Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Wilton Lane

Last week I picked Red up from work at the mall when she got off at 9.  Our to and from work ride ritual is either end of the spectrum, never in between.  If it's been a bad day, we listen to the radio softly in silence.  They are all their mother's daughters in terms of how to deal with a bad day.  I give them the space I know I want when I'm having one.  If it's a good day, as last Friday was, we crank music that I really have no business liking as much as I do (Jason Derulo and 2 Chainz? Check.) and generally make asses of ourselves dancing in our seats at red lights.  Music and laughter flows and I take twisted joy in seeing the looks on people's faces that pull up to us to discover that one of those obnoxious and loud teenagers is actually a 37-year-old mother of four with a regrettable amount of white hairs contrasting the red in her pajamas.  I'm easily amused.

I always turn down the volume as we pull into the subdivision off the county road.  It's a habit I've developed when taking my husband's car so he doesn't leave for work at 5:20 in the morning and have a heart attack when he turns the car on.  I pulled to the stop sign, looked left, looked right and hesitated for a split second before I made the turn.

"Mom, what's wrong?"

"Nothing, why?"

"Don't tell me nothing's wrong.  You were fine a second ago and now you're not."

Sometimes I forget that these children spent nine months cradled safely inside my body.  It's easy to forget that because as my dad says, the days pass slowly but the years fly by.  My daughters are a far cry from the pink, wrinkled babies I met all those years ago.  Nevertheless, they spent months in my womb, hearing the muffled pounding of my heart as they grew.  Sound was their primary sense before they were born, and each of them sought out the beating of my heart again after their bodies no longer depended upon mine for their survival.  Sometimes the only way I could get them to sleep was to hold them close with their heads against my chest, so they could hear the sound they were most familiar with.  I am convinced that sometimes they still hear it, even if they're not aware of it.

I lived on the street I was turning onto for about a year.  I never pass the house, instead turning the other way faithfully for the almost 10 years I've been back in the town I was raised in.  I was 15 when my sisters, mother and I moved in after my parents divorced.  I caught a glimpse of it as I looked left to make sure there were no cars coming.  There's a basketball hoop in the drive now, and a car that is not the brown Chevy Caprice that belonged to my mother.  I could see a red door illuminated in diffused blue light from the metal halide street lamp.  I don't remember what color the door used to be anymore.

What I do remember is my husband asking me if I would be ok buying my grandma's house after she died, considering it's proximity to the house I lived in before I left is a mere two blocks.  I assured him that yes, I would be fine.  I wanted to raise my family here, and it's one of the best decisions we've ever made.  I would do nothing differently if given the chance to do it over.

A few years ago, I took the kids out for a round of trick or treating, and I let them lead the way.  We ended up on that street, and tried to herd the girls past the house.  Midge saw the light was on and insisted we go to it.  I told her I thought we should skip that house and she wanted to know why.  I told her I used to live there; her eyes lit up and before I could even grab either of them, they raced across the lawn and rang the bell.  It opened, and the smiling woman that was dropping candy into my girls' baskets commented on how cute they were.  I stood on the drive where it met the walkway, noticing the rosebushes I helped plant years ago.  I thanked her, and Bean blurted out that this was my old house.  The woman stepped back, opening the door, and asked me if I'd like to come in.

Come in?

I'd rather douse in gasoline, throw a match on it, and watch it burn.

It's the same thought that came screaming to the forefront, demanding to be heard as I pulled to the stop sign and let my eyes wander just right off the pavement last weekend.  When Red heard the change in my heartbeat and asked me what was wrong, I clenched my jaw to keep it from pushing past my teeth and contaminating the air I shared with the blue-eyed redhead I borne that is the same age I was when I left that house with the now-red door for the last time 21 years ago.  I've trained myself to tune out my rage, just like I tune out the very existence of that house most days, but even I get caught off guard. When I fail, red fury bubbles hot and red from my chest, drawing blood from my extremities as fuel, leaving my hands cold as my face flushes hot with anger.

I didn't go into the house that Halloween.  I can still see the cigarette smoke hanging thick in the air and ash spilling from full ash trays on the glass coffee table and kitchen counter.  I can hear the thick gravel voice of the man who wore the appropriately-named wife beaters like an unapologetic dare every day, drilling insults about everything from my weight to what a dirty whore I was, dropping words like lead at my feet.  They were heavy enough to crush me at the time.  I imagine the door to the bedroom at the top of the stairs has been back on it's hinges now for some time, not that the flimsy push-lock on it protected us in the first place, or by closing it you could keep the smell of urine that had been deposited on our mattress from permeating the air.  The phone was rarely on the wall in the kitchen, but there was always plenty of empty bottles of Jack Daniels around.  Maybe we could have smashed them against the floor in hopes one of the neighbors would have called the police for us, not that they ever would have.  The stoop remained unscathed, showing no signs of the night I was literally thrown down it barefoot in February, wearing nothing more than my Catholic school uniform, for having the audacity of not making a batch of cookies.  The scars on my knee and hand have faded considerably, and are really only visible on my pale skin when I am cold and they blush purple.  I went to my grandma's and banged on the front door that is now my own, begging to be let in before that man came after me once he realized I wasn't going to throw myself at his mercy to be let back into the home that was mine before he snaked his way in.  My friend's mother came to pick me up a few doors down and take me home with her where she cleaned me up and kept me for a few hours.  I didn't go back into that house after I left until my uncle brought me with a baseball bat and rolls of quarters in his hands, where I gathered up what remained of my belongings in two trash bags.

So there the house still sits all these years later.  We have an agreement.  I don't drive past it and it lets me go about building my life in the town I called mine when I was young.  In return, I don't throw bricks through the windows when my unexpected anger demands release.

I've entered and exited the subdivision the long way since last weekend as a demonstration of good faith.

Monday, February 3, 2014

All Things Being Equal

How fitting that yesterday was Groundhog's Day, and not in terms of waiting to see if that fat little groundhog would see his shadow. I mean more along the lines of the Bill Murray movie where Phil Connors finds himself living the same shitty day over and over again. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, Cory Monteith, Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston all came before. Yesterday's addition to the list was Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Of course, the internet being what it is, because it is a reflection of us all, followed the same pattern it always has when this happens. Shock and grief give way to outrage in it's various forms. Some people mourn the loss of an artist. Some people are bitter of the fact that someone in a position of privilege has abused it and garnered more attention than the people not in that position that have fought and lost those same battles. There are of course the arguments of addiction being a selfish choice versus it being a disease with multiple manifestations. I've discussed my position in that debate before, and you, like everyone else, are free to agree or disagree with me as you see fit.

I read a piece in Esquire today about Mr. Hoffman, and it was a poignant piece. It spoke of his talent and the depth that he brought to his work. It was a wonderful tribute to him until the last paragraph. The author made the assertion that Matt Damon would never be found dead with a syringe in his arm just as George Clooney would never essentially eat himself to death because they "have too much to lose".

Come again?

The reason this assertion has bothered me so much is the same reason the assertion that nobody should care when a celebrity pays for his addiction with his life. Addiction cares absolutely nothing about who you are or what you have.  Privilege and wealth do not insulate you. Education and income do not insulate you.  Your neighborhood and home do not insulate you. Hell, not even people that have loved you since the day you were born nor children that have been born to you can insulate you. Addiction is indiscriminate and insidious. If you have been fortunate enough to not have addiction hold you or someone you love hostage, be grateful. I have been on both sides of that coin and I wouldn't wish either on my own worst enemies.

In the end, the reason I care about any overdose, celebrity or otherwise, is simple. When you strip away the bank account, the $10, 000 dollar a month apartment, the Oscar and the celebrity, what you are left with is a human being with an addiction no different than myself. He had almost 23 years of sobriety and he relapsed.  That is the same threat that anyone who has earned their sobriety lives with every single day. I have over 10 years, and I have come dangerously close to relapse myself. The truth of the matter is he died alone in his bathroom, ashamed and hopeless.  His wealth and status make him no different than than the junkie that dies in a smack house in Baltimore.

 It makes him no different than myself.







Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Open Letter in Regards to Jack Fowler

Jack Fowler is a 6 year old boy that lives in my town.  For those of you that have children that attend the same schools as my own, that shop at the same grocery stores as I do and that keep up with local news with my town paper as I do, you are likely familiar with him or his family.  For those of you that aren't, please allow me to briefly introduce you to his story.

He is one of roughly only 500 children in the United States that suffers from Hunter Syndrome.  You likely haven't heard of it because it's so rare.  It's a lysosomal storage disorder he was diagnosed with at 16 months when his parents grew concerned that he didn't seem to be hitting developmental milestones when he should be and still didn't sleep through the night.  I can't even begin to imagine what it must have been like to have your baby diagnosed with a chronic, progressive, and ultimately fatal disease.  Treatment for this disease has been limited due to the fact that it is so rare, but Jack has had them all.  He has had therapy, infusions and surgeries to slow down the progression of the disease.  His case is severe.  His parents are very familiar with the progression of it and have used every therapy available to them to keep their son alive and as healthy as they can.

The most promising breakthrough is coming from Shire Pharmaceuticals, who is based in Massachusetts and has corporate headquarters in Dublin, Ireland.  They had an enzyme-replacement drug, Elaprase, approved by the FDA.  In 2012, sales of that drug totaled $497.6 million dollars.  They now have a new drug in clinical trials, which is a concentrated form of their approved drug, to be administered by intrathecal (into a membrane of the spinal cord or brain) injection.  There have been very promising signs from the trial, and one participant's mother has said that this treatment has given her son a second lease on life.  Even though Jack is not a participant in the trial, the FDA allows for expanded use outside of the trial in exceptional cases such as Jack's.  His family has a physician at Lurie Children's Hospital that is willing to administer the drug and the hospital will allow the treatment.  All Shire has to do is agree to provide the compound.

Except they won't.

Jamie and Jason, Jack's parents, amassed 32,000 signatures to present to Shire in support of them providing the infusion to the Fowler family.  They have enlisted the advocacy of The Isaac Foundation
who has gone to battle tirelessly for this family in hopes that Shire would agree to provide for expanded use outside of the clinical trial.  They finally got their face to face meeting with the CEO Flemming Ornskov and Phil Vickers, which lasted mere minutes instead of the hour it was supposed to.  During this meeting, they told the family they are declining to sponsor Jack for expanded use, and that they "don't work with families".

One of the reasons Shire won't sponsor Jack is a lack of safety data.  I find this ironic since in 2012, they made $429 million and $1.0298 billion dollars on Adderall XL and Vyvanse, respectively.  These are amphetamine medications used to treat ADHD in adults and children as young as 6 years old, the same age as Jack.  Both of these medications come with the ominous black box warning on them, which warns consumers that side effects up to and including sudden death can occur.  I have scoured online to find solid statistics on sudden death related to these drugs but that has been difficult to say the least.  To play out worst case scenario here, we should assume that the highest safety risk of any drug would be death.  In Jack Fowler's case, that risk is already inextricably present in his every day life as a 6 year old with a rare, chronic, progressive, and fatal condition.  Given the fact that their highest-grossing drug is an amphetamine with a black box warning, I find the "lack of safety data" excuse to be disingenuous at best.

Shame on them.

The only avenue the Fowler family has left at their disposal is public pressure, and they are asking everyone to help them in that regard.  If you are so inclined, reach out to them on their personal website.  You could reach out to The Isaac Foundation.  Shire has been watching the response to this and has pinged their servers daily.

Shire's motto is "To Be as Brave as the People We Help".  Its the first thing you see on their website.  It's time they earn the right to have that as their motto.  If you send only one message, make it to them.  You could contact their media department, or if you really want to go big, you could contact Dr. Fleming Ornskov at Shire directly. Drop an email to fornskov@shire.com.  Tell him that as a doctor, he took the oath to first do no harm.  Tell him he has the power to do the right thing and sponsor Jack for expanded use.  Tell him that you will continue to bring this injustice to light until he does the right thing.  To right a wrong takes bravery, and is exactly what he needs to do to be worthy of Shire's credo.

Addendum:  A petition to the White House was created by a local woman on January 30 but has been removed.  Jack's original petition has been reopened.  Please consider sharing it after signing here.






Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Minor Technicalities

My kids have been home for well over two weeks since Christmas break started.  They were supposed to go back today but being that it was -15* when we woke up this morning, the schools decided that staying home an extra day is a better alternative than risking frostbite and hypothermia for the little scoundrels.  Bean and Midge are parked at the kitchen table, doing what they do every morning when they aren't in school.  They're on their iPods, FaceTiming with their cousin T.  On the surface, there really isn't anything that would stand out to anyone that doesn't know my family intimately.  Cousins are susceptible to the bonds of friendship, not surprising since their parents are siblings, except of course, when they're not.  

T isn't my sister's son, he's my cousin's son.  If you're interested in the technicalities my Grandpa Kenny made sure he ingrained in his children and in turn, they ingrained in us, T is my first cousin once removed.  That makes my cousin's children and my children second cousins.  Of course, this will make their children third cousins, and so on and so forth.  Simple enough to follow, but now I'm going to throw a wrench into the whole thing.  T isn't technically my cousin's son in the sense that she didn't give birth to him.  It might seem like a big deal to some, but around here, it's a minor technicality easily dismissed as utterly unimportant.  T became part of the family before my cousin married his dad, and these kids have bummed around together since Bean was born.  They've been together almost a decade already, an entire lifetime for them.  My cousin and I have always told them that they are cousins, so that's what they have invested into each other as.

Believe it or not, this whole concept of dismissing technicalities is pretty rampant for my family.  I have a couple of cousins I have absolutely no blood relation to, they are the children of my aunt's sisters, who coincidentally, have always been my aunts.   My own grandma on my dad's side didn't marry my grandpa until I was six months old.  Her children have always been my aunts and uncles, and their children my cousins.  My dad's brother and his wife have three adopted children in addition to one born to them.  Banana and Red inherited a whole new family that welcomed them with open arms when my husband adopted them.  They have three grandparents that they have zero blood ties to.  That's pretty amazing if you think about it.

That's not to say that everyone we know have so readily accepted what we have.  There have been occasional comments from people about how our children aren't "really" cousins.  How my own cousins aren't "really" my cousins, or my aunts aren't "really" my aunts.  Once, when I was younger,  I explained how my grandma became my grandma and the person I was explaining it to quipped that she wasn't my grandma at all.  I'm sure she thought that she was providing me with some clarification that had somehow escaped me even though I explained the very process to her, but all it managed to do was piss me off.

I am a firm believer in love being the tie that binds, not bloodline.  I believe that family is what you make it, not something ordained by genealogy.  I believe that the people that want to dismiss these relationships my family has as not true are pretty pathetic.  I actually pity them because they miss the big picture and I suspect they close themselves off to what could be pretty spectacular relationships in their own lives, and that's a shame.  To each their own I suppose.

A couple of weeks ago, I swung by my cousin's house to pick up T and head up to Wisconsin for the night to stay at a water park resort.  I lucked into a free night because my dad's cousin (my first cousin once removed, for those of you keeping track) let us stay at her condo for the night.  On the way to pick him up, Midge and Bean were bubbling with excitement over the fact that they got to swim, hang out in the outdoor hot tub, and hit the water slides and lazy river with their cousin while it howled wind and snowed heavily outside.  Driving down Route 12, Midge said something to me that warmed my black heart.

"Mom, when we grow up, I hope T and I are as close as cousins as you and Krissy are."

Cousins, really.

Me too, kid.  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.






Tuesday, October 29, 2013

18

As far back as I can remember, I always knew I would be a mom.  I knew it when I played with my baby dolls.  I knew it when your aunts were born and I became a big sister.  I knew it when my cousins were born and fought with your aunts over who got to hold them first (I was the obvious and clear-cut winner considering I have always been the oldest, naturally.).  I fawned over babies I babysat and always wondered what my own children would be like.  Would they have my red hair and blue eyes?  Would they be smart?  What would they be like and would they love me?

Eighteen years, eleven months and 6 days after I was born, I held you in my arms for the first time after three days of the most exhausting, excruciating pain I would ever know.  You looked nothing like me.  Your hair was a dark brown and your eyes were definitely not blue like mine.  I marveled at the way your fingers clutched my index finger when I ran it gently from your arm to the palm of your hand.  I studied the shape of your face and held you close, memorizing your scent when I buried my face into your hair.  I whispered the name I chose for you from that Counting Crows song over and over again.  I loved how speaking your name felt as much as I loved hearing it.

My life began the day you were born.

I have said it before, but I will say it again.  I am amazed at how quickly time goes.  It has been eighteen years since I held you for the first time and I can still remember it like it was yesterday.  I carry all these bits and pieces of our lives together in my mind and my heart.  I think back to what our lives were like when you and your sister were little and sometimes I panic for us even though I know everything turned out ok in the long run.  I've been thinking a lot about our talk we had when you were putting together ideas for your college essay a few weeks ago and once again, your perspective has given me a chance to piece some things together that have been right in front of me all along.  I know that I came up short....a lot.....in what it is a mother is supposed to provide for her children when you two were little.  You said that life didn't really get better until dad came along, and you were right.  That was not a new revelation.  Yes, there were things like food in the refrigerator, clothes that came from an actual store instead of hand me downs, gloves and boots that I didn't steal from the lost and found at the school and heat that didn't get turned off in January because I couldn't pay the bills.  He gave to you the same thing he's given to me and all three of your sisters, and it was far more important than anything you can buy with money.  He gave us all the simple truth that what we are in the present moment is not all that we are ever be destined to be.  I spent so much time trapped in whatever particular moment I was in that it never occurred to me to look forward and change course.  It wasn't until he came along that an idea like that was something that was even possible.

You know as well as I do that you can tell someone something until you're blue in the face but people will only learn when they make the choice to do so.  Thankfully you learned early.  I'm not going to say that every choice you have ever made has left me thrilled but you have made some unbelievable choices that have.

When you were 7, you announced at the dinner table in our little apartment that you and your sister decided that Dad should be your dad and you wanted to be adopted.

You decided the summer after your freshman year that you were better than the mistakes you made and you claimed your sobriety.

You decided last year that you wanted to graduate early, and even after you had to play catch up from a few years before, you got yourself on track to be done with high school in only 3 1/2 years.

Two weeks ago, you said you pulled a 4.0 for the term out of your ass, but I disagree with that a little.  That didn't happen all on it's own, you made it happen.

I am proud of you for more reasons than you'll ever know, but I am most proud of you for investing in your own future.  That's really all I have ever wanted for any of you.  Most parents will tell you that they want more than anything for their children to be happy.  I think that's a nice thought, but to be honest with you, I don't think that's the most important thing.  I want you to be autonomous.  I want you to make your own decisions.  I want you to make mistakes and learn your own lessons.  I want you to be just uncomfortable enough to motivate yourself to want more and expect more out of yourself.  I want the weight of your struggles to be heavy enough to make you strong.  I want there to be challenges, not because I don't want good things for you, but because you have always shined the brightest when you've earned your accomplishments.  You have earned every last ounce of respect anyone, including yourself, has for you.

So here we are, my brown eyed girl.  In nine short months, you'll be leaving for whichever college it is you've decided upon.  I couldn't stop you even if I tried, but to be honest I wouldn't even want to.  You've been a force to be reckoned with since the day you were born.  You're stubborn and outrageous.  You are passionate and hot-headed.   You are loyal and love deeply.  At times you are impossible and drive me absolutely insane, but I did not know what love was until I became your mother and I would have you no other way.

I can't wait to see what you stake your next claim on in your future, I have no doubt it will be spectacular.

Happy birthday boo.  Your mama loves you.



Sunday, October 13, 2013

Butterknife

Over the course of my almost 37 years, I have heard countless stories of the generations of my family that have come before me.  Many of them have been relayed to me about my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, distant cousins and my own parents.  I've always had a more robust picture of my mother's side of the family because growing up, we have all lived in roughly the same area.  Very few of us have ever wandered too far from where my mother's parents put down their roots more than 50 years ago.  For a multitude of reasons, I just didn't have the exposure to my dad's side the way I did to my mother's.  Luckily, that has changed over the last few years.  Say what you will about social media, but I have reaped benefits and forged relationships with people in a way that I could have only dreamed about 20 years ago.  My life has been richer because of it.


Like most of us, I have listened to stories from my dad over the years.  I've heard him relay some of the same glimpses into his life to my own children.  Most of them are told and retold at similar points in our lives.  I remember very distinctly as a young girl complaining about having to eat the stuffed peppers my mom made and my dad telling me as I cried over my dinner plate how he was dealt with if he complained about his dinner.  My grandpa was no joke and old school as they come.  My grandpa told my dad that he had two choices regarding his dinner: Eat it or wear it.  My dad never made me wear my dinner, but I have heard that story many times over the years, and my girls always laughed when they heard the story.  I've heard snippets and seen reenactments about how my grandpa would roll his tongue right before he lost his temper, and my girls have drawn the parallel between that and their dad's forehead vein when he's reaching his limit.  I've vented to my dad when I've had a particularly rough week with the fighting between my kids and he's relayed stories about himself and his siblings growing up and reminded me of the same kinds of things my own sisters and I did when we were kids.  It reminds me that I'm not dealing with anything anyone that has had more than one child in the history of the world hasn't dealt with.  When Banana and Red finally got their chances behind the wheel of a car, he recalls the day he got his license.  He took out the corner of his house that his driveway abutted with my grandpa's car.   Instead of the infamous tongue roll, his dad laughed when my dad defeatedly took his brand new license out of his wallet and tried to surrender it to him.

These, and many other stories have been told and retold through the years.  There is a rhythm and comfort to them.  Very seldom does the verbiage even stray the slightest.  There is a familiarity and warmth to the words, and my mind has conjured the same visual imagery as long as I can remember when I hear them.  It invokes the same feel to me as the scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy opens the door from her farmhouse and finds herself in the fantastic and new world of Munchkinland.  I think part of that is because they are first-hand counts of experiences that my dad has carried with him all these years.  Very seldom am I afforded the opportunity to add new stories to the collective story about my dad.  Yesterday, however, by whatever perfect combination of circumstance, I was treated to a new story about my dad as a child.

My grandma's 100-year-old mother was laid to rest yesterday.  I met my dad and stepmom (I know I've mentioned this before, but can somebody please come up with a better name for this because it's so underwhelming and lackluster.) at the church by the high school that Banana and Red attend, the same high school that 14 family members from 2 previous generations call their alma mater.  We attended the service in the church, drove together to the graveside service a town over and drove back for the luncheon afterward.  After we said goodbye to my grandma, we made our way to part ways in the parking lot.  My dad stopped when he approached the double doors when he caught sight of a very old woman in a wheelchair and told us he needed to stop for just a minute.  I walked on five feet or so and turned around so I wouldn't be hovering over my dad and this woman in the wheelchair.

My dad leaned down and took a knee next to the woman, placed his hand on the arm rest and started to speak.  "I don't know if you remember me or not....", he began.  I watched this woman's face, lined and thin, and her brow furrowed slightly as she took in the face of this man.  I was sure remembering who he is was a long shot between how old she was (I learned a few minutes later she is 98) and having no idea how long it has been since she last saw my dad.  Instead, her eyebrows raised and her eyes became wider as she drew in a deep breath.  As she exhaled, she placed her hand on my dad's, leaned forward and through her smile called my father by his name.  I am quite certain that she did not see the 62 year old father of three, grandfather of nine dressed in a suit with peppered facial hair and bifocals.  I am quite certain all she saw was this.



I listened to their conversation and hung on every word.  On the outside, it was a small and insignificant story about my dad finding a butterknife in the street as a child and throwing it, resulting in a window of the store this woman and her husband owned in town many years ago being broken.  My dad recalled how angry his father was, marching him down to the store and making him apologize and paying for the window.  Oddly, she didn't recall my dad breaking the window, and hoped she and her husband weren't angry enough at the time to demand that they pay for the broken window.  She did, however, remember my dad as a boy and saw enough in the man in front of her to recognize him decades later.  

Maybe part of it was the affinity I have always had for old people, maybe part of it was seeing my dad relive a small part of his childhood I never knew existed until yesterday, but it was beautiful to see.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Onward and Upward

School started back two weeks ago, give or take.  For the thirteenth year in a row, my home was once again buzzing with the according to my daughters, too-early-in-the-morning chaos that accompanies the first day of school.  Red stuck to her tradition of sleeping over at her friend's house the night before and facing their first day of class together.  I suspect it is a ploy to avoid me running after her with my phone like a hiker trying to capture a picture of the ever-elusive Sasquatch.  (Red will read this and assume I made a backhanded dig at the size of her feet, but I didn't, it's just the best metaphor I could conjure.)  The swarm of girls made their way from the breakfast table, where one now has the breakfast of champions known as coffee, to their bedrooms to dress, to the bathrooms for hair and teeth and whatever other stuff they need to get done to face the first day.  It is literally the only day of the year they will all be ready with time to spare.  I herded them all outside to get my obligatory first day pictures, and Red adhered to my stipulation that she could sleep out only if she sent me a picture.  This year's picture was a little extra important to me, as it is the last first day picture I will have of my Banana.

Midge, Banana, Bean
Not pictured: Red and her 32 oz. of iced Dunkin Donuts coffee


We've managed to settle in to the fall routine pretty quickly.  We've had years of practice.  In addition to homework, Banana has been applying to colleges, getting transcripts forwarded to the schools she's applied to and is going to be starting shortly with writing her admissions essays.  Since Red is only a year behind her, she's encouraged her to start looking at schools and making a plan because I think she is beginning to feel the pressure of how overwhelming this post-high school planning really is.  I didn't do any of that with my siblings because I was a shitty older sister. She's been on the ball, and has even taken the liberty of kindly reminding us all how quickly her 18th birthday is coming up, and already counting down the weeks until she graduates in December.  She has made a couple of comments these last few weeks to both me and her dad, that might not seem like a big deal if you didn't know her.  She is every bit her mother's child and tests the waters by throwing out a seemingly inconsequential snippet, hoping somebody notices that it's coming from a deeper place and takes an interest.  She was upset with me a few weeks ago when she asked if I felt like going out to dinner and I told her quite frankly, I was tired after work and just wanted to hang at home.  Sean told me that she wanted to spend some time with me and I quickly dismissed it, but like clockwork, the universe told me I was an idiot when a text from Banana came through and she told me it hurt her feelings that I didn't want to spend time with her.  Another time, out of the blue she said while sitting at the table that she was "going to miss this".  When I asked her what she was going to miss, she simply said, "This.  Home."  So even though she won't come out and lay all her cards on the table, she says enough to us to let us know she's got some stuff going on in her head and heart.  Then it's up to us to find the right time and words to get the conversation started so she can get it out there.  It's how she works.  It's the same as I work.

I admit there has been a different feel about the house these last few weeks.  Midge is now part of the safety patrol as a top-dog 5th grader.  Bean is exerting more independence and those two are gunning full speed ahead into the age where they try to define themselves as separate from one another.  That's important when you're only a year apart and I've seen this before with their sisters at the same age.  Red finally decided she'd like to drive, so yesterday she got her permit and soon she'll have that coveted bit of independence herself.  We're moving on up around here.  

Yesterday, Banana and I had a pretty good talk.  It was a conversation that needed to be had, and we will probably have it more than once.  She told me she was worried about leaving.  It wasn't a flip comment this time, where I could reply with a joke about how she should have spent more time with me making dinner because she won't be eating much other than macaroni or ramen noodles, or have magically clean clothes.  She meant it.  This kid has anxiety.  I asked her what she was worried about, not knowing if it would be the financial aspect, or time management aspect, or day to day responsibility aspect of it.  It was none of that.  She is worried about how she is going to adjust being away from her family.  I didn't have that kind of stuff on my mind when I was her age.  My parents divorced when I was 14 and I ended up living with my dad when I turned 16.  My sisters and I never lived together after that.  I moved out of my dad and stepmom's (I really, really hate that word.  It doesn't do the relationship I have with her justice.) house when I was 18, not because I was headed off to college.  I moved out because I was pregnant with Banana.  My life was very different at Banana's age than hers is now.  I wasn't concerned with how I would adjust because I had a brief period of stability as a teenager and headed back into unknown pandemonium when I was pregnant was oddly comfortable for me.  I lived that way for a lot of years.  I wasn't concerned with how my absence would change the dynamic of my relationships with my parents and my siblings, I was always extremely short-sighted and the only dynamic I had was scattered, partly because those were just my circumstances and partly because I made them that way.  

I had to dig a little to come up with some answers, because I had little point of reference of my own to draw upon.  I told her that this is difficult, of course, but this is the way it's supposed to be.  I told her that just because she won't be living in the house doesn't mean that her relationships with us and her sisters will cease to grow.  I'm closer with my dad now than I have ever been, and I became closer with my sisters after we no longer lived together.  For a good number of years, Banana and Red, like most sisters (if you are one, have daughters or know any, I know you can relate), have been locked in the sister power struggle.  It sucked.  Just these last couple of months, it's like the storm broke and the sun is peeking through with them.  I imagine their relationship with each other will continue to change and grow like my relationships with my own sisters did.  I went on to tell her that I have invested more time into my relationship with her than I have any other human being on this planet.  Red is second.  My boy comes in third only because I was a mother before I was his wife.  The relationship I have had with my girls is unlike any other relationship I have had, in fact it's bizarre when you think about it.  Everything I do, every decision I make, every lesson I have taught them has always been with the desired end-result being that they no longer need me.  I feel like I'm laying the groundwork to break up with my own kid and holy shit, it hurts.  I also know that growing up, everything is centered around the people you share a home with, and at some point a few years down the road those people are part of the periphery.  I've tried to tell her that but she won't understand until she has her own family.  I'm still having a hard time understanding it myself, and chances are I will be hitting up my dad very soon for some of his wisdom on how to deal with the fact that I'm periphery in my own kid's life.   Circle of life and all that shit.

I've had two sets of the baby types here this week.  Remember when I said I was sad I wouldn't have any more babies?  I take that shit back.  Not because I don't love these little nuggets, because I do.  I can't believe it's been almost 18 years since I became a mother.  This whole phase of letting the birds leave the nest is new for me.  I don't even have time to wallow in it because Red will be doing the same thing this time next year.  I told Banana yesterday that it doesn't matter where she lives, I'm always going to be her mom and she's always going to be my baby.  So I am just going to take my own advice for once and suck it up.  I'm still probably going to call my dad though.