Friday, July 30, 2010

Lifeguarding

As we get closer to next Tuesday, when my girl comes home from Italy, I feel my mood lightening. It has been kind of hard to have her so far away, and it will be good to have her back on the same continent. She will only be home for three days before we drive her up to camp for the last two weeks of the summer session. She will be working there as a counselor assistant for the two weeks, a job her brother, who is a full-fledged counselor there, set up for her. He is excited that they will be working together on the same side of the lake. I think he was impressed when he arrived at camp this summer to realize how well loved his sister was by those who got to know her last year. She made her own imprint in a place where he has long ruled—I think he really enjoyed that.

I will really enjoy the two weeks they are away at camp together. Somehow, knowing I can reach them if anything should go awry, knowing that they are only 2 hours away in the Connecticut woods, knowing they are together and among friends, makes me breathe easier. I am glad my girl had Italy, but now I am glad she's coming home.

Below is a picture of my son at twilight. The lake is just lovely at this camp. My son got his lifeguard certification at the start of the summer. He is also certified in CPR, and has been trained to use the defribrillator thingy that zaps the heart back to life, and he also has some other first aid and field emergency training from his sports medicine program at college and fire search and rescue training from his high school days as an FDNY explorer. My son collects first aid and first responder certifications like other people collect stamps. He'd be perfect for medicine, but says he doesn't want to be in an office. He wants to be the one running onto the field to assess and treat the sports injury.

One of the best things my husband and I did was send our son to live in the woods for a few weeks every summer since he was 11. He loves to have the sky above his head and no walls around him. For a few kids who will probably be his lifelong friends, that camp by the lake is "their place."

My son on lifeguard duty at camp.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Clear Blue

My brother had surgery last week. He flew from Jamaica to Texas where he underwent a state-of-the-art operation at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He was able to return to Jamaica yesterday and will be recuperating at home for the next four weeks. In six weeks, he will return to Houston for follow up.

Despite some pain and discomfort, his spirits are good. His voice, which had a slight waver in it the day after his surgery, is once again deep and strong. Most of all, he does not want people treating him as if he is ill. He is a doctor, and points out with professional calm that his cancer was found very early, during a routine physical exam, and he will be just fine. The last thing he wants is people worrying over him and putting him in the position of reassuring them ad nauseum.

Still. It did bring home to me that I don't see my brother nearly enough in these adult lives we have crafted on separate land masses with oceans between. I have promised my brother to remedy that.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sharing Music

Yesterday on the bus to a beach in Napoli
my daughter sang along to Lady Gaga with
a girl in her group to whom she's become close.
When we spoke by phone this morning,
I was so intrigued by the easy way she talked
about "my sister this" and "his brother that"
and "I cooked with my host mother today."

Happy

Feeling much better for any number of reasons. Will try to sort through them later. In the meantime, here is a recent pic posted on Facebook from my daughter's stay in Napoli, where she is having the most amazing, life-changing experience. Her host family has been very welcoming to her, she has felt very comfortable among them, even though they speak very little English and she speaks very little Italian. Her host mother blew me a kiss when my girl and I were on the phone this morning, and I sent her back a hug through my wonderful daughter. I so appreciate the experience they have facilitated for my child. Tomorrow is her last day in San Sebastiano. On Tuesday the group moves to Northern Italy for the culinary school portion of the trip. My daughter says they will all be crying when they leave, they have all had such a magical time in this small Italian town. This, of course, is one of the things that makes me happy today. My husband and I are off to the movies and then dinner, so will share more later. 


The young lady in the center was turning 18.
My girl is in the other black dress with the smile full of light.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cliche

I'm feeling a little gray. I am a cliche, depressed by my newly empty nest, and even though I know my daughter's coming back, and has two more years of high school before she truly flies the coop, still, I have glimpsed the loneliness of being without her and her brother, the TV shows we used to watch together that suddenly hold no appeal, the laughter and the silliness they share with their dad, suddenly not there, and my husband and me, rattling around the suddenly large, eerily clean apartment, not having to compete to use anything.

I know he misses them, too. He says, "There's not enough silly in the house!"

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Usual Posture 2

If you know a teenager, you know this pose.
This is my beautiful niece, at lunch in a restaurant. 

Monday, July 12, 2010

Color Olympics

I found some pictures on the website of the camp where my son is working as a counselor this summer. If I look carefully through the photos, I find my son in the center of things, rallying the kids, leading activities. Here is a pic that was posted this morning, after the famous Color Olympics. My son has been a part of this ritual since he was 11 and a camper himself. The kids are divided into different color teams, red, blue, green, black, yellow, and they compete in various contests—swimming, flag raising, archery, sailing, rowing, sand-castle building, foot races, cheer raising, you name it. My son is apparently one of the leaders of the green team this year.

That's my son at center, his head just visible,
with the kid on his shoulders holding the flag.

A Good Time

Several of our friends came over to watch the World Cup Soccer final with us yesterday afternoon. We all have children the same age, which is how we became friends, but now we get together without the kids, who are usually off doing their own thing. It was lovely and low key, with wine, beer, seltzer, sweet-and-salty popcorn and panini fixings from figs and peaches to fresh pesto, basil and mozzarella—a whole lot of gourmet fixings brought by everyone! We each made our own paninis while my husband experimented with a plate of dates stuffed with manchego cheese and wrapped with prusciutto, then grilled. Delicious!

Spain won the final. I was the only one rooting for them. Everyone else was rooting for the Netherlands. But the curious things was, in between the easy banter, every mother present (there were four) would periodically check her cell phone for news of her teen. One was in Vermont at a rap-reggae music festival. One was at Coney Island with his girlfriend. One was at her home. My daughter, of course, was in a small village in Italy, where I later learned she had watched the World Cup final match in a cafe with a large group of teenagers, her host sister's friends who she has spent a lot of time with over the last week.

What was so interesting to me is that all the other mothers appear to be calmer, less anxious women than I know myself to be. But what I realized yesterday is that they worry just as much, they just show it less, and are more able to admit what is out of their control. It was reassuring to discover that I am in the range of normal, and that my current coming to terms with the fact that I cannot really direct the show for my children any longer is simply what comes next in this dance.

My daughter did call us when she got home at midnight her time. She seems to be having an amazing time over there in Italy. She and her group get on very well, and she says her host family is "sosososo nice" to her. Her host sisters friends always include her, she says, even though she cannot speak much of the language. They use signing and Google translate and have taught each other hip phrases and curse words in their respective languages. She seems to be in the thick of teenage life in her small town. She was telling me there is a parking-lot-square in the center of town and all the kids go there to meet. "I mean every single kid in town goes there to meet up and hang out," she said. "There is just no equivalent in New York."

She and her group are visiting Pompeii today. They have one more week of their homestays and then it's on to two weeks of culinary school in Northern Italy.

Artist

One of my daughter's friends does the most amazing self-portraits. She doesn't think she is pretty, and yet she is astonishingly so, with unusual and captivating features. I always get the impression from her photos that she is trying to understand her face. She has such a sense of color and fading and cropping. I'll only run one picture here, in case she would rather not be recognizable on my blog. But, for the record, I think she is a wonderful artist and a dear soul.

Self portrait by DM

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Letting it be

There was a cardinal grand cross in the heavens, astrologically speaking, on June 26, along with a lunar eclipse. This was supposed to shake things up in our human lives, and I would have to say, it has. But the shifting landscape isn't altogether visible. The sea changes are mostly taking place internally, with many strained family situations now coming to a head.

I want so much to help mend things, but I can't. I imagine I can see what lies down the road if certain actions are not taken, but these actions are not mine to take, so I watch helplessly.

I was talking to a friend at work today about that fact that so many relationships around me seem to be falling apart. Not with my husband and children, thank God—but even there, I am challenged to redefine the way I am in relation to others, specifically my children. We are all being challenged to redefine our relationships. I know I am being cryptic, but I can't speak freely as others will be exposed and more deeply hurt.

Anyway, my friend had an interesting take on my feeling of helplessness. She said, "Perhaps that is the lesson for you. To just let it be. To not rush in and try to make it better. Instead, you may need to just sit with what is, and be at peace with its unfolding."

I was struck by the wisdom in what she said. Or maybe I just craved permission to stop trying so hard. So many people are in pain. There have been so many misunderstandings and miscues. So much righteous indignation and the sense of having been wronged. And I cannot fix any of it. I have to let people fix their own conundrums. I have to let it be.

They didn't take her

The rehab place turned my cousin Pearl away as an inpatient. They said her last outpatient effort was too long ago—it was 12 years ago, right after her son was born. They said she had to be passed out high on the street or arrested for some drug-related infraction before they could take her as an inpatient with her current insurance. They said however that they would enroll her as a four-day-a-week outpatient, and if that failed to do the trick, then they could revisit the inpatient conversation.

Afterwards, my cousin drove Pearl back to her mother's house as she had a large suitcase with her. "I couldn't leave her in the street with that suitcase," my cousin said. So now Pearl is back at her mother's home and her brother is fit to be tied. He feels that he spent several hundred on a nice 5-day hotel vacation for Pearl and her addiction partner. Now her partner is in the emergency room. Pearl says the reason is that his blood pressure is high. My guess is he took too many drugs over the weekend.

My aunt, meanwhile, is thrilled to have her daughter back home. And the home attendants are resigned. What do I feel? Nothing at all. I am just numb.

Monday, July 5, 2010

In Italia!

The culinary/slow food movement/ Italy travel group.

They visisted famous historic places in Rome.

Some photos of my daughter's Italy group showed up on her Facebook page this morning. I love Facebook. My daughter sends me Inbox messages when she can get online. Her group leader clearly knows teenagers: The group managed to stop by an Internet Cafe once a day when they were in Roma (this is how my daughter now refers to it). Dinner didn't usually happen till 10:30 at night, and my daughter said the streets were still full at one in the morning. Romans stay up late. The group has been in San Sebastiano since Saturday, embarked on their two-week homestay with Italian host families. They get together every day for outings with their various host siblings and one another. My girl has many new friends on Facebook, all with Italian-sounding names. She says she's learning the language, but has to speak simply and use lots of gestures. And she says that when all else fails, she resorts to Google translate, often with hilarious results.

New friendships are being forged from common
interests and shared experiences.

Flight and Other Metaphors

Last week, after my daughter left for Italy, I was plunged into a pervasive low-grade depression. I decided I needed to just sit with the sadness until I could figure out what it was telling me.

I realized slowly that I was in a new phase of my life, where my children were mostly grown and all the busyness that surrounded raising them was at an end. In truth, there is nothing I have loved more in life than creating this little family of ours. It is my one great art, the most absorbing and satisfying work I will ever do. But now, I need to step back and let our little birds fly, let them strengthen their wings and soar far from us, even to the other side of the world. We have to trust that the lessons took root, that the love will sustain them, that they are resilient and resourceful and able to come back from their mistakes. Because of course, there will be mistakes. How else will they learn? We cannot shield them from missteps, nor should we wish to. But should they need us, we are here.

My husband comes to this new place in our lives as parents naturally, with easy grace. But for me, the lack of knowing how my girl was experiencing life during those first few days in Rome was agonizing. I told my friend Isabella that I had no idea that I would feel so amputated. Such a hard and vicious word, yet it was the one that most completely described the sensation of being so emotionally connected to a person yet having to release them to their own life. I have no choice but to release her finally, knowing that anything can happen, praying she will be safe, hoping she will have adventures and be mostly full of joy, but knowing also that I have to depend on her to take care of herself, to judge where her steps should be placed on this journey that is her life, not mine.

Even now, my eyes fill with tears as I write this because it does feel a little like losing something, even though I know in my deepest heart that we have to let them fly away from us. We have to let them seek their future and walk boldly into it. With both my children now well and truly out in the world, I understand more clearly what it was I was feeling last year after my son went to college. I remember the word that came up then was bereft. Again, the sense of loss. But it is not a loss at all. It is a beautiful reckoning, one that is inevitable in the lives of parents. Our children grow up. And if they are able to spread their young wings with confidence and anticipation and a sense of life's exhilarating possibilities, then we have not lost them. We have merely ushered them.

My husband and I went walking along the river and then had a picnic in the park yesterday. We talked about all this, about the fact that we are on a threshold. The work of this next phase of our lives is to rediscover ourselves as individuals, to create our own new adventures together. After so many years of considering first, second and always what was best for our children, now we must consider ourselves. It is so unfamiliar, this new terrain, but we will have fun learning!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Trying to be Reborn

For me, this image suggests the possibility of
renewal and vibrant life, even after a wretched cut.
(Photo credit: Bernard Pace)

Concerned that my cousin Pearl will not pass the rehab intake interview after 5 days in a hotel room with her primary partner in addiction, the family has arranged for another cousin to go and get her on Tuesday morning and accompany her to the interview. We've tried to impress on Pearl that she cannot be stumbling around high or falling down drunk or slurring her words or being generally and loudly disagreeable that morning. One of my aunts put it plainly when she said to my cousin, "This might well be your last chance, so sieze it with both hands. And if you spend several months in rehab and your mother dies during that time, know in your heart that she will have died happy, because you are getting help." I don't know if that was a good thing to say to my cousin at this juncture or not, but it was a true thing. My aunt didn't mince words.
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