Monday, March 22, 2010

Fun, Fun, Fun

I used to inwardly mock the 50-somethings who bought new sports cars and wore big grins while driving them around. I wanted to tell them that buying a cool, youthful car did not make them cool or young.

Now I’m one of them.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Ford Thunderbirds. My parents’ white 1961 convertible T-bird was the first car I remember being driven in. Their navy blue 1967 four-door T-bird with the suicide doors was the first car I drove. (I plead the fifth on whether I went to the library like I told my old man now.) When Ford re-introduced the car in 2002 – a two-seater version with classic styling and modern features— I thought, “I’ve got to get one of those.” However, with two kids at home, I needed a back seat. And with two college tuitions looming, I did not need an extra car payment. Ford discontinued the car before I bought one.

I may have only imagined that I heard my name when, on a snowy December Saturday, my husband and I drove by the Lowell dealership featuring a winter white, mint-condition 2003 Thunderbird with opera windows. As I turned back for a second look, Paul said, “I saw it. I’m turning around.”

We checked it out and test drove it. We ran the numbers. Paul told me I had earned it and that, sitting in it, I looked like Suzanne Somers in American Graffiti. (Lovely lies like that are the reason we’ve been married for 25 years.) This was my car. It seems more than coincidental that I brought home my baby (the car) with no back seat, two days after my baby (our younger daughter) turned 21.

Now I think I had it all wrong when I was younger. It turns out that the early 50s is the perfect age to fine-tune our bucket lists – which, for some of us, includes bucket seats. As we drove minivans and economy sedans, cluttered with Cheerios® and Legos®, car seats and sports bags, we knew we really belonged in a different car – a convertible, a luxury car, or maybe a big off-road truck. And we knew that, as important as our accomplishments may have been in our 20s, 30s and 40s, we have other goals too. Whether to start a business, travel, write a book, have a perfect lawn, finally spend quality time with a spouse or volunteer for a favorite charity, it is time to recognize the goals that are ours alone. For many of us, this is the first time we can afford the time and cost to start meeting these goals. That new car is probably not the only, or the most important, item on the life list. But it might be the most fun.

My husband was right. We’ve earned it. Yesterday was dry, sunny and unseasonably warm, so I took the T-bird out. Driving it on the highway, I was cool and young. And nobody could tell me otherwise.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Say Cheese

When my kids were growing up, we took hours and hours and hours of videotape that we knew we would enjoy watching later. Christmas mornings and birthday parties, baptisms and First Communions, school pageants and family vacations, playing in the basement or in the backyard on a snow day from school.

The time has come to finally watch those tapes as we convert them to DVDs. We are watching all the moments we knew we would want to cherish, moments we forgot we had recorded, and moments we forgot had even happened. Our kids were every bit as cute as we thought they were. And they were downright funny at times, especially the things we missed when they happened, while Auntie Judy was quietly taping away. There are moments when we saw clues to the unique individuals each is today. The memories are priceless.

But…it was all Caileigh and Paige all the time. Occasionally, we would catch a glimpse of my late mother-in-law, my father or our siblings. And, despite the 1980s big hair, it was wonderful. We wanted more.

So, my holiday gift this season, is a word of wisdom. Before the end of the year, make sure you snap a few shots or record a voice or make a hokey movie of your child’s grandparents and aunts and uncles and family friends. And when someone else pulls a camera out, just be gracious and smile even if you are having a bad hair day or carrying a few extra pounds you are meaning to lose. These are the pictures your children will treasure some day. Besides, 10 years from now, you are going to think the 2009 you looked pretty good.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Twenty-five Years and Counting

In celebration of our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary the other day, my husband Paul and I did something special: We had our wedding bands cut off.

We were not symbolically severing our relationship as we severed the thinning gold from our thickening fingers. But it was time to admit that, after years of slowly adding extra weight, those rings were not coming off without help, and we were not going to be reverting to the slim bride and groom in our wedding album any time soon.

When I look at the photos of that young bride, happy and hopeful, unburdened by extra weight around the waist or lines around the eyes, gazing at her slender groom…I still feel like that. Less familiar looking is the person who looks back at me now from the mirror. I’m still making plans for the future as if it stretches out forever, and I wonder where 25 years could have gone.

The years quietly slipped away in moments big and small. A glorious honeymoon, followed quickly by a layoff. The births of our two cherished daughters, and the deaths of our two cherished mothers. The terror of knowing a sick child may not live, and tremendous joy when she did. Hours spent side by side at the soccer field, dance competitions, plays, art shows, and graduations. The long nights trying to explain algebraic equations we scarcely remembered ourselves, and long sessions doing our own math so I could stop working, so we could buy a bigger home, so we could pay tuitions. Finding time for tennis and volleyball and trips to the beach. Vacations in the snow and sun, holidays with his family, my family, our family. Paul putting in a brick walk in the summer heat because I wanted it. Me joining a sand sculpting team because he needed a teammate. Raking the leaves, cleaning the bathrooms, unclogging the sink, folding the laundry. Negotiating whether the Patriots game or Desperate Housewives gets the good TV. Laughing, crying, yelling, hugging.

Next week, we will pick up Paul’s resized and shined-up ring, and I’ll be getting a new one that is bigger and better than the old one. But that’s not the only reason I am okay with saying good-bye to the ring I’ve been wearing all these years. It has been a long and mostly happy marriage – one that has brought us closer together but has also brought us pretty far from those young, clueless pretty people in our wedding picture. It’s okay to let go of who we used to be – we really do have something bigger and better now.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Well, if you ignore the falling leaves and the children in Halloween costumes.

A number of years ago, Staples, the office supply retail giant, first came out with a television ad that was delightful. At back to school time, a father skipped gleefully through the aisles of Staples to the tune of the holiday song, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” while downcast children trudged behind him.

The beauty and humor of that ad was the juxtaposition of the familiar Christmas song during what was clearly not the holiday season. Now, the start of school seems to be followed immediately by the Christmas selling season. Relentless holiday displays and piped-in carols live next to plastic jack-o-lanterns and bags of candy corn in October. I can almost understand that. Businesses have quotas to meet and the sooner they get to it, the better their chances of ending the year in the black.
But what is everyone else’s excuse? This week, driving through New England neighborhoods in mild weather, I've seen the early emergence of inflatable snow globes, prancing reindeer and wooden “flat carolers” on front lawns. Why? What is the rush? Maybe these are just the early birds who have their shopping complete by Thanksgiving. But I suspect not.

On Thanksgiving Day, several area radio stations will start playing round-the-clock holiday tunes while the leftover turkey is still warm. Come Christmas Day, they will stop the holiday tunes cold turkey at noon. Likewise, the television Christmas specials begin Thanksgiving night. But come Christmas Eve, when I am doing my inevitable last-minute wrapping, there is not a Christmas movie to be found. Why? The radio stations and networks would probably say their listeners and viewers are sick of Christmas by Christmas. Well, no wonder when they start celebrating while the foliage is still in full color.

I can be pretty judgmental about people who still have wreaths on their doors come baseball season or who seem to think we cannot see their fake icicles glistening along their eaves under the July sun. But it makes me cringe just as much to see beautiful homes that are in full winter holiday d├ęcor by Thanksgiving and then go dark by Christmas night. After all, the 12 days of Christmas begin on Christmas Day.

Those you who have your holiday decorations packed away by New Year’s Eve can go ahead and feel smug as the lights on my tree twinkle until “little Christmas” on January 6. I will continue putting my trees up in mid-December. During the week between Christmas and New Year’s—when the work parties are over, the shopping is done, the relatives are in town and we have a few days to enjoy each other and our new gifts—I will continue to sit back and actually enjoy the decorations we worked so hard to put up. As long as I celebrate Christmas, I intend to do so during the actual Christmas season.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

School's Out

September 1992

She is polished and ready for her first day of kindergarten. She wears a colorful dress we picked out together, a big hair bow, white lacey anklets on her skinny legs, shiny new shoes and a great big grin. The school has provided her with a laminated bunny bearing her address, which now hangs on a length of yarn around her neck.

I haven’t really been seeing this day as the big deal “starting school” was when I was a kid. Caileigh has been in all-day preschool three days a week for three years and now will go for half a day. She has been reading chapter books for a year, and now she will be taught her ABCs. Frankly, I was looking at it as a bit of an inconvenience, the half-days of school every day, which will force a change in how I schedule my work.

Caileigh, on the other hand, has proudly announced to everyone all summer that she is going to “Mary D,” the big-kid school. She had carefully arranged her bedroom desk in anticipation of homework. She has proudly picked out her backpack, which no longer carries a lunch or a change of clothes and is, on this first morning, empty.

The big yellow bus stops in front of the house and Caileigh runs off, climbing up those giant steps, turning briefly to send me a cheery wave, and disappears. It is only then that I realize that she has appreciated the magnitude of this moment far better than I have.

June 2009

On a glistening Sunday morning, Caileigh walks across the pristine lawn of her college, surrounded by the classmates she has lived and worked with for the past four years. She wears a cap and gown, sunglasses, and a big grin. A sash and cords around her neck signify the awards she has earned along with her Engineering degree.

The past few weeks have been busy ones. She has presented her senior thesis, passed in final papers and exams, attended ceremonies and banquets, interviewed for jobs, and enjoyed a whirlwind of Senior Week events. She has spent days saying good-bye to people she has lived with, studied with, laughed and cried with. She has promised to keep in touch and, with a precious few, she will.

I am remembering with awe the joyful little girl who changed our lives so much and wondering when she became this young woman, who is everything we ever hoped she would be. Following the ceremony, she marches out with her fellow new alumni; suddenly, she spots us and gives a cheery wave. It’s exactly the moment we had pictured.

After a week’s vacation with friends, Caileigh will begin her engineering career and her life. As she turns back to her friends, laughing, I realize my dreams for her have come true, and my job is done. Her own dreams are calling, and she is ready. This time, the moment is not lost on me.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Friend Me?

It’s a brave new world.

When my kids were growing up, I did not want to be their friend. They had friends. They needed a parent, someone who knew where they were and what they were doing, someone who worried about their behavior, goals and values, not whether they “liked” me at the moment.

Now, though, as they bridge from adolescence to adulthood, I have a whole new world to navigate. I am evolving from the parent of children to the parent of adults, and I must find a balance between, on one hand, being available and supportive, and on the other, knowing too much. In this age of constant contact and living online, it’s hard to stay in the dark. But I’ve tried. That is why I have stayed away from Facebook.

I am not averse to technology. I’ve been a telecommuter and user of email and the web for decades. Now, social networking is the dominant trend. A recent Nielsen survey concluded that time spent on social media sites has grown 883 percent since 2003. Until recently, I restricted myself to professional networks like LinkedIn, where I have built a network of professional contacts. It is fun to see where former colleagues and long-ago friends work, and to see who knows whom. I recently learned I am only three degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon, that is, I know someone who knows someone who knows Kevin.

Soon, one of my daughters will graduate from college; the other is at the halfway mark. To help their respective searches for an entry-level job and an internship, they’ve joined LinkedIn. While my parents gave me resume-writing tips, I give my kids tips on an appropriate profile and how to leverage network connections in a job search.

Meanwhile, Facebook, the premier site for “connecting and sharing with the people in your life,” has gone mainstream. Co-workers tell me they’ve “discovered” this cool new site; Facebook groups for business networking have formed; and gray-haired users view the latest pictures of grandchildren there. So I finally joined. I am not alone; since membership expanded from college students to the public in 2006, it has grown 500 percent. Still, my kids raised their eyebrows—and warned me about http://www.myparentsjoinedfacebook.com/, where young users share their shame and post parents’ most embarrassing entries. Here, you can find parents who correct grammar and spelling, publicly question Facebook vernacular and share comments that should be made in private. One user found out her father and stepmother were divorcing when the latter’s status changed to “single.”

At 20 and 22, my children can hardly make an argument for “no adults”on Facebook. However, they can hope that, as in real life, discretion on their part will be rewarded by distance on mine. I am keeping a low profile, staying away from putting embarrassing messages on their walls and learning the etiquette of the virtual world they inhabit. In this brave new world, it’s their turn to decide whether they want to friend me.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

What Would Connie Do?

Every year, Americans spend $13.8 billion on Mother’s Day cards, flowers and dinners—an amount that is at once exorbitant and wholly inadequate as acknowledgment for the endless gifts most of us received from our mothers.

On Mother’s Day 1986, I was a mother’s daughter—pregnant and sharing with my mother hopes and dreams for my first child. A year later, I was a daughter’s mother—selecting stories for my child that I would share about the grandmother she would never know.

My mother Connie, dying of cancer, feared she would be too unhealthy to hold my baby. As it turned out, Caileigh was the one unexpectedly and critically ill at birth. For two months, as Caileigh battled first for her life and then for her health, my mother rallied, sitting by my side in the hospital, running my errands, praying for Caileigh and organizing others to pray for her as well. As Caileigh’s prospects and strength grew, my mother’s faded. Weeks after my baby finally came home and my mother got to hold her just once in her own home, my mother slipped away. Her final gift to us was her precious remaining time, energy, companionship and faith.

I’ve missed having my mother here to share her advice, guidance and memories with me as I’ve raised my children. But most of the time when I need advice large or small, I realize I actually know exactly what she would say. In fact, I joke about having a bumper sticker made: What would Connie do?

She taught me the practical things no one had thought to teach her—what to spend on a wedding gift, always send thank you notes, forks on the left and knives and spoons on the right. More importantly, she taught, through both words and actions, the importance of having a moral compass. She thought about right and wrong and about what she believed—and she lived by those beliefs. I have not reached all the same conclusions she did about right and wrong—but I have developed a belief system that I try to live by. And I like to believe that my children, who will reach their own different-yet-again conclusions, have learned that lesson too.

She taught me that parenthood is a responsibility to be taken very seriously. But just as importantly, she taught me that it is a joy to be fully appreciated. My wonderful memories of times with my mother include shopping for shoes we didn’t need, laughing until we cried over who-knows-what, and her beating me at tennis and shamelessly gloating. I count those memories among her priceless gifts to me.

This Mother’s Day, Caileigh is 22 and an adult now, one who is healthy, beautiful and smart. One who is grounded with her own moral compass, and one who enjoys playing tennis, shopping and laughing over who-knows-what with her mother. My own mother has been gone for a long time, but the gifts she gave me are lasting. For that, I am thankful this Mother's Day.