Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Afternoon with my son and friends

Three skateboard dudes.
15, 16, 17 years old.
Tall, lanky white boys.
Curly hair.
Agile Energy.

They like to play rap music loud,
With the car windows down,
Booming bass throughout the neighborhood.
Matters not that they ride the equivalent of a modern-day Pinto.
And that the driver is one’s mother, me.

Front porch for a friend pick up.
There’s a boy with a hatchet.
He’s an 8th grader, they said.
Another little brother is also there, he’s five or so.
An urban front yard.
Two children, one swinging an ax.
Playing a game, jumping from steps to tree stump.
There’s a name for the game.
What is it?

Leaning like surfers,

Not into the ocean wave,
But into the curve of the road,
The sidewalk,
The ATM drive through lane
They skate, each with two legs and four wheels.

One boy says his dad’s a chef.
This boy knows chefs.
He knows the most famous chef in the city.
Where is your dad a chef? I ask.
I don’t know. He’s a chef somewhere, the boy says.
It's like the other chefs took him in,
after his dad ditched him.
Or maybe I'm just idealistic.

Riding to another skate site.
The in-car conversation.
When people start dying.
But aren’t we all dying?
Yeah, but when do we start?
Don’t we start dying the minute we’re born?
Yeah, but when is the brain at its peak?
Wouldn’t a brain keep getting better,
The older you get?

Skater boys philosophize.
With the mother, teacher wanna-be.

At the mall parking lot.
The inner city kind of mall
That doubles as a senior citizen center.
A tiny elderly lady can’t open the door.
Can I open the door for you?
She’s petit and wearing pajamas.
Wait, what is it?
Albert Einstein?
Heavy white eyebrows and a head scarf.
Yes, thank you, I think she says.
Her lips don't move.
Her voice is muted.
Is she actually talking to me?
The door is locked.
Where are the wrinkles?
Is she wearing a Halloween mask?
It’s two weeks ‘til trick-or-treat.

She’s walking with a walker.
She can’t get in.
She sits on a bench.
I'm kind of creeped out.

I think of all the reasons
And elderly woman would wear
An Einstein mask and pajamas
to the mall.
It makes me sad and extremely curious.


Ice Cream.
Teenage metabolism.

The ice cream vendor laments
That she gave the boys covers to their sundaes.
“They will just throw them away,” she says.
They didn’t understand your question, I offer.
The owner with silver hair and hardened face is
counting her cash register pennies, I know.
I want to suggest she default to no covers.
People will ask for them if they want.
I used to work at an ice cream shop.
Maybe the franchise requires her to give covers.
I'm pretty sure she doesn't want my advise.

There’s one employee besides the owner
In the ice cream shop,
A young girl with a single braid.
She’s so slight, voice so small, face so meek.
I resist the urge to give her advise.

Besides, what would I say?

I like your friends,
I tell my son

When the afternoon is over.

Friday, August 22, 2014

One week later

Hello all, I thought I'd give the "one week later" update of taking your kid to college.

Ten days after I first dropped Amanda to her university in Springfield, Ohio, I returned. This time with Bob and Aidan, for official move in day. (I am contemplating the privilege it is, to be able to do this, to take a 1,200 mile trip twice in two weeks to send off our daughter to a fancy college. I have no vacation time left for the next nine months, but still.)

So, one week after the gnashing and wailing (mine), this is how our final good bye went today, day one of new student orientation. (Lest this be confusing, last week was cheer camp. And now that Bob and I have turned into cheerleader advocates, we made a point to meet the athletic director yesterday and let him know how important the cheer program is to us, and thus how the administration should lift it to greater attention, instead of keeping it on its usual low-rungs of hierarchical status. We had planned to do the same with the university president, at the late afternoon president's reception, but opted for an outing to a local Mexican restaurant instead. It had a gorgeous stone water fountain right in the middle of the dining room, indoors, under a full roof. It was cool and made me wish I was in Mexico, but a huge digression.)

This morning, one week after gnashing and wailing (mine), the last goodbye to Amanda took 30, maybe 45 seconds. I didn't even come close to crying, even though it was raining again. While the menfolk took care of hotel room matters, I had delivered the remaining goods to Amanda, meeting her at the back of her dorm complex, officially called New Hall.

"Thanks mom, I gotta go," she said, poking her head out the heavy back door of the hall. She took the last bit of stuff I brought her (hummus and her physical form) then had to rush back to her room to prepare for the class picture and full day of orientation sessions. It worked out because I had to rush back to prepare for yet another 10 hour drive.

So, I guess today I'm thinking about all the parents and the students who are saying goodbye, who are transitioning into their new-normals. To the students starting school whether it be kindergarten, middle school, sleep away school, or community college. I'm thinking of you all, wishing you well. I'm amazed at how even-keeled I feel this week, given how crazy confused I was last week.

As far as me, this is my new normal. (I find that phrase distasteful and have already used it twice. The scourge of blogging - no time to edit and refine.) Now, I am outnumbered with my roommates and thus watched "The Terminator" last night in the hotel room. Back home, the house has remained unusually orderly this past week. Less socks have disappeared from my drawer.

There is a deepened sense that this is right, that the kid has been dropped on fertile land. Fertile, fertile land. And there's nothing else we can do except exhale and move on.

And sign up for family weekend. And research thanksgiving airfare.

I'll sign off with some of the advise we all heard at the move-in day ceremony at Wittenberg University yesterday:

- serve others
- stay human
- be kind


Thanks for coming over to my blog.

With love from yours truly,

Natural Born Bleeding Heart

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The quick and dirty of taking your daughter to college

We have discovered a new way to count travel time. Instead of hours (10) or miles (650) or states (four) or time zones (2), we count episodes of Providence, the 90s TV drama about the beautiful and altruistic Dr. Syd Hansen, her attractive but quirky family, and all their respective love interests.

The distance between Des Moines, Iowa, and Dayton, Ohio, is about twelve episodes of Providence.

Each episode begins with the Beatle's song "In My Life." The one that starts:

"There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain."

Thus, we listen to the above lyrics approximately 12 times. As if it isn't sad enough to take your daughter to college.


Amanda tears up before getting in the car, way back in our driveway in Des Moines. Actually, she stands in the kitchen immobile. I put my arm around her and walked her outside. Then she stands in the driveway, immobile. The car was all packed when Bob presented her with a special golf ball, representing all the games she didn't want to play with him. Ha, ha, ha. She laughs while she cries. Bob and Aidan each take an arm and walk her to the passenger side of the car. She sits down. "It stinks in here," she says, proceeds to rip out all the lemon auto-deodorizers from the vents that she had previously thought smelled great. She didn't want to inhale anything. She didn't want to talk, to listen to music, or turn on news radio. Just quiet.

We get as far as East Des Moines (about five miles down the interstate), she starts playing the Providence DVDs, which we've been watching together since Amanda was three. Friday nights when it aired, I'd sit sideways on the sofa and she'd cuddle into me. For some reason, that show stuck. I think its the music, the scenery, and the soft depictions of drama and home. And of course, the strong female lead. Recently, we ordered the complete series off the internet from some dude who bootlegged them from Lifetime TV for Women. (The network did not make them available when the series was cancelled in early 2000s.) He did a pretty good high quality recording job. The tapes have brought us enormous comfort. To you, pirating dude, who sold us the entire series of Providence - thank you.

"This is not goodbye," I say as she separates from the house, the yard, her dad, her brother, and this era of our lives. "This is see-you next week." (Because all three of us will be visiting her for opening day next week. This particular trip is for her 10-day cheer camp. Think football camp only harder and with less respect.)

Later she would realize she forgot to say goodbye to the cats but we vow to FaceTime them.


As for myself, I am pretty practical. I do all the driving. I manage the itinerary. Two activities for which Amanda is usually voraciously involved. I keep it all moving. And to be clear, in the past two years I did my mother-damndest to read the signals about this whole college search thing. I had not pushed the Ohio idea. She did. It all came from her. A nice little scholarship helped, but I told her in the past we didn't care about the scholarship. She could pick a school in Iowa, in Minnesota, wherever, we'd make it work, I said.

As we approach eastern Indiana, a day of driving behind us, the dusk settled into the sky. The Midwestern highway was cars and headlights, the sun no longer reliable. I feel a brick grow in my stomach, slowly moving up to my throat. I'm starting to wonder if we've made a horrible mistake.

"I'm not hungry," Amanda says. "Let's not eat dinner."

"OK," I say. "I'm not hungry either." I didn't even want a glass of wine.


"Please take all our your parents' successes and mistakes as your lessons," is one of my many parting pieces of wisdom I attempt to impart. Mostly, at this point, I'm referring to our financial successes and mistakes.

I won't go into details, but somehow Amanda and I find ourselves landed in Dayton, Ohio, for the night, in a bit of a quandary due to a snafu with credit cards, debit cards, and check books. It's kind of embarrassing so I won't go into the details but I will admit to a symbiotic dysfunction whereby an anonymous mother is so anxious about her daughter flying the coup that she repeatedly gives said daughter the credit card with a green light. Just a little pre-college jitters and/or post-parenting regrets. Indiscriminate buying stuff solves all that, correct?

So, we're in a hotel room we probably can't afford and Amanda is imagining me attempting to return to Des Moines in the dark, stuck in a Walmart parking lot with no gas or money in the middle of the night.

"I'm worried about you," she says.

"I'll be fine," I say. She says she's worried about me driving the 10 hour return trip without money. But I know she's really worried about me being alone. I feel a genuine concern, like all of a sudden she believes this isn't about her, but about me. I appreciate the sentiment, but I want her to be free.

"Really, I'll be," I say. And I mean it.

We sit together on one of the queen sized beds in our hotel room reviewing accounts and paychecks and anticipated scholarships and possible cash sources. The student job fair isn't until next week. Meanwhile, I arrive at a bright idea at about 4 a.m. rise from my sleep to apply for additional credit cards. Plus, it seems like a good reason to get out of bed and start mind wandering. I'm thinking, why are we in Ohio? We can't afford a school four states away. How will she get home if the apocalypse happens? I'm so glad for my social security number, how do people survive without a social? OMG, thank you for my job, an identity, a family, a support network. Thank you so much. How do people survive is they are alone? Amanda and I need to cobble together a financial plan for the next three days (for her) and the return home (for me). It's not like we're poor.

About 4:30 a.m. I go back to sleep.

I wake up with pretty nasty bloodshot eyes. Amanda cheers me up with her version of the camp song "heads, shoulders, knees, and toes" singing it faster and faster with a huge sunny smile. She puts enthusiastic words to the motions but I can't remember them.


Bob helps us cobble together a financial plan for the next three days.

It's time to actually move into the on-campus residential hall. (It's move in day only for students attending sports camps.) A half hour drive further east from our former hotel room in Dayton, we are the first in line to get dorm room keys as I'm determined that at least one cheerleader will get in before the football players do. I tell Amanda (again) the reason why food aid needs to be distributed in refugee camps to women and children separately from the men and teen boys (and would-be football players), because if it wasn't, the women and children wouldn't get any. I am prepared to get my Brooklyn on and elbow our way to our rightful place in line.

"Mom, don't say anything weird," Amanda pleads, her eyes rolling at my bravada.

In reality, we are the only ones waiting at the front doors for the precise one o'clock move in time with the exception of one other father of a football player. When I see hall staff approach front door, I eye the dad and use body language to solidify our position as first in line, shifting forward and center. The front doors are unlocked, football dad lets us in first with nary a whiff of challenge. In fact, he seems really nice. It takes Amanda about three minutes to get her key and sign the room contract. The actual move in process is a two hour blur. Goes really fast. Molly, the roommate, and her family, are kind and generous people.

I have no idea what they think of me. My hair is frizzy as I've given up on the straightening iron in the humidity and I'm wearing plain jane workout clothes. I try to be polite, but I am not particularly chatty because all I can think about this my last two hours as I know it with my daughter. But I do have the $100 (cash) to pay for Amanda's half of the fridge and microwave rental, which we all agreed was a rip off. Everything's in. Beds are made. The pink and gray decorating scheme looks good (flowers and polka dots, respectively). The new roommates go together to the athletic building for their first session of cheer camp. All parents depart.


Robin Williams dies.
Depression kills.
Addiction sucks.
Gaza perishes.
An unarmed black boy is shot by police in St. Louis.
Innocent children are imprisoned on the U.S./Mexico border.
A helicopter is down.
Syrian refugees flee. Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Honduras.
A zillion people would sacrifice much for the privilege of education.

I wail, but not for any of the above reasons. I drive a circle around campus, alone with my car windows rolled up, and I bellow so loud because I don't know what else to do. I'm overcome with grief and not because of death and despair, but because of life and gratitude. Because a new era has begun. Because this little kid who has been the center of my life for almost 18 years has moved on, as she should. Because of all the times I did not want to be a mother. Because of all the times I wished I were somewhere else. Because I got to do it anyway.

I howl at the top of my lungs, hoping it will make me feel better faster. (Notwithstanding, we'll be back next week.)


One of the clever things about Providence is that the mother (brilliantly portrayed by Concetta Tomei) comes back from the dead through the nightly dreams of her daughter, Dr. Syd Hansen (the strong female lead). Kooky improbable dreams. She's always wearing the same powdered blue dress and she's always smoking a cigarette. She's as cynical as Syd is idealistic. Through the dreams, Syd is able to work out her mother-issues, even though her mother has died, and her mother is able to provide basic advise for daily issues. It's funny yet poignant yet ridiculous yet truthful. Amanda and I didn't make it through the last episodes of the entire series, but Amanda will surely get through those on her own. She has every single DVD with her in that dorm room.

"Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life, I love you more
In my life, I love you more."


That's the quick and dirty of cheer camp move in day. Thanks for coming over to my blog.

With love from yours truly,

Natural Born Bleeding Heart

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

They say, I say

"Should my kid bring quarters for the laundry machines?"

"Are there printers in the dorm buildings?"

"Does the campus cafeteria serve food for special diets?"

"Should my daughter bring her own fridge or rent the campus fridge?"

"What is the cable/TV situation on campus?"

Such are the questions that parents of incoming freshman must answer (according to our parent's Facebook page, a closed site to which I belong).

Part of me thinks, oh lord, do these people have nothing better to do? Do these people live in upper middle class lives? Do these people not work nine to five? (Or eight to six with occasional nights and weekends.) Yes, I'm being judgmental. Pardon me.

Truthfully, I love these parents asking questions, because they are me.

But the funny thing is, I know the answers to all of these questions because Amanda has long ago researched them and informed me of the facts. I'm kind of feeling sorry for the moms and dads who must think through these conundrums on their own. Mostly, I'm impressed with my daughter for her interest in knowing the small stuff. (And I'm not holding my breath that this will happen with the second child, as an fyi -- and that's Ok, fist in mouth.)

Today her school books arrived in the mail. Chemistry. Economics. American Government. Writing. The Mental Health System. Your basic liberal arts selection. Because she somehow figured out that it's better to rent books from Amazon than to purchase from the school book store. Although, I told her to buy and keep the books for the subjects that bring her passion. (Still, whatever your interests, you can't take it with you, right?)

We are five days and counting for when the girl goes to Ohio. 10 hours away. A different state. Another time zone. She would have went farther if we could have figured logistics for how to do farther school visits. I understand. I appreciate the spirit of learning and adventure and thinking on your own. Still, as of today I have all the information I need to purchase her thanksgiving vacay airplane ticket (with my one last remaining frequent flyer mile accumulation).

Tonight, as I write this simple blog post, my girl is assembling her dorm room shelves in our family room. It's a trial run to see if she can do it on her own, with the mini tool kit she ordered for her college years. Bob is committed to not helping, to see if she can do it on her own first. She will then disassemble and re-box in preparation for move-in day. You see the university administrators design the move-in days so parents come for a few hours, unload boxes, and then leave asap. Parents are not encouraged to linger to do stuff like, miss their children or build cubical systems. In a way, I get it. I drove myself to college and I did just fine. On my move in day I was thrilled to find that my dorm window room looked on to a fraternity house, Phi Delta Theta. Par-tay.

Our daughter, of course, will not be fraternizing with . . . honestly, what will we know? We'll be 500 miles away. Anything could happen. I'll be focusing on the political science and all the lessons learned on church mission trips. That's all we have. Send up prayers.

It's a better deal to rent a fridge and microwave package from campus.

Quarters are not needed for laundry as the costs are included in board charges. TV/cable doesn't matter because kids watch Netflix. Other buildings on campus have printers, color printers. The cafeteria caters to special diets.

Thanks for coming over to my blog.

With love from yours truly,

Natural Born Bleeding Heart

P.S. The girl is discovering that IKEA shelves are not as easy to put together as it would seem. See, life lessons learned already.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Reflections on a "Mission" Trip

Don't just do something,
stand there.
A group of us stood in a circle at Snookies Ice Cream Shop in Des Moines, Iowa, slurping slurpies and lapping strawberry dipped vanilla soft serve when we were given a handout of stapled papers entitled, To Hell With Good Intentions. It was preparation for our senior high youth mission trip. I'm not partial to the word "mission," for all the loaded connotations. I like service trip, or do-gooder trip, or just trip. (Now you know where I'm headed with this post.) But for simplicity sakes, we call it a mission trip.

Our youth director handed out this article to the kids in preparation for their mission trip to Red Lake Indian Reservation, where they would travel and "serve" for a week. The article lays out all the cautions of volunteerism in another culture, another land, another place. I won't go into the article, but I've linked it here, so you can read it for yourself. I remember handing out that very same piece to people who would travel on international trips I used to organize in my former life. (They were educational trips, not "mission" trips. More about listening, not doing. But that is darn hard for those of us who are raised to make things happen.)

Three days after the ice cream shop gathering, my two teenagers boarded minivans along with a 10 or so other kids and two trusted adults. They headed north for adventure and to answer the call to help others. I'm told one van was silent in their own electronic devises. The other van was raucous in their group sings of One Direction songs. (British boy band famous for their song about being beautiful with a dominant drum beat.)

But helping others doesn't look the same to everyone, as they would find out. As it turns out, being a Christian doesn't look the same to everyone. From the outside, we might all look alike I suppose. From the inside, like with all groups, there are many MANY variations of belief and lifestyles.

Now, more than a week later from the sunny day at the ice cream shop, the trip is over and I've just spent about four hours listening to my two teens tell stories about their week. The trip wasn't what they expected it to be. (As always happens, right?) In summary, they were exposed to other pieties about sex, books, sexuality, homosexuality, investing in community, what it means to be a church, who is Jesus (did Jesus have a banned book list?),  joy, eating, poverty, and probably the biggest exposure. . .imposing one's values on others.

Breath that in. Or perhaps, go get yourself an ice cream cone and consider this with me.

My children (along with 12 or so others) just learned that other people who propose to be of the same religious faith as us -- are different. Really different.

My children learned that not everyone accepts everyone as a child of God, no strings attached.

My children learned that not everyone would march in a pride parade with their church.

My children learned that not everyone would allow books to be read, without scrutiny.

My children learned that not everyone approaches Christianity with an attitude of kindness, acceptance, and love.

My children leaned all these things, and more, with the careful guidance of awesome adults who could explain this to them; how hypocrisy works; how extremism forms; how contortion twists faith into conformity. How we are not superior or better, but how we look to grace and humility.

It took me so long to learn all these things, long into adulthood. And my kids learned it as teenagers, mediated by wise leaders to help them sort it all out. To me, that's the point of a so-called mission trip and I'm so grateful.

Thanks so much for coming over to my blog.

With love from yours truly,

Natural Born Bleeding Heart

Saturday, July 26, 2014


It's so quiet, I only hear crickets.
In 18 years, the only time we ever left our two children both at the same time were four days in 2000 when Bob and I traveled to a conference in San Jose, California. 

Until today.

We were not the type of parents to take trips together without the kids. I didn't even like to do dinner and a movie without the kids, unless they were both together. I couldn't stand the idea of a kid at home alone. It ruined the potential fun to me. Before we went to San Jose, we wrote a living will with instructions on how to raise our children should we die on the trip. We have preferred to travel separately, ensuring that at least one of us would be available for the kids.

To be clear, we didn't leave our children but they left us. Presently, they are traveling to Red Lake Reservation in Northern Minnesota for a church do-gooder week. "Left" is too melodramatic -- they are together with friends and trusted adults, embarking on an incredible cross-cultural opportunity that will be mediated in a most excellent way by their leaders.

We are home alone in the quiet. To be honest, I feel like its the first time I've exhaled since 1996 when I stood in the shower gulping in sobs of grief, mourning the loss of freedom after Amanda was born. At the time, I was contemplating if in fact my new baby was an independent human being or an vile appendage of my own body. (Do not underestimate the power of postpartum depression.) My blood pressure feels normal.

Today, it's quiet.

Crickets chirp.

Distant jets roar.

Neighbor dogs bark.

But mostly, it's silent.

However the universe speaks. A baby arrives. At 7 a.m. this morning we received a telephone call to alert us our godson would be at our house shortly, because his mother was having contractions. We knew this was coming up, but today is two weeks early. Today, our first day sans children in 18 years, we played Thomas the Train, read "Where the Wild Things Are," served mac-n-cheese in Jake the Pirate dinnerware, went swimming in the shallow end, and played catch with baseball gloves and tennis balls.

Then we all went to the maternity ward and marveled at a brand new baby swaddled in a striped hospital blanket. "That child was inside your body just a few hours ago," I said to the mother, who looked far too beautiful and alert for just bearing a child. (My births were difficult, or maybe I was just difficult.) "I know!" she replied. It's such a miracle. You already know that, but still.

A short story by the fabulous Tobias Wolf tells about an irritated parent who drives his kid to military school, kind of hoping to get rid of him. The parent drops off the son, drives away, turns around to look back and the entire campus has vanished. I haven't read the story but I had the privilege of seeing Tobias Wolf in person talk about the story. It gave me chills. Of course it's a metaphor for parenting. One moment you're children are driving you crazy, the next moment they've disappeared. Poof. Magic. Dust. As if they never existed. I should probably dig that story up and read it.

Tonight, the ghosts of my children and I sit by the pool. The gnat catcher next to me is a hack devised by Amanda -- a glass of white wine and dish soap. I hear a younger Aidan echoing in the water, "Mom, watch me!" demanding eye contact all the time as he plays by himself. A dress of Amanda's still hangs with clothespins, blue with white polka dots. And for the first time in months, I blog. Is this not what I've always wanted to do?

The water is still. We will help with the baby tomorrow.

Thank you for coming over to my blog.

With love from yours truly,

Natural Born Bleeding Heart

Friday, May 30, 2014

Lunch hour

Need to pick up son’s wood-shop project before one oclock, but I’m at the office, submitting an online grant application. It’s due.

Submission fails. Question six 6 too long.

Fix. Submit again.

Submission fails. Question eight  too long.

Repeat four more times. Submission successful.

Rush to high school to pick up son’s woodshop project.

Woodshop project: side table. Looks good.

Son brings woodshop project to parking lot and loads into vehicle.

I depart.

Stop for sandwich to make it back to office for one o’clock webinar.

Webinar topic: database reports and dashboard panel.

Sandwich shop closed for remodeling.

Go next door and order Chinese take-out.

Worry about missing webinar, thus causing a costly fee to agency.

Veggie fried rice in hand, rush back to parked vehicle.

Daughter calls. She’s stuck in a parking garage with her three-year-old client.

40 cents short in her debit card to pay the fee to open the gate. No attendant. What to do?

I worry for my webinar, but who cares, what about the children?!!

Call Bob, who’s at a conference. Idea comes to mind.

Call daughter. She’s driving around parking garage calming the three-year-old by saying they can’t get out because they are “special.” She plays the Frozen soundtrack.

I forget about the webinar, the wood-shop project, and the fried rice. Instruct the daughter to go to pay machine and look for phone number. Standing under a tree by my vehicle, call that number. 

A live person answers. Halleluiah!

“My daughter and a small child are stuck in the garage. They are 40 cents short. Can you help?”

Yes, he’ll go there immediately to help. Shout out to Keck Parking. You guys rock.

It’s 90 degrees outside. Did I mention I don’t have my own car? I’m driving Bob’s rust bucket truck. It’s a big glug.

Head back to the office. Admire the wood-shop project riding shotgun. Imagine it next to my rocking chair. 

Wait, there’s a sprawling pen-mark on the front of the wood-shop project. It says “Stephen” in three inch letters. Stephen is not my son.

Bumble into my office. Five minutes late for the webinar. I’m logged in. My agency is not charged.

They say you should use the lunch hour to network.

I use it to parent teenagers. Life is beautiful.