This was the Summer Dad Died, and it’s over.

Tomorrow school starts and no matter the official calendar, summer is over. It wasn’t the best summer for me, for my siblings, my mom, my family. Not by a long shot. Not in the vicinity of any kind of long shot.

But summer happened, and I have four kids, and despite the awfulness that will forever mark this summer,  I hope I gave the kids loads of happy memories during this summer they’ll always remember as the summer Pop Died. Forever they will remember Pop Died and This is Where I Was and What I Did. And all of that will be part of their process, part of their childhood, part of what defines them, in even a small way. As is should be, I’m told.

They loved their Pop so much. Oh, my god. They did. They haven’t yet begun to realize how much they love him and how much they’ll miss him. And holy cow, how will I be able to help them figure that out?

After it happened, I wanted so much to give them a regular summer, to be a mom who finished her work and did fun things instead of sludging from a puddle of grief to do something other than let the kids watch yet another marathon session of Psych episodes.

I think I did. At the best I got the kids out of the house for a few hours of swimming every day. We played some games. We went places. We hugged a lot. We all did our own thing sometimes. There might have been some random dancing. I only cried from time to time. Alright, a bit more than that.

My own memories of summer with growing up my family  have inspired me every day this painful season — if nothing else, I have remembered to smile and be grateful. Because that’s what summer means to me. Almost all of the best memories of my life are in the summer, and almost all of those memories involve my family.

The pain of losing Daddy is still raw. He loved every season for what each offered, but wow, how he loved summer (OMG, he was Olaf before Olaf was Olaf! But, not really, I guess.)

And he loved family. And since June 24 I’ve just spent time looking around and saying, dang. Daddy. This has been one fantastic summer. Not hot, not humid, an odd patch of weather for lower New England in the summer. Warm, brilliant sunshine, cool nights, perfect winds.

Then I realized — August has been exactly the kind of weather we enjoyed all of those summers in Mt. Lakes.  Which is a whole different post, I suppose. But, there it is.

Daddy, I’d like to say right now, school starts tomorrow. Mitzi is starting 7th grade and Cooper is entering 6th, both at the brand-new middle school Ray’s worked so hard at making a reality all these years. Ellie is already in love with her 4th grade class, and Joanna can’t wait to show off her ten-inches-shorter-hair PLUS her new cartwheels.

Me? I’m going to spend a couple of very early hours getting five people where they need to be. Then I’m going to take a shower, do some client work, revise some PBs (you’d like this one, I think, with all the puns and wacky sense of humor), and yes, I might take a nap, read a book, go for a run too. Well, maybe not a run, but perhaps a walk or maybe I’ll dust off my yoga mat. Or jut ride my bike around the block.

I’ll call Mom to check in, as it’s been a few days.

Daddy, how I wish you were here. I’d like to think that you’re “here” in the swirling netherworld of passed-on-ed-ness, and that’s good. Beautiful, even. I’m glad you’re at peace — I believe you are, because out of anyone I ever knew, peace is something you have earned, finally, and I have to believe that if peace is to be found, you’re right there.

But I miss you. I am not satisfied with the spiritual. I long for the tangible, not the ethereal. I wish you were here. Every day, for this whole perfectly beautiful summer, I have wished you were here. To see the kids’ backflips, the hands-free biking, to read the stories written, to listen to the newly crafted jokes. To witness the cousin love when we all get together, to watch the bonds forged, to see the miracle of ties knotted. To allow yourself to know, for real, that you had a very, very large part in the miracle unfolding before your eyes, that whatever else you think you didn’t do all that well, THIS happened.  To remind you to relish in the immense family you helped to build.

Aw, Daddy. I’m a writer. All of that is true. But mostly the whole point of all of this is — I wish you were here because I would sure like a hug. Or just to hold your hand for one more nanosecond. I wasn’t ready to let you go. I’m still not.

Daddy, I just miss you so much.

And holy cow, I bet you’d love to see those backflips at the pool.

 

Spring cleaning and a March Madness update

Obviously, A Mom’s World has a new look. I do this from time to time and hope it’s not unnerving to my readers. But I haven’t yet wanted to take the plunge into paying for a designer or a premium theme here, so until I do, I keep switching the look, hoping to find one I love. An illustrator friend of mine has generously offered to design a banner for me, but as she’s swamped with her actual, you know, paying work, I don’t know when it will happen. I am more happy to wait, though — her talent is more than worth it!

Here’s the March Madness update — Joanna and I were all set to have our day out last Friday, but a surprise snowstorm caused school to be first delayed, then cancelled altogether. She insisted on taking Monday off instead, so we did. Unfortunately, as it turns out, a lot of stuff for kids is closed on Mondays! We had a great breakfast out, but couldn’t get a lane at the bowling alley (a seniors’ league had overtaken the whole place) and the arcade wasn’t open at all. Neither of those bits of information were on the websites, which we checked on Sunday night. There’s little to do at the YMCA midday — I mean, kids aren’t really expected, right? — so we putzed around with errands and lunch and games and a stop to the dollar store, where I bought her a bunch of plastic stuff she would’ve won at the arcade anyway. She seemed content, especially when I promised I’d take her to the arcade when no one was looking.

The local bowling alley

The local bowling alley

Ellie asked for her day to be Wednesday. We also started off with breakfast out, and were lucky to get an alley for bowling. I refused to take her to the arcade, knowing how hurt her sister would be. Wednesday was an unusually beautiful day — sunny, mid-50s — and we played outside quite a bit. She said it was the best day ever! Cooper and Mitzi are already planning their days.  Hopefully, dollar store purchases will not be on the agenda.

So far, the experiment seems to be successful. I still find it amazing and a little embarrassing that I have to go to such extremes to find alone time with my kids. But that’s the reality right now, and I guess embracing it is better than ignoring it. Right?

You only get so many chances to make a child feel special, and you just have to make each one count.

March Madness, family style

One night not too long ago, as I kissed her good night, Joanna whispered in my ear: “I really miss being in kindergarten because I used to get to spend so much time with you.”

My heart sort of broke a little.

It’s true that with our town’s half-day kindergarten program, we did spend a lot of time together last year. We didn’t do anything special — lunch, stories, a game, and an hour of quiet time (she watched TV and I sat on the couch next to her, listening to Caillou or Max and Ruby with my eyes closed). It wasn’t exciting, but it was just us two, alone. And in a house with six people, alone time is pretty rare.

I gave Joanna another kiss and promised that soon, soon, we’d find some time.

I’m still looking.

Lately I’ve been feeling that everything is moving too fast. The days are filled and busy and fun and go-go-go, and we try to have family time in the form of playing board games or watching movies, but I can’t help but somehow feel like my kids’ childhoods are just slipping through my fingers like sand.

Sometimes I feel like I don’t know them that well any more.

March MadnessSo I decided to put an end to it, starting this month. I’m calling it March Madness (well, of course), because my idea is really, truly mad.

This month, once a week, I’m keeping each of the kids home from school for the day, so I can spend that entire day just with that kid. I don’t know what we’ll do — get out into the world, go to the Y or to the park or the movies or out to lunch, to the craft store or the rec center or wherever that kid wants to go. I’ll take the day off from work and writing and Facebooking and Twittering, and even from the Blueboards, and start to get to know that kid all over again.

It’s sounds almost embarrassing to write it down, that I’d need to do this. But, I don’t know. Four kids, busy days, nonstop life. I find pockets here and there for each one (bed time, errand-running, any chance I get to make each of my children feel special and unique and well-loved and well-liked), but it doesn’t seem like enough, not right now. They’re not far from being teenagers, and then they’ll be even busier and more outwardly focused, and somehow it seems that if I don’t start now, later will be too late.

I plan to make March Madness a seasonal thing (October Mayhem? January Blizzard Buster?), so it’s not once a year that a child sees Mom for a day, alone, especially at this age when spending a day with Mom is actually a fun thing, not an annoyance. A day just for that child to stand out, be special, a day when a child can pretend he or she is the only kid on the planet, the most important kid in the universe.

I’m starting this week, and I’m starting with Joanna.

Let the madness begin!

Have you done anything like my March Madness with your family? How do you find “quality time” with your kids?

Ode to Wednesday

I think everyone has a favorite day of the week. Some people like Fridays, the end of the work week, a chance to have a few beers and some pizza in front of the TV, maybe, or just because on Friday, you know you don’t have to wake up the next morning before the sun. Others like Sundays, for the slower pace and fat newspapers and an afternoon of football or taking the kids some place fun.

My favorite day is Wednesday. I know, it’s Thursday today, and a fantastic one at that — it’s a quintessential Massachusetts fall day today, with bright sunshine and a cool breeze that makes the leaves swirl off the trees and the Halloween decorations dance from front porches. Fall is my season, and a day like today is my perfect.

But it still is Thursday, which means my beloved Wednesday is over.

The midweek day is a respite for me, a break in the chaos of the other six. By Wednesday, we all have ourselves organized and settled into the daily routine, and our mornings are not rushed as they are on Mondays. The day is also the only one that no one has any sports or activities, which it’s a great chance for the kids to have after-school fun with their friends, unfettered by anything other than homework (which makes them happy, and happy kids means less bickering among them, which makes a happy Mom). It means we can eat dinner at a reasonable hour. We can relax after and read stories or play games or draw pages of pictures. It’s a day that lets us re-energize for all the others.

Today is a glorious one, and I’m charging up my iPod, ever optimistic that I’ll find some time for a walk in the woods. My mood is positive; I am hopeful. And I’m holding the peace of Wednesday in a safe spot in my mind, so when the crazy returns (football practice from 6-7:30, basketball tryouts at 6, mounds of homework and projects and chores), I’ll have the touchstone to remind me that, yes, peace can always be found.

 

 

A new school year: it’s not just for kids.

This is the week that many parents are wiping away tears, amazed that their babies are starting this grade or that grade or heading off to college or finally accepting a full time job and signing an apartment lease.

I am not one of those parents. Back-to-school does not break my heart. 

Okay, at the bus stop yesterday, the first day of school, I was a little weepy when Joanna told me that I could cuddle with her beloved stuffed Snuggle Puppy after lunch, since she, as a first grader, would finally be in school all day, and I’d be left alone for afternoon “quiet time hour.”  I am stunned that it’s a short year until Mitzi begins the seventh circle of school hell — middle school. I cringe that soon I will have to talk to fourth-grade Cooper about…um, boy stuff. And I can’t quite figure out how Ellie all of a sudden became this person in second grade who reads full books and calls friends and ties her own shoes and does not look back (although she hugs me the hardest, and that is always heart-squeezing.)

But mostly, I smiled. And, inside, I did a little dance.

It’s been 10 years since I’ve had more than 2 hours to myself on any given day. This summer was supposed to be laid-back, easy. And it was. Kind of. We had some fun. We did a bunch of stuff.  But after a few weeks, the kids were too much together, too much in each other’s spaces, and there was too much conflict. By August, I was ready for school to start. By mid-August, so were they. Not because they don’t love each other or me (they do, I know), but everyone was just ready for their own *space.* For routine.

We had a last-blast weekend on Cape Cod over Labor Day — the first family vacation in over a year. It was whirlwind and amazing and even more special because it was so short and we had like thirty-five seconds to squeeze in every tradition we could manage before moving onto the next. And every minute that I spend with my kids I am grateful (okay, sometimes it’s hectic and irritating too, and a whole lot of work, but mostly, when I breathe deeply and step back, I am grateful that I have been blessed with these four incredible, mysterious and amazing creatures).

Still, today was the second day of school and I was…peaceful. Unrushed. I have been cleaning (long overdue) and am spending this week trying to get organized so that starting next week I can use my time productively. Do my paying job. Post here. Focus on the freelance work (hey, I have an essay in Family Fun magazine’s September issue!). Revise the MG. Revise a few picture books. Write something new! Query agents! Get back to the yoga mat. Go for walks. Take better care of myself — mind and body and creativity — so I can take better care of my family.

What I love about school, for my kids, is that it’s a chance for each of them to stand out as individuals — and I see it in their eyes and hear it in their words when they come home every day, that they are starting down the road which will lead them to themselves. Letting go is not entirely hard for me — letting go is when their wings unfurl and what’s more beautiful than that? — and letting go does not mean saying good-bye. After all, home is where they return to, and home is safe, and home is Mom and Dad, and home is what gives them the power to fly again tomorrow.

Leaving, coming back. Building muscles, resting. That’s what growth is.

After 10 years, I’m ready to start down that same road. I will always be first and foremost a mother. But I am also more than that. And by attending to the latter, I can be better at the former. Six hours a day  just for me?

I might even invite a friend to lunch. I might take a nap. I might start a business.

I can use the time to finally forge ahead in the career I have been trying for, longing for.

I might rediscover me.

The school day, six hours long — school, six hours of creativity and learning and growth. September is not the official grown-up New Year, but who says it’s just for kids?

Parents — it’s your school year too. Let’s make the most of it!

Warm weather, new flowers, and kids roaming free. Or not?

Spring has sprung! Let the wild rumpus begin!

Around here, we’ve seen pretty mild temperatures for weeks, but now we can officially adorn shorts and flip flops without reservation. The kids are thrilled to be spending as much time as they possibly can outdoors, and from what I’ve seen driving around, every other child in town feels the same way — they’re out in yards or on their bikes or just wandering down to the Cracker Barrel for a slushie.

Which has me wondering –at what age is it okay to do this?

We live on a pretty busy street that doesn’t have a sidewalk — well, there is one, but you have to cross the street to get on it (no crosswalk) or walk over a neighbor’s yard to cross another street (no crosswalk) to get to the sidewalk on our side. From there you can use a crosswalk. So, when we bike or scoot or walk somewhere, I inch out and stop traffic so my ducklings can make their way without fear.

Needless to say, I’ve been hesitant about letting the older kids wander freely. Which is not to say I don’t — I’ll stop traffic so Mitzi can cross to meet a friend who lives down the street. Or for Cooper, so he can drag his hockey stick to his buddy’s house in the development across from us. But letting them go makes me a little nervous.

Still, they’re 10 and 9 and we live in a pretty safe town. When I see clusters of kids ambling along in the bright spring sunshine, I realize that perhaps I’m ready to take the plunge. I have to trust that my own kids are smart enough not to stumble into traffic or walk on the train tracks or get into a car with a stranger. That they can walk to the corner store for a bottle of water and nothing bad will happen.

I read a blog post on Boston.com yesterday on this very topic. The author articulates very well why we adults today have this deep fear of letting our kids roam free, and nicely sums up why our fears might actually be more irrational than based in reality. For instance, a child has more chance of being abducted by a relative than a stranger, and we have more in place to help protect our children (for instance, Amber Alert). But our fear persists, and she wonders if it has something to do with the immediacy of media — when something bad happens, the news spreads quickly and loudly, and scares the bejeebers out of parents everywhere.

But we do have to let them go, eventually. We have to trust that we’ve helped them develop the skills they need to take these baby steps away from us, because, well, they need to become independent eventually. Small ways first, certainly, but parents know better than anyone how fast the years go by, and before we know it, they will be heading off alone.

I think of this as I watch Cooper jog up the street, clutching a stick in one hand and a puck in the other. He gets to the corner and waves at me, then disappears around the bend. My heart squeezes and I close my eyes. In my mind, I can see him galloping along, his friend meeting him halfway, can almost hear their laughter whipping on the wind as they slap one shot after another into the driveway net.

It’s time to let my little ducks try to make their way.

As long as they call me when they get there.

New look

Yes, faithful readers, I’m trying on a new look.  It’s spring, after all.  I can use a fresh start.

I am about to go into overload if the weather doesn’t shift soon.  I love New England — part of the lure for me is its bipolar weather personality.  Sure, the old joke goes, if you don’t like the weather now, wait 15 minutes.  It’ll change.

I love that my crocuses have bloomed amid lingering snow drifts.  I love that it’s 50 degrees out and despite the chilly sea breeze my  kids race around in short sleeves, because “it’s soooooooo hot!”

I’m ready for the real change.  I’m ready to stop putting on on the late afternoon hoodie to fend off a four o’clock chill.  I’m ready to greet the day at 6:30 a.m. with a quick outside sun salutation instead of a swift donning of my terry robe.

Of course, by July I’ll be complaining of the humidity.

We all need to move on, to grow, to change.  The kids are restless and whenever I can I let them loose outside.  I also let them be, without too much direction, as we were as children.  I monitor the busy road we live on and make sure no one nears it, but when it comes to climbing trees or swinging, I close my eyes and breathe.

Trust.  Growth.  A tree can be climbed.  Kids can invent and discover and argue and fight and mend, all with little or no grownup intervention.

The world is different, yes.  But I don’t think my micromanaging the kids helps any of us.  I’ve been demoted.  Just a little.  It’s hard and freeing all at once.

Spring is all about renewal, rebirth, change.

Here in A Mom’s World, we relish it.  Join us.  Celebrate.  Cheer!  Go outside now and be silly.  Laugh from your belly. (You all have that friend with the greatest laugh in the whole world.  Copy her, right now!)

Ouch.  Change hurts.  But stretch, bend.  Breathe.  Enjoy the ride.

And whatever else you do, laugh out loud.