Tag Archives: Parenting

Home Sweet Home

Emma in September as she headed off into the world.

Emma in September as she headed off into the world.

Emma as we got back to Seattle this week.

Emma as we got back to Seattle this week.

We’ve spent the last year plus thinking about Emma and her gap year. (Anyone who knows us is probably tired of hearing about Emma this, and Emma that–but it’s been our LIFE for a while now.) First, we were planning, planning, planning. Then, once she was gone, it was all…watching and waiting. Watching her and her friends Facebook feeds. Waiting for emails,FaceTime, letters and packages. Our limited contact with her gave us the barest of information. After three weeks of no contact, even a single line of an email gave me a sense of calm. “She’s alive. That’s all that really matters.” Going from daily minutia of her life to only knowing she’s alive was a huge change. Now that she’s back home, we’re finding our way into a new way of being, something in between knowing every minute-by-minute detail and just knowing she’s still breathing.

Integrating an adult “child” back into the house is new for us, and it is taking some adjusting for both of us. I’m finding that the change and growth she’s gone through in the last year has truly elevated her from teenager into the adult realm. While she will always be my baby girl, she’s grown into a responsible young woman used to certain freedoms and responsibilities. I’m doing my best to step back and try to see her for who she is now.

As the pictures show she doesn’t look much different than when she left. Her return photo was taken after she’d finished the program including several weeks in D.C. and access to fresh clothes and her beloved leather jacket. She looks like she’s standing a bit taller and more secure in the world to me.

I didn’t feel particularly stressed while she was gone. Logically, I expected her to be safe, but it wasn’t until we got back yesterday that I realized I had been experiencing a definite underlying stress. I don’t know whether it was a generalized stress that will return in August when she heads off to college or a more direct “she’s in far away places doing exotic and semi-dangerous things” kind of stress. That question will be answered in September after she’s been gone on a different adventure for a while. Mama-stress?

For now, I am happy to have her home and engaging in a new kind of adult parent-child relationship. It’s the way it should be.


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Gap Years are for Parents, Too

canstockphoto16603922I can go on and on about what we hoped for Emma while she was on her gap year, but I hadn’t really thought much about what it would be like for me. Her mom. She hasn’t called me “Mommy” in years. While I’ve never thought of myself as a clingy, helicopter parent, I’m realizing how much I was involved in her daily business and how much I did for her. My primary focus is as a stay-at-home mom. Yes, I’m a writer, but that comes second to my family and my ‘job’ as mom, wife, chef, chauffeur, tutor, laundress, book-keeper, scheduler, and valet.

What hit me yesterday was the daily emotional stuff and ‘doings’ of life. While at home, she would look to me for a lot of support in solving problems. I helped her figure out how to get from home to a friend’s house, organized driving lessons, bought most of her food– the kinds of things you do when your kid is still living at home.

With her across the world, we have had limited access to each other. She goes for a week or two without much communication at all–an email here and there. Our last FaceTime together was at Christmas. So, we haven’t “talked” in several weeks now. Most of her emails begin with “I don’t have much time, but I have SO much to tell you…” It can be frustrating at times.

When I get a lengthy email, I savor every word and re-read it several times to make sure I’m not missing anything. A week ago, she informed us she and her TBB traveling companion met “some guy” on the side of a road to buy train tickets in some sort of black-market -like exchange so they could go up to Rishikesh on their independent student travel weekend. A twelve hour train ride. Just the two of them, away from the group. In India. Once there, they had to manage their own hotel and entertainment for the weekend and get back to Jaipur. I barely managed to do that kind of thing in England when I was a couple of years older than she was.

Yesterday’s email came as a response to one I sent her about her brother’s first day skiing. I got a rather lengthy reply, and sandwiched in the middle, after a paragraph about how she’s working out at a gym and her concerns about American-style Big AG was this:

Anyway. The last few days have been insane. Last week I had a bunch of expensive jewelry I had bought (including a gift for you) stolen, as well as all my makeup and my hairbrush and perfume. All the stuff was in two little pouches in my bag…

She goes on to briefly theorize about who and how the things were stolen and jumps into a paragraph about visiting the City Palace and their weapons exhibit.

It was as I re-read the email for the third or fourth time that I realized whatever emotional upset and whatever drama was happening with her, she was relying on others to listen and support her. For her to relay a theft so casually to me means she had dealt with it when it happened and with help from other people. Her program leaders and fellow TBB students are her current go-to peeps. Not me! I’m not wounded by this as much as I am relieved. It’s a parent’s dream to see their child find their way in the world, to find friends and partners they can trust being a big part of that. Sure, I still want her to come to me for talks and advice, but I love knowing she can build a support system into her life with other people. It’s lovely to think “you don’t need me, you’ll be okay out there.”

(c) Can Stock Photo

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Fly, baby, fly…

Emma with her packs and mini-mandolin.

Emma with her packs and mini-mandolin.

Well, there she is. My nineteen-year-old baby off on a gap year. Okay, so it’s not exactly a year, but close ‘nough. Over the next eight months, she will be living and working in Equador, China, India and South Africa. She’ll have “enrichment” weeks like climbing Machu Picchu, visiting the killing fields in Phnom Penh, riding camels across the dessert, and going “on safari” in Africa. For the majority of her time, though, she will be working with NGOs in each location. She’s not doing this alone, but with a group of other students her age and three adult advisors.

Over the last year, we have talked about this trip to countless people. It’s hard to not have to go into some explanation why you need to buy a particular kind of clothing, shoe, or back-pack-like item. We spent ten minutes at the bank talking to the teller before she counted out the one and five dollar bills she needed. (Equador is the first stop and they use the American dollar as currency.) Emma posted about how inadequate and tiring it can be to talk about something in brief snippets in her first blog post.

When talking about the trip,the responses I get from other parents land pretty squarely in two camps. The first is enthusiastic, and the second is a large-eyed dismay covered quickly with a tentative question about how I feel about it. I know I am generalizing here, but the younger a child the parent has, the less enthusiastic they are. It makes sense. If you have a little baby, you can hardly begin to imagine them at a friend’s house for a sleep over let alone sending them around the world. I know when Emma was little, I used to worry about how she would do overnight, let alone for 8 months.

After reflecting on her preparation for this trip, I realize that a lot of how ‘okay’ I am with this has to do with the fact with how ‘okay’ she is with it. Sure, she was pretty nervous yesterday when we waved her off, but it was clear her excitement outweighed her nervousness. Part of this does have to do with her education and how it trained me to accept her leaving in incremental baby steps.

I’ve written about Waldorf education in the past, and most of you know I have a love-hate relationship with it. Her experience with the various class trips she had is something to LOVE about Waldorf. Starting in third grade, she went on an overnight sleep away experience on a farm. In fourth grade she was gone for two nights for their Potlatch, in fifth grade it was the Olympiad, and so on. In high school, they upped the ante and sent the kids on week long back-packing, hiking, and service trips. Each time, the experience got a more difficult or involved. Her final senior class trip included rebuilding a trail in Oregon. Each trip taught Emma something new about herself and how to cope with being away from home, family, and creature comforts. And, each taught me something new about myself as a parent and how to let go.

Am I worried? Yes and no. I know that Emma has the where-with-all and reserves to handle the home-sickness, lack of technology, and various other social issues that will come up. I am worried about the things I can’t control–the unexpected and random stuff that happens. Weather, earthquakes, crazy people, illness–they exist everywhere. The fact that I won’t be around to help her through anything like that…well, that’s the hard part.


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Flexibility, ya gotta have some

20130827-142237.jpgThose who know us are probably surprised by this photo. Yes. It is Eli, OUR ElI, on a bike. My feelings on the whole bike thing haven’t changed all that much. I am not thrilled to have bikes back in our life,but there it is. Sometimes, as a parent, you have to bend a little and meet your kids halfway when their heart is set on something.

Let me back up for those of you who are wondering what the heck I am talking about. You see, a few years ago, my husband was in a pretty bad accident. With multiple breaks and a crushed helmet, he was lucky compared to some. Without the helmet, he likely would have been a vegetable or dead. Sure, we know people who have suffered much worse, but this was more the last straw after a series of accidents over the long term. Bill hung his bike on the rack and that was it.

We were lucky our daughter showed little interest in riding, and she never pleaded the cause. It is easy to say no when no one is asking. Our son is entirely different. He’s been asking for a bike for years. I mean that with the legitimate literal use of the word “years”. We’ve said no over and over again, making it clear to anyone who asks that it is our decision, as his parents, that he doesn’t get to ride a bike.

People’s reactions have been mixed. I’ve had other parents in my face with how wrong it is to withhold the joy of riding a bike from our son. I’ve had other people shrug and look at us like we are lunatics but not say anything. I’ve run into blank stares, as if the concept wasn’t something easy to grasp. And, then there is our son who has been begging, lobbying, and annoying us about it every chance he gets. A couple of months ago, I was beginning to waiver. It was more about the forbidden fruit and how keeping him off a bike and the arguments around the bike were getting to be more a problem then letting him actually get a bike.

Between my own “meh” attitude and the difficult fact that we do not live in bike-safe territory, it is not just getting a bike. It is getting the bike and him to a safe place where he can ride away from heavy traffic. This means bike, plus our time–our time doing something that we don’t really want to do. In spite of the various mental hurdles, I was making preparations to do my own lobbying for a bike for his 11th birthday in September.

Then, a few weeks ago, he went off with his grandparents to Pennsylvania. While there, they bought him a bike to use on the lonely road near the family home. The genie, as it were, was out of the bottle, and my son was smitten. Even after he fell and had bloody flaps of skin on elbow and knee, he was back on the bike right away. He rode as much as he could while there and returned home with renewed vigor in his plans to beat us down.

He started in right away with an overt wailing martyrdom “I love riding, and I’ll never get to do it again….” But, underneath that loud and obnoxious statement, I saw a sincere grief in his watering eyes and quivering lower lip. He had experienced something new, wonderful and freeing. Anyone who’s ridden a bike knows what the sensation is like. I ached for him more once he knew what it was he was missing. The hypothetical loss of something fun and wonderful had turned real. Before, he just thought he would like it. Now, he knew it.

After much discussion, we decided to bend. A lot. I took my own bike in for a tune-up. We bought him a bike. Bill is looking at getting himself a new bike–his old one long ago gifted to a friend. Add in a new hitch and rack for my car to make it easier to get someplace where we can safely ride, and we have a new family activity to “enjoy.” Given that the big girl is on her way out of the country, she can’t really complain that we aren’t including her in something she has no desire to do anyway. That old saying, “If you can’t beat then, join them” is living pretty large around here.

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Wow…not sure how THAT happened…..

Time FliesReally?: I haven’t put up a blog since November?

I looked at the last blog post I made and just realized how long it has been since I’ve actually blogged. I chose the word actually here with purpose and not out of the lazy use of one of those pesky “ly” words. I use it because I have been doing a lot more blogging in my head than in reality. Before you think I am a nut case, just consider the fact that I do what’s called “pre-writing” all the time. I think through scenes, dialogue, and all manner of writing while I am doing other things–like taking a shower, driving,washing dishes, or folding laundry. I plot and think through character and structure all without computer or pen at hand.

Sometimes, all that mental work gets transformed into written form, and sometimes it doesn’t. For example, last week, a friend posted a poignant quote by Joyce Carol Oates on Facebook. I saw it while I was working out and thought about it while I showered intending to blog about my reaction. It was a pretty emotional post, and I decided that I would get all sentimental and teary when what I really needed to do was work on the $*(#@*$&?; taxes. I skipped the blogging for something more practical and timely. Replace taxes with holidays, birthdays, traveling and kid related activities and blogging has gotten smooshed right out of my schedule.

I have about half a dozen posts “in mind” about food–no surprise there–and just haven’t gotten around to getting them written up. I have pictures and everything, but when I sit at the computer, I see the little Scrivener icon at the bottom of my screen and it calls to me. (Scrivener is the writing program I am using these days.)

This is all to say, I have been prioritizing my writing more than in the past. Last fall I started the UW’s Popular Fiction certification course. People who know me ask me about the other certification course in Literary fiction I took a few years ago (seven!) and why I am taking another. It turns out that the creation of a novel is more complex than simply telling a story. I’m good at the story telling part–and I have short fiction pretty much figured out. All of the erotic works I have sold have been in the short fiction category. (Two more this year, BTW.) But novels? Dang it. They are tricky things. This course is focused on the novel form.

The class meets once a week for three hours in the evening. We write in class each week–between one and three scenes. I go home and expand on and edit those scenes during the week, making one of them decent enough for the teacher to review. As the book begins to take shape, I am finding myself more and more involved with just the one project– especially when it comes to sitting down and actually writing.

(c) Can Stock Photo

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Indecent in Paris

20120702-231620.jpgIt’s sort of strange that a family comprised of all atheists finds its way to places like Notre Dame and the Sacre Coeur Basilica. We made it to Notre Dame the first day we were in Paris. The line to get in extended out across the plaza in front of the cathedral but moved quickly. The signs at the door all said to be quiet, but there was a steady buzz of whispering throughout. The only reason we went was to see the famed Rosetta stained glass. Eli recently read “The King in the Window”–no doubt inspired by Adam Gopnik’s year living in Paris–and there was some glass jumping going on in that. The cathedral is about to celebrate its 850th anniversary and they are renovating and collecting money throughout the cathedral. The experience was anything but peaceful or awe inspiring with the large crowds. I almost feel sorry for anyone who lives in the vicinity and calls the cathedral their home church. It would be impossible to find any sort of contemplative solitude. Maybe they have special hours for local congregants.

On Monday, we headed up to Montmartre and the Sacre Coeur Basillica. The view heading uphill, with the glowing white dome against the clear blue sky, was a classic Paris moment. The climb up the steps was easy enough and the line into the basilica was much shorter than that of Notre Dame. We made it to the front only to be told my daughter was “indecent.” I took a picture of her in her shorts and tank top, you can see it at the upper left of this post. We were told to cover her up as women in shorter skirts than her shorts and sun dresses filed on in. Emma was not quite foaming at the mouth at the injustice of it. Fortunately, she always has a scarf and sweater in her bag so she wrapped the scarf around to make a makeshift skirt and put on her sweater. Her “skirt” barely covered her shorts and her shoulders were now hidden from view. The door monitor was rather subjective in the way she turned people away or let them in. The younger they were, the more likely, it seemed to me, that they were told to cover up. Emma in her “decent” attire is shown below. (if the WP app cooperates)


The actual Basillica is quite different than Notre Dame. The harsher entry requirements and the guy just inside saying “shhhhh” while holding up a finger to his lips as you enter make it crystal clear they want you to be quiet inside. There was a service going on when we visited, so we got to witness real live Parisian Catholics getting up and down on their knees while singing. There was a nice bit of soprano solo by a nun for a while, and we got to experience the acoustics of a single voice in the huge space. They are getting ready to renovate their pipe organ, and I can just imagine how awesome it will sound in there. I have always appreciated liturgical music–especially when they are in Latin and I don’t understand the words.

One of the busiest little chapels had many supplicants, including one who climbed through the barricade to kneel at the base of a statuette, prayer beads in hand. I made a note of the name to look up when we had Internet access again. I couldn’t help but wonder who this “St. Vierge” might be. I can already hear some of my multi-lingual and Catholic friends laughing. Go ahead and laugh, because I know I did a palm to forehead slap once I’d looked up the translation. This was only made a little more hilarious when Bill pointed out the one of the French astrological signs we saw on a table was also Vierge. Go, cognates!

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Father’s Day…oh, boy.

Dad in 1940ish?

I had a very different father than my brothers did. I lucked out being the youngest and having my dad at home all my life, whereas the boys had a single mom for a number of years. It wasn’t fair, but life isn’t.

When I was about seven, I announced,”I want to be a doctor, just like daddy!” Yeah, I was a daddy’s girl, but I wasn’t just currying favor with the old man. I really, genuinely wanted to be just like my dad. He was my personal god, and I believed he was capable of anything. The man saved lives.

Dad, Aunt Lou and Me (age 5)

One of my brothers piped up with, “You can’t be a doctor, you’re a girl. You can only be a nurse.” There are more than a couple of things wrong with that sentence, but the relevant part to my story was the girl thing. My dad was so incensed by this statement that he made it his personal goal to make sure he taught me everything he was teaching the boys and more. By the time I was thirteen I could rebuild a carburetor, use a lathe, band saw, table saw and develop photos in a darkroom. Never mind that I didn’t learn how to vacuum or do laundry until my husband showed me how, but I had some definite ‘traditionally male’ skills well in hand. He taught me to drive, take an EKG and blood pressure…how to paint, how to draw blood, and how to throw a temper tantrum. The Mammen temper is something I inherited from my dad, and I can only guess how things would have progressed had I continued drinking.

He went to almost all my piano and clarinet recitals, and he helped me with science and art projects all the way through school. Neither of my parents made it to watch the marching band or swim meets in high school. He offered to help me with birth control as soon as he thought I was getting serious in a relationship. He pulled me aside when one sketchy older guy came to collect me for a date offering to come get me anywhere, anytime for any reason with no questions asked. I didn’t realize at the time just what a scary situation it is for a parent to watch their sixteen year old walk out of the house with a twenty-one year old man driving a VW bug. (Hey, it was Reno in 1982!)

In spite of all this praise, I recognize Dad wasn’t perfect. He was prone to temper tantrums, always got his way in everything, and he was sort of gullible. In the 1970’s he wore a metal pyramid on his head in the evenings and didn’t miss an episode of “In Search Of.” He stormed out of a restaurant when one of my brothers acted out, leaving my mom alone with three boys to apologize to the waitress and pay the bill. He thought the best way to keep my two oldest brothers from smoking was to take them outside and make them smoke an entire pack of cigarettes. With a 50-50 ratio on that little endeavor, he didn’t try to repeat the lesson with me and my other brother. He used a leather belt to punish them, but never spanked me. He loved doing what he did–to the exclusion of family time. When I was in college, he was in private practice and had an annoying habit of giving his home phone number out to patients. This is in the 80’s before cell phones, so this was my number, too. One patient, in particular, would call in the evenings and I got to the point where I would tell him that I was talking to my friend and if he was dying he should call an ambulance, and if he wasn’t he could wait until office hours–and I got in trouble. There was nothing worse than having my dad look at me, drop his chin so he could look over those dark rimmed glasses and say, “I’m disappointed in you, young lady.”

Last formal photo of my dad. You can see he already has problems holding up his head.

After he died, it took me more than a year to get used to the idea that I couldn’t just pick up the phone and ask him a quick question. Even now, thirteen years after he died, I still think, “Hey DAD, you have got to see this!” I have a small jar of my parents combined ashes on a shelf in my kitchen. It’s a discreet little Chinese porcelain vase that sort of disappears into the wood work, but I know it’s there. Every once in a while, I’ll look up at it and ask him what he thinks about something. (I talk to my mom like that too, sometimes.) I know the answer that comes to me is from my own head, but I hear it in his voice.

The last time I heard him speak was just before his lungs died and he went on a ventilator. We were talking on the phone, and he ended the conversation like we ended every phone conversation with, “I love you.” After that, my mom would hold the phone up so I could yammer away, and he would tap at the speaker with his fingernail. He ended all our conversations with three taps, one for each word. Tap. Tap. Tap. I always knew what it meant.


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