a new year high

Part One: The end of the beginning

Trout Creek, Montana
Trout Creek, Montana

We were told only to dress warmly. The guides provided Brawny Man snow boots and gloves. They gathered the eight anxious and emotionally worn families, assured us that we would have “fun” and we headed out.

In knee-deep snow, I quickly found a cadence that allowed myself to navigate the loose powder like a gazelle, prancing over a billowy blanket. The scenery can only be described as Mother Nature at her finest meets…..Fargo.

Ahead of us, the pristine, untouched snow represented the hope and dreams of every person on that trip. By simply looking behind us, our footsteps and the wrecked, demolition of nature in our wake represented why we were on this adventure, in the first place.

For fifteen minutes we trudged, Jordan and Larkin at my sides, we were already giggling. “Where are they taking us?”  Joshua walked ahead with his new friends. I thought to myself, “He’s only know these guys for 30 days and they know everything about each other.” Then, I realized, “Hell, I’ve just met these other parents 4 days ago and I will remember them forever.” Let’s just say, you really get to know folks pretty quickly in a “group” setting.

What a week. Starting the New Year, 2013,  in Montana. At a young men’s rehab facility. What was it, that Dr. Seuss said? Ah, yes…”Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”

Larkin and I were not blind sighted by our son’s addiction to prescription pills. Addiction runs loyal  and deep on the male side of our family. Hello? Remember my brother-in-law’s book? (And yes, he is named after his uncle.)

Still, you’re really never prepared to watch your child pour out his heart, declare his failures and share his darkest secrets in a big circle of strangers under fluorescent lighting.

I had never been to any kind of group therapy/meeting. I had always said my last name when I met new people and I most certainly had never heard my name echoed right back to me, by a room full of people who looked exactly how I felt. Heartbroken, terrified and clueless.

We were all shell-shocked families gathering in a warm cabin, remarkably sharing the same story. We were all the same. Sure, different backgrounds, different settings. But, we all had the same questions burned into our eyes, written all over our faces…will THIS work? Is this nightmare over?

On that last morning of Family Week, a year ago today, we trudged into the woods for our “Family Course Challenge”. The counselors asked our sons, ages 14-22, to blindfold their families and asked us to be silent. (Ha!)  Joshua tightened the bandana around my head and I quickly realized I didn’t have my bearings as to where Jordan and Larkin had ended up. Our sons gently maneuvered us into a line and we were told to grab the rope to our right.

Where? What rope? Where? Oh, whew, okay I got it, I got it. No talking! Ssshhh. Silence, please!

The guide announced that we would be taking a hike. Blindfolded. In silence. In three feet of snow. Led by a bunch of addicts.

Awesome.

Our chain gang began the hike gingerly, each of us trying to step accurately without falling. It was made difficult by each of the 16 people blindly tugging and pulling on the same rope. We must all look drunk right now. It took us all a few minutes to steady ourselves, but we developed a rhythm quite quick.

After awhile, I found myself in the groove; even daydreaming about the sound of the quiet. I was really taking in the sounds; my boots crunching in the snow, the group’s collective breathing, a lonely bird cawing overhead. Probably a vulture biding his time, I thought, surely one of us is going down.

The crisp, fresh air felt like an astringent on my face. Funny, I wasn’t even cold. I was just in the moment.

Then, up ahead, the path became rocky and one of the moms bobbled. The rope started to lurch forward and I immediately felt a panic mixed with vulnerability and competitiveness. “There is no way I’m falling!” 

Oh, no…I can’t yell and I’m starting…to… to fall…wait, no…oh!

In one superhero-like flash, two powerful hands grabbed my shoulders from behind me, caught me before I could fall, straightened me right up and whispered in my ear:

I got you, mama.

My breath stopped. It was so quiet that I felt my beautiful baby boy’s whisper echo right through me, into the trees and out into the morning air. “I got you, mama.” I hadn’t even realized that Joshua was near me, watching me struggle blindly. Literally.

That gesture, him catching me; taking care of me, overwhelmed me in an instant. I recognized the cold that very moment, as those first hot tears spilled down my face in silence. My son saved me from falling.

Just like we were trying to save him.

Every time I recall this story, my throat catches. It is hands down, one of the top five most precious moments of my life. That hike, that day, that whole week, actually. The love, strength and honesty we shared with each other, with total strangers, was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.

If you would’ve told me that one of my best New Year’s ever would be “Family Week” at a substance rehabilitation facility, in the mountains of Montana, I would’ve simply replied:  “You must be high.”

 

one year and countingone year and counting

 

I gave myself a full year, before I shared our story. I am more than proud that Joshua chose help and committed to this path, made even more challenging as he is a college student. As hard as it was, I can honestly say, that 2013 was a great year for our son. 

If you have a loved one in your life that has a substance addiction, please do not feel alone. Get to an Al-Anon meeting, find a trusted friend or get in touch with me. Keeping it to yourself only adds to the fear. I promise you, it is more common than you think. You are not alone. 

The Californians

So, I spent an “awesome” week in “Marina Del Rey” with my daughter, Jordan. (Say it like the SNL skit, “The Californians” for full effect.)

We, of course, had our lists of songs, videos, movies, trailers, tweets and memes to share with one another. Pour us a couple of cocktails and the two of us are off babbling like third graders on some sort of wild, extreme show and tell.

That is what I love best about our mother daughter relationship. We get each other. We are movies and music and NFL and superheroes and pirates and comic con wanna-goes. We do not shop, but if forced to, it has to be fast. In a mall or department store, we will lose the ability to verbally communicate in about 30 minutes. We don’t pour over fashion mags or celeb rags. But, we can go into full-blown geek mode with showing each other the latest mind-blowing “Star Wars” or “Avengers” meme. We swoon over food and cocktail recipe porn on Pinterest.

Mostly, we are simply entertained by making each other laugh. That is our relationship. We don’t bicker. We laugh. We do not argue. We laugh. We do not judge each other. We simply laugh. We are in a constant celebration of the 23 years of sheer entertainment we have continued to provide each other. We are pretty damn proud of ourselves. Even when we are the only ones laughing.

There is always the perfect movie or TV line for every situation, that serves as a salve to every hardship we have ever had to encounter. Laughter is our comfort food and our favorite cocktail. Well, more like the perfect garnish to our favorite cocktail.

 

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There are those that know us and understand. There are those that know us and think we are freaks.  Jordan and I have never fought, yelled or bickered. Ever. And it is all her. She was born with the temperament of a wise, seasoned traveler. The patience she showed me, Helen Keller-ing my way into new mother hood at 23 was mind-boggling. (It would prove to serve me well with my son.)

Jordan brought out my bravery, honed my confidence and taught me that competitiveness was overrated and would bring nothing but stress and possibly Yellow Jack Fever! (I dramatize. We’re from the south and big fans of Bette Davis’ Jezebel. And Mint Juleps.)

Thank you, Jordan. We really dodged a bullet. If I hadn’t let you lead me, let you show me who YOU were, we could still be posing for pics in matching Laura Ashley dresses. (Oh, c’mon. I only it did it once. Okay, twice! But, that was it!)

This I know for sure, my girl: You KNOW who you are. And, what you are not.

Jordan has not developed an affinity for home and hearth, just yet. She’s a busy young woman making her way in the film biz in Hollywood. So I flew to “SoCal” to bring my special decorating mama magic to her newly rented apartment. Admittedly, she felt that “crack den” was not the look she was going for. She had a mattress on the floor and a large flat screen TV. Priorities.

Here are a few before and after pics. It’s not Architectural Digest, but damn. My girl feels cozy again. She said it feels like home…almost. It’s cozy for “The Ca-li-for-nians”.

I hit every vintage store and antique shop in the Santa Monica area. And, by the way, if you watched the skit above, I DID “have to take Lincoln ALL the way to Washington!” OHMYGAWD!

 

Before
Before

 

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After

 

Next week, I’ll be off to the East Coast to get Joshua set up in his first apartment in Boston. The Boy should be much easier…in theory. But, the talented, creative soul that he is bleeds into all sorts of decorating and style “opinions.” Joshua has taught me a different kind of patience. The kind you use to not be on the local news, behind the yellow tape. Still, I wouldn’t change our relationship for anything, either. We have been through some rough seas but, came out stronger and better humans because of the struggles he has had to face. Again, HIM teaching ME.

We have all read the articles, seen the TV segments that “special” is overused and has paralyzed an entire generation of kids with entitlement issues. But, I feel comfortable with my children being unique to me; they are mine. I wouldn’t trade my road for anything or change one turn, for fear it wouldn’t lead me right to this moment: Jordan starting her adult life in L.A.and Joshua getting back on the college road at Berklee. Nicole, happy and successful with her booming photography business in Austin. Monica, thriving as a new lawyer, at a major firm here in Houston.

It is a parenting, “I can breathe” moment.

We are right where we are supposed to be. They lead me right here. (Exhale.)

Happy “Back to School” to all, from kindergarten to college. This time of year always brings on the same feelings of starting anew, along with letting go. But, as you pack up your kids school supplies or set up their dorm rooms, let them lead you. Let them show your their strengths, their likes, their interests. Let them lead you down the path that feels natural to them. Yes, you are in charge and you are their ultimate guide. But, you will be amazed at what those precious little ones can teach you.

You may just be amazed of who YOU become.

 

the end of teenager-dom

 

 

Sandwich

 

The Boy turned 20 this week. My baby is 20.

Just like when I turned 30. 40. Reflection is inevitable.

Larkin and I have had more than the lion’s share of teenager-dom. 17 years. 17 years straight of raising crazy, wonderful, lying, beautiful, self-centered, manipulative teenagers. As Jordan aptly replied, “Puh, teenagers…they’re the worst.” Right?!

I see them. My contemporaries. Celebrities and dignitaries my age. Damn, they look good. But, did they have to raise teenagers for 17 straight years?! I am making frown lines on my brow, as I type.

When you hold those babies in the hospital, gently brushing their faces with the scant wisp of your forefinger, you never imagine the teenage years. The time period in which you will become the un-coolest, dumbest, “you don’t understand” version of your parents. Simpletons, really, just trying to manage on the same planet with the mood-changing creatures you created. A creation you honestly question a few times as they change plans, yet again, miss curfew or simply roll their eyes for the umpteenth time.

Tick, tock. The bells toll.

 

photo-6

 

 

Joshua is 20. He is filled with a wisdom and a deep soul that I have seen before. He is swimming the pools of his father’s waters. I am in awe. Cautiously optimistic, yet still in awe.

Jordan, graduated from Boston University. Moving to L.A. Headed to Hollywood with determination, wit and wisdom, far beyond her years. Strength and grace. She is simply amazing.

Nicole, an entrepreneurial success, just like her dad. A talented, creative photographer in Austin. Making her own magic happen.

Monica, our oldest. Determined, charging her path, claiming her career as a successful Houston lawyer. Never doubted it for a minute.

Together, the four of them, all in their 20’s. (At least for a few month’s anyway.) Each live in a different city, across 3 states. One goes down, the other three rally. They are lucky. We are lucky. And grateful.

Dear Children,

I raise my glass to the four of you. We made it. You grew up. You matured and/or are maturing. Each of you, your own pace. I won’t name names.

Thank God you are not the same kids you were from 1996-2013. May those goofy, clueless, lovable souls live on, deep within your hearts. Personally, I hold every one of those stay up all night and worry years, close to my heart…and brow line…and grayed scalp line.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

But, just so you know, there isn’t anything you tried to pull on me that I couldn’t see right through. You had to lie. You had to push the envelope. You thought you knew it all. I know you had to go through it. You had to get to the other side. 

I know. I was once a teenager, too. Just ask Nana & Papa.

And, let’s be honest. It was all pretty “Boy Meets World” compared to that of your dad’s teenage years. At least now, we can all marvel at Uncle Josh’s new book, All The Wild Children, and truly appreciate how good we had it. 

And, for a moment, bask in the glory that you were NEVER that wild. Blessed be God. Love, Lola

 

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I have not yet read my brother-in-law’s latest book that was just released this week. I have been warned. But, I know my bro’s talent; I expect an excellent read of his “noir memoir”.

Psshaw. You can’t scare me. I’ve raised four of these “wild children”.  All with the same last name.

 

Update: I read the book in one day! I couldn’t put it down. It was like I really knew the characters…oh, wait…that’s right. I married into this cast of characters!

Excellent, poignant, heart wrenching, honest, beautiful….bad words, sex scenes and all. What a triumph for my brother-in-law, Josh Stallings. I am so proud.  To my sister-in-law, Erika, your patience continues to astound.

And to All of the Wild Children everywhere, call your parents. They miss you.

 

 

 

 

The Aisle: An Olympic Sport?

viaclass.postot.co.uk

What comes with having three 20-something girls, each with their own large circle of girlfriends, is the realization that no news travels faster, spreads wider and cuts like a light saber through general conversation than Guess who is getting married?!

It is 2012 and we all just giggle, gasp and guffaw at nuptial news like women at the “Meryton Assembly Ball” in a Jane Austen novel.

My girls, in particular, have been cursed/blessed with a matriarch that was wedded at the ripe ol’ age of 22. “Ugh,” they all sighed.

It wasn’t planned or arranged. It just happened. Just like they cannot plan or arrange when it will happen for them. (Although their father might just like the opportunity to “arrange” their partners.)

There are plenty of books, advice and well-meaning analysts and bloggers like Penelope Trunk that have written volumes about not only how to find and land your mate, but WHEN you should meet “Mr. Right.” Someone even came out with “rules”. Remember that brouhaha? There is even a book by Tracy McMillan based on her popular two-part essay on The Huffington Post telling you WHY you haven’t found that right person just yet.

Even my mother-in-law, a champion for women’s rights, a celebrated educator and author will most likely ask the girls if they have a boyfriend before she inquires about their job, school or general health.

So much has been written lately about “having it all” with the media swirling around the rise of the new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. She will have the opportunity to balance pregnancy, marriage, motherhood while running a major company, right before our very eyes; her every move, no doubt, covered by every media source from the Wall Street Journal to People magazine. (My guess is that they probably already approached Naomi Watts to play her in the movie. No?)

My Google Reader is not filled with articles in regards to a “cure” for bachelors or advice on landing Mrs. Right. I cannot recall any story about a newly appointed male CEO having to discuss how marriage or fatherhood would affect his job performance.

What is the fascination with women getting married?

I personally feel, the honest truth, is that it will happen, when it happens. And, it is most likely inevitable.

I will conserve my opinions of working women having it all, to focus on young, smart, single women just starting out and say this:  There isn’t only one version of “ALL”.  That is the beauty of it. Your version of “all” will change and grow as you change and grow.  Live your ALL, now. Make the most of “singlehood.” 

Don’t live your life in preparation or anticipation for something else. Live your life, today! See the movies you want to see, travel to the destinations you long to go, eat at the cool, new hip restaurants you want to try, sip cocktails at that new swank, bar opening. Go to the symphony, the ballet, the opera. Take that pottery class or that cooking class. Do whatever moves you.

In a very short time you will be in an adult relationship that requires care, concern and compromise. So, while young and single, ditch the compromise and put the care and concern into your life. Full steam ahead on your career. Put in the extra hours. Network around the clock. Take advantage of every opportunity that is presented before you and grab it up with full, unabashed gluttony.

Don’t waste a minute waiting.

Live an interesting, attractive life and you will be interesting and attractive. Live your life like a hot mess and, well, you probably have already met what comes your way.

One of the benefits of aging gracefully with big deep pockets of wisdom…ahem…is that I can sit back and see the bright radiance of young women who are making their own lives work. I can spot them a mile away. It is a confident glow. They are productive, taking exciting challenges and turning them into opportunities for their benefit and well-being. I am so amazed at the endless possibilities that lie ahead for young women.

When I hear of a young woman, taking the reigns of her life and creating her own success, I am compelled to share that story with my own girls. Other girls getting married doesn’t draw the same fascination for me. I will not cut out engagement announcements to show my girls when they visit. (And it’s not because I don’t receive an actual newspaper.)

Don’t get me wrong. I love marriage. I love being married. I love that I found my soul mate at 21. Yes, I believe in soul mates. And, Larkin is definitely mine. However, I also love that my sister Jen, found her love, Tim, at 37. They’ve been married for two years, laughing, traveling and living the life. And, no kids! Talk about living the life!

Walking down the aisle is not an olympic sport. We shouldn’t time our girls or measure for distance.

It will come soon enough.

We will eventually have the added place settings at our holiday table along with the added awkward explaining of our family’s sick, twisted obsession with turning every comment into a movie line. We will declare which “Friends” character the new addition is. We will go from four kids, to eight kids. We will have to show care, concern and compromise.

We have raised our children to believe in love. “Love is a many splendored thing, love lifts us up, all you need is love…”  We believed in soul mates and told them to believe, too. We showed them that your “better half” brings out YOUR better half. We lived the example that marriage to the right person is more fun than two people should be allowed to have.

And, that is what I want for all of my girls. Someday. No stop watch. No timeline. No pressure.

And, I want it for The Boy, too. But, seriously.

“Is anyone ever going to be good enough for HIM?” cried his three sisters, his aunt/godmother, his two grandmothers and his Latina mother.

That is a whole other blog post, entirely.