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!

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.

Last Day//Best Day

[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…]

When you’ve vacationed in the same place for so many years, you count time in days and traditions and experiences. It’s not just “Monday,” but what did we do on Monday, new and/or traditional? For example, the Monterey Farmers’ Market takes place on Tuesday evenings, and we know we will sample all the fresh fruit and we will buy the biggest bag of kettle corn, and root beer, and Indian food from the vendors all the way at the end, and that will be dinner.

We have to do some of the same things, though they’re always different because we are different; and we have to vary things up just enough to keep things interesting. For example, during Mom’s coffee with a local friend, the guys rented electric fat-tire bikes, something they’ve never done before and now want to do All The Time! Aquarium in the morning: tradition. Bikes in the afternoon: variety, new joy and new memories.

Over the years, we’ve let go of some traditions. We used to spend lots of time at the park (Monterey has a fantastic park), but the boys have mostly outgrown park-play. And once upon a time, they needed naps. Now, the teenagers just sleep in.

As we anticipated our last full day, the guys made plans to hit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in the evening, guys-only. Which left a whole day (and then some for Mom and me) to fill. The weather has been chillier than usual this trip, so we’ve had far less beach time. We had hoped for at least a few hours of blue sky and warm sun and sand between our toes…

I went to bed feeling blue—uncooperative weather, the last day, the passing of time… Because the last day could be the last day. Who knows what a year holds?—and determined to enjoy what time we had, even as I tried not to think too hard about time passing…

…and I woke up to seagulls squawking in a brilliant blue sky! It’s trivial to say, “God must have heard my melancholy prayers…” but that’s how it felt. I charged my batteries with an invigorating jaunt along the coast, and we did indeed get in some beach time. The guys put on wet suits and snorkeled along the rocks. We saw more sea lions porpoising. We climbed the rocky cliffs, explored tide pools, and searched for sea glass.

Only God knows what a year holds, but our last full day provided a picture-perfect day filled with memories.

Greatness

[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…]

“Do you think this makes one too many visits?”, my mom asks as we’ve ‘lost’ the teenagers again in the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

“No,” I reply, “never too many visits. The kids just know their way around. They know what to look for and what to expect. And they’re bigger, so they move faster.”

We’ve been coming here for so many years, truly, their lifetimes. We know what we’ll see in each exhibit, each tank. We’ve long ago determined our favorites and, also, the ones we’ll quickly pass by. We know where to find each other for the long looks, the tanks that even now warrant wonder, our focused attention.

Okay, so maybe the teens are a little underwhelmed after all these visits, but that comes with the age.

No matter how many times I’ve been here, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has earned my respect. Their work in research, conservation, and education is nothing less than awe-inspiring.

Just today, we saw a program we’ve never seen before: a live-narrated video presentation about Great White Sharks. We have seen Great White Sharks live, in their tanks (though they don’t have one now); most people have never seen a Great White except in a movie.

I don’t always love a zoo. There’s something about animals in captivity. But the best zoos, including aquariums, care for both animals and viewers. MBA is The Best Aquarium.

These creatures…we’d never see them otherwise. Fish with vibrant colors. Shore birds swimming in silly circles to churn up whatever delicious bite might have lodged itself in the mud. Baby bat rays that swim up and slide down the glass. Penguins treading water as they watch crazy humans. Octopus tentacles clustered against the tank while it sleeps. Cuttlefish marvelously changing color as they glide.

The beauty and variety of these creatures amazes me. No matter how small they might be, they make me feel small. Together, we are the creations of an infinitely creative God who loves all of us.

Later, I walked along the coast, finally perching on one of the many benches (with a coast this dramatic, there should be this many benches). I soaked in the view, the smells and sounds and sights: the crash of waves on rocks; the delighted squawk of a seagull discovering a fat, dead fish; two sea lions ‘porpoising,’ taking turns gracefully arching their bodies up and out of the water; an otter, bobbing and diving in the surf.

I clicked open my daily Bible reading app to Psalm 145, a favorite.

“Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise! No one can measure his greatness. Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts; let them proclaim your power” (vv3-4).

While we admire God’s greatness mirrored in the beauty of His creation, my sister lies in a hospital. Again. For fourteen years, she’s been fighting for her life.

“The Lord is good to everyone. He showers compassion on all his creation” (v9).

If she could be here, she would be as enthralled by the coast and its creatures as I am. But of course she is also fearfully and wonderfully made, more precious to God than all the rainbow fish. So we pray that God will fulfill His promises:

“The Lord helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads. The eyes of all look to you in hope” (vv14-15).

We pray and we hope…

 

[Update: she is out of the hospital but, given her chronic illness, she will never be entirely out of the woods. We pray and we hope…]

jean wimmerlin

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.