Found It!

Most visitors to Año Nuevo State Park this time of year are looking for elephant seals. Our family went in search of a snake. The San Francisco Garter Snake, to be exact, an endangered species that makes its home in that area. C20 has been desperate to find one.

We decided to make this President’s Day holiday a family day which, for us, almost always involves a trip to the beach. Facebook memories showed me a picture from our last trip to Año Nuevo, years ago, and that influenced our destination.

We couldn’t have ordered a more beautiful day. First stop: Santa Cruz, where we picked up lunch at Pizza My Heart to eat on the West Cliff Drive seaside bluffs. From there, we drove to Natural Bridges State Beach, hoping to see wintering Monarch Butterflies; we only saw a few flitting on the breeze and not the thousands that sometimes shelter in the eucalyptus groves.

Back in the car, we took Highway 1 to Año Nuevo, with ocean views to one side and fields of fluorescent yellow mustard and sour grass flowers on the other. On our way home, we stopped to take a picture in one of those fields and sank ankle-deep in mud. Wet and smelly, but I couldn’t stop laughing.

As we paid our park entrance fee, the ranger asked if we had a reservation for a guided seal walk, the only way you can access the seal breeding ground area. We said no, we were looking for a snake. She cocked her head in amusement and explained that snakes don’t often come out on chilly days, but that they’d be near the pond if anywhere.

Walking the path towards the pond, I muttered to Guy, “Wouldn’t it be funny if I was the one to find a snake?”

Guess what? I did!

I stopped to look at a vine with a distinctly violet hue–I’ve never seen a naturally purplish thorn bush before. As I leaned forward for a better look, I saw a tail slither away. I shrieked in surprise, which brought Guy and C running.

The shriek shook my Cool Mom I’m-so-good-with-snakes vibe, but I honestly did not expect to find the snake. I didn’t even expect that C would find one, though if anyone could find an endangered and elusive wild snake in the thorn bushes along a pond, it would be him.

The rest of us went to the beach while he just about crawled along the path. We saw a number of sleeping elephant seals, and someone did tricky aerial maneuvers in a biplane–disruptive to the beach-calm, but cool nonetheless.

When we had walked the length of the beach in both directions, photographed the log-like seals and some beautiful pebbles, and breathed in deep the salt air, Q14 came down the stairs to wave us back up.

Because he’d done it: C20 had found–and caught–a San Francisco Garter Snake.

Two surprises: 1) the snake is far more stunning than I could have believed, and 2) the snake appeared super chill that this strange dude was holding him and showing him off to passersby. C said the snake knew he wasn’t a threat, and it sure looked like the truth.

The snake may have been calm, but my kid buzzed with happiness. To all the detractors who think I’m nuts because I encourage his passion for creepy-crawlies, we do a lot of things that might seem crazy for the sake of love. And today we got a crazy-fun family day out of it.

P.S. No snakes were harmed in the making of this story, and we left snakey-poo right where he’d been before.

Surprise!

Parenting can be So Fun!

For example, today, when I told Q14 I would pick him up mid-school day but didn’t explain why. And he didn’t remember or figure out that TODAY is the day he gets his braces off! And I got to surprise him with one of the best surprises an adolescent can receive.

I texted him to meet me outside the band room after class and, as he got in the car, I smiled and handed him his toothbrush. Confused, he accepted it and looked at me for further explanation.

Despite the fact that the only times I’ve taken him out of school this year have been for orthodontic appointments. Despite the fact that, at his last appointment, they told him he’d get his braces off at the next appointment. In February. He still didn’t get it.

I laughed and explained, and he laughed in relief that Mom’s odd behavior didn’t signal something scary. Right, because I’m such a scary mommy…

It’s raining and our house was being cleaned, so I stayed in the car with the dogs while the almost two-hour process took place. He did let me take a before picture…

I raced to the upstairs office when they were done for a quick chat with the doctor and to confirm next week’s retainer appointment. Oh, let’s be real: I raced upstairs to see my kid’s sweet smile.

He tried to play it so cool, I’m sure processing this seismic shift in self-image through the pervasive fog of adolescent insecurity, but inside I know he has to be as excited as his mom who simply can’t stop ridiculously beaming at his pearly whites. He indulged me with an after picture…

We picked up Guy from work and hit Chipotle, our regular post-ortho appointment lunch spot, for a congratulatory burrito before dropping him back off at school for his last class of the day.

The only thing that makes me a little sad? I won’t have a built-in to the schedule excuse for playing hooky with my kiddo. Still, I think now and then I might just pull him out of school anyway. Time together, especially in these critical teen years, is way more important than a PE class on a rainy day.

Adventures in Parenting: Snake on the Loose

Spoiler alert for the squeamish: all snakes are back in secure cages.

Yes, you read that right. All snakes, because we (intentionally) have several. Five, to be exact.

C20 thought he wanted to be a herpetologist (reptile expert), but turns out, that college major involves way more math than he wants to do. Meanwhile, it’s his passion and his gift.

So, five snakes, as well as two leopard geckos, a tortoise and a rabbit, three cats and two dogs…quite the menagerie. The first snake, a red tail boa, was the most difficult for me to agree to. He promised it would stay “snake sized,” as he held his little hands to the width of his slender shoulders. I decided I loved my son more than I feared snakes, but that darn thing now measures over six feet, longer than he is.

Having said yes to one–and seeing how he cared for it and followed my careful guidelines–saying yes again was less of an issue. In fact, I suggested Snake #4 as incentive to get his college application essay written. Obviously, he wrote about reptiles.

Snakes #2-5 are ball pythons ranging in length from about four feet to about eighteen inches. They look smaller because they curl up in balls, hence the name. Bred for  coloration, each looks different, which makes them fun for him to “collect.”

The week after C20 brought home #5, he and his dad refurbished an old media cabinet, adding a mesh top and glass doors, transforming it into a condo for the Big Snake. Without reminder, he added a sturdy lock, my Top Priority. Impressed with their creativity and elbow grease, I posted a picture online of the finished result and, predictably, friends commented on how small the lock was in comparison with the snake.IMG_3172

I didn’t realize that the new snake did not have a lock on her cage. He figured she was so small she couldn’t get out. When the neighbor brought her children over to see the snake in condo, Guy thought he’d show them Baby Snake in comparison. He opened the lid, reached in, and found…nothing.

The first time a snake got loose in our house, C had been holding her on his lap while he played a new video game. She slithered away without him noticing. When I discovered kid and dad taking apart our couch in search of snake, I promptly took myself shopping and returned when they’d found her, hours later, across the living room inside the warm printer.

I didn’t panic this time. In fact, I almost wished Snake #1 had gotten out instead of #5; stuff of nightmares, but he’d be easier to find. C did a thorough cleaning of his room, then got his brother to do the same. Online research suggested putting plastic grocery bags on the floor so you can hear the snake, or flour so you can see a trail (I nixed that one). Everyone said to leave the lid off her cage; he moved her cage from its spot on a closet shelf to the floor.

Days later, still no snake. When I commented that we’d probably seen the last of her, he quipped, “Nah, Mom. I predict you’ll be putting on a shoe and find her…”

Finally, he put a heating pad on the floor with her hide on it, thinking she’d come back for warmth and security. He also moved her cage back to its shelf since that idea hadn’t worked, though he left the top off. He went to bed Sunday night feeling hopeful.

First thing Monday, he checked the heating pad. No snake. He heard something, and was shocked to discover she had returned to her cage (hallelujah!). But we all can attest that the shelf had been empty… Snakes aren’t like geckos, able to stick to and climb straight up. How she managed to return to her cage is a mystery. We’re flabbergasted.

C names his snakes for ancient mythological characters. I suggested he change her name from Aurora to Loki or Anansi, the tricksters. But then I realized: she reappeared at dawn, and Aurora means dawn. So, aptly named after all. And now there’s a great big, heavy book weighing down the top of her cage. No more unintentional adventures for this snake.

Happy Thanksgiving 2018

What are you facing this week? Traveling or family coming in? Stay-cation with lots of local activities? Business/work as usual? Cooking, eating at another’s table, dining out?

Little about this week has been our family’s version of usual. Q14 got an unexpected day off school, closed due to unhealthy air quality from the Camp Fire in Butte County, CA, hours from here but close enough to make our air quality the worst in the world. A good call on the district’s part, but an anticlimactic way to begin ten days of vacation. Often we travel or have family travel to us, but this year we’re staying put. Guy’s brother will join us, the only one who doesn’t eat at our table at least once a week. And I’m still working, albeit remotely. The gross air outside keeps us all indoors, so we’re not even enjoying local day-trips. Cleaning out closets may be productive, but less fun.

Still, we’re looking forward to a day of cooking (we all like to cook) and lots and lots of veggie goodness. Plus lots of family time and thanks-giving. To that end, I turned to Ted for ideas…

10 Questions to Ask Around the Dinner Table

What are you grateful for?
What are you proudest of?
What has been the happiest moment of your life so far?
What has been the hardest moment of your life, and how did you get through it?
What important life lessons have you learned so far?
How would you describe yourself as a child? Were you happy?
Who has been kindest to you?
How do you want to be remembered?
If you could share any wisdom with your great-great-grandchildren years from now, what would you want them to know?
If you could honor one person in your life, living or dead, by listening to their story, who would that be? What would you ask them, and why?

And here’s a super-short Ted talk on the importance of giving and receiving thanks.

Thank you, friends near and far, for following my blog. I love to see the clicks on my site stats and especially to hear your comments. Thank you!

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.