Transition

We’re walking, the four of us, along a trail through reservation land on Labor Day weekend when I start to cry. It’s mid-morning, sunny, and warm. A beautiful day. Still, there’s a flutter in my chest like an alarm going off.

I choke out the words to my husband, “I’m really anxious.”

The kids run ahead, distracted by the mud and the lily pads, while my husband tries to comfort me. There’s little he can do, though. It’s the end of the summer, the brief time of year that nurtures an environment of constant motion, that breeds the desire to fill each day to the brim.

For two months, the long days demanded stamina, flexibility, and alacrity. The new season will require more order, a calmer impetus. By inclination I sense this shift.

It feels good to cry.

#

Camp is over. Parents infiltrate the campus, directed to admire everything their children’s attention yielded throughout the summer. I take Mom to see the blue prints to my dream house, a class I chose based on my thirteen-year-old vision of my adult self as an architect. I enjoyed the class but forget to point out the unique features of my three-floor mansion.

Instead, I roll the sheets into a tight tube, and we’re out the door.

My gymnastics routine is scheduled for later, leaving plenty of time to wander about and look at other campers’ projects and watch performances.

It’s an unusual day, one lacking the regular camp agenda, and I have trouble deciding where to go next. My thoughts blur into the excitement around me, people being pulled in every direction. When Mom asks what’s wrong, I don’t have an answer.

“It’s okay to be off,” she says, and I nod.

#

Our parents are busy inside the cottage stripping beds, turning off the plumbing, and emptying the kitchen cabinets. We’re too young to really help, so my sister and I amuse each other by tossing rocks into the lake and listening to them plunk, a sound we can hear now that most of the motor boats are docked.

I consider changing back into my bathing suit even though the towels are already packed away. I’ve spent most of the summer in the water swimming, boating, and catching frogs. It seems wrong to neglect it on such a nice day.

“Time to go, girls,” Dad says. “Into the car.”

When we return to this cabin in the Berkshires, my favorite place in the world, almost a year will have passed. The house will reek of moth balls and cloves, deterrents to unwanted winter guests. It takes the whole summer for the odor to fade and even then, I wonder if our noses have just adjusted to the smell.

It’s part of the fun to give up certain comforts, like television and privacy, while living here on the weekends. The trade-offs are homemade blueberry pies and endless, lazy days in the sun.

As we drive down the rocky dirt road, no one talks. The farther away we get, the gloomier I become. On the main road, I think I’ve forgotten something, but realize there’s nothing left, just a still lake and an empty cottage.

#

My son finds a stick and throws it into the pond just like his older sister. They are engrossed in this activity, oblivious to their parents’ conversation. In a couple days, school will start. Kindergarten for her, preschool for him. New beginnings, new experiences to navigate. They may know this change is upon them, but I already feel it.

I’m excited and sad, but mostly alert to the emotional complexities of change. I’ve gone through this transition many times before. It doesn’t get easier, but that’s okay.

After I shed a few more tears, I tell my children it’s time to keep going and the four of us proceed down the path soaked in the late-summer sun.

K M Becket
Becket, MA 10/2013

A Daring Adventure

As I tried to steady my umbrella against the wind, my daughter informed me her hands were freezing. I barely heard her over my son’s crying, but I wanted to point out the fact she was wearing gloves while her poor mother was bare-handed and shivering. This made refreshing the B.A.A. Marathon app on my phone more difficult.

“He’s at 9.7,” I told my friends, who were also juggling an umbrella, a stroller, and a plastic bag-covered poster for my husband, who was running the 122th Boston Marathon.

Marathon 1We were positioned just past mile ten in Natick Center. My friends live about a mile away, a distance we intended to walk had the weather been anything but what it was: not quite forty degrees and pouring rain with wind gusts in the twenty-mile-an-hour range.

It was no surprise that when we arrived, there was open space at the partition blocking spectators from the race route. Front row viewing. We’d surely see him pass, and then we could get the hell out of the cold. Both my kids were hysterical, my son’s pants soaked and his raincoat pooling water in his lap, my daughter’s wet hair glued to her face.

“9.9!” I announced and then reassured my kids, “Daddy’s almost here and then we can leave.”

Well, either the tracking was inaccurate, or the conditions were too poor to see Husband pass, the blur of miserable runners too thick and unvaried. Only one runner during the fifteen minutes we were there mustered enough enthusiasm to reach his hand out to spectators for slapping. The rest hurried by, heads down, arms pumping.

I widened my eyes as much as possible, lifted my camera to get a shot, and waited, blocking out my kids’ commotion and hoping in the back of my mind they weren’t becoming hypothermic. My next refresh told me Husband was at mile 10.7, a meaningful distance from where we were standing.

Our efforts were futile, our disappointment as palpable as the discomfort worn on each runner’s face as they passed.

We took no time to gather our belongings and trek back to our cars in an urgent frenzy, my mind recalling what Helen Keller once said. “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” I spoke these words to my children as they continued to cry once inside the safety of our vehicle. Surely, it was the most miserable experience of their lives to date, but perhaps one they might remember.

It is indeed these unique times that make life worth living. To all the determined, and perhaps defiant, souls who ran and finished this race, you were a part of something big. Wretched in many senses, yes, but irrefutably special. The spectators felt it, too.

My friends and I were dry and comfortable within minutes of leaving the route, but there was a deeper appreciation for what the runners were enduring. I was already proud of Husband for qualifying for the Boston Marathon, meeting some of the most ambitious standards in the nation. But, the fact he finished only minutes after his PR time is truly amazing.Marathon 3

I’m glad I got out for part of the race (and likely saw Husband run by without realizing it, at least that’s what I’m telling myself) and I’m glad I dragged my kids along with me. It was a race for the ages, a daring adventure, one that tens of thousands of runners, spectators, security personnel, and volunteers will never forget.

Marathon 2.3
Husband heading for the FINISH

Breakdown

Coffee. That’s all I wanted. Well, coffee and some relief.

It had been a busy couple of weeks: Halloween, my son’s birthday, a half marathon, and a Friendsgiving held at my house. To top everything off, I had been sick the prior week with a head cold that showed no sign of clearing up anytime soon and Husband had left for a business trip on Sunday.

It was now Wednesday. The demanding schedule of making lunches, dropping kids at school, going to work, picking kids up, making dinner and putting kids to bed was taking its toll.

I had been allowing myself a simple treat each morning, a grande hot coffee from Starbucks before heading off to work. As such, my pre-loaded cash account, conveniently tracked on an app on my phone, was below the needed $2.41.

coffeeI parked across the street (I try to avoid the cluster that is the Starbucks parking lot at all costs) and headed over, attempting to reload my account on the way. I stopped short on the sidewalk when I received notification that the app was experiencing a system error. I stood there, furiously punching away at my phone with my finger. System error be damned, I was going to add money to my card and acquire that cup of coffee.

The spinning circle signifying that my phone was “thinking” drew dark clouds in my already stuffy head. A storm was brewing, and it was not going to end well. My options were to go back to my car and either grab my purse and repeat the trip with a good old-fashioned credit card, or bag the effort altogether.

Little did I know, as I climbed into the driver’s seat, that there was a third option. Call Husband and break down in tears.

I had reached my tipping point.

Over the phone, I tried to articulate the severity of what just occurred, cursing phones, apps, Starbucks, everything.

“I just want a f*cking cup of coffee!”

More than that though, I needed to cry. I needed to yell. I needed to let someone know I was having a tough week.

It’s easy to bottle up stress, especially when you’re trying to hold everything together and keep things in perspective. I knew I was going to get through the week. I knew my cold would eventually disappear and Husband would reappear. My life was still good. My house hadn’t been torn up by a hurricane. I hadn’t been groped by a politician or Hollywood VIP. I could afford to spend $2.41 on a cup of coffee even if it wasn’t in the cards that day.

But, I was also rightfully tired and aching for a small indulgence.

After my outburst, I felt better. I was still annoyed my morning would be caffeine-free and I was losing my voice for the fourth day in a row, but I was okay. The breakdown was my low point and now I had no other direction to go in but up.

Suitcase Suicide

Samsonite gazed through the darkness at the closet door handle. With a small jump, she might be able to loop her top handle over it and turn it. Then she’d be free.

Her owner, Kim wasn’t home from work yet and it was a short roll to the bathroom. Of course, who knew if her wheels still worked? The last time she was used, she was carried from the closet by Kim when Kim was having new carpet installed in the master bedroom. Samsonite had been placed in the bathroom along with other items from the closet, items that were frequently, or at least occasionally, used. Shoes, old t-shirts, Hell, even the fancy clutches were sometimes grabbed and taken along to special events.

Not Samsonite.

In her heyday, she and Kim traveled frequently. Sometimes for work, but mostly for pleasure. Samsonite had been to Los Angeles and San Diego several times, Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York City since the day Kim purchased her and the matching cosmetic bag back in 2006.

As far as Samsonite could recall, the last trip she took was in 2012. Kim and her husband’s “Babymoon.” What a glorious trip! It was Samsonite’s first time abroad and London was everything she could’ve wished for. Smooth sidewalks, temperate weather, and striking designer luggage that made Samsonite blush when she passed them in the storefronts.

Now Samsonite was desperate to return to the bathroom. When Kim last carried her there, she thought she and the cosmetic bag were going to be reunited and taken on an adventure. It didn’t even matter where, just that she was going somewhere. That dream died when the cosmetic bag, her old friend, didn’t even recognize her. She explained to Samsonite she had made several trips to Cape Cod this summer and once the new carpet was in, she was heading to Vermont for the weekend.

“Shame about being stuck in the closet, though,” the cosmetic bag said snidely, shifting herself into a more comfortable position in the vanity drawer.

suitcaseThat’s when Samsonite looked at the bathtub and decided she was going to drown herself in it.

“Just what do you think you’re doing?” Woolly said to Samsonite as she slowly made her way to the door of the closet.

“I’m committing suicide.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“No one understands,” said Samsonite. “I’m no longer of any use. At least you’re seasonal and get taken out when the weather gets cold. Kim can’t go a year without a winter coat. Who knows when she’ll start traveling again. I’ve had enough waiting around.”

“I hear she got invited to a wedding in California. Surely, she won’t pass that up,” Woolly offered.

Samsonite’s inner straps, the ones that used to prevent clothes from spilling to the other side, tightened in her belly. Hope was a dangerous thing.

Even if Kim went to this wedding, she’d probably bring her husband and they’d probably share the same dreadful duffel bag they took on all their unexciting weekend trips with the kids.

No, it was time to end things once and for all.

Samsonite jumped, looped her strap on the knob and pushed open the door. Her wheels struggled on the new, plush rug, but with determination, she made it to the bathroom. There, weathered but poised, she drew the water. Not a peep came from the vanity.

99 Bottles of Beer: My Relationship with Alcohol Through the Years

12ozAs pumpkin brews started to take the place of summer ales on the shelves of liquor stores, I began thinking of my drinking behavior throughout my life. Here’s my recap.

Childhood: My first real memory of alcohol comes in the form of beer. Heineken to be exact. On Sundays, my mother would make tuna fish sandwiches and my father would drink a beer. Probably the only reason I remember this is because my sister and I liked to take turns pouring the beer from the bottle. We got pretty good at tilting the glass and creating the perfect foam head. I’m sure my mother drank plenty of wine during this same period of my life, but since I wasn’t involved, I didn’t pay attention. The smell of my father’s drink was enough to know I didn’t want anything else to do with this refreshment.

Teens: Like many high schoolers, my first personal experience with booze happened when I was sixteen or seventeen years old. I was a pretty low-key adolescent so it should come to no surprise that I imbibed safely at my friend’s house and with decent-quality vodka. My friend’s parents were away for the weekend leaving her and her two younger siblings in the capable hands of a house-sitter. At some point, my friend and I decided to test our ability to pilfer small amounts of alcohol and add it to our orange juice, replacing what we’d taken with, you guessed it, water. After one drink, we thought it wise to call my parents to tell them we were interested in a last-minute sleepover. Drinking was exhilarating, mischievous and quite tasty, and we wanted to dedicate the entire night to its influence.

The next morning, I woke up in her sister’s clothes on the floor of her basement with a minor hangover and snippets of a really fun evening. Over the next few years, drinking for me became a luxury, a frill like everything else that makes a teenager impulsive and eager. Kissing a boy and getting lost driving created almost the same thrill as experimentation with and exposure to alcohol. It came secondary to hanging out with friends, trying to figure out who the hell I wanted to be.

College-25: This was alcohol’s time to shine. And shine it did. Cheap, piss-tasting beer, bottom-shelf vodka and boxed wine was the name of the game during these years. Booze was a necessity, the main ingredient to the evening with equal parts friends and stupidity. If you weren’t going to get drunk and if you weren’t going to act stupid, it was best just to stay home. After all, what better way to spend your Saturday and Sunday mornings than to laugh about all the crazy shit that happened the night before?

Metabolism at this age is a blessing and a curse. It allows you to drink a disgusting quantity of alcohol and function somewhat in a matter of hours. And so, memories of my college and post-college years are hazy, hilarious, and just the way I want them.

25-30: Nothing lasts forever and thank goodness for that. Eventually, almost falling asleep on the toilet in the bathroom of a bar and losing half your weekend to a hangover gets old. If you’re lucky, your income during these years affords you some better-quality alcohol and you can begin to appreciate it, rather than rely on it.

During my mid- to late-twenties, I started to pay attention to the taste of beer and wine. Boyfriend/Husband and I went to beer fests, ordered a bottle of wine at dinner, and made cocktails to drink on our front porch in the summer. There were still rounds of shots when we went out with friends, but nights where we lost control were few and far between. It was a nice transition into the next stage of life: parenthood.

30-35: Kids change everything. My relationship with alcohol is no exception. After learning I was pregnant with #1, I discovered not drinking at all had its benefits, namely, I always woke up feeling wonderful. I had no problem giving up booze for nine months. Barely missed it, in fact. Then, when my daughter was born, I was sleep deprived and nursing, and a single glass of wine was like a gift from the heavens. When I finished the glass, I was relaxed, satisfied, and uninterested in a top off.

Now, with two kids in tow, drinking is a nice way to unwind, but one or two glasses/cans is enough for me. The consequences of having more is too great, and I’m okay with this.

I suppose I’ve almost come full-circle as my relationship with alcohol has changed considerably over the years. What started out as a secret affair, turned into a deliberate dependence. Then, after growing apart, I believe alcohol and I have come to a happy medium, one of mutual respect and appreciation. There is no part of me that longs for my college years, but as I move through my mid-thirties, I want booze right there beside me. After all, the perfect pour is a horrible thing to waste.

 

Dog Day of Summer

Today was a lazy day. Usually Monday, my stay-at-home-mom day, is filled with errands, chores, swim lessons and playdates. The hours between when my children wake up (lately, 5am) and when morning rush hour dies down (the first reasonable time to go anywhere) is spent plotting the day. What can I accomplish before lunch time? What would be something fun and different to do with the kids? When was the last time I washed everyone’s sheets?

Dog Day 1This Monday started out just like any other. I put in a load of laundry and then the three of us went to a local farm and picked berries. It was a hot morning and we didn’t stay long. We watched the animals, bought some corn, picked about two pounds of blueberries and were home by 10:30.

Then something unexpected happened. We filled up the kiddie pool, laid some blankets, and hung out in the shade for five hours. That’s not a typo. We literally remained in the same small bit of yard until mid-afternoon, my son and daughter wearing nothing but diapers and underpants, respectively.

At first, I hoped both children would fall asleep and I’d be free to tackle more projects, or, more likely, catch up on my Facebook feed. But, as my son slept on and off until lunch, my daughter and I talked, she rolled around, we splashed in the water. Being outside in the shade on this gorgeous sunny day with no plans was my only commitment. That and periodically dragging the towels out of the shifting sun.

When my son woke up, it was Popsicle time (“pop-a-cle”) and I enjoyed watching it melt in long streams of purple over his chin and down his belly. No need for cleanliness when you’re eating al fresco, after all. The three of us looked at books, attempted some puzzles (but failed due to the lack of a hard surface), and watched airplanes fly overhead. It was lovely.

Dog Day 2

Eventually, even the shade became uncomfortably warm and we headed inside. The cool, relative darkness of the house felt refreshing and well-deserved.

“Can we watch a Paw Patrol?” my daughter asked.

“Pa-po-po,” my son agreed.

I thought, why not, and set them in front of the tv in the basement.

My son fell back asleep and my daughter happily zoned out while I went back upstairs and was productive. I cleaned up a bit, dumped out the kiddie pool, and changed the sheets on everyone’s bed. I didn’t feel rushed or impatient. I felt lucky. Calm. Thankful for this very lazy, very sunny, dog day of summer.

Sibling Wars

It seems my children have reached a milestone in their siblinghood. They are now constantly in each other’s faces. They butt heads. They engage in physical altercations. They invade each other’s personal space. It’s a wonder to behold.

Just this morning my husband was out of the house for about an hour or so. In that time, my children managed to bicker, hit, and otherwise show their distaste for each other over the smallest of conflicts. I can’t even recall most of what the disagreements were about, only that they were continuous, loud, and, well, childish.

One was most certainly about a baby doll my daughter, the oldest, received as a gift when she was maybe two years old. Until a few weeks ago, this doll was in a bin among other semi-neglected toys. My son recently gave her new purpose by requesting her presence every time he hurts himself.

“Baby, baby,” he’ll cry and then tuck her under his arm until he feels better.

It’s adorable to everyone but my daughter, who has a newfound concern over this doll she never even cared enough about to name.

She’s right when she declares the doll hers, but it’s clear she’s only interested because her brother is interested. This morning she tried to pull the baby away from my son and you can guess how that went.

Since this is a new stage, my children haven’t yet learned how to self-mediate. What this translates to is, “Mommy, Brother/Sister just *insert tattle-worthy event here*” on repeat. It’s mentally exhausting.

My first reaction when this all started was to immediately go out and buy a second of every object in our house. We must now have two identical everythings. My children quickly rendered this idea futile by showing me that just because each of them has one of something, doesn’t mean they don’t want both, or even just the other and not the one they have.

Many parents can speak to this phenomenon. Grab two orange plates from the cabinet on which to serve dinner and a child will quickly label one as hers. The other will respond by saying, no, he wants that one and soon, a full-fledged war has broken out. It’s like offering peace under two equal arrangements and having both sides battle to the death over which side gets what type of peace.

siblings3The silver lining to all this is that they’re butting heads because they’re interacting with each other and playing more. Sometimes they get along great and when that happens, Mommy gets a nice little mental break. It recharges me enough to survive until the next battle, a battle where undoubtedly reason is checked at the door.

Soon they’ll learn it’s more fun and beneficial to compromise and let small disagreements fall by the wayside. Because a diplomatic house is a happy house. Because the next stage is unconditional love and mutual respect. Right?