Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Return of Routines

A year ago, my daughter was getting ready to return to college for the second half of her freshman year and unbeknownst to me, I was headed into a massive depression. Between the cold, the snow and her absence, I bottomed out. With the help of good friends, understanding and patient family, a strong therapist and medication that made my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, I slowly climbed out of the ditch I fell into. But it wasn’t easy, pretty or fun.

I kept up good appearances to some and to some I just let my guts spew forth. I went to dinner with one friend and pushed my food around the plate, unable to eat any of the cheeseburger or fries I usually would wolf down. She talked through the whole meal because I had nothing to say. If I spoke, I often started crying.

I cried at my younger daughter’s fencing meet one weekend because my older daughter’s high school was represented at the competition. My husband hustled me into a corner where I could pull myself together privately.

I taught two classes and sometimes the students grounded me in the here and now and made me focus on the responsibilities I had, other times I felt jittery because of my new meds and the students reminded me of my daughter 200 miles away.

But, I survived. I came through it – albeit ten pounds heavier. But with more smiles and more understanding of how life trips us even when we are looking out for the cracks in the walkway.

Now, a year later, my daughter is leaving for the second half of her sophomore year and I’m about to start teaching my spring semester again. I’m sad she’s leaving, but I’m not despondent. I’ll miss her company, her humor and her ability to find anything I’ve misplaced in our house. I love the bonding we’ve done the past month – watching NCIS and NCIS LA, going for pedicures and shopping at Sephora. Those are memories I will treasure forever.

I know she’s leaving and returning to her life, future and routines I’m not a part of, nor should I be. But as that day looms closer and closer, I’m eager to get on with it.

I know I’m going to miss the sister noises from the third floor, even the arguments over the messy bathroom and the yells from the first floor as she watches football with her dad. I know the house will be too quiet, but waiting for her to leave is almost harder than her being gone. I miss her more with her here than with her back in her teeny tiny dorm room where I check in almost daily via Facebook to see how she’s doing.

I’m ready to get back to my writing and teaching schedule. But mostly, I’m so relieved that despite how sad I am and how disappointed I am in the bigger clothes I’m wearing, I’m heading into this winter standing taller with a healthier attitude about my own life. I may stumble along the way but I know, most of the time, that I too have a life that’s exciting and one that’s moving forward, not just one that’s filled with looking back.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

What a Difference A Year Makes

The holidays are upon us, which means it’s also the season of family; the season of homecomings and reunions.

Just a month ago, eight of Spray’s ten puppies came to Cambridge for a family reunion, which Jan Devereux covered in her blog Cambridge Canine, which was then picked up by The Cambridge Chronicle. I couldn’t agree more with Jan’s adept observations about how the dog reunion reminded her of human familial reunions.

This reunion, the second we’ve had however, was multi-layered for me. Not only were the dogs having their own get-together, I was seeing the dogs, their families and my own daughter Maggie, home from college for the weekend to see Ellie’s play and the puppies.

On Sunday morning before returning Maggie to college, we took Spray, Ezzie and even grumpy old Splash to the dog park at Danehy to wait for the pups to arrive.

“There’s Zazu.” I pointed as he proudly walked up with his owner.

“Oh my God, it’s Charlie,” said Maggie as he bounded up through the parking lot accompanied by his two owners.

And so it went as we spotted each dog before they entered the gated park. We watched them to see how they moved, to see how they’d grown. The difference from a year ago was noticeable.

Not only had they matured physically, the dogs were solidly part of their families now. There was no question as to whom they belonged. I don’t know which was more fun – watching the dogs cavorting around with each other or watching the owners laughing and smiling at their dogs’ antics and hearing them compare notes about their dogs.

The dogs weren’t the only ones to change in a year. I’d changed too. I didn’t feel as possessive of the dogs or of Maggie. A year earlier, I still missed the puppies and all the busyness they had created in our lives and I was bereft at Maggie’s departure and fumbled around with how to spend my time.

While I still miss Maggie and the pups, I often miss what we had – ten little puppies as opposed to ten full grown dogs. I really wouldn’t want ten dogs running around my house. Three is bad enough. I miss the old family construct we had – the four of us going to Saturday soccer games, planning our lives around the girls’ schedules. When Maggie’s home, she often makes her own plans with her friends or her boyfriend.

Even though the puppies started their lives with us and Spray, they belong to their families. And as much as I enjoy Maggie’s visits home when we watch silly TV shows and eat bad food, her life is bursting forth with her boyfriend and at school with her friends, professors, classes and field hockey.

I was sad saying good-bye when the puppies started to leave the gigantic play date. I wanted to linger a little longer with each one, hear one more story about them, hug them one more time, but I was also relieved that the energy level was coming down a notch at a time. I was tired.

When I say good-bye to Maggie after her visits, I’m sad too. The house is quieter, the energy is definitely subdued, and I wander around for a bit not knowing what to do with my time. But I quickly fill up that empty pit in my stomach with laundry or papers that need to be corrected or I work on a quilt project.

I shake my head like Ezzie and I move forward, something I wasn’t able to do so well a year ago.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Goings and Comings

The end of the academic year is here and with it my nostalgia sets in. This time of year is always sad for me. The end of every semester is sad as I say good-bye to my students and wonder which ones I might see again in another class or around campus, but the end of Spring semester is especially sad because when it’s over, the seniors leave and I know I won’t see them again.

I’ve never been to an Emerson graduation – I didn’t even go to my graduation from graduate school and I’ve never been to one as an instructor. As an adjunct I would feel odd walking with the full-timers in their regalia and I’ve never asked to get a ticket and sit with the families.

In the past few years the students started a great tradition of having a lunch where faculty are invited to say good-bye to them. I’ve been to that almost every year. Sometimes I see students I know well, other times I don’t see many. This year I didn’t go. I had a conflict – a class I signed up for as a student was at the same time and I decided I should focus on my own writing.

My nostalgia for my old family patterns haunts me because Maggie is coming home after her freshman year. I can’t believe it’s over. The fall and winter were slow while I was bereft with her departure, but surprisingly the spring went fast and believe it or not, I’m used to her being gone. I actually got used to her empty room and space at the kitchen counter at dinner. I got used to getting phone calls as she walked between buildings. I got used to following her lead.

As excited as I am for her to come home, I’m also a tad apprehensive. Just as she’s gotten used to being on her own, I’ve gotten used to not worrying about her. Family dynamics will shift again when I drive her home. We can’t pretend she never left.

On my last class, I listened to students talk about how much they wish they could stay in Boston for the summer, how they didn’t want to go home, how boring home is, and how much more fun college was. I looked out across the room. “You’re killing me here,” I said. My students laughed. I didn’t see the humor.

I know this could be her last summer living at home. Soon, she’ll be looking for internships, traveling with friends, branching out. And she should.

I’ve been in her room, neatening it because we have company coming before she comes home and her room is more comfortable than our dog room downstairs. I also like the idea of her coming home to a neat room, but I’ve pocketed all the change I picked up off the floor in there - my price for straightening up what was left behind after Spring Break.

I know she’s enjoyed her independence; will she enjoy being home again?

Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Musings

I haven’t mused in a while, but with the New Year here, I thought it an appropriate time to start up again, but oh what to muse about – there are so many things – our trip to Europe and laughter and lost luggage, the puppies that are about to turn one, or the reason why I haven’t been musing?

Basically I’ve been busy. So busy. I took a pottery class and made new friends. I took Ezzie to dog training. I did Physical Therapy way too much trying to get my herniated disc under control. I’ve been doing other kinds of writing. I focused on my classes and my students. I drove carpool and laughed with Ellie. I hung out with Matt more. And I watched Ellie mature at warp speed now that Maggie is away at college.

Oh, that’s right – Maggie’s away. That’s what hit me last night as I said good night to Ellie after we celebrated Maggie’s 19th birthday and tears welled up in Ellie’s eyes as she told me how many friends she’s lost over the past years through our church, neighborhood and family. Way too many family members have died and too many people have moved away, and then Ellie said, “and Maggie left.”

I stood by her door, nodded my head, said I was sorry and walked away. I knew if I listened anymore, I’d start to cry too and I had worked so hard all fall to keep those tears at bay. I wasn’t going to let them in now.

But when I went to sleep later, they found their way to me anyway. With Maggie home, her absence is even more obvious. I know she’s going to leave again. And honestly I’m glad.

She’s so happy. I love telling anyone who asks after her. She loves her school, her classes and field hockey. She’s made friends, and she and her boyfriend have maintained a healthy long-distance relationship. What more could I ask for?

But my family construct is different and it’s going to keep changing.

I heard from so many friends during the holidays that just reinforced how we mothers (and I guess fathers too, but I don’t really talk to them as much) feel the loss of our children forever. One friend emailed me and said, “See that wasn’t so long was it?” about Maggie’s return from college. Then she went on to say that she’s finding it harder now her children are older, out of college, as they’re really developing separate lives. Yahoo, I thought, something to look forward to.

Another friend put her son, freshly out of college, on a plane to visit a friend in the Midwest and emailed how hard it was to let him leave again, “but friends make it easier,” she wrote. Another raved about how her puppy (one of ours) was hopping through the snow like a bunny but her son had to leave right after Christmas because he was working now and her daughter had a boyfriend, all of which were good, but made for less time with her. She was glad for her volunteer work.

The irony is our children are doing what we did. I remember my dorm rooms and my first apartment (in the basement with the mice). I felt so grown up. They were my spaces. I made decisions about when to eat, where to eat, what to do and with whom and didn’t have to check in with anyone. And, our children are doing what we want them to do. It took a lot of work and a lot of time but we did it – they’re independent, self-sufficient. They left us. Yeah us!!

But I miss Maggie. I miss the way our family used to be. So I stay busy to make sure I won’t wallow in self-pity. That’s why I haven’t been musing.

And guess what, I’ve signed up for another pottery class. Ezzie’s nowhere close to being done with dog training. I have curtains and a quilt to finish and my herniated disc is still causing me pain but my insurance is done with PT, so I’m back to my regular health club. Ellie and I will start up carpool again next week, and I have lots of writing projects and two new classes starting up. And I have my friends. I’ll be just fine.

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Summer Recap - Beach Walks

I love summer – the sun, the warm weather, the chance to be outside. I love going away to decompress and live a simplified life in my stepfather’s 800- square foot guesthouse. Summer makes me feel invincible. I focus on the day ahead, not the week ahead. I rarely look at a calendar. I’m outside a lot – playing tennis, walking, or going to the beach to swim or lie in the sun.

This summer was different, however. I did think about the year ahead, as I knew Maggie would be leaving us mid August. Neither of my daughters was around as much as I was used to. Ellie was away at camp for two weeks and then worked at the Community Center and hung out with friends. While Maggie was on the Vineyard for most of the summer, she was off with her boyfriend, hanging out at his house, going to parties, and being an independent 18-year-old on her way to college. All very age appropriate. I knew the more I clung, the more she’d pull away, so I kept my mouth shut most of the time and made myself available when she needed or wanted me.

I also couldn’t play tennis or walk a lot because I had injured my back or hip, leaving me in chronic pain and unable to do anything remotely athletic. The pain worsened as the summer progressed, creating many sleepless nights and frustrating days. Perhaps it was a signal for the emotional pain that was coming with letting go.

I had a lot of time on my hands, and I spent most of it with Spray and Ezzie, two of our three dogs. Crazy Splash kept Matt company in Cambridge.

While daily family trips to the beach with tents, umbrellas, picnics and sunscreen were things of the past, I did go to the beach almost every morning with Spray and Ezzie. Getting up early to get to the town beaches before 9am when dogs are banned and before I had to drive Ellie to the Community Center was a challenge. This meant arriving by 7am in most cases.

I am not a morning person. I don’t get up all chipper, looking forward to my cup of tea and a chance to reflect on the day ahead, and summer usually allows me to sleep in until 7:30 or 8. But this summer, I dragged myself out of bed, sometimes threw something in my mouth – a piece of toast – looked over my shoulder at my oh-so-cozy bed and then followed the dogs begrudgingly outside. They were in a rhythm and knew what was up. They wouldn’t let me off the hook jumping on my bed and licking my face.

Once I arrived at the beach, my world shrank to the dogs, sand, ocean, sun, sky and me. Everything else – Maggie leaving home, the book pitch I wasn’t writing, the quilt I was struggling with, Matt’s illness in early August – disappeared.

At Squibnocket, the dogs made friends, meeting and playing with other dogs, including two PWDs, and I made friends, meeting and chatting with other dog owners. It wasn’t what I was used to, but I relished the peace at the beach and the camaraderie among the dogs and their owners.

If I just couldn’t get up and make it to Squibby on time, I took the dogs to another beach with no curfew. We’d arrive just after 8:30 when I dropped Ellie at the Center. I rowed across Chilmark Pond with the dogs following behind me. Ezzie panicked a few times and tried to body surf on Spray, so I usually rowed them back in the boat when they were tired.

Regardless of what beach they were at, they ran and ran. Ezzie’s energy was tested as she lept through beach grass and ran up and down the dunes off the pond, or played with other puppies at Squibby.

While Spray is dignified and not emotionally invested in water – she can take or leave it, Ezzie is a nut for it. She will follow me into the ocean and dive into the crashing surf. She’ll even ride the waves back into shore. She also perfected the art of the dog somersault, by planting her head sideways in the wet sand, wiggling around and then flipping over on her back and wiggling some more.

The dogs grounded me by living in the here and now; they don’t think about the future or worry about the past. They also knew that getting to the beach was worth the effort. Most things are.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Another Good-Bye

After saying good-bye to nine puppies last spring, I thought I had good-bye down, that it wouldn’t be so hard to say good-bye to my oldest daughter as she left for college this fall.

I was wrong. I should’ve known raising puppies for 2-3 months had nothing on raising a child for 18 years.

She’s been gone three weeks, but it seems a lot longer. I don’t think much about her when I’m busy preparing my fall classes, cleaning out the basement or sorting hand-me-downs for the cousins.

But her absence is felt when I sit down to dinner with one less person at the kitchen counter or wake up to silence because she’s not playing music as she gets ready for school. When my husband leaned over at the theater last weekend and said, “Maggie would love this movie,” I knew he felt it too.

Before she left, I assumed I’d be the prototypical mother, hanging out in her room, sleeping in her bed, and gazing at the mess she left behind, but I haven’t. If I go in there, I just feel the urge to clean and I don’t have the energy.

I was lucky, sort of, because when I left her at school for her field hockey pre-season, I knew I’d be back a week later for freshman orientation. But saying good-bye multiple times is like pulling the bandage off - really, really slowly. The pain is still there and lingers longer.

When we – my husband, younger daughter and I - dropped her off, the campus was deserted – only the athletes and student government kids were there. The dorm halls were eerily quiet. Her roommate had yet to arrive, leaving half her room bare. There wasn’t a lot of hoopla over the freshmen moving in, although I did make a small-world connection with her student fellow – I play tennis with her aunt – which made me more comfortable and excited.

As I hugged Maggie good-bye, she said to her dad and sister, “I can hear the warble in her voice.” I fled so she wouldn’t see what I’m sure she knew I’d do – cry in the car.

The following week, the three of us, and her boyfriend, returned for the first day of Freshman Orientation to meet her roommate and finish setting up her room. The rest of her class arrived with boxes, bags and parents to be greeted by all sorts of screaming upperclassmen. We raised both beds so dressers and mini-frigs could be stored more easily. Maggie’s side of the room is ocean blues and greens and her roommate’s side is flower pinks and reds, quite cheerful.

Maggie’s energy was flagging when we saw her, but she was looking forward to classes and field hockey. I cried harder this time – silently in the back seat so her boyfriend wouldn’t see or hear – because this was the real good-bye. It wasn’t that I wouldn’t see her again – we have field hockey games as an excuse to visit, but I know when she comes home from now on, it’s to visit, not live. She’s doing what she’s supposed to – stepping out on her own. But I feel left behind, stuck in the same old-same old.

When my husband reached around from the driver’s seat to pat my leg in the car, Maggie’s boyfriend asked, “Are you crying?” I told him I’d kill him if he told Maggie. I want her to focus on getting to know new people, work on her classes, deal with her own anxieties. She shouldn’t worry about me.

I hadn’t counted on a call from her two days later saying she was on her way to the ER for chest xrays because the college infirmary suspected she had pneumonia. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to be a helicopter parent, and I had said my big good-bye. She was on her own. I didn’t want to embarrass her by rushing to her side.

But, after much debate, she texted me, “Um, if you want to come, that would be ok”, and I got in the car.

For three nights, she slept with me at the college inn to ensure a good night’s sleep away from the revelry on campus, rested in the infirmary during the day and had mini breaks when she hung out in her dorm room to see new friends from her hall. She missed going to a tropical theme party, but loaned her coconut bra to a boy, who wore it with post-its testifying he was doing this for Maggie.

While it was nice to mother her for those days, it was brutal saying good-bye Sunday afternoon. She had classes on Monday and, just as I had to let the new owners take care of our puppies, it was time for the college, and she herself, to take care of Maggie. My job was to leave.

Leaving her when she didn’t feel well and was upset with missing freshman orientation and field hockey practice wasn’t easy. I couldn’t help but text and Facebook her to make sure she was checking in with the infirmary and resting as much as possible. It’s impossible not to worry – even from a distance.

Within a few days, her voice changed. Her spirit was returning even if her energy wasn’t. She was pacing herself carefully focusing on homework and not socializing. A few days later she even cleaned her room.

She’s already learning life lessons and so am I.

I remember how excited I was to live on my own, and how grown-up I felt realizing I didn’t always need or want my family around. She’s in the early stages of that realization and while I am honestly thrilled for her, it sucks being me.

While she’s investing time and energy in her future and her dad and I are investing money, lots of it, in that same future, I’m also trying to invest in my future. I’m teaching and writing more, and I’m registered for a pottery class and dog training for the puppy we kept.

Maybe when she does come home, she’ll be as excited to see me as the puppies are when they visit – jumping, wagging and playing chase. I just hope she doesn't pee on the floor.