Driving out of the Depths

It’s hard letting go of that little boy as my kids grow older. In the fall, I was talking to a friend who remarked that it’s getting easier to talk to his older daughter because she was emerging from the depths of adolescence. That was the perfect way to describe it – that phase where teens are morose and uncommunicative, going around with headphones on. I laughed and responded that I had one teen who had emerged from the depths and the other was rock bottom. Since then, he’s slowly started to emerge.

For some reason, it is harder for me to let go of the little boy that was Adam than it was for Evan. Maybe because Adam is my baby. Maybe because I worry more about losing him. Maybe because my fondest memories with Evan are quiet ones. One time Evan was homesick in October. Adam was still in preschool and I dropped him off. Evan was restless so I got out a craft kit to make Halloween garland, back when we decorated for Halloween. The two of us sat there for a couple of hours making strands of garland to hang across the front porch. Our only words were to ask each other for a certain bead. We were quiet and perfectly content together. Similarly, when Ron and Adam were on a trip to Glacier National Park for ten days, the two of us ate the same two things the whole time and in the evenings we would sit in the living room, sometimes watching a show and other times doing our own thing, quiet but together. Classic “Enjoy the Silence.”

Adam, though, has always been more spirited. Gone is the little boy who took obvious delight in everything, who stomped in every puddle he came across, who jumped in the water with his clothes on (pool or ocean), who stopped to pet every cat he came across, who rescued a house finch from a hole along the driveway and named it Peeps. In the spring, he liked to go on bike rides as soon as the weather warmed. It was still pretty cold for a bike ride and we’d come home with our hands freezing.

Gone are most of the collections, the stuffed animals, the pins, the fountain pens and journals, the comic books. He does have a small collection of old-school sneakers ranging from black to white to cherry red. He carefully cleans them, which I find so endearing. He likes colorful clothes that he buys himself, which I also find very sweet.

I still get a glimpse of that little boy at times, and I am holding on tight to those moments. Last year, the two of us went to New York City for the weekend. It was a long day in the car, followed by an hour on the commuter train and then sorting out how to find the green 4/5 subway to our stop. He was grumpy at his clueless old mom in the subway asking two different employees for directions (ummm, yeah great, I understand it’s a downtown train, but where exactly do I get on it?). When we finally emerged at the Wall Street stop and headed toward our hotel, he said out of the blue “This is so cool. When I look up all I can see is tall buildings.” The following day he was grumpy in the afternoon because he wasn’t feeling good. We got a smoothie and did a little shopping. Heading back to the hotel to regroup, he said “This is fun. We should do this more often.”

Last summer on our trip to Bonaire, we shopped for groceries several times. I asked Adam what he wanted each time and he was indifferent. On one trip to the supermarket, he actually said “If it’s not restaurant food, I don’t care.” We explained that we wouldn’t be eating restaurant food every day. Sigh.

And yet, we had special times where we connected on that trip. He wanted to swim one night after dinner, so he and I headed down. It was dark already because we were close to the equator. When we got down to the water, I realized he wanted to jump off the dock into the dark ocean rather than entering from the beach. He took a flying leap into the water. He turned on a flashlight and showed me there was nothing amiss in the water. He insisted it was great being in the dark water unable to see beneath you and looking up at the stars. I was dubious but I took the leap and joined him, and it was. As we floated there looking at the stars and the lights onshore, I knew it was something special I would look back on later.

Later that week, driving through the rutted roads of Washington Slaagbai National Park and bouncing in our seats, he said “This is fun.” He asked to swim on the way home, so we stopped at Boka Slaagbai, one of the most beautiful and remote places I’ve been swimming. The water was aquamarine and crystal clear. Behind us were a building, a few people and a flamingo nesting area. To the sides were rocks, above us sky and in front of us nothing but sea. He and Ron jumped off a twenty-foot cliff twice and those moments were magical, even though he had told me while swimming “this island is hideous,” because it was so stark.

When we went to Pittsburgh for college visits, I asked Adam if he liked Pitt and if he ever thought about where he wanted to go to college. “No,” he answered grumpily. Ron asked him if he ever thought about WHETHER he wanted to go to college. Same answer, a grumpy no. Ron and I sighed. We do what we can to stay connected to him, whether it’s watching Narcos or going to horror movies. I’m pushing 50 and I have finally seen The Shining and Nightmare on Elm Street.

It’s funny where I have been seeing glimpses of that boy lately: driving. He got his temps three weeks ago and texted me at work asking me to take him driving when I got home. We drove around a deserted area. I saw the same concentration I did when he was learning about things and collecting them, from fountain pens to succulents. He asked a lot of questions.

“How fast should I be going when I turn?”

“Did I take that curve too fast? I saw you put your hand on the door.”

”What’s the speed limit here?”

We have spent a lot of time driving around lately. He listens patiently as I take him on a tour of my life, places my relatives lived, places I used to live, the apartment complex where I used the pool for a summer when I was his age and they thought I lived there. It reminds me a little of the drives I used to take with my late step-dad Homer. After he gave up driving, sometimes I’d take him for a ride, usually along Olentangy River Road into Delaware. We were quiet and content, like Adam and I are now.

When they are distant, I always remember what my boys’ teacher Tracey said about the phases kids go through, whether they are ten or fifteen.

“He’ll be back,” she’d say. And she’s right. He is driving out of the depths of adolescence, on his way back.

 

Taking Turns Pulling the Sled

 

Last month I read an essay called “That’s What We Moms Do, We Just Keep Pulling the Sled.” The mom wrote about how she left the house with a sled even though her kids said they didn’t need it. At times she was pulling it empty and at times her kids got on and rode. It was a metaphor for motherhood. It reminded me of the days I left the house with two kids in a double stroller wearing an empty sling. We wandered the neighborhood looking for water leaks and other interesting phenomena. At times I came home with two kids in the stroller, and at times I came home with an empty stroller, one toddler walking and one fussy baby tucked against me in the sling.

“There will be days when they won’t need you to pull them, and it will get easier.⁣ You have to keep pulling the sled.

I have kept pulling the sled, even though it now looks more like packing a lunch, prepping medical supplies, or running them to the bus stop or school when they are running behind. I know they can do it themselves but I am choosing to extend them a kindness. One morning not long after I read the article, Evan was having trouble getting out of bed. It was cold and dark. I got him up and packed him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Adam had already left for the bus stop and Evan was still dragging so I offered to drive him to school. When we got in the car, he said: “Let’s try the bus first.”

As we turned the corner to the bus stop, we saw the bus pulling forward, but then someone else was running to catch it and it stopped. Evan said, “I think I can make it.” He jumped out of the car and ran toward the bus. I called out the same thing I’ve told him every day since Parkland just in case one of us doesn’t come home.

“Have a good day. I love you.”

He ran to the bus, jumping on quickly before the door closed.

What the author of the article didn’t arrive at (yet) is that your kids begin to take a turn pulling the sled at some point. Evan has always been a helper to me. When he went to Kindergarten, I was lost without him. Ron traveled half the time when the boys were young, and Evan was my dependable sidekick. He set things up for me, retrieved items and read street signs for me once he learned to read. I missed him terribly when he started school.

As he has gotten older, he continued to help me with things, provided he remembers. For a couple weeks this month, he was in charge of managing the dog after school, which included medication, food and taking him out. If I called, he started dinner given specific instructions. He drove himself to school, internship, and rehearsals. He picked up his brother from activities.

Riding in the back seat.

He supported me in deeper ways, too. Last month, I was passed over for a job. It was a job I really wanted because my heart was in the mission. I found out early on a Wednesday, which is his internship day. He sleeps in on those days, so I told him when he got up that I was feeling down. He showed me empathy in his quiet way. I was running behind and this time I was the one who wasn’t going to make it to the bus. Evan takes the car to his internship on Wednesday, so I asked him to drop me off on High Street on his way so I could catch another bus. He agreed.

As we got to the end of the street, the bus was going by, a little behind schedule. I asked him to take me to the next stop since another one was coming soon. After we turned onto High Street, we pulled up behind the bus as it stopped for someone else hustling to catch it. “I think I can make it,” I told him. I jumped out of the car and said to him with a wave “Have a good day. I love you.” And I got on the bus. We laughed later about the irony of each of us doing that for the other in the span of a week. He was taking a turn pulling the sled.

 

Times Like These

Last Sunday morning Ron and I sat reading the news on our tablets in Washington, D.C. and let the boys sleep in before we visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum. First I read Michiko Kakutani’s article “The 2010s Were the End of Normal” in the New York Times. In it, she outlines in her erudite prose the many event streams troubling me.

“Apocalypse is not yet upon our world as the 2010s draw to an end, but there are portents of disorder. The hopes nourished during the opening years of the decade — hopes that America was on a progressive path toward growing equality and freedom, hopes that technology held answers to some of our most pressing problems — have given way, with what feels like head-swiveling speed, to a dark and divisive new era. Fear and distrust are ascendant now. At home, hate-crime violence reached a 16-year high in 2018, the F.B.I. reported. Abroad, there were big geopolitical shifts. With the rise of nationalist movements and a backlash against globalization on both sides of the Atlantic, the liberal post-World War II order — based on economic integration and international institutions — began to unravel, and since 2017, the United States has not only abdicated its role as a stabilizing leader on the global stage, but is also sowing unpredictability and chaos abroad.”

Then I read “The Secrets of Jewish Genius.” also in the New York Times. Bret Stephens examines how it is that the Jewish people, a small population, have contributed so significantly to pathbreaking ideas and innovations. Part of it, the author contends, is thinking differently and part of it is the history of facing adversity.

“There is the never-quite-comfortable status of Jews in places where they are the minority — intimately familiar with the customs of the country while maintaining a critical distance from them… And there is the understanding, born of repeated exile, that everything that seems solid and valuable is ultimately perishable, while everything that is intangible — knowledge most of all — is potentially everlasting.“

I also read an article entitled “Look Up. Put Down Your Phone and Take in the Wonders Around You.” I strive to do this, especially when I am outside. That was my frame of mind when we arrived at the Holocaust Memorial Museum: look around. I kept my phone in my pocket, taking photos of only a few things that burned themselves into my mind. I won’t write about it at length because you should go. Really, go. It was haunting, moving and all too close to home.

I could not stop looking at this photo of four men in Thessaloniki, Greece, showing their tattoos in 1990, especially the face of the man on the left.

When we got back to the hotel and sat down to unwind, I read the Washington Post article “Acts of anti-Semitism are on the rise in New York and elsewhere, leaving Jewish community rattled. It did not escape me that there was increased security at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. The officers were not employed by the same contractor we had seen in every other museum that weekend. They genuinely looked at the contents of bags in the X-ray. They turned away someone with pepper spray who would not give it up. They asked to examine any aerosol can or other questionable items. But the image of armed guards outside a Brooklyn Synagogue in the Washington Post article haunted me, just like walking through the Squirrel Hill neighborhood in Pittsburgh did last summer.

When we came home this week, I thought about all of the things I absorbed last weekend – the Holocaust Memorial Museum on top of Newseum, the monuments and the Hirschhorn Museum. “What am I to do in times like these?” I wondered. I read to stay informed. I am involved in my community. I show up to things that are important, even if it’s just over my lunch hour because showing up is more effective than just posting on the interwebs. I am not alone in thinking this: today I read about the tens of thousands of people who showed up to march across the Brooklyn Bridge in solidarity with New York City’s Jewish community. And I felt hopeful at that moment. I went back and looked at the pictures I took at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. I will just leave this one here for you to read. You can probably guess the author: it was Anne Frank.

 

Unexpected Affirmations

I’ve been thinking a lot about unexpected affirmations. Driving downtown on the freeway, I see these signs that say “You are loved,” “You are worthy,” “You are valuable,” and “Don’t give up, Don’t give in.” I love them. They remind me that everyone I meet is fighting a battle I know nothing about. When you are done reading this, take seven minutes and watch a short film about the signs: https://youtu.be/av8QJRxTB5o. (Really, you should watch it. Thanks, Paula, for the link.)

Thanksgiving weekend, I wrote two thank you cards to teachers at school who went over and above in their efforts for my kids. I told them I was thankful for them. One of them emailed me as soon as he got the card.

“Thanks, Ms. Freeland for the card,” it read. “It came at a time when I needed it.”

This week I found myself on the receiving end of affirmations I needed. Something I had been hopeful about fell apart. My friend Erin shared this quote a few months ago, and since then I have been reading the work of Pema Chodron and working hard to embrace that philosophy.

I tried not to hide from my feelings of disappointment, failure and hurt. I tried to just sit with them. I went for a run in the woods. I cried a little. I drank hot chocolate. I curled up on the couch with Adam to watch The Blacklist. While we were watching, the doorbell rang. It was my neighbor Susan. She came to give me a jar of pickles and a pair of  her earrings she wanted me to have. She told me she appreciates everything I do. She made me feel valued and worthy. The next morning, I put on those earrings. Every time I wear them, I am going to remember how I felt when she gave them to me.

That evening at the winter band concert, a mom I hadn’t seen in a while came up and told me she was proud of all the volunteer work I do on behalf of people with diabetes. I thanked her and told her that I was having a tough week and why, and she wrapped me in a warm hug.

So, thanks Susan and Kate for the affirmation. It came at a time when I needed it. And for anyone reading this, I will tell you:

You are loved.
You are worthy.
You are valuable.
You are enough.
Keep going.

Small Moments

It’s Thanksgiving and I am thankful for the big things – family, friends, good health. But I am also thankful for chance encounters and small moments. Over the past week, I’ve had a series of them.

Last Friday I did the grocery shopping. At the back of the store, I was marveling at the size of the frozen turkeys. A couple of older ladies were as well. One of them told me she got Cornish hens this year. I told her I got a turkey breast. Looking at them, she said “If you put those out to thaw, they might be done by Christmas.” We laughed our heads off talking about how long it takes to thaw a turkey and times ours weren’t thawed.

While I was there, I found a purse and took it to the service counter, where I got in line to fix something on my receipt. Soon after, a woman came in visibly upset. She was about my age. She had Down’s Syndrome and was with her mom.

“Did you lose your purse?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she said.

“Was it black?” I asked.

“Yes,” she answered.

“Well, I found it and I turned it in. I’ll get it for you.” I went to the front of the line at the service counter and asked if they’d hand me the purse, as I’d found its owner. When I got back to her, she was hugging the woman in front of me in line who was sending $150 to her family in the Philippines.

“I love you,” she told her.

“I love you, too, but she found your purse,” the woman from the Philippines said pointing to me.

She turned to me and hugged me, saying “I love you, thank you. At least my tablet wasn’t in there!”

I hugged her in return and replied “I love you, too. And yes, that’s a good thing.”

The man in front of me, who was returning something and buying vitamins and the New York Times, looked at me and said “That was a good thing right there.” And it was.

Outside with Copper, and happy to be alive

The next day Copper and I were heading out for a walk in the woods behind Whetstone and we ran into a neighbor, Cathy, on our way. She told me she and my friend Ronda had bought the Noxgear lighted vests I recommended and were running in them. We got to talking about running and how we are not running as far or as fast as we used to but we are still moving. I related to her a conversation I had with Ron when he was heading to a spinning class but didn’t feel like going. I suggested riding outside, and he declined because it wouldn’t be as good a workout. I told him he could let go of the workout and just appreciate being outside, moving, happy to be alive.

If you know Ron, you will not be surprised by his sardonic answer. “Now why would I want to do that?”

But Cathy related to that immediately. “Yes, that’s it exactly! Happy to be alive!”

Yesterday my neighbor Grace came to work with her mom because Thanksgiving break had started. When she comes, I try to develop a project we can work on. Yesterday I had a delivery to make that was a couple blocks away so we set out together. It was windy, end-of-the-world windy. and leaves were swirling in a funnel. She took my arm and we forged ahead laughing.

“This might be the strongest wind I’ve seen,” she said. We pushed on and made our delivery, laughing and chatting about Christmas gifts and how hard it is to hold onto them until Christmas.

It was one of those small moments. We were outside, and happy to be alive.

#optoutside #thankful

Only Here For My Surface Interval

 

As I unpacked from our trip to Bonaire, I thought about what it is that keeps me coming back to the ocean. Sure, it’s beautiful and relaxing, but for me it’s something more. It’s feeling connected to life on earth in a deeper way than I feel connected on land alone. I do feel connected to the earth on land. It’s part of the reason I make a point to try and exercise outside in the morning before work. Whether I see deer or a hawk, or revel in the layers of sound – insects, then birds, then leaves rustling, maybe squirrels or deer crashing through the ravine – I feel spiritually connected to other life. But I feel this in a deeper way, coming full circle, underwater. I know the boys have tired of diving and it has a “been there, done that” feel to it for them. But for me, it never gets old.

I am reading Mary Oliver’s book of essays Upstream. I love her poetry for its attachment to nature and its recognition of solitude, loneliness and our fleeting lives. She begins by writing about a time she wandered away from her family, upstream in the water.

“My heart opened, and opened again. The water pushed against my effort, then its glassy permission to step ahead touched my ankles. The sense of going toward the source. I do not think that I ever, in fact, returned home.” 

She went on to write about the connectedness of all things: 

” Do you think there is anything not attached by its unbreakable cord to everything else… Understand this from the first certainty. Butterflies don’t write books, neither do lilies or violets. Which doesn’t mean they don’t know, in their own way, what they are. That they don’t know they are alive – that they don’t feel, that action upon which all consciousness sits, lightly or heavily. Humility is the prize of the leaf-world. Vainglory is the bane of us, the humans.” 

Being in the ocean, especially diving and snorkeling, make me feel connected to the full circle of life. Huge corals larger than me make up the forest of the ocean. I regularly contemplate the relationship between fish and birds when I watch the different ways fish move underwater. Those grey parrotfish look an awful lot like African grey parrots. Fish have their own personalities. Some are shy and scatter quickly, darting by like blue tang. Other shy ones recede into a closed space and look out at you, like the porcupine fish that hung out under the ledge in front of our condo. Some, like all manner of parrotfish, ignore you completely. My favorites are the Odd Shaped Swimmers from the Reef Fish guide to Florida and the Caribbean. The filefish who are a little shy but will let you regard them from a distance. The honeycomb cowfish with its weeble-wobble body gliding around. The trumpetfish who regard you with curiosity from a safe distance. One followed us off and on for the second half of our dive after I recorded it hunting, suspended vertically in the water like an exclamation point. I love to be in the middle of a school of fish, thinking “Where are we going, friends?”

Our dive gear is still laying out to dry on the basement floor. I should put it away but I don’t want it to be over. I know there will be a next time, but I don’t know where or when. This year I decided that I am not too old to put stickers on my computer like the young folks. I saw one that says “I’m only here for my surface interval,” the period of time a diver has to spend out of the water to rest and let nitrogen escape from their tissues. It gave me a good attitude – when I am not having a good day or feeling discouraged by the state of our school, our city, our country, the world, I remember that I am just on my surface interval and I’ll be back underwater when it’s over.

Some Nutty Mom

I spoke to the Columbus City Schools Board of Education again last week. It was my third visit this school year. I went because one of the board members encouraged us to keep coming back, not to get tired and go away. I am tired – we are barreling through the month of May toward the end of the school year and I have been up many nights treating high blood sugars. But I came back.

I wanted to tell them that they could do better for our high school. They announced last month that they would invest $1 million in upgrades to our building, including air conditioning the cafeteria and library, and upgrading bathrooms. But then it was revealed that the district identified $29 million for upgrades to other buildings in better condition than ours. I asked them to look beyond 2020 and come up with a better plan.

I try to use the skills I have to make a difference, usually focusing on the things that are right in front of me. Our school. People with Type 1 Diabetes. A little farther removed, gun violence. It makes me feel like I do my part for things I believe in.

A couple years ago, I met with a volunteer about advocacy work I was doing with the Central Ohio Diabetes Association.

“What’s your qualification for doing this?” he asked. I explained that advocacy used to be my job before I had kids.

“Oh,” he said “I wondered if you were just some nutty mom.”

“Some nutty mom?” I thought. Don’t get me wrong, I am some nutty mom. Just ask my kids. But, really, “Some nutty mom?” Look at Mothers Against Drunk Driving, JDRF, Moms Demand Action Against Gun Violence…all started by moms.

After a long pause, I answered “This is a way for me to use my skills to give back.”

I’ve been thinking about that phrase ever since. Thinking about it when visiting eight congressional offices for JDRF this spring, when Rep. Steve Stivers agreed to all of my asks on the spot because he remembered that I came to see him with my son and other advocates. Thinking about it when I got meetings with three of the four Northeast Ohio congressional offices I cold called, and all three signed the letter we were circulating.

Thinking about it when going to a legislative hearing on stand your ground legislation at the Ohio Statehouse and to Advocacy Day with Moms Demand Action Against Gun Violence.

And yes, thinking about it testifying before the school board last week, when the board president said,”Good evening, Mrs. Freeland, and welcome back.”

Yep, I’ll keep coming back. I’m some nutty mom.

#somenuttymom