Be Prepared

PSA: Check your fire extinguisher.

Over the last few weeks the Bay Area has had several warm and windy days. Guy hates wind, and each time he remarks: “It smells like fire weather.”

Good point, since last October the Tubbs Fire, the most destructive fire in California history, burned Santa Rosa to the ground.

This past weekend Q14 attended his first semi-formal dance with a group of friends. Not realizing the date conflict, Guy planned a fly fishing trip for the same weekend and C19 went along. Which left me on solo parent duty. And Q decided to host the after-party.

Our hot tub is on the fritz so he announced they would enjoy a fire in our backyard fire pit. Since my mind seems determined to hang on to its image of my youngest as also “too young,” I thought that sounded ludicrous. Until C and Guy both reminded me that Q is also an experienced, fire certified Boy Scout.

Together Q and I cleaned the house, shopped, and prepped snacks. He set up the fire pit and put out the beach chairs. He showered and put on his nice clothes and didn’t complain (much) about letting Mom take pictures.

The evening became a progressive party. The group convened at one home for pictures, then traveled to another home for dinner, where the adults stayed while the kids went to the dance. I picked kids up after two hours, at which point everyone moved to our house, kids outside and adults inside.

With Guy’s confidence ringing in my ears and guests in my kitchen, I didn’t watch Q start the fire. I also didn’t notice when he came inside for sweatshirts and bug spray. I did hop to when he made a mad dash for the fire extinguisher–which failed–and then shouted for water. I ran out with him and cranked the faucet while he aimed the hose.

Crisis averted, we discovered that someone had knocked the bug spray under the fire pit, where it got too hot and caught fire. A dramatic end to their evening around the fire pit became an excuse for getting up close and personal with our pet menagerie, not a bad trade off.

We learned we hadn’t been as prepared as we thought (adding a new extinguisher to the list of errands), and yet Q handled the situation well. One more hands-on learning experience, one more story to share.

Follow Their Lead

Parents know we’re supposed to raise up our children to follow appropriate guidelines: hold hands in the crosswalk and parking lot, listen to your teacher, be kind, be a good sport, etc. Our kids–most of them most of the time–follow our words and, more importantly, our example.

But parents also have the privilege of being good students of our children, watching carefully to discern their interests and aptitudes, cheering them on and encouraging them to try new things and continue to develop their passions.

Family is not just children following adults. Parents who pay attention know the reverse is also true: parents get to follow their children.

We followed C19 outside all the time. He is happiest out of doors, on a hiking trail, up a tree, on the seashore, constantly exploring the natural world. So we made that possible. We allowed his fascination with the rain forest jungle to lay the foundation for our sabbatical summer in Costa Rica.

As a little guy, Q14 wanted to play the piano, so I tried teaching him. He quickly showed aptitude beyond my skills, but his interest decreased over time. We didn’t make it a battle.

He picked up the trumpet five years ago and it has become the sound of his heart. Over the last year, he has been teaching himself both guitar and piano. In the last two months, he has also taken up trombone and tuba. One of my great joys in life currently is watching my son become a multi-faceted musician.

Yesterday I got to follow him to the San Francisco Symphony for an open rehearsal (okay, I got to chaperone). Woo hoo!

Symphony Hall was decorated for Dia de los Muertos, so that was fun as well–musical arts meets visual arts. Culture all around. As they poured my necessary next cup of coffee, the Symphony volunteers remarked how happy they were to see young people in Symphony Hall. And so dressed up. They said, “Children need the arts. They should be exposed to the arts as young as possible.” Agreed!

The pre-concert talks were helpful in explaining the historical, musical and personal context for the music we would hear. The program consisted of two pieces by Ravel, a Bartok piano concerto, and Debussy. I expected the piano concerto to be my favorite but, no, Ravel’s Bolero stole the show.

For me. After lunch and a long bus ride home, Q14 and I discussed again the program as he wrote the concert review required for his band class. Although he didn’t like Bolero at all (“165 times through two bars of music, performed by different instruments and groupings of instruments, is just a few times too many!” he wrote), he was so excited about the day he had trouble sitting still. He put on music from a concert he had played in 8th grade and sang along. He finally got the necessary words down on his computer so he could get on to what he truly wanted to do: make more music.

When C19 caught his first lizard at less than two years old, we could have never guessed we’d get to spend a summer in Costa Rica. When Q14 gave up piano, we had no idea he’d not only teach himself to play, but play several other instruments as well.

You never know where you will get to follow your children, so you might as well sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride!

Mom-ories

Facebook keeps tossing up pictures from when Q14 was little and, now that he’s in high school, they prompt all the Big Feels. I can’t even imagine what a mess I’ll be three years from now when he’s a high school senior – sheesh!

Last Monday was a no-school day. In our family, no-school days have always meant parents take a no-work day and we enjoy a family field trip. Facebook sent me a reminder from six years ago in one of our favorite places on the planet:

Which recalled for me that we did the same thing last year on this fall no-school day.

But not this year. This year both the college and high school kids had too much homework to do. Despite the three-day weekend, they couldn’t get all the work done, and it didn’t seem to me because they’d whittled away the time frivolously.

Even Guy had stuff to do that couldn’t wait another day. So I spent the day doing my hardest, best work to not throw a mom-sized pity party. I read my Bible and wrote in my gratitude journal. I did laundry and cleaned the kitchen counters because both needed doing. I made a big batch of Cookie & Kate’s The Very Best Granola–whole almonds and pepitas, a dash of sesame seeds and unsweetened coconut tossed in as the granola cooled–to munch for breakfast and snacks throughout the week. I made our favorite bean dip for dinner, then took myself to yoga.

The kids went to the store and bought pico de gallo, chips, and guacamole, and after a post-yoga shower, we all met in the kitchen to toss together a huge taco salad. Then they insisted on watching a movie (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows part 2, the words to which one kid knows by heart), which we didn’t all see to the end since people were tired and Tuesday (this week’s version of Monday) was coming up hard.

I missed our family field trip, a day filled with memory-making in a beautiful NorCal location. But that evening, cozy on the couch with my favorite people, I realized we’d still accomplished my goal. We had shared time together and made a new and different memory. It might not have been as adventurous as I’d like, but it was sweet. I’ll take it!

Love & Support

Both our kids had the same middle school PE teacher two years in a row. Different as they are, both adored this teacher who worked hard at encouraging all his students, athletes or not, to work out their bodies, to enjoy their physicality, to improve their fitness.

On the last day of eighth grade, the new graduate came home with an old and faded baseball hat with the high school football logo sewn on the front. A few months earlier, Q13 had spotted the hat on the teacher’s desk and put it on. When the teacher noticed, he laughed goodnaturedly, and asked for it back. Q said, “Nah, I think you should give it to me.” On the last day of school, he did.

C19 recognized it instantly and got just a little teary over this generous gift. Sure, it’s just an old ball cap, but their teacher wore it most school days for at least six years. It was his, and he gave it away, a symbol of love and support.

Last week we had High School Back to School Night for our now-freshman. Typically, BTS offers up some info, some questions, and some awareness of the classes in which we can expect our non-conforming, classroom-uncomfortable kiddos to have issues.

When Guy suggested that, since we’ve been down this road before, we could skip BTS, I gave him a look to boil water. Q14 had been so excited to tell me that his teachers “had plans” (though he wouldn’t elaborate), that he knew I would want to text him throughout the evening. We had to go, simply to honor this kid and the beginning of his high school journey.

Pro-Tip: If you have to choose, attend BTS and skip Open House.

Even though I’ve looked at his class schedule and teachers on paper, having briefly seen, heard, and interacted with his teachers helps more than I anticipated.

He has four male teachers and three female; I love that my son will have male role models during this formative year. His science and math teachers are female–refreshing, since back in the day math and science were gender-balanced to males. Two new teachers are so excited to be here. I know which teachers bounce as they talk a mile a minute and in which classes he might struggle to stay awake. I have some idea which classes he shares with long-time friends and, since that number is low, I understand that he’s going to mingle with a lot of new-to-him peers.

How grateful am I that he’s in band? And not just for the music, the creativity, the safe space to shine. Over and over, the band teacher repeated his motto: “Love and support…” He loves and supports students and expects them to do the same. He told a story:

After only five days, they have already had a playing test. Each student, one at a time, stood before the class and played a scale. A little scary, right? The band teacher demonstrated a “band clap,” essentially toes tapping on the floor. Unprompted, our sweet kids clapped for each player before and after their audition. The band teacher felt touched by their encouragement.

All night long, teachers thanked us for being such good parents and raising such great kids. I’ve never before heard so many teachers so grateful!

Love and support… That’s truly what it’s all about, right? Parents love and support their kids. Teachers love and support their students. Students love and support their peers. I have this glowing feeling that High School Round Two might be a lot more fun.

PS – Q14 walked in as I wrote this. I said, “Hey, I’m writing about you!” He asked what I was writing so I said, “Love and support…” He laughed. “Hey, that’s the band teacher’s motto!”

Yes, it is. And for this season, it’s ours as well.

One in Three

The college counselor at our high school shared what seemed like an astonishing statistic: one in three students don’t graduate from the college they first attend.

We thought: That won’t be him.

We were wrong.

He only ever wanted to attend one school, and he only ever wanted one major with one career outcome. We asked all the questions, of him, of everyone; we visited the school and attended orientation; we took out the loan, proving we would do everything possible to back his dreams.

He called, sobbing, after his first class: “Mom, I’ve made a terrible mistake!”

It should have been the perfect school for him. Instead, he weathered the perfect storm of all the things that could go wrong–the roommate from hell with the toxic girlfriend who essentially moved in; the injury that kept him from playing his sport, his physical and emotional outlet; the advisor who suddenly seemed less supportive; the “friends” who proved to be anything but… We weathered the storm with him as he called several times a week, sometimes crying, other times, just to talk.

We listened. We prayed. We sent more mail than ever before in our lives. But we couldn’t change his circumstances. He needed to learn to advocate for himself, to set his own boundaries, to work harder, to develop persistence.

It was difficult for all of us, but he stuck it out. At one point he said, “I should have listened to you. I should have gone to community college.”

I responded, “No, this was your path. If we had insisted that you stay local, you would have been angry at us. You needed to discover some things for yourself.”

Today was Day 1 of Year 2, now at our local community college. Leaving his first choice also meant leaving his major, not readily available elsewhere. Instead he will experiment with classes in different majors as he explores what he might like to do with his life. The low cost of community college plus living at home equals low risk.

Over breakfast, he had only the to-be-expected first day jitters: traffic, meeting new people, and hoping for enjoyable course content. After school, he seemed relaxed, even happy. He had quickly established a relationship with both professors and engaged in helpful ways with the material, something that doesn’t easily happen when you have 500+ classmates. He immediately got online to order books, then ran out to purchase a few supplies. He jumped on homework like he never did in high school.

Did he make a terrible mistake? Absolutely not! We are grateful for his out-of-state freshman year. Do we wish things had worked out differently, that he had stayed at his first choice? Of course! When he went back for second semester, I challenged him to do everything necessary to redeem the situation so that, at the end of the year, he could say: “That was hard, but I did it. Here’s what I learned, and here’s how I’m a better person for it.”

He did it. He learned a lot–about himself, what he likes and wants and doesn’t; about others with different interests, personalities, and backgrounds. He learned he could stick through overwhelming circumstances, and that his family will always have his back.

Are we glad to have him back? For sure! He is stronger, more mature, differently centered. Our relationship has changed as we function less from the driver’s seat and more as passengers. We have become advisors offering encouragement rather than supervisors offering direction. And we will continue to cheer him on as we watch to see where he goes from here.

Ready Not Ready

Our youngest starts high school tomorrow. So obviously we cleaned out his school backpack this weekend.

What? You had your child clean out their backpack in June? Yah, that would make sense. That’s not how we roll, and definitely not how this summer went. Although Guy did sneak a peak in, oh, July, and discovered the remnants of at least a week’s worth of lunchbox remains. Gross…

At least I knew we wouldn’t encounter food junk. Just papers and school supplies. We recycled/tossed most of it, and restocked a fresh binder with dividers, paper, pens and pencils.

Among the few papers we saved, I found this poem:

Teenagers
by Pat Mora

One day they disappear
into their rooms.
Doors and lips shut
and we become strangers
in our own home.

I pace the hall, hear whispers,
a code I knew but can’t remember,
mouthed by mouths I taught to speak.

Years later the door opens.
I see faces I once held,
open as sunflowers in my hands. I see
familiar skin now stretched on long bodies
that move past me
glowing almost like pearls.

I read it, then read it again. I put it aside to read again later.

It is and isn’t my experience. With one in college and another beginning high school, I am chest-high in the waters of parenting adolescents. My kids have shut their doors and spoken in code, and yet I’m glad to say we haven’t become strangers. Even in the worst of C19’s angsty periods, we still found ways to communicate.

The last step of high school registration took place last week, earlier in the morning than school starts tomorrow. I didn’t sleep deeply during the night, fearing I’d oversleep. Instead, I jolted out of bed and woke the household an hour early, sure our friends would arrive to pick us up in ten minutes. Only I laughed at myself when I realized we had oodles of time…

He is anxious, but he is ready. He knows he is loved. He has good friends. He is a curious learner, and he has the band room as a safe space in which to shine. The next four years will be a blur of all the good High School Things and hopefully the bumps won’t jostle any of us too hard. He will be fine.

None of us do transitions well, and some of the Big Feels about tomorrow have to do with just that: summer ends tonight and a new season–and a new school–start in the morning. But there’s more to it than that. He knows it, too: we met friends in the grocery store parking lot today; as they gasped that our ‘baby’ is entering high school, he looked directly at me and said, “Yah, I’m leaving you soon…”

We all laughed, but oh how this kid sees me!

I just noticed that he answered questions about the poem on the back of the sheet. His summary? “My kids are growing up and won’t snuggle with me in bed anymore.” Thank God he still snuggles with me. Not nightly as we once did, but occasionally. I think I will make it a point to be available for chit-chat and snuggles tonight.

His Mother’s Voice

[Since I don’t post when I’m away from home, this week I’m going to post some of the content I wrote while on vacation…]

Trying to wrestle three teenage boys out of the vacation house and into the vacation isn’t as easy as it should be. Because teenagers: sticky molasses-stubborn.

When they finally realized we were willing to leave them behind—that they might actually miss out on who-knows-what but something—they finally began moving. Like sloths. No matter that we were trying to catch the tail end of a coastal sunset.

Eventually two of three had shoes and sweatshirts; I asked one to tell his brother that we were all going. I meant: Tell him the rest of us are leaving. I didn’t want him to be surprised when he looked up and realized he was ‘home’ alone.

Instead, I laughed when I heard my son yell, “Hey, we’re all going! C’mon, staying here is not an option!”

Those are my words. Because vacation is about togetherness, we stick together. Although sometimes we split up guys and girls or grandma with grandsons, only rarely do we leave someone behind.

So the reluctant one sped himself up. We didn’t make it to sunset, but coastal twilight was still something. The guys hit the sand and discovered the shore littered with kelp bulbs—nature-made salty water balloons—and commenced a ridiculous kelp fight. They ran and tossed and dodged and belly laughed and hollered and shrieked and played.

As they get older, I’m trying to lighten up. If someone wants to stay behind, then someone just might miss out. I don’t want to miss out, so I’m out the door. But in this instance, my son echoing my words nudged his brother toward an experience that has already created a fun memory.

Turns out, Mom is right sometimes. And—evidence—I am the voice in his head.