And just through this door? LIFE! Go get it!

A letter to my amazing kids…

Sometimes I see our life together as a journey through a series of rooms. We spend a little bit of time in each room and when we’re done, we close the door and open another. We can’t stay forever in any one room and we can’t go back once we’ve left.

Tomorrow there is a new door to open. I’ve been eyeing this door warily for a couple of years now, but it’s time to turn the knob and go through the doorway. This one feels different, bigger, a little scarier somehow, than any of the doors we’ve gone through before. Tomorrow Kacey goes off to college. I guess it has hit me that the youngest of my kids is now old enough to leave home and begin to explore life on her own.

Yeah, I know you’ve all been young adults for quite a while now. You boys have been in the real world for a few years already. But I don’t care how old you are, you’ll always be my kids. You probably have nicknames among your circles of friends, names by which I don’t know you. A few years from now, after you’re done with school and have entered the world of grown-ups, you’ll most likely and most often be known by your given names; as Brad and Jake and Kacey. But a part of me will sometimes still see you as Beej and Jaker and Boo.

There are a lot of things I wish I’d done differently in my life. Some of those things are what made me the parent that I’ve become. It is the things at which I failed that I most want you to succeed. Having the opportunity to go to college is one of the big things I’ve always wanted for you guys. I want you to have the opportunity for an education. I’ve always wanted you to be brave enough to venture out into the world and explore it on your own. I want you to experience life away from home, even as much as I’d love to keep you here with me. I want you to embrace it and love it and soar. No matter where your lives take you, I want it to be a happy place for each of you.

Knowing all of that, it’s probably hard for you to understand why reaching this point in life, when you are all on the verge of these things, makes me a little bit sad. And all I can tell you is that being your mom has been such an amazing gift that it’s hard to let go.

You always hear people talk about how life moves too fast. Children grow like weeds. The years pass in the blink of an eye. When you’re young, you don’t think so. I know… I remember… When I was a kid, summers seemed endless, and so did the school year. It seemed an eternity passed from one Christmas to the next.

But from the minute you guys came into my life, I understood all those clichés about the rapid passage of time. Even though I know there were many days you would never have believed it, you guys were the best thing that ever happened to me. Sometimes I’d forget to stop and savor all those precious moments. Sometimes I’d wish away the days of changing diapers. And before I knew it, the diaper days were gone and I was wishing away the days of never-ending homework. Then I’d wish away the days until you guys could drive yourselves to your friends’ houses and to games and such so I could stay home and relax instead of playing cab driver.

When Brad left for college a few years ago, I suddenly realized that all those days were gone. Those were some great days, I’ll tell you. You know what I really loved when you guys were little? I know your dad disapproved, but I loved it when one of you (or sometimes more than one of you) woke up in the middle of the night and would come snuggle in the middle of our bed. I loved the feel of your baby faces sleeping soundly on my shoulder. I loved the smell of your baby-shampoo hair. I loved the feeling that I could fix everything that was wrong for you.

I loved snuggling on the couch and watching Disney movies over and over with you. I loved reading Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel and Katie and the Big Snow. I loved taking you guys to the beach in the summer and playing in the snow in the winter, dyeing Easter eggs and carving pumpkins, watching you learn and excel in your many sports activities.

Brad, I wish sometimes that I could turn around in the car and see you at three years old, sitting in your car seat, marveling at all there was to see outside the window. I wish I could hear you again, shouting out at the top of your lungs, JOHN DEERE, whenever any farm vehicle entered your line of sight. Jake I miss you asking me to help find one of your many moken re-troll cars or that I could glance into the living room and see your millions of Hot Wheels cars scattered everywhere and pieces of racetrack snaking down the hallway. Kacey, I would love if you wanted me to read The Napping House to you again or that you would tell me another adventure involving your three-year old self and your imaginary friend, Kenady.

Those were the sweetest and most innocent days of your lives, and if I seem a little sad now, it’s only because I miss the feeling of having endless days ahead of us in which I could be your best friend, your protector, your biggest source of encouragement, the one who could make anything right in your eyes.

I hope that all of you know that I am so proud of the people you’ve become. Sometimes I look at each of you and see the child version of you in your eyes and I find it hard to believe you’ve grown up so quickly. I hope you know that just because I’m feeling a little sad today, that doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to what the future holds for you, for us. I am so excited to see where your lives take you, to know what gets you out of bed each morning and to see the things that become your passions in life. My wish for you is that you’ll know love… an earth-shattering, sun-shiney, deep-down confident kind of love. I know that the road ahead holds its share of unhappiness and disappointment for each of you, but I hope that the shape of your lives is such that you’ll know, without a doubt, that you can rise above those challenges and forge ahead. If I seem a little bit sad today it’s only because part of my earth-shattering kind of love and happiness came from getting to spend my days with each of you. When you have something that wonderful, it’s hard to let go, impossible not to ache to go back sometimes, even when letting go is exactly what is right, and what you’ve wanted and planned for all of these years.

I might seem a little bit sad today, but don’t worry. It won’t last long. As much as I might miss all those days that have passed, the years ahead hold new doors to open, for all of us. And I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Almost Packed Up, Almost Ready to Go

I remember when Brad was starting college just a few years ago. I remember the feelings of uncertainty, both for Brad, being the first of our kids to leave home and go to school and for us. We were newbie parents of a college student.

What I don’t remember is much of anything to do with packing. I’m sure that’s because Brad, being a typical boy, probably hauled out a couple of duffel bags a day or so before he left for school and stuffed them with his standard uniform of shorts, jeans, t-shirts and sweatshirts. Voilà. Done. Ready to go.

Girls are so different. As Kacey prepares for her first year of college, I realize just how very different this experience is for a girl.

It started with lists. First she collected lists of necessary items for college life. She found these lists online, in magazines, and free for the taking in various department stores. Then there was the personalized list she created while helping a friend pack for her college departure. This list included things like “coffee mug,” “Febreeze” and “smell goods.”

Then the process began. Packing for college, for Kacey, has definitely been a process. Her room is small as it is, and has grown smaller as a pile of various items began to take up much of the precious space. Now that Brad has moved out again, Kacey considers his room to be fair game. The packing is now being organized all over Brad’s bed, dresser and floor.

And the clothing can’t actually be packed into any sort of luggage just yet. What if she needs to wear one or more of these items in the next two days? Nope. It can’t be packed yet.

I’ve seen the dorm rooms and I’m seriously beginning to wonder how all this stuff is going to fit inside, especially when Kacey can only lay claim to half of the room! Half of it belongs to her new roommate! And between these two girls, they’ll have all the comforts of home. They’ve been communicating via FaceBook to make sure they have all their bases covered. They’ll have all the usual necessities like a refrigerator, microwave, t.v. and DVD player. They’re each bringing a butterfly chair. Kacey is bringing a portable ironing board and an iron. I told Kacey I was drawing the line at a coffee-maker. I said I thought she could live without one. As it turns out, the roommate, much to Kacey’s delight, is bringing a coffee-maker!

There is bedding and there are towels. There’s a fan and a power cord. And there are all those incidentals that just go along with being a girl! SO much stuff!

Oh, and did I mention the great robe search? We don’t wear robes around this house. Most everyone sleeps in sweats and t-shirts. But in a college dorm, a robe might come in handy when traveling to and from the showers. I had no idea how hard it was going to be to find a robe. When Kacey finally found one she liked, I refused to buy it. I wasn’t ready to spend sixty dollars on something I wasn’t even sure she’d wear. Today I managed to find one with a reasonable price tag and that meets with her approval. It’s fluffy and soft and I sure hope she actually wears the thing after that effort!

So she’s almost ready to go. I’ll never be really ready for her to go but it’s gong to happen. She’s excited and only a little bit nervous. And the fact that she’s so excited helps me to be less sad about saying goodbye for a while.

“Import Successful”

I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me to do this sooner, but I’ve finally merged (most of) my old blog posts into this blog. So if you receive blog updates from me through a reader, don’t panic if you’re seeing several hundred new updates! :-)

Happy Monday!

This is What Home Feels Like

Awake early on a Sunday morning. Knowing all the kids are sleeping in their beds upstairs. This is the best feeling. In just a few days, most of them will be living in different states. But for now, they’re here with me. I love this feeling.

We all went to the state fair yesterday, Mark and me, the kids and all of the significant others. We piled into two vehicles and headed for St. Paul. Last year we discovered the key to stress free parking. Several area businesses offer free parking and a shuttle bus straight to the state fair entrance gates. This beats paying… what? Ten or twelve dollars for parking and walking blocks just to get in!

There were so many people there! The weather was beautiful so the crowds were probably even bigger than usual. We arrived just after 9:00 a.m., so we probably didn’t see the worst of it.

We marveled at the thrill rides.

The ejection seat

We saw farm animals.

Melissa and Jake with their new cow friend

We toured the Department of Natural Resources building, which is a must-see for the boys because of all the wildlife and fish and things within. I find it less exciting than they do, but entertained myself by posing the kids with a cardboard cutout of a geologist.

Kacey and Connor with their new friend, the geologist

We checked out the world’s biggest karaoke…

The Giant Sing Along

And maybe even joined in the singing…

"Plenty of room at the Hotel California..."

Connor was such a good sport and went right along with it when Mark dragged him up to a mic. I think he might have even enjoyed it a little more than he was willing to admit!

And we ate! We ate alligator sausage and cheese curds. We ate french fries smothered in cheese sauce, ranch dressing and chives. We ate Pronto Pups. We ate wild rice corn dogs. We ate deep-fried pickles! We ate Sweet Martha’s chocolate chip cookies, fresh from the oven.

By early afternoon, we were stuffed and the crowds were getting difficult to deal with, so we called it a day. Back at home, everyone fell asleep in various places around the house and no one was really hungry by dinner time.

It was a relaxing and mellow evening. Brad noticed some freshly picked zucchini on the table – giant-sized, of course, because I let it grow too long again – and suggested we make zucchini bread. He and Heather and I made a quick run to Target for a few needed ingredients and picked up some movies while we were there. We spent the evening watching movies while shredding zucchini, mixing ingredients and baking batch after batch of bread. Heather thought chocolate chips would be good in the bread. She dug around in a cupboard and found the chips and mixed them in. Soon the house smelled warm and cinnamon-y.

The kids settled in front of the movie while the bread was baking. Dacotah-dog wandered the house, checking out smells and seeking attention wherever she could get it. I washed up bowls and spoons, spatulas and mixer attachments. I loved the sound of the conversation drifting into the kitchen from the living room. I loved the sound of the kids’ teasing and laughter. I never realize how much I miss the sounds… the noise … of my family until it’s too quiet.

All that walking at the fair and the long day had taken it out of us. We were all falling asleep just after 10:00 and called it a night.

In just a few days, most of my kids will be sleeping under different roofs. College and life will take them away from me for a while. And I’ll look back on this wonderful weekend of togetherness and smile. And I’ll think how I can’t wait for the next time the house will be full and messy and noisy again.

More Than Just a Coach

Three days a week, I go to the gym at 5:00 a.m. I’ve begun to grow familiar with the faces who join me at the gym at that very early hour of the day. We’re a small group, us five o’clockers and clearly, we’re ambitious. After all, we could still be sleeping at that time of day, but we choose to work out instead.

Some faces I look forward to more than others. I have to admit that much of my motivation for going to the gym so early comes from knowing that my friend Erin will meet me there. We meet every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning unless one of us (this is usually me) gets lazy and shuts off the alarm clock. I haven’t done that for a while, though. I feel bad when I miss my gym appointment with Erin. And three miles on the treadmill goes by quickly when there’s a fun friend to chat with while clocking off each minute. I usually arrive just a few minutes before Erin does. And while I wait for Erin, I talk with another familiar face. His name is Scott.

I’ve known Scott for a few years now. He was Kacey’s volleyball coach for two years when she played during the winters after her school volleyball season was done for the year. I knew Scott then as someone who understood the game of volleyball well, who was patient with a group of teenage girls; maybe a little too patient at times. Sometimes he let the girls call the shots. Sometimes the teenage girl drama seemed overwhelming, but Scott always took it in stride. I always liked him because he was good to the girls. He taught them well and helped them improve their skills and they had fun.

That’s about all I knew about Scott until I started seeing him regularly at the gym. Over the last few months, Scott and I have developed a habit of catching up briefly on the goings-on in each other’s lives and I’ve come to know him as more than the coach he was to my daughter. He does a few minutes on the elliptical while I get started on my treadmill.

Scott always asks about Kacey and lately is always curious as to whether she’s ready to go off to college. He is always sure to tell me how highly he thinks of her and what a good kid she is. He talks a lot about going fishing with his dad and with his little boys. Sometimes he talks about the volleyball tournaments that he still plays in with his buddies. Most often, he tells me something about his kids. He has two young boys who are still in grade school, and Scott is always coaching one of their teams or another and I hear quite a few stories about these teams  I’ve heard much about the little boys’ hockey teams, but right now, it’s flag football that Scott is coaching.

My normal reaction to Scott’s coaching stories is to wonder where he finds the motivation to work with kids all the time. I’m glad it’s him doing the coaching and not me. Little kids are hard work. Kids whine and complain. Kids don’t always listen to what adults want them to do. Oftentimes, the rewards of working with children come only after many trials and tribulations. I always admire Scott’s dedication to youth sports but always feel glad I’m not in his shoes. I’ve always had enough patience for my own kids, but other people’s kids? Maybe not always so much. I think Scott has way more energy and generosity than I possess.

I went to the gym this morning, even though Thursday is normally one of my off days. This morning I was feeling extra motivated and I figured even though Erin wouldn’t be there, I could get a good chunk of reading done on my current book while I walked the treadmill. And I did. But of course, I had to catch up with Scott first. And today it occurred to me that there’s more to Scott than I’d realized before. I realized Scott has a gift for working with kids. He’s ambitious and his heart is fully in it.

Scott has often mentioned how much he enjoyed coaching Kacey. He always has good things to say about her, and while I think my daughter is amazing, a part of me always assumed that he only said so many nice things because he could hardly tell me anything bad about my own child.

Today Scott was talking about the first-grade boys he coaches in flag football. He almost seemed to get lost in the stories he was telling. He just loves those kids. It’s so obvious!

“You should see this kid, Josh,” he told me. “He is so fast! And he understands the game like you wouldn’t believe! And then we have this other kid. Nothing gets by this kid. He talks a mile a minute, asking me, what’s going on and do I think we should try this, and what if we did that? I told his dad that I’d put money on the fact that he’ll grow up to be a lawyer or a brain surgeon. And when his dad asked me why I thought that, I told him that his son was unbelievably smart! You just wouldn’t believe how smart this kid is!”

I just listened as Scott went on, and his affection for these kids made me smile.

“And then one little boy had a bloody nose,” he went on. “He wasn’t even playing. I don’t know how it happened. He didn’t freak out or anything and he just came over and tapped me on the arm and said, ‘Um, I have a bloody nose.’ Just like that, he said it, like it was no big deal.”

I could tell that Scott was impressed with these kids and that he really enjoys them. You know, not everyone can deal with little kids. Not everyone even likes them. But Scott likes them. I can tell. He went on and on about the kids on his team and he told me how they hadn’t won their last game, but that they had great defense and he just knew they were going to have a fun season.

“Fun,” he said. Not “winning.” Fun.

I thought how lucky those little flag-football-playing boys were to have a coach who really enjoyed spending time with them, not just for their athletic ability, but for the person and potential he sees inside each one of them. And then something occurred to me that I’d never realized before. My daughter was one of those lucky kids. She had the privilege to be coached by a guy whose heart was really in the right place; a guy who knows how to nurture a kid and build her sense of self-confidence and ability. We’ve seen all kinds of coaches in the years our kids played their many and varied sports, and to be honest, some of those coaches set a poor example for the kids, not only about what is really important in the world of athletics but about being a quality person. Some of those coaches made my kids want to give up a sport they had once enjoyed. But not Scott. Kacey still has “Scott” stories that she loves to remember and laugh over.

Some of those other coaches could take a lesson from Scott. He is one of the good ones and he probably doesn’t even realize what it is that sets him apart from so many others. And the kids who get to play under Scott’s coaching? They’ll always look back on their time with Scott, just like my daughter does, with fun and happy memories. They might not eve realize it for a few years, but they are some really lucky kids.

I Won’t Cry Over This

I wanted to let him go a long time ago, but I just couldn’t do it. When I went back to work full time, I thought I might end it. I suggested it to him then, but he convinced me to keep him around. He insisted we could make it work. And we did, for a while.

But now, the time has come. The kids are growing up and leaving home. I don’t need him anymore. I only kept him around for the sake of the children anyway, and frankly, I just don’t see any reason to continue this relationship any longer.

People would often ask which one of the kids looked most like him. I always assured them that none of them did.

For years, he gave me just what I needed, without fail, on Tuesday mornings. In the kitchen. Yes, we had a designated day and the kitchen is where it happened. But I no longer want what he has to offer. And I told him so.

A few weeks ago, I gave him until the end of the month. He took it pretty well. I reminded him this morning that next week is the end of the line for us. He said he knew, and he’d be ready to call it quits by then. I was surprised at how strong he seemed even as we talked about our last days together. There might have been a tear in his eye, but I’m not sure. He’s hiding his sadness well.

Call me calloused, but I don’t even think I’ll miss him that much. I’m sure he’ll miss me much more than I’ll miss him. I’ll always be grateful for the years we had together, but I’m ready to do this on my own now.

So… is there an appropriate “good-bye” gift for the milk man?

Lots of Bonding

The weekend went too fast, probably because it was such a fun one!

Friday I got to hang out with my BFF, Gina. She left Ohio for the week to spend time reconnecting with her Minnesota peeps. I had seen her earlier in the week along with bunches of her family, but Friday was designated as my time. And we went … where else? … BOWLING. It was a blast!

The lanes were pretty empty when we arrived and we chatted, laughed and caught up over three games. It was so good spending time with her again. It felt like old times. And it was so hard to say goodbye when it was time to go home because that was the last I’d see of her for the next few months.

Saturday was spent reconnecting with cousins and second cousins and second cousins’ wives and second cousin’s children and friends of cousins and… well, you get the picture. My sister, her friend, Barb (last-minute addition to the party) and I left my house at 3:30 Saturday afternoon. I told my family I would probably be home on the early side, since I couldn’t imagine staying more than a few hours. And I did get home early… early Sunday morning!

There were two bands at the festival we attended with our extended family and another band at a bar just across the road. We listened and danced all night long to all of them. We had so much fun it was ridiculous.

My sister and Barb have a long history of having fun and getting rowdy together. They go way back to their high school days. Throughout the evening, these two poked fun at each other and they seemed to find it hysterical to respond to one another’s teasing with a particular response of a nature that could just as easily have been expressed with a finger gesture, but they chose to use the actual words instead. (Don’t worry. Responsible profanity was practiced. No young ears were damaged in the cross-fire.) These exchanges went on for so long that I decided we should keep track of how many times the phrase was tossed out at one another.

Yes, I made a tally sheet. Here is Barb, modeling it for us:

I know it sounds rude, but for some reason, it was just too funny. I stayed out of the line of fire for the most part, but when Barb crooked her skinny arm at a  ninety-degree angle and pointed out her “pipes,” I couldn’t resist and corrected, “pipe cleaners!

I was the recipient of the naughty word that time, but my “dis” seemed to earn me some sort of honor with the girls. Interesting but oddly gratifying!

The last of the bands was still playing after 1:00 when as the designated driver, I shouted to my sister over the noise of the music that I thought it was time to call it a night. She agreed. We drove home and I fell into bed around 2:00 a.m. I had a fleeting thought as I was falling asleep that I am too old for this stuff, but then just as quickly blew off the idea. I don’t care how old you are. Sometimes you just have to let loose.

Besides, I felt just fine when I finally rolled out of bed around 10:30 Sunday morning.

More bonding happened on Sunday when I took Kacey shopping for the remaining things needed for her dorm room at college. She goes to school in less than two weeks now. :-( And since most of her friends have already headed off to their respective schools, she has more time to spend with her old mom right now.

We shopped all afternoon for her stuff and when we were done, she even agreed to accompany me on the dreaded Sunday afternoon grocery store trip. I hate the grocery store, but it is much more pleasant with a fun and sweet girl along to help me endure it.

What a fun, fun weekend. I just needed one more day… that’s all…