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Today’s my birthday and I’m getting a pretty big present: my daughter.

What a difference a year makes. We took both kids to college—six and a half hours away—in late August. The distance is just a little too far away for many weekend visits and when they do come home during the school year, they really aren’t in town for much longer than 36 hours. Their physical absence from home was pretty complete.

And yet, kids today communicate differently than we did. It’s hard to cut the apron strings when you can be in constant contact through texting, chat, and e-mail.

Those first weeks, Christiana found herself in a less than warm dorm situation while Jackson was having the social time of his life. Although she had plenty of time to call us, I knew she needed to be connecting with her life there and that I wasn’t supposed to be trying to solve all her problems from a distance.

Most of us find it hard to let go of our kids these days, but even agreeing to have her go to school so far away was difficult for me after her dance with depression.

I tried to set up her medical care through the college’s counseling center, but they bungled the care enough that neither she nor we trusted them to come through for her. Continuing to work with longtime trusted providers so far away from where she was living was only slightly better than having no providers at all.

Just when things seemed darkest for her, Christiana figured out—on her own—what she needed to do to integrate better into college. She found a roommate who was living in her brother’s dorm building. Won’t go in to the whole long story, but that place became home.

Which—unfortunately for us—meant she, like her brother, stopped talking with us much.

I know our kids are supposed to separate from us at this point in life, but here’s where I go back to sounding like that really old-timer again. Really, kids today do communicate differently. Because they can contact you at all hours, they don’t contact you regularly. I know from talking with parents that I’m not the only parent who has this problem with their college-aged kids.

Despite being able to talk almost at will thanks to today’s technology, we just don’t. Or at least our kids can’t slow down enough to talk with us during the normal waking hours for middle-aged parents. I think my kids were more disconnected from me than I was from my parents for my three months studying in Spain. We talked once for five minutes, but wrote very detailed letters.

When you only hear from your kids when they are in crisis, you don’t know if they are in a constant state of crisis or if they are only having a bad moment. You lose the connection with what’s going right in their lives and you can’t say whether your perspective on what’s going wrong is very accurate.

Christiana interviewed for and was offered a full-time summer job at school. Although we wanted her to come home, earning for four solid months seemed a pretty good opportunity during these times of high unemployment for young people.

Despite the fact we helped her get set up for staying the summer and then moved her to her new apartment, we just felt distant from her. Without a whole lot of communication or time together, she seemed to be someone we didn’t know anymore.

Meanwhile Jackson came home. He’s been here for almost two months. Even though he rarely called us while away at college, being around him in person has been a joy.

Something just didn’t feel right about Christiana’s being gone still—maybe it’s too soon for this separation, maybe the situation wasn’t right—but when she explained why she’d like to come home, things finally felt right. After working another couple weeks, today’s the day we welcome her back into our home.

Although we haven’t been empty nesters since Jackson returned, it’s still going to be a big adjustment to have everyone in one house. All I know is though I was ready for her to go away to college, I wasn’t ready to feel so far removed from her life.

Welcome back, dear one! Time to create a new normal in our changing relationship.

Happy birthday to me.

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(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

First, a disclaimer: some of you may think that calling items “stuff” is at best imprecise and at worst, lazy word choice. All I want to say in my defense is that you probably did not see my mother’s storage unit.

We have good news and bad news here—Mom’s storage unit is empty, i.e., free from stuff. That’s good news for us because we have stopped paying $96 a month to store many things that should have been thrown away as long ago as the 50s, 60, and 70s—or even earlier.

The bad news is that much as we wanted to get through everything when Scott’s family came to sort through the boxes, we didn’t. And guess whose home is now hosting those cardboard containers and plastic tubs?

I keep trying to remind myself of everything we did accomplish. If I say it enough, I just might believe it. We did more than move everything to our house and leave it sit. Team Sherman-Trina-Jackson-Scott-Lori-Chris-Mona accomplished quite a bit in the two days we dedicated to our project from impossible.

Too bad Team Furgus-Sam-Abel (the four-legged ones) often undid some of the progress or, at the very minimum, got under our feet. Yes, opening up random boxes all over the house proved more puppy-friendly to Furgus than it did to us. However, the dogs did make up for the hassles by giving us love breaks that distracted us from the overwhelming tasks and emotions associated with what we were doing and through taking us on walks that pulled us away from the physical reminders of our work.

Cleaning out your parents’ possessions is a very strange activity. You want to get it out of your home so you won’t be overburdened with excess stuff and in order to get on with your own lives. Yet, you’re afraid to discard or give away too much—as if those “things” are what validate who your parents were to both you and the world outside your family’s doors—and in those eras before you existed and after you left home.

One man’s junk is another man’s treasure and vice versa. Rarely did anyone want the same items to keep ourselves, but we often disagreed on what was worth preserving for the family’s sake. Our mother—especially—moved a lot of what we considered junk throughout her whole adult life, often not opening a box ever again, despite several moves.

She was afraid to leave behind something important, but the “someday” of organizing boxes never happened. Instead she dragged the unfinished business of that obligation with her to her bitter end.

In fact, Sherman and I ourselves continued to move that obligation four times—and that doesn’t count the papers, personal items, and clothing we picked up for her when she came to live with us during her recovery from her accident. Thank goodness Scott and his wife Lori did the first round of discarding and boxing—an overwhelming task way beyond our abilities—in order to prepare her condo for sale before we ever started our portion of the moving odyssey.

I can’t even tell you how much we had already moved out before this past weekend—whether to dumpsters, donation boxes, recycling bins, or the homes of those who professed to want what she once held dear.

I am pretty sure everyone else on my team was relieved to return to work where they don’t have to make decisions about “stuff” and where they don’t have to see it. This is one of those times when it doesn’t pay to work from home—except for the love still handed out by Team Furgus-Sam-Abel.

Today I have no more energy for dealing with what it is not mine—I am washing our bedding, towels, and clothes and keeping myself in the front room we cleaned out so we could also enjoy celebrating the birthdays of the living while we were together.

As another birthday approaches me this week, I contemplate how to avoid a fate similar to my mother’s (and protect my own children from that same fate)—especially after these last several years when taking care of her was more important than taking care of anyone’s possessions—whether hers or my own.

Store up your real treasures in heaven lest the material burdens of the mothers (and fathers) be visited upon our children’s heads. There’s just not enough space in our lives for all we end up storing on this earth. I miss my mama, but I’m not going to miss her things.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Be glad I kept my laptop shut—or at least chose not to approach it last Friday. In general, my blogging policy is if I can’t say anything nice at all—or at least head toward a slightly positive ending—that maybe I should just leave my private thoughts, well, private. After all, I do know how to write by hand in a journal if I want to spew.

But I didn’t do that either.

No, I sat in my reading chair with the dogs (don’t worry, not until after I invited them, Mr. Behaviorist) and finished a book. As I reflected on facing the weekend with limited mobility and limited funds, I realized a trip to my local library could rescue me from a truly mopey fate. Thankfully, our taxes still support a superb facility that can provide entertainment to the poor and downtrodden or those just temporarily broke and grumpy, such as myself.

Unfortunately I ran into a longtime acquaintance when I was really not up for chit-chat. I was too busy wallowing in my supposed restricted future, thank you very much, to socialize.

“How’s it going?” she asked.

Ms. Grumpy replied, “My hips don’t work.”

Now, she’s known me long enough to know that I wasn’t talking about pain. Still, I wish if I were going to be so brutally honest, that I would have added something like, “And you know how I get when I don’t move.” She and I are both, after all, women of a certain age, who have experienced our share of physical downtimes due to injuries. We may have met on school committees, but we also run into each other at the local recreation center (another public-supported facility that has saved both my body and soul!)

Then I took myself, as well as a few books and a DVD, home to my chair where I lost myself inside someone else’s world—OK, not a world I want to inhabit. But hey, I wasn’t reading about my own murder.

The next day I woke up, hips aching, not ready to give up my grudge against Life’s newest twist. A few hours later, though, I’d kind of forgotten about the hips because they had started working better with little more than a B-Complex capsule.

Which meant my previous day’s conclusion—that life as I had known it was over—might have been a little melodramatic.

At the chiropractor visit the week before, I’d finally had success—my hips had not moved at all thanks to work with wearing my oh-so-stylish trochanter belt. That meant I graduated to wearing it less, as well as increasing my level of activity when I did wear it. I have to admit, I worked hard in my yoga classes with that belt. However, I did have to exercise in Deep Water class without it.

By last Thursday night, I could not even walk close to a normal pace as we worked with our dogs and the behaviorist.

On Friday, when the chiropractor asked how I was doing, I told him much better except for that walking thing—which was really not improving.

So he attacked the painful spots and then followed-up by having me lie down on the roller table where I also received more of the electro-stimulation treatment. Then he suggested I follow the session with a slow walk.

My fifteen minutes on the trail were excruciating while my stride mirrored the length of my foot. I just assumed that my hips had not even held half an hour.

“Gloom, despair, and misery on me . . .”

I’d forgotten the chiropractor had stated that in a perfect world I’d go straight to a deep tissue massage, not a walk. What I think I was really experiencing was a reaction to having the scar tissue manipulated—I know from doing restorative yoga that focused release of longtime toxins can initially cause intense pain.

Not only was I not sentenced to my chair for the whole weekend, but I also continue to notice improvements.

I think I am getting better.

Thank goodness I didn’t receive the new DVD/CD for ZUMBA instructors on Friday. I might have thrown it at the wall, but instead, yesterday, I got out the music, popped it in the CD player, and started figuring out which songs I plan to learn in order to teach.

My beat goes on . . .

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

Sam, the two-year-old dog, has helped greatly with the puppy while my back has been acting up. Much as I’d like to leave Furgus’ training in First Samuel’s paws, he’s not quite Nana from Disney’s Peter Pan.

My baby’s growing up and needs more training of the human kind. So today Furgus began attending puppy kindergarten. I’m really the one who started puppy kindergarten—which is more about training the humans than the puppies. This time I have great hopes of avoiding some of the mistakes I made with my earlier dogs—errors that made it more exhausting for me or guests to be around them.

Look, if it were that easy for me to be consistent, I’d just read the books and be done with it. No, I do better in a classroom environment where I get to see examples and hear reminders.

Besides, there is no denying that grouping puppies together is pretty high on the cute-ometer. Who can feel grumpy in that setting? Might not bring about world peace, but it works well at lowering stress levels, especially when you get your often ornery rascal into an environment designed for encouraging good behavior.

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

Everyone’s puppy is adorable. Lazy word choice, I know, but really, it’s so true. In addition to my black tri-color English Springer spaniel, our cozy group includes a silky black German Shepherd, a very spotty liver and white Dalmatian, a fluffy Golden Retriever, a pointy-eared Australian cattle dog, and a little pug. Too bad none of us has much time to focus on the other pups!

My little food hound really, really likes the whole treat/training concept. Next time I better wear clothes with pockets so both my hands don’t smell quite so delicious.

Plus, thanks to Furgus’ growing up running around on a ranch with both his litter-mates and adult dogs, he is very social. He loves nothing better than being part of an active pack. Since he still has one more round of shots to go, he hasn’t been out much with other dogs besides our Sam and Abel.

Once it came time for free play time, it was easy to see which dogs had playmates at home. My guy, the shepherd, and the Golden were a busy threesome, happy to wrestle around with others just their size.

When I opened the door and returned the carrier to our house floor, Sam met me with his oh-so how-could-you-leave-me-behind eyes. After Furgus ran outside to do his business, he plopped onto the rug and fell into a silent and motionless sleep.

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

I don’t think Sam cares one iota that he’s far too advanced for kindergarten—all he knows is I left him home while I took away his puppy—his puppy!—and brought Furgus home too tired to play and smelling of all the other “kids” in the class.

That’s just the price he’s going to have to pay for being the older and wiser guy—who might appreciate a better behaved puppy himself.

Besides, there’s no way I’m going to get by with giving treats only to Furgus. Furgus and I will be working on the homework while Sam gets to join in at snack time for doing all the lessons he’s already passed.

Go to the head of the class, Sam—Furgus is following right behind your capable footsteps.

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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert