I have decided a huge amount of conventional wisdom about teenagers is utter bollocks, as they say. Teenagers are not ridiculous or less-than; they do not deserve our smart-aleck comments and eye rolls. They do not warrant our smug and authoritarian parenting. My teens are not rude, entitled, “crazy”, “hormonal”, non-sensical. They are not especially loud or dirty. They are exactly as I would have predicted from my incredibly extensive and intensive experience unschooling them through childhood: they are whip-smart, kind, funny, sensitive, and joyful. They are genuinely interested in other people, not just themselves. They are interested in the whole of life, not just work. They do not have the martyred energy, the passive aggressive forms of communication, the entitled and inflexible attitudes of adults. They respond to criticism or correction with open-mindedness and they change their behaviors if their behaviors are deemed problematic.
If the citizens of this country were anything like my teenagers, the world would be a much better place.
There is a perfectly lovely woman at a local shop who always greets me warmly, and makes genuine, caring conversation with my husband and I when she sees us. She is a homeschooler and so that, I feel, is why she reaches out to connect. But she is a very different type of homeschooler than we: she uses a strict curriculum (for her several children), and the family is an evangelical Christian. Today I got to have that conversation I’ve had so many times in the last few years:
Her: “‘Boys’? I thought you had a boy and a girl?”
Me, smiling: “We thought so too! But we were wrong.”
I wait a beat. It takes most people a second to process what I might be saying.
I’ve been singing “Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa” over the last day, to myself. The Dusty Springfield version, of course; there is no other version. While I’m sewing or working her voice pierces my heart. I can sing as dramatically as I like, in front of my children. In front of no one else, in fact. Maybe I’ll grow a little less shy, or perhaps my children are just the most special people in my heart, and who can know the unvarnished Me.
Our dryer broke today but only after I had about eight loads of wet laundry waiting. I search online and find a heating element but in the meantime, we need towels and clean sheets. So at 10 PM I’m sitting on my mother’s couch waiting for a single load to finish; the rest of our wet clothing and linens are bundled into large black garbage bags and rest on her tidy laundry room floor. We always talk about world events and cultural phenomena when I visit with my mother. Tonight I mention the disturbing, disgusting tax breaks our country’s mega-rich receive and my mom interrupts me to angrily hold aloft her popsicle, “Like these! These are half as big as they used to be, and they cost twice as much! It makes me so angry!” I look down at my popsicle – lime flavor, duh! – and I realize, Sonofabitch, this damn thing is smaller. Life’s a bitch.
Two years ago today I had my ureter stent removed, after nine days of the worst kidney ordeal I’d yet faced. The device was placed on the twelfth after a brutal procedure, and that evening we had to make a call to paramedics; a couple days later I was in the ER. The entire experience was a nightmare. Removing the stent was scary and hardly pain-free; I remember simply letting my husband be with me for the ordeal because I didn’t have the ability to say yes or no, and because I knew he wanted to be there.
Today I felt an odd bit of kidney pain, only a little, a ghostly reminder. I have mastered the ability not to worry much, to predict it will get worse. Several years of pain, taught me some discipline. But the truth is I’ve had no major events since moving to a vegan diet; an entirely surprising yet welcome side effect. Every day, week, and month that passes without medical intervention and minor surgical procedures, I am grateful. We are still paying off the procedures from years ago.
So this time of year, yes I am grateful, grateful for my health.
I have planned an August sabbatical from client work; I have also cut down on social media significantly. Over the last few months I kept having friends ask me how I’m doing, and – since I am honest when people ask me this question – I had to confess I was a bit overscheduled. And confess it again, and again. Having disclosed this repeatedly, I realized I was responsible to do something about it.
Overscheduling is the kind of problem that creeps up, and it isn’t always a quick job to extricate oneself from these circumstances. So – carefully, with as much sensitivity for others as possible – I’ve been restructuring my life to a more sustainable pace. And this week, I’m starting to feel better, and more mindful; my yoga sessions are more refreshing and focused. My performances as mother and partner, are improving. Time is slowing – if only a little.
Tomorrow is my volunteer day; the day I devote the most time to others in my community. I am consistent with my volunteer work but I am also thinking about cutting back, or at least re-organizing. Today I know I don’t have to make any rash decisions on that count. I can wait, and meditate, and consult friends.
And live to fight another day!
So life has been busy!! and I’ve had a couple small but significant professional setbacks. I’ve also several medical tests and appointments lately (all of them are coming up perfectly healthy), and I’ve barely been keeping on top of my schedule. Times like this I’m grateful for my volunteer work as no matter what, I set my other stuff aside for that. I think the volunteer commitments keeps me sane and makes sure I’m at least a little productive, in a way that isn’t entirely self-centered or about my own specific concerns.
I’ve been writing and recording, too – and I don’t always make the time to post those updates. So – here you go!
My latest two podcast recordings:
Co-hosting with Tim Turner on The Bitter Bastard Nerdcast; The Last Jedi, Black Panther, Sleepaway Camp, and Gymkata.
Guest casting with Eric Moore on Effectively Speaking, discussing the medusa creature effects in both version of Clash of the Titans.
In writing: last week’s Weekly Roundup on B-movie BFFs: talking about two cheesy 80s action films.
So life is pretty packed, but also fantastic. A few days ago we bought Nels the latest Switch game, and he is focused on dominating the game and honing his proficiency. Beeps is immersed in Splatoon2, tweeting about racial injustice, and drawing fan art on their new tablet.
Family life is incredibly busy, and I’m so grateful for such a creative and healthy foursome here.
Due to several factors I am not going to detail here, I have habituated myself to forgoing breaks. I don’t take hours off let alone days off. I am work, work, working and only slow down at all to sit with the kids while they game, or to grab a bite to eat, or take a little time with my husband. My daily session on the yoga mat – which I never skip – is an absolute screamingly silent exercise in discipline: trying to breathe and be present in the moment.
So days like today are special. Yes, I worked during the day but I also set aside my time for my volunteer commitment, which is grounding and while hardly restful, is at least a couple hours I am not thinking of my own plans, my own hustle.
And then later this evening, a trip to the beach to meet up with friends and enjoy the air, and watch a fire dancing show long after darkness falls. It is hard to believe a year has passed since we were here last; last summer I remember Phoenix and I split a huge order of greasy fries and we climbed on the rocks at the quay. It’s even colder this visit, but we didn’t think to bring blankets or even camping chairs to keep us off the frigid earth. Nevertheless there is nothing I like more than being tucked away with my family and with what warmth I can garner from my hoodie and the close-sitting strangers around us, drinking hot tea and waiting for the show to begin. Long after the tea is gone and the warmth has left my body and I’m still shifting, I feel peaceful and grateful to be nestled into a crowd with nothing more to do than watch performers swing flame and spit petrol to television hit songs.
We arrive home late and I’m too tired to even tell the children to finish up dishes for the evening. Tomorrow we will wake and be full of energy and we can houseclean then. But for tonight I light my candle and put up my hair and hit the hot shower, and fall into my pajamas and then to bed where my husband rubs my aching feet and slender ankles.
We are in for several months of absolutely stunning, perfect weather. We’ve had nothing but sunshine and warmth, and delicious soft rains. The daylight lasts well past nine PM and I’m taken back to my childhood and how much I loved those late twilights. During the blue and white, perfect daylight the life springs from the soil and everywhere the scent of green grass and blooms; the peonies we brought in to fill a vase are startlingly redolent with a heady scent. Everything is in bloom and the hot earth is panting and giving forth greenery. It’s beautiful here; I live by the mountains and by the sea. I may travel but I would have such a difficult time living anywhere else.
My youngest son has become irascible and peevish in this last half a year. I’ve parented long enough to not worry too much, But I don’t ignore those kinds of things either: children need interventions when things aren’t going well, when they are struggling. Tonight I made an offhand comment and he took offense; this is happening with relative frequency of late. He comes in the bedroom and lays down next to me I do not say all the things the adults in my life used to say to me. I don’t tell him he has a bad attitude or he’s snotty or selfish. I do not make condescending remarks about puberty or “teen attitude”. It’s a little damned depressing these thoughts even come to mind but, that’s how I was raised. Still, It is ending with me, I won’t parent that way. I won’t treat mine the way I myself was treated. My son holds me and I put my head on his chest. Both kids’ voices are deepening, and they are getting broader through the shoulders and they are taller than I and although we laugh about it, it puts me off track a bit. Impending old age and death, a ways off perhaps but sometimes it doesn’t seem so.
The older child soon creeps in and I hold him a while too. The two children seek me out several times a day. This is why, exciting as my career is, I can’t and won’t work fulltime as long as there are kids that need this. All kids need this. To think when I was pregnant with my first, I worried I wouldn’t have enough love, wouldn’t have what it takes. Well. I have what it takes. Turns out. What surprises me is that every day I can return to that intention, that not one day goes by I’m on autopilot all day. Sometimes I think parenting taught me mindfulness more than any other practice, or tradition, or lecture, or book.
The windows are open and I can feel the sea air and I can hear the trainyard; a sole candle burns on the dresser. The house is quieting although the younglings stay up late; they too are comforted by the long summer evenings, I think. Children of their mother.
Ralph and I are kind of a mess about it all. It seemed to happen so fast. I mean – it did happen fast. They are such a young person and so incredibly strong.
And first, a personal entreaty.
Phoenix got into college at age thirteen. We couldn’t get funding for that first year. I looked everywhere. They were too young for any financial aid or scholarship and we were told (erroneously as it turned out) they would not be eligible for state-sponsored dual-enrollment.
We put the whole first year on credit. It was the only way we could do it. It is my hope that we can apply graduation gift funds to this balance – a hulking debt that still lurks out there amassing interest. Like (almost) all college graduates, Phoenix has future plans and at age sixteen, Ralph and I are the primary resource to help them with their next steps. We would like to pay off this first year college debt so we can meaningfully contribute to our child’s future. If you see fit to make any graduation gift to our family, we will be so grateful. You can earmark any funds if you’d like them for Phoenix’s discretion only; there is also an option to purchase an item from their wishlist.
If you cannot contribute, please do sign Phoenix’s guestbook with any congratulations, wisdom, or advice you’d like to share.
Because I’m a writer, I have to say more. I’ll keep this as brief as I can.
To this very moment I still haven’t fully processed what my child has accomplished. There were so many quarters I was simply aghast at the work Phoenix had to do. The effort was massive, and at times my child seemed miserable. I spoke with grown men who were reduced to tears, dropping out of courses my then-13 year old stuck through. I watched my child drag themselves out of bed early to get to class; I watched them leave off evening activities so they could get enough sleep. Phoenix has a near-perfect attendance record for their eight quarters’ worth of college, which is something I respect deeply as I saw what it took. Their attendance was better than I ever accomplished at university – and they graduate with a higher GPA than either parent (and hey, we weren’t slouches either!).
Phoenix got through their degree being the youngest in their class. Every class. Phoenix got through college while transitioning. I can’t overstate how alienating these experiences could be at times. We received such a tremendous amount of support on social media, and I could never fully describe how deeply meaningful that has been to me. But on campus things weren’t easy. Phee’s adult deportment masked just how young they were – which suited them just fine, but meant they didn’t get the outreach every academically-advanced outlier should receive. It is my tremendous desire that if any of my friends or blog readers have children who go to college (very) early, or trans children who come out in their teens, that I can in any way be a resource or a supportive party. These unique aspects to Phee’s college experience were more impactful than I anticipated and they have forever changed my perception of “differentness” significantly.
I can never fully convey my gratitude, to my friends all around the world and to my little community. I want to tell you that without your love and support I would have faltered and let my child down; with your support, I was able to hold them up. With your support, I could watch them struggle and succeed and know my role. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
You have blessed our family.