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birthdays

The Week I Turned Fifty

Saturday: The Orientalist paintings of Ottoman artist Osman Hamdi Bey are my absolute favorites when it comes to puzzlin’. Each image conveys a snapshot of life from an era that now seems ancient but which, technically, only ended a hundred years ago — when my maternal grandfather was in his twenties. While some argue Osman Hamdi Bey’s paintings are revisionist, his perspective imperialist with regards to the outlying regions of Turkey, what matters to me is that his work is striking and captures very specific moments. I do love me a specific moment well captured. For the past few weeks, I’ve been working the edges and closing the gaps in my puzzle of Kahve Ocagi (loosely: coffee hearth), a puzzle I paid a nice man named Petr in the Czech Republic to send, thus putting temporarily to rest my anxiety about having completed all the Osman Hamdi Bey puzzles available for purchase in the United States. As the puzzle progresses, so does my obsession with its eleven shades of beige, its detailed tile work, its nuanced kilims. It’s good I don’t have a newborn, as that hungry babe would have to howl through the equivalent of “Bohemian Rhapsody” before I’d lift my head from this jigsaw.

Cup of coffee, you lazy bastard?

***

Sunday: My absorption in the puzzle is causing back pain, and my feet hurt, too, since I alternate between standhunching and squishing my tush onto a step-stool. The same way a masseuse or a hair dresser needs to be aware of body mechanics if he wants his career to last, I am finding that I need to develop new puzzling postures if I hope to be connecting pieces into my 90s, and what the hell else am I going to do in my 90s if not work on jigsaw puzzles and take up drumming?

Fortunately, Paco’s fencing class in the afternoon pulls me away from the lure of the flowered tiles. The kid isn’t feeling well, but he decides — in a noble decision doweseehownobleheisbeing? that emerges from the mist of a days’-long dramatic health sulk — to attend class. Incubating whatever crap laid his sister low a few weeks ago, he lacks energy, his throat hurts, and he thinks he might be getting a fever. None of this is obvious as he thrusts, parries, and bouts, his attention to detail apparent even as his system swoons. Front toe leading, knees bent, he glides across the wooden floor, back, forth, quick stepping with his partner in the give and take of the sport. As he sweats under his mask, assuring he’ll have a home-from-school fever by morning, Byron and I run and walk on the track that circles the class. Sometimes we stop and lift weights or stress our abdominals. Mostly, I spend the hour with one eye on my kid and the other on the crazy quilt of humanity that shows up on Sunday afternoons to use the track. For sixty whole minutes, my puzzle obsession recedes, only to rear again once we get home. I have to make myself take breaks to grade student work, to feign conversation, to watch an episode of The Great Pottery Throw Down (think The Great British Baking Show but with ceramics). Fortunately, Kiln Boy Rich is particularly charming on today’s episode, and Judge Keith pleases me by having a quick cry when he sees a contestant’s exemplary final product, so I manage to turn my back to the puzzle table. Later, much later, once the week’s grading is wrapped and everyone in the house has gone to sleep, I find homes for another ten puzzle pieces before heading upstairs to my other current obsession: The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

***

Monday: My phone has been broken for a month + a day, and the duo in charge of fixing it is proving so epically poor at communication and running a business that I’m happy to leave my Nexus 5x in their hands for as long as it takes for them to implode. In an alternate scenario, it could turn out that they hand the phone carcass back to me in a few more weeks along with a hefty bill and an apology that it’s still nonfunctional. Either way, these boys have me completely

Home sick, Paco enjoys the recounting of my latest conversation with the owner of the phone repair shop. Uncharacteristically, Owner Boy has reached out to give me an update on the status of my phone. His bowl of Fruity Pebbles must have been particularly satisfying this morning. What I enjoy most, as he details the new issues they’ve just unearthed with regards to the phone I zapped dead with boob sweat, is when he says, “And so we cleaned up the corrosion on the board. The whole process should have started with a moisture recovery.” Because I am the very soul of discretion, save for when I’m recounting stories to my family and on my blog, I do not tell Owner Boy that the day I dropped off my phone and explained the problem to Pony Tail Tech, he told me, “The first thing we’ll do is a moisture recovery.”

I do not tell this to Owner Boy because, a week ago, a few days after he’d hollered at me for calling the company to ask about my phone, he called to let me know he was tightening the screws on my replacement screen and that it could be picked up any time…except then he called me back again to ask if I could bring my charger cord when I came in since the phone was dead…except I had left my charger cord with them when I initially dropped off my phone…except Owner Boy couldn’t find it anywhere, but he was sure he had a cord at home that would work…except when I came the next day to pick up my repaired, charged phone, it wasn’t charged, and it was only when Pony Tail Tech came out to my car with me and plugged my phone into the cigarette lighter that he discovered it wasn’t fixed at all…and so that’s when they ordered another replacement screen…after which they discovered the screen wasn’t really the whole problem…because they should have started with a moisture recovery.

I do not tell Owner Boy he is the star of a narrative that opens and closes with the line “We should start with a moisture recovery.”

***

Tuesday: The day alternates between sitting and moving. Hell, they all do. But the shifts are dramatic, with Paco still home sick — a wan Victorian heroine on the chaise longue, his stays loosened, smelling salts on the feather-inlay hand-carved side table — contrasting with my commitment to a weekly long run. Glacially, I scratch out 11.36 miles (The .36 is important as it’s the part where I make deals with myself like “Just keep going until you get to the flag pole, girl, and then, if you really need to stop, you can”) before grabbing a shower and flinching at the red half-blisters left by my running bra, despite having applied a liberal swath of Vaseline along the underboob before heading out. Not incidentally, never, ever ask my phone about the traumas of Booblandia.

Legs tired, torso sore, I kick back during a global education committee meeting, particularly enjoying the part where I work in a three-minute summary of a novel I just read, The Association of Small Bombs, pushing it as pertinent to faculty who discuss terrorism with students. After the meeting, I dash to the optical store, pick up Allegra’s new glasses, stop at the grocery store for more of that delicious new Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP Real Butter Popcorn, and run into a friend in the parking lot. I know she’s a true friend, not mere acquaintance, because it takes no time before I’ve announced “women are exhausting” and she’s countered with “melatonin” and “moody.”

An hour later, during that rare window when we four in our family are all in the kitchen, hanging, debriefing, snacking, Allegra stands in front of me, as she sometimes does, angling for an extended hug. She will have to live another three decades before she has any inkling how much such embraces mean to me. After the release, we hook fingers and hold hands during a discussion about that evening’s band concert. She will be 17 next week — “You had me when you were 33, and now you’re almost 50, which means I’m almost 20, and none of that seems right!” — and already we know she will finish out her high school requirements next fall at the University of Minnesota-Duluth before graduating early. Already we know she will work and save money so that she can travel for a few months before college, wherever college ends up being. I am indeed almost 50, caught in the maternal half-held breath of “Every event feels like a ‘last’ at the same time everything feels possible.” Whenever I use the word “melancholy,” Allegra says, “At the end of our year in Turkey, when people asked how you felt about returning to the States, you always told them you were ‘melancholy.’ So even now, whenever I hear that word, I think of Turkey.” Whenever I hear the word “melancholy,” I think of my kids getting ready to fly.

At 7 p.m., the band concert starts. It is nearly one of her ‘last,’ yet I bend my head. Instead of staring at the far-away stage where my girl’s shining hair is barely discernible, I use a dim book light to read for an hour and a half, trying not to cackle out loud at Paul Beatty’s observational satire in The Sellout.

***

Wednesday: We drop Paco off at school a tidge late, confederates and compromisers in his desire to avoid riding the bus when he’s been oh-so-sick-hack-hack-cough-cough, and I have to clench fists to thighs to keep my arms from embracing the secretary in the school office who greets him with, “Oh, Paco, it’s so good to see you back. Are you feeling a little better, then?” There are 536 students who attend Paco’s school. PAY HER MORE.

Clicking our heels with kid-free abandon, Byron and I attend a boot camp class together, an hour that taxes and elevates in equal measure, an hour that rewards the peasant DNA which gifts me with the ability to hoist heavy things while being shouted at by an overlord, an hour where my husband and I literally yoke ourselves together with a strap and run a Spouse Yank around the track.

Yes, the Spouse Yank jokes are writing themselves, smutheads, and you’re very clever, aren’t you? 

After boot camp, as we drive to the bike shop to drop off Byron’s new tires for “truing,” the hero of my Every Spouse Yank drops an anecdote that makes me question if we know each other at all. How can he claim to love me and yet have kept this story to himself?

So.

One time, some half long time ago but maybe more like two years, Byron was in the locker room at the gym. And there was this guy. About 70 years old. Naked. Chatting.

As he held forth about, say, catching a particularly large walleye with his grandson, he casually lifted his foot onto a nearby stool, allowing his personal walleye a good dangle. It turns out he was propping his foot so as to improve air flow.

WHILE HE DRIED HIS PUBES WITH A GYM-ISSUE HAIR DRYER. 

He fluffed. He chatted.

AND THEN HE MOVED THE DRYER AROUND AND DRIED HIS BEHEINIE CRACK, TOO.

Huh.

I may be pushing the years, but still: I’m full of wonder. 

*** 

Thursday: Mike Birbiglia is this season’s “token white male” on an episode of the Sooo Many White Guys podcast. As I listen to him talk with host Phoebe Robinson about Don’t Think Twice — his film in which an improv troupe cracks apart — I consider the implications of striving and failing in front of witnesses.

I am walking, stepping over cracks, up curbs, over puddles; the cadence of my feet propels thoughts about the control that “fear of making a public misstep” exerts over so many people’s lives. Living guardedly certainly assures a person never appears stupid. If one doesn’t put anything out there, one can never be wrong. Yet. There is power in the willingness to look a fool. To be vulnerable in front of others requires trust — that the audience will be kind. Often, they are not. But when they are, the payoff is incomparable. As I walk, still listening, I think back to the try-hard wrecks that some of my writings, classes, and comments have been over the years and decide I’m glad to continue making public mistakes — because at least it means I’m working from courage, exposing vulnerability, trusting strangers, learning where and with whom I am safe. 

***

Friday: It’s a great week for logistics: Byron and I manage a second gym date, this one a “circuit” class of high-intensity activities that leave participants regretting that banana they ate an hour before. Himself is cramming the class into his lunch break, so I arrive early to set up our equipment and stay after to deconstruct our stations of risers, Bosus, weights, medicine balls, and mats. Dealing with props alone feels like plentiful workout to me, but I soldier through the actual class, as well, keeping my gaze carefully focused on the teacher, not my charming mate. Dude can run thirty miles and get stronger with each passing hour, but when he’s asked to raise his right knee to a steady beat, well,

he works from a place of courage, exposing vulnerability, trusting strangers, learning where and with whom he is safe.

He is safe with me. 

Some hours later, I snatch Paco out of school a bit early so that he and I can get to Allegra’s first track meet of the season. She runs a relay early on and then the mile quite some time later, which means Paco and I stand at a balcony railing for a total of three hours, looking down on the track, shifting from foot to foot, chatting with a neighbor about the tough crop of sixth graders at his school this year. It is during Hour Two that Paco announces, woefully, “I can tell my medicine has worn off.” Despite his fatigue and low-level pain, he makes it to the end because “I want to see Leggy run.”

***

Saturday: I am standing downtown, waiting to cross the main street, when a blue car screeches up next to me. It’s a sometimes-colleague, the mother of one of Allegra’s classmates, a woman with whom I’ve sat at big, round tables during sports banquets. “Where are you going?” she asks after rolling down the window. 

The answer is never easy. Where am I going? Well, in the next 25 minutes, I am going into that parking ramp down there, dropping my bag, grabbing my computer, walking to the library, doing a quick bit of work and saying hi to my staffing-the-checkout-counter husband, hoofing back to the car, jigging up to the gaming store where Paco has been playing Dungeons & Dragons with his friends, grabbing him, shopping for six things at the grocery store, getting a freebie birthday coffee drink, and driving home. “Where I’m going” is never brief.

In return, in a beautiful twist, she then asks me where she’s going. 

That is, she doesn’t know where exactly to find the school where her daughter has been attending an ACT prep course, and do I know? For once, I actually know where something is, and when I give her directions, it becomes clear we’re both interested in covering the same 100 yards in the next two minutes. “Get in!” she commands. “I’ll drive you down a block.”

The second my rump hits the seat, I am glad to be there. Cruising the downtown streets, this friend has been in high snack mode; Wasabi almonds and dried mango cover the gear shifter, and a container of peanut butter pretzels is open on her lap. “Have some!” she exclaims, gesturing to the front-seat buffet. And I do.

Previous to this random encounter, to this impulsive moment, to this intersection of “Hey there, you,” I have often enjoyed Wasabi almonds and dried mango, but my experience with peanut butter pretzels has been limited, perhaps non-existent. Deep inside me, something protective has always whispered, “You have enough issues, girl. These things could be dangerous for you. Maybe don’t open this particular Pandora’s box of temptations, ‘k?”

It is my birthday, and I am 50 which feels like 26, and I am doing 12 things in the next half hour, yet suddenly I am in a car, engaged in rapid-fire exchanges with a lanky blonde, eating my first peanut butter pretzel —

it is my birthday, a day of reckoning with past voices, winking away protective whispers, walking within and outside my skin, laughing at a full and changeable agenda, giving over to quicksilver trust, collecting colorful stories, embracing fancies, puzzling my way from edge to center —

and every last bit of it couldn’t be more wonderful.

—————————————

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blogging

Turning Ten

Turning Ten Border

Ten years ago this week, I posted for the first time to this blog. Ten years. That’s like high school plus college plus graduate school.

It was the start of a new semester, and I’d had the revolutionary idea to ask one of my composition classes to try out this new thing — “blogging” — in the hopes that writing assignments would feel more authentic when actually published where other human eyes could clap onto them.

Then the semester ended, the students roared off into their respective futures, and I kept writing little stories and snippets and nonsensicals, putting them on my blog, and feeling simultaneously motivated and lonely.

One day, a person I didn’t know — a person not a student in my class — left a comment. Her name was Kristin, and she lived in Scandanavia. Then Kristin told one of her blog friends, Lilian, that she should come check out my writing; so then Lilian, in Quebec, started leaving comments on my posts. I couldn’t believe such an amazing and glamorous thing was happening.

After that, I visited their blogs and left comments, and then I left comments on the blogs of people who read their blogs, and then those people visited my blog, and out of nowhere, a beautiful momentum had taken hold, and I had A New Tribe, one that felt more close and caring than many “real” people in my life.

A few years after that, a lot of bloggers started nailing CLOSED signs onto their blogs, for a variety of reasons, and the comments and interplay started tapering off. Still, though, I felt the stories and snippets and nonsensicals burbling up inside of me, and the blog still felt like the right repository, meeting my needs and purposes. At the same time, other forms of social media kicked up, and I discovered that nearly all of my favorite current and former bloggers and I could connect on Facebook.

Sometimes, people would share links to my blog on Facebook, and eventually, I got a message from someone, Alexandra, who waxed enthusiastic about my writing, who told me I should try to reach a larger audience, who showed me channels for submitting my work to sites Not My Own.

The years passed, and still I wrote on my blog, to suit myself, and I wrote other pieces — stuff that challenged me with word counts and editorial expectations and forced me to sculpt my skills — and between the two, I learned. I made connections. I realized a whole lot of things. I found my people. I pissed off people. I got sick of people. I loved people.

The key to continuing to write, to not shutting down, to posting again and again, even when no one really cares or when I know what I’m turning out isn’t so good or when someone is giving me a deliberate and mean squint-eye, is simple: I like to write. Sure, it’s a powerful experience to have an audience, but even if no one’s looking: I like to write. With a blog, I have a place to experiment and make mistakes and throw sand in the air and be really dumb and occasionally stumble across something meaningful. Even when I make mistakes, I like to write.

At the same time I’ve been engaged in this surprising and transformative journey, I’ve made a heap of bloggy friends, meeting a few face-to-face, and we’ve exchanged gifts, private chats, and support in tough times. I had no idea when I started the engine in this rig back in 2006, but the blog world is a compassionate, generous-hearted community.

Now, a decade later, I’m still blogging; I still love this space. It’s the start of a new semester, and although I’m not having my composition students blog, I am teaching Writing for Social Media, a class I was able to envision and propose, thanks to all I learned here. Students in the course tweet and Facebook and blog — and, as of this semester, because I’m all about pretending I’m having a new revolutionary idea, they are also each in charge of doing a “takeover” of a class Instagram account for a day.

Social media math: Blogging in 2006 = Instagram Takeover in 2016.

No matter how you splice it, I’m grateful for the connectivity of a modern technological world. It’s, to be boring and cliche (after ten years of yammering, I’ve run out of original words), made me better.

In case you are reading this now and aren’t named Kristin or Lilian — in case you haven’t been here since the beginning — I’d love to direct your attention to a few of my favorite posts from the past ten years. Many times in my posts, I’ve been too “try hard” or have been an out-and-out idiot. Unintentionally, I’ve gotten things wrong. Occasionally, I’ve gotten things too painfully right. I acknowledge these difficulties.

At the same time, I’ve been someone who created a space for herself and then showed up in it, again and again, fiercely, dumbly, enthusiastically, wistfully, angrily, joyfully.

Ten years of stabbing repeatedly at a blank, white, yawning expanse, filling it with font and doubt and flourishes.

I click on “All Posts,” and 733 entries pop up. Without blogging, there would be zero.

I’ll take it.

And to all of you who have visited, read, left comments, and supported this space: thank you.


Below is a sampler of some of favorite posts from the past ten years. Each post takes me back to a specific moment where I had something I needed to get out of me. Maybe, if you have a minute, you’ll click on one or two that you haven’t yet read.

Here, then are posts:

———————–

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birthdays

Baby, You’re a Star

stars

At the end of each quarter at the high school, many students’ schedules undergo shifts. Maybe they switch to taking the required Health course, or maybe external pushes and pulls result in the order of their classes getting switched around. Sometimes, those pushes and pulls cause a student to be moved into the class of a different teacher.

This is what happened to Allegra’s schedule earlier this year, at the end of a quarter. With some consternation, she realized her new schedule had her moving from the tutelage of one Spanish teacher and into the classroom of another. When she reported this to me — and naturally it burbled out when she was upstairs, and I was halfway down the staircase, heading to the main floor — I didn’t understand what the problem was. “But I thought you don’t exactly love the teacher you’ve had? I thought the glacial pace, the lack of interesting content, and the feeling of being taught a warm, romantic language in a very Germanic manner — those things weren’t exactly making you thrilled about Spanish this year? So wouldn’t a move to a new teacher be a good thing?”

Standing at the banister on the second floor talking down to me while I craned my neck to look up at her, the girl clarified: “Yea, but in that class, at least I stand a chance of learning something. With the other teacher, the one they put me with for the new quarter, I won’t learn anything. It’s a move for the worse.”

Well, damn.

Fortunately, as we stood there, still staged for the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet, Allegra continued, “So when I saw my new schedule, I decided, ‘No, I don’t want this.’ The guidance counselors always say we can come see them with problems, so I went to the office, talked to a counselor, and now my schedule is fine. All my classes are staying the same next quarter, and I’ll have the same Spanish teacher.”

I hoped my face didn’t reveal my surprise. As a rule, our kids are so mild-tempered, so shoulder-shruggingly fine with almost everything, so averse to direct interactions — to the point that we can hardly get them to say hello to a person standing three feet from them — that I have trouble imagining scenarios where they have an issue and then deal with it. For the most part, they have made sure their lives don’t have problems because then they can glide.

I can’t imagine where they get it.

A day after Allegra got her schedule settled to her satisfaction, she was in Spanish class. At some point, she wandered up front to ask her Germanic romance-language teacher a question about the homework.

“Allegra!” the teacher started. “You aren’t going to be in my class next quarter. I was looking at the rosters and noticed that you’ll be switching into a different class.”

Well, actually, Allegra told her, I will be in your class next quarter.

“Oh, I didn’t know you’d gotten it switched back,” the teacher continued. “The other day, when I looked at my class list, your name wasn’t on it, and I noticed. I have to keep an eye on my stars, you know!”

Wait. What?

As Allegra, my Juliet, stood above me, recounting this moment, her face was a mix of raised eyebrows, happy smiles, and wonder. “I mean, she’d never even talked to me before, really, and I don’t actually speak up a lot in her class, so I had no idea. She thinks I’m a star? I almost left her class without ever knowing that. How come I didn’t know I’m a star?”

There, her words drifting down from the balcony, came one of life’s important questions.

How come I didn’t know I’m a star?

As the 15-year-old and I considered that bit of life, the part where we don’t realize we’re valued, I trotted out an old chestnut: the story about when I telephoned my dance teacher, from whom I’d taken ballet and modern dance lessons for nine years, to tell her I would be quitting classes. Although her instruction had been a significant part of my life from the ages of seven through 16, I’d hit high school, joined the speech team, found new interests. If something had to give, it would be dance — because it wasn’t like I was built for a career as a ballerina or was going anywhere except around and around in tightly pirouetted circles with those dance classes. So I called Miss June to inform her of my decision.

Even now, I am still processing her reaction. “Oh, that’s too bad! You really have promise as a modern dancer. I would have loved to see you pursue that!”

Much like my daughter thirty years later, my reaction was a confounded Wait. What?

From Miss June, I knew I needed to pull my tummy in. I knew I needed to tuck my derrière under. I knew I needed to pull my shoulders back.

But it was only when I quit that I found out what Miss June really thought. It was only once I was done that I learned the words that had been barrel rolling inside Miss June’s head.

It was only when Allegra’s teacher thought she was losing an excellent student that Allegra learned her teacher thinks she is an excellent student.

It’s human nature, the business of having a thought flit through the brain and then neglecting to voice it. Sometimes, we just forget. Other times, we don’t want to be overbearing or come off as false. Perhaps we are consciously holding back praise; we don’t want to give someone a big head, or we feel awkward, assigning formality to the casual, creating the weight of “a moment.” Bizarrely, to extend praise to someone can feel like admitting a vulnerability in ourselves, like a rook-takes-knight power shift. In some cases, sitting with a compliment rather than expressing it is a deliberate teaching tool — since confidence must grow from within. Most frequently of all, we just don’t realize how very much someone might benefit from hearing the words.

Ah, but if we flip that awkward moment of formality, cast ourselves in the recipient role, hand ourselves the telephone receiver and whisper, “It’s Miss June. She has something to tell you!”…if we remember what it was like to be 15 and to self-motivate and to aim high in a class driven by ho-hum instruction…if we remember what it was like to be 15, even in the best of circumstances…if we remember what it is like to be a person of any age at all, walking through life with only a thin layer of skin sheltering a vulnerable heart…if we remember the times when we were 19 and a grandpa at the bus stop sauntered by and called out “How’d you get so beautiful, anyway?” or when our fathers told us “People are drawn to you because you have an effervescence” or when our crying friends snuffled “Thank you. I didn’t know what I was thinking until you helped me see it” or our husbands noted, mouths full, “You bake the best cookies; you make them so that they taste generous”…if we remember those holy, transformative moments that embrace our vulnerabilities and hold them to the sun…

how can we ever forget, neglect, hold back when it comes others? How can we allow the stars among us to feel that they are shining only for themselves?

I cannot.

Thus, I want to announce loudly and for all to hear:

Allegra is turning 16 today, and she is multi-talented, quietly confident, astutely observant, admirably self-possessed, firecracker smart. The world is lucky to have her.

May there never be a question about my feelings for you, my beloved girl, mi amada estrella.


Allegra Collage

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birthday boy

13

Paco Collage I

He comes home from school and tells me, “My legs have been hurting again. I must be growing.”

We measure him. He’s sprouted a quarter inch in the past three weeks. At just over 5’6″, the kid is taller than I am.

**Paco Collage II

We park by the garage. Allegra’s door flies open, and she skitters to the house, dragging her bags, heading to the task of homework.

Always, Paco lingers, walks back to the trunk, asks, “Is there anything you need help with? What should I carry?”

**

Paco Collage III

He tries to describe a kid at school to me–a kid who annoys him–without using any judgmental language. Several times, his voice trails off as he lists behaviors, hoping the kid’s actions will make the larger point. Finally, sighing, he sums up: “If you were stuck on a desert island with him, Mom, he wouldn’t last long.”

**

Paco Collage IX

He spends an evening after school at a store with a couple of friends, learning how to create characters for Dungeons & Dragons. When he gets home, he reports, “Isaac is probably going to want to design a new character. The one he came up with tonight makes no sense! It’s an elf, except Isaac also made him, like, nine feet tall and four hundred pounds.”

Looking down, shaking his head disbelievingly, he adds, “Oh, Isaac. You can’t have an elf that’s all burly and blundering.”

**

Paco Collage V

Standing on the third floor of the YMCA, having taken a break from running on the track to call my doctor and discuss the results of a recent MRI, I learn that I have a tear in one of the four tendons making up the rotator cuff. My supraspinata is ripped almost completely through, and the bursa is bursting with fluid. I imagine the tendon’s halves hanging together by a few remaining bits of sinew, rending completely one day when I lift a twenty-pound weight over my head or reach for the KitchenAid mixer, stored on a high shelf. The doctor is referring me to an orthopedist.

When I hang up with her, I call home, wanting to update Byron.

Paco answers. I ask him if he would like to hear my results and convey them to Dad–or if he just wants to go get Dad.

“You can tell me,” his soft voice says.

I give him the report. As I speak, he gasps, winces audibly.

“Oh, Mom,” he tells me. “That sounds so painful. I’m really sorry.”

**
Paco Collage VIA few days after we see the new Star Wars movie, I am bidding him goodnight, backing towards the door, reaching for the light switch. As usual, this is the moment when Paco unleashes one last blast of daily download.

“You know how I think Kylo Ren is the best, right?”

Yes. I may have heard a thing or two about that.

“Well, his character’s only going to get more interesting as the next movies continue the story. See, he thinks he moved himself more to the dark side by killing his father, but eventually he’s going to discover that carrying out such a terrible act actually moved him closer to the light–because it showed him how much he can feel things. It gave him a taste of regret.”

**

Paco Collage VIIEvery day after school, Paco takes off his coat, hangs his backpack on its hook, and settles in for a latte and biscotti. As I noodle around the kitchen, foaming our milk, he asks, “How was your day, Mom?”

Usually, I am able to tell him, “It was really good. Thanks for asking, Pup.”

Resting his chin in his hand, he crooks his head and adds, “What did you do, and why did it feel good?”

**
Paco Collage VIII

I call him from one of Allegra’s ski meets and inform him, “I won’t be home by 1:00 after all–because Allegra finished 7th, and Emily won the JV race, so they want to go to the awards ceremony, which won’t happen until after the varsity races. So we’re going to run out and grab some lunch and then head back to the meet in time for the awards.”

Inhaling with awe, Paco, home alone for the afternoon, responds, “Wow! They must be so happy. Please tell them both that they did great and that I think they’re amazing.”

**
Paco Collage XI

The afternoon before he turns 13, Paco–contemplating the imminent joys of having his favorite friends gather at a gaming store where they will spend a few hours under the guidance of an official Dungeon Master as they play Dungeons & Dragons–announces, “I want to tire myself out today and then stay up really late so that I sleep for a long time tomorrow morning. I don’t know how I’m going to get through all of tomorrow until my party starts at 4:00. That’s a lot of hours to fill! And I’m just so excited for my party. I want it to be starting right now. So I really gotta work at tiring myself out.”

**
Paco Collage XIHeading to his birthday party, he looks at Byron, who’s getting bundled up. “Is that one of the new scarves you got for your birthday, Dad?”

Yup.

“It’s so nice. It looks really good on you.”

**

Paco Collage Activity

He was a beautiful, gentle, thoughtful little boy, full of spirit and goofiness and affection.

Paco Collage Smiles

Now, he is a beautiful, gentle, thoughtful young man.

He is the gift of lifetime.

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