To the moms of college freshmen everywhere….

She was barefoot.  Taking baby steps down the sidewalk with her arms outstretched and the fingers on her tiny starfish hands splayed and waving. She wore a bright pink hat and polka dotted leggings and had the bluest eyes I’ve seen on a baby in a really long time.

Her name was Isabella.

I met this tiny dynamo four years ago as I paced up and down the sidewalk in front of the dormitory that my own not-blue-eyed girl was moving her shoes into.  Actually, “meet” probably isn’t the correct term.  She came running full speed down the sidewalk toward me with a very tired woman chasing behind her.  So the Tired Woman and I talked, because we were part of the same conflicted tribe of moms preparing to leave their chicks in brick buildings with strangers.  As we spoke, we agreed that moms deserve a free pass from heavy lifting on dorm move-in day. That not hauling futons up four flights of stairs should be our reward for having done most of the physical and emotional heavy lifting for the first eighteen years of our kids’ lives.

Moms all over the place are standing at the doors of dorm rooms this week, taking pictures and fighting back happy/sad tears.  I did that, too, four years ago.  They will drive off into the sunset while their kids rearrange their dorm rooms again. Moms  (okay, and Dads, too) will arrive home to too-quiet houses and stand at the doors of bedrooms that look like they’ve been ransacked and tremble with fear thinking of all the free time ahead for them. And then, they’ll get to work figuring out the rest of their lives.

We work ourselves out of our jobs if we’ve done this parenting thing correctly.  That’s what I told myself four years ago.

It didn’t take long to realize that my job description hadn’t been eliminated entirely, just altered. For one thing, they come home more than you think they will so don’t turn their bedrooms into anything just yet.  And don’t take it personally if they don’t call for the first couple of weeks. Your phone WILL ring again.  I promise.  And sometimes when it does, the young adult on the other end of the line will just be calling to talk because they actually miss you. Okay, and sometimes it will be to ask for something.  But, they’ll call.  And you’ll be happy no matter why.

That day four years ago, my nest emptied out. The other mom’s nest still included a tiny chick in polka dots running just as fast as her pudgy legs would go. I remember watching and thinking, keep running through life, Miss Izzy.  In a few years, you’ll need strong legs to go up and down all those flights of stairs, too. Just like your big brother.  Just like my girl.

Sad-happy.  Happy-sad.  Happy.  That’s how it goes.

Welcome to the tribe, Mama.  Even if it doesn’t feel like it today, you’re going to be just fine.

The storm

The storm began in the cereal aisle, as many storms do.

By the time they reached the checkout lanes, what began as a bad case of the “I wants” by the small boy had reached hurricane strength. Childless strangers rolled their eyes in disgust. People behind the young mom and her Category Five son moved to other, more peaceful, lines. A few smiled sympathetically toward the woman who was just trying to hold it together long enough to pay.

And one customer, who I’m sure meant well, made the situation worse. Quick tip: if a child is having a tantrum in public and that child is not yours, do not under any circumstances tell the child’s mother how she should handle it. Keep your parenting advice to yourself. Just keep walking.

Or you can do what I did.

I happened to follow the pair to the parking lot and watched as Mom unlocked the topper on her pickup. Then, she told the wailing boy to get inside. She stood behind the truck where he could see her and lit a cigarette. When he tried to get out from under the topper, she pointed and told him to get back in until he was calm.

This mama was impressive, let me tell you. There was no drama or yelling. No spankings. She has already learned that trying to distract, shame, or jolly any kid out of a tantrum is like spitting into the wind. And so, on a sunny day in a full parking lot, she waited for her boy to come through the storm on his own.

After I put my shopping cart away, I walked over to where the mom stood. Her boy was still raging and had added kicking the inside of the truck bed to his rage repertoire. I told Mom she was doing a good job. She looked surprised and grateful and said, “Thanks. A few minutes ago, a different lady in the store tried to tell me how to handle my own kid. He’s my son. I knew what he needed. He needed this.”

Oh, sweet, young, tired, mortified, mothers of boys (and girls) who throw tantrums. I’m sorry those of us who’ve been there and waited out storms ourselves don’t stop enough to offer words of encouragement when you need it most. Whoever you are, and whatever it may look like to the outside world, you are doing a good job.

You are.




We had young visitors last week.

Here are some things I knew once about five-year old boys that I’d forgotten:

When you are a five-year old boy, making sounds with your body is absolutely hilarious, and so you do it as often as humanly possible even if nobody around you is nearly as amused as you are.

Five is the year when everyone keeps asking you if you’re excited about starting kindergarten. You tell people “yes” even if you are a little scared about the whole school thing. People a lot bigger than you keep telling you that you are a “big boy” even though you don’t feel very big at all.

Five is sweet one minute and naughty the next.

Five does not flush. Ever.

Five loves potato chips. Other acceptable food items include hot dogs (boiled, not grilled), tacos (meat and cheese only and no hard shells…yuck…) and bacon smothered in ketchup. Five can survive a week eating only these items and ice cream.

Five loves casting his line over, and over, and over. The actual fishing part? Not so much.

Five loves to swim if it means someone else will take off the leeches between his toes.

Five will still let you in the bathroom to help with his bath before bed.

Five will still let you kiss him goodnight.

Five is all “watch me!” and “help me!” and “just two more minutes!” It is stepping on bugs and asking five million questions.  Five is pretending to be a superhero one minute and a dinosaur the next. It is poking at your older sister just to hear her yell and learning to pet the dog gently so she’ll play with you. Five is a fun, frustrating, age to be.

I have been out of the hands on, little kid, full-time parenting gig for a really long time.   Now that Five and his sister, Nine, have gone home, I am remembering my own two children at the same ages. The memories are precious.

I might add that I am currently doing all this remembering while sprawled out on the couch. Next to the dog.

Who appears to be completely exhausted.




Summers off

From 2017

Oh, middle of August, you’ve arrived too soon again.  You do this to me every stinkin’ year.

Last Spring, when I posted my grades, you seemed so far away that I had a hard time imagining you’d ever come back around. That’s how it is every year for teachers, I suppose. Even ones like me who really, really, like teaching.You finish one academic year and have this span of time that feels like it will last and last so you diddle around for at LEAST the first month reading dumb stuff you don’t read the rest of the year and staying up much too late and sitting in the sun when you could be getting ready for the next semester. Besides, you have all these people in your life who keep telling you that you are lucky because you have summers “off” so how can you NOT take a little Vacay, right? Can I get an Amen, Teachers?

And you have PLENTY of time to get ready, you assure yourself. After all, you’ve just finished grading about a million essays and your mind needs to rest. So you take a little break from thinking about anything even remotely related to the teaching of other human beings for at least the first month. Then, before you know it, the 4th of July has come and gone. And again, you say to yourself (only this time, with a little less conviction) that there’s still time to do All the Things you need to do before a shiny new semester begins. You aren’t quite as sure as you were in June, though. So you get a little jumpy and start prepping and rearranging and re-tooling what you’ve done in the past. You plan where you want your students to go in the sixteen weeks you have to meet course objectives. If you’re smart, you have your ducks in a row before August ever arrives.

At least this is how it is supposed to work.  And most years, it does, for most teachers. Because teachers know, without a doubt, that this sweet last month of summer that looks long on the calendar, this month of warm days and cool nights so perfect for sleeping, is over in a snap. A snap, I tell you. So a teacher had  better make sure her ducks are lined up nice and straight by the second week of August when workshops and Inservices start for most teachers.

My ducks are looking pretty good for the most part considering that this is my nineteenth year teaching college freshmen who incidentally, just happen to be the most interesting humans in the world. A lot has changed in those nineteen years, and a lot hasn’t. One of the very best things about teaching is the fresh start every fall semester. New names and faces make the same classes and curriculum come alive for me each year. This is true even after nearly two decades of teaching some of the classes. I wonder what it will be like when I retire and no longer measure time in terms of sixteen week semesters.

Luckily, that’s still a few years off. This year, I will learn their names and come to know their strengths and work with them to learn how to write with purpose and skill. This August,  I still believe that teaching is a calling. That it is holy, sacred work. If an August ever arrives that I don’t feel that way, I’ll know it will be time to leave. Stay at the lake a few weeks longer into the fall. Maybe hire myself out to paint a kitchen or something. Who knows? Time will tell.

But not this August. Nope. This August, I still believe it with all my heart.

Zinnia envy

It’s the first week of August, and my tomato plants are pretty much toast.

The three sad, green, ping-pong balls masquerading as tomatoes attached to the four plants in my raised beds have holes. Yes. You read that correctly.  Four different plants. Three ping-pong balls. One of the plants has tipped over despite my best attempts to keep it upright.  The other three plants are getting yellow. They’ve had more than enough rain, but the sunshine is spotty where the box is.

My zinnias, on the other hand, are glorious.  They thrive on neglect. You just plant them and forget about them. If I could eat zinnias, I’d be canning them right now. Alas, zinnias are only good for enjoying as bright pops of color against the garage or in a vase on the dining room table. Zinnias make me happier than tomatoes do, anyway. Every spring, I tell myself that I need to buy more zinnia plants and then I get cheap and don’t. Now, when I pass by homes and a particular garden store with rows of the things just begging to be picked, I get an overwhelming urge to stop and pick All The Zinnias.

So far, I have restrained myself. I do not want my life partner to have to explain to our adult children that their mother was arrested for picking zinnias she didn’t plant herself.  They might take off work and rush to the jail where they would whisper in hushed, worried, tones outside of my cell. I would hear “Mom’s losing it” more than I’m comfortable with, no doubt.

And so, to avoid this, I keep driving.

To the farmer’s market for a couple of tomatoes for dinner.

Okay, and maybe all the zinnias, too.