Christmas Past, Christmas Present, Christmas Future

Christmas Past

This is my favorite Santa picture of my children, circa 2003.

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We have one who is losing it, one who is trying to hold it all together, and one who looks like he just farted.

It’s a classic, really.

If we are going to discuss Christmas Past, let’s dial it way back, shall we?

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Again, with the farting,

My small Ohio hometown used to print children’s letters to Santa in the local newspaper.  If I were going to write one today, it would include an alarm that sounded every time a piece of laundry hit the floor, but one of those high pitched alarms that only teenagers can hear. And world peace.

Christmas Present

The decorating and shopping are finished  As family tradition holds, we have baked cookies, delivered some to neighbors, and displayed a complete lack of self control in eating the dozens that remained.

The season has included two trips (for me) to Downtown Chicago – one with my Mom,

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one with Cheerio and friends,

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both with pizza and doughnuts.  In case you are wondering, the winning combination thus far is Pizano’s (pizza) and Glazed and Infused (doughnuts). More research is required.

Christmas Future

This time next year, Cheerio will be a teenager, the boy will be a fully licensed driver, and I will be anxiously awaiting the return of the oldest to the nest.

Never mind the future. Let’s just focus on the present.

Hoping this holiday finds you well fed and well loved and filled to the brim with whatever you wish.

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This Is Adolescence – Seventeen

As I write this, I am visiting a tree farm in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. There is an old farmhouse, a gazebo, a barn, and a pond. No internet. No TV. There is my family – husband, children, my parents and our dog.
We are here because it was her wish. She sits in the yellow lounge chair looking out over the pond with her tea and oatmeal resting on a tray atop her lap. She will turn eighteen soon and asked to mark these last moments of her childhood with a quiet weekend away with her family.

This is Seventeen.

This is Seventeen

Seventeen is ACTs and college visits. It’s football games and dances and “Can I take the car?” Her calendar is full and her to-do list teems with appointments and work and assignments and application deadlines. Seventeen is forging a path toward her future.

Seventeen throws the frisbee in the street with her younger brother, knowing that the time to do so is limited and fleeting. She sits behind her little sister on her bed twisting her straight wet hair into braids so that she can have curls in the morning. Seventeen whispers to me later, “She will turn thirteen without me here.” She is mourning the path already traveled and the moments that she will miss while she is out forming moments and memories that are hers alone.

Seventeen drives to Chipotle to eat dinner with friends. She makes the very best omelet you have ever tasted and bakes brownies at ten o’clock at night for a meeting she’s running after school the next day. She grows more capable of sustaining herself everyday, but still wears that comforted look when a mom-made grilled cheese sandwich is placed before her, sliced into two triangles with white cheese oozing from the middle. I watch that contented smile stretch across her face as she takes her first bite and I think, I will make her a grilled cheese sandwich whenever she asks, even when she is forty, just to see that smile.

This is Seventeen too

Seventeen goes to work hostessing at a local restaurant and earns a paycheck that she deposits in her newly opened checking account. She swipes her debit card to pay for her after work snack and stops by the grocery store to pick up supplies for a party at school. But her Dad makes sure her tank is full and her mom visits Target to buy her the shampoo she likes. Responsibilities are shifting from our shoulders to hers, not all of a sudden though, but ounce by ounce so that she can get used to the weight and we can get used to its absence.

Seventeen discusses social issues and history and religion and the happenings of the world from a place of knowledge and depth. Experience will add points and planes and fill out the edges, but her emotions and ideas are valid and of value. Seventeen year olds possess perspectives that are too easily dismissed as young and naive by those of us who passed seventeen long ago. I cringe when I hear myself do it, when I feel my face smirk in condescension. She has a lot to learn, but a lot to teach as well. Seventeen is capable of real connection, real contribution, real love. I should know. I was seventeen when I met her father.

She takes the train to the city to hang out with friends. She drives to Wisconsin to attend a graduation party. She takes a bus to an overnight college visit. I hold my breath while she is gone, trying to block the mental images of all that could go wrong. I grasp for the memories of myself at seventeen and the hunger I harbored for independence and freedom. I know the shifts and changes and defining experiences surging toward her as she straddles the line between child and adult. Now is the time to test the waters. Now is the time to venture further while still returning to the comfort and safety of home every night. I know these things to be true, but that doesn’t stop the worry. The worry is always there. I suppose it always will be.

Seventeen marks the end of something and the beginning of so much more. She looks ahead with eager excitement, then behind with nostalgic sadness. I do the same.

I wish for her, my Seventeen, all of the adventures that she seeks. The thoughts of her moving on, her exit from childhood, are omnipresent these days. A lump has permanently lodged itself in my throat; the sadness, undeniable. But this sadness is outweighed by my excitement for all that awaits her. It is outweighed by the gratitude I feel to know her and for the chance I have to watch her soar.

I look at her, my Seventeen, her feet tucked behind her on that yellow lounge chair, her black curls falling out of a messy ponytail, and I see a woman before me. She wears the same big smile she wore when she was a girl. The sound of her laugh fills the room, just as it did the first time we heard it. Her eyes light up when she is immersed in nature in the same way that they always have.

And my breath catches at the sight of her, in the same way that it always will.

Seventeen is an ending and a beginning. The next chapter is cued, the page nearly turned. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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This essay is part of the This Is Adolescence series. Since writing this my Seventeen has become an Eighteen. I look forward to reading all about 18 next week here. I also urge you to read beautifully written essays detailing 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16. I hope that you enjoy them as much as I have.

This is the Farm

This is the farmhouse where the record plays
And the grandparents, the dog, and the twelve year old stays.

Lundgren Tree Farm

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This is the barn where the critters abound,
The teenagers bunk and the art hangs around.

Lungren Tree Farm - barn

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This is the gazebo, the rowboat, the pond,
Yellow chairs sit waiting and the bridge leads beyond…

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…into the woods where moss carpets the ground,
The pine smell hangs freely and absorbs every sound.

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We stayed at the Lundgren Tree Farm in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (just over the Wisconsin border) for a long weekend in October. We traveled there at our nearly eighteen year old daughter’s request to unplug and unwind with family.

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The farmhouse, built in the 1880’s, was bought in the 1960’s, along with the surrounding acreage, by a judge/artist who planted thousands of trees and renovated the barn to include an office, an artist studio, and two bedrooms. He left behind his artwork and vast record and book collection for his family and their guests to enjoy. The farm is rustic and rough around the edges and not for everyone (insert sounds of critters in the night here), but it was a perfect place for our family to reconnect with nature and each other while disconnecting from everything else.

There was a campfire,

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many walks in the woods,

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and time spent lounging and reading and playing games.

 

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There may have been some time spent in a tree with an axe and war paint after hearing “wolves” at dusk. Don’t even ask.

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I scoffed at my husband’s slack line purchase, but like the unicycle and giant bubble maker, we got our money’s worth out of it, and he wins the “I was right” crown once again.

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There were wild turkeys and deer, pileated woodpeckers and bald eagles. Of course, I only got a picture of a squirrel, so you’ll just have to take my word about the rest.

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Meals were shared.
Adventures were had.
Time was spent well.

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Life is good.

Homecoming

They came in droves, in capes, and in wizard hats. They carried wands and smiles and snacks to share. The pile of shoes by the door grew larger until it nearly filled our entire porch. I stopped counting pairs once the second layer started.

My husband and I took shifts answering the door and pointing teenagers in the direction of the basement. There were ones I knew well and ones I was meeting for the first time. They shook my hand in greeting before descending the stairs, each new person receiving the same raucous cheer. By the time the last arrived, the basement had become a convection oven, a wall of heat formed of teenage energy. But that didn’t stop them from clapping and greeting each new arrival, yelling her name, welcoming him, no matter who he was, into their magical night.

Do you know what it feels like to be received like that? To be welcomed as you are and embraced so fully and openly? I don’t know if I do, not anymore at least. Adults don’t greet each other that way. Adults have a lot to learn.

Many were here in lieu of the homecoming dance. Many arrived after leaving the dance early. In our community, Homecoming weekend is a time of celebration. There are football games and a pep rally and a community parade.

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The weekend culminates, of course, with the Homecoming dance. A homecoming dance is not for everyone though. Some feel uncomfortable in the crowd. Some feel unwelcome. Many, my daughter included, have tried it before and know, by the time they are seniors, that it is simply not for them.

Knowing this, Rosebud planned an alternative where everyone who chose to would be welcomed and accepted. The party only began at our house before moving to an all night Harry Potter Laser Tag event (hence the capes, wands, and wizard hats). By 10:30, they had all cleared out and headed for the laser tag venue, but not before thanking us profusely for the many boxes of pizza and the use of our basement. Many of them even apologized for the noise level. Many grabbed cups and food boxes to throw in the garbage on their way out. I vacuumed the popcorn out of the carpet, preparing the basement for round two – my son and his friends spending the night after returning from the dance.

We hear all of the time about the hard part of raising teens. And yes, sometimes it is HARD. But I’m here to tell you that, if you can look past the eye rolls and hear beyond the audible sighs; if you can wade through the shoes at your door and the popcorn on the floor; there is something beyond. There are lessons offered that can only be learned from the young.

I don’t mean to paint a perfect picture. High School can be a brutal place. There are cliques and drugs and bullies. But, there are also some incredible young people there – people who work very hard to do well and choose well.

People who will welcome you into the room with laughter and cheers, no matter who you are.

I was lucky enough to be in the presence of some of those very people Homecoming weekend. For those of you who worry for the future in the hands of today’s youth; for those who lament the passing of the “good old days;” for those world-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket types, I have some people I would like you to meet.

My daughter returned home the next morning, the good energy of the previous night still radiating in her smile. She hugged us and thanked us for allowing her to have so many people over. My husband and I nodded and looked at each other as she headed off to bed. We both know what’s coming, the leaving that lies ahead. We grin at each other through cloudy eyes.

It was a very good weekend.

Twelve

My Cheerio,

You had your first swim meet this weekend. Competing against swimmers who have been doing this for years, you stepped up to that platform and dove headfirst into the water.

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I don’t know if I would have had the courage at your age to do that – not the diving in part, but the trying something new part. I watched you, your events marked on your arm with Sharpie, shuffling your feet as you waited your turn. That shuffle is your tell, a dead giveaway for nerves.

Nervous, scared, anxious, but taking the leap anyway. Never let anyone tell you that you are not brave.

You turned twelve on Tuesday. Twelve years ago we brought you home to our Kentucky country home and the days started whizzing by. Now, here we are, in our Chicago suburban home with a 5’4″ sixth grader. I’m not sure what happened in between to make you who you are, but I am grateful for every last second of it.

Welcome to Twelve, my love.

Mom

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Don’t Freak Out and Don’t Go Fetal.

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These were the wise words of advice our instructor, Spencer, offered when asked if there was anything that we should NOT do during our iFLY Indoor Skydiving adventure. I think this advice could be applied to the rest of life.

Overwhelmed with work?
Don’t freak out and don’t go fetal.

It’s time to drive with your teen?
Don’t freak out and don’t go fetal.

About to drop your kid off at college?
Don’t freak out and don’t go fetal.

Entering a 14 foot wide circular flight chamber with 80-175mph winds rushing up from the floor?
Don’t freak out and don’t go fetal.

That Spencer; he’s a wise one.

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Honestly, I wasn’t scared or nervous about doing this. I’m not afraid of heights and, being married to an engineer, I have every confidence in the smart people who design such things. Plus, look at them. They make it look so easy. Like napping on a cloud.

My confidence only grew when our friends at iFLY told us that the youngest person to fly was three and the oldest was 103. 1-0-3!!! I would like to have coffee with that person.

After meeting in the lobby, our merry group of bloggers ascended to the top floor where we toured the conference rooms used for corporate events, birthday parties, and education programs. The field trips they offer include more than just flying. Students learn about the physics, math, and engineering behind it.

I would just like to add that we went to the roller rink for field trips when I was in school where we learned Chemistry by mixing all of the flavors of pop. That’s soda for you people not from Ohio.

After the short tour, we headed into the instruction room to watch a video and learn the hand signals. Nothing too complicated or frightening. We also learned that no one has ever thrown up in this flying chamber, so that was reassuring.

Next it was time to get suited up for flight. There may have been someone singing “I’m So Fancy…”

Okay. It was me.

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Kari and I are ready for takeoff. Or something.

Spencer asked for a volunteer to go first. After a quick scan of my fellow fliers who were all actively avoiding eye contact, I said I’d do it.

The first order of business was for all of us to step out onto the net for a picture (They hadn’t turned the wind on yet). It felt a lot like walking over the grates on the sidewalk in Chicago, minus the smell. It was slightly terrifying and I didn’t realize the purpose of this exercise until later, when we were eating lunch, and Tracey said, “They just brought us out there on the net all at once to show us that the net was strong enough to hold us.”

Ah, yes. That Tracey. She’s a wise one.

We entered the waiting chamber while the controller guys turned on the air. Spencer waited for me at the door. I took a few deep breaths and tried to remember the simple things he had taught us about entering the chamber. I was basically going to let myself fall into Spencer’s awaiting arms and he would help my body stabilize until I was ready to fly solo.

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My first flight lasted one minute. Let me tell you right now, it feels a lot longer than a minute. I was unaware of how taxing it would be on my body or of how much my cheeks (the face kind) would flap when I smiled. I left the tunnel exhilarated and slightly exhausted and with a fair amount of spit around my mouth (the smiling was worth it). I have a newfound respect for people who jump out of airplanes.

After watching my friends take their first turns, I was up again. I unsuccessfully tried to relax my body before entering. For anyone thinking of doing this, I would say that relaxing your body is key. It is so natural to tensely hold your position, but I think I would have been better off if I had loosened up a bit. I wasn’t terribly sore the next day, but I could definitely feel it (and it was definitely worth it).

My second flight included a high flight where Spencer held on to my flight suit and flew me to the top of the tunnel while spinning in circles.

It was awesome. I may have even used the word Badass.

There are 32 iFLY facilities around the world with many more under construction. Two of those facilities are in the Chicago area (Rosemont and Naperville). The cost of 2 -one minute flights is 69.95 per person. For those of you looking for holiday gift, maybe even for yourself, Costco is selling iFLY gift cards for $39.99, including a video clip.

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I don’t know if I will ever willingly jump out of an airplane. And hopefully never unwillingly. But I am so thrilled to have had this experience. I thank my friend, Jen, for the invite and the good people at iFLY Naperville for providing me with this opportunity. Also, a special thank you to Spencer for not making fun of the flapping cheeks or the spit.

Photo Credit: iFLY Chicago

Photo Credit: iFLY Chicago

Now everybody sing with meI believe I can fly-y-y.  I believe I can touch the sky-y-y…

Disclosure: I flew courtesy of iFLY with the understanding that I would write a post about my experience. The words and opinions are all mine.

Hello. I’ve missed you. Here is a bunch of random stuff.

While I sat outside the froyo shop eating my lunch (and by lunch, I mean frozen deliciousness) and watching people hurry in and out of the gym next door, my husband was on a mountaintop in Hawaii watching the sun rise. His plane to Taiwan only had two working lavatories so they had to land in Hawaii. He had a Hawaiian potty break.

But I had salted caramel and graham cracker frozen yogurt topped with hot fudge and waffle come pieces. It was my own creation. I call it Hawaiian Sunrise.

My daughter is buried in college applications right now and I find myself saying “Did you do…?” enough that I am beginning to hate the sound of my own voice. I know, I know…It’s her process…blah, blah, blah…She’s in the driver’s seat. But I’m such a good driver.
I anxiously await the day when she hits “submit” for the final time. Then all there is to do is wait. And watch movies. And do some shopping. And eat froyo.

I spent the majority of the last two days purging and deep cleaning bedrooms with my other two kids. I cannot lie. Watching those bags of trash and donations pile up and be hauled away? It makes me kind of high.
Now they all have hampers without lids sitting out in the open in the hopes that the dirty clothes will never see the floor.
To those of you with t(w)eenagers, I can see you chuckling right now. Don’t burst my naive, hopeful bubble.

I am going indoor skydiving tomorrow. I think that is what they call it. I intend on staying alive and shouting “HELLO DOWN THERE” and eating Naf-Naf for lunch. Those are tomorrow’s goals.  Maybe I’ll make pumpkin muffins, too.

I’ll let you know how it goes.