Nothing about this year is what I imagined. We bought all of the school supplies, fully intending to send the boy back in the fall. But, then the news grew worrisome and we decided to keep him home.
I thought – no way can this kid do work at home. But, he surprised me.
Nick’s grades are better than they’ve ever been. He’s learned how to scan text for answers, manage frustration, break projects down into parts. He keeps track of his assignments better. There are no lost papers in a locker or the bottom of a backpack.
He got into a routine and seemed to thrive. So, we decided if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. With Michael home full-time and me part-time, we got to spend more time together than ever before.
It hasn’t been without it’s share of tantrums and procrastination.
He sometimes wanders off from Zoom meetings – but who doesn’t?
I’ve treasured this extra time with him. He takes long walks with me and calls me if I’m late from the office. I think he might actually still like me.
That – or he’s nice to me because I’m a Taco Bell delivery service.
The boy is growing like a weed. He’s taller than me (which isn’t saying much). But, after being the shortest kid in his class for so long, it’s kind of nice.
He looks long and lanky, but still with his boyish features.
Nick’s going to high school in the fall – which seems insane. He’s excited to go to the Media Arts program for half the day.
We’ve seen a lot of TV in the last year, for lack of other things to do. He spent an entire week obsessed with Planet of the Apes and we watched all three of the newer movies. I didn’t mind it.
Some of the things he likes I don’t understand.
He likes YouTube videos where people scream and fall down. He makes up fake curse words like “mother trucker.” He says I’m “so cringe.” It seems pretty typical middle school boy, though.
He calls being home all of this time “being in solitary.” But, he spends a lot of time on the phone and computer talking to friends. He’s a social boy. I think he will readjust.
What I do know is big changes are coming – braces, puberty, high school are all right over the horizon.
For such a difficult year, the boy has been the flower that grows up through the concrete.
When I graduated from college, my first job was in customer service at a publishing company in Florence, KY. We shipped books from our warehouse and worked with the publisher in New York.
That’s where I met Carl – the most kind, fearless and fabulous person I would ever know.
Carl came down to train us and he and I were cubicle mates.
Now at that time in my life, I was a bit lost and adrift in life.
I didn’t really know what I wanted to do for work. I was at odds with my parents. My love life was full of drama and mess. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere and was about to spiral down a deep, dark hole.
Then Carl showed up.
Carl and I became inseparable. We were thick as thieves.
We went dancing in the clubs. Carl would put on a silver metallic dress and heels and walk down the streets of Cincinnati at night in the early 90s without a care in the world.
I was in awe of him. And he looked better than me in that dress.
I’m not sure any of us that knew him in KY had ever encountered a spirit so open and so free. He was so kind and so fun – that everyone loved him.
I had always felt different – but Carl made me feel that it was O.K. to be different.
It was in fact, amazing.
I would spend the night in his apartment in downtown Cincinnati. He couldn’t sleep without the sound of traffic and sirens at night from his time living in New York City. That intrigued me. I had seen little of the world, so I asked him to take me to New York.
Since he had lived there, he took me to all of the best places – the best hole in the wall Chinese restaurant, the underground clubs, the best bagel shop.
We marched through the streets in the New York City Gay Pride Parade with thousands of people. I nearly cried with joy. I felt so alive and free.
We lost touch for several years until social media showed up. Then he was my Facebook friend for many years. I was so happy to see his smiling face again. I deeply loved Carl.
Three years ago, I had a business trip to CT. I thought, Carl! It was my chance to see him again! I contacted him and we made plans. We went out to dinner and then sat outside my hotel by a firepit talking for hours like old times. I think I cried and hugged him repeatedly before watching him drive away.
Now, he’s gone – which feels unreal.
He was really looking forward to Wonder Woman coming out on Christmas Day.
I was very angry at God that Carl didn’t get to see Wonder Woman. But, now, I think maybe God let Carl be Wonder Woman – he would have the most fabulous angel costume in heaven.
Carl used to wear this cologne called Angel. I bought a bottle of it once and sometimes I wear it to remind me of him.
He may be an Angel now. But, the truth is – he was always my Angel.
I don’t think I would have had the courage I have had in my life without his example.
I wouldn’t be the girl that showed up at work in an Elf costume or the girl that traveled to Europe or the girl that got artificially inseminated or the girl that wrote a book.
My world would be smaller.
And the world will be smaller now that he’s gone.
But it will always be more magnificent for him having been here.
I used to think goals were about the goal itself. I would attain the goal and then somehow I would reach a sense of inner satisfaction. Or I would rebel against setting goals because somehow I felt the striving and the routine was too much pressure on myself.
As I change and grow, I’ve become to feel differently about them. I no longer care so much what the goal happens to be. I care what working on a particular goal will teach me, what the process of that goal will help me become.
People often ask about when I will write another book. In some weird way, none of my books have been about creating the book itself. When deep inside there is something I need to process, something I need to work through – the book flows out like water.
My first book was about learning to believe in myself. My second book was about learning forgiveness. I sense there is a third book, but it is not yet time. Trying to write it before it’s time is like trudging through cement, forcing a solution. When I’m ready, I will know.
I notice that I struggled with fitness goals in the past. I found a million justifications and then I would beat myself up. I wasn’t ready.
Now I find that it’s weirdly easy and I crave it. Solutions come to me. Problems that seemed baffling disappear.
It’s no longer that I particularly want to be fit. It’s that my fitness goals are teaching me to make myself a priority. They are teaching me consistency. They are teaching to process anger and frustration and irritation before it builds up. I wake up and I feel strong and I treasure that feeling. I feel drawn toward people with similar goals that have become my anchor in this pandemic. New adventures are opening up.
So, now when I think I want a new goal. I ask myself why. How will this goal help me become the person I want to be? Why do I want it?
If the why is strong enough, you will always discover the how.
I’m not sure if it will be his best birthday, but it will certainly be memorable.
If there is a good age for a child to be in quarantine, 13 might be it.
He’s old enough to understand what’s going on. He doesn’t ask to do things he knows are not possible right now.
He’s also not old enough to have created a social life outside of the house as a teenager might.
He’s at the age where he likes to hole up in his room and play video games.
So, he seems relatively content.
The NTI was really stressful the first couple of weeks. But, we’ve developed a routine and he fusses less now.
He still fusses – just less.
He can pick me up and carry me across the kitchen floor. He’s almost as tall and almost weighs as much as me.
He likes to look me in the eye and say “Get Noob.” I have no real understanding of what that means. So, I tell him to “Get Noob.” He finds that both shocking and hilarious.
He’s developed a great sense of humor. Not only does he laugh and understand sarcasm, but he can be witty with a completely straight face.
I find that I don’t just love him – I really like him and find him good company.
We’ve had some precious moments being quarantined in the house together. We break out into random dance parties in the living room. He talks to me a lot more. He actually takes the long walk with me on occasion.
I can trust him with more chores. He can make macaroni and cheese. He can wash, dry and fold his laundry. He can unload the dishwasher and mop the floor. He calls himself the “Ultimate Dish Master.” I dig it.
I feel bad that he’s missing the birthday sleepover. Vacations are cancelled and summer activities will change.
But, I’m glad he gets the opportunity to deal with disappointment now and to learn how to respond to it before going off on his own.
He’s learning to dance in the rain, sing in the storm and weather the pain.
And ultimately, that might be the best birthday present one can get.
I always wanted to be a teacher. I think school was the place where I felt safe and seen and successful. I wanted to give that feeling to others.
So, when I was 18, I declared an education major at college – which I quickly changed. I forgot that teaching meant standing up in front of a room of people and I found that terrifying.
So, I retreated back into my introvert shell and decided to become and editor. This sent my career plans in another direction for a few years – until I was training people at work one day and someone said, “You’re a good teacher.”
So, I went back to school and became one. For many years, I greeted classes of high school students. Creativity and helping people express themselves was my gift. Classroom management and discipline not so much.
When I left to pursue my writing, I thought I wouldn’t miss it. I got to crawl back into my introvert shell. But the students had given me gifts over the years – hope, inspiration and resilience.
So, I supposed I will always be a teacher in some form. I’m getting ready this morning to go give my final for my college English class. I teach yoga every week. I’m contemplating teaching some journaling classes.
This shiny crystal apple ornament is the most sparkly ornament on my tree. It reminds me that even the most simple gifts can be dazzling.
When we teach, when we parent, when we train – we give a little piece of ourselves to the next generation.
And over time – our simple gifts – the apple a day – start to bear fruit. And we see in them something that we thought we had lost long ago.
They return our hope to us – and that is the greatest gift of all.
I bought my first house on accident. My ex and I had moved in to the rental a year before. The owners decided to sell. So, instead of moving (which we didn’t want to do), we just bought it.
I can’t say I know a lot about home ownership. But, it was a condominium with the outside maintenance taken care of, so I thought we could handle it.
My father always built houses and knew a lot about how to fix them up. That wasn’t passed on to me. I think I fixed the toilet once – that has been the extent of my work as a handyperson.
But, I loved that little condominium and lived there for years. I bought this ornament to commemorate its purchase.
I remember the first time I went with Michael to see our current house. I was in awe of the neighborhood with the lakes and rolling hills. I liked the idea of having a big front porch to sit on and read. The porch swing sealed the deal.
Now, as we are getting older, we talk about our last house. We think about things like stairs, steep driveways and bedrooms on the first floor. It’s kind of crazy to think about.
My idea of home has changed somewhat, too. I want to downsize. The idea of cleaning a big house no longer appeals. I often like the idea of being a snowbird – spending the winters in the South and the rest of the year here.
We’ve talked about tiny homes, RV’s and rental units. I want to be near my grandchildren, but also have a little bit of beach and adventure.
Wherever we end up, I know Christmas will involve a visit from my very own, Saint Nicholas.
After all, the people we love are what makes a house a home.
‘Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.’ ~ Anne Lamott
I am a lifelong Kentuckian – except for the four months I lived in North Carolina.
Growing up, I was always trying to get out of this state. When I was 18 and applying to colleges, I got a shiny brochure for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Something about the campus spoke to me. I wanted nothing more than to go there.
But, my parents had other plans. They wanted me close to home and put on the monetary pressure to make that happen. So, I let that shining light of hope fade away.
7 years later after a rough breakup, I decided now was my chance. I used the newly formed internet to secure a job, a roommate and lodging in the great state of North Carolina and off I went – tiny Uhaul in tow.
It was beautiful there – two hours from the beach and two hours from the mountains. I would take long walks in the forest and spend the afternoon lying next to the waves. The winters were mild.
College students were everywhere. There was a vibe of academia and excitement in the air.
But, at the time, I was terribly shy and ill equipped to be out in the world alone. I was like a boat lost at sea in a terrible storm.
Though I had plenty of gumption, I didn’t have the inner resources to weather a move of that magnitude.
And so four months later I returned broken and discouraged.
Things started to turn around and my dreams of North Carolina faded into the background.
I still dream of it sometimes and this little ornament of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse reminds me of that time.
Now, twenty years later, I am no longer that little boat tossed around by every rough wave.
I have ceased running around trying to save everyone else.
I am slowly learning to become that lighthouse – shining my own little light and seeing who responds.
When you do that, no matter where you are – you are home.