My armpits are lonely.
My cuddle cat passed away. She died. In my arms.
She was a petite Siamese with that stubby, crooked Asian tail; whenever I pet her, my hand continued along the “cat tail arc” long after her actual tail had actually ended. What she lacked in tail, she gained in character – as if she needed any more.
Her favorite place to be was wherever I was. Under my feet – as I walked (cat-danced) down the stairs. At my side – when I fell down the stairs. Talking at me as I walked in the door – presumably to tell me about her day; I rarely ever got a word in edgewise. Like it mattered because her day was always more interesting: “Well, let’s see. I napped. Then I got up, stretched, turned around, and had a nap to recover. By then, the patch of sunshine had moved, so I had to get up again, and I hissed at the big guy who was blocking the light and then edged forward to avoid getting nipped at before sandwiching myself between the boys . . . ”
She would walk across my desk with cat-like aim for every item she could step on, ruin, or topple. She’d send coded messages as she retyped whatever I was working on; in fact, she made certain that her paws struck as many letters as possible whilst standing solidly on one key: “delete”. All so that she could make her way to the hand cream pump which I’d try to hide further from her view (or my use). And then: LET the licking begin! She had a fetish for moisturizers – all types – in bottles or on bodies.
And no one (in our house, anyway) played soccer / football like this cat did. Medicine bottles, pens, boxes of tissues – okay, simply everything on my nightstand – was fair game at 4:30 in the morning. She was my alarm clock and she was set to go off way too early. The other cats would scream their distress at the possibility of being starved; they’d race back and forth across me in Olympic speed trials. But not my Siamese. She took a very direct approach: swat everything to the ground. One. Item. At. A. Time. SCORE. (Repeatedly and aggravatingly.) SCORE. SCORE. SCORE. She won every game. No intermissions. No refs making calls in my favor. If there was a cheer team, it would have been for her.
She was her own cat. The only female and the tiniest by far amongst four other males, two twice her weight. What she lacked in sheer body size, she gained in her polite stare that made you follow her gaze panicking, “Oh cripe! Is that an axe murderer, a moth, or a friggin’ cat-fur tumbleweed?” And heck, with those four big-boy felines, she knew how to swat back. I always taught my girls that hands were for hugging. But I think this girl understood that there were moments when a decisive paw smack at one of the boys would be a helluva lot more effective than an ear licking. And yet she gave them all baths – like it or not, need it or not. She was that kind of lady: a lover and a fighter.
She was quirky. I couldn’t run the cannister vacuum without her screaming at me. Loudly. Over the vacuum’s whir-suck-shtzzzzz sound. She’d dodge in front of the vac’s long arm. Oddly, she wasn’t trying to protect me and she wasn’t trying to stop me; she was just pleading with me to vacuum her! Head to paws. Belly and back. She’d practically get sucked into the hose and she’d complain louder still when I had to move on to dusting which didn’t much interest her.
And she was a foot flopper: If I stood still long enough, she’d weave in and out and then flop over on top of my feet for belly rubs. If I moved away without giving her the full two-handed massage, then I moved away with tremendous guilt and I knew I’d hear about it later. (I think she had heard Sad Cat Diary. She was, at the very least, one of the contributors.)
Her main follow-me goal, however, was to wait for me to lie down. She was right there. Every time. Catnap, full-on overnight, or days in bed with the flu – it made no difference. She scouted which side she wanted to claim and then nose-dived under the covers, somehow turning around “down there” and burrowing back toward the head of the bed, coming to rest just short of my pillow and instead nuzzling into my armpit with her chin nestled comfortably just above. Now I was her pillow. And this would be my designated position for the remainder of such horizontal time. Prrr and good night. For more than 10 of her 12 years of yesterdays, this was how we slept together. It was how I slept.
She could read me, too, and knew what to do. Was I having a productive day? She’d be in my lap or she’d be on my desk trying to help me type (or edit by un-typing). Was I laughing with the kids? She’d turn into psycho kitty and go whizzing by us at full speed, fly to a sudden squatted stop, glance around with owl ears, and then dash off in another direction, stopping only to chase cat toys that normally collected dust; she was the entertainment. Was I confused and struggling? She’d hang out and talk and weave around me until I remembered to turn on my music for us both. Was I having a particularly rough day? I’d lie down and find her not in the usual armpit formation, but on me, paws over my shoulder, holding me down, body pressed tightly leaning into my tear-stained face so that I could clearly hear her the hum of her prrr: “You stay here until you’re better, okay? I’ve got you covered on this one.”
And then, she had troubles of her own, and they weren’t getting better.
There were so many signs beyond the obvious that she was not well. The other cats had stopped bothering her these past few weeks. Instead, they actually seemed to protect her as she began to hide. And the boys talked with me more. The tabby yowled and would appear in her place when I was horizontal. Our orange boy was even more unsettled, unusually more visible, and had increased his vocabulary and acoustic level considerably. The muted guy had taken to staring me down in the closet having decided to be her daytime guardian; he’d watch over her as they lay close together, nose-to-butt, no longer having sudden squabbles over whose nose to whose butt as she rarely changed positions any more. I slowly began to consider whether they knew what I was desperate not to know.
It was true that bits and bobs of her had been failing in these last few months. She was more wobbly, but she prevailed with this almost sexy cat walk to compensate for her weakening hind quarters. She was getting leaky, but cat diapers exist. (Really, they make cat diapers. Hole for the tail and everything. Who knew?) And still other odd things. Nothing seemed related. Her vet was concerned but “watchful” seemed like the appropriate action plan. She could have years still. That’s what I thought the vet thought. Or, maybe that’s what I hoped my armpit cat thought: years left, right?
Her routine slowed but stayed steady until this last week. She was suddenly more visible even as she was trying so hard not to be. But then I noticed she was done. She just couldn’t keep at it. Systems were failing without reason. With every reason. Just without logical reason. And without concern for me or my girls – as if her humans and her vet had any say at all. We didn’t.
Her body just gave up.
Today, I held her and sobbed as my youngest daughter stroked our cat of the last 10+ years and my oldest talked to her over the phone. Surreal. I’m sure that the whole world heard me screaming, “I’M NOT READY!”; I just hoped that she couldn’t hear me struggle. I was trying to be calm and not worry her, to tell her I loved her, to repeat over and over again how many people adored her and why. And I was trying to fight the urge to beg her to stay forever young. Forever well. I couldn’t do anything but sob and beg and sob and love and sob and calmly talk with her and . . . sob . . . I couldn’t get the damn balance right and I hoped she understood. It was all love. Every bit of what she last heard in this world was love. Garbled and heartfelt and messy and rushed and confused and hurt . . . but love. Lots of love.
And now I cannot understand how I will sleep without her.
This evening my crotch cat (the yowling tabby) is curled between my legs. The orange scaredy cat talked to me earlier, then dove under the bed where no one is supposed to know that he hides. And the guardian spent the latter part of today sitting and staring at the now-empty space in the depths of my closed that his buddy had claimed in her last days.
The boys are making their peace.
My girls are sharing pictures and memories that make us all laugh and then cry and they are baking cookies – which you will soon understand. They are finding ways to grieve.
Me? I can't give her editing rights to random typos anymore. I can’t ever use the moisturizer on my desk. But I’ll never throw it out. Vacuuming will be easier. And harder.
And my armpits will never be warm again.
~ with love for Cookie, my little Siamese chattercat. I had searched the world for you. Who knew you’d find me in Singapore? You helped me through my many sleepless nights and my far too many fearful ones. I suspect you thought perhaps I’d be fine now without you; and that you knew I would always sense your presence in your absence. Every night. Though I miss you, I know you are with me.
- on a pillow
- under a pillow
- under a sheet
- on a nightstand
- in the medicine cabinet
- tucked in the bathroom mirror
- on a toilet seat top
- in a pocket of pjs / robe
- tucked into exercise clothes
- in a shoe
- in a bagged lunch
- in a diaper bag
- in a briefcase / purse
- in a backpack
- placed against the laptop screen
- peeking out from under a keyboard
- tucked into an ipad case
- peeking out of that junk drawer
- in a coffee mug or taped to the bottom
- on a window sill
- in the fridge (under a recently purchased fav desert might be sweet)
- in the coffee canister
- clipped to the wall calendar (or tucked into the day-to-day calendar pages)
- tacked on the fridge
- taped to a cereal box, egg carton, breakfast bar, smoothie maker
- tacked to the kitchen cabinet
- in the silverware drawer
- in the underwear drawer
- tucked with a bookmark in a current book
- tucked into the morning newspaper
- on the dashboard
- on the front seat of the car
- on the windshield
- on a high chair / baby bouncer (out of reach of baby)
- taped to the tv
- threaded through a phone charger
- tucked under a dinner plate
- rubberbanded / taped to a wine bottle
- taped to the lawn mower engine or starter
- taped to the top of the grill (ummm . . . not inside, please)
- tacked to the lawn furniture / hammock / patio chair
- taped to the front door
- on top of or not-so-obviously hidden in your (not kids') bathroom reading material
- tacked to outer side of the shower curtain
- taped to a shower faucet (however, fyi: cards are not water proof)
- peaking out of a filing cabinet
- taped to the floor between bed and bath
- left by the jewelry or makeup
- left WITH (new) jewelry or makeup
- attached to Fido's collar (or tucked under his chin?)
- visibly behind the fish tank / goldfish bowl or next to the cat's food bowl
- left inside the microwave
- tucked into bra or beltline
- taped to a light switch
- on the mantle
- taped to the top of takeout delivery (arranged in advance or immediately at the door)
- in a shirt breast pocket
- in a sock drawer
- in the drapes/blinds
- on a windowpane
- in a coat pocket
- in the middle of a large stack of mail
- next to the razor / shaver or behind the toothbrushes
- in a ziploc bag in the freezer
- on a desk chair
- taped to the inside of the washing machine lid
- with an often-used sex toy, lube, book, or movie
- taped to the ceiling
- covering a just-the-two-of-you photo
That was 69 Places to . . .
Leave a Love Note.
Don’t text it.
Trust me. Texting has it’s ooh moments.
But texts can also appear at THE most inappropriate times
the lack of an immediate reply can immediately be misinterpreted.
Plus, what about some immediate action to go with that immediate reaction?
If you can’t find just the cards you want,
try TiffinTalk’s Heart2Heart boxed set of 69 romantic, silly, sexy, intimate, loving cards
for 69 places and 69 ways to say (and remember how to say): I love you . . .
. . . and be loved right back.
Lovers love the message, not the text.
There’s no app for a signed romantic card tucked into the bathroom mirror (or left on the dashboard). No e-card can replace that.
There’s no app for a rose on the pillow. (Or the cat that got to it first . . . )
There’s no app for a candlelit room.
There’s no app for the wet dog nose trying to nuzzle in on your nuzzling.
There’s no app for the sensation that the kids are safely sleeping or reading or playing . . . for just a little bit longer and you know your door is locked . . . for just a little bit longer.
There’s no app for silence. And there’s no app for holding someone’s hand while looking into their eyes and the silence that speaks a thousand languages all of which you clearly understand.
There’s no app for playing footsies. (Like it or not.)
There’s no app for hugging. Or cuddling. Or a kiss on the shoulder. Or the nape of the neck. Or anywhere else for that matter.
There’s no app for a finger trailing along a line on your body. Or theirs.
There’s no app for the laughter that you share when someone tickles you pleasantly.
There’s no app for a whispered “I love you”. You can’t even text it. Not if you want the full effect. Trust me, if you ever have the choice, you’ll want the full effect. And, by the way, there’s no app for all the reasons that follow those three words.
There is no app for a relationship. The real thing is about being real.
There’s no app for love and the myriad of realities and dreams that come from a connection where the only charge needed is to be in the moment listening and talking.
Because talk is the new sexy. And the new sexy is about the old intimacy with enticing new passion and romance and laughter and fun.
And the old intimacy is worth every penny. Even at today’s rates. It’s a currency you want to keep, to touch, to hold forever. Like that signed card. Like the person who signed it.
Some phones have auto reply choices for those times when we can’t pick up the call. Mine has a choice of:
- I’m on my way.
- Can I call you later?
- Sorry I can’t talk right now.
- Really? Now?
- Bathroom break. Honestly, you don’t want to hear this.
- I may call you back. I may forget. Give it a few days.
But the text I really want to select will stop the caller immediately with this:
I can’t talk right now. I meant to turn my phone off but I was too distracted to remember that I even owned a phone when I walked into the candlelit room. I’m being kissed right now and . . . well . . . it’s not a good time . . . well, it actually is a good time . . . for me . . . I just mean it’s not a good time to talk with you. And . . . ahhhhh . . .
Tap that choice and my phone powers off automatically. Immediately. No more pings. No more dings. And no more rings. (Even vibrate mode isn’t necessary in this moment.)
The caller is left to their imagination and I’m left with my reality. A sexy lover. A lovely afternoon. Or evening. Or both. Or – whoa – maybe a morning. Hell, an entire day.
My turned-off phone can magically text any other incoming calls with:
I’m utterly, happily, amazingly unavailable. I can only be reached in person. By one person. And that person is already within reach. Thank you.
Perhaps the caller will turn to their lover, hand them a TiffinTalk card with their own handwritten note, and phones around the world will, one-by-one, power down.
More real connections.
It’s a start.
For couples who ask each other, “How was your day?” and hear the answer, “Fine.” Far too many times . . .
For couples whose together-time has become routine and monotonous . . .
For couples who spend more time alone together mesmerized by their devices . . .
It’s simple math:
Provocative, romantic, and intimate cards: 69.
From any position, it’s a win-win.
Heart2Heart dares all those end-of-day casual, oftentimes unintentional interrogations to be actual fun, loving, affectionate conversations. Face-to-face.
Eyes. Without distracting devices.
Touch. Without the screen.
Heart2Heart. Without missing a beat.
69 cards in no particular order. Because we wanted to keep you wondering, guessing, and maybe even not-so-secretly wishing. There’s no “yours” and “theirs”. It’s a mixed-up box of spicy, provocative, romantic, and loving questions. Giggles are optional.
Like a box of chocolates with those unknown, gooey middles, you could, of course, look at the beautiful artwork on each and every card, read the thoughtful questions, and peruse the fun tidbits on the backs and then try to pick your favorites ahead of time.
But like that same yummy box of chocolates, by sampling them all, you may ruin the fun of the anticipation! Surprise or not a surprise? Give every card or share the box? Take turns or be random?
Most importantly and perhaps the only “rule”: personalize the card. Be different. Be silly. Be daring. Be risqué. Be outrageous. Be just who you are – with a slight twist of fantasy and a barely measurable amount of reality.
As to when and where and how to give the cards . . . open box, close eyes, pick card, and write your message to your lover. Spritz it with aftershave or perfume. Add a lipsticked kiss. (Do I really need to be your imagination?)
Then leave the card where you know it will be found: under a pillow; in the refrigerator; next to the coffee mug; on the nightstand or the dashboard; in a bookbag, briefcase, diaper bag, or purse; ‘rubberbanded’ to a wine bottle. Or arrange for special delivery via Fido’s collar. Give your partner time with the card so that their thoughts can simmer, percolate, and – on occasion – get steamy. Or surprise them with one in a private moment.
Remember to listen as much as (more than?) you speak. Dare to ask for details. And when it is your turn, be expressive, be raw, be adventuresome.
Blush. Whisper. Intertwine fingers. Wink. Place a tender kiss on the inside of a wrist. (You may take it from here, thank you very much . . . )
Above all else, have fun getting to know each other – again!
Yes, you can still ask about your partner’s day, by the way. But be prepared to hear something real. Because when a conversation connects you both, you might actually get an answer longer than a single syllable with slightly different and hotter implications.
At TiffinTalk, we believe that technology has a place, but that your partner and your family take first place. No pings, rings, or dings. Life is about the stories we share and the people we connect with.
We are all about eyes and ears.
Tech Off. Talk On.
& Get Turned On.
Just last week I saw Santa in Trader Joe’s. As in my Trader Joe’s in my small town. It almost makes him my Santa.
You’ve probably seen him, too. He’s been in malls, on street corners, in parades. Maybe he’s visited your town, too. Your Santa.
But, how fun it was to see him shopping. With a cart. And – in teen speak – like, everything. He wasn’t in his usual Santa sitting position, greeting and waving. I am sure he was the real deal. I mean the real Santa would need to shop, right? So it’s sort of like seeing your teacher (or your kid’s teacher) or your dentist in the supermarket.
Santa just shopped and ho-ho-ho-ed and talked to everyone while pushing his cart. Kids stopped him. Heck, even adults politely asked if he could answer questions – and oddly, they were real questions. Thankfully, Santa is a respected source. No one taunted him. How cool it was to watch this. How cool he was to offer his jolly self to others. And to give such thoughtful replies.
Talk about giving.
We’ve just exited Thanksgiving here in the United States and we enter a season of holidays that speak to the beauty of what is often referred to as the Season of Giving. And all the while this time of year also vies for major receiving as its end goal. This is entirely confusing for kids, not to mention the adults who are out there shopping with predetermined limits that few can actually stick to.
Meanwhile, many kids are wondering: which is their holiday? And why can’t they have all of them? They all seem so good and kinda cool. And then can they just get everything – something for every holiday?
And globally, there are many, many more holidays that are still not seen here – celebrated more privately and not (thankfully) commercialized. Those who observe those holidays might feel lucky that the grand marketing machines haven’t been paying much attention.
I have learned to accept that people will say “Merry Christmas” with the translation of “Happy Whatever Holiday You Celebrate”. I understand that their intention is to wish good will and joy and that their greeting is not in any way a wish or an act of religious conversion.
I understand that this season is a season where many of us try to find ways to give – even as our children expect to receive. And as parents, we grapple with the balance of how much to give and what that giving should actually be – not just look like – but be.
As adults, we struggle to keep up with our kids’ requests, with our neighbors’ decorations, with the commercials of happy families, and with the holiday letters and Facebook posts that leave us bruised as we compare and contrast our realities to the “truths” presented. And we are fearful of letting our kids down, of not giving them enough. And then, in the next breath, what if we are giving too much?
And we wrestle with this because we KNOW with certainty that the best gifts of all are not necessarily boxed and wrapped.
The best gifts involve our time, our intention, as much as our attention. Sure, kids want something they can point to, show off to others. But what if we can help them to point at us? What if we could be their BEST gift just as our kids are (almost?!) always our BEST gifts – every day.
It is a thought as you purchase new technology for them and then decide on how you want to set the ground rules for its use and then stick to those rules or that contract that you both sign. (For help on this, I refer you to a most excellent contract drafted by Avron Welgemoed who expects you to revise and personalize it.)
It is a thought as you might use this time of year as the excuse to restructure, redesign, or simply write how you’d like tech usage to change in the new year.
It is a thought as you take the time to talk. To be in the moments. To wrap yourself up and put your tech on silent mode (or better yet, turn it off!). To challenge your family to get off of social media (even for a little while). To stop posting pics and instead choose to create memories for your own home that are private, personal, and yours alone because you can print them and snail mail them in frames (remember those!?!) to only people you truly know and care about. At the risk of lecturing: no company should own your family and your time together. Not ever.
My young adults? They still believe in Santa because they believe in me. They believe in the other holidays that we observe and the ones that we have come to know from their travels and learning about other cultures and religions. So very many traditions. They believe in giving and yes, of course, they like receiving.
Don’t get me wrong. We wrap presents. But we are looking more at each other and asking “what of myself can I give to you?” It’s way cool. This giving. This receiving.
Imagine if we all – the world around – redefined giving. If it involved more intention. More attention. More time. Fewer dollars. Fewer worries about whether we were getting the right gizmo. More selves.
Red bow optional.
(Oh, and that big empty refrigerator box is a bonus. Because, let’s face it, we all love those boxes and the forts that we can make together so that we can fight the pirates in between reading books with flashlights. Now, there is a gift – for every age!)
And to my Santa: Thank you for giving in such a subtle and beautiful way. I hope you got all the things on your (shopping) list!
Elisabeth Stitt, parenting coach and owner of Joyful Parenting, ended a blog post with a powerful all-capped question: WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP?
While the post was about helping our children with that question, I think her blog was secretly written for parents often silently asking that question of ourselves. Thank you, Elizabeth, for asking grown-ups what they want to be because I rethink and reevaluate this for myself frequently.
With respect to our kids, what I do know is this: Often we need to remind them that their answer is allowed to change many times over. We are allowed to pursue one dream and then exchange it for another that may or may not be remotely related — as so many of us have discovered several times over. And I know this: We need to be more honest with our kids AND with our selves.
Our kids think that even as 7th graders and certainly as 12th graders and then for sure as college seniors that they should know; they MUST know. They must have that career precisely defined. Not just a business owner – but a developer of a new app (that will make gazillions of dollars as they market it to the entire world). Not just a cook – but a Thai fusion chef with a touch of Southern Brazil. Not just a doctor – but a right big-toe surgeon and only for children ages 7 through 15. It has to be exact. They can dream but they need to dream big and they need to dream in exacting detail.
And yet from preschool through college, they are still children/young adults. They are still exploring a world of job titles and possibilities that they cannot possibly even know yet to explore. If it’s not a strange job title in a movie credit or something they’d read about in a book or see in a TV series, then they likely don’t know a bazillionth of the possibilities out there. Even at my age (ancient per my teens), I still meet people with jobs I never knew existed and I am fascinated – truly fascinated – by how that person found their (current) life’s work. And as you know, it might, but rarely involves a college degree in the major that led to that particular job that they are still doing years or decades later. In fact, there couldn’t possibly be a major just for that “weird position” and yet someone clearly needs to be them and to do just what they do. But how in the world did they get there?
Let them explore. Let them be right about their current passions. Let them be “almost right”. Let them be grateful to discover that they were so incredibly wrong. That, ewww, they’d hate being a “Door Knob Salesperson” because they never realized how many doors they’d have to knock on to make the business work. Or how lonely it would be. Or where they’d need to live. Or . . . or . . . or . . . So many “ors”! (And I am not knocking door knob salespeople!)
We are experts at encouraging our little ones to explore, to go on the most amazing treasure hunts in and around the house. No fear. Just discovery and joy. And then, just as they are starting to explore the adult world of life and meaning, we tell them to stop. To find something and stick to it. And as they get older, it’s less "find" and more "stick".
We need to encourage new treasure hunts for our growing kids. Perhaps the one path that we thought improbable might actually lead somewhere else because we simply supported them on their journey and gave them options along the way — not “outs”, but options that could help that journey or allow them to veer left into something totally unexpected – a new passion. Isn’t now the right age to discover without the fear of “failure” (which, by the way, may indeed lead to the “AHA!” of success)? If we at all encourage that sense of being allowed to fail (or "dread") now, to realize they got the dream “wrong”, imagine how it translates when a job doesn’t work out later. (Actually, you might not have to imagine.) They might already feel empowered to mourn a loss briefly but then be ready to try something else.
We also need to give them the freedom to do something less grand and more prosaic than the fantastic dreams of childhood. We must not allow our children to feel less than wonderful because they thought we were counting on them to pursue the big dream, to be the star player . . . let them discover and define “grand” in the years to come. (The show cannot go on without the entire cast; the surgery cannot be performed without the team; etc. I recently met a young man pursuing his dream to research soil around the world. Talk about grand on so many levels and yet … dirt?? He’s going to study dirt? Yes. And, at least for now and hopefully for years to come, he has an incredible passion to do so. Turns out our ecosystem may be grateful for his passion.)
Maybe career paths are like color choices.
My younger daughter loved every color – in turn. She started with pink. All pink. Then it was definitely red. It shifted to yellow and sky blue and then purple. I could not keep up. I gave up. I had to ask, almost daily. As she pushed through her career dreams in high school, it was the same rainbow, but this time of ideas. Until she landed on something totally unexpected and then she was one determined teen. So determined that when I enrolled her in a class just for that, she balked. Scared. No way. It was a dark and stormy fight as we drove to that first night of class. Afterwards, she asked to go back and took that class for 5 more semesters. Turns out that she discovered a variant in the class that she loved even more. Turns out that she discovered that she had previously unknown and quite impressive talents. Turns out that she is ready to explore college and careers from a few new angles. And since training her service dog, she has even more ideas on how to combine passions. She’s not stopping. She has not dug in her heels so firmly that she can fail. She’s loved the rainbow of possibilities.
My older daughter has always loved blue. Just blue. Always blue. But blue with a caveat – because blue has many different hues. There were so many “duh, mom” moments when I picked out a shirt or a paint color or even a notebook with a blue cover and yikes, I was way off. “Not thaaaaaat blue!”, she’d cry out at me with eyes rolling. (And yes, “thaaaaaat” has far more than the one legitimate Oxford Dictionary syllable and spelling.) She has kept to her 2 majors and 2 minors solidly through college and then over this last year – her SENIOR year! – at some point, she discovered a seemingly completely different passion – but not really; just not exactly her majors . . . or her minors. College wasted? No way! Lessons learned. And a slight left turn. My gut is that she will stumble across something that combines all (most?) of her passions. That she will move toward that something with yet a slightly different shade. All I can do is encourage her not to fear the pressure of getting the “right job”. And to listen to my grad school message to her: “If you don’t know, don’t go." <pause> "Yet.” To allow herself to explore and not expect the perfect job but to find one that fascinates her, that leads her to . . . well, does she need to know exactly where yet? So many blues . . .
When I was their age? I thought I wanted to be a classical musician. But the truth was I was too chicken to try. I thought I wanted to be a writer. I thought I wanted to be a teacher. Later, I truly wanted to be a psychologist. Who knew that I could and would find different combinations of those careers and today be an entrepreneur? Was that my dream then? It’s my dream now.
My girls have been lucky enough to witness the growing up of their mother, to watch her not always smoothly (?) move and shift as I faced seemingly insurmountable personal and professional challenges. They know, I sincerely hope, that their professional life will most likely be a journey – sometimes amazing, sometimes not. Perspective in the moment is not entirely clear.
My message has always been: Be yourself. You will never fail at that. And you will find what it is you want to do even as you may re-decide it many times over.
If your summer goes by the college academic year and not by the traditional calendar, then it will come as no surprise that summer is coming to an end regardless of the actual dates.
And life as you finally got used to it, at least for these past few months, is also coming to an end (again).
The chaotic schedule that you just got used to dancing around? Done.
The arguments over bathroom use (and cleanliness)? Done.
The frustrations over whether chores were done, or rather, not done. Also done.
My daughter is packing up. She’s got a spreadsheet for what she needs for the coming year. She’s making the last of her doctor appointments; is scheduling her before-classes-start-again haircut; and is trying to sync our schedules for shopping trips in whatever minutes still exist for whatever items require my opinion until we get there and I am told that my opinion is even better if I don’t voice it. I am about to really like everything she likes. (And mostly I will.)
She’s ready to go.
The weird thing is: I’m ready for her to go.
No, I’m not.
Wait: yes, I am.
Except when I’m not.
That’s the thing about this parenting gig. It’s confusing as hell.
You raise your kids from tantrum to tantrum (which by the way just shifts in style but continues at every age) to become independent. You wait for them to be independent adult tantrum-ers (did you honestly believe that adults don’t tantrum?).
And then they have the nerve to actually grow up. Mostly exactly as planned. Many go to college, come home, go back, come home again, go back again. For four or more years. Back and forth. And they grow up in these tiny-but-tremendous ways when you aren’t actually watching as you used to because you aren't actually there.
They confuse the hell out of you as they get older and demand (rightfully so) more freedom and the prerogative to be able to make more adult decisions even as they are not 25 (that magical age where the decision-making part of their brain actually matures).
They challenge your personal growth as a parent so that you must learn to parent the young adult (who sometimes returns home with their young adult very close friend who will sleep where?? . . . ) and then let them return to college only to grow up more and get even older and ever closer to that mid-twenty mark. You need to let them grow their way into it and not arrive either totally unprepared or totally over-prepared. There is some weird speed limit that parenting police can’t figure out how to monitor. It’s an under-the-radar kind of thing, I suspect. It may involve a TARDIS. I think my kids know.
They aren’t telling.
My home faces another 9 months of readjusted peace paired with the odd grief as we miss the daughter and the sibling and the friend. Litter pans and early cat feedings are all on those of us left behind again.
Retrieving mail? Us.
Arguing over what movie to watch? Less eventful.
Someone to hang with after work? We are one down.
And on our own again. My daughter is either oblivious or just thinks we can make it without her. We can. We will.
And she can, too. Make it through, that is. Without us.
In fact, when we see her again, we will all have grown up a little bit more.
Oh, yeah, and here are those 4 (+1) Exit / End of Summer Rules for her:
- Call home. Don’t just text. Call. And video conference. It matters.
- Clean. Chores turn out to be a good year-round thing to do even if your mom isn’t checking up on you. (Trust me: when your bathroom isn’t hairy and truly disgusting, your date might actually actually ask you out again . . . oh wait, did I just write that?!)
- Find good people. Professors. Friends. And hang out occasionally. (And define “occasionally” with maturity that equals your current age.)
- Work. In class. And outside of class. And sometimes for pay; sometimes not. Balance with fun and random moments of attending on-campus events that you may never have an opportunity to go to again. Maybe a ukelele-cello duet concert will actually turn into an unexpectedly fun evening. Just sayin'.
And the “+1”:
- Come home. Because we love you and we will miss you. So even as you continue to move away and grow up in the process, always know that you can come home.
Now it’s just the small matter of how to pack the car.
Oh, and making hotel reservations for graduation. (Who knew I had to do that 4 years ago?!)
Definitely not ready for summer to end.
In a previous life, I was a teen.
It’s hard to admit. But it’s the truth.
I’ve told my daughters this. Me being a teen and all. Just like them.
And typical teens that they are? . . .
They refuse to believe me. As if I am lying.
“When have I ever lied to you?” I ask.
Then I quickly shut up, because the ice under my feet is feeling mighty thin and I definitely just heard it cracking.
Does a willful act of fictional omission count as a lie – even with the best of parenting intentions? What if that book / movie / video is just not appropriate – yet?
Does intentional exaggeration count? Is it a lie to make something sound more gorgeous, funny, outrageous, and awesome just to get your teens to come along or watch or listen – to be part of the family?
Does pain count? Is it a lie to tell them how I can’t possibly weed, clean, do the litter pans, or any of their usual chores because my back hurts (when it does) even if I (think I) could put up with more pain and do it all myself to save my sanity (if not my back)?
What about generational comparisons (e.g. “When I was your age . . . ”) that aren't really lies? I mean . . . do I really always have to acknowledge that times have changed – a lot?
Does biding my time count? Is it a lie to (temporarily) avoid sharing certain family truths or global terrors when I know that they are not yet ready to understand or cope with the reality of the moment? (Especially if I’m still trying to understand that reality myself.)
Parenting, my girls (un?)intentionally remind me, is full of lies – not alternative facts (they are not that gullible) – just outright lies with a variety of styles, reasons, and excuses.
For examples . . .
It turns out, for instance, that The Sound of Music didn’t end with the kids singing “Good Night” in front of that magnificent stairwell. The truth was my little girls weren’t ready for a war movie until they were older. Waiting meant less internalized fears that they could never find words for and that the discussions that then followed involved deeper contemplation because they were ready, more mature. We waited out a lot of movies. Meaning? I monitored their eye candy – their books, their movies, their video games. Mean moms do that because we love our children enough to know when they are ready to consume material without being traumatized. That was – that is – my job. I shield them from the ugly until they are ready to handle the un-niceties and truths of life. And then we talk. And talk. All questions accepted. Did I call other parents to ask what movies they’d be watching? Yes, yes, I did. And every single parent expressed sincere gratitude as if I may have given them courage to do the same, as if I was starting a Parents Who Care What Their Kids See movement.
Do I always get it right? No, of course not. But, I figure explaining the few misses is still better than my girls being inundated with images and language and realities and fantasies beyond their years, and sometimes, frankly, beyond mine.
Those were the lies of intentional temporary fictional omission. They didn’t miss it entirely. They just waited.
And my girls actually thanked me later.
Recently my older daughter was studying abroad. She sent me this text: “Thank you for all those years you made us look out the window on long drives. The US medians were not beautiful, Mom. But, I get it now. Because I am now traveling through the Swiss Alps and I’m the only one in my class looking out the window and not continuously down at a tech screen. You rock, Mom.” (So as not to further divert her eyes, my reply was short: “I love you, too. ENJOY!”)
All those lies I told about how beautiful the scenery was or how interesting it might be were intended to keep them aware of and involved in their surroundings. We played the Alphabet Game with billboards. (Not, by the way, recommended for new readers in cities where billboards can advertise more . . . um . . . adult material.) We played the License Game, the Count the Animals Game . . . And, we listened to audio books, cracked up together, and waiting in driveways and parking lots just to finish a chapter.
No one was allowed to solo plug in. No one had their own devices. We didn’t have a van with a DVD player. Instead we had windows to movies happening if we made up the stories about the people we saw. The buildings. The fields. The animals – alive and roadkill. And yes, sometimes my kids got bored. And, sometimes they would push each other’s buttons and that, of course, then pushed mine.
I was that mean mom who lied about how there is more to see – when I had no idea what we would see next and maybe it would look like nothing. To this day, I still strongly believe that nothing is rarely really nothing. When the girls poked and pestered each other, I had the “If-You-Have-Nothing-Nice-to-Say-Then-Say-Nothing-At-All” rule. Ah, silence is a beautiful sound. So is the sound of tired children sleeping.
But the best part of my daughter’s incoming quick text was the, “You rock, Mom” just as she was looking at rocks and mountains and parts of a country that she would never experience except in those very moments with her eyes looking up and out.
I admit here that I told the lies of intentional exaggeration as we creatively filled time and space without relying on apps and movies.
And they thanked me later.
In fact, I “rock”. (Hey, did you know that you can see some really cool rocks embedded in a cliff face on US 80 in Northwestern Pennsylvania? Keep your eyes open; you’ll see. Where else?)
Some lies are about the intensity of pain or are generational – handed down so many times in so many variations. These are the coaxing lies to get our kids to cook, learn the “rules” of laundry, clean (better), take responsibility for a sibling or a pet or . . . themselves. Sometimes, these are the truths that sound like lies of all the chores we had growing up versus what they have now.
And sometimes they are just the situational family facts. Like being a single mom. Like being a mom who had serious lengthy illnesses and numerous injuries. But it was not entirely true that I could not manage to do more of their chores. I just knew I had to pull that ace card. For their sake as well as mine, I had to say “No, this job is yours and the consequences for not doing it are yours as well.”
They registered a lot of complaints. Hell, I was Head of the damn Complaint Department. And they had their share of consequences which we negotiated even as I was Head of the damn Consequences Department as well.
But the end result was I’m healthier.
And this recent note: “Thanks, Mom. I’m traveling again and I am the only one in my group who knows how to go food shopping (and can compare prices properly). I can do my laundry, get money from a bank, understand how to keep it balanced, read maps, cook and eat on my own (or with others IF I want), AND actually – as in really – clean up after myself. You wouldn’t believe what kids don’t know, Mom.”
"Why, yes, yes, I would," I say only to myself. "I’m thrilled you are independent and yet still call home. I am tickled that you ask for recipes. I am so excited that you don’t like the smell of dirty litter pans anymore and will react of your own free will and that you understand the impact of a vacuum and enjoy the satisfaction of a scrubbed tub. Perhaps I prodded you toward your becoming independent? I'm okay with that."
And, I think, "I am proud that you see that by me being me, you are an amazing you."
A few painful lies along the way and we all made it.
There came a time, of course, when family gossip and tragedies and world realities were in our faces. There could be no lying. BUT, for the time that they didn’t need to know it, I didn’t speak of it. I was biding my time. I waited for my own clarity and, depending on how far-reaching the news was, I waited for the right time for them.
Define “right time”? Hell if I know; it can be minutes, hours, days. It can be one-on-one or family-time. I go as much by gut in these moments as my own emotional strength. I listen to a few inside voices asking me, "Do they need to know this right now? Can it wait until I'm more centered?" And I go from there. Centered or not.
But then we talked. I listened for their questions and answered just those. Then I always asked what more they wanted to know and what more they needed to know. The trick is in not over-answering, in knowing your child’s age and stage and needs and abilities and weighing all that against what else they might want/need to know (and who else they might hear it from). It’s dodgy, sticky, messy. Truth in the moment counts. How much to tell also counts. What moment counts.
Most importantly, every few days for several weeks, I’d check back with them (likely in the car where there is less pressure). I simply did not trust them to remember to ask; and I did not trust their other sources of information (namely other kids); and I did not trust where their own imaginations and silent night terrors might take them. So I gave them lots of chances to cover the reality again. Kids have an uncanny knack of knowing how much and what to know. And that was how and when we talked.
The truth is that I chose to wait on some truths about family peace and world peace until I felt that they could make peace with unpleasant truths and process how relationships, like friendships, shift and grow and die in inexplicable ways. I couldn’t explain everything and I learned to explain that. I never lied about what I didn’t know. I left those truths to joint internet research, other adult role models, and good counselors.
I may have omitted some truths, waited on others, stretched a few along the way, overstated more than I should have, but these lies never damaged our trust. In fact, as they grew up, we came to trust each other more.
And to be clear, I never lied about anything else. When they asked, I answered. And I gave them other trustworthy sources to fact-check.
The truth: I never lied about my being a teen. I was there. And (unfortunately?) I recall it. (I’m pretty sure my girls were just teasing me because their active imaginations had created those scary mom-as-teen images – that were probably pretty damn close to the truth – truth be told!)
Another truth: I am not ashamed of my lies. Nor do I believe I set a double standard when my girls reached their own whopper-lie stage. It is essential to role model proper lying and to explain the subtle differences. That’s the truth. And it’s not an alternate truth.
Lies. Truths. Both can hurt. Both have times and places and yes, sometimes, we get it wrong.
Still, my truth is that I lied. Some times. For some reasons.
And my kids are thanking me.
Looking for creative ways to talk with your kids? See TiffinTalk's conversation cards for Parents - Children & Teens. Talking with (not to) your kids can be fun. No lie!
Enter, stage front and center*, the child-now-young adult home from college for summer break with a carload of “schtuff” to be unloaded and then repacked (with even more absolutely necessary "schtuff") in just 3 months. Oh joy.
Tis the return of the prodigal son/daughter/brother/sister. Possibly in plural form.
You can’t wait. No. Hold on a second . . . Yes. Yes, you can.
Others – including pets – can’t wait either. Actually, they can, too.
Everyone is feeling the return with growing anticipation and with rising confusion. Excitement or fear? Happiness or frustration? It’ll be a shift. An adjustment. There will be more people to laugh with, argue with, cry with, share with. The house will be full-er . . . again.
Not to be overlooked, of course, is the returning I-am-all-grown-up-now family member who also can’t wait.
But can. But can’t.
Still, it’s time to come home. (Even as they soon discover that they would like to leave again. 2 hours is great. 24 turns out to be insanely long. And there are days, weeks, and months to follow. Whose idea was this?)
Not long after the hugs, after checking to see who has “borrowed” what from their old room or if they even have their old room, the returning college kid is physically or visually touching everything in the house. Their trusted normal is now decidedly not their normal – no matter how hard you tried to keep things in their place or how much you decidedly moved things around. Their dependable is still dependable but … not quite to the same degree. They left that normal behind 9 months ago and, not counting short holiday breaks, they come back to what amounts to a strange degree of chaos.
Mostly internal. Mostly for them.
And that is very normal.
There is a great relief to be home. And a bewilderment. How do they fit in? Where? What’s their role? And hey! What’s this about summer chores AND a summer job?
They had more free time at college. And more friends. And a helluva lot more freedom. And, by the way, there were no litter pans or dog poop or babysitting duty or . . . any inane family rules at college. Just sayin’.
And if they’ve been studying abroad, there’s culture shock at an age that would make anyone push deep inside to debate global peace right alongside internal peace and family peace. As in: “What the heck is going on?” alongside of “How did I arrive back here? And to these politics?” and followed by “What happened to that warm, comfortable place that I remember, the one that sustained me while I was abroad and not admitting to anyone that I was homesick? Where the heck did that happy place go? How did reality screw with my memory?”
As parents, we are left with trying to redefine rules that everyone can abide by and reinforcing the silly ones – like “Don’t pick on your sister.” (Does that rule ever just get deleted with age? Apparently not.) Assuming we can eliminate the need to reiterate rules regarding what to put up your nose (Answer: Only your elbow and no, bendy straws and elbow macaroni are not elbows . . . ) or when to brush your teeth (Answer: More often than whatever you do … ), we are left with:
4 Old Rules to Hang on to (Plus 1 More to CMA):
- Yes, you still have chores. We all live here. We all help. Your list is negotiable – to a point. Don’t push the point. And don’t take advantage. Surprise me with maturity that doesn’t compare your chores to anyone else’s.
- Yes, you still have a curfew. It’s somewhat negotiable, but it still exists. And yes, there are still consequences for broken rules. Being older does not equate to adult status. And, by the way, most adults live with a self-imposed curfew – sometimes career-defined, often child-defined, but defined nonetheless. Define one that makes sense and is responsible, and you are more likely to get my immediate buy-in.
- Yes, you still have to treat everyone with respect. We can always have differences of opinion but everyone is allowed a reasonable, measured, and even passionate voice as long as they listen at least as much as they talk. Remember that talking louder and/or screaming doesn’t equate to being right or well-thought-of.
- Yes, you must still listen to your parents. Chances are we will get it right more than wrong. Questions are allowed and encouraged. (See #3 above.)
- The Plus One: Whatever rule I’ve forgotten, I have a right to remember at any time and put it back into play. I’m getting old and senile – as you like to remind me (or think silently). And a part of that is indeed true: like you, I am older. I will always reserve the right to discuss a new rule or revamp an old one. And I pass that right on to you as well. You’ve earned that much in your old age.
To my own recently-returned, college daughter (who has by now read this post and added her 2¢ worth which is equivalent to 2 gazillion parental points): You are still my child. It’s a lifelong affliction for us both and to which there is no cure. Until age 25, the decision-making parts of your brain are not fully developed. It sucks, because you feel perfectly capable now of making every decision that comes your way. Or, you feel you should be able to make every decision. Perfectly. Trust me, you’ll never be perfect on that front. (Or any other.) Two more things: 1) Please don’t give every decision of every day of your life the same weight. You’ll sink in your own quicksand. And 2) Ask for help. Don’t assume you are alone and need to be grown up and make every decision going forward. Smart grown-ups ask for help. Don’t forget how smart you are.
My daughter says/mumbles/screams, “Being home is hard and I don’t know why.”
Here’s the ultimate truth that I share with her: For all the angst – yours, mine, your sister’s, the cats’, and the dog’s – I am glad to have you home. I always am. For every week. For the entire summer. And for all the days of every year that you return.
It will be bumpy. But we have bumped through every age and stage, you and I together. In cuteness and obnoxiousness, in sickness and in health, in playdates and in prom dates, and in all those other crazy times from birth through high school and now beyond.
Really. We can do this one, too. We’ve got it covered. It’s not ever been easy-peasy. But it’s always been worth it.
Just do one thing: Talk to me. I’m listening. Always have been. Always will be.
And remember: when you enter center stage in that way that you just magically appear with all eyes and ears on you, I’m on that same stage with you – waiting for curtains, lights, and anticipating action. The actors are still the same. They just continue to grow into their parts whether you are here or not. That’s what makes the story amazing and utterly worth being part of in all of our changing roles and more noticeable chaos.
So . . .
Chaos and all.
* A nod to my editors: ½ of my editors [equivalent to 1 daughter] say that it is impossible to enter a stage from the center; the other ½ agree with me that the writer is taking liberties using a combination of “front and center” as in “attention-getting” with “enter from stage …” which, in this case, is center because kids coming home from college have a way of suddenly appearing center stage ala Dr. Who or Harry Potter on Platform 9 ¾. Editor #2 won this round. And yes, it’s good to have editors/daughters who don’t always agree. Makes for great long talks which, by the way, makes this entirely the point.