Christmas with wrapped presents and favorite family foods, we went out to eat and had an after-Christmas shopping trip.

W had a nice long break – just went back yesterday – and we spent it going all our favorite places, doing our favorite things, seeing our favorite people, and talking about all our separate adventures. He snuggled and sweet-talked his furry sisters, hugged me a lot, and told great stories. He shared his thoughts on his classes and his work/study job and the books that he’s reading. We rented movies and caught up on our favorite tv shows. There was a lot of Joyful Noise.  It was wonderful.

me at W’s age

I am remembering the Thanksgiving I was W’s age (18). I was in my 2nd year of college, too far away to drive home for the weekend. Instead I made the much shorter trip to Philadelphia, to the apartment of a sweet acquaintance (C, the best friend of the sister of my boyfriend, who went to the same university my boyfriend did). She had offered me her studio apartment for the long weekend while she was out of town. The plan was that I would go there on Wednesday, spend a quiet Thanksgiving by myself, and then on Friday my boyfriend would come back to town from his family’s home and I would cook him dinner and we would spend the rest of the weekend together.

The apartment was tiny and adorable, a few stories up in an old brownstone on a well-traveled street. The  kitchen was in a closet, the bathroom had a claw-foot tub with a puzzlingly clingy shower curtain, and there were  three tall sunny windows overlooking the mostly-leafless trees at the sidewalk edge. Wednesday I settled in, learned which keys fit which locks and how to unfold the couch into a bed, located the nearest store and bought groceries. That night I learned how it felt to be all alone in a grownup apartment in a grownup building on a street which felt as if everyone else had gone home to somewhere far away. I listened to C’s albums and fell in love with Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush. Thursday was even quieter. I’m sure I had books; I don’t remember C having a TV. I didn’t go out – just listened to Alice’s Restaurant on WMMR and replayed all of C’s albums, feeling at once grownup and very very alone. I pictured the family gatherings at my parents’ house and at my boyfriend’s parents’ big city apartment. I could almost smell the warm scents of the Thanksgiving-day kitchens and hear the voices and laughter of family members drifting in from another room. Thursday was a long day.

Friday I set up the folding card table (C’s apartment was too small to have it up permanently), found a table cloth and nice dishes for two place settings, and put together two salads (fresh greens with tiny bits of carrot, diced tomato, mushrooms). I wasn’t a very experienced cook at 18 but I probably marinated the steaks in something. Those were for Boyfriend; he loved steak. I put dinner rolls in a basket on the table with the salads and set about cleaning and slicing potatoes for homemade French fries (which I had never made but figured how hard could they be?).  Boyfriend arrived, I was overjoyed, and grownup homemaker-type bustling ensued, including the pouring of two cold glasses of milk. Boyfriend also liked milk. At some point I turned on the burner under the pan of oil in which I intended to cook the fries. The steaks went in the oven.  Here’s where my ignorance becomes obvious.

Me: I don’t know why the oil isn’t getting hot. It’s been on for a while. The burner looks hot. Oil bubbles when it boils, right?  Why is it not bubbling?

BF: Maybe throw in a fry and see if it start cooking.    [I throw in a fry. Pooffffff!  It bursts into flame.]

Me: What do we do for a grease fire? I don’t think we’re supposed to put water on it.

BF: I think I heard that you can use milk for a grease fire.    [I take one of the glasses of milk and pour some into the flaming pan. Booooooom!!  The  flames explode outward. Boyfriend and I leap backwards, crash into the table, knocking it over, breaking all the dishes, and scattering salad and milk across the tiny apartment.  One of us calls 911.]

BF: Don’t tell anyone this was my idea, okay?   [He said that a lot.  I’ve kept this particular secret for over 30 years now. It’s time to go public.]

The firefighters came and had the blaze out in about 30 seconds but the apartment was a wreck and there was no eating THAT dinner. Turns out there were enough neighbors still around to be worried that we were trying to burn down the building. The next day I made Boyfriend help me scrub down the walls with the hope that the smoke and soot would come off with enough effort. It did not. I dragged boyfriend and another friend who had come back to town early   around Philadelphia looking for paint stores, determined that C would not come home to a blown up burned out smoky wreck of an apartment and that she would not have to forfeit a damage deposit on account of us being stupid enough to pour a glass of milk onto a raging grease fire. I had enough money for a few gallons of paint.  We spent the rest of the weekend repainting her apartment and airing it out with cold November air.  I cleaned up the kicked over shards of dinner dishes and salad, wishing I had enough money to replace all the broken, blackened and otherwise totally ruined stuff. A couple of months later I did send her some replacement pans and plates and bowls, all filled with homemade chocolate chip cookies. I still feel bad that her act of generosity literally blew up in her (well, my) face.

Anyway, I did not mean for this post to be about how I blew up Thanksgiving.  I meant it to be about how it feels to be alone and far from home and family in a brand new and very grownup situation.  Turns out it feels weird, good, bad, and difficult all at once.

Tonight I am thankful for the family who took W in this weekend  when he was too far to come home for Thanksgiving.  I am thankful for the friends who took me in here today  recognizing that this would be a very lonely time for me if no one made me get in the car and join them for the afternoon.  I am thankful for delicious food and I am thankful that no one kicked over the table before we could eat it. I am grateful for a warm whole unburned house and I am grateful that there are so many kind and generous people in the world.

Happy day of thanks to you all.

Did you ever find  after a tense or scary event  that you had been clenching your hands into tight little fist balls?  And then when you tried to unclench it really hurt?

I think I need to unclench  and it ain’t gonna be pretty.  This past week I realized just how constricted my life has become … how small my world is. It first struck me as I was talking to someone about finally getting my passport renewed. It struck harder later, as I was explaining to someone else that my unwillingness to fly is no longer all about fear of flight, it’s also about fear of FWF – flying while fat. In my mind I see myself going to the airport, already scared about leaving terra firma and desperately needing some kind of medication to quiet THAT, and then having the airline clerk(s) treat me as less than a full person, and yet somehow more than a full person, necessitating the purchase of a second ticket for the other half of my fat self. That would be humiliating and awful enough. Even worse, the scene always ends with me being dragged away screaming and cursing by TSA officials  to spend the rest of my life in a dank anonymous cell somewhere, never able to use my new passport which wouldn’t be possible anyway on account of me being on a universal no-fly list.

Sorry. Got carried away with my neuroses. Perhaps I also need medication when NOT trying to fly.

If anyone had asked me when W was a tiny ball of a baby  if I had a bucket list of things I really wanted to do with him before he grew up, one item I would have listed is ‘Explore Europe with him,’ showing him all the places he has read about in the history books he so loves.  He’s gone now and we’ve never done that. His first view of the Eiffel Tower and the Waterloo battlefield and the Acropolis will probably be with someone else.  We’ve never flown anywhere together.

We HAVE driven all over much of the US from Utah to South Carolina and Boston to Florida. Also to Canada twice. When childless I drove everywhere by myself without a worry. Then I was blessed with my little bundle of boy and from that point on  my major goal was to keep him alive and safe and screw him up as little as possible. Suddenly driving seemed much more dangerous, as the possibility of wrecks and car-malfunction strandings loomed menacingly over us. I drove anyway but the carefree fun was gone. Still, I’d buckle my little guy into his child safety seat in the center of the backseat and surround him with all the necessities (snacks, drinks, book bag, toy bag, blankie, pillow, sweatshirt, kiddie road maps, kiddie shades), turn on music or recorded stories, and off we’d go. W told me years later that he sometimes cracked open the back window just enough to toss out one of his tiny plastic toy soldiers without me noticing. Their mission was to scout and report back to him.

Those trips were pretty wonderful: a dinosaur tour through Utah and Colorado with my sis and her daughters, a drive to marshy Point Pelee (on Lake Erie in Ontario) with my mom, and conference trips to St. Louis, San Antonio, Boston, Chicago and Montreal. In the cities we would use our hotel as the starting point and each evening choose a different direction to walk, exploring and eventually having dinner before heading back to our room.

W is a wonderful travel companion. He’s a good navigator, funny,  helpful, interested in exploring, and not picky about food. He loves meeting people and talking to them and he likes learning new things and discussing it all later. I’m a little jealous of his future travel companions as they are in for a treat. He has unfolded beautifully over his 18 years, unfurling from a little ball of life wrapped tightly in a favorite blankie to a young man whose height stretches beyond mine and whose horizons are limitless. His world is opening wide and, unlike his mama, he seems not to find that painful at all.

I think I’ve let myself get old and my world get small  way too soon. Have passport, will unclench. Don’t mind the noise, please; that will just be me shrieking in (temporary) pain.  It’ll be better when I get to Europe…. and certainly quieter for you.



Busy few days. Mailed my first package to W today; it contained clothing to replace the things his pen ruined in the washer…  Plus sunglasses (always important) and homemade milk chocolate peanut butter fudge (crucial). I love the idea of W receiving that cardboard carton I packed so carefully, smoothing packing tape all around its girth lengthwise AND widthwise so that the box wouldn’t break open. I meticulously covered every part of the address in clear tape so that even in a rainstorm it could find its way to my boy. I can see him hefting it, feeling the weighty proof that someone from home is thinking of him. I confess, I kissed the box in the car on the way to the post office.  Just a hand-kiss pat…  I’m not weird.

W’s doing really well! We’ve talked a few more times on the phone. He’s keeping up with his class work and liking his work/study job. He’s been invited to join a campus slam poetry group and last night he tried out for an improv group. He would love both of those things, I know! I get the sense that his life is incredibly rich now with opportunities, pleasurable activities, and friendship. Picturing this warms my hard little heart to the tips of its stoney little cockles. Apologies to however many words and metaphors I just butchered.

He told me at one point early on that he’d feared he might have missed an important bonding activity with some of his new friends  but that it had turned out okay anyway. I love that he recognizes the importance of things like bonding time. And friends. I love that he thinks about this stuff.

I have been occupied with more mundane activities. Teaching, writing tests, committee meetings, cleaning up cat puke … the usual. At the end of the summer before he left for college I had W bring in all the books from all the boxes we still had in the garage. We had brought about 40 boxes of books from our last home when we moved four years ago  and had only unpacked about half of them. I had W empty the boxes and line the books up, spines up, on the floor in the hallway leading from the garage to the living room. And, you know, around the corner, past the treadmill and the piano, around another corner, past the front door and the front windows. And along the dining room wall of course. And … piled on and around the coffee table. Thank heavens W took a few more to his room.  ANYway, they’ve been sitting there for a few weeks now. I thought I’d go through them pretty quickly, dividing into ‘keep’ and ‘give away’ piles and then actually putting away the keepers and loading the others into the car, but no. And now the abandoned and not-really-as-decorative-as-you-might-think books have become the favorite puking places for the old cat with the sensitive tummy. That too is not nearly so decorative as you might think.

Tomorrow morning W finds out whether he’s got a call-back to the improv group.

Friday he will receive my fudge-and-clothing-and-love-laden package.

My obvious next important task? Protect the books from future feline gastric upheavals.

It’s been strange week … busy and sometimes unreal-seeming but over all good.

From a couple of phone calls and emails I know that things are going well for W – that he is loving most of his classes enough to make up for the one with the teacher who seems hell bent on scaring them all away. The demands on his time are mounting but he seems to be handling them as well as could be expected.

There were a few days there where he made no contact and I found myself in a small freakout. I say ‘small’ because even though it was an unreasonable and, okay, quite silly progression of thoughts running through my head on ‘repeat,’  I was aware that they were quite silly thoughts and was simultaneously thinking them and laughing at myself for thinking them. They went something like this, “Oh my gosh, is he okay? Of course he’s okay. He’s W and he’s a careful and extremely capable person. Besides, someone there would have let me know if he wasn’t okay. Oh my gosh, has he forgotten his mother? After 18 years, is our relationship at an end? Of course it’s not. He loves me and even when lots of other people occupy his time and his interests, he won’t stop loving his mother. Oh my gosh, is he in love already? Obsessed with someone?  In total lust? Wow – that would totally explain this dearth of contact… Oh my gosh, has he been having sex with someone for, like, DAYS??  THAT would TOtally explain this dearth of contact! … OH MY GOSH, WHY DID I NOT SEND A SUITCASE FULL OF CONDOMS??!!”

So, as you can see, I like to include a healthy dash of crazy in even my good weeks. And it has been a good week. I’ve enjoyed my friends and colleagues and my students were interested enough to keep good discussions going throughout each class. Well, not my stats students, but that’s because 95% of them are paralyzed in the presence of numbers and mathematical symbols. I’ll get them out of that.

Last night was one of those nights where my brain just WOULD NOT shut off, even in sleep. Non-stop dreams, fractured and unrestful and seemingly unconnected. All night. This morning I opened my eyes intending to come out and write about them but of course now the details are gone. All I remember is that it was about work, W at college, friends, work, family, W at college, work, and my 2 feet insisting upon going their own ways. One of them – the right one, I think – was particularly set upon doing his own thing. Yes, my right foot is apparently male.

Task for today:  Corral my restless brain enough to get some work done. Engage my feet in cooperative acts.

Phone conversation this morning: “Mom, I have a group of friends already!  Every night we sit out on the grass in a circle and just talk.”

Because of several moves and our unusual schooling situation (homeschool through 7th grade, brick and mortar school in one state for 8th grade and a different state in 9th, and then virtual schooling for the rest of high school), W is really good at meeting people and enjoying time with them when he can get it, but this experience of being independent while also living close enough to easily see friends  is brand new for him. These past 2 years he has been involved in several youth volunteer groups and has made friends from all over our metro area, but they all went to different schools and had different outside activities, so getting together was difficult.  Still, W is confident, good-humored, kind, and not shy at all, so I hoped/knew that close college friendships would be an enormous treat for him.

I asked if he and his friends eat in the cafeteria together. He replied, “No, we all are ready at different times, and there’s usually not a lot of seating together anyway. I sit with a different group of people every night. I get to meet lots of different people. I like that.  One night I ate with the senior football players. They were really nice.” [The senior football players were really nice to my knows-nothing-about-sports-and-cares-even-less freshman geek boy!!!! * ] He continued, “Another night I ate with international students [here he named at least one from each continent]. Afterwards we went out exploring and took pictures.  We bought a nectarine.”

* This utter fearlessness is not new for W. Once, when he was working one of his volunteer events, two young male acquaintances who played football and towered over W, were trying to talk him into approaching the young woman at the pizza table for them. W laughed and said, “There are these things called ‘balls.’  You should get some.” The young giants looked surprised and then laughed. No immediate death for my boy. No bloodshed.

His classes don’t start for a few more days but W is already well-settled.

I am still settling. Yesterday was a Lost Day for me. I accomplished nothing, did nothing fun or productive or enjoyable, and have nothing to show for that entire 24 hour period. From this I learned that I feel generally icky when I’ve had a Lost Day. I decided that today would be different – that I would clean out the fridge and stock it with stuff for me and only me. This I did, after the aforementioned conversation with W (who called ME this morning just to check in).

After emptying the fridge, I wiped it out and put back only those items which I would be likely to use. All the stuff that I didn’t like or that I could  recognize neither by sight nor smell  or that I could no longer remember purchasing (especially things from grocery chains we don’t have here) was emptied, the containers going into either trash or recycling. As I scrubbed the newly-emptied shelves, trying to get crumbs and spills out of tiny crevices and edges, I wondered how I might clean it even better if I were to sell the house (topic for a future blog entry). Bleach and a toothbrush?  I imagined showing the house to potential buyers, having them open the fridge (which would stay with the house) and immediately stagger backwards from the smell of bleach. I imagined myself giggling a little nervously, creepily, serial-killery, “Oh…. That’s because of the heads. Heads have a peculiar odor that some find … off-putting. Often even after I … remove them … I have to use the bleach. You know.”

Perhaps it’s best I not show my own house when I sell.

So what did I put in my clean halffullnester fridge and pantry? With suggestions from loved ones (who might have been dreaming of stocking their very own halffullnester kitchen), I came up with a unique combination of groceries. Baby arugula. Fresh fruit salad. Asparagus. Green onions. 1 lemon, 1 lime. Part of a rotisserie turkey breast (who knew there was such a thing?). Two kinds of hummus. Pita bread. Garlic. Some kind of artichoke & caper spread. A crusty loaf of french bread. Large heavy oranges. Pistachios. Salt water taffy. 2 kinds of pasta salad: bow tie pesto, and some little half-round pasta in a light lemony dressing. Four little round bottles of Orangina. Cannellini beans. 3 kinds of yogurt. One large slice of a fancy and impossibly fudgy-looking cake. A jar of roasted red peppers with golden raisins and pine nuts. Yogurt-covered pretzels. A half gallon of milk. THAT’s what goes in this halffullnester kitchen. This time around, anyway.

Now to tackle laundry. And work stuff. And then maybe a little reading for fun. Who knows? I might even begin to sort some books for give away.

And tomorrow I have a dinner date with a lovely friend of my own.