Class of 2019

Have you ever considered that the distance between kindergarten and walking in your cap and gown to fulfill a kid’s compulsory education as an adult is thirteen years? I have jeans I’ve had for longer than that, and I bet you do, too. It’s a lifetime for our children, but it’s really just a blink and a turnaround for us.

I know a whole lot happened in my thirteen year window. And I know it was all already seismically shifting even with the advent of Kindergarten for Jeffrey, but it still stops my breathe when I realize how very very short the time is when they are small.

So on Saturday night, we all gathered at the George Mason arena to watch the sweet copper-headed boy who cried in my lap for Charlotte a.Cavatica only yesterday walk across the stage and move into the next phase of his life. He was so easy to spot–taller than everyone around him, a bright yellow sun painted on his mortarboard, and a copper-penny beard on his smiling face.

He graduated young, with a 3.71 gpa and was accepted into Utah State University and will start next summer, when he’s 18. All three of his parents are so proud of him.

Foxglove

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Bee on foxglove CREDIT: ALAMY

Late yesterday afternoon I sat myself gently down on my porch steps, and contemplated life. The sun was sinking low over the deep green cypress columns lining my neighbor’s yard, and a fat, furry carpenter bee was disappearing in and out of the foxglove in my flower beds. It was mesmerizing watching its furry little body, heavy with pollen, dip in and out of the pale purple blossoms.

We’re on the cusp of so many changes, it feels overwhelming some days, and I have to be quiet for a spell just to get the world to stop spinning and get my head set correct. Jeffrey graduated two weeks ago, Kelsey is right behind Jeff, Bean is fully mainstreamed for the first time in his life, and Abby is starting high school. I start law school in August. Everything is about to shift in a way it never has before, and maybe that’s true every minute of every day, but some moments feel bigger than others.

Jon sat himself down next to me on the steps and we stared out into our lush green yard, leaning towards each other but not speaking. As much as I complain about Virginia, it does the color green very well. It still floors me, forever a westerner at heart, that things just grow here without sprinklers or irrigation of any kind. Our yard is a lush paradise–velvety green grass under two giant shade trees, lined with hostas, lilacs, azaleas, foxglove, roses and lobelia. I have never watered or fertilized a damn thing. There were peonies, coming up for their third summer, but there was also an incident with Jon and an overzealous weed-wacker of which I cannot yet speak without weeping.

Anyway, we sat on the steps, two tired parents staring into the mid-distance at our little patch of Eden. Jon’s elbows on his knees, his hands relaxed. I break the comfortable silence. I’ve been thinking about the passage of time, and how incredibly short that time can be. I’ve been thinking about how rich and nuanced and complicated our ancestors lives must have been, and how they are reduced to being just names now, people who we know very little about, and I come back around to why I write. Losing David so young really affected me in ways I am still unraveling and piecing together.

Jon listened to me quietly, giving me the space to sort out thing with words because he knows this is what I need. I worry aloud about forthcoming challenges for our children, and he sits with me in this space too, a calm rock on which my cyclonic energy can tire itself out and finally come to rest. This is what he does for me and my eternally churning mind: He offers me a safe harbor.

When he speaks, it’s not much, but it’s also everything—a window into what I am worrying, behind all the words. “You know,” he pauses for a couple of heartbeats. “You know…you can forgive yourself for wanting to do something just for you. It’s okay.” He knows that under all of my swirling, is the fact that I’m struggling mightily with shifting my role in our family. The last two decades of my life have been about caring for, saving, protecting, defending, and building up my family. I am a part something beautiful, with remarkable humans, and I value this creation more than anything in the world.

I’ve never willingly stepped back from something I love this much. Jon reminds me that I am just going to school, and they do have two parents, and we laugh at how hard it still is for me to remember that he’s a very capable man and a very good dad. Yeah, I’m just going to school but I have no roadmap for the life I am imagining for myself. I have no roadmap for an engaged and loving dad taking over more of the parenting. I have no roadmap for co-parenting with an equal partner. I have no roadmap for being a parent in graduate school. I have no roadmap for what life looks like next.

He stares at me, a bit of mirth in his eyes. It takes me half a beat.

Oh. Right. I’ve never had a roadmap. And I’ve done it anyway.

****

Happy Father’s Day to those of you who celebrate such things. As always, it’s a complicated thing for our family—though to be honest, my kids don’t have the visceral flinching they once did. It’s amazing what a few years of love and support will do for tender hearts. I wish every one of you this kind of love.

We still skip church though. Platitudes really aren’t helpful to anyone, are they?

Lacrosse

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So last night was the awards banquet for Lacrosse at the high school. We all went, enjoyed a pot luck dinner, and then received a nice surprise when the head coach (who is also Bean’s SpEd teacher) made a little speech and presentation about him. I filmed it on my phone, but it’s garbled, so I transcribed it here, because it’s really cool.

This kid…he tried out for my other sport first. He came out, and kind of only lasted a day. He really didn’t like the [football] atmosphere, but I still had him in my class. He sat back in his corner, did his thing, had his backpack with rainbows and lights… I asked him once if he had anything other than tie-dye. Nope. So we talked and talked. And one day, he says, “Hey Coach!” —and that struck me, because he usually called me Mr. C—this day he said “Hey Coach. I’m looking to try a sport and I’m thinking about Lacrosse or Crew.” I told him “Well, Crew costs a lot, so why dont you try Lacrosse? It’s not like football, we’re a different group, more of a family.” He told me he didn’t know what he was doing, and I assured him that we’d teach him. So he comes out the first day of practice, and you can see him going a mile a minute, trying to figure this sport out.

So as this is all going on, lo and behold, he’s also our local celebrity—he decides to tweet at Lidl about some peanut butter [laughter & applause cheers start of Bean! Bean! and the coach invites him to the front] And so he does all this and becomes a celebrity. Everyone knows who he is, knows his name, he’s giving away peanut butter everywhere [garbled in cheers and more shouts of “Bean!”] and then I get this hair-brained idea, two weeks before I decided to do it, “Hey! Lets do our charity game for autism! Bean, lets do something for autism!” Alright cool! He picked out the tie-dye, he picked out the slogan, he picked out the logo—everything! (me, off camera, “he didn’t tell us any of that!”) So we decided that’s what we’re going to do. And that’s something that, in talking to your mom—don’t make her cry!—I learned that this is the first time you have truly felt like you were part of a team. This is a very special group, and these guys loved having you as part of their team. We loved seeing you get the peanut butter [garbled, lots of laughter, more shouts of BEAN!] 

So this was his first year, and I’d go out before the games and I would have to tell the refs “Hey, I have a kid on the spectrum, so be aware, he’s going to get upset and say some things really, really loud [laughter, “Bean!”]—so don’t worry about it, let him be. So then the refs started knowing him and asking who the kid is who always wears the tie-dyes? The refs all knew about Bean, and they were impressed to see how much you’d grown from the start of the season to the end. I have seen you grow tremendously. You can go out and say “hi” to people now! You can interact with people you have no clue about, and now you’re standing here in front of everyone! [applause and cheering and BEAN!] We’re proud of you, Bean!

Coach hands him an award and they all shake his hand. He’s smiling and wiggling back and forth. It was really a lovely moment, and a testament to the power of Special Ed teachers and the work they do. Thanks, Coach C.

Ruminations on Affecting Change

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I don’t think this is going to turn into a law school blog, but the truth is my writing has always been personally experiential. Narrative is what I do, and when the story of my life shifts, writing is how I process it. Everyone’s story is always shifting—that is literally life. Stasis is illusory. Change is constant.

I’m starting to gather the things I’m going to need this fall. Like any new endeavor, there’s a lot of contradictory advice for people starting law school. Understandably, most of it’s geared towards twenty-three year olds. I’m literally going to be double the age of the majority of my classmates. I’ve chosen a boutique law school with a reputation for non-traditional representation, so I’m not the oldest student ever… but I’m definitely an outlier on the curve. Jon thinks a concerning possibility is my classmates potentially turning to me as a supportive mother-figure, and that I need to watch for that sapping my time/energy, since it’s a role I am know well. It’s highly likely I’ll be the only one currently raising four teenagers while attending law school. Am I crazy? Hang out with me and see!

I’m reading a book on understanding legal terms and vocabulary, and I’m listening to Serial Season 3, about the day-to-day goings-on in one American justice department (highly recommended, even if you’re not interested in lawyer-ing). I’ve got myself a heavy-duty, not-pretty but highly-functional backpack. I’ve got a planner. I’ve got a schedule tentatively worked out with full knowledge it will likely require immediate, on-going revisions to accommodate my family’s needs and the demands school places on my time.

I have a mentor. I have several, as a matter of fact—I’m super lucky to have friends who are lawyers, who are not only cheering me on, but offering support and advice about structure, time management, and stress.

It’s possible my kids are more excited about this than I am. They have spent their lives watching me jump into situations where advocacy and knowledge was a necessary tool. They each seem to have an impression of me that is certainly more fierce than I feel. Maybe all kids think their mom is a hero? They’re prepared, they say, to have me be less accessible than I have been for years. There are two things I believe about going back to school: It will be both harder, and very different than last time.

It’s going to be harder because it’s law school, not my undergrad. Of course it’s going to be harder—the subject matter dictates that it’s necessarily harder. For some reason I cannot quite understand, I feel compelled to do something really hard, at a time in my life when I could just relax and do not much. As my kids grow up and head off to college, I cannot fathom wandering around the slowly emptying house, content with lunches and shopping. I have spent the majority of my life doing what is required under pressure and in crisis; reacting rather than being proactive. Yes, I have done good and accomplished things, but often I have done so out of necessity, rather than exerting influence in a chosen direction. This is different.

It’s also going to be different because I have a present, engaged and highly functional co-parent and partner. Last time, it was all me, all the time. My kids witnessed first-hand what it took for me to graduate cum laude in 3 years. We were also concurrently experiencing ongoing trauma and loss coupled with the pressing drive for me to solely support us. This time, they have a stable home, they are older and moving towards their own lives, they are somewhat independent in some areas, and—God wiling and the creek don’t rise—we most likely won’t have to choose between keeping the heat on and buying food. We’re incredibly fortunate.

In a nutshell, I think this is maybe why I am so compelled to reach forward, to do something difficult but potentially valuable, to contribute to more than just my tiny sphere.

Todays legal word:

Appellate: /əˈpelət/ adjective
1. (especially of a court) concerned with or dealing with applications for decisions to be reversed. Specifically : having the power to review the judgment of another tribunal.

We Cannot Walk Away

Turn the Page

Screen Shot 2019-05-17 at 11.04.22 AM.pngIt was 2005 when I started really writing. Prior to that, I would write longhand on yellow legal pads. That writing was more frustrating than cathartic as the words spilling out jammed and piled up in a lahar behind the damming slowness of my hand pulling pen across paper.

My children were babies still—Jeffrey was three years old, and Bean was one. Abby was yet unimagined. Not even the wildest fortune teller would have dared predict what was waiting, what choices would lay before me, what terrifyingly rapid rivers of agency, loss, sorrow, and change would need to be forged. There is mercy in not knowing.

Is it that way for everyone? Does anyone get the life they planned? I look around and I see people who seem to wrestle something that looks like control–but it also looks like it comes at a steep cost. David told me once that life simply is pain. We enter the world with pain, and every step of our lives, things must die for us to live–our food, our homes, our plans, each time we make a choice, one petal has to fall for another to bloom. We look away, because it’s almost too much to bear. But the truth remains. He meant it as a comfort, that we shouldn’t be afraid, that we can lean into it, as the kids say. I’m still trying to work that one out.

For almost two decades, the heavy matter at the center of my universe has been raising the children entrusted to me. Everything else radiated out in giant spiral arms from the gravitational pull of my personal galaxy, around which I built my entire adult life. Even in the midst of the dismantling years, the solo years, I was fortunate enough that I was able to maintain that core of stability around which all else revolved.

 This reality formed the core of my identity. (that’s big stuff)

Like the words that couldn’t flow freely onto the page because of my manuscript pen, I noticed a store of potential talents and desires quietly incubating and growing. I felt my need quietly rising to find an outlet as I’ve watched my children begin to build their own worlds, exert their will on their lives, and to forge ahead as their own competent people. It’s exactly perfect.

It’s also pain.

Because of course it is. Parenting is one of the things that if you do it successfully, you make yourself obsolete. Oh, of course my kids will still need me, but not in the same intense way. The boundaries of those relationships are fluid and we are moving from a parent/child dynamic towards an entirely different adult relationship.

This is why my starting law school this fall is such a big deal. I am willingly leaving the sphere I have so carefully protected and cultivated for most of my adult life. I am stepping back just a bit, and just a bit before I have to, in order to pursue something really big. I sought this out, studied, prepared, and pursued it—I am choosing this.

We made this decision as a family. Each of our kids has been involved in the process, and frankly, it’s been me who has been the most reluctant. Why? Because it’s change. It’s big. It’s scary. It’s allowing myself to trust that Jon and the teenagers have got this, and that they will function just fine without me at the center of the universe. It’s trusting that our family doing things differently will be okay, and that I will still have value, even as I let go of some of the boundaries that defined me for the last two decades. It’s imagining a future for myself that is wildly different than I ever considered before. It’s believing I am smart enough. It’s trusting that there is truth and beauty and value amid the pain of growth, as I gently set down one mantle to pick up another.

When I was agonizing over this decision, Jeffrey looked at me with a wry smile on his face, and said, “Mom? Stop it. We’ve got this. You’ve done a good job, and we’re ready.” He grinned bigger, “Besides, you’d kick my ass if I turned down an offer like you have. How is it any different for you?” He had me. Jon stood next to him, arms folded, nodding and smiling.

So. There it is. My own family holding up a mirror for me to see myself. They’re right. I’m sure it will be wilder, messier and, ultimately, better than anything I can imagine. It always is. Come along with me on a new ride?

Land vs. World

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I’m not yet prepared to sort thought the tangle of emotions that accompanied the shooting at my kids school last week while I was away (for the very first time ever!). I mean, the confluence of things happening all at once makes me think I should have bought a lottery ticket instead of taken a flight to Florida.

But Florida it was. And my, my, my…

Of course Florida is home to wonderful communities, indigenous people, and regular lives. One of the reasons I opted to join Jon—other than never having been to Florida and it being a 48-hour gig—was because a close friend lives there and I wanted to see her. She’s a regular person—a college professor, a mom, and a recent PhD. But that regular part of Florida? That part with real things? That’s not what I found in Orlando.

I’m sure there must be countless evocative think-pieces on the artificiality and sprawl nurtured and fed by the enormous monster that is the Mouse-centered tourist industry in central Florida. I maybe should have read them first, because folks…I was not prepared. Mile after flat mile of low-slung hotels in inoffensive pastel colors with Bahamian shutters surrounded by man-made lakes with a single fountain (mosquito abatement, I was told). I suspect it’s a different experience if one stays on the Mouse properties and is seeking the entire Experience. What I saw, instead, given that we were not there for that experiences, was stark tiers of privilege and class.

Orlando–at least the parts down near the parks, struck me as a perfect Potemkin Village. Nothing is real, it’s all artifice. Depending on your socio-economic status, you can buy the really pretty village where the curtain is meticulously cultivated and maintained, where you’re carefully protected and insulated from the reality behind the scenes. But man, does that come at a cost.  People who cannot afford that level of cultivation—most folks, I imagine—have to opt for whatever they can afford in an attempt to experience this fantasy, which will be on one of the outward radiating circles from the Mouse-eared epicenter.

Every restaurant was contrived. Every store was packed to the rafters with mouse-themed merchandise–licensed to be sure, but not the same as available inside the parks, because that would dilute the brand and violate the curtain. Outside this most privileged and expensive circle, there were the Plan B parks—some of which appeared to be very nice, but make no mistake, they orbit the center, not the other way around. Without the Mouse, even the nicest knock-offs wouldn’t be there. I won’t even touch the exploitive nature of parks that monetize sea mammals. Just watch Blackfish.

I think this is what happens when one moves from creating a -Land to a -World.

A Land is a nice place to visit and spend the afternoon. A World requires everything around it to sustain it. I’m not at all casting aspersions on the people who enjoy this, or who are employed and like their jobs. I’m simply noticing, as an outsider, what a strange feeling it is to be in a place that feels so completely unnatural.  As an aside, I am concerned at the caste system that seems to have sprung up in these parks—once up on a time, everyone paid to get in and everyone waited in line and everyone got to ride the same rides. Now, it appears wealth can buy access to shorter lines, earlier entry, more attractions, and a completely different park experience.

As someone who literally grew up in the -Land, I cannot imagine Mr. D sitting on his park bench waiting for his daughters and thinking what has happened to his dream was a good thing.

Anyway, Florida is weird. I saw an armadillo. I met a glorious white boxer puppy at the supermarket. We never did find any good food (but I know this was entirely because of where we were staying), but I did get to meet my friend for breakfast. I did get a two nights with my husband, which we spent hanging out in one of the several hot tubs at our pastel-painted bahamian-shuttered hotel.

And then we tried to get home.

(I know people are passionate in their love and defense of Disney, and if you love love love the parks and it’s your happy place, believe me, I understand. I just don’t experience the same feelings anymore, for a host of complex reasons—some of which I tried to share here—and that’s okay too!)