The Gift That Keeps Giving

My oldest daughter Bonnie, gifted me a Storyworth book in the spring of 2021, which is a series of questions picked out by my grown kids that is turned into a book after a year’s worth of weekly questions. This book will be given to myself, and my four kids, and it is a wonderful, thoughtful, gift.

Little did I know how much of my past this exercise would dredge up – both good and bad. And little did she know it would pull out some interesting conversations between us all. But it’s also been a very cool journey…a way of reminding me how far I’ve come, and maybe bringing to mind issues that even now need to be addressed. It’s crazy though, that since I’m a writer, I can’t just jot an answer down and let it go. My daughter asked recently about how many I’d completed, and I had to admit I hadn’t done it every week as the questions came, I kind of picked the ones I thought would be more interesting and worked on those, but also…I have to edit and ponder these answers. Then find pictures to go along with them. Perhaps go back and edit again. It takes me a while, for sure!

My daughter rolled her eyes and laughed. But as I think about this, and that maybe I should be more quick about it, I realize that for many of these questions there IS no short response. These are major life events we’re talking about that happened maybe thirty or forty years ago, and they aren’t simple to remember, or to unpack now. Once this book is published, it’s out for perpetuity, right? In the hands of my kids and passed down for generations. It is definitely a daunting prospect and I don’t want to be cavalier about it, and I DO want to be truthful, which has caused a few raised eyebrows and objections from my kids.

And there it is. Now I have to think about the weighty subject of ‘how much of the truth is really necessary to share’ and ‘where IS the truth and does it really matter?’ and all that. Big sigh. Nope I can’t just jot down a memory and let it go, because all of it had and still has meaning and heft and motivations and consequences. I must turn it over, examine it, and mold it into some kind of life lesson.

Much to my kids’ everlasting despair.

I have to admit, I find the whole process very entertaining.

Summer Nights

I remember when a summer night was an excuse to get out of the house, find the nearest outdoor bar with ambiance (or not), drink Long Island Tea or Screwdrivers or Scotch & Soda with a twist…or whatever. It was party, party, all the time! And somehow, the next morning, I made it to work, and did a fairly good job managing the hangover.

Now I look back, scratching my head. How on earth did I do that?

I was in my twenties. That’s how.

In my thirties, I started having babies. And divorces. My thirties were a blur of joy and crisis, so I can’t even remember much of them. Summer nights meant getting the kids to bed, the bills paid, the house clean, and still having energy left over to read before bed. This was my recipe for a great summer night in my thirties!

My beautiful kids circa 2003

In my forties, I began to gain a semblance of sanity. And my kids became teen-agers. At this point, I began to drink wine, exclusively. No more cute, little, designer drinks that looked good but made me throw up. Wine, I could control. Summer nights amounted to a few lake weekends with girlfriends, and marathon talks with teen-agers, trying to instill common sense into all those hormones. Ha! Ha! What a futile task. But I did my best, and a great summer night was a relaxed discussion on the deck with one or two of my teen-agers.

In my fifties, I had the best time ever. My kids were grown and gone or going; I discovered online dating, I had a great job, I’d learned to recognize and avoid toxic relationships. My summer nights were spent on my backyard deck, drinking good wine (by this time I’d become somewhat fluent), and having marathon conversations with other single moms about kids, men, and, well…mostly, men. How to tell the right ones from the wrong ones, which sounds simple, but isn’t.

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The Blessing of Adult Children

I have fond memories of child-rearing. At least I think I do. I had four children in seven years. What was I thinking?

My kids were interesting exercises in self-awareness for me. For example, I confronted multiple distressing character issues while cleaning poop off the child, the crib sheets and wall at 2:30 a.m.

I trained them to sleep through the night easily, but potty training was a different story. After several attempts, I decided they were training me to put them on the potty at appropriate intervals. I didn’t see the point of putting the child on the potty until they actually made a connection. And I didn’t want pee-pee on my carpet, either. So they wore diapers until they got it.

As a wise woman once said, “I never saw a kid start school in diapers.”

They are now, at ages 28, 26, 23 and 21 — potty trained.

Hormone-laden teens...my daughters a few years ago...

Adolescence took me completely by surprise. The first one to hit this phase was female, and hysteria-ridden drama punctuated our home for years. (Two girls + five years apart = wildly fluctuating hormones and unavailable bathrooms for seven years.) I wasn’t sure I was going to survive, because by nature I am not a patient woman.

The boys shrugged their way through adolescence by becoming as invisible and silent as ghosts. A conversation with an adolescent boy goes something like this:

“Hi honey, how was school today?”

“Mmmmph.”

Goes into his bedroom and closes the door. Mom follows and tries again. Sits on the bed beside him.

She reaches out and tousles his hair fondly. Bad idea. He jerks his head away and fixes her with the evil eye. She remembers the cardinal rule of all adolescent boys, which is to not touch them. Especially in public.

My sons in their non-communicative (mostly) stage

Gamely, she continues, hands safely in her lap, “Well, how are you doing today? Got homework?”

He sighs. Looks out the window. Decides he is trapped. “Yep.” He glances at her, silently communicating his desire to be alone. His eyes are steely. His mouth is set in a firm line. She gives up and exits, mumbling something about dinner.

At least I could get the girls to talk. The boys did not give me a complete sentence for three years.

Late last summer,  Wal-Mart was crammed with stressed moms filling their carts with school supplies, and my mind jogged back in time to buying this stuff for four kids at once. I grinned as I scuttled past the three-ring binders, folders with pockets, index cards and highlighters without picking up a single item. Moms began to eye me strangely when I raised both my hands and silently mouthed “hallelujah.”

Presently my kids live on each coast and in between. Three of them are self-supporting, which is downright magical. My girls call me constantly, and their hormones have stabilized. My boys call frequently and I cannot get them to shut up.

On any given day I am invited to participate in various segments of their lives that would have been fiercely guarded a few years ago. Each of them begs us to move closer to them. I am delighted to find they paid attention, at least sometimes, to rants of mine that did, indeed, contain seeds of wisdom.

I find the whole process highly entertaining.

I now have four gifted, beautiful and adorable grandchildren.

I can’t wait to see what happens when these kids hit puberty. I will  murmur things to their parents like “I understand,” or “NO! Really? How could that happen?,” or “The school counselor said WHAT? Oh my goodness!,” and then I will snicker silently into the phone and thank God that these issues  are over for me.

Seriously.